Say You Love Me Page 5

She shouldn't have been surprised, not with the amount of money that had exchanged hands that night. But she was mistaken in thinking that this was where she was being taken, since it was Derek who left the carriage, not Jeremy. So it was Derek who lived there, and she could only surmise that both Derek and Percy were being let off at their respective homes first, before she and Jeremy reached their final destination.

But she was wrong again, because Derek turned back to the carriage and reached his hand inside to help her out. And Kelsey was surprised enough to take his hand without thinking about it, and was led halfway to a pair of imposing double doors before she even thought to ask, "Why are you escorting me rather than Jeremy?"

He looked down at her, clearly puzzled by her question. "You won't be staying here long. Just the night. Other arrangements will be made tomorrow."

She nodded and flushed with color, afraid she understood now. Jeremy, as young as he was, might well still live with his parents, so of course, he couldn't take her home with him. Derek must have offered to put her up for the night, which was kind of him. Hopefully, he wouldn't have someone here that he would need to explain that to. "You live here, then?" "When in London, yes," he replied. "It's m'father's town house, though he's rarely in residence. Prefers the country and Haverston."

The door had opened before he finished, and a portly butler was giving a slight bow and a "Welcome home, m1ord," and was carefully keeping his eyes averted from Kelsey. "Won't be staying, Hanly," Derek informed the servant. "Just dropping off a guest who needs putting up for the night. So if you'll fetch Mrs. Hershal to take care of the girl, I'd appreciate it."

"A guest for above stairs-or below?" Kelsey was amazed to watch Derek blush at that impertirient, though necessary, question. She might have donned her spencer to cover a good portion of the god-awful gown she was wearing, but enough of it was still showing to proclaim what profession she had embraced. "Below stairs will do," Derek answered curtly. "I did say yrn not staying."

And now Kelsey was blushing again at what that insinuated. The butler, however, merely nodded and walked off to fetch the housekeeper.

Derek mumbled at his back, "Comes from keeping servants around so long they knew you when you was in knickers. Gives 'em airs, by God."

Kelsey might have laughed if she wasn't so embarrassed. Handsome as he was, Derek looked very funny disgruntled as he was just now. He wouldn't have appreciated her humor, however, even if she'd managed to find it. So she just stared at the floor and waited for him to depart.

And ready to do just that, he said, "Well, then, get a good night's sleep. You will be traveling most of the day tomorrow. Can wear a body out if they aren't rested."

And before she could ask where she would be traveling to, he'd closed the door behind him and was gone.

Kelsey sighed. And then a new dose of relief set in. She was actually going to be spending the night alone; what she had been avoiding thinking about was to be delayed-for another day at least. Perversely, now that it was put off, she couldn't get it to retreat back into the recesses of her mind.

For her, starting her mistressing was going to be -like a wedding night, though lacking a certificate of marriage and lacking any tender regard between the two participants. She knew that, historically, marriage between strangers was a frequent occurrence. The pairings were arranged by parents or by kingdoms, with mere days for couples to become acquainted-or even less time, depending on circumstances. But such marriages were very, very rare in this modem age. Today, if the partners didn't do the choosing themselves, they were at least given an abundance of time before the nuptials.

How much time would Kelsey have? This reprieve had been unexpected. She had assumed she would not be spending the night alone. And tomorrow there would be travelingMight that constitute another delay?

She could hope. But delays weren't going to do her much good if they didn't give her an opportunity to get to know Jeremy somewhat better. And so far, come to think of it, she hadn't said one word to that young man, nor he to her. How the deuce was she supposed to develop a relationship with him if they had no conversations?

She supposed she would find out tomorrow. Right now, she should be setting her mind to deciding how to deal with the housekeeper here. In her usual manner? Or in a manner more suited to her new status?

As it happened, the decision wasn't hers to make. Mrs. Hershal showed up just then and, taking one long look at Kelsey, humphed and headed back into the recesses of the house, leaving Kelsey to meekly follow or not. So be it. She would have to get used to such treatment henceforth. She just hoped the scalding embarrassment that went hand in hand with it would get easier to bear.

