Read Jacquie D'Alessandro Online

Authors: Loveand the Single Heiress

Jacquie D'Alessandro (8 page)

Something that looked suspiciously like amusement flashed in Genevieve’s eyes. “I see. Quick-wittedness and a commitment to personal cleanliness are indeed good traits in a man. Tell me, how precisely did he prove helpful after the shooting?”

Another wave of heat engulfed Catherine. “He applied pressure to the wound until the doctor arrived.”

“Excellent. Clearly he knows something about treating injuries.” Her eyes widened. “Oh, but please tell me the
doctor didn’t examine you right there in the drawing room!”

“No.”
Damnation, but it was warm in here
. Knowing Genevieve would eventually worm the information from her, Catherine met her gaze squarely and said in her best noncommittal voice, “Mr. Stanton was kind enough to carry me to my father’s chamber so as to remove me from the prying eyes of the other guests.”

“Ah, a man of discretion as well,” Genevieve said with an approving nod. “And I take it you ascertained the fact that he does not possess an offensive body odor while he carried you.”

“Yes.”

“And obviously he possesses superior strength.”

Catherine shot her friend an arch look. “Are you implying that I weigh more than I should?”

Genevieve’s musical laugh rang out. “Of course not. I merely meant that only a strong man could carry a woman from the drawing room to the bedchamber—a journey that naturally requires navigating stairs—all while applying pressure to her wound. Very impressive. Does he possess any fortune?”

“I’ve never asked.”

Genevieve shook her head. “My dear, you must have some idea. How are his clothes?”

“Very fine. Expensive.”

“His residence?”

“Rooms on Chesterfield. I do not know their condition as, naturally, I’ve never visited.”

“A fashionable part of town,” Genevieve said with approval. “So far he sounds quite promising.”

“Promising? For what?”

Genevieve’s innocent expression resembled that of an angel. “Why as adequate protection for you, of course.”

“A fortune and tailored clothing are not prerequisites. He is an expert fencer and accomplished pugilist, and brawny enough to present a threatening presence. That is all I require.”

“You are right, of course. And a pugilist, you say. I suppose he bears many scars and healed broken bones. Pity.” Genevieve blew out a sigh. “I gather he is remarkably unattractive?”

Catherine’s fingers fidgeted with the velvet cord of her reticule. “Well, in all fairness I wouldn’t say
that
.”

“Oh? What
would
you say?”

That this conversation has taken a most unsettling turn.
An image of Mr. Stanton, sitting across from her in the carriage flashed in her mind, his dark eyes steady on hers, a teasing smile playing about his lips. She cleared her throat. “While Mr. Stanton is not classically handsome in any sense, I can see where a certain sort of woman might find him…not unappealing.”

“What sort of woman?”

The living, breathing sort.
The words popped unbidden into her mind, appalling her. Heavens, she was losing her senses. “I really wouldn’t know,” she said, much more stiffly than she’d meant to. “Perhaps the nearsighted sort?”

Unfortunately, Genevieve ignored her stiff tone. “Oh, dear. Poor man. What exactly does Mr. Stanton look like?”

“Look like?”

Concern clouded Genevieve’s eyes. “Darling, are you certain that bump on your head is not more serious than you thought? Your manner is most odd.”

“I’m fine.” She drew a deep breath. “Mr. Stanton looks like…he has…”
Dark, compelling eyes that you must actually force yourself to look away from. A slow, engag
ing smile that for some insane reason makes my heart beat faster just thinking about. A strong jaw, and that lovely mouth that looks both firm and delightfully soft at the same time. Silky, dark hair, strands of which fall over his forehead in a manner that makes one’s fingers itch to brush the locks back into place

“He has what, darling?”

Genevieve’s voice jerked Catherine from her reverie with a start. Good Lord, her thoughts had positively run amuck. Perhaps she
had
bumped her head harder than she’d thought. “He has dark hair, dark eyes, and a, um, rather nice smile.” Her conscience balked at the lukewarm description of Mr. Stanton’s smile as “nice,” but she firmly swatted her inner voice aside.

“So he’s just very ordinary.”

Ordinary? Catherine tried to attach that word to Mr. Stanton, and was spectacularly unsuccessful. Before she could think up a reply, Genevieve continued, “Well, that is just as well. He is here to protect you. If you were attracted to him, you might consider entering into a liaison with him, and that could lead to all sorts of complications that could distract him from his duties.”

