The Reluctant Countess

by Karen Woods


Copyright © 2005 by Karen Woods

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This book is dedicated to the “Cubbies". Ladies, through thick and thin, good times and bad, we've helped
each other, cried on one another's shoulders, cheered each other on, prayed for each other, and become
sisters of the heart. Much love, always.

Chapter One

Lady Theodousia Crawford Langley lay back against the pillows in the actually quite nice bed provided for her
by the inn on this evening in early August 1811. She was alone in the room allocated to her, having sent her
own maid, Eva, to tend to the bedtime needs of her six-year-old half brother, little William, whose
governess/nanny had been lost to them during the voyage from Virginia to England. Relieved of company,
Dousia was free to relax at the end of what had been one of the most trying days of the past few months.

Silent tears flowed down her cheeks. She was lost in her own thoughts. It had been a miserable few months
since her father had died at the hands of a midnight housebreaker. St. Stephen's night was a time that she
knew that she would never forget. She only wished that she could. But, that was not a luxury that was to be
allowed her. Dousia had walked into her father's library discovering her father and the housebreaker—a large,
vile, man by the name of Douglas Smithson—as Smithson was stabbing her father. The murderous thief had
then come after her, demanding the key to the strong box, and had threatened to kill both her and William.
She had possessed no choice except to fight back, even though the odds against her had been astronomical.
Two men had died that night, her father and his assailant. She had avenged her father and defended her own
life and the life of her brother when she had been able to use Smithson's own knife against him. But, that
struggle had cost her, dearly. Dousia had been so severely beaten by Smithson that the doctors had held out
little hope that she would live. Against all odds, she had survived.

A week before her father's death, word had arrived from England that her grandfather had died. The tenth Duke
had been ninety-one years of age when he passed into eternity. Her uncle Jonathan then assumed the Ducal
title. The title of Marquis, with the lands and income associated with that title, had come to her father. That
title now belonged to William. Before he died, her father had put into place plans to return to England.
Because her father could not fulfill those plans, she had brought William to England. It was important that
William was raised to know his duties in regards to both the property and titles that were his and the
Dukedom he was heir to.

Leaving Virginia was the hardest thing that she had ever done. She had sold the family plantation. She had
sold the shipyards and the shipping line which had been her legacy from her uncle Peter Richardson and her

late husband. She had sold most of her furniture, bringing only the paintings, her books, and an array of
personal items that she simply couldn't part with. There was now nothing for her in Virginia. She would have
to make a new life for herself and for William in England. William would be at his majority in fifteen years and
her duties as his guardian would be over.

Tears were a luxury in which Dousia very infrequently indulged. William needed to have her as a strong
person to rely upon. It would not be a good thing to allow William to see her sad and weepy. He had
experienced enough sadness in his short life. So, the majority of the time, she kept her tears bottled up
inside and made a conscious effort to present a calm and even happy face to him. Eva, who had been
Dousia's nurse, and who knew her better than anyone else, continually told her that it did no good to bottle up
the tears, that she should allow herself a good long cry and get it over with. Maybe there was something to
that idea. If only she could have a month or two alone in order to find out. She might be able to cry herself dry
by then. Maybe.

She sighed and wiped the tears from her eyes. It did no good for anyone for her to cry over the past. Dousia
gently laid the book down on the night table.

A well modulated, cultured, deep bass voice said firmly, “Kemper said that you were very beautiful. I see that
he, for once, was quite accurate."

Dousia turned her head quickly to see a tall, well dressed, blonde, bearded man with a long scar on the left
side of his face, standing there looking at her with undisguised desire written clearly on his face. He was a
quite handsome man except for that scar. But the scar told her that he had seen violence and had survived it.
She fought back the fear she felt. This was definitely not the time for hysterics.

She hadn't heard anyone come in. Besides, she was certain that Eva had left the door locked when she had
left the room. So, this man had to have a key. If so, there was definitely a problem. Screaming for help would
not be necessarily productive. If he had a key, that meant he was in collusion with the innkeeper. Dousia had
dealt with fortune hunters in their attempts to compromise her into marriage before. This could be one
extremely elaborate attempt to get control of her funds. Or it could be something more sinister. But
screaming for help might only play into his hands and make this situation worse. She would have to deal with
it herself, quietly.

“How did you get in here?” she demanded quietly, but firmly.

The man smiled and said indulgently, “How else does one enter a locked room? With a key, of course."

“If you've come to rob me, I'm afraid that you've picked the wrong room. I haven't more than a very few pounds
in gold. The bit of jewelry in the case has more sentimental value than actual worth,” she replied tightly, trying
not to let her fear show. “It would be far better for you if you simply put the key down on the bureau and left
the room,” she added calmly.

“Kemper said that you were a beautiful woman. I'm glad this time to see that he wasn't selling me a bill of
goods. I shall be most happy to fulfill my end of our agreement. You will like the little house on Lisle Street.
During pleasure, lass, you will lack nothing."

“Get out of here!” she ordered fiercely, her fear of the man growing by each passing moment. “This is my
room. What do you think that you are doing here? Get out!” Angrily she picked up her book and hurled it at

He easily caught the book. “Shame on you. Books make very poor projectiles. If you were going to throw
something, you should have chosen something harder. I see I shall have to teach you more respect for
property, especially if it is my property."

“Go away!"

The man only laughed, as though he thought this was a game. “I like a woman with spirit,” he said strongly.
He looked at her for a long moment, his face taking on the look of a man who greatly desires a particular
woman. It had been years since she had seen that look on the face of a man in her bedchamber.

“Leave my chamber at once, sir!” she demanded.

“I'm afraid that I can't oblige you in that, lass,” he drawled. “These are my rooms."

“That is a matter of contention! I believe that I have a prior claim since I bespoke these rooms this afternoon!"

He laughed quietly. “Ah, we have a conflict in title. How shall we then settle the matter?"

“I cannot settle anything until I am decently dressed,” she said crossly. “Pray step out into the hall. Then we
can go see the innkeeper's wife, and consult my companions in this matter,” she suggested. “Between the
two sources, I believe we should be able to settle the matter of who has rights to this chamber."

“Oh, I do believe that everything we need to settle we may do so more efficiently with you in the state of dress
in which you currently find yourself,” he offered lightly.

“Since you will not leave, at least act like the gentleman which your clothes and voice proclaim you to be. Be
so kind as to turn your back,” she stated.

Justin laughed, good naturedly. “Bashful. I say, that is a new wrinkle for one of your profession. Are you
innovative in passion, lass?"

“Sir, you obviously have the wrong room. Pray, go speak with the innkeeper,” she said. The effort to remain
calm was extremely taxing. “I have engaged these rooms for the night."

“I have no intention, lass, of depriving you of a bed, tonight,” he drawled in amusement. “I know from
experience that the bed in this room is plenty large enough to comfortably sleep two people. Although I doubt
that either of us will be doing that much in the way of sleeping tonight."

Her voice trembled with anger as she spoke, “Pray avert your eyes, sir! I do not appreciate being ogled as
though I were a piece of merchandise of which you were debating the purchase."

“No, not debating. I have already agreed to pay generously for your time. Your contract with me was
contingent upon my acceptance of you. Let me remind you of the terms: three thousand pounds per annum
during pleasure, plus a wardrobe allowance, a carriage and team at your disposal, and a house with staff. In
addition, you will have an annuity of five hundred pounds for two years after we part or until you find another
means of support. So, let us not waste more time in consummating the bargain,” Justin said as he removed
his coat and unknotted his cravat. He walked over to a chair and began to drape the garments over the back
of the armless oak chair.

“I am not for sale, sir. You are obviously in the wrong room, with the wrong woman. I am not the whore whom
you believe me to be,” she said as strongly as she dared. “Please, sir, do not disrobe!"

Justin read the title of the book Dousia had been apparently reading. “Crying over the heroine's fate in a novel.
My, what tender sensibilities you have, lass. That is something which is rare in a person of your profession—
both the ability to read and the tender sensibilities,” he said amusedly as he looked down on her blushing
face. “However, in keeping with your extreme modesty, I will turn my back to allow you the privacy you seek."

Dousia watched him turn and step several paces away. She debated for only a moment before she threw
back the bedclothes and climbed out of bed. She reached for the emerald green silk brocade wrapper. There
was a pistol under her pillow. She was prepared to defend herself. Yet, she needed to resolve this peaceably
if possible. The wrapper wasn't much in the way of covering, but it was much better than the whisper thin silk
chemise she slept in.

It was only then that Dousia realized that he had seen her reflection in the large mirror over the dressing
table. The only saving factors in this whole situation were that Eva would be returning soon and that, if
necessary, she could put a ball into the man.

Justin crossed over to her. “You have wasted time. You'll just have to take off those clothes. But they are
beautiful. And expensively made. Your taste is exquisite. I'm going to enjoy showing you off in town. You
should be decked out in silks and jewels.” Justin pulled her gently into his arms.

Your accent is ever so slightly off. “I do not know for whom you have mistaken me. sounds of pleasure coming from her as he possessed her fully. Dousia meant to offer another protest. her legs wrapped around him. She burned and was quickly intoxicated.” she answered tersely. she said. It had been a very long time since she had felt desire.” she replied reflectively. I think that we would both rather not have this incident more widely known than is necessary. Any resistance she might have offered was drowned in the warm and totally masculine taste of him. Despite her profession. Her eyes sparkling with anger she could no longer conceal. you have made an error of monstrous proportions. he was strictly a sea man. possessively. This woman was sweet. you have compromised me just by your being here and taking these liberties. as if he had every right to demand her passion.” Dousia said in as composed of a voice as she could muster. I cannot quite place it. Yet. He pulled her more tightly against him. she shan't hesitate to scream for help. He wanted her there. And it excited him all the more." Justin smiled broadly. She told herself that it would be a mistake to arouse his anger without having the pistol firmly in her hands. there was no practiced seduction. somehow. He felt her breasts flatten against his chest. Most people wouldn't pick up on your muted accent. She has been with me since my childhood. Since I do not wish to remarry. “I am not the woman whom you believe me to be. He kissed her deeply. Dousia felt herself whirling in a whirlwind of passion that was stunningly powerful. she was engulfed by a wave of desire such that she had not felt since Thomas died. “I suppose that he died bravely in the service of King and Country. You must have studied with a very good diction coach. I would rather that she does not find you here. Where are you from?" “My maid shall be returning within a matter of moments. But. “Would you. shall we?" Then Justin caught sight of the plain yellow gold band on the third finger of her left hand. No. though . Yet. His mouth moved on hers with an overwhelming experience. and her body responded to his nearness as a drowning man would respond to a lifeline. “Widowed. “You are married?” he asked coldly. The bed was just behind them. no well thought out plot to woo him in her response. he didn't give her the chance. Kissing him was like taking whiskey. She frowned. But. pray. leave my chamber?” she added with controlled anger in her voice. Justin settled his mouth against hers.. under him. she wasn't sure whether she was more angry at herself for revealing so much to him. I do not care to have that information. He continued kissing her. I would hate to have to explain this situation to her as I fail to understand it myself. “Although I am hesitant to call this much attention to this situation. He lightly stroked her face. His fingers entwined themselves among the strands of her auburn hair as he pulled her head towards his. or him for being in her room.. You are doing a very fine imitation of a Lady of Quality. while you can do so without adding further insult to the injury which you have . she could feel the raw strength in his embrace. perhaps on the peninsula?” Justin asked with just an edge of cynicism in his otherwise amused voice. her body had a will of its own. it would be better if you left now.Although he was holding her gently. I have to allow. “You are quite convincing. “Thomas would have rather been strung up by his thumbs rather than to have served in any army. Against her better judgment. Dousia found the strength to pull away from him. her yearning for him. Let us make the effort to keep your error from growing past all reasonable means of dealing. Her chin tilted upwards in a combination of defiance and invitation. “Under whose command?” Justin demanded. Although your being in here is a mistake. He felt her need. She sternly admonished herself that she could not allow herself to feel anything for this man.

We both know that we are going to be in bed. “Desire is insignificant. she rested her hands on his arms. “Lass. in order to protest. Unwittingly. and hard. greatly. he had unfastened her wrapper and had forced it to the floor. Don't you think that you are doing this a bit too brown.” he said as one hand lightly." .dealt me. Maybe even more than she had wanted Thomas. “Well. spacing her words for emphasis. Without her realizing it. feeling her trembling. Parting her lips. gently. stop playing hard to get. And. pretty lass. “Little liar. Tell me that you fail in longing to lie in my arms. tell me that you are not more than willing to take me to your bed." “Worried about your reputation. Now. Why deny the truth of what you are feeling?" Justin's attention was so focused on her face that he didn't see the hand that rose to forcibly strike his face. in order to look at her. pulled away from her slightly. except Thomas. He had never given any woman. like his mouth. Feeling as though her knees would collapse from beneath her. she began to tremble with the excitement he was creating within her. he was angry. His lips felt so right. secret places of her mouth. cause to fear him." She cleared her throat. not even a lightskirt. lass.” she told him. are you?" “A woman's reputation is a fragile thing. sweet lass. his tongue lightly tracing the outline of her lips before demanding entrance into the dark. “Now." He laughed. as he spun a web of deep kisses that left her with only the ability to mew little moans of her growing ecstasy. you will have to do without force while we are together." “If you really wanted me to go. her traitorous heart suggested. His hands. much more than she had ever wanted any man. “Oh certainly. as his mouth opened over hers. almost reverently. I desire you. I will make your blood sing. to kiss you. His voice softened. So. She could tell by the way that he clinched his jaw. He laughed triumphantly. Justin saw the look of stark terror in her eyes as she cringed as though she expected to be struck. and allow this incident to be publicly known! No reputation could survive that scandal. My apologies to you. His lips met hers with a caress so light. I am not the woman whom you believe me to be. She did not want to push him away. Yet. but there was as much anger in his tone as there was amusement. you could scream for help. so tender that she could not stop the wave of feeling that swept over her.” He lightly stroked her temple. was a mistake of the first order. to have me stroke you. so warm against hers. His hands found her hips and gently forced them forward so that their loins pressed tightly together. He was right: she wanted him. and hungry. You knew when you first traded your favors for support that you had put the honor of marriage forever behind you. throwing him slightly off balance. to pleasure you as you pleasure me. He caught her hands in one of his. Her arms moved up to rest on his chest." He removed his hand from in between them and pulled her closer to him. “Your heart began to race when you looked at me.” Justin said with a small laugh in his voice as he took her hand and pulled her to him. His mouth was hot. in case you haven't noticed. Justin. The warmth of his hands through the fine silk of her chemise sent tiny thrills of desire throughout her body. sir!" “I can see your pulse beating away faster right here. made its way between the brocade of her wrapper and the thin silk of her chemise. “Is that your game.” he told her in husky amusement. as if to push him away. you little hellcat?” he bit out angrily. Cease talking about marriage. Her eyes were glazed over with desire. He was instantly ashamed of himself. were hot and hard. “Pray do not compound your error. if that is something that you require. she found that she could not push him away. “you want me to make love with you.

