Say You Love Me Page 17

Kelsey shuddered mentally, realizing who he was talkin about. She'd thought Ashford looked cruel. She really had been saved from a fate worse than she could imagine. And she had this man to thank. "I'm grateful, very, very grateful, that you felt so disposed." "Think nothing of it, mdear. I consider it money well spent-now."

That brought on the expected blush. Derek smiled. But Kelsey's curiosity still wasn't completely satisfied, so she said, "I've noticed that you don't want to call attention to our-association. At least, that was the impression you gave in Bridgewater. But since you don't have a wife, is that just a matter of preference?" "Not just that, no," he replied. "My youngest two uncles, you see, were rather scandalous. Drove m'father through the roof, the scandals they got into one after the other. I grew up with his tirades over his brothers. Tends to lead to caution, or at least a desire not to cause him any more grief as far as scandals go." "And I'd be a scandal?" "No, not a'tall-at least, not out of the ordinary. It's more a desire to keep my name out of the gossip mill for any reason. M'father objects to giving even our own servants food for that mill, you understand."

She nodded and smiled, because she did understand. She'd been raised the same way, to be circumspect. In fact, she couldn't count the times her parents had gone completely silent, whether in the middle of a heated debate or not, if a servant happened to walk into the room.

"I'm sorry to be so nosy. It was just that I had been wondering if this might affect the times you might be visiting me. He frowned, having forgot that he would need to be cautious in that regard, as he had been with his previous mistress. Showing up in the daytime to pick her up was nothing. Showing up repeatedly to visit for long hours at a time would definitely begin to raise brows. But darnned if he wanted to restrict his time with Kelsey to a few stolen hours.

So he replied evasively, "Can't say right now. Don't know anyone offhand who lives in this area, so we'll have to wait and see. But you needn't be sorry for asking, dear girl. How else are we to learn about each other, eh? I have a few questions m'self, actually." "I will be glad to answer them-if I can." "Splendid. Then tell me, with your exceptional education, why didn't you follow in your mother's footsteps and become a governess? Not that I'm sorry you chose the path you did, but why did you?"

Kelsey sighed mentally. In questioning him, she'd left herself wide open for questions like that. But, then, she'd figured he'd ask something like this eventually, and she was somewhat prepared. "I'm too young, really, to be a governess. Most parents want a mature woman to trust their children to." "You had no other options?" "None that would supply me with a large sum of money to pay off debts."

He frowned. "How the deuce does anyone as young as you run up twenty-five thousand pounds in debts?"

She smiled slightly. "I have no idea. The debts weren't mine and weren't even half that amount." "Ah, then you made a tidy profit." "No, none of the money came to me. The proprietor of that place gained a large portion of it for arranging the auction, but the rest, well, as I said, there were debts that needed taking care of."

She hoped he'd leave it at that, but of course he didn't. "Whose debts did you feel obliged to pay off?" She could lie or avoid the question as she'd done before. But she really didn't want to lie to him any more than she already had, so she fell back on the excuse she'd used previously. "That's a private matter I don't feel comfortable discussing, if you don't mind."

His expression said he did mind, nor was he dropping it completely. "Is your mother still alive?" "No." "Your father?" 'No. "You've no other relatives?"

She knew what he was doing, trying to figure out for himself who she might have given the money to, but that was information she couldn't afford for him to ever find out, so she said, "Derek, please, this subject is very unpleasant for me. I'd as soon not discuss it."

At that point he sighed, giving up-for the time being anyway. But then he leaned over and patted her hand. Only that must not have been enough for him, if it was comfort he was trying to offer her, which it seemed to be, because he then pulled her over into his lap.

Kelsey stiffened slightly, remembering what had happened the last time she had sat thusly. But Derek merely put his arms around her and rested his cheek against her forehead, surrounding her with his pleasant scent and the soothing, steady beat of his heart. "I have a feeling, m'dear, that you and I are going to become very close," he said so softly it was almost a whisper. "So the day will come when you will feel comfortable telling me anything. I'm quite patient, you know. But you'll find I can also be quite determined."

In other words, this discussion would come up again in the near future? "Did I thank you for the carriage you sent me?" she asked him.

He burst out laughing at her so obvious change of subject.

DRESSMAKER DEREK TOOK KELSEY TO WAS CERTAINLY not what she'd been expecting. The woman's establishment was very elegant. Satin couches and chairs filled the front room, where several of her more magnificent formal creations were on display, as well as dozens of books featuring the latest in fashions. It was a comfortable room for the gentlemen to wait, if they were so inclined, while their ladies made their selections.

And ladies did frequent this shop. But then Kelsey found that Mrs. Westerbury had many private fitting rooms, so she had little problem keeping her affluent customers separated from her less savory ones. She was in the business of making money, not casting judgments. She didn't turn down customers just because she might frown on their professions, though she did probably suggest to some that they use the back door rather than the front for their visits.

But considering that the establishment appeared to cater to the upper crust of London society, Kelsey was no longer sure how Derek would like her to be outfitted. Of course, his bringing her there could simply be because he knew of no other dressmakers.

She decided to leave the matter entirely in his hands and told him so. He hadn't been expecting that, but accepted the responsibility and went off to have a few private words with Mrs. Westerbury. When he came back, it was to tell her he was leaving her in capable hands and would return for her in several hours.

Which told Kelsey absolutely nothing about what she was to order, how much she was to order, or anything else. But hopefully the dressmaker had those answers, and hopefully Kelsey wouldn't be too appalled by them. Derek had only looked slightly embarrassed from the encounter, after all, a bit of color riding his cheeks. But he'd quickly escaped any further embarrassment, too.

Mrs. Westerbury soon returned and led Kelsey into the back of her shop for measurements and selections. Not by a single look did the woman reveal that she'd been told Kelsey was Derek's mistress and she should be dressed accordingly.