“I can assure you that a liaison with Mr. Stanton—or anyone else for that matter—is the furthest thing from my mind.”

Genevieve smiled. “Then thank heavens you do not find him the least bit attractive.”

“Yes, thank heavens.”

Yet even as those three words passed her lips, her inner voice whispered three words of its own.

Liar, liar, liar.

Chapter 6

Many men feel disinclined to give a woman what she wants if she is bold enough simply to ask for it. In addition, many men disregard superb ideas simply because they were suggested by a woman. Therefore, the most expeditious way for Today’s Modern Woman to get what she wants and to implement her ideas is to lead the gentleman in question to believe that it was his idea all along.

A Ladies’ Guide to the Pursuit of
Personal Happiness and Intimate Fulfillment
by Charles Brightmore

A
ndrew leaned his shoulders against the white marble mantel in the drawing room and tried his best not to glare at the monstrous floral tribute that dominated the room. Clearly he was not entirely successful—either that or Spencer was clairvoyant—because the lad said, “Dreadful, isn’t it?”

He turned his attention to Spencer, who sat on an overstuffed brocade settee next to the fireplace. The boy’s attention was fixed upon the trio of fruit tarts remaining on the silver platter Milton had served with their tea.

“Dreadful,” Andrew agreed. “Whoever sent that bouquet must have emptied every flower shop in the district.”

“The Duke of Kelby,” Spencer said, plucking a strawberry-topped tart from the tray. “Horrendously wealthy, although I’m certain the flowers came from his private conservatory, not a local shop.”

Bloody hell. The quizzing glass sporting, carplike duke was horrendously wealthy. With his own damn private conservatory.

Before Andrew could comment, Spencer looked up at him with a worried frown. “Is my mother all right?”

Wariness skittered through Andrew. “What do you mean?”

“She seemed worried. Did something happen in London to upset her?”

Damn it, he didn’t want to lie to the boy, yet he couldn’t ignore Lady Catherine’s request not to mention the shooting. “I think the journey back to Little Longstone exhausted her,” he said carefully.

There was no mistaking Spencer’s relief, and Andrew felt like a cad of the first order for not being honest with the lad. God knows he’d uttered an uncountable number of lies over the years without so much as batting an eye, but being less than truthful with this young man did not sit well at all.

Anxious to change the subject lest he be forced to say something else less than truthful, he asked, “Tell me, what sort of man is this duke?”

“Don’t really know. But he looks like a carp. I’d say he belongs in your museum with the rest of the relics.” Spencer stuffed half the tart in his mouth with a huge, enthusiastic bite that had Andrew holding back a grin. He swallowed, then added, “But it’s not just that he’s carplike. He doesn’t
care
about my mother.”

“And how do you know that?”

Spencer jerked his head toward the flower monstrosity. “Because he sent her those. She hates large, ostentatious displays like that. If he knew anything about my mother, he’d know that she’d prefer a single bloom.”

Andrew made a mental note of that useful information, and, burying the guilt that pricked him at questioning Spencer, he asked, “What else does your mother like?”

Spencer screwed up his face, clearly giving the matter serious thought. “Girl things,” he finally said.


Girl
things?”

“Yes. You know, gowns and ribbons and flowers and such. But simple. Not like that.” He pointed toward the huge bouquet.

Hmmm. Not much help there. “What else? Jewelry, I suppose?”

Spencer shook his head. “No. Or at least not very much I don’t think, as she rarely wears any. Mum likes animals. Walking in the gardens. Tending her flowers. Taking the waters. And strawberries. She’s very fond of strawberries.” He popped the other half of the tart into his mouth and grinned. “Me too.”

Andrew smiled in return. “Me three.” He leaned down, to help himself to a strawberry tart, which he ate with only marginally less gusto than Spencer, eliciting a laugh from the boy.

“Well, I’m glad that the duke doesn’t know what Mum likes,” Spencer said, his expression sobering, “or any of those other gentlemen who are trying to win her favor. She doesn’t need them.
We
don’t need them.” His gaze wandered down to his misshapen foot, and his jaw tightened. When he raised his gaze, Andrew’s heart lurched at the thousand hurts he read shimmering in Spencer’s eyes.

“I wish I could make them all just take away their flowers and invitations and gifts and leave her alone,” Spencer
said, a quiver evident in his fervent voice. “I wish I was strong and could fight. Like you. Then they’d leave her alone.”

