Say You Love Me Page 9

Don't know what this is about, but I should return within a day or so. If not, I will send word. But you should be fine until we meet again. Until then ...

Yours Respectfully,

Derek

She should be fine for a day or two? When he'd obviously left so quickly that he forgot to arrange for the things she needed to make the cottage livable? And how soon would it be before he realized he hadn't made proper arrangements for her and rectified that? When he was worried about why his father had summoned him and so would be thinking about that rather than about her? It could be several days ...

This was so inconsiderate! So thoughtless! And because she was already so hungry, Kelsey lost her temper completely and tossed his letter into the fireplace, where she would have liked to toss Derek Malory instead.

It took her about thirty minutes to track down his house, which was the largest in the area, very large indeed. It wasn't just a country house, as she'd been thinking; it was a full-blown estate, with stables and working farms, and an abundance of tenants.

She asked to speak to the housekeeper and explained to the woman that Lord Malory had rented her the cottage for a short time while she was vacationing and had promised it would be properly furnished and stocked with provender, which it wasn't. A simple matter to be rectified, or so she had hoped. The housekeeper didn't make it so simple. "I don't have anything to do with the tenants on Lord Jason-er, Lord Derek's land, m'lady. I've got enough to do seeing to this big old manor and the lazy help I've got to work with. Lord Derek's factor sees to the tenants and keeps em happy, he does, and I'll send him 'round to you just as soon as he returns at the end of the week. He'll take care 'o your complaints right quick I'm sure."

“Yyou don't understand," Kelsey tried to explain. "I've already paid for the use of the cottage and didn't bring any money with me, only the few clothes I would need, because I was assured that food and bedding and everything necessary would be provided."

By then the housekeeper was frowning. "Let me see your lease, then. I have to account for everything in this house, including the food. I can't be handing it out to His Lordship's tenants without his say-so, and he didn't say so to me when he was here last night."

There was no lease, of course. And the only proof Kelsey had that she even knew Derek was the letter she'd tossed into the fire.

Because of that, she was forced to say, "Never mind. I'll make arrangements for credit in Bridgewater if you'll just direct me to it." "Certainly, m'lady," the housekeeper said, agreeable again now that she didn't have to dole out anything from her larder. "It's just down the east road a'ways." And she pointed in that direction.

Kelsey left the manor in a quandary. If she hadn't lied in saying she'd rented the cottage, she might have gotten the help she needed. But she'd tried to keep her relationship with Derek quiet, as he'd wanted, and look what that got her. A persnickety housekeeper who hadn't even offered her tea and cakes. 0

She returned to the cottage even more downhearted and much more hungry. She had no way to obtain credit, of course. She could just see herself asking for a loan on the basis of being Derek Malory's mistress. A banker would laugh her right out of his office.

But she did have a few things she could sell in town to at least buy some food for the moment. She had a pocket watch which was a fine piece with two inset diamonds, a gift fro her parents on her fourteenth birthday. She also had that horrid red dress. She was going to hate giving up the watch but she really had no choice.

She stuffed the dress into Mrs. Hershal's basket, which she would need to carry back the food she was going to buy, and set out on the long walk to town. The cottage might not have any of the proper necessities, but there was plenty of fresh water from the pump in the kitchen and plenty of firewood in the shed out back to at least keep her warm. And she even had one plate to eat on, and a jar of jam.

Kelsey was almost feeling a little better as she walked to Bridgewater late that afternoon. Almost. But the small bit of optimism she was clinging to didn't last long, not when each jeweler she found and talked to had no interest in buying the watch from her.

It was almost dark when she gave up on the watch and tried to sell the red dress.

