Read The Taming of the Rake Online

Authors: Kasey Michaels

Tags: #Romance, #Regency, #Historical, #Fiction

The Taming of the Rake (10 page)

“Well, that settles it for me, Beau. I’m not looking. You?”

Beau shook his head, insanely thinking how much he’d like to kiss Chelsea again. She was such an odd, frank-speaking creature, with more sides to her than a…well, a thing with many sides.

“I believe I’d also much rather remember Abigail as she was the last time I saw her. Will the service be this afternoon then, Puck? I told Papa that Chelsea and I must be on our way, but if it’s not to be until tomorrow, I suppose we can take that chance. After all, the earl has already been and gone yesterday.”

“Thomas was here?” Chelsea’s eyes had gone very wide and somewhat frightened. “Oh, no. And with the poor marquess’s wife just died. And I’m sure my brother was bullying and obnoxious as only he knows
how to be. I will have to apologize at once. Was it very terrible?”

Beau took her hand without consciously thinking about what he was doing, and the three made their way to the morning room. “It wasn’t pleasant, no,” he told her. “My father denied knowing anything, of course, because he didn’t know anything, and eventually they went on their way.”

“They? Oh, you mean my brother’s servants.”

He held back her chair for her as Puck offered to fill her plate from the silver dishes on the sideboard. “There were five riders with him, yes,” he said, easing into what he had to tell her. And he had to tell her. “There was also the Reverend Francis Flotley, who refused to depart until he’d said a prayer over Abigail’s
corporeal remains,
which the marquess flatly denied permission for him to do. Papa didn’t think the man seemed truly holy.”

“The marquess is a very discerning man, and Francis Flotley is a pig,” Chelsea said, reaching for her fork. “I shouldn’t have an appetite after hearing all of this, but my stomach doesn’t seem to share my scruples. It must be getting used to its new, altered circumstances.”

“Then I suggest you eat quickly,” Beau told her as he accepted a cup of coffee from one of the footmen and sat down across the table from her. “Because it seems that Madelyn also is traveling in company with your brother.”

The fork dropped noisily onto the fine china dish. “Madelyn? Good God, no. Why?”

“I can answer that one,” Puck volunteered as he snatched up a piece of toast. “If the earl is going to rescue you, Chelsea, he has to do it quietly, and you have to be seen in female company. Ergo, the sister was the logical choice. The lovely bits about this are, as I’m sure you’d have quickly grasped on your own, that a female in the group means a coach and, with a coach, a slower progress toward the border. Plus, the earl was nice enough to inform Papa that they were on their way to Scotland, to rescue you. And to have Beau’s guts for garters, I believe he said.”

“But Madelyn hates traveling. She always feels certain she’s forgotten something she’ll absolutely perish without, so she brings almost everything with her. She detests inn food, so she never travels without her cook and full hampers. She sleeps only on her own scented sheets. She has the bladder of a flea, our father always said, and if she rides for more than two hours at a time she’s very likely to become messily sick to her stomach. I can’t believe she’d agree to ride all the way to Scotland.”

“That sounds promising, Beau,” Puck said. “It sounds as if the sister will slow the earl’s progress very neatly.”

Beau nodded his agreement. “Traveling lightly, on horseback, we should be able to overtake and pass them, even with this delay.”

“Delay?
Delay?
Is that how you see my sister’s death, Beau? As a
delay?
‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!’”

Beau and Puck both sprang to their feet and went to
full military attention, just as if the Iron Duke himself had deigned to enter the officers’ mess.

 

S
O THIS IS THE WOMAN
who chose her freedom over the man she purports to love, over the futures of her own sons. She doesn’t look evil.

Chelsea sat quietly in her chair in the drawing room, part of her still longing for the breakfast she had missed, but most of her too captivated by the woman now holding court with her men. Her admirers.

Adelaide was everything her sister had been in looks; she and Abigail had looked astonishingly, almost eerily alike. But Adelaide was definitely not wearing wings.

Her slim frame was draped in unremitting black, including the veil she’d gracefully lifted back off her face as Beau introduced her to Chelsea. Her huge blue eyes had assessed Chelsea coolly even as her mouth had formed kind words of welcome.