His hands moved slowly over her hips. His hands were on the move. taking her into his arms. There she was. he took one nipple and then the other into his mouth and began to suck each one in turn. And then she was swept away on a wave that crested abruptly. will have all night to explore each other.” she begged as the tears which she had been controlling began to fall. despicable.” He picked her up into his arms and carried her the few steps to her bed. down her throat. “Oh. The large expanse of curly blonde hair that graced his chest gradually became visible as he undid button after button. on the bed. One last searing kiss. with a very deadly looking. All she knew was that she should stop him.“There are not enough vile. “ Now. marking a trail of light kisses from her mouth. names in the world to call you!” she bit out. But. “ Get over here and help me with my boots. Verbiage. he said. Laying beside her. He looked at her for the longest moment. And once more. “Now. but the words came out as merely disjointed and unintelligible moans against his lips. So husky. That she had reached satisfaction so quickly excited him. dueling pistol pointed straight at his chest. but firmly as he began unbuttoning his shirt. bed. now. his voice husky with desire. do not. “You are vile!” she replied in as strong of a voice as she could muster as she reached for the covering of her chemise. He raised his mouth to hers once more. The mouth that had been plundering her mouth now was worshipping her breasts. I have never struck a woman in my life. You and I. allowing it to drop to the floor.” he said quietly with a self-deprecating laugh as he forced himself away from her. How are you at the role of valet?” he asked as he sat down. leaving behind sinews singed with the fire of the passion he was eliciting from her. He joined her on the bed. his caress sent her senses reeling with the passion he was able to arouse in her. Slowly. his mouth moved lower. She told herself that. She gasped.” His lips met hers. her whole body stiffening and arching against him. naked.” Justin said quietly." Justin began to tug at his boots. And you talk so sweetly. oak-handled. The sooner that we get this done.” He untied the ribbon at her throat and pushed the chemise from her shoulders. . There were fiery kisses awakening in her the full extent of her still dormant desires. She should have reached for the gun.” he replied mockingly. are at odds with your tone of voice. my dear lass. then peeled off his shirt. you have me acting like a callow lad. lass. His head snapped up with the unmistakable sound of a pistol being cocked. Justin laughed quietly. An intense feeling of desire was building in her. we can get back to the matter of more important matters of pleasuring one another." He rose and stepped away from the bed in order to move to the chair that sat across the room so that he could remove his boots. in spite of her trying to catch it. lass. sir. She wanted to tell him to stop. She began to beat on him with her fists as he lowered her to the. my pretty lass. although the tenderness was still there. “Your words. but her traitorous body refused to take action as his fingers teased and excited her. “You are clever. “You are beautiful. “This is all a mistake." “Stop with the games. is another matter entirely. minx. kissing you. sitting. She stiffened as his fingers found the soft recesses between her thighs. rhythmically. already turned back. the caresses were of a more demanding nature. “I wanted to give you more pleasure. so full of passion. lass. does not arouse me. This time. The garment fell in a puddle around her feet. “Please. I need to be inside you when that happens again. then to her thighs. but she could not help but stare at his beautiful chest. I'm not going to let you goad me into anger. then. I am not the woman whom you believe me to be. And I have no intention of starting now. Her breasts ached from his caresses. lass.

Then we'll talk this out. If she hadn't been." “I shouldn't wager my life on that." “You will forgive my natural skepticism on that topic. “Pray. The Good Lord knows that you shall not be the first man whom I have sent directly to hell. it is in profoundly poor taste. She cleared her throat.. you will forgive me as I had rather imagined you differently." “Put the pistol down lass. If you are a Lady.” she chided. your highness. then I am the King of Siam. “Now move over to the wall." “I think not. “That would explain your arrogance. She felt her face grow hot. is there any need for you to enact a Cheltenham tragedy over this?" Her eyes grew hard. but her green eyes glittering in anger. You do not wish to shoot me. were I you. do not do anything which you shall regret later. as you value your life. “You'd hang for it. as you have already invaded my person. “But. move very slowly over to the wall. “No. I could not fail to hit my target at this distance. Seldom had she been as conscious of her own femininity as she had been during the last half-hour. Or at least. you will be wagering your life.” she dismissed bitterly. “Listen. I find nothing in the least humorous about this contretemps. “Lass.” she mocked. if you would be so kind as to rise slowly from that chair and walk over to the wall?” she replied as she motioned toward the wall with the pistol.” she said flatly." “Lady?” he retorted. which I am not. Nor was there any doubt that she would do so.” Justin urged. “Turn to face the wall. again.” she commanded. His body was tensed for action. lass. her voice in control. Place your nose upon the wall.“If this is some idea of a joke. However. he would have tried. Just lay the pistol down." His eyes swept over her body.” she urged.. “Do not be deceived into thinking that I will fail to shoot you. “Come on. indeed. Place the palms against the . then place your hands one on either side of your head. “And if I refuse to dance to your tune?” he queried softly. It would be just too ironic if he had survived all those years at sea to now be killed by a deranged redheaded bit of Muslin at an Inn.” she continued coldly as she watched his expression change from one of assessment to a look of almost boredom.” she said in a tone so cold that it sent chills down his spine. Be advised that if you do not immediately follow my instructions. Now. “Cheltenham tragedy. “Even if I were a bad shot. He sat smiling at her. She watched as he rose from the chair and walked over to the wall. “You have placed me in a most uncomfortable position. with the barest edge of prideful defiance in his voice. “Now that is rather doing it too brown. there is no need for you to hold that pistol on me. Justin's eyes glittered with rage. if he happened to give her cause. She was glad that she was out of his reach.” she said." She smiled wryly. lass. a small smile coming across her face. There isn't a court in the land that would convict a lady for defending her honor. The idea of putting a hole in your supercilious person holds a great deal of appeal. I do not give you favorable odds of success. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that the lass told the truth about having killed before.” he said in a reasonable tone. He just looked at her. “I assure you. I shall defend myself . Justin wondered for a moment just what variety of trouble he had landed himself into this time. I will not harm you. Forgive me for not recognizing you. lass. You know that you will not shoot me. that would explain your arrogance in dealing with women. “I do not wish to gaze upon your face. Now.” he said firmly. she knew that he would have taken the gun from her. nor do I care to feel your eyes upon my nakedness.

. The silence in the room was broken only by her breathing. do me the courtesy of remaining silent. It is a hard country. my lady. “If he moves. do not make the mistake of becoming an accomplice to this illegal act of your mistress'. she could hardly manage the rows of hooks on her gowns by herself and dear Eva could not both help her and keep an . “Who is it?" “It's Eva." Justin heard the clicking sound of a pistol being armed. “I wonder what the court will think of your denial. The food would be maggot riddled. serving girl. How many other men have you lured with it. you have a remarkably bold and insulting tongue." “If you intend to search my purse. They need women in Australia. Hold it on him. I intend to see him pay for this outrage. are.” Dousia said quietly.” Justin informed her tightly. “You rapist! Despoiler of virtuous women! They ought to string you up by your manhood. “Come in Eva. But. I would definitely urge the court to furnish a sentence of transportation. populated with murderers. I most assuredly am not the whore you seem to believe me to be. for the most part. “I would wager that transportation would be the penalty. yet she had often seen women at balls wearing less.wall.." “My relief is measurable. Now." Justin heard the door open and close. sir. “But then again. Kemper.” she replied tightly." “I do not know anyone by the name of Kemper . I have to dress. shoot him. A perfunctory knock came at the door. “Just get the other pistol. but quickly. As far as clothing went. I am so out of countenance with you at the moment. pray.” she replied caustically.” Justin warned softly. he decided that it might be better to wait for a less dangerous opportunity. “Are you injured?” the woman called Eva asked in shocked tones. would be wise to emigrate voluntarily." “For someone at the business end of a pistol. you will not find more than a hundred pounds contained there. You should feel right at home.” he replied quietly. then robbed?" “I am not a thief! And. And your friend. Eva. Yes. is a paltry sum over which to risk either a prolonged stay in Newgate or transportation to Australia. you have a remarkably beautiful body. “Imagine three months aboard a ship confined with ten to fifteen other women in an area smaller than this room.” he replied in a sneering voice." “And for a thief. Justin wondered if he should try to take the pistol away from her.” Eva replied sharply. do be silent!” she urged strongly. Eva. you know that. He wasn't exactly enamored by the notion of ending his life in this room. “Evangeline!” Dousia chided strongly after she had thrown back on her chemise and her wrapper. “One would almost think that you were courting death. Female convicts are considered by the officers aboard the ships to be rare sport to be passed about like the common lightskirts that they. but with menace in her voice.” came the reply in the voice of an American woman. I should doubt that they would find it more creditable than I am finding it. my fair lass. do not stir at all from that position or I will shoot you. And. “You. “You have the gall to talk about an illegal act?” Eva replied quietly. it would take truly very little further provocation to compel me to shoot you. Death is too good for you. it wasn't a good deal." “Pray. Besides. That. thieves and cutthroats.

my lady?” Evangeline demanded in genuine puzzlement. “And you deserve everything that is coming to you. I am quite at a loss about how to deal with this. I am the injured party here. sir." “I'll be going. There is no need for you to carry on so.” Eva replied quietly. “That is quite enough. the snowy linen shirt on the floor beside the bed. The filing of charges in this matter is an option to which I am not prepared to commit. Except that my steward. I feel in need of their advice at the moment. not yourself. my lady. but still wearing his breeches and one of his boots. surveying the room. Yet. “Pray oblige me by keeping your mouth closed!” she said angrily.” Justin said quietly. I have no need to tell you that if any hint of this became common knowledge that it would ruin me in the eyes of society beyond redemption. well muscled man who was facing the wall without his shirt. “I have heard quite enough of your unfounded accusations and threats to last at least one lifetime. please." “I shall.” she said calmly. Tony Blythe stood back. Justin remarked quietly. “If this isn't a robbery. “I am warning you." “Are you certain that you wish to be alone with him?” Eva asked quietly. the man's coat draped hurriedly over the back of a chair. and the blonde.” the lass replied quietly. I am simply not certain that I am prepared to endure the necessary scandal. Justin heard the door open and close. kindly stop casting me in the role of villainess. “Yes. He didn't miss any of the details: the bed which was now in complete disarray. sir!” she warned quietly as she moved a chair to a good position and took a seat. my dear!” a very cultured female voice which Justin found familiar said in concern. lass. “Are you uninjured?" “The only irreparable damage is to my pride.” Dousia assured her maid calmly. Only too well." Justin made a choking sound. She cleared her throat. she thought. “So. You were the one who forced your attentions upon me. you were the one who invaded my bedchamber. I don't wish to cause embarrassment to my family. “And Eva. Dousia's state of dishabille. just now. Remember. keep this matter as quiet as possible. After the door opened and closed. I will not be blackmailed." The silence in the room was finally broken when the knock came at the door." “I do not recall using force. my lady. if you would be so good as to fetch my companions." “Kindly re-arrange your thinking." “Yes. Not. I don't wish to be alone with the man. you are concerned with causing embarrassment to your family? Shouldn't you have thought about that before you first went into keeping?" “Hold your tongue.” he said smoothly. while I have a loaded pistol in my hand. after I asked you to leave. “Oh. “No. and you aren't after blackmail. “All I did was touch you and you melted in my arms. that would make sense. if this is a portion in an elaborate extortion scheme. “But be careful. you have picked the wrong mark. Remember?" Only too well. . then it must be ransom. He gives no evidence of possessing a desire for an immediate death. Kemper should have warned you of that when he promoted this little scheme. at least.” Eva said resignedly. as well as my solicitor. So. has instructions never to pay ransom demands. then. “Eva.eye on the man. I believe that I will have no further trouble with him." “What is he talking about.

" Tony asked again. I am quite over set. but she was evidently making a massive effort to pull herself together. I sent Eva to tend to William. my lady.. “There was no consummation. “Let us speak plainly to one another. Maggie." . No.” Dousia's voice was choked.. “I will keep my pistol. hollowly.." Dousia made a choking sound. not quite.? Did he.” Maggie said lowly as she wrapped an arm around Dousia. “For God's sake.” Tony continued solicitously. if he hadn't stopped to remove his boots. familiarities . otherwise." “That's perfectly understandable. “No! Please. to remove his boots. None of this would have happened had I been a proper chaperone to you.?" “There is no need to stumble over words. “I will spare your blushes in not recounting to you the events which followed. I should not want to do that if taking him out of the way would cause you later embarrassment." “My apologies.. I will protect you." Lady Margaret said quietly.. “I am sorry. we would be unable to keep this incident quiet. my lady. “He came into the room while you were in bed?" “Yes. Sir Antony. Maggie dear.. Let us conduct this unpleasant affair with a modicum of civility. must you hear all the insalubrious details?” she asked in exasperation. clarifying the details." “Listen to me. “give me the pistol and dry your tears.” she replied tightly..” She sighed then continued. I was able to gain access to my pistol when the man paused in his . I feel safer when I am holding it.. Tony replied strongly. I wanted to be alone. This is far too important for us to try to cloak our meanings in polite little phrases. Sir Antony. “It is important. that I know. Do not hold yourself responsible. It may become necessary for me to put a ball in his heart. While I was in bed." “No. This is not your fault. my lady. “I understand how you must be feeling. There are matters to be settled here. However. I am feeling monstrously uncivil and put upon. I am asking you to trust me to protect you.“My lady. she thought. that man came into the room. It is necessary that I understand the scope of what has happened here. The blame is mine. If you were to accidentally discharge that. my dear. I know quite well how children are conceived. “I never expected missish airs from you. This fiasco did not come to that." “I am not feeling in the least civil at the moment." “Familiarities?” Lady Margaret repeated.” Tony said gently as he handed her a square of fine linen. do not blame yourself. tenderly. my dear. I am a widow. He has a key.. my dear." Tony suggested strongly." Lady Margaret was shocked. “Please forgive me for snapping at you. “Please. “There is no possibility that he might have gotten you with child? You are certain?" “Tony. but it would have. “You have every right to be upset.” Maggie Blythe replied gently. I would not ask this.” Tony commanded. with a good deal of sorrow in her voice. “Thank God!” Lady Margaret replied. Maggie dear.. my lord.” Dousia replied sharply. give me the pistol. Were you. of all people. six and twenty years old. “In fact.” Dousia said in a very small voice Justin had to strain to hear. Dousia looked at Maggie Blythe.