The seamstress, a Mrs. Lafleur, had been about to close her shop for the day when Kelsey arrived and pulled the red dress out of the basket for her to examine. But after she explained that she would like to sell it, you'd have thought she'd insulted the woman. "In my shop?" the woman exclaimed, eyeing the dress as if Kelsey had let a snake loose on her counter. "I don't cater to that sort of clientele, miss, nor will I ever." "I'm sorry," Kelsey was forced to say. "Perhaps you know someone who does?" "Not likely," Mrs. Lafleur huffed. "I might give you a few coppers for the lace-if you can remove it without damaging it. Don't have time to do it myself. Lost the girl was helping me, and Lady Ellen has ordered a new wardrobe for her daughter, to be delivered next week. She's my best customer, and lim going to lose her if I don't get it finished on time."

Kelsey hadn't asked to hear the woman's troubles, when she had so many of her own. But at least they did give her an idea. , She suggested, "Buy the dress from me for five pounds and I'll help you with Lady Ellen's order-for further compensation, of course." "Five pounds! When all I can use is the lace? One pound for the lace, and you finish three dresses that need completing-without further compensation." "One pound for the lace, and another ten pounds to finish two dresses," Kelsey countered. "Ten pounds for two dresses?" the woman sputtered, her already ruddy face getting even redder. "I don't even pay that much for a month's work!"

Kelsey rubbed the sleeve of her spencer. "I happen to know what clothing of good quality costs, Mrs. Lafleur. If you weren't paying your helper that much per month, then you were robbing her."

Unfortunately, Kelsey's stomach growled very loudly at that moment. By the look that entered Mrs. Lafleur's eyes upon hearing it, Kelsey knew right then that the woman had the upper hand.

Kelsey was once again forced to change her tune, saying, "Very well, ten pounds for the completion of three of the dresses-and my stitching is excellent, by the way."

By the time Kelsey finished haggling with the woman, it was full dark. But she had a one-pound note in hand, with the promise of another four when she completed the five dresses that were now stuffed into her basket along with needles and thread and scissors. At least Lady Ellen's daughter was under ten years of age, so there wasn't that much yardage involved in the sewing.

Unfortunately, she couldn't find a single food vendor or shop still open at that hour, so she was forced to eat at inn instead, which cost her three times what she had hoped to spend for the same amount of food. But she had a few coins left to buy a bit more food the next day at normal prices. However, she'd need to buy a candle too, so she could work on the dresses at night. And at least one decent cooking pot, and some soap, and ...

It had not been a pleasant day by any means. Ironically, she'd found herself in the exact situation that she'd sold herself to avoid, her only boon being that her family had been saved from facing the same.

She had the sniffles by the time she got back to the cottage, which was now as cold inside as it was outside. But her belly was full for the time being. And she had hope of more money's being available once she finished the work she'd contracted for.

She was going to survive-at least long enough to murder Derek Malory when he returned.

DEREK HADN'T BEEN HOME To HAVERSTON IN SEVERAL months. Like most young men his age, he preferred the excitement, the sophistication, and the variety of entertainments to be had in London, rather than the country life. But he loved Haverston. The two estates he'd been given to cut his teeth on, as it were, weren't home to him yet, not like Haverston was.

He imagined his uncles-Edward, James, and Anthonyfelt the same way, having each been raised at Haverston. His cousin Regina had also been raised there, having come to live at Haverston after her parents died. In fact, Reggie, only four years younger, was more like Derek's sister, the two of them having grown up at Haverston together.

Derek had arrived in the middle of the night. He'd taken one of the horses from his stable, rather than the carriage, to expedite the trip. And he'd been damn tempted to wake his father to find out what he'd been summoned for. But the appalled look on the face of the footman who'd let him in, when he'd asked "I don't suppose you'd care to go wake m'father?" had sent him off to his old room instead to awal the morning.

And calmer reasoning surmised that that had been the proper thing to do. After all, if he'd been called home to get the roof dropped on his head, annoying his father even more by waking him would just make that roof a bit heavier. Not that he could think of anything he'd done recently that would have Jason up in arms. In fact, he couldn't come up with a single thing to account for this summons.