DEREK SHOULD HAVE KNOWN HIS BOSOM COMPANIONS wouldn't leave it alone. He'd no sooner stepped back into his carriage than Jeremy said, "I bloody well don't believe it. You're still going to that ball? Damn me if I would." "And why wouldn't I' Derek asked, raising a golden brow. "The chit isn't going anywhere, and our cousin Diana personally requested our appearance tonight at her friend's coming out. Seeing as how we both agreed to attend, Jeremy, what would you say is more important?" "Exactly my point," Jeremy all but snorted. "Least I know what's more important, and it ain't adding to the numbers of what is rumored to be the ball of the season. Diana prob'ly won't even notice us there in the crush." "Whether she does or not, having agreed to attend, we are obligated to do so. Percy, will you endeavor to explain obligations to this irresponsible youngun?" "Me?" Percy chuckled. " 'Fraid I'm seeing things from his perspective, old man. Can't say as I'd have the fortitude to leave a brand-spanking-new mistress to hie off to a ton gathering that doesn't promise to be any different from any other gathering that we've attended. Now, if one of your uncles was going to be present, or your lovely cousin Amy, that'd be different. Your uncles know how to put a little spark into the dreary, and Amy ain't wed to that Yank of hers yet, so in my book she's still available."

After that long-winded account from their friend of few words, Derek and Jeremy both were left a bit speechless. Derek recovered first to say, "Amy might not be married yet, but the wedding is scheduled for next week, so do cross her out of your book, Percy."

And then Jeremy added, "And you can't be naming m'father as entertainment anymore. He's too thoroughly domesticated now to be starting the gossip mills churning. So's Uncle Tony, for that matter." "Beg to differ, dear boy. Those two particular Malorys will never be so domesticated that they won't raise a brow or two. Gad, witnessed it m'self not long after your sister Jack was born, your father and uncle dragging the American into a billiards room, and the Yank barely limped out." "That was when they had just found out about, and objected to, Anderson's interest in Amy. And it was to be expected that they'd react like that. But, then, we've already explained that to you, Percy, when you were thinking of courting her yourself. Comes from their each having a hand in raising our cousin Regan after their sister died, and the fact that Amy looks so much like Regan-" "Reggie," Derek interrupted, just like his father would have were he there, though with much less heat. "I understand why your father persists in calling her by a different name, just to irritate his brothers, but you don't have to take the leaf from his book." "Ah, but I like his leafs." Jeremy grinned unrepentantly. "And he don't do it to irritate them-well, maybe just a tad, but that ain't why he started calling her Regan. The reason started way back, 'fore I was even born. With three brothers, two of them older than him, he just felt the need to be different in all things."

“Well, he certainly succeeded there," Derek said with a knowing wink. "Didn't he though."

The cousins were referring to James Malory's pirating days, when he'd been known as the Hawk and the family had disowned him. It was during his infamous career as the Hawk that James had discovered he had a nearly full-grown son, and he'd not only acknowledged Jeremy but took him along, which was why the lad had such an unorthodox education, having learned too much about women, fighting, and drinking from James's motley crew of pirates.

But Percy didn't know that and never would. Percy might be a dear friend, but he was a dear friend who simply couldn't keep a secret to save his soul, and James Malory's past nefarious exploits were a well-kept secret that only the family would ever know of. "Besides, Percy," Jeremy said, getting back on the subject, m'father hates balls, positively, and only gets dragged to em these days at his wife's insistence. Same with Uncle Tony. Definitely know how they feel. Feels like I'm being dragged to this one, damn me if it don't."

Derek frowned. "I'm not dragging you, dear boy, only Pointing out your obligations. You didn't have to agree to Diana's request." "I didn't?" Jeremy replied. "When I have the worst bloody time telling a female no? Any female, for that matter. just can't stand to disappoint 'em. And I certainly wouldn't have disappointed the one you just left behind." "If all she wanted was to be left alone, Jeremy, then I'd hardly say I disappointed her." "Left alone?"