” Tony replied. Sir Antony. her voice strangely calm. Tony.” Justin said reluctantly. Lytton. “Oh.” Justin answered her." Dousia said dryly. then Dousia spoke calmly. Tony walked over to the bed. He's supposed to keep it available for me at all times." Lady Margaret smiled tightly. “This is just a case of the landlady trying to make a little extra money. Keep the box open. “For God's sake. “Hullo. “I'll have his hide for a tambourine!" “Settle down. unless you make that action necessary. Is her ladyship's version of the events accurate?” Tony asked pointedly. Understood?" “Yes. “Including the viewing of your naked chest. Dousia was glad that she had gotten at least one good blow in. “Would you care to tell your side of the story.There was silence for a moment. “Merciful Heavens!” Dousia replied. “I mean. No one is going to put a ball into your worthless person. . “You. Justin?” Tony asked too quietly. “I am not certain that I could exercise such Christian charity of extending the benefit of doubt were I in your position. “I am merely trying to explore the possibilities. shoot to disable." “That doesn't explain how you got a key to this room. There was obviously a miscommunication. I was supposed to meet a woman here. “I lease this room from Robards. “Good God! Rivington!” Tony replied quietly. Shock and dismay were written on the faces of the Blythes. I'm sure that she didn't expect his lordship to arrive. Tony." Lady Margaret gasped when she saw his face. The man's right cheek where she had hit him was showing all the signs of developing into a rather nasty bruise. by the wall. the damage has been done. on a permanent basis.” Justin said quietly. If there is further trouble. then Lytton.” Justin replied with a tight smile as he caught the shirt and quickly threw it on. Justin. Contrition and embarrassment on the face of the man whom Tony had called Rivington. It makes a good stopping place between Lytton Hall and London. He picked up the shirt from where it lay on the floor and tossed it to Justin. “Lately of the Royal Navy. you may turn around now. cover yourself. “Eva." “This all is a terrible misunderstanding. take the pistol. man!” Tony said angrily. then turned away to button it and to tuck the tails into his breeches. Place it with the mate for it. man! This seems to be the evening for ladies to hear about or to be involved in unsuitable things. but not to kill. Justin. Lady Margaret. “I don't believe that it is fit for the ears of your lady." “The Devil!” Tony replied angrily. finish your story. At this point. in dismay." Dousia sighed. What good would it do to close my mind to there being a reasonable explanation to this fiasco?" “Now. Her ladyship met the description which I was given of the woman.” Tony retorted." Chapter Two Dousia's attention went from one face to another to the third. “Justin Rivington?” Dousia asked. So tell your story.” Dousia urged. just spit it out. “Captain Rivington of the Royal Navy?" “Thank you.

“Yes. But, you must remember that I was expecting to meet a saucy, redheaded lightskirt. Everything
seemed to fit that description. I had no reason to believe that the woman would fail to meet me here,” Justin

“Especially not with three thousand pounds per annum hanging in the balance,” Dousia added sharply.

Justin smiled tightly in acknowledgment. “True."

“Three thousand pounds?” Maggie echoed quietly. “What do you mean?"

“His lordship seems to be a quite generous man,” Dousia said in amusement. “Three thousand pounds per
annum was the sum which he had contracted to furnish to his new mistress during pleasure. From what I can
determine, the arrangement was made through some sort of middleman. His lordship had never met the
woman. This meeting was supposed to be some variety of an examination of goods and services."

“This situation is untenable,” Tony said firmly.

Justin sighed. “I am aware of that. I came looking for a mistress and found, instead, a wife."

“I don't suppose that we could simply forget that the events of tonight have occurred and go on with our lives
as usual?” Dousia asked, a hopeful note in her voice.

The room was dead silent in shock.

“No. I did not think that would be a viable solution in any of your minds,” she continued. “But, it seemed more
palatable than any of the other options."

“Really?” Justin drawled. “You didn't appear to find my caresses unpalatable."

“I suppose that there is always suicide...” she said quietly, giving evidence of merely thinking aloud.

Justin stiffened. “I will not allow you to kill yourself,” he said strongly.

She smiled at him and her eyes sparkled with mischief. “I assure you that I have no desire to shuffle off this
mortal coil..."

“It is in bad taste to even mention doing yourself in,” Justin said strongly.

“As I said,” she said in her small voice as she smiled genuinely, “before I was so rudely interrupted, I have no
desire to kill myself. However, if you should opt to pursue that action on your own behalf, I would not weep
too copiously over your grave."

Justin moved across the room towards her.

“Make one more move towards her and you are dead,” Eva announced firmly.

Justin turned to face the maid who had been lurking in the darkness of the corner. It was only then that he
realized that she was a light skinned, quite pretty negro woman aged somewhere in her middle to late forties.

Dousia sighed. “Evangeline, put away the pistol! I doubt that I shall have any further trouble with his lordship.
His reputation precedes him, proclaiming him to be heroic indeed. Captain Rivington's exploits are

“Yes, my lady,” Eva said quietly, but not happily.

“And please go ask the landlord for a bottle of brandy, and four glasses. Make that five. You could use a
bracer yourself. This is going to be a long evening,” she said quietly. “I have a feeling that we all could use a
stiff drink."

Eva put the pistol back in the box and closed it. Then she turned to make her way to the door.

“And Eva,” Dousia said quietly.

“Yes, my lady."

“Thank you,” Dousia said with a genuine smile of affection. “I do not know what I would do without you."

The maid smiled back at her mistress. “I'll go fetch the spirits."

“Have one of the footmen carry it up for you. The tray will be far too heavy for a woman to carry,” Dousia

Eva smiled, but said nothing as she left the room and closed the door behind her.

Justin remarked derogatorily, “What a dragon!"

“That dragon, as you so charmingly put it, was my nurse. She would rather die than to see me hurt in any
way. Her loyalty to me is absolute as is mine to her. So, unless you wish to give me even further cause to
take you in dislike, you will refrain from speaking derogatorily of my household!"

Justin's eyes swept over her as if he were recalling what she looked like underneath her clothing, such that it
was. “You are so beautiful. Your eyes sparkle like emeralds. It isn't every woman who would have had the
courage to defend herself as you have. I commend you on your spirit, my lady. And I beg your forgiveness for
my actions which were unforgivable."

Dousia refused to look at him.

Tony smiled slightly when he saw the purpling of Justin's cheek. “I see that you did not escape unscathed,

“I think that I will have the devil of a time explaining how I came about the bruise which I will have,” Justin said
reluctantly, touching the sore area on his face. “At least, woman, you can look at the mark you left on me."

Dousia smiled tightly as she looked at his face. There was a definite mark. She couldn't quite regret the force
that she had used. “A combination of a soothing salve and rice powder, my lord, works quite well in
disguising facial bruises. I believe that I may offer you a small jar of healing salve and the powder that is used
in combination with it."

A puzzled expression went across Justin's face. “You have covered many facial bruises?” he asked quietly as
he looked at her.

It was then that he noticed that her nose had a small bump as though it had been broken at one time. He felt
an anger building up inside of him that anyone would have hurt her. Without his realizing it, he reached his
hand out to touch her face.

“Don't touch me,” she said in a horrified voice as she shrank back, moving her chair before she stood
promptly. Dousia turned away from him and walked over to stand between the Blythes.

“Please, gentlemen, would you mind stepping out into the hall for about five minutes while I slip into some
clothes. I feel quite uncomfortable appearing in such a state."

Justin smiled, his gray eyes growing dark. “The Blythes know that I have seen you in much less, lass,” he
said huskily.

Dousia made a choking sound.

“My Lord, Lytton, that was uncalled for,” Lady Margaret admonished strongly.

“Pray, indulge me in this, gentlemen,” Dousia said tightly. “We have a long conversation ahead of us. I do not

wish to conduct it while wearing only my chemise and wrapper. It will not take but five minutes for me to

“I will help her ladyship dress. You two wait in the hall, and for God's sake, be careful what you say and no
shouting. This is a public place,” Lady Margaret advised.

Justin headed for the door. “Wait,” Lady Margaret said sharply as she handed him his coat. “Tie the cravat
and put on your coat. There is no need to cause any more gossip than is necessary."

“Now,” Lady Margaret said quietly as the men left the room, “tell me what he did to you. There was more here
than you are telling."

Dousia threw off the robe and slipped behind the screen to step out of her chemise. “Hand me the linen
chemise hanging in the wardrobe. I shall have to do without stays."

Lady Margaret handed the linen garment over the screen. “You do not need stays, not with your figure."

Dousia pulled the fine linen over her head.

“Well,” Lady Margaret said quietly. “You might be able to fool Tony. But, something else happened between
the two of you, didn't it?"

Dousia stepped out from behind the screen. “He ... touched me..."

Maggie's blue eyes sparkled with humor. “Obviously."

“Hand me the silk gown, please,” Dousia said quietly.


Dousia slipped the black dress over her head. “He made me ... I found myself ... This is devilish hard to talk
about ... I didn't want him to stop touching me, to stop kissing me. I am ashamed of myself for the
wantonness which he so easily aroused in me."

Maggie smiled. “You have been a widow for a number of years, Theodousia. Women have desires the same
as men do."

“How could I allow myself to respond to a man, whom I do not even know, in the way that I did?” she asked in
an anguished tone. “If he hadn't pulled away to remove his boots, I would have allowed him ... But, it would
have been more than merely allowing ... I would have enjoyed it."

“Listen to me, Dousia. You've done nothing wrong. That you found resisting him a difficult matter is not
incomprehensible. He is a handsome enough fellow, except for that scar of his. And I'd wager to say that he's
been with enough women to know all of the tricks to send a woman into raptures. Now turn around, let me
help you with those buttons."

“He frightens me, Maggie,” she confessed quietly.

“Ah, Dousia. Does he scare you or do you frighten yourself?"

“What do you mean?"

“When you married your Thomas, you were little more than a child. Now you are a mature woman. There is a
difference in your body and in what you expect from a man."

Dousia swallowed hard. Maggie was working on the buttons running up Dousia's back. Dousia quickly
wrapped an embroidered lace scarf around her neck and tucked it into the bodice of the gown to cover up the

“I do not wish to remarry, Maggie. It is merely that simple."

Tony. All I know is that she is a widow. I thought that her ladyship told you to have a footman carry it?" Eva looked uncomfortable. Justin. I'm telling you that I don't know. You must know this. “But.“There is not a great deal of choice in the matter. “You didn't hurt her. in a voice designed not to carry any further than the two of them." Just then Eva passed them carrying a tray with the beverages. It was all that I could do not to strike her in return. “Deeper than you realize." “You relieve my mind." “What do you mean?” Tony asked strongly while keeping his voice low.” Tony advised quietly. I suppose that I had better enjoy it. “I didn't think that we should be bringing any more people into this than were necessary. then?" “I've never hurt any woman in my life. The only honorable solution is for you to marry him.” he replied with a degree of amusement in his voice. Perhaps not as far. man. “Honor can go hang!" “You don't mean that.” Justin replied in an offended tone and in Spanish. you know. you've landed yourself deep into the boughs. but I do not dally with married women." Dousia cleared her throat. “I fail to see anything at all amusing about the situation." “How did you discover that?" “I saw her wedding ring.” he said quietly.?" “That's not it. “She obviously planted you a devilish facer. in spite of the fact that he was still speaking Spanish. man! But that isn't saying that I wouldn't have taken her if she hadn't acquired that pistol." “Then what's the problem?” Tony replied lowly with a smile. a man's desire is a fragile thing." “I have faced opponents in the ring who didn't hit me that hard." . So I asked. Dousia. “That is just as well. God. “You didn't. I may be a bit of a rake and a libertine.. Justin. Ever. “Allow me to take that from you.. Tony smiled at the maid. I would relish that task even less if I had to report that you had struck her. even without your scruples. I think that I should at least like for the room to be less disheveled. “What are we without honor?" Dousia didn't answer that. “Would you straighten out the bed. “That is going to be some bruise. you wouldn't have gotten any further than you did. It's all a reflection of her upbringing. aghast." “That's just it. this time. Frankly. Not even if they are lightskirts. while I pin up my hair? If I am going to be receiving an offer of matrimony. regardless of the provocation. I am not anticipating with joy having to tell her uncle about this." “Since I richly earned it. “She's a loyal one. This is now a matter of honor. It looks far too heavy for you to carry.” Justin replied tightly." Justin and Tony were standing outside the door in the hall. if she had been married still.” Tony said quietly in rapid Spanish.” Maggie said.

Her hair which had hung about her like a curtain of flame was now securely rolled and fastened to the back of her head by the use of tortoise shell combs. we have rather done things backwards haven't we?" Tony replied with humor in his voice. The scarf was secured with a gold and jet pin." “Come in. Jonathan had been trying to arrange a marriage between Justin and this American niece of his. “let us reason together." Dousia looked stricken. allow me to present Lady Theodousia Langley. “God! I can't believe that I fell into this!" “Don't be profane!” Dousia corrected strongly. Well-polished kid slippers were barely visible under the hem of her dress. “Oh. Had the Duke outdone himself this time in his machinations? “Jon must be laughing in his brandy. the niece of the Duke of Winton and the guardian of the young Marquis of Edmonton. don't you think that we have gone beyond that?” Justin said quietly." It had been only two months ago that Jonathan. “I hope you aren't suggesting what I believe you are suggesting?" “Jon knew that I was going to Lytton Hall today. Most difficult to credit of all the transformations was the change in the lass's appearance. if only for the sake of propriety. my dear. let me make the introductions.She stepped around them and knocked. He knew that I was going to be stopped here. Then her tone became thoughtful. It was obvious she was in mourning. Please. Eva distributed them. The screen had been moved over to hide the bathtub. But only you. “It's Eva. My lady. as usual.” Dousia said. lass. The gown although very proper. “I do not wish to be alone with you. His lands march along Seahaven. Eva. clung to her figure just well enough to send Justin's blood pressure soaring. “Come. But here. after Dousia had taken a large drink. it would be better if Maggie and I left. Justin barked out his laughter. “ Gentlemen?" Justin couldn't believe the transformation of the room. “Oh. the Earl of Lytton. Justin. The filled glasses were on the tray on the table.” Justin remarked bitterly. The bed was made." “Lass. “No. Justin hadn't agreed to anything except to meet the woman. You are neighbors." Tony cleared his throat. Eva had poured the brandy.” Dousia said firmly. Justin Rivington. “Do I have to get down on one knee to ask for your hand in marriage?” Justin asked quietly." It was not more than another two minutes until Maggie poked her head out of the door and said. This conversation is prone to become devilish personal. This entire situation has been far too humiliating. That realization made Justin feel even worse. William's estate. Was this mourning for her late husband? She was dressed in a black silk gown cut along a fashionable pattern. I wouldn't require that.” she told him as she took a seat in one of the oak chairs that sat at the small oaken table and motioned for him to take the other chair. I would settle for a proper introduction. as it is. A scarf of black embroidered Venetian lace was wrapped around her neck and tucked into the bodice of the dress transforming the fashionable neckline into one of almost overwhelming primness. the Duke of Winton. It . “Perhaps. you certainly have. had seriously talked to Justin about this woman. “No! Please stay. Maggie and Tony sat on the end of the bed.

by the way?" ." “Perhaps I have been hasty in making that observation. he is singing your praises.” she said icily. Tony.” she replied. the both of you. Every time that I see him. It is the only inn for five miles. I rather suspect that if anyone has been trapped here it is I. Tony answered strongly. I would not have you.” Justin said." “I see . stopping only to change horses at posting houses. But." “Uncle Jon is ruthless. Dousia's jaw was set. this has gone far enough. “It is at least as valid a possibility as your contention that Uncle set the scene in order to force the marriage. “We had planned to drive straight through. but he would not do this. I did not think that the situation was completely outside of the realm of possibility. “You think that I created this situation in order to get my hands on your money?” Justin asked in dismay.." “There is nothing past which I would put the Duke.” Justin replied. “Accepted. “Let us leave Uncle out of this. Maggie!” her husband chided in a low voice. “I would be happy to leave Jon out of this. the situation is ludicrous. “You are correct. Dousia blushed.” Tony interjected. a broken axle on my coach forced us to stop here. That you were weary of being pursued by fortune hunters. but not apologetically. “He would not use me in such a manner. All I said was that given my preferences. my lord. “Is it not sufficient that you have called me enough vile names to start a war? Must you compound that offense by making an enemy of my uncle.” Justin replied calmly. Had Justin known her longer. “I never claimed to find you repugnant. based on the Duke's predilection for manipulating people and situations to meet his plans. “Given my preferences. I realize now that they were unfounded and unjust. “Both of which are extreme. I would not have you. “But. The trouble is that he will not be willing to deal himself out of the game. “And I suppose that is why I was able to seduce you so easily? Because you find me so repugnant!" “Seduce!” Lady Margaret echoed in a shocked voice.seems little enough to arrange with the landlord to have us put together in the same room.” Justin replied." “Now.” Justin replied reflectively. Completely. as well?" “You have my profound apologies for the accusations which I laid at your door. “I thought it had not gone that far!" “Hush. my lord. he would have realized that action was the sign of her about to unleash her temper.” Dousia replied sharply. shall we?” she said in a far too controlled voice." “Why not? Still grieving for your husband? How long have you been widowed.. at all. “I shouldn't doubt that Jon also changed the travel arrangements of the woman whom I was to have met. Her eyes narrowed." Dousia bit her lip. He has been quite determined that you and I should make a match together. That you have a good head for business." Dousia's eyes narrowed. I have seen some skillful fortune hunters in my day. “Just how much has Uncle told you about me?" “That you were a woman of rare courage and good sense.” she retorted. to remarry." “Yes?” he mocked. He has been trying to arrange a match between us for weeks now. but there was no warmth in her tone. I have no desire. but this scheme takes the prize for originality.