Chelsea had immediately known she was being weighed, measured and most definitely catalogued. Was this unexpected female friend or foe? Useful to her, or useless? Controllable, or did she need to be put in her place? Was she an admirer or her competition? It was almost as if Chelsea could hear small wheels turning in the woman’s head.

Chelsea decided she didn’t much care for Adelaide Claridge.

It would appear, however, that her lover and her sons believed she set out the stars at night.

The marquess sat beside her, holding one slim hand
in both of his, tears brimming in his eyes as she talked about her darling Abigail. Beau stood at the mantel, watching his mother as if transfixed, and Puck was actually seated at her feet, like some obedient puppy.

The queen and her court. No, her audience.

Chelsea squirmed in her seat.

But at least everyone was ignoring her, which she appreciated, as it gave her time to look at them all, watch them all, perhaps put them in nice, neat pigeonholes in her mind.

Puck and Beau, with their thick manes of blond hair, both most resembled their mother in coloring. But they had taken their looks from their dark-haired father. Beautiful mother, handsome, well-set-up father—no wonder both sons had turned out to be so physically attractive.

Although Chelsea believed that, while Puck was certainly every young debutante’s dream—a sentiment with which he’d undoubtedly concur—it was definitely Beau who had gotten the best of both of their parents. And his personality, it would seem, definitely more from his mother, although she thought he might not like to believe that. There was a bit of the ruthless in Beau.

Because the marquess, kind and welcoming as he had been to Chelsea during this sad time, appeared to have all the backbone of a sponge now that his lover was on the scene. Everything was
Yes, dearest
and
No, my sweet,
and
Whatever you think best, Adelaide.

As the woman left off her recollections of her sister
and began regaling her audience about her recent triumphs on the stage in Tewkesbury and Chepstow, Chelsea clearly saw two things: Adelaide’s delight and her lover’s despair. If the man had entertained any thoughts of Adelaide giving up the stage now that her sister was gone, he’d had those hopes dashed within ten seconds of the woman opening her mouth.

Chelsea couldn’t watch any more of this.

“Excuse me,” she said when Adelaide paused for breath, or for effect, or whatever, getting to her feet. “You’ve all been very kind, but I believe I should give you some privacy now as a family.”

Adelaide put out her hand, leaving Chelsea no choice but to take it. “What a sad introduction, I’m afraid. You and I will speak later, I hope. We have much to talk about, now that you’re to be my daughter. Right after I tease my naughty son for having very lovely taste in having scooped you up and run off with you, although I will say he’s being unaccustomedly romantic.”

“Mother, please,” Beau said quietly.

She dropped Chelsea’s hand and turned to the marquess with a delighted squeal. “Good God, Cyril, we could soon be grandparents. I’m much too young to be a grandparent. Chelsea, my sweet, please tell me you’re not already increasing.”

Chelsea felt her cheeks catching fire even as she kept her smile steady. She debated whether or not she should curtsey to the woman—after all, Chelsea clearly out-ranked the actress—but then decided that the woman was probably one of those creatures who kept score.
Which, Chelsea knew, meant that she was already trailing badly in the contest.

“Mama, I believe that will be enough,” Beau said quietly, pushing himself away from the mantelpiece. “I also believe you never got your breakfast, Chelsea. Let’s see if we can remedy that. We’ll see everyone in the chapel at two.”

She nodded her agreement, deciding not to thank him because she was confident he was as anxious to be shed of the drawing room as she was, but only took his offered arm and allowed him to guide her back into the entrance hall.

“Oliver, I—”

“Shh, not a word, not yet,” he told her, leaving her to stand by herself as he walked across the hall and gave a few quick orders to the footman. Only then did he motion for her to follow him.

Once they were standing outside the massive doors they’d entered through the previous evening, he turned to her, his expression bleak. “I used to adore her, you know. Puck recognizes what she is, and chooses to pretend he hasn’t noticed. And Jack? Well, Jack hasn’t seen or spoken to her in years.”

“But you’re the oldest. Son of the man, if not the next marquess. You feel you have to do what, Oliver? Set some sort of example?”

They walked along the drive before cutting across the lawns, clearly heading somewhere, not simply ambling. “My father loves her. I have to respect that. It would hurt him to know that I don’t think she’s the paragon
he has had on that pedestal for so many years. Damn. How did you know?”

“I didn’t know,” Chelsea admitted as their destination became apparent. They were heading toward the stables. “I merely watched, and then I guessed. Does she know, do you think?”

