Say You Love Me Page 20

But here Derek had actually given their relationship away himself, because he bloody well couldn't help the way he looked at her. Yet he didn't want Anthony worried about it, which he apparently was.

So he was forced to fess up, admitting, "Kelsey's not Percy's cousin." "She's not?" "No, she's no relation to him a'tall. Reggie had met her previously, you see, and mistook her for a member of the ton, and then when she found Kelsey with me today, well, we were at a loss to explain that, since she wasn't properly chaperoned, at least as far as Reggie was concerned. It was Jeremy who came up with the idea of making her Percy's cousin, which put proper to it, since he was there, too." "Who is she, then?" "My mistress," Derek mumbled.

Anthony raised a black brow. "I do believe I misheard you. You didn't actually say-?" Derek nodded, and Anthony suddenly hooted with laughter. "Good God, Reggie is going to have your head if she finds out you've let her become chummy with your mistress."

Derek winced. "There's no reason she should ever find out. She's going home to Silverley in a few days. So they won't be seeing each other again." "You hope. But didn't it occur to you to simply tell your cousin the truth? She's a married woman, you know, though we could wish she'd been a little more particular in her choice of husbands. But the fact is, she wouldn't have been all that shocked." "True, though I don't believe any of us were thinking very clearly at the time. I know I wasn't. And Jeremy was just trying to spare us all the embarrassment that the truth would have caused, when he related her to Percy."

Anthony grinned. "Gad, what a choice, Percy's cousin or a soiled dove. Can't say I'd choose either."

"Percy is a good friend, Uncle Tony," Derek felt the need to point out. "Loyal, trustworthy-" "I don't doubt it, dear boy," Anthony cut in. "But he's still a bloody nitwit."

That was hard to dispute, so Derek gave up with a shrug. Anthony put an arm around his nephew's shoulder to lead on to the dining room.

But he had one last remark on the subject. "It's darnned hard to believe she's not gentry. You're sure she's not pulling your leg and is?"

Derek stopped cold. Could she be? No, it wasn't possible. No lady would put herself on the auction block as Kelsey had done.

Anthony glanced back at him with his brow raised questioningly, but Derek shook his head with a weak smile. "Yes, I'm sure." "Glad to hear it, because it's rather prevalent, you know, young lords getting caught by entrapment, of the marriage sort, and quite deliberate on the female's part, usually with the help of her relatives. But then you likely know that, having avoided the shackles this long. just be careful, puppy. James and I would be the last to censure what you do, but you know how your father is. Actually, you better hope he don't get wind of tonight's little comedy. Damn me, wouldn't want to be in your shoes if he does."

Neither would Derek.

“GOT A MISSIVE FROM JASON TODAY," ANTHONY REMARKED just after the women left the room, leaving the men to enjoy their brandy and cigars. "Said to come by Eddie boy's house tomorrow afternoon, but didn't say why. Any of you know what he's coming to town for?" "Got the same missive myself," James replied with a thoughtful frown. "Jason don't usually come to town unless he's got business to attend to or he thinks someone needs a tongue-lashing."

Since James happened to glance at Jeremy when he said that, his son sat up stiffly and complained, "Don't look at me. You already chewed me up over getting sent down from school this time. George did too, for that matter. Ain't going to happen again. Gave my word, didn't IT' "He wouldn't want me there if this is about Jeremy," Anthony pointed out.

Derek was still worrying about Kelsey's leaving the room and being alone with not one but three female members of his family. So it took him a moment to realize both his uncles were looking at him.

He shrugged. "I haven't heard anything, and I was just out to Haverston last week. Nor was anything mentioned at the wedding. But, then, I haven't been home since this morning, so I don't know if I've received a missive as well. And aside from tonight's fol-er, well, I haven't been involved in anything that mfather would want to remark on." "You're forgetting the auction, old chap," Percy put in helpfully. "He'd have a thing or two to say about that if he found out, public as it was."

While Derek was looking daggers at Percy for mentioning that, James asked, "What auction?"