" A small smile crossed her face. probably not." Tears glistened on Dousia's eyelashes." “Why did you fail to scream for help.. “Thirteen years. I am quite unable to keep my emotions under control. Her parents disowned her when she married as they put it. I know." Lady Margaret interjected. Our son would have been thirteen years old last week. “I do beg your indulgence. They say that only the good die young. “I didn't know that you are a widower. Not tonight. “A woman can bear many things secretly. but she shot him such a quelling look that he remained silent. but not before he nearly beat me to death. I happened to be the only witness.” she said. The rumors that followed the attack were that he had also forced his attentions upon me." Justin smiled at her. Gets himself in a tight spot on account of his own actions. ‘an English heretic'. She continued in the same bitter tone. there's a prime example of masculine logic. and mercurialness ." . then seeks to put the blame on a woman. But it simply cannot be done. like many others of my line. He used to tease me that the reason he fell in love with me was that I was the first woman who reminded him so much of the sea. man! Does it really matter?" “When my father was murdered. I say. “For some reason. shall have a very long life. “There is a legend that the Mother Abbess of the Poor Clares who used to live in Winton Abbey prior to the Dissolution placed a curse on the Dukes of Winton that they would all live to see the deaths of their grown grandchildren. I do not regret it." “She has been dead for a long time?” Dousia asked. It was an act of desperation. indeed. Perhaps not ever. as he fought back the twitching of his lips. also. permanently. Neither family approved of the marriage. for me?” he asked. Deviltry sparkled in her eyes. “Tears. I tried for many years to keep my wife's image alive. the bitterness of his memories crossing over into his tone of voice. “Tell me about your Thomas." “You cannot love a dead person." “I survived." “No. “He was a good man. He loved the sea.” she replied. if I had not put his own blade between his ribs and into his black heart. It made him angry that he had probably lost the chance to put that emotion into her voice where he was concerned." Justin shook his head negatively. “For God's sake." He started to interrupt her. He couldn't remember any time when anyone had cried for him. I stopped him. mostly for its raw beauty. “Oh. today." Justin was quiet for a moment.. strength. Carmelita was the daughter of a Spanish grandee. “My parents were almost equally displeased to have a Papist for a daughter-in-law. “Jon said that you were almost killed. Ship building was in his blood. And he might have done so. “I suppose that I. He heard the love in her voice. earlier?” he asked after a moment." “What do you mean by that?" Tony interjected in an exasperated tone.” he said.“I will not discuss Thomas with you. but few things publicly. “Oh? Is that the reason why the Dukes of Winton are known to live so long?" She smiled. The murderer tried to kill me.

You don't know what you are saying. but wondered what she was up to." “Of course. Sleep well. I am overset. that unless you release me to discuss it. It has been a bad day. God give you pleasant dreams. I know exactly what I am doing." Tony smiled at her. Jon Crawford stood at the end of the hall waiting for them to make their way through the very polite . Lady Margaret. Dousia turned to Justin. The entire staff assembled to greet them. Justin." “Au revoir.” she said with an air of finality.” Justin said as he took her hand and kissed it.” Tony said. “I need your word." Dousia stood and walked away from the table.. “Of course. I am extremely weary. that not by a single word or deed will you reveal anything that has transpired within the walls of this inn. “Upon your promise not to speak of this matter any further to anyone under any circumstances." “Goodnight to both of you. “I do not believe that you will either. I would be greatly in your debt. After reflection. my lord Lytton.” Maggie agreed in much the same words." Tony looked shocked. I should like to retire . How else can I prove to him that his suspicions are erroneous. privately.” Justin said. settle the matter with the innkeeper." “How else can I prove to you that your suspicions are in error?” she demanded. and my Lord Lytton. along with their chaperones. Sir Antony. if you would be so good as to relieve my lord Lytton of his key to my room and to accompany him down stairs to. I once married for love.” Margaret said. and without further incident. This situation is preposterous. I shall release you from your debt of honor to me.“You don't actually believe that?" “No. Now. if you all will excuse me. “Dousia is overset. And try to sleep. Sir Antony. arrived at the Abbey." “On the contrary. I refuse to enter into a marriage based on obligation of honor. my lady. if I do not release him from the obligation to marry me? It would be far better for all of us to forget that tonight ever happened. His lordship believes that I have conspired with my uncle to trap him into marrying me. “On the contrary. she spoke. or rather to greet the young Marquis. my lady. followed by a worse evening.. “Goodnight. Finally. However. Chapter Three The hall clock rang out three o'clock when the hired coach conveying the Crawford siblings. “Don't do this. “You think that little of your own worth that you would be willing to release me of my obligations of honor to you?" She shook her head. not a word of the matter shall pass my lips. You have my word. I believe that it would be best for everyone concerned if this matter is forgotten about and we continued in the manner in which our lives were proceeding before tonight. I think that much of myself that I will not marry a man who thinks so little of me and my family as to think that I would stoop to allowing myself to be dishonored so to trap him into marriage. Dousia." Justin swallowed hard. calmly. To remarry without love would be a violation of all the ideals which I hold dear. “Things will look better in the morning." “I will never forget tonight. Lady Theodousia." “Yes. “Goodbye. it does make a great story. Tony turned to Justin.

“You've changed quite a bit since then.” Jon stated. please your Grace. I am sure that you are hungry after your trip." The small boy looked up at Dousia. indeed. “Well. now?” Dousia corrected. “May I?" She smiled down at him. your lordship. The boy looked up impishly at his sister.” Then William added in his six-year-old voice. Perhaps we could go walking about the grounds?" William's eyes lit up. shall we plan on spending some time together tomorrow morning after breakfast. “You look like Papa. joy sparkling in his green eyes. You shouldn't like to inconvenience Eva or myself by making either of us sit up with you while you have the stomach ache late tonight. Dousia. “I was only a baby then. that patience is a virtue." Dousia smiled at the boy. He threw his small arms around his uncle's legs and hugged him. young man. Francois has some special cakes and lemonade in the kitchen for you. I have often wondered that the woman did not end up as a Bedlamite.” Jon said as they separated. Tomorrow. “So I did.” Dousia replied in humor. The Crawford tongue. then you may go out to the stables and see your pony. Uncle. your grace. my lord. The only thing that I should like better would be to ride about the grounds. Be careful in the stables to stay well out of the way of the grooms. please. “Of course you may. young man. Will. again. thank you. Jonathan laughed. your Grace.” Dousia warned. Dousia ruffled her brother's deep chestnut hair. Will closed the small distance between them. You may ride your pony. you said that I could have a pony." . I will take you around the acreage. I wonder how my nanny tolerated two of us." Jon nodded affirmatively. Do not stuff yourself. They have important work in caring for the horses. you were only a few weeks old. I should like that very well. I will see to getting you a pony as soon as I can find the time. your Grace. “Oh. Reaching their uncle.. “You wish to go riding. It has been a long and exciting day.” Jon agreed. When you have finished with those refreshments." “I should hope so!” William replied indignantly. I have a pony in the stables for the boy. Well. too?” Will retorted impishly." “Indeed. They do not need to be plagued by a host of questions from a certain. their uncle pulled them both into his bear-like embrace. When they rose." “Will. I would remind you. Then she sank to her knees to face him at eye level. Now.gauntlet of the assembled servants. “The last time I saw you. insatiably curious. “You want to come. “Oh. Can I go see him now?" "May I go to see him.” she chided with a barely suppressed smile. Dousia gave him a deep curtsy while William made a proper bow. “As you wish. “Ahhh . as he stepped back from his uncle.. love lighting up her eyes. But. knowing full well that she had been correcting him. when we arrived in England. “Your papa and I were twins. “Thank you. “William. young man. could we not be simply Will and Uncle Jon? Is there any need for such formality between us?" Jon laughed." “As it happens.

“Of course. then made his bow again and holding Eva's hand left the room following a liveried footman." “Now. I shall be unable to wear any of my bonnets. please be so good as to follow me.” she teased. So. “By your leave. “and Lady Blythe. Uncle. must you? I declare. He seemed to consider the matter." “Forbes. then brightened considerably. if your nanny will come and fetch me when you are ready to go to sleep. your grace. “Dousia. the silence was that profound. Uncle Jon. that was how the land lay. The servants. He backed away from her and took Eva's hand as Dousia rose to her feet. Will. and Jon in the hall. sir?" “Until tomorrow. “I cannot promise to hear your prayers every night. “Of all the women of my acquaintance. “Don't worry about it. he said in an awe-filled voice. taking his uncle seriously." Will gulped and paled visibly. Of course. if you continue in such a vein. They only bother little boys who forget to say their prayers at night." “I fear that you are correct in that. Will. “I am sure that you two will understand that I should like to have some time to speak with my niece. “Please.” Forbes said." “Splendid!” the boy said. Then. “I must say that you have grown even more lovely since the last time that I saw you. If you would do that. I should think that you would be the least susceptible to being influenced by smooth words. but. some people would say that the quality you have labeled as good sense is in actuality nothing more than a well developed cynicism. The expression on his face was so contrite that it was all that Jon could do not to laugh. then dispersed. “Yes. show Sir Antony and Lady Margaret to the Gold suite. I shall come to hear your prayers tonight." A pin could have dropped in the far end of the house and been heard in the main hall. There have been happenings of which you should be informed. as if the thought just occurred to him.” Jon said. Family business should be conducted privately.” Jon said when they were alone. William made his bow to his uncle." Tony swallowed hard." “Sir. Uncle. Dousia. it should be almost as if Papa were still alive. “Sorry. I believe that it is time that we had a talk. The boy turned quickly. “I shall see you at dinner." Dousia smiled. “William. Maggie. Tony was gravely mistaken. if you would join me in my study.” Dousia chided as William appeared to walk off without making his bow. I believe that would be in order. Unless.” Jon said kindly. Dousia was in for a very unpleasant surprise in the person of the Earl of Lytton.The boy threw his arms around her neck and kissed her cheek. “Papa used to come and hear my bedtime prayers. See that they have whatever they need." ." “Oh." Jon extended his arm for her to take. are the legends true about the ghosts of the nuns who used to live here wandering the halls at night?" Jon smiled. leaving Tony.” the boy said. except for Forbes.

" Dousia laughed. that would be one step accomplished towards removing the threat of being displaced in the line of succession to the title. “I only wish that I possessed the kind of spirit with which you credit me." “Uncle. yes . Edward fully expected that the woman would not sit by idly and watch her son become entangled with a trollop of the sort of which Edward's letter described. of the sender. I hope that you and William will be happy here. Edward thought cynically as he looked down at Jon and Dousia from the landing of the staircase. A bit too much on the thoughtful side. Edward had spent time in his room working on the letters he would be sending to the Dowager Countess of Lytton.. Lady Caroline would do the rest. “Oh." “Nonsense. Once the letter was in the mail. he would ride into the village and post the letter along with all of the other outgoing mail. That had been something which he had decided before he ever laid eyes on her. there would be nothing to stop Edward from coming into the title of Marquis. and Dousia's marriage to Justin thwarted. “I shall give the matter some consideration. This marriage between Dousia and Justin must not be allowed to happen. Yes.” Dousia said. now that Edward had seen her. It would have to look like an accident or a childish misadventure gone terribly wrong. should she decide to marry. It was well past time that the fortunes of the Clancey family saw an upturn." “Let me worry about that.. You and the boy are practically the only family I have remaining to me. we don't claim poor Rupert. Nothing was going to stand in his way. “Winton Abbey is even more grand than Father had led me to believe." “You have only just now arrived. The family does not claim poor Rupert whose only claim to infamy was his decided predilection towards those persons who wore boots instead of slippers. that it would do. Edward intended that Dousia eventually marry him. Jon's niece. you are a Crawford. Nothing would appear amiss in his doing so. and thus of the identity. Now." No. as Edward was certain that Caroline would do. There hasn't been a Crawford yet who was a ninnyhammer!" “There was the second Duke. he thought as he patted the pocket now containing the first letter. With William out of the way.” Jon asked.” Dousia teased. With Dousia's reputation thoroughly ruined. It would ruin everything for him. William. “It is a grand place. a way had to be found to rid himself of that brat.. Uncle. would have only a very few choices for husband. Pray." . The last thing he could afford was to have any suspicion lingering upon him in the matter of the boy's death. Naturally you have spirit. Later today. He had sat back and read the first letter which he had slowly printed so as not to give any indication of the handwriting. “Ah .” Dousia began.. but never cynical. nicely. But.. Rupert." “We do not intend to impose on your hospitality for a protracted length of time. I fear that I should be a hindrance to your activities. and able to well acquit yourself in any confrontation.. she was a wealthy woman in her own right. After all. Lady Caroline. no matter how unobtrusive they might be. do not speak of leaving. Will and I are both keeping deep mourning for Father. you are not a cynical person. but then changed her mind about speaking so freely in front of servants.. Please stay for a while and allow me to enjoy the lad. and eventually that of Duke.“Nonsense. It amused him to have his dirty work being done by a woman who normally would not give him the time of day. We will be here only for such time as it takes for me to put his estate in order. But.. Uncle. he was more determined than ever to have her as his wife. I should like to have your company for a period of time. Humor sparkled in Jon's eyes. All that was to be done about the betrothal of Dousia to Justin was simply to sit back and wait. changing the subject of conversation away from the Crawford family. Uncle.

