That Perfect Someone Page 31

Milton had never liked London. The upper crust who either lived there or frequented the city to enjoy the Seasons were mostly rich. He wasn"t. But his question provided a perfect opportunity to allude to how they"d supposedly spent the night.

“Not a"tall,” Richard answered his father. “I"m afraid it"s my fault for keeping her up late.

But might I suggest you avoid using those nasty, offensive tones with her? She"s already having reservations about holding the wedding here, after the reception you gave us.” Milton said something under his breath. Richard chose to ignore it and tried for a neutral topic. “The butler mentioned Charles should be back today. Is that correct?”

“Indeed. Your brother is very predictable, and dependable. He said he"d be back today and so he shall.”

Richard didn"t miss the implied insult in that statement. He could be quite dependable, though he"d rather not be predictable. But Milton admired those qualities, so Richard had strived to develop them as a child—until it became obvious that nothing was going to endear him to his own father. Richard gave up talking to the man and concentrated on finishing the meal. But Milton wasn"t fond of silence.

“You forgot to mention that army you brought with you. Cantel informed me about it.” Richard raised a brow. “So that"s where you went last night? Afraid your lackey didn"t follow through on your orders and went to confront him about it?”

“The magistrate isn"t my lackey,” Milton mumbled. “And he"d already reported last week—

,” he started to explain, but narrowed his eyes instead to ask pointedly, “Why did you try to hide such a large escort from me?”

Richard laughed. “You"re amazing, you know that? Does anything ever sit right with you?

The simple fact is, we didn"t want to worry you unnecessarily by showing up with all those guards, which is why we left them down the road. And they"re not mine, they"re Gerald Miller"s. Shall I bring them to the house? They might as well be put to use and help with the remodeling.”

“Leave them where they are,” Milton said testily.

Richard laughed to himself. Had his father really thought he"d caught them in a lie?

Obviously.

But for good measure Richard added, “Do you really think Julia"s father would let her come near this place unprotected, after what you did to me? They are her escort. I don"t need one.

You and I know where we stand. If I didn"t want to marry her, you can be damned sure I wouldn"t be here.”

Chapter Forty

SHE"D OVERSLEPT! A GLANCE showed Julia that Richard hadn"t. He"d left her alone in his room.

But why the deuce hadn"t he awakened her before he left? He knew the work crews were arriving today and would need her direction.

She rushed to her room, didn"t bother to summon her maid, just found a dress she could don without help, then hurried down the corridor again. But she stopped at the top of the stairs and took a deep breath, even took a moment to braid her hair. The hall below was empty. The crews hadn"t yet arrived. She was being silly trying to create a crisis just so she wouldn"t have to think of last night. But those thoughts assaulted her now with a vengeance.

Never again was she going to subject herself to that sort of frustration, not for any reason.

Richard had been true to his word and hadn"t touched her again after that kiss! The one time she could have wished he wouldn"t be so honorable, and he was. Of course, she"d insisted that they avoid any physical contact in bed, but she"d had no idea how difficult and uncomfortable it would be. But if he really believed that sleeping in the same bed again was absolutely necessary, then they would bloody well do it properly and not pretend. No indeed, and she"d be perfectly clear that she was willing to make that sacrifice for the sake of the charade.

She groaned to herself and continued down the stairs. She wasn"t going to say any such thing to him. He might not only take offense at her choice of words in referring to making love to him as a sacrifice—but, really, how else could she put it when she certainly couldn"t say that she wanted to make love to him?—but he might also not like her taking control of the charade when it was his plan, not hers.

She found Richard in the breakfast room. Unfortunately, the earl was there as well.

Richard stood up as she appeared in the doorway. “Bad timing, love, I"ve just finished.” He was going to leave her there alone with his father? She put on a smile for him. “I"d prefer a walk before I eat anyway. It"s such a beautiful morning.”

“Breakfast won"t be served much longer,” Milton said.

Was that a censuring look he just gave her? Still no improvement in his attitude then? Or maybe he hadn"t been informed yet about their sleeping arrangements. She tried to recall how she"d felt after she"d really made love. Utterly tranquil, tender, benevolent—happy.

She turned a serene smile on the earl. “Won"t it? I didn"t notice the time. I still enjoy walking before I eat. I usually ride, but I didn"t bring my horse—or do you have mounts in your stable?”

“Aside from Charles"s mount and Mathew"s pony, just coach horses. I don"t ride myself.”

“Do you think Charles would mind if I borrow his horse?”

“I do,” Milton said.

“I don"t,” Richard added, giving his father a reproving look.

Milton ignored his son and told her, “There are no saddles for females.” The man really was determined not to be accommodating. It was becoming laughable, but she refrained and simply said, “No matter. A walk will do.” Richard took her arm and got her out of there before anything more unpleasant occurred.

She sensed his tension. He was bristling, actually.

“That was difficult?” she guessed as he led her outside.

He started down the long drive, away from the house. No demonstrations for his father planned for this walk apparently.

“He can"t even be civil to you! He was never this obnoxious or unpleasant before. Of course he always got furious when one of us broke his rules, but after administering the punishments, he went back to ignoring Charles and me, or just treating us normally.”

“What do you mean by „normally"? The way a normal parent treats his children?”

“No, not that. If he cared about either of us, he never showed it. His attitude was more like he"d treat a guest in his house, cordial, but without any sentiment. I wonder if the gambling debts I saddled him with pinched his pockets a little too much and have turned him this bitter.

This place was never run-down like this before I left home. He was never, ever extravagant back then. We never had the best of anything, in fact he did harp on expenses from time to time, but we didn"t live like paupers either. It must bite hard, that he"s had to let the place get so run-down.”