“I fight gentlemen in the pugilist’s ring,” Andrew said gently. “I don’t make a habit of going about popping dukes in the nose—even if they do send horrible flower arrangements.”
Of course, I could change my policy on that…

Spencer didn’t respond with the smile Andrew had hoped for. “Uncle Philip said you are also an expert fencer.”

“I’m passable.”

“Uncle Philip said you’ve defeated him, and he
is
an expert.” Before Andrew could reply, Spencer rushed on, “Who taught you to fight with your fists?”

“My father gave me some instructions—after I arrived home one afternoon with a bleeding nose, swollen lip, and two blackened eyes. The rest I learned the hard way, I’m afraid.”

Spencer’s jaw dropped. “Someone hit you?”


Hit
is an understatement for the thorough thrashing I received.”

“Who would do such a thing? And why? Weren’t they afraid of you?”

Andrew laughed. “Hardly. I was only nine years old at the time, and as scrawny as they come. I was walking home after a successful afternoon of lake fishing when two local boys set upon me. They were both about my age, but far less scrawny than I. After they blackened my eyes, they relieved me of my fish.”

“I wager they wouldn’t attempt such a thing now,” Spencer predicted.

“I’d certainly give them a better showing than I did back then,” Andrew agreed.

“Did they ever do it again?”

“Oh, yes. They waited for me every week, the same spot, on my way home from the lake. I changed my return route, but they quickly caught on to that ploy. They made my life excessively miserable for several months.” Memories swept over him, of his shame at returning to his father without the fish he’d been sent to catch. The humiliation of shedding tears of pain and frustration, in spite of his best efforts not to, in front of his tormentors. His father looking at him through shrewd, yet calm eyes.
How many more times you gonna let those whelps beat the tar out of you and steal our dinner, son?
Wiping his bloody nose with the back of his hand, fighting back tears.
None, Pa. They ain’t gonna beat me next time. Show me again how to fight them…

“And then what happened?”

Andrew blinked and the memory dissipated as if blown away on a gentle breeze. “I learned how to fight. How to protect myself. Then I bloodied
their
noses. Only had to do it once.”

Spencer’s lips pressed together into a thin line. “I’d wager your father was proud of you when you succeeded in subduing those ruffians.”

There was no missing the pain in those words, and Andrew’s heart squeezed for this young man whose hurts obviously ran so deep, and who, in spite of having all his mother’s love, still longed for a father’s love and acceptance as well. “My father was proud,” Andrew agreed softly, refusing to acknowledge the lump of emotion threatening to clog his throat. “And very relieved that we wouldn’t be losing our fish any longer.”

“Why didn’t your father go with you to the lake so the boys wouldn’t set upon you?”

“You know, at the time, I asked myself, and him, that
very question. And I’ve never forgotten what he said. He told me, ‘Son, a man doesn’t let anyone else fight his battles for him. If someone else has to fight for your pride, then it isn’t yours at all.’” He smiled. “My father was a very wise man.”

“Was?”

Andrew nodded. “He died the year I turned sixteen.”

Spencer’s solemn expression indicated he understood losing a father. “Do you…think of him often?”

It was clear by his tone that the question was serious to Spencer, so Andrew thought carefully before answering. “After he died, I thought of him all the time. I tried not to, I pushed myself, worked harder, trying to exhaust my body and mind so I wouldn’t think of him because every time I did, it…hurt. He’d been my best friend, and for my entire life, we were all we had.”

“Where was your mum?”

“Died birthing me.”

“So you and your father were alone,” Spencer murmured. “Like me and my mum.”

“Yes, I suppose we were. As the years passed, the pain of his death became less sharp. Rather like a knife whose blade loses it edge—it can still cut, but not as keenly. I still think of him every day—it just doesn’t hurt as much now.”

“How did he die?”

Another image flashed in Andrew’s mind, filling him with acute pain, and he realized that he hadn’t been entirely honest with Spencer about the grief dulling over time. “He drowned. A heavy fog rolled in one night while he was at the wharf, and he lost his bearings. Stepped off the dock.” Emotion tightened his throat. “He was a strong, hearty man who could do a thousand things, but he couldn’t swim.”

“I’m sorry.”

“As am I.”

Spencer’s gaze again drifted down to his damaged foot and for nearly a minute, the only sound in the room was the ticking of the mantel clock. Finally, he looked up. “Isn’t it odd that the one thing your robust father couldn’t do is the only thing I
can
do.”

“You can do more than swim, Spencer.”

