Say You Love Me Page 34

And he was correct. He could hear their voices in the room before he knocked. Then the silence afterward, which was even more telling.

Molly answered the door, and her surprise was evident. "Derek! Did Kelsey tell you I wished to speak with you?" He stepped into the room. There was no sign of Jason, and no place in the room to hide a man that large. Yet he had heard his father's voice. He hadn't just imagined it.

He looked at Molly. "No, was she supposed to tell me that?" "Well, no," she said, finally noticing that his expression was too tightly contained, that something was definitely wrong. Warily, she added, "But, then, what are you doing here this late, Derek?"

He didn't answer that. He instead called out to the room at large, "You might as well come out, Father. I know you're here."

Molly gasped. Several long moments passed while Jason decided whether or not to reveal himself. And then a section of the wall opened, reminding Derek of that hidden door in Ashford's house of horrors. "How convenient," Derek sneered. "I suppose it leads directly to your room?" he asked his father and got a curt nod. "Well, that explains how you've managed to keep this affair secret for so long." "I suppose you're angry that I went to speak with the girl?" Jason asked. "No. I would have preferred that you not bother her, but it didn't surprise me that you felt the need to."

"Then you're angry because I went there to see you?"

Molly asked. "Not a'tall." "Derek, it's bloody well obvious that you are angry," Jason pointed out. "Oh, yes, I am that," Derek said in a cold, tightly controlled voice. "Can't remember ever being this angry, actually. But then it's not everyday that you find out the mother you were told was dead-isn't!"

Jason sighed, a sadly defeated sound. Molly turned quite pale. "How did you find out?" she asked in a whisper. "Kelsey noticed a resemblance when you spoke with her tonight, and she'd never been told that my mother was supposed to be dead. I suppose an outsider, who hasn't known either of us previously, might see similarities that those who've known us many years wouldn't." And then he glared at his father. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"

It was Molly who answered, "I wouldn't let him." "Don't delude yourself, Molly-or should I call you Mother? No one stops Jason Malory from doing what he feels is the right thing to do." "You're thinking in generalities, Derek, when there were many factors involved. Your father wanted to tell you the truth, believe me he did. Even recently, when Frances threatened to reveal the truth to you unless he permitted the divorce, he wanted to tell you." "Frances knew?" "Apparently, though Lord knows how or when she figured it out. But I convinced him that it was too late to change the story now." "That's why you permitted the divorce?" Derek asked his father. "Because Frances was blackmailing you? And here I thought you were being generous in giving the old girl her freedom."

Jason winced at the derision in Derek's tone. Molly, on the other hand, lost her temper. "How dare you speak to your father that way?" she demanded. "You have no conception of the hell I put him through to get him to keep my identity a secret from you. You have no idea of the hell I went through in deciding that that would be the best thing-for you." "The best thing?" Derek said incredulously. "You denied me a mother. How in the bloody hell do you see that as the best thing for me?" "Do you think I wanted to give up being a mother to you? You were everything to me. I loved you from the moment I knew you were conceived." "Then why?" "Derek, this was twenty-five years ago. I was young and illiterate. I spoke like a London chirrmey sweep. I had no idea then that I could improve myself. I was too ignorant to even know that was possible. And from the day your father decided to make you his official heir, I was horrified that the future Marquis of Haverston. would be embarrassed if he knew, if everyone knew, that his mother was a mere parlor maid who couldn't even read and write. My son was going to be a lord, a member of the peerage. I didn't want him to be ashamed of me, and you surely would have been." "So you took it upon yourself to predict my feelings as well?" Derek said, shaking his head, then he threw his father an accusing look. "And you let her sway you with assumptions like that?"

Molly spoke up before Jason could. "I can be very persuasive, and I was adamant that you not know. But mostly, your father gave in to my insistence because he loves me. And, Derek, you already had your illegitimacy to deal with. I knew that wouldn't be easy for you, and it wasn't. But at least it had been assumed that you have noble blood on both sides. It would have been much worse if it was known who your mother really was." "You still could have told me. You could have kept it from the rest of the world if you felt the need to, but you could have told me. I had a right to know. And the fact is, Molly, that I feel absolutely no shame in knowing you're my mother. Your assumption was just that, an assumption. What I do feel, however, is rage that you have never been my mother, that you have dealt with me all these years, knowing I was your son, but you didn't give me the same knowledge. You let me think you were no one to me. You let me think my mother was dead!"

He couldn't go on. He got too choked up on his emotions, especially when he saw the tears forming in her eyes. He walked out of the room before he gave in to tears himself.

Jason gathered Molly in his arms, hearing her wail, "Oh, God, what have I done?" as she began to cry in earnest.

He asked himself the same question, but all he could say to her was, "Everyone makes mistakes when they're young, Molly. This was one of ours. Give him some time to get used to the truth. Once he thinks about it, really thinks about it, he'll realize that you have always been a mother to him, that you've been there to share all the aches and pains of his growing years, that you helped to raise him into the fine man he has become."

I WISH I HAD BEEN THERE TO HEAR IT," RoSLYNN TOLD HER husband as she handed Judith to him with an added, "Here, it's your turn to walk her." "Hullo, sweetheart," Tony said to his daughter as he gave her a loud kiss on the cheek. "Not feeling too good, are we?" Then he said to his wife, "Be glad you weren't there. It was bloody embarrassing." "Embarrassing? Among family?" She snorted.

He raised a black brow at her. "And just what could you have added to it?"

He'd already recounted the entire discussion to her, but she still found it difficult to believe that Kelsey Langton wasn't the lady she had appeared to be. "I would have told your brother how old-fashioned his forbidding it was."