The first on being that Justin and you share several interests.” she replied. “You would have me enter into the most sacred of unions without love after I promised my father that I would never do so? Does my honor mean nothing to the illustrious Duke of Winton?" “Dousia. consider carefully that your fortune is going to make you the target for more impecunious young men than you can possibly deal with. “I assure you that I haven't gone off in the head. how do I know that his troth would be kept. you are profoundly suited as companions. indeed the only sight. Uncle. was hereditary." Dousia looked at him with an expression on her face that said clearly that she thought that her uncle was quite mad. my lord Uncle. my dear." “And I shall extricate myself from whatever trouble it lands me into. “Some of whom have been quite inventive in their laying of traps.” Jonathan urged as he directed them to the two leather arm chairs which sat in front of his desk. my dear. “There are things that we must discuss. “I would hate to see your reputation demolished by a loose word about last evening's episode at the Inn. I hope that we may do so calmly. Uncle.. He has spent the majority of his life at sea. you have a sharp tongue. which she saw was the person of the Earl of Lytton." “Uncle.” They arrived at the study. With your interest in the sea. Marrying Justin would remove you from the circle of their prey. Uncle. I see no need of alerting the servants as to the nature of this business. The first sight.“I can ask for little more. “Out of curiosity. Justin has applied to me for permission to marry you." “You have never dealt with ones such as you will find in London." “I have dealt with fortune hunters for a number of years. serving aboard His Majesty's ships." She stepped inside the richly paneled room." “However.” she said. “Well. you could be close friends as well as husband and wife. in the Crawford family." “I wish that I could be certain of that. Father once remarked that it was a trait which.” she replied in a voice so low that Jon had to strain to hear it. when he applied for my hand?" “He told me that I should ask you myself since you were well above the age of consent. Jon could not help but laugh. He also told me that of the two of you. please sit down. dearest." “Dousia. the worst offender. There are several advantages to such a union." “I see. was the boy named Jonathan. “After you. Since his word is no good. what did you say to my lord. children. I also told him that I am greatly in favor of the match. just as I have from the time that I learned to speak. “Thank you.” he said as he sat behind his oak desk." Dousia shot Justin a look so full of venom that it was almost a caricature of anger. your grace. Lytton. The door closed behind her." Dousia sighed. Given time. A tight smile crossed her face. “It would appear that the word of some people is no good at all.. Uncle." A broad smile crossed her face. “That tongue of yours will land you in trouble one day. Jon opened the door for her. “I have no desire to wed this man." “I wish for you to seriously consider marrying Justin." . Theodousia.” Jonathan replied. “Niece.” she replied matter-of-factly.

But then what was that line from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ about even the Devil quoting scripture for his own purposes?" Justin sat back and observed the uncle and niece." “How convenient. “Let us endeavor to remain calm about this." She cleared her throat. or am I merely to be beaten?" “Just a moment." “It is rather. “And just how did you come into possession of that document?" Justin smiled. “You will remarry.’” Jon smiled. But." Dousia put down her glass.” she replied. to remarry." “Frankly. As for keeping vows." “Would you like something to drink. “Am I to be confined on starvation rations until I consent. her green eyes narrowing. Dousia took hers. We could be married tomorrow morning. had remarkably little fear of anyone. forcing herself to remain calm." “And just how do you propose to force the issue. Follow me.” Justin interrupted. I daresay that I wouldn't take them. my dear. And that was a definite asset. “I have an uncle who is a Bishop. you will marry Justin. “To the betrothal of my niece. Justin did not know what to make of her. I have in my pocket a special license. aren't you the industrious one. woman." Jon's lips thinned. “Whatever you are having. “Quoting scripture. if I didn't intend to keep them. Please allow me the dignity of the next few months of this period of grieving for his passing without forcing me to be dishonoring his memory by entering into marriage rashly. Theodousia?” Jon offered. She was unlike any other woman of his acquaintance. “Ah. And they had better be damnably convincing. There is no need for any . then." “Give me some reasons. It just so happened that his home was not too far of a detour off of my way here. Uncle. twenty second verse: ‘And Jesus said unto him. He had never known anyone to have less fear of Jon Crawford than this woman did.” he agreed with a small smile. “I suppose that a sherry would not come amiss. and let the dead bury their dead. Uncle?” she replied. Her mouth twisted into a raw parody of a smile. for I have no intention of marrying him. you will recall that although you asked for my word. “I am still in deep mourning for my father. He placed them down on the desk. she." “What was it that Jesus said about letting the dead bury their dead?” Jon queried. Uncle? How terribly out of character for you. I have no desire. “No! I will not drink to that." “Justin. but lass. “And the passage you are looking for is the eighth chapter of Matthew. moving to sip the wine. Jon. Jon returned to the desk with the drinks. Furthermore. at all. I did not give it. “You must allow yourself to pick up the threads of your life. what would you have as refreshment?” Jon asked.Justin smiled. apparently." “My.

Note well. And you would be left with a reputation just this side of Haymarket Ware." “I can make you happy. While I love you dearly. “You will have no cause to regret that decision. any chance of your ever contracting a decent marriage anywhere in England would be ruined. “Most circumstances in life are only as good as we allow them to be." . you would not be received anywhere in polite company." She drew a deep breath." Jonathan looked between the two younger people. merely a request that William be raised in England. Dousia. I fear that I regret the decision. Dousia. “I shouldn't like to do it.. Theodousia.” Justin said. she saw the mask slip to reveal the distaste he obviously felt for this tactic of her uncle's.” she replied after a moment of silence. “You wouldn't actually publicly expose this matter." She sighed. including the Chancery Court. nor for any talk of force. Uncle. “I have no intention of making myself miserable when I can allow myself to be happy." Dousia's face went completely pale." “You forget yourself. friendship. But. Theodousia. “You would really do that to me? You would harm me in such a way?" Jonathan smiled at her. “What choice have you left me?" “You can marry Justin. but there was no humor or warmth there. My father entrusted the lad to my care.” Justin replied. You will obey me." “There is no reason why we cannot be happy together. But. Then she looked at her uncle.. You are quite mature enough to know that often court decrees may be influenced by money. William is my responsibility and I will not allow the abrogation that responsibility without due cause. Justin would be respected for having done his duty with the offering of marriage to you. I have radically changed my life to fulfill the request . already. “That would seem to be the only option available. my lord. Theodousia. Uncle. I am also a man with friends in all sorts of high places. I have all three. “At the very least. it is an option which I must keep open." “Due cause? A court might just think that your refusal of a good offer of marriage from a man who had dishonored you was sufficient cause to doubt your moral fitness to be the guardian of the heir to a peerage.unpleasantness. “I have learned over the years that it is practically impossible to stop Jon from doing something which he has decided to do. only an icy formality. until he reaches his majority. For only the briefest of moments. or power." “You would bear the majority of the scandal. What about the scandal?" “I think you'll find I will do precisely what I must." Dousia looked over at Justin whose schooling of his expression into impassivity was threatened by the intensity of the emotions in the room. Your fortune of course would remain under your control.” Jon said. I would be admired for having the courage to take my heir out of the influence of a loose woman.” Jon said. if you will give me a chance. it was not a condition of the will. or else I shall have no other recourse than to disown you and turn you out of doors.” he pledged. I will not surrender in your favor the obligation I have to my brother. Either you marry Justin or I guarantee you that you will never be allowed to see your brother. “This marriage will only be as good as you allow it to be. “I beg leave to differ. “I am a very wealthy man." “You would let him do this?” she asked Justin. Justin refused to allow any of his shock to show on his face.

” he told her. with a small laugh. “Don't laugh. If you find it unsatisfactory. How do you define generous?" She shrugged. “I suppose that would be open to negotiation. except for a generous amount that will be settled on you upon our marriage." “I haven't refused that condition. before he replied strongly." “Have you?” Dousia asked. “It is a negotiating point. first incredulously. “I have known his Grace all my life.” she replied with a smile.” Dousia replied. to my acceptance. It could mean many things." “I am considered by some to be shockingly blue. you may honorably retract your proposal. You will have no right to dispose of it. woman. “Then my uncle's threat to take me to court and prove that I am morally unfit to raise his heir on account of turning down your offer of matrimony becomes null and void since I would not be the one balking at the marriage. my lord. Justin queried sharply. Generous is a broad word. yet." “There are conditions. Just what do you mean that you would furnish me with a generous settlement. I believe that we are very much alike. I would suggest that you make a counter offer." She assessed him silently for a moment. “I prefer intelligent conversation to the simpers of stupid misses. If this bothers you. in a voice which to Justin. my lord. “I should have been gravely disappointed in you otherwise." Justin looked at her." “I will have a marriage contract drawn up by my solicitor. “In that. frightens me beyond words at this moment.“I am pleased that you are being sensible about this." Justin smiled. “That is utterly ridiculous. In that contract will be the provision my fortune and property. usual. nor shall I have any of those rights where your property is concerned except for those reasonable. household goods. however. nor to contract for liens against it. Have you warned his lordship about the piratical nature of the Crawford clan?" “There is no need to warn me. as he grew impatient. Let's say one hundred thousand pounds invested in Funds from which you would receive the dividends on a quarterly basis. “It is simply unusual to find a woman who is concerned about things apart from her appearance and the latest on-dit. thoroughly amused.” Justin replied in amusement. And that. I believe that you would have been. my dear. shall remain totally under my control." “Yes.” she replied in a bit too hopeful of a tone.” she said. seemed to say that the length of the acquaintance was completely irrelevant to her. and customary ways in which a wife binds her husband such as in the purchase of clothing. That distinction would be solely yours. et cetera.” she replied. “Name them. “What are your conditions for accepting my offer of marriage?" “There are several. nor to speak for me in any business dealing in which I have not specifically deputized you in writing. Uncle dear. “Have you read law?” he queried incredulously. I also have a highly retentive memory." . Jon smiled at her. I have an ear for languages and a head for numbers. I shall release you from your obligation gladly. her eyes narrowing. “Let us discuss it further. then frostily. regaining some of her old spirit." “Do you agree to the provision concerning our fortunes?" “And what if I fail to agree to that provision?” Justin countered.

“My name. you place it in a trust invested in funds." “No... It isn't uncommon for young ladies to marry early. a copy kept in Uncle's safe. I agree to it. Theodousia. “We were discussing terms of our betrothal contract. “I couldn't. should our child not be alive at the time of the distribution. We have rather gone beyond the false little politenesses of social convention." Justin laughed." “Careful lad. I have a feeling that she hasn't finished with her conditions. whichever you prefer. it has been my observation that few events actually ever conform to the standard pattern. “is Justin. There will be multiple true copies of the contract. Justin. That we are now in negotiations to marry strikes me as profoundly odd. my lor . he thought. Pray do me the courtesy of addressing me as such. Justin. of course. I have very little basis for trusting you. Are you sure about the per stirpes basis? If the money was to be divided among all except the heir to your title on the majority of the eldest who wasn't the heir. with the interest or earnings left to compound. on a per stirpes basis." She smiled broadly. “That would indeed make sense.. or shares. “That it is not.. let us set a wedding date. or is it third. allowing none of the more tender emotions which he was feeling to show in his voice. Please make your counter offer. my lord. There will be a copy kept with each of our solicitors. er .. with the exception of the heir to the title. upon the reaching of the majority of the eldest child who wasn't in line for the title." Dousia shrugged. “It is not a normal situation. “People might be correct. we had never even met. That would be entirely too intimate.. I would like to have the child's share go to any dependents whom she might have had. The resulting fund would then after a period of years be divided. A spark of respect flashed in her eyes.. then why would you wish to distribute it on such a basis? Share and share alike would seem to be more appropriate." “Good." “What's your second.” he said smoothly. .. “Are you trying to pay me back for the comment about you wanting me for my money?" Justin turned to Jon. “Don't put on missish airs. That's seven copies in all. she's actually enjoying this. “My lord . Blast her. Her eyes were sparkling like emeralds. and a copy will be sent to the lawyer with whom I dealt in America.” she replied." “Let's say that instead of settling any amount on me..” Justin explained. condition?” Justin replied with a smile." Justin returned his attention to Dousia.” she replied in a tone of voice which made him want to take her into his arms and soothe her frayed nerves. “You have other conditions?" “Indeed. a copy for each of us. Until yesterday. now that we've gotten that out of the way.. among our children. a copy in the safekeeping of my brother. “This woman is sharp. Nor is it uncommon that a percentage of them would die in childbirth. “Then again." “See! That was not so difficult was it?” Justin asked.” he acquiesced." “People might get the impression that you don't trust me." “And apparently not the only one in the room who has ever read law." She blushed.” Justin said. Justin wasn't certain that he wanted to allow her the knowledge of how deeply she affected him. Justin.

“It really is not so terribly bad."

“The suspense is killing me."

“Now, that's an idea!"

“Careful, lass, that's the second time in two days that you have suggested that you would be less than
injured should I suddenly pass away. If you continue to make remarks like that, people will begin to think that
you do not care for me."

Dousia laughed. The sound was unlike the sound of any female laugh he had ever heard. Usually women
contrived to make their laughter musical. Hers was just full of good nature and humor. He wanted to hear her
laugh more often like that. He wanted to hear her laughter in his ear, in a far more intimate situation.

“The wedding will wait until after I am out of mourning. There is no need to rush the wedding. Indeed, even an
official announcement of the betrothal will wait until that time. No one except the three of us and our
respective solicitors will know of the approaching marriage. And they will only know because of the necessity
of their being involved with the marriage contracts."

Justin's mouth tightened into a thin line. But, he said nothing.

Jon cleared his throat. “Really, Theodousia. I believe that you ought to allow the news to Justin's mother and
to your brother. And the Blythes, since they are involved here, ought to be told. Then there is the matter of
your Aunt Elinor. If she thinks that you are uncommitted, she will be matchmaking for you."

“I see the point on the Blythes. And I can understand telling Aunt Elinor, and swearing her to secrecy, in an
effort to prevent her from trying to orchestrate matches between me and any of half the eligible gentlemen
among the ton."

“I should like to be able to tell my mother."

“And how would she react to having a strange woman hoisted off unto her as a daughter-in-law?” Dousia
countered. “Would that make for smooth relations between myself and her?"

“Perhaps it would be better to let her grow to know you before that announcement is made,” he allowed.

Jon agreed. “Aye, Lady Caroline is a woman of strong opinions. She won't be at all happy to find that you are
marrying my niece, instead of the Blansforth chit."

A puzzled expression passed over Dousia's face. “Justin, did you have an understanding with this Miss

Justin laughed. “No. I have no interest in Maria Blansforth. Besides, I understand that Wexley is all set to
offer for her."

“Wexley? But, he is old enough to be her father,” Jon replied.

“As am I,” Justin responded with a small chuckle. “Now, back to the matter of who shall be told of our
betrothal, Theodousia."

“Aside from the people whom we've mentioned, I think that it would be better if we allowed everyone else to
believe that his lordship and I have a reasonably conventional courtship,” Dousia replied.

Justin reluctantly agreed. “I want your word that you will not attempt to vanish after your mourning period is
over. I will not have you using this condition as a delaying tactic until you can get your brother established,
only to have you run away without honoring your word."

Dousia looked at him and smiled tightly. “I shan't pretend that the thought lacks merit, my lord. However,
when I give my word, I honor it."

“So far, you haven't given your word."

“The wedding will not be an out of hand affair. We will have the banns called. The ceremony will be in Church.
It doesn't have to be a large wedding or anything elaborate, but I will not compromise on this,” she replied,
sidestepping his remark.

“I have no problems with a church wedding,” Justin said.