And Anthony said to Derek, "Good God, you didn't actually buy her, did you?"

Before Derek could answer, James deduced for himself, "He bought Kelsey? Damn me, and I thought I'd done everything at least once."

At which point Derek looked at his Uncle Anthony accusingly, demanding, "You told him?"

Anthony chuckled. "'Course not, puppy," he said with obvious amusement. "If I noticed it right off, d'you really think he wouldn't? When James was decidedly more lecherous than I ever was?"

James raised a golden brow toward his brother. "I beg your pardon. Lecherous?"

Anthony's brow went up at just about the same angle. "Weren't you?" "Well, possibly, but I prefer the way Reggie puts it, if it's all the same to you. 'Connoisseur of women' has a much nicer ring to it." "I'll have to agree there," Anthony replied. "The little darling does have a nice way with words." "Thought lecherous was rather apropos myself," Nicholas remarked with a smirk.

James's green eyes swung directly toward his nephew by marriage, and he said in one of his drier tones, "Been sleeping on the couch lately, dear boy? If not, I'll be glad to assist you in that direction."

Nicholas immediately flushed. It was a well-known factat least among James, Anthony, and himself-that Reggie got rather annoyed with her husband whenever he had words of the battling kind with her favorite uncles. Bloody hell, he should have kept his mouth shut, and Anthony, heard from next, confirmed that. "You know you shouldn't have started in on him. just because Reggie ain't here at the moment don't mean she won't hear about it." "You're all heart, uncle," Nicholas mumbled.

Anthony raised his brandy in a silent toast and grinned. "Ain't I though." If Nicholas was wishing he were somewhere else just then, Derek was wishing he had gone and broken a limb or something so he wouldn't be there either. It had been insane to think he could have gotten through the evening without something giving his relationship with Kelsey away.

But as long as Percy had brought it up, he said to James, "I was meaning to talk to you about this, Uncle James. Came by your house twice this week to discuss it, but I missed you each time." "Yes, George told me. I was going to call on you tomorrow myself, but as long as we're here . . . " "Yes, well, it's not exactly a pleasant subject for the digestion; it's rather disgusting, actually-" "Let me worry about my digestion, lad," James said with a smile.

Derek nodded, continuing, "We stumbled upon this auction, you see, and I had no intention of getting involved, certainly didn't want another mistress-that was what the girl was being sold as-but then I saw who was doing the bidding." And he went on to tell them everything he knew about David Ashford, ending with, "So you see, I couldn't let him have Kelsey, knowing what I do about him." "'Course you couldn't," Anthony agreed.

James's expression had definitely hardened. "And the reason you were coming to me with this tale?"

Derek sighed. "I find it intolerable that this lord is out there going about his depravities unhindered. I was hoping you might know some way to deal with the man." "Oh, Yes," James said with a dark, ominous smile. "I can think of a few ways." "Short of killing him, that is," Derek felt it prudent to add.

James said nothing for nearly ten seconds, then, "If you insist."

WOMEN HAD GONE UPSTAIRS TO SPEND A BIT MORE time with the children. Judith had tuckered out and was sleeping peacefully in a cradle in the corner, but Jacqueline was swinging her arms energetically on her mother's lap, and little Thomas was toddling about the room among the women, proudly showing off one of his prized toys to each of them.

The Malory women had made Kelsey feel so comfortable that she actually forgot for a while what she had become and was able to just enjoy their company. And she adored children herself, just as they seemed to. She'd always looked forward to the day she'd have some of her own, though that didn't seem quite possible now, which was, sadly, something else that she had given up.