He shook his head. “No. I cannot fence. Or fight. Or ride.” His voice took on a bitter, resigned edge that broke Andrew’s heart. “I can’t do any of those things. It’s why my father hated me, you know.”

Andrew pushed off from the mantel and sat beside Spencer. Leaning forward, Andrew rested his elbows on his spread knees and clasped his hands, searching for the right words. He wanted to refute the boy’s statement, assure him his father had cared for him, but Spencer was no longer a child, and far too intelligent to accept such empty platitudes.

Turning to look at him, Andrew said, “I’m sorry that your relationship with your father was estranged and that he didn’t know what a fine young man you are. That was truly his loss, and
his
decision—one that in no way reflects poorly on you.”

Surprise, and gratitude, flashed in Spencer’s eyes before his expression went flat. “But he wouldn’t have hated me if I were like other boys.”

“Then learn from his mistake, Spencer. Outward appearances are a poor way to judge a person. Just because someone is beautiful or without physical imperfection does not mean he possesses integrity or a good character.
Those
are the things upon which a person should be judged.”

Spencer looked away and plucked at his jacket sleeve. “I wish everyone felt that way, Mr. Stanton.”

Andrew debated for several seconds, then gave in to his inclination and patted Spencer’s shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. “So do I. But unfortunately we can’t control other people’s actions. Or words. Only our own. And you’re wrong, Spencer. You
could
do those things. If you really wanted to.”

Spencer gazed back at him with eyes too young to hold all the hurt and cynicism shimmering in their depths. “I can’t.”

“Have you ever tried?”

A humorless laugh escaped the boy’s lips. “No.”

“My father, who we’ve already established was a very wise man, was fond of telling me, ‘Son, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be where you’ve always been.’” He kept his gaze steady on Spencer’s. “Is that what you want? To always say that you cannot do something that you want to do?”

“But how can I do them? Have you not noticed this?” He jabbed his finger toward his foot.

“Of course I noticed. But it hasn’t stopped you from walking. Or swimming. Your foot is damaged, but your mind is not. I’m not suggesting that you aspire to become the best fencer or pugilist or rider in England—only that you aspire to be the best
you
can be. Tell me, what is your favorite food—the thing you love above all else?”

The boy looked confused at the abrupt change of subject, but he answered. “Cook’s fresh-baked scones with strawberry jam.”

“How do you know they’re your favorite?”

“Because I tried them…” His voice trailed off as understanding dawned in his eyes.

“Exactly. You wouldn’t have discovered your very favorite food if you hadn’t tried it the first time. I wouldn’t have known that I could pound the piss out of those ruffians if I hadn’t tried. If I hadn’t wanted to. If I hadn’t been determined. The only thing stopping you from doing the things you want to do is
you
, Spencer. By thinking that you can’t.”

A heartbreaking combination of doubt, confusion, and hope ignited in his eyes. “You think I can?”

“I know you can.”

“You’d teach me?”

“You’ve only to ask.”

“But…what if I fail?”

“You can only fail if you don’t try. If you don’t take that first step, you’ll never know how far you might go. If you at least make an attempt, you’ve already succeeded.”

“Are those more words of wisdom from your father?”

“No. Those are hard-won lessons I had to learn for myself. Lessons no one offered to teach me.”

“The way you’re offering to teach me.”

“Yes.”

He frowned and plucked at his sleeve again, clearly debating. Finally, he said, “Mother won’t like it, you know. She’ll be afraid I’ll hurt myself.” A red flush stained his cheeks. “In truth, I might be a bit afraid of that myself.”

“We’ll go very slowly. A great deal of it involves balance, and I’ve a number of ideas how to help you with that. And if, at any time, you want to cease our lessons, we shall.”

The boy drew a deep breath, then straightened his spine. Andrew’s heart warmed at the combination of determination and tentative eagerness shining in his eyes. “When can we begin?” he asked. “Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow it is.”

“Best to do it when Mother won’t be about,” Spencer said, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial level. “I’d suggest after breakfast. That’s when she spends an hour in her rooms seeing to her correspondence.”

“Agreed.”

“After our lesson, I’ll take you to the warm springs. It will be especially fine to soak after our exertions.”

Andrew managed a weak smile. “The warm springs. Yes, that sounds delightful.”

He made another quick mental note—to fabricate something that required his immediate attention after his lesson with Spencer so as to avoid the trip to the warm springs. He had no intention of getting anywhere near the water.
Like father, like son…

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