That Perfect Someone Page 40

“Don"t take him from me. Please.”

The pleading tone from Milton was so incongruous it didn"t even sound real, but it stopped Charles long enough for him to say, “A burden has been lifted from my shoulders today.

You"re not going to put it back there. Mathew is no relation of yours. I’m no relation of yours.”

“That doesn"t change the fact that I love Mathew.”

They were incredulous, and while the brothers weren"t going to ask the obvious question, Julia wasn"t so reticent. “Why couldn"t you love your own sons?” Milton glared at her for her impertinence. “Because they were her sons and I despised her.

But she died so many years ago, and nothing about Mathew has ever reminded me of her.”

“I could almost pity you, but I don"t,” Julia said. “You, sir, are a disease, and you"ve infected the people in this room long enough, myself included. You"ve placed value on objects instead of people. You"ve hurt innocent children because you didn"t like their mother. You had a family and you didn"t cherish it, didn"t even try. You don"t deserve another. My husband has put „paid" to this account. The receipt stands before you. Now you live with what you"ve wrought, having no one left who gives a damn about you.”

“Mathew loves me!”

“Mathew doesn"t know you! It doesn"t matter what face you show him. The taint is still there and thank God he"s going to be removed from it.”

Chapter Fifty-three

JULIA WAS ONLY SLIGHTLY embarrassed when they left Willow Woods—for the last time. She hadn"t meant to display her no-nonsense business instincts in that meeting with the earl. She hadn"t meant to display her disgust either. But she"d been unable to stop herself. Now she was a bit concerned about Richard"s reaction not only to what he"d learned today, but to her indecorous behavior.

But she didn"t get a chance to discuss it with him until that night when they were finally alone at the inn they"d stopped at to break up the journey back to London. Charles and Mathew had ended up sharing the coach with them.

Charles hadn"t wanted to spend another moment in that house any more than they did, not even long enough to pack. He would send for their belongings later. Right now, he wanted to spend as much time with his brother as he could, before The Triton sailed again. Then he intended to stay with Mathew"s real grandfather briefly, until he found them a house of their own in Manchester.

Julia worried that that would be too close to Willow Woods and mentioned it to Richard on the way into the inn when Charles and Mathew went ahead of them. She was actually delighted to hear about Charles"s lady friend and that he couldn"t bear to move too far from her. But she got Charles to promise that they would visit the islands after she and Richard were settled there. Mathew was already excited by the idea, so she didn"t expect them to wait too long.

The four of them shared a relaxing dinner that evening, the tension gone, the burdens gone.

Mathew didn"t yet know that he and his father were no longer going to live at Willow Woods.

Charles had told Julia in an aside that he would eventually tell his son a story about two brothers and a not-so-nice father and let him decide for himself if he wanted such a person in his life. Again, choices were very, very important to these two men who"d never been allowed to make any of their own while growing up.

She retired first, leaving the brothers a little time on their own. But Richard wasn"t long in joining her in their room. She"d been sitting cross-legged in the center of the bed, combing her hair, but she immediately got up to meet him in the middle of the room and put her arms around him.

“I"m so glad this day is behind us,” she told him.

“So am I. But I"ve been dying to ask you since we left there—you"re not feeling sorry for him, are you?”

“Me?” she said, somewhat in surprise. “I was going to ask that question of you.” He chuckled. “Well, my answer is a resounding no. What about yours?”

“The same.”

“Glad to hear it. Because he really did kill whatever love I had for him when I was a child.

That I"m apparently his only son now is simply an amusing irony. As I said before, I couldn"t care less.”

She grinned. “You know that means his title will eventually come to you.” Richard snorted. “I don"t want it. I don"t want anything of his. I"d rather it went to Charles as I always assumed it would, then to Matthew after him. I"m sure Milton will consider that, too, and tell no one of this. Besides, you"re the only thing I want, Jewels. But …” She leaned back and swatted his chest lightly. “You can’t put a but after that statement!”

 “However?” he teased.

“No however either.”

“Then maybe you should just let me finish. I can"t deny you got my hopes up that I was a bastard, and now I"m a little disappointed that I"m still related to Milton Allen by blood. But I"ll get over it.” Then he grinned roguishly. “Will you help me get over it?” That was practically the same question he"d asked her when he came back into her life the night of the Malory ball. She laughed and leaned into him suggestively and said, “That"s—

very likely.”

He laughed with her. “God, I love you. And that"s yet another irony, isn"t it?”

“I beg your pardon? You"re really stepping on thin ice now.” He pulled her closer despite her huffy warning. “I thought my forced marriage would be just like my father"s.” He gave her a loving smile before he kissed her, then kissed her again. “The irony is, how wrong I was.”

She"d been touching him too long. Any more discussion could wait until later. She wrapped an arm around his waist, drew his lips down to hers with the other, threaded her hand through his hair—and finally realized what was missing! With a gasp, she turned him around to verify that his long queue was nowhere to be found.

“Good God, what"d you do?” she cried, aghast. “I liked your hair!”

“I thought it was time to finally cut it, since I don"t have anything to rebel against anymore, so Charles, Mathew, and I hunted down a barber after dinner. But I"ll grow it back for you.”

“No, not for me. It"s your choice.”

He laughed at her effort not to sound disappointed. “You"re my choice, Jewels, and whatever makes you happy makes me happy.”

She wondered if he realized he"d just ceded all his future choices to her. But not really, because perfect matches—and he was certainly hers—had many benefits. Happy compromises, for one. With her loving him so much, whatever made him happy would always make her happy, too. It could be no other way.

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