"You find that hard to believe?" "Women scheme and fight to get into your bed, cousin, not to leave it. I've seen it firsthand-"

Derek cut in. "And sometimes women just don't want to be bothered, for one reason or another, and that is the distinct impression I got from this girl. She looked exhausted. Could have been no more'n that, but as I already had other plans anyway ... Besides, Jeremy, I didn't fork up all that blunt just to bed the girl, so I am hardly impatient to do so. Didn't want a mistress in the first place, but now I've got one, I'll bloody well see to her in my own good time, if it's all the same to you. "Indecent amount for something you didn't want," Percy remarked.

Jeremy chuckled. "Wasn't it though." Derek slouched down in his seat, grumbling, "You know why I did it." "'Course we do, old boy," Percy replied. "And commend you for it, 'deed we do. Don't have the blunt to be so noble m'self, but at least one of us did." "Aye," Jeremy agreed. "Thwarted Ashford and got a splendid bonus for doing so. A fine night's work, if I do say so m'self."

All but blushing at the unexpected praise, Derek said, "Then perhaps you will both cease the ribbing about leaving the girl behind?"

Jeremy grinned. "Must we?" A scowl from Derek had Jeremy glancing out the window beside him and whistling a merry ditty. Incorrigible scamp. Uncle James really was going to have his hands full trying to reign this young pup in to responsibilities when the time came. 'Course, Derek's father had been lamenting about the same thing where he was concerned. But then, of the four

Malory brothers, Derek had to be stuck with the head of the family, and being so, Jason Malory, Marquis of Haverston, was the most stern out of the lot of them, and the hardest to please.

DEREK USUALLY ENJOYED BALLS, THOUGH NOT ONES WITH over three hundred people in attendance, as that night's turned out to be. But he liked to dance, could usually find a friendly game of whist or billiards, and invariably there would be a fresh new face or two there to intrigue him.

The intrigued part never lasted long, however, since most young ladies who decked themselves out so splendidly for these occasions, and flirted so coyly, were after only one thing: marriage. And the very minute their motive was established, Derek would bid them adieu, because marriage was the very last thing he was interested in.

There were a few exceptions to that rule, but those didn't come along very often. Even if a girl didn't want to get married right away, she'd be dealing with pressure from her relatives to get the matter seen to. It was the rare young lady who could withstand that pressure and devote some time to just enjoying herself.

Derek actually liked those independent-minded young ladies the most, and had gotten to know several fairly well. These were innocents still, so the relationships involved were not of a sexual nature. Far from it. Derek respected the rules of society and found it quite refreshing to associate with them on other terms, good conversation, shared interests, and to simply be able to relax his guard with them.

Which wasn't to say he wasn't constantly on the lookout for his next bed partners. He just didn't pick them from the crop of new innocents who descended on London each season. No, his sexual pursuits were culled generally from young wives and widows, the former unhappy with their marriages, the latter free to do as they chose-with discretion, of course. And he rarely left one of these large London affairs without a tryst arranged for later in the week, or even that night.

At this ball, however, nothing seemed to interest him. He did his requisite dancing to keep the hostess happy, and had to take pains not to yawn before he relinquished each partner to the next gentleman on her dance card. He tried a few hands of whist, but again, he couldn't manage to concentrate on the game, even when the stakes rose perilously high.

Two of his former lovers had tried to interest him in another rendezvous, but where he would usually put them off with promises of another time, he had simply told them he was otherwise involved at the moment. Yet he wasn't. The girl he had dropped off at his home couldn't be considered an involvement-yet. Besides, a mistress was never considered an involvement, not a true involvement. A mistress was simply a very nice-and expensive-convenience.

And he still couldn't believe he had one now. The one and only other time he had agreed to pay the support of a woman in return for her favors had been an utter disaster.

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