“Your uncle, the Bishop, may officiate if you like. I suppose that it will be the church nearest Seahaven since I
expect that Will and I shall have taken up residence there. Not even the smallest hint of scandal shall be in
any way attached to this marriage, or to any children born of it,” Dousia finished.

“Set a wedding date,” Justin urged.

“It would have to be sometime in February, at the earliest,” she said quietly. “The banns will not be
publishable until after Twelfth Night. They will have to be called for three Sundays. That makes it February."

Justin nodded. “This may be better, anyway, Jon. This gives Dousia and I some time to get to know one
another. We may decide that we don't actually suit after all."

Dousia's heart suddenly dropped to her feet. Why, she asked herself, should the idea of not marrying this
man bother her? Surely, she didn't actually want to be his wife? She told herself that she should be happy
that he might decide not to go through with the marriage. Neither Jon nor Justin missed the empty look that
passed fleetingly across her face. Unfortunately, both of them interpreted it correctly.

“Any other conditions to your accepting my proposal of marriage?” Justin asked.

“This is the only really important one. William's legal custody is and remains solely mine. If I should die, then,
and only then would you become his guardian. I solemnly promised my father that I would care for William
and that if I ever remarried I would retain legal custody of the boy in my own right. I will not break that

“I would not ask you to break a solemn promise. Your honor is important to me."

“Then if we are agreed on the terms, I will marry you."

“We are agreed,” Justin said quietly.

Jon said kindly, “I am satisfied with these arrangements."

“I am so glad,” Dousia replied tightly.

Jon smiled. “Niece, I had hoped that we might become friends, again."

“That may still be possible, Uncle,” she allowed with a slight smile. “But, then again, in a world where a
carpenter walked on water anything may be possible, even if of a miraculous nature."

Chapter Four

Lady Caroline Rivington, the Dowager Countess of Lytton, sat alone at the table in the breakfast room at
Lytton Hall. She was sipping her mid morning tea and reading the correspondence before getting ready to
make her calls on her neighbors. Gowned in a soft gray silk morning gown which was an exact match for the
color of her gray eyes, she was a magnificently beautiful woman. Regal of carriage, she stood as straight and
as proud today as she had when she had been a debutante. In fact, with the exception of her pregnancies
and the early infancies of her children, she had continued to wear the same size gown as she had when she
had made her comeout. Aside from the fact that her blond hair had matured into an elegant shade of silver,
Caroline Rivington could have been, and often was, taken for a much younger woman than one of her sixty
two years.

The first note was an invitation to a house party at the Blansforth's estate in Sussex in two weeks time. Then
there were bills from her modiste and milliner. Those were followed by a chatty letter from her goddaughter,
Lady Alice Mawsbury, containing the news that Lady Alice was once more with child and, after five
daughters, was hoping to produce a son this time, with the devout hopes that Mawsbury would stop bothering
her with the distasteful process of breeding once he had his long awaited heir. Finally there was a letter with
no return address and bearing handwriting she did not recognize. Carefully, she opened the last letter and
unfolded it.

My dearest Lady Caroline,

I feel that it is incumbent upon me to inform you of a most unsuitable alliance which your son, the Earl of
Lytton, is seriously contemplating. While I am not generally a bearer of tales, I feel that you deserve to have
the full knowledge of this matter. Someone must talk sense into him, before the ancient name of Rivington is
sullied beyond repair by this dangerous misalliance.

The woman with whom he is involved, yes, even to the point of having proposed marriage to, is little better
than a murderess and a common whore. I acknowledge that these are harsh words, yet I assure you, my
lady, that they are not slanderous in the least.

The woman is directly responsible for the deaths of at least two men, possibly four.

The first was her husband who died under suspicious circumstances shortly after their nuptials. This is a fact
beyond all questioning. She will, when questioned, admit to the truth of it, although she attempts to guide the
conversation away from any topic that could give rise to the questions as to her involvement in this death. The
inquest declared the death to be an accident.

It is also rumored that she was directly involved in the accident that took the life of her mother's brother. As
she was the sole heiress to the family fortune—a large estate, a sizable shipping concern, and other
investments and cash—it was most convenient that her uncle should have died suddenly prior to her
marriage, leaving her a very wealthy young woman.

An investigation was conducted after her involvement with the middle of the night stabbing deaths of her father
and another man; a man with whom she was reputedly on intimate terms. She freely admits to having killed
this man. Yet, the investigation declared that she had acted in self-defense. Although, how it was
self-defense to kill a man who was in the act of mating with her, not twenty feet from where her father lay
dead, is beyond my poor powers of comprehension. Particularly, this is difficult to understand as she stabbed
the man in the back. Still, the authorities called this death a matter of self-defense and they exonerated her
completely in the matter of the death of her father.

Is it not amazing what a bit of gold spread over certain judicial palms can accomplish?

In each of these cases, she has profited greatly from the death of the man. I would hate to see the earl
become her next victim.

Lady Caroline's hands began to shake. It was as though her worst fears about her youngest son were coming
true with a vengeance. But, then, Justin had always been a vexation to her. She had known, simply known
that the boy was bound to become involved in a situation that would bring disgrace to the family name. After
all, hadn't he run away to sea instead of being dutiful and going to the University to read for Holy Orders as
she had wanted him to do? Of course, his father had made those arrangements for Justin to go to sea.
George had said that the experience would make a man of the boy. And Justin had done well in his career,
Caroline had to admit.

Still, Lord only knew in what sort of mischief he was likely to become entangled. Caro forced herself to put
down the letter and to sip her tea in an effort to calm herself. The images conjured up by the words which she
had just read were more than merely horrifying. How could any woman be so evil? The Dowager Countess
half wanted to believe that the letter before her was a hoax, some kind of perverted practical joke gone terribly
awry. However, she was at a loss to understand who would want to hurt her so badly. The thought crossed
her mind that perhaps the target of the attack was the woman whom Justin was seeing. Yet, that did not
make any sense to her either.

in an effort to put some time and distance between herself and the poisonous note. All of which made Caro feel all the more guilty for not being able to love the boy—correction. Justin could have insisted that she remove herself to either the Dower house. Jared. she has now sold off the majority of her American properties and has come to England in search of a wealthy titled husband and a new life. The fact that he continued to treat her with respect and tolerance puzzled Caro. But. on account of his having seduced and dishonored her. Caro had never been able to bring herself to love her youngest son. she again picked up the letter. that you will have the ability to put an end to the affaire before any permanent damage is done to the name of Rivington. That scar down the side of his face had come from one such encounter at sea. it was your son who was seduced and manipulated and dishonored. he had not done either of those things. had to die along with his father. your son and this woman were in bed together before they had known one another even as long as a single hour. and yet. she thought. Things could have been worse. my lady. your ladyship. she knew that she would have to move gently and behind the scenes. had settled upon her. both methods of which were in total contrast to her normal way of doing things. Any man would find it difficult not to fall under her spell. How else. her lack of morality is not all her fault. not the woman in question. If she had to lose a son. was something Caro could not comprehend. Why her grandson. a fact Justin knew only too well. They have known each other only a matter of days. why could it have not been Justin? Heaven knew that Justin had been in enough dangerous situations where he could have been killed. Do not think too harshly of your son. Feeling marginally calmer after a few moments. he has already taken her to bed. so far. she is from a good family. Caroline shut her eyes and silent wished to High Holy Heaven that Richard had not been the child to die. tractable. man—who was a masculine version of herself. Perhaps. her mother died in giving birth to her. boy. family connections are not a sufficient measure of the morality or worth of the person. Yet. The woman is from a good family. And her father. in his wrath. however distasteful we might find it. How in the world could Justin—who in spite of his numerous faults. How many of a woman's faults are overlooked if she is comely and willing?. as we all know.She forced herself to drink two cups of tea. If Jared had lived. I pray God. I simply thought that you should know about this situation. He could have cut her off without a half-penny in addition to the meager widow's jointure which George. the Countess returned her attention to the missive before her. If the full truth be told. I pray you not to mention . husband. to our profound sorrow. As I have said. but that she had to live within the reality of the circumstances. there will be an unacceptable person come from it. Jared had been a good. whatever course of action she decided to take in connection with Justin's involvement with this woman. unwilling to believe the truth of them. For how can a person without honor be dishonored? Caroline reread the last lines a number of times. I would fear for my very life. was not stupid—how could Justin become involved with such an odious creature? Caro smirked. Why couldn't it have been Justin who died? Richard had been the child of her heart. She knew that she could wish for the situation to be different from now until the Second Coming. But. the Dowager wondered cynically before she returned her eyes to the letter. she is forcing him to marry her. eventually. Perhaps. God forbid. not at all like Justin. there would have been no doubt of any scandal attached to the name of Rivington. But. if the truth were known. but Justin had never been anything except trouble to her. even as an infant to the care of a household negress. However. the woman is beautiful. So. Unable to think clearly. Both actions were well in his power. My lady. if she should discover that I have warned you about her. People in America were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt after the deaths of her uncle. who had relocated to America before the revolution. Now. had entrusted her. one of the houses in Scotland. a noble family. She is also an excellent actress who is capable of projecting a demure and acceptable appearance when that is necessary. After all. No matter how good the bloodline is. or to. he behaved towards her with an amazing amount of tolerance and affection. father and lover.

Emily. A young woman came immediately. I never had any interest in her to lose." Caro wasn't fooled by the quietness of his words. And she always has. “Mother! One day you shall impose once too often on my affection for you. Justin. with a definite raise of an eyebrow. Do not underestimate her ability for chicanery. to be careful what you say to whom about her. I would hate to go. She sighed. “There must be an heir to the Lytton title." Justin smiled. The woman has a temper to match her red hair. Justin tried again. “Justin. appraisingly. Mother. I know everyone of consequence in the .” the maid replied with a curtsy before she removed the silver pot from the table. I'll ring for some. “Justin! When did you arrive?" “Just this minute. in query.this letter to anyone. Mother.. I have put myself. for I have no doubt that she would do murder rather than see her dirty secrets exposed to English society. Now what was it that you were wondering about?" His mother rang the call for the servants. “About what." “Yes. You aren't growing any younger. ma'am. I will not have a member of the Muslin set in my family. “No." “OH?” Caro said. She had heard and understood the thread of steel in them. Beware of her. “Yes.” Justin said. The chit bores me to tears with her simpering ways. “It's just that I have an invitation to a house party at the Blansforth's. The only thing which I feel for Maria is a vague sense of boredom.” he replied. if you have no intention of marrying the young lady. Caroline sighed. “It has to be an unusual event for it to reduce you to talking to yourself." “Richard loved Julia.” Lady Caroline replied tightly. “Do I know her?" “No." “I am aware of that. Mother. So. ma'am?" “Another pot of tea. if you have truly lost interest in young Maria. “I am working on the problem. I don't believe that you do." Justin glared at his mother." “I see. I caution you. in Julia. Mother. Would you care to tell me what is troubling you?" Caroline looked at her son. “It's just that the Blansforth's have given us one Countess. “Is there any tea in the pot?" “No. my lady. and you. Mother?” Justin asked as he walked into the room. Mother. In writing to you. I remain—your friend." “Thank you.. for it surpasses any such ability I have ever seen in any other person.” Justin replied. my lady. Mother. The older woman gazed into eyes so much like her own. Lady Caroline folded the anonymous letter carefully. “What to do?” she murmured. gravely at risk. “I trust that she is a proper lady and not one of your London ladybirds." “You've met someone?” Caroline asked. It would be cruel to allow their expectations of bringing you up to scratch to remain high. They had hoped that their youngest daughter might also become the Countess of Lytton.

“You are rather getting ahead of yourself. it would be more accurate to say that she fascinates—me. “I should imagine that you shall meet her soon enough. I have to admit to concern any time that you would allow your desires to outstrip your sense of duty. I daresay that those mundane matters do not occur to a man as he looks at a woman." “I suppose that it could have been worse. For you to contemplate a union with a woman to whom you feel no obligation to protect from the darker side of reality." “I shall be meeting her?” Caro replied in confusion. Besides. your sentiments toward her will in no way affect my actions. Jon would not take kindly to anyone as much as gossiping about his niece. If I do not know this woman then she is not of the ton. “With china dolls. “No. Maybe all of it did. Wealthy. as well as for hers. Caroline hated to admit it. “But.” Justin told his mother. but some of what was written in that letter applied to Theodousia. It would be most improper for me to approach her with an offer of marriage. Caro had no doubt that this new woman would be unacceptable as a bride for the Earl of Lytton. her brother. your marriage a fait accompli." “Is she? How? Tell me about her. Widowed. and presented the woman to me. Conventions serve to protect both men and women." “Why is this situation different?" Justin looked thoughtfully at his mother. “Perhaps." The dowager looked appraisingly at her son.” Caro prodded. one is always afraid of acting or saying as he feels out of fear of cracking the delicate sensibilities of the woman. Justin. will be taking up residence at Seahaven. how was she to take action against the unsuitable woman? It was a delicate situation. Mother. if it sets your overly active mind to ease." “Now. gotten a special license. in every sense of the word.” she stated flatly. Justin laughed softly. I find it interesting that you are changing your tune at this late date. Lady Theodousia Langley. “While I would wish you every happiness. “Of course while I hope that you should like her.Polite World. For your sake." “It is a bit early for me to talk about the lady when we have only just met a few days ago. I do not care in the least what you think. The next Countess of Lytton will have to possess certain qualities to be able to run the estate. the woman is a Lady.” Justin replied." “And you have no such compulsion with this woman?” Caro countered.” Caro said reflectively. Tell me something of the current object of your affections.” Justin replied. “How shall I be meeting her?" “She is our new neighbor. Mother. “I wonder if that is good." “You've never been one to allow conventions to limit you. And even if she hadn't valued his friendship. I have no idea of whether the lady would even have me or not." Caroline's mind sought out what little she knew of Theodousia Crawford Langley. is not a thing which I wish to contemplate. . “Then I would assume that she is not a china doll beauty?" Justin shook his head. she respected his power. “What else am I to think?" “Frankly. But. “That is most likely true. I know that she intrigues—no. You could have gone to your Uncle Henry. definitely not the china doll type. There are good reasons why certain subjects are considered unworthy of women's ears. This meant that she had to be even more cautious.” Caro observed. Mother! You are always lecturing me on finding a woman and settling down.” he replied. at this time. it is that the lady is different. She and the young Marquis. she is in mourning.