Of course, Jason Malory didn't need a specific reason to summon a member of his family to him. He was the oldest living Malory, which made him head of the family, and it was his habit to bring the family to him, rather than vice versa, whether he just wished to chat or impart some information-or drop the roof. That Derek had other things on his agenda, in particular, a fascinating woman who was just waiting for him to bed her, wasn't the least bit pertinent. " When Jason demanded your presence, you went. It was that simple.

So Derek waited until morning. But he was downstairs and looking for his father not an hour after dawn. He ran int Molly first, which wasn't surprising. Molly always seemed to know when he was visiting, and always made a point of seeking him out to welcome him home. It had become! such a habit that if he didn't see her on one of his visits he'd think something was wrong.

Molly Fletcher was an exceptionally pretty woman of middle years, with ashen blond hair and large brown eyes, who'd worked her way up from being a downstairs maid to the top honor in the servants' hierarchy, being Haverston's housekeeper for the last twenty years. She'd worked hard to better herself over the years, too, getting rid of the cockney accent that Derek could remember her having when he'd been a child, and developing a calm composure that would do credit to a saint. e in the house, from the cook

And like every other female right down to the laundress, Molly had always treated both Derek and Reggie in a motherly fashion, imparting advice, caution, scoldings, and concern as she saw fit.

That, of course, was a natural result of there not being a true mother figure present when the two children had needed one. Jason had done his duty and married his wife, Frances, for just that reason, to give the two tykes a mother.

Unfortunately, he hadn't got what he'd bargained for. Lady Frances turned out to be a sickly woman who insisted on taking the water cures at Bath so frequently that she was away to Bath much more often than she was ever at home. She was a nice enough woman, Derek supposed, if a bit on the nervous side, but no one in the family had ever gotten to know her very well.

He'd often wondered if even Jason knew her well, or if he cared to. They were such a mismatched pair, Frances so thin and pale and jittery, Jason so big, robust, and blustery. And Derek couldn't ever recall hearing a tender word pass between them when they were together. Not that it was any of his business. He'd just always felt a little sorry for his father, for the bargain he'd made in Frances.

Molly had come up quietly behind Derek while he was peering into his father's empty study. Her "Welcome home, Derek" had given him a start, but he turned to bestow a fond

smile on her. "G'morning, Molly, luv. I don't suppose you'd know where m'father is this bright and early?" "Certainly," she said.

And come to think of it, she always knew where anyone was in the house at any given time. Derek couldn't imagine how she managed that, as big as the house was and with as many servants as it had, but she did somehow. Perhaps it was just that she knew where everyone was supposed to be, and with her calm but firm control of the entire household, no one dared be somewhere else without letting her know. "He's in the conservatory this morning," she continued. "Puttering with his winter roses and having fits because they aren't blooming on his time schedule-or so the gardener tells me," she added with a smile.

Derek chuckled. Horticulture was one of his father's hobbies, and he took it very seriously. He'd travel clear to Italy if he happened to hear of a new specimen he might, be able to obtain for his garden. "Would you also happen to know what I've been summoned home for?"

Molly shook her head. "Come now, why would I be privy to his personal business?" she gently chided. Then she winked and whispered in an aside, "But I can say that he hasn't been ranting and raving this week over anything in particular that I've heard about-aside from the roses."

Derek grinned in relief and resisted the urge to hug herfor all of five seconds. She oofed at his squeeze and said, "Here, now, none of that. Can't be giving the servants the wrong idea."

He laughed and swatted her on her backside before sauntering down the hall, shouting over his shoulder so every servant within a five-room radius was bound to hear him, "And here I thought it was already a well-known fact that I love you to distraction, Molly! But if not, I'll keep it a secret if you insist!"

And that had her blushing furiously even as she smiled after him, more love in her brown eyes for the charming rascal than should have been there, though she quickly got those motherly feelings under control and went about her morning business.

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