The measuring didn't take long, with one of the shop assistants whisking her tape around and along Kelsey's limbs and quickly jotting down notes, chatting amiably all the while. The selection of materials, designs, and accessories, though, could have taken all day, Mrs. Westerbury had so much on hand to choose from.

But there wasn't really a choice. The woman made suggestions, and Kelsey merely nodded or shook her head. And it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The suggestions were mostly in vibrant colors and combinations that Kelsey would never have chosen for herself, but at least the actual finished gowns weren't going to be anywhere near as gaudy as that red gown had been.

They weren't quite finished when another customer arrived, a beautiful young lady who declined Mrs. Westerbury's assistance, claiming she was only changing the material of the ball gown she'd just ordered. However, she was friendly enough to introduce herself to Kelsey, who would have been extremely rude not to do likewise, [email protected] as it made the dressmaker.

The young woman made her selection within moments, but she didn't leave immediately. Kelsey didn't realize the', lady was watching her until she spoke up again. "No, no, that color isn't you a'tall. It's much too-well, too green, don't you think? These silvers and blues over here, even the sapphire, would do wonders for'your eyes."

Kelsey smiled, agreeing wholeheartedly. She had been eyeing that stack of blues in varying shades and materials wistfully. And Mrs. Westerbury was forced to concede the point, with the lady still standing there, awaiting a response to her advice. "Quite right, m'lady," the woman said, and moved to dig out several bolts from the stack, including the bright sapphire velvet, which would make a lovely new spencer and outing dress, and one silver and gray satin brocade for evening wear.

But the lady still didn't leave, waiting to see what trimmings would be offered for each material. And because of that, Kelsey completed her wardrobe with some very elegant creations that even her mother would have been proud to see her wear. She would have liked to have gone back and changed the earlier selections too, but that would have been pushing her luck. Mrs. Westerbury had her instructions, after all, from the one who would be paying the bill.

Derek had also arranged for one completed ensemble that she could leave in, as she discovered when she was almost finished. And that had likely cost him quite a bit extra, the gown having to be taken from another customer's order and altered to fit her while she'd been busy with her selections. And obviously, the customer whose order it had been taken from wasn't the kind who'd ever be required to come in through the back door.

it was a dinner gown in a thick lavender silk with darker, delicate magenta eyelet lace trimming the short puffed sleeves, neckline, high waist, and hem. It came with a matching mantle in the same lavender hue, though of heavy velvet. Wearing it as she returned to the front room, Kelsey felt like her old self again.

Derek wasn't there yet, but a few other gentlemen were lounging on the couches, and each gave her an admiring glance. That young lady who had offered advice in her selections was also there. She was just putting on gloves in preparation of leaving, and gave Kelsey a friendly smile. "All done then?" the lady asked cheerfully. She too had noticed those admiring glances, which was possibly why she added, "Perhaps you could use a lift somewhere? My carriage is just outside."

Kelsey would have loved to say yes. The lady seemed genuinely friendly, and Lord knows, she could use a friend in this large city. But of course she couldn't say yes. Nor could she risk being friends with a member of the ton, who would despise her if she knew what Kelsey was.

So she was forced to say, "'That"s very kind of you, but my escort should be here shortly."

That should have ended the conversation, but the lady was too friendly for that. "Have we met before?" she asked curiously. "You seem vaguely familiar to me."

How discerning. Kelsey had been told numerous times how closely she resembled her mother, and her parents had frequently come to London to enjoy the social whirl. "A coincidence perhaps," Kelsey offered. "I doubt we have met, though. This is my first time in London."

"You must be quite excited, then." "Intimidated, to be more exact." The lady laughed. "Yes, it is a big town, isn't it? And ve easy to get lost in, until you've been here a few times. Bu here"-and she reached into her reticule to pull out a calling, card, which she handed to Kelsey-"if you should need an for assistance, or just feel like having a chat, do stop by to visit. I'm not very far from here, just over on Park Lane, and" will be for another week or so." "I'll keep that in mind," Kelsey said.

But of course she wouldn't, and for a brief moment. she was heartsick that she couldn't. The young lady could, and obviously did, make friends so easily. A few weeks before, Kelsey could have too, but not anymore.

She shook off her regret. Bemoaning her new lot in life was pointless. She'd walked into it with open eyes. She just had to learn to live with it.

“MOST FETCHING." Kelsey had smiled, assuming that was a compliment-of sorts. It was all Derek had said when he returned to collect her, and that was after staring at her for a good twenty seconds first without a word. It made her feel quite beautiful, something she'd rarely felt before.

In the carriage again, though, he seemed-well, to be having some sort of dilemma as he continued to stare at her. The frown he was wearing finally made her uncomfortable enough to ask, "Is something wrong?" "Do you realize you look like a bloody debutante in them togs?"

She blushed. She nearly squirmed on her seat. Mostly, she wished he hadn't noticed that. But since he had, it would be prudent to get his mind off it. "And how did I look that night wearing the red gown?" she asked.

As hoped, his frown smoothed out a bit. He even grinned sheepishly, catching her meaning-or at least she assumed he did. just to make sure ...

"There, you see?" she continued. "It's the clothes that give the impression, not the person wearing them. As it hippened, this was the only gown available to alter for me orl such short notice. I believe Mrs. Westerbury was under the impression that anything would do as long as it was suitable for evening." "Yes, I did tell her something to that effect. Well, no matter. just changes my plans somewhat." "What plans were those?" "I thought dinner in some quiet, out-of-the-way place would be just the ticket, but dan-Ln me, hate to waste you looking so spiffy."

Again she blushed. Compliments from him were really very pleasant, making her feel warm all over. But she certainly didn't want to inconvenience him.

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