But." “Elinor? Why should Elinor be concerned? Surely. his niece. No. instead of four of us. well then. I believe is what Jon said. if Justin was seriously involved with this woman. trying unsuccessfully to reconcile this information with the intelligence contained in the letter. as she is still in mourning.." “I am certain that I do not know.” Caro replied amusedly. It was clear to her that the boy cared about this Theodousia." Caro smiled. she is most likely looking for something to keep her occupied. I believe. There is no possible harm in her coming to a small family dinner. he decided finally that Mother was up to some other mischief. “I wonder how Jon was able to manipulate Elinor into that.” Caro chided. “Pooh! Dinner with an old family friend and her new pastor can hardly be construed as breaking mourning. “Jon and I have been friends for over forty years.” Justin said as he wondered just what mischief his mother was attempting to work now. “Do you know when she will be moving into Seahaven?” Caro asked in a far too casual tone. they would have to be extremely discreet. rather. having come from America. “Don't talk fustian. There had to be a Rivington heir. There will only be the four of us. I would hardly think that it was at all her cup of tea. would you? Of course with Clairborne in India. Lady Caroline smiled broadly in amusement. which I cannot believe that the woman is.” Justin replied. I have forgotten?" “He was killed by a housebreaker.” The Dowager Countess made America sound as though it should be the dark side of the moon. It was unlike her to give up on any project she had set her mind upon. seeing that they are so short-handed over at Seahaven. of all places. Matthews to come up with a presentable dinner for them." “How awful. Justin. But how was she to do that? Jon would make a formidable enemy. Mother.” Caro said quietly. he would not be looking for a suitable wife." “I doubt that she will want to move about in society too much. even to a high stickler. There would be the Duke.” Justin said. We are to be neighbors to his niece and nephew. and make it a party of six. it would be too much to expect Mrs.” Justin warned. “That should be amusing. So whatever actions she would eventually take. “Oh.. “It was. “Lady Elinor will be chaperoning her niece for quite some time. The relationship had to be crushed. the Countess of Clairborne. “Then shall we have them over for dinner on the Saturday when they are in the neighborhood? Surely." “How did he die. That only made things worse. He'll be escorting her down for the weekend so that she can look the place over. “Within a week or so. “Yes. I shall invite the Vicar as well. He could not believe that she was surrendering so easily the notion of matchmaking between him and Maria Blansforth. she is far too busy in Shropshire with tending to her horses?” the Dowager asked in surprise. should it not?" “She may not wish to come. sharing his mother's grin." Caro looked at her son. . considering she is still in black gloves.“She is still in mourning for her father?” Caro asked. She didn't wish to arouse his ire." “Rather think again.

" “So I shall. on first glance. and. Not even the highest stickler could fault your niece for having dinner with a near neighbour. dear Elinor. particularly me. Perhaps it was the reason he had originally been attracted to her. Saturday night would be the time to press his suit. if you will excuse me. “Not unless you have suddenly developed a burning desire to learn all about the intricacies of pickled peaches. But. and how to choose just the right shade of embroidery floss. Dear Jon. There was work to be done. the latest London fashions. Still. “You do that. I promise. plum preserves. your niece. Dousia's sentiments towards Edward were not any better now than they had been the first time that she met him. the feeling that something was wrong. She did not want to construct a case against him where none existed. I would like it very much if you. I suppose that you could send a note asking His Grace and company to join us for dinner Saturday. Direct. Mother. she could easily raise enough interest in the woman to make a fertile ground for any rumors she might plant at some later date. After all. Since it seems that Justin has taken quite an interest in the woman. I understand that you and your lovely niece will be in the neighborhood next weekend." “Of course. Although there was nothing out of the ordinary about the accounts.” she responded as she rose from the table." “Then. she told herself repeatedly. I have to change in order to prepare to make my calls in the neighborhood. Something did not seem right. **** Jon reread the note that had been delivered by a liveried footman from Lytton Hall late that afternoon. something indefinable continued to bother her about the ledgers. But. s'il vous plait. she would find out soon enough if there was actually any cause for her concern. The coachman was obviously in no hurry to get there. She was hesitant to start too many rumors and speculations about Jon's niece. would do me the honor of sharing dinner with the Earl and myself on Saturday evening at Lytton Hall. The time at Uncle Jon's had been tense. I must confess to possessing a burning curiosity about your niece. but I cannot think it improper for her to meet some of the neighbours. Whatever it was. Shall I accompany you?" Caroline laughed quietly. and all of the accounts did balance. since she did not know for a fact that the charges in the letter were absolutely true. that is the way that she had always been. Dousia realized that she had been woolgathering when her Aunt Elinor spoke to her sharply. basically because she realized just how damaging it could be to be the object of an unreasonable and unfounded suspicion. Caro Jon laughed. It will be a small party. “Now. She still did not trust him as far as she could pick him up and throw him. The last thing that she wanted was to have Justin accompany her today. of course. “And what do . Dousia wondered if she was channeling her instant dislike for Edward into a series of questions as to his honesty. at least they weren't tottering along at two miles an hour. Send your reply back with my man. So. at Seahaven continued to linger. to the point. It was so much like Caro to write a note like this one. I shall closet myself with Smithers and bring myself up to date on the current state of affairs on the estate.” Caro told him in relief. There was no need to worry.“Well. She had spent the week going over the books for Seahaven. he was determined to win her over.” Justin said quietly. I understand that she is still in deep mourning for her father. a wry smile on his face. terribly wrong. The twenty-five miles between Winton Abbey and Seahaven seemed to stretch out forever.

" “Purple? With my complexion? Now.. “Yes.” Elinor answered amusedly." “More likely daydreaming. Besides.” Elinor stated with a shake of her head. “Now. For shame. “Ah . to be perfectly honest.” she chided. “William and I were well into our teens before you deigned .." “Never. by now. it is merely a case of neither side knowing what to do with you.” Elinor suggested.” Dousia interceded with a smile. Aunt?" “Don't try turning me up sweet. Aunt?" Jon laughed. that would be a sight .. Uncle. Aunt. You have been in deep mourning for almost eight months. full mourning gives me the opportunity to get my feet planted firmly before I have to deal with the business of receiving all manner of callers at Seahaven. “Just thinking." Dousia's eyes sparkled with mischief. “And how would you know. don't you know. she will be accusing me of being in my dotage. that I do believe you care more for money than for anything else. “Not particularly. Uncle. you two. Dousia. ! Besides. Perhaps even to go into half think of that." “Now. “Except. Niece." “There are times. Now... you will come to regret your sharp tongue. “No. “Must have been deep thoughts.” Elinor said. Elinor ." Jon cleared his throat. about what people think of me?" Elinor sighed.” Dousia replied in embarrassment. I don't think that is at all a good idea. “Someday.. puss?” Jon challenged. “In my case. actually. Dousia. This is August. of course. Seeing him suitably established is something Father would have wanted. Aunt Elinor?" “I was saying that I thought it was time you lighten your mourning a bit. if you decided to go into gray or even into purple. “I don't envy you the task of raising that nevvy of mine. I am serious. one way or the other. however. do you ever marvel that we have lived so long?" Elinor smiled. “I was just mentally retallying the ledgers. what were you saying.. You are far too stubborn to give into such things. I suspect." “No. Elinor that you caught our niece napping. Jonathan.” Elinor's eyes sparkled with mischief. Dousia?" Jon laughed quietly." “I still cannot get over how much that boy reminds me of his father and uncle at that age. that in yours. “As you have. “I believe. “He is entirely too much like his Uncle Jonathan was at that age. even at the height of his faculties. that I do not actually care.” she responded with a small smile before turning to her aunt.. Uncle Jon." Elinor shook her head. “Would you listen to her now? The next thing you know. it is a case of living a clean life. for the fact that the boy is far more intelligent than Jon ever was. I simply take care for Will. your being too bad for Heaven and not bad enough for Hell. No one would think any the less of you.” Jon replied.

" Dousia smiled and laughed. The four of them were assembled in the front hall to meet the new mistress of the house. too thin man make your birth cry. my lady.” Quintin replied. There wasn't time to explore the grounds just now." “By all the accounts which my father gave me. Aunt. Elinor smiled softly. I have been most curious about the new occupants of Seahaven. you see. “A small sherry. Raven. when you are still available?" .” Dousia replied with a small smirk. Leigh. how are things in London?" “As they always are. and a Butler. and teased. Quintin Leigh sat down. After the amenities were exchanged." “The honor is all mine. the Earl. It was clear that she would have to engage more help. the butler. “And a worse pair of hellions. no mother ever had." “Thank you. Frankly.” Elinor said lightly. a man of Justin's age with whom Justin had been at Eton. “What woman is going to look twice at me. There were only a few hours until they would have to leave Seahaven for Lytton Hall. **** Lady Caroline sat with her son in the blue salon at Lytton Hall. is to outlive those who know differently. But. the Reverend Dr. Quintin smiled.” he announced as the rector. what would you have to drink?” Justin asked as he walked over to the grog tray in the corner of the salon." Caro smiled. two maids.” Quintin said with a wink. this time of year. The Earl of Lytton rose to greet the local minister. as she was going to London next week to see her solicitor in order to see to the matter of the marriage contract. “I am so happy that you could join us this evening." “I read Mother's diary. the prospect of meeting Justin's mother was not in the least thrilling to Dousia. Hot. a hawk-nosed. “And why would that be?” Justin replied with a small laugh. the secret of having a good reputation. muggy. she opted to explore the house and make notes of any changes that had to be made. “Rector. Rather than sit and brood over it. Aunt. “But. Doctor Leigh. Matthews. I relish the opportunity to meet His Grace's niece. “I shall keep it in mind." Justin returned with the sherry. entered the room. Hobbes. the task of engaging household help could be accomplished then. ironically enough. The household staff was down to a skeleton crew: a cook/housekeeper.” she replied with mock solemnity as the coach rolled to a stop before the three story Georgian brick building which was Seahaven. my lord. however. “My lady. The idea of being waited upon by his old friend. a dour faced woman named Mrs. “Tell me. with most of the ton gone to the country. Justin. was quite amusing. young and fairly pretty girls named Jenny and Betty. She chronicled your lives from the day of your birth until the day of her death. Quintin. I should think." “So you've had no better luck in finding a wife? I have to admit that your wedding will be one marriage which I shall look forward to solemnizing. but she could do that on Sunday afternoon. would be a most welcome drink. you were not exactly angelic during your youth. “I think that you will enjoy this. came inside.

if you would escort in the Countess. I would have your arm.” Justin acknowledged with a smile. and Quintin. Pray. I have no doubt of that in the least. “My dear.” Justin said with a smile.” Dousia said with a good deal of humor in her voice. I do beg your pardon. my lady Theodousia.". “How are you. “It is always flattering to be told that one favors a beautiful ancestress. unusual.. dinner is served. at the shock of being called to task over her deliberately casual slur against the woman. “Your Grace. and Lady Theodousia Langley." Dousia laughed softly. I am delighted that you went to the trouble. “The two of you should have some measure of commonality since her father was a man of the cloth. Caro laughed softly." Caro just stood there. Silence reigned in the room as the two women's eyes met and held. this evening. “Then. “Lady Langley." “Somehow.” Dousia replied with a nod of her head. I have been insulted by the best of them. silent.." “I should hope so." Caro shrugged elegantly." Caroline's gray eyes darkened into a shade that could only be described as slate.” Caroline responded. Jon and Justin. “I believe that you know my son. Much better for your company. how good it is to meet you. recognizing the danger signs." “Jon. Quintin. “'Tis a mere trifle. would you lend you arm to Lady Theodora?" .” he replied with a large smile. inasmuch as we shall be near neighbors. throatily. But. “It was no trouble at all. Theodora. how good it is to see you again!” Caro said gaily. this is Lady Langley. “However. Jon. both moved in to diffuse the situation. “And this must be your niece. we shall get along famously. I would recognize her anywhere. decanted. I would hate for the Rector there to have to write his bishop with an explanation of why he saw fit to ex-communicate either or both of us on account of a silly quarrel." They had no sooner finished their drinks than Hobbes came in. Her ladyship. my name is Theodousia. changing the subject.” Caroline said.” she replied with a small laugh. do not take my previous words as an insult. Justin.” Caroline informed her in a voice which belied her words.” Dousia replied. “My lady. my Lord Lytton?" “Tolerably well. before either of them could say anything. my lady Caroline. “Splendid." Dousia cleared her throat. “Of course. “as we have a rare understanding of one another." Jon Crawford smiled at Caroline. The Dowager's eyes narrowed as she looked appraisingly at Theodousia. may I present the Right Honorable Reverend Doctor Quintin Leigh. It is simply that your name is so . my lady Caroline. Elinor. the Duke of Winton. “My lady. I assure you. recovering her poise." “Doctor Leigh. not Theodora. I have had a bottle of that Italian wine of which you were so fond. “Jon. “My lady. get our guests something to drink. “I assure you that I am more than capable of returning the favor above and beyond the degree which was granted me.” she said with a spark of mischief in her eyes. “Justin. the Countess of Clairborne.Justin was unable to respond to his friend's good natured gibe as Hobbes came in announcing His Grace. She looks so much like her grandmother did.

But. “You have been widowed for a number of years. admiration in his voice. and Aunt Elinor seated between Justin and Jon. Shutters almost visibly closed over Dousia's face.” Caro countered. “Why.” Dousia replied with a shake of her head. boy girl arrangement. Dousia seated between Quintin and Justin. My brother William is quite a boy. “Lady Theo. “What is it that you wish to know?” Dousia replied. for conversation. yet hoping that her uneasiness did not display itself in her voice. “I've had good managers. Perfect boy girl. “How very astute of you. It is hard to believe. “I've been guilty of indulging the boy. of course. Lady Caroline had outdone herself. in no hurry to remarry. or is it seven?” Justin asked lightly. But." “Wait until he is grown. “They all are. his mathematics are already sufficient that he can add columns in a ledger accurately in his head." “You were involved in the management of a business?” Caro asked. Rather inconsequential chatter lasted until after the soup plates had been cleared away. “That is a bit of an understatement." Caro interjected firmly." “I suspect that you are correct. She took a large sip of the wine before her. Jon chuckled. Jon and Quintin seated at either of her hands.. Dousia shook her head negatively. I am. so that the responsibility for him would be off my shoulders.The arrangement of places around the dining room table saw Lady Caroline at the head of the table. anything which you think is important to our understanding of you. “I think not." “Surely not." “He's six. He has a mind like nothing which I have ever encountered. I've enjoyed watching him grow.” Dousia said. “I have seen too many estates and businesses dissolved because the owners trusted their employees too far.” Dousia explained. perhaps you will tell us something about yourself?” Caro prodded.. feeling for the first time as though Justin's mother might actually come to like her. how shall I phrase this.” Caro countered amusedly. shocked." “I'm afraid that comes of my holding him on my lap while I was doing the accounts for the shipyards. Surely the men in America are not all blind and stupid?" “Not at all. boy girl. And. it is not a good idea to leave matters entirely in the hands of hirelings.” Dousia replied with a laugh. I do not feel at all deprived.” Quintin observed.. however. For what had been billed as a dinner with an old family friend." “Will is a . You see William is a rather special little boy. Dousia smiled.? Will is an extremely inquisitive child.” Caroline prodded. “I like children. . “There are times I wish that William were at his majority. Justin at the foot of the table. I fear. feeling uneasy. “Will you be sending William to school?” Quintin asked.. indeed. “Almost seven." “Do you not want children?” Caroline asked. The boy's French is already better than mine. “I fear that I am a poor topic. But Eton does them a world of good. even with the best of employees.” Dousia admitted quietly. “You'll find it even harder to believe then.