“God, I hope not. After all, what good would it be for her to know? We can’t change any of it. She actually told me I was lucky to be a bastard, that all three of us are lucky, as we’ll never have to wonder if the women we love chose us for ourselves, or for our wealth and titles. She said this as I was still licking the wounds inflicted by your brother, by the way. I think she thought to comfort me.”

“Well, that’s simply stupid,” Chelsea said, angry all over again. “Do you want to know what I think, Oliver?”

“I imagine I’m going to hear it no matter how I answer, so, please, enlighten me.”

Chelsea felt herself blushing again. “I can’t help it. I say what I think, sometimes even before I think.”

“‘Do you not know I am a woman?’” Beau quoted. “‘When I think, I must speak.’ Sorry. I grew up listening to my mother rehearse lines, helping her by taking different parts. She always says Shakespeare has an answer for everything.”

“Does he have one for selfishness?” Chelsea took in a breath and let it out in a rush. “Oh, now I apologize. I have no right to say anything. But it seems to me,” she went on quickly, before he could agree with her, “that
your mother twists everything, and everyone, so that it and they suit what she wants. I only wonder how she manages to keep your father so enthralled, even after all these years.”

“She’d probably tell you if you applied to her, but you women have all the advantages anyway, so I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Oh, but I didn’t mean…I mean, I wasn’t going to
use
what she—that is…you’re quite annoying, Oliver, do you know that?”

“I believe that’s been mentioned a time or two over the years, yes, and much more often in these past few days. Would you like to hear more about your brother’s visit to Blackthorn?”

Chelsea considered the question for a moment and then shook her head. “I think I’ll content myself with the knowledge that all three of them will be stuck together in the traveling coach all the way to Scotland, and hope that they murder each other. But may I ask you something else?”

“If I say no, will you be satisfied?”

“I don’t think so, no. What I want to ask—what I’m asking—is why you carry the name Blackthorn. Your father’s family name is Woodeword, and your mother was introduced to me as Adelaide Claridge. Blackthorn is a place, a title. Yet you and your brothers bear it as your surname.”

They had reached the stable yard, to see that a fine curricle had been brought out and a team put into the shafts. “Let me help you up onto the seat,” Beau said.
“We’re going to the village. It sits on Blackthorn land, so we won’t be exposing ourselves all that much.”

“There’s no longer any food in the kitchens?” Chelsea asked him, sure her stomach would soon begin to grumble in protest if she didn’t feed it.

Beau laughed and went around the back of the curricle, soon joining her on the seat and taking up the reins. “We can stop at the inn first if you’re that hungry, but I’m hoping we can find you some clothing. Unless you have some great attachment to that riding habit and wish to live in it for the next two weeks?”

“Oh.” She hung on to the edge of the plank seat as they set off out of the stable yard. “That’s…very thoughtful of you. Do you really think there will be anything suitable in the village?”

“I doubt you’d wish to wear any of what we find to Almacks, not that you’ll be invited there again, but we should be able to manage something. And it was because nobody told her she couldn’t.”

“Excuse me?”

“You asked why we carry the name Blackthorn. Mama gave it to all of us.”

“Because nobody told her she couldn’t,” Chelsea repeated, shaking her head. “Well, of course. I doubt anyone tells her what she can or cannot do, or that she’d listen if anyone tried. You know, Oliver, between the bastardy and all that comes with it, not to mention what you’ve lost thanks to it, and your, I’m sure, lovely yet clearly selfish mother, not to mention your well-meaning but just as clearly muddled father, I’m
surprised you turned out as well as you did. Upon reflection, and remembering my suitors over these past years, and dismissing the horrible Francis Flotley all together, I could do much worse than to marry you.”

He looked at her for a moment, rather startled she supposed, and then threw back his head and laughed.

She really did like his laugh.

 

M
ADELYN SAT
in the forward-facing seat, alongside her brother, and stared at a spot somewhat to the left and approximately three inches higher than Francis Flotley’s left ear. “I cannot believe you have done this to me, Thomas. You
said
we’d have Chelsea by now, and be on our way back to London. You know I cannot travel all the way to Scotland like this. Only one maid, no more than three changes of clothing. Without my own sheets. Good God, man, you expect me to sleep on someone else’s sheets?”

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