Richard turned them around to head back to the house. She hated to see him so upset and felt a strong urge to hug him.

Instead she quickly said, “Perhaps your father is being so unpleasant because he just doesn"t believe us.”

“Or he"s guessed why we"re here,” Richard said with a groan.

That thought worried her as well. “Do you really need to extend this in order to visit with Charles? Can"t you arrange a visit with him after we"ve accomplished our goal?”

“Indeed, I actually tried to get into my father"s study last night while he wasn"t downstairs, before I came to your room. It was locked. And one of the footmen suddenly appeared, as if he"d been hiding in the shadows, and told me my father wasn"t in there. The damned fellow could have told me he wasn"t even home, but he didn"t.”

“You think the contract is in there?”

“That would be the most likely place. If a servant continues to be stationed outside the study, I"ll have to attempt access from the outside through a window. He had a locked floorboard under his desk as I recall.”

She chuckled. “He locked the floor?”

He grinned with her. “Actually, yes. He had a box that fit under the floorboard, and a keyed lock was set into the board, so it can"t be lifted without the key. But he was fanatic about not leaving money around for servants to steal, so that"s not the only place to look. One of the drawers on his desk also has a key lock. For that matter, all three of the top drawers on his bedroom bureau have locks, as does the little chest he keeps his watches in. And come to think of it, there"s even a locked door inside his clothes room.”

“It"s not for a bath?”

“No, there"s a separate room for his bath on the other side of the wardrobe. Charles and I always wondered what he kept in there, but we never found out. We were punished once for being in his bedroom, so we never went there again.”

She groaned. “How on earth are you going to obtain that many keys?”

“Wasn"t planning to. I brought a set of tools that can serve as keys.” She had no clue as to what he meant. “Oh?”

“Jeremy Malory, James"s son, offered them to me before we left London. They belonged to his wife, Danny. Jeremy said his father suggested the loan.” Richard snorted with a shake of his head. “There"s something absolutely wrong with James Malory helping me.”

“Why? He"s a nice man.”

“The devil he is. Did you know he used to be a pirate?”

“I"d heard joking references to it, but I didn"t believe it.”

“It"s true.”

“How do you know?”

“Gabby"s father saved his life long ago and told me the whole story.”

“Go on with you.” She laughed. “I"m still not believing it.”

“I suppose you wouldn"t believe I used to be a pirate, too?” She laughed harder, couldn"t help it. But since her amusement wasn"t amusing him, she choked it off and tried to present a serious expression. And failed.

He ended up rolling his eyes at her and adding, “Would you believe I was a treasure hunter?”

That was too intriguing to scoff at. She gave him a curious look. “Really?” He no longer looked annoyed with her and nodded. “My old captain is enamored of treasure hunting, always has been, and has finally made it his only occupation.”

“Have you ever found any treasure?”

“Enough for me to continue to find the chase extremely exciting. Ask Gabby. My captain is her father.” They"d reached the house, but instead of opening the door, he glanced down at her and asked, “Do you really like to ride?”

“It"s one of my passions.”

“One?”

She blushed. Definitely a poor choice of words around him. But she was saved from answering when he turned abruptly at the sound of a coach approaching the house.

“Charles?” she wondered.

“I hope so.”

And in fact his brother bounded out of the coach before it quite stopped and engulfed Richard in a bear hug. “What are you doing here?” Charles exclaimed. “I thought—” Richard quickly cut him off. “I"ll explain this visit later.”

“And Julia?” Charles gave her a smile. “Does this mean—?”

“Yes,” Richard said, eliciting a delighted laugh from his brother.

Julia managed not to frown. Richard wasn"t going to confide in his brother about their charade? But then she guessed that he simply didn"t want to take the chance of being caught there on the porch discussing it. It would take quite a bit of explaining.

The door to the coach hadn"t stopped swinging, but as soon as the coach came to a full stop, a small hand pressed it still and a young boy stepped down. A handsome boy who very much resembled his father, but looked quite reserved now, and confused.

Charles said to his son, “Come meet your uncle, Mathew.”

Richard knelt down and held out his arms to the boy. But Mathew was shyly hesitant, glancing at his father for guidance.

Charles smiled. “He"s my brother, Mathew. The only one I"ve got.” The boy finally grinned in understanding and rushed forward. It was such a touching moment, Julia almost cried as she saw the tender look on Richard"s face as he held his nephew for the first time.

Then Milton opened the front door and, with a delighted smile, held out his arms to the boy.

Mathew laughed and ran to his grandfather for a hug.

“Did you miss me?” Mathew exclaimed.

“You know I did,” Milton said, and took the boy inside the house.

Richard stood up slowly. “My God, pinch me, I didn"t just see that.” Charles chuckled beside him. “I warned you he"s on his best behavior around my son. To Mathew, he"s everything a grandfather should be.”

Richard glanced at his brother sharply. “You mean the father we never had?”

“Yes.”

Chapter Forty-one

RICHARD WAS SOAKING WET as he sat beside his brother on the dock. Though he"d removed his shirt, water still dripped from his cutoff pants and down his chest and back from his wet hair. It wouldn"t take long to dry, the day was so warm.

He often used to share this peaceful setting with his brother when they were growing up.

Stately, old trees dotted the area, and wildflowers grew in abundance beyond the manicured lawn. It had been easy to forget where they were if they didn"t look back at the house.

Richard had found out during luncheon that Mathew had never learned to swim, and he"d volunteered Julia and himself to teach him. The boy had politely declined the lesson, but wanted to come along to watch them swim, so they ended up going down to the lake anyway.

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