Their conversation was quite amusing, too, and it tended to relate to either their children or their husbands, or both, as it did when Reggie remarked with a grin, "I heard Uncle Tony had Judith and Jack married before either of them were even born." "Well, I didn't have a daughter after Roslynn did just to spite him, I do assure you," George replied, then added with a conspiratorial smile, "Although, that's an interesting idea. I might try it next time, especially since I'm sure James would love it." "Spiting my Tony?" Roslynn piped in. "Oh, I don't doubt James Malory would jump on any chance to do that." "But aren't they brothers?" Kelsey asked, confused. "Oh, yes, m'dear, and all four of those brothers just love to bicker and argue and get digs in on each other, especially Tony and James," Roslynn said. "The elder two are great arguers, but those younger two, they are forever cutting each other up-verbally, that is-and delighting in every bit of it. Och, you'd think they are the worst of enemies, but they're really quite close." "And they band together against anyone else, especially my Nicholas," Reggie added with a sigh. "I do hope the blood isn't too difficult to clean up from the dining room, now that we've left them alone together."

Kelsey blinked, but both Georgina and Roslynn laughed. "I wouldn't worry about it, Reggie, not with Derek there," Roslynn said. "He tends to have a tempering influence on both James and Tony." "I've noticed that as well," Georgina remarked. "Perhaps because they see a bit of Jason in him, and they do tend to be on their better behavior when Jason is around-that is, unless it's him they're arguing with." "They seemed to get along fine earlier," Kelsey said, confused yet again. "Am I to understand they don't actually like your husband, Reggie?" "'Course they do," all three woman said at almost the same moment.

Reggie chuckled, explaining, "Well, you see, Uncle James and Nicholas used to be enemies of a sort, at least they were out for each other's hides-quite seriously. But then I met Nicholas and ended up marrying him, and that put an end to their private feud. Uncle James couldn't very well continue to seek revenge against his nephew by marriage. We are a very close family, after all. As for Uncle Tony, well, he was rather upset with Nicholas for compromising me. He was all for shooting him rather than giving him to me for a husband. Didn't think he was good enough for me, either, rake that Nicholas was at the time." "As if Anthony wasn't one himself," Roslynn said in amusement.

"And James the worst of the lot," Georgina added. "But that's so typical of men. What was good for them wasn't good enough for their favorite niece." "So now, it's just a-well, a friendly feud, you could call it," Reggie said. "Only my uncles always best my poor Nicholas in their verbal skirmishes." "Cheer up, Reggie," Roslynn remarked. "You're forgetting they now have Warren to rake over the coals. I'm sure he'll take some of the heat off Nick." "Who's Warren?" Kelsey asked. "My brother," Georgina replied. "He just married into the Malory clan last week. But there was a time when he tried to have James hanged, and James nearly killed him with his bare hands. But that's another story. Suffice it to say, they were serious enemies, too. Having Warren as a brother-inlaw didn't stop James from wanting to clobber him. But now that Warren has joined the family yet again, this time as a nephew by marriage, they've called a truce, though it still doesn't exclude very pointed barbs." "Amy has changed Warren, though," Reggie pointed out. "He used to have the most horrible temper, but now he's much too happy these days to take heed of their baiting. Or haven't you noticed that when they start in on him, he just smiles and ignores them now?"

Georgina laughed. "I noticed. It drives James crazy when Warren does that." "I wouldn't doubt Warren knows it." "Oh, he does." Georgina grinned.

Kelsey was beginning to figure it out-somewhat. She'd asked earlier why James called his daughter Jack. The unanimous answer had been "Because he knew his brother-inlaws wouldn't like it." Which, she supposed, said a lot about James Malory right there. "Which reminds me," Reggie said, turning to Kelsey, "if you haven't set your cap for Derek yet, one of George's brothers would be an excellent catch. She's got five, you know, and the other four aren't married." "Watch out, Kelsey," Roslynn warned with a laugh. "Reggie's an irrepressible matchmaker." "So you're interested in our Derek?" Georgina asked Kelsey. "I rather thought so, with the way you two were looking at each other tonight." I

Kelsey was blushing furiously by then. She knew she shouldn't have gone there, even though Derek had said there was no help for it, with the way Reggie had cornered them today at the races. These were such nice women, so friendly, but they would be horrified if they knew she was Derek's mistress. And how was she supposed to deal with a subject like this?

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