Anthony grinned. "I hate to mention this, Ros, but Jason is old-fashioned." "So don't mention it," she retorted. "But what's more important here, love or public opinion?" "Is that a trick question?"

"This isn't funny, Tony," she admonished. "Love is more important and you know it. Or are you telling me that you wouldn't have married me if I didn't have a few earls and lairds in my family tree?" "Do I have to answer that?" "I'm going to be hitting you, mon, if you canna be serious," she said, slipping into her Scots brogue.

He chuckled. "Not while I'm holding Judith you won'tnow, now," he added when she started toward him. Then, in a grumble, he said, "Oh, very well, yes, I would have married you anyway, but, fortunately, I didn't need to worry about your suitability. And besides, you're forgetting that the girl was bought in a whorehouse auction. That, m'dear, goes a bit beyond mere public opinion." "Only a few people know about that," she pointed out reasonably. "You must be joking," he replied. "As juicy a tidbit as that is? It's probably made the complete rounds by now."

Several rooms away, James and his wife were discussing the same subject as they lay curled together in bed. At least Georgina was trying to discuss it. James had other things on his mind just then, and his wandering hands left little doubt as to what. "I don't see what her lower-class upbringing has to do with anything. You married me, didn't you?" Georgina reminded him. "And I certainly don't have a silly title attached to my name-well, at least I didn't before I married you." "You're an American, George. Makes a big bloody difference if you come from another country, which she don't. She talks like a duchess, giving her nationality away with every word that comes out of her mouth. Besides, I'm not the one who has to produce the next generation or two of marquises. That, m'dear, falls on Derek's shoulders. There was no need for me to ever marry, which as you know, I had no intention of doing-until you crawled into my bed." "I did no such thing," she retorted. "As I recall, you yanked me into your bed."

He chuckled, nuzzling her ear. "Is that what I did? Smart of me, if I do say so m'self." "Hmmm, yes-now, stop that! I'm having a serious discussion here."

He sighed. "Yes, I noticed, more's the pity." "Well, I want you to do something about this matter," she insisted. "Excellent idea, George," he said, and positioned her for a very deep kiss.

She came up sputtering. "Not that matter-at least not yet," she amended. "I'm talking about Jason's attitude. It wouldn't hurt for you to talk to him, to point out how unreasonable he is being." "Me? Give advice to one of the elders?" And he started laughing. "It's not funny." "Indeed it is. The elders are too set in their ways. They don't take advice, they give it. And Jason knows he has the right of it in this case. For that matter, so does the girl. She ain't going to marry the lad, George, so this whole discussion is moot." "And what if her refusal is because she knows how his father feels about it?" "Then she's smart enough to know they wouldn't have a happy marriage if they go against Jason's wishes. Either way, there is no solution for them. So give it a rest. There ain't a thing we can do for those two short of giving the chit a new identity, and even that can't be done. That auction was too bloody public. If it were other than that, something might be worked out, but that ain't the case."

Georgina mumbled something under her breath. James grinned. "You can't solve everyone's problems, dear girl. Some just ain't solvable." "Why don't you endeavor to make me forget that?" she suggested. "Now, that I can do," he said, and got back to the deep kissing.

And in the next wing over, Nicholas Eden was saying to his wife, "You know more about this than you're letting on, don't you?" "A little," Reggie admitted. "And you're not going to enlighten me as to what that is, are you?"

She shook her head at him. "I can't. I had to promise I wouldn't." "I hope you know this is very aggravating, Reggie," he complained.

She nodded in complete agreement. "It's more than that, it's tragic. They should be allowed to marry. They love each other. And it's going to drive me crazy if nothing can be done about this."

He put his arms around her. "It's not your problem, sweetheart." "Derek is more like a brother to me than a cousin. We were raised together, Nicholas." "I know, but there really isn't anything you can do to help." "Well, you don't think that is going to stop me from trying, do you?"

MOST OF THE FAMILY GATHERED IN THE PARLOR FOR afternoon tea the next day. The newlyweds were the only two so engrossed in each other that they barely noticed the strained atmosphere in the room. For the others, the conversation was stilted at best, everyone taking pains to not bring up Kelsey's and Derek's hopeless situation.

Derek and his father were very obviously not speaking to each other. This was assumed to be because of Jason's stand on his son's marriage. No one asked how their talk had gone after they left the dining room together the night before but it was pretty apparent that they still didn't see eye to eye. In fact, Derek appeared angrier than he had then.

And then the butler showed up at the door with a visitor who didn't wait to be announced, who pushed right past him, in fact. The woman was in her early forties and very handsome for her age, hinting that she had once been quite a beauty. And although she wasn't very tall, she was quite sturdy in build, and at the moment, her expression, her very stance, made her appear downright formidable. A dragon came to mind, one about to breathe a bit of fire.

"I'm looking for Derek Malory." Derek stood up and gave the woman a slight bow, though because of her sharp tone, he was a bit wary in admitting, "That would be me, madam."

She turned to him and demanded, "Where have you got my niece hidden? And don't lie to me. I know you've got her. My husband, that bounder, has made a complete confession to me. He got your name from that scoundrel who sold her to you when he picked up his blood money."

Not a word was heard after that statement. Absolute silence.

And then Reggie chimed in, "Do sit down, my good woman. I'm sure Derek isn't hiding your niece. In fact, I wouldn't doubt that she's not far from here."

Elizabeth narrowed one eye on Regina. "Don't I know you, younglady?" "Yes, we met recently at your hotel. I was looking for Kelsey myself, and although you said you did have a niece by that name, I determined that the Kelsey I was looking for couldn't possibly be related to you." And then Reggie grinned, delighted that Kelsey's aunt had finally learned the truth, which just might make a huge difference. "Looks like I was quite wrong, doesn't it?" "Indeed," Elizabeth huffed.

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