“Just like that? Does she not have any say in the matter?” he countered. “I believe that I shall reserve judgment on that until I've heard you preach tomorrow. Justin and Dousia are signing the betrothal contracts. “Of course. since she still is in mourning they are waiting until her mourning period is over until making any announcement. “What. “This is not to become public knowledge." Quentin looked to his friend for confirmation. “So. she does. yet said nothing. you will leave the field clear?" “When hell freezes over. but speaking in rapid French. I would have your word that nothing which I am about to tell you will go any further than this room." Jon cleared his throat.” Justin said strongly. “Shall we join the ladies?" . Justin?" “As you value our friendship. “Quentin.” Quentin replied firmly. “You are an extraordinary woman.” Quentin teased. Quentin blinked a couple of times. stay away from Lady Theodousia. “I want you to know something. The wedding will probably be in February. “I intend to marry her. “No. “I see.. Quentin smiled at his friend. I am conscious of the honor that you do me by asking. I don't suppose that you would consider marrying me?” Quentin spoke quietly to her after having conversed with her for some time. Quentin picked up on the tension in the room. Dousia laughed. “The lady is single and uncommitted. your Grace. The discussion became general until after dessert when the ladies left the men to their port and cigars." Jon shot Justin a warning look. so that any servants overhearing the conversation would be unable to understand what was being said." “I am not an abysmal parson. Silence reigned at the table.” she teased in return. however I must decline your generous offer. Then he switched to French to congratulate Justin. But. my lady Theodousia.” Quentin replied.” Justin said. Jon cleared his throat. know of the betrothal. “Only the three of us. I fear that I should make an abysmal parson's wife.” Justin said. as far as I can determine.” Quentin replied. Justin looked over at Jon imploringly. now the four of us. “Of course.” Jon said.” Dousia dismissed. Dousia broke the tension with a small nervous laugh. Jon continued.. She has already accepted his proposal. “Next week.” Justin warned. yet did not know the cause.

I shall be in London. My yacht is moored near Seahaven." Quintin smiled softly. middle aged.” Lady Caroline said. “I asked if you would favor us with a tune upon the pianoforte.” Dousia replied with a dismissive shake of the head. “I have to be in London next week. addressing the tall. “Surely you are jesting. “Theodousia. Aunt. “You know what I wish for you to do?" .” Dousia replied with a smile.” Dousia replied. this Tuesday. perhaps music was not highly stressed in your upbringing in the colonies?" “One day. the less time that I have to spend with you." Dousia chuckled. Unfortunately. “I must see my solicitor and banker. But. I have no intention of driving there. They are not the world's best. man seated across the room from her in the Silver Salon at Lytton Hall. Lost in her thoughts. alone?” Caro asked quietly in shock." “London?” Quintin asked. “That news comes as a great relief. would you care to join our parish sewing circle on Tuesday?” Caro asked quietly. “Anytime. thin. “Aunt Elinor will be along. “I shall look forward to it. personally. I imagine that you shall." **** Dousia wasn't quite certain. Once along those roads is quite enough. I happen to be a good sailor. I shall reciprocate for your hospitality of this evening. blue eyed. my lady. the better that I shall like it. Dousia would have thought that the woman was trying to chase her away. “As you wish. well dressed. Then you will see the level of my musical ability. “Well. Every lady of quality has some pretension to musical ability. thank you." “I should like to see this yacht of yours. Oh. “No. Suppose that I sail with you." Caro looked puzzled. anyway? Chapter Five “So. “I am afraid that I cannot. I shall be sailing into London.” Dousia replied quietly. be careful on the roads between here and London. But.” Caro replied. Dousia didn't realize that Caro had asked her anything. I wonder what Uncle Jon sees in you." Elinor protested. “I resent that implication. If Justin hadn't promised not to tell his mother about their betrothal.The conversation with the ladies was general and desultory until the gentlemen joined them. hoping that Justin's mother would take the words at face level. but she felt that the dowager's warmth was about as genuine as a cut glass ‘ diamond'. dark haired.” she explained. I suspect that she will spend the majority of her time below decks. “Surely you aren't contemplating sailing from Seahaven into London." Dousia nodded.” Caro restated.” Justin said firmly. Unfortunately. my lady Caroline. “I do not play that instrument. “And engage at least a chef and a nanny for Seahaven." “Oh. Dousia thought cynically.” Dousia replied amusedly. most likely with a case of mal de mer. Even a miss just out of the schoolroom like Maria Blansforth can play the pianoforte creditably. I did not bring my instrument with me. “Although.

you wish to protect your son. “If your son has actually compromised her.” Caro declared. “I prefer to think of it as being honest. “Of course. Bates. at all. whether you like it or not.” Caro chided. it is not at all germane to these proceedings. my lady. I shall need some expense money. aside from the entail." “If I take the job. my lady." Caro shook her head.” Caro replied. I do not want her next target to be my son.” Bates replied. even as we now speak. the next Earl. it shall be more than a month before I can reach America. “Now. my lady. If the allegations are true. You've told me what you wish for me to do. If you cannot bring yourself to be totally frank with me. you do not mean to refuse the assignment?" “I simply wished for you to know that I am aware that under other circumstances. is likely to be imminent." “If she has the habits of a black widow spider. You know the extent of the accusations against her. my lady. I will make a thorough investigation. “You are aware that. Your grandchild. “If this is actually how you wish to proceed. I want to find out if they are accurate. That would not be a pleasant thing for you." “Are you certain that you want to know? Would it not be better to forget about these rambling accusations?” Bates asked. I find it highly unlikely that the allegations in the letter are correct. Madame LaRoux. “Surely.” Bates said with narrowed eyes. yet I have not accepted the assignment. one way or the other. And it will be at least another six weeks after that before even a sketchy preliminary report can reach you. she removed a bundle of ." “You were not hired to investigate me. particularly if the allegations about Theodousia Langley are true.” Ivo Bates replied with self-assurance.” Bates said. Bates. if that action would not potentially impoverish you. However. Bates. amount of your widow's jointure. Nor do I imagine that you would be able to afford the services of that French modiste. she may be with child." Lady Caroline nodded. “You are impertinent. Bates nodded in agreement. “I thoroughly dislike you. who would then be the next Earl of Lytton. and rose. nor to question my motives. I have a few months until she is moving about in society. I have no desire to take on the case." “I believe that. “I do not at all appreciate your having obviously asked questions about me." “My solicitor assures me that you are the best man available for the job. “That is not something which I wish to think about. Radburn. Bates. I can't imagine that the Lytton dower house is anywhere near this luxurious. That letter is not going to influence me. my lady. He has had the devil's own luck on the exchange using his prize money from his years of naval service." “Yes. then I'll book passage on a ship for America as soon as that is possible. The woman is still in mourning. should your pocket be suddenly limited to the more than adequate. given my stated personal opinions. yet. you would be forced to deal with your nephew.” he stated. you would gladly wish the Langley woman upon your son. or not? It is entirely your choice." Caro's gray eyes narrowed. which would mean that the marriage. could be growing within her womb. I know that. but somewhat less than you are accustomed to living upon. Opening a drawer. if I accept the job. do you wish for me to do the investigation. Justin is a very wealthy man in his own right. If anything untoward happens to him.“Certainly. Personally. if her reputation in the community had honestly been that bad.” Caro replied. I find it highly unlikely that serious charges would be dropped for a second time. She walked over to her desk." “Oh. “All I ask from any client is that they be honest with me. I must do everything in my power to protect my son from this woman. I haven't been hired.

“I do not believe that I need lessons in comportment from you. and then only if the rumors are true. There is far too much at stake. as per our agreement. “This all could be an elaborate ruse designed to arouse my anger. her uncle is too powerful to allow something like that to remain unchallenged.” Caro informed him. certain bits of gossip could effectively ruin her. has on several occasions offered marriage to you?" “I only hope that you do as thorough a job digging up information about Theodousia Langley as you have done in investigating me. my lady?" **** . my lady. Thank you. There are enough young second and third sons of the gentry who would be only too happy to wed an heiress. I do not wish to harm the Langley woman unless that is absolutely necessary to protect my son from her. even if he had to carry her off to Scotland to accomplish that. Bates shrugged." The Dowager drew herself up straight in her chair. And. Something which could not do anything except turn your son against her." Bates inclined his head slightly toward the dowager. my lady. however. not to talk to anyone about this matter. “No. “It would seem to me that there would be a far simpler solution to this problem. “Here is a thousand pounds. “No." Ivo Bates looked at her as though he failed to believe her. “You stand convinced that there is reason to believe the allegations in the letter? There is nothing that I can say to convince you not to take this action?" Caro nodded." Caro looked at the detective carefully. And I do not have to remind you that this matter must remain confidential?" Ivo Bates chuckled humorlessly. Possibly it could be arranged to have the lady found in a compromising position with another man." “I am not a vindictive person. Barring that.” Ivo Bates said.” Caro replied. the Duke of Winton.banknotes.” Bates observed. “And what would that be?” Caro demanded. After I arrive in Virginia. “Now. Say nothing about receiving the letter. if there is nothing else. I shall be on my way. Bates." “Regardless of the conclusions which I draw from the investigation?" “Regardless of the conclusions." Bates shrugged. I shall be sending you a report each week until such time as I can finish the investigation. “Well. I would go out of my way to be neighbourly to Lady Langley. By your leave. “I do believe that I have cause to look into the matter. I would advise you. Bates. I am sure that you know best. If it is." “That will be quite satisfactory. Bates. weighing his words. You can certainly afford the privilege of making a fool out of yourself. the lady's uncle. that is entirely unnecessary." “Then there is another option. Another two thousand pounds will be yours upon the completion of the project. if I were you." “Such as the fact that His Grace. “Arrange a marriage between her and some impecunious person. “A small bribe in a certain section of town would do quite marvelously toward accomplishing the task. Then she shook her head negatively. if this turns out to be a hoax. A very public disgrace could be arranged for her. The last thing you need is to have either your son or Winton comprehend the animosity which you bear towards Lady Langley. I do not wish to fall into the trap laid for me.

“Very well.” Dousia agreed. be at ease. then looked at Justin.Dousia and Justin sat in the office of her solicitor. “It isn't every day that we have a betrothal to celebrate. “Lady Theodousia and I thank you for your good wishes. but she knew that it would do very little good to show her growing sense of panic. You could send her to me anytime after the first of next week. He smiled at her. “I wanted to be the first to wish you two happy. Dousia quickly read each of the other copies. along with four glasses. I shall be ready to leave London in a few days. I have some staff members for the house to hire. my lord. But. Dousia laughed. it is a cause for celebration. “Will you tell me what it is that has you so blue-deviled?” he asked.” Dousia said quietly as she removed her bonnet and placed it along with her reticule and fan on the long oak table which sat beneath the gilt-edged mirror along the west wall of the oak-paneled room. “Well. Justin walked over to her." Justin escorted the ladies. by means of his closed carriage. to the Clairborne townhouse in Berkeley Square. what do you have planned for the immediate future?” Ruggers asked. present for propriety's sake. “That is what I said. Dousia's solicitor.” Dousia replied. we can't remind you enough that we wish for the matter to be kept quiet until such time as we are willing to announce it ourselves. Everything was as it had been agreed. with a prematurely receding hairline. Dousia smiled. Aunt?" “Of course. and a pair of the deepest brown. It was only a moment later when the man brought in a bottle of champagne on ice. “I have to check on things down at the shipyard before I return to Seahaven. “Pray. The formalities having been taken care of. Dousia felt completely trapped. “Of course.” she said. “I should think that would do wonderfully. my lord. such a man. Attorney Ruggers rang for Tucker. was a young man. before she signed each one.” Attorney Ruggers said quietly as he handed them each a copy. Would you have some of this most excellent champagne?" Justin smiled broadly. Then I must return to put things in order for William. to make certain that they were exactly the same.” Justin told Dousia as they arrived at the house. Winston Ruggers. eyes she had ever seen. Can you send me a good accountant for a period of not more than a month?" “I know a most excellent auditor. “Naturally. my lady. nearly black.” Ruggers said with a smile. “I should like a word or two with you in private. “I have the copies of the contracts here. Justin. You mentioned something in your letter about a set of ledgers not seeming correct?” Ruggers asked matter-of-factly. satisfied that if there had been any irregularities that Dousia would have been the first to point them out. graciously as she led them to the library door and softly closed it behind them. It is not every day that a man contracts to marry such a charming and unique woman. Elinor was seated on a long sofa against the wall. “May we use your library. his secretary.” Dousia replied. . simply signed each copy as she handed them to him." Dousia swallowed hard." Ruggers smiled. “Of course. That is if you are not adverse to having a woman look over your books?” Ruggers replied with a smile." “Nor a woman. They drank a toast to their happiness.

“I want to be with you. Please use it. dutiful. “You blush so very prettily." “Loving.” he interjected with a smile.. does the situation bother you in the least?” she countered. If it is any consolation." He reached out and gently took a hold of her chin. if you will allow me to do so. I want you to be fully mine. Justin.” She chuckled humorlessly." She cleared her throat. You are a passionate woman. “In that respect. and I should like to be able to assist you." Dousia shook her head negatively as she fought back a blush. at all. ." Dousia turned away from him so that he could not see her face. passionate. with the exception of the year in which I acted as hostess for my uncle. “You realize that you are making me feel even more guilty than I already do?” Justin questioned. as he saw her blush." He reached out and lightly stroked her cheek. and the short time that I was married.. Something is bothering you. “No.. At least. He took her hand and brought it to his mouth.Dousia shook her head. “But I am concerned. my lord?" “Justin! My name is Justin.. gentle. “You are most . you will find that you cannot tolerate. “While we don't abominate one another. I want to..” Dousia replied as she turned to face him. I am aware that it is an unconventional concept. he would not have taken fornication lightly. I know my faults and freely own to them. Justin's eyes darkened with desire." “That may be just as well.." “Is there anything in particular about your past which you wish to tell me?” Justin asked. forcing her to meet his eyes. Peter Richardson.. for us to be together?” she replied in a nervous tone. There may be something about me. “You are too good. “Pray do not concern yourself. let's not go into marriage with unreasonable illusions about one another. I've never taken a lover. “Believe me. although he would have happily married me off.. as long as that remains in the past." Carefully.. upon further acquaintance. “That is not my intention. “It would be most improper for me to discuss in any further detail what I want. Almost all my life. my dear.. is that you are insisting on waiting so long to marry me. His lips twitched as he tried to suppress a smile. anxious .. “Justin. our child. “I assure you that I will not grow upset over the number of lovers whom you've had. or any such nonsense. I've had neither the time nor the inclination to do so. It would have been unreasonable to expect you to have been completely celibate since your husband died. I am not good.. we are going into marriage with our eyes fully open . “No. you are your father's daughter. The only thing bothering me. which. Dousia. I daresay that we aren't madly in love either. she backed away from him. People blinded by love tend to make very silly decisions.” He cleared his throat. Something which may make you grow to hate me. I want to see your body swelling with my child . “Those are faults?” she asked with a small smile on her face and mischief in her eyes. yet. I have lived with my father..” he replied." “We do not know each other that well. I have forgiven you for the incident at the inn. For both of our sakes. I am opinionated. stubborn. I want to wake up each morning and see your face smiling at me." Justin smiled softly." “Does this situation bother you at all. Before you respond..

he moved to pull her into his arms. She longed to stroke them away. Still. Martha.. Justin smiled at her. She looked. she crossed the room. but did not answer. Anyone looking at her would be of no doubt that she had been well and truly kissed. you must know better than that.” he said as he walked up behind her. “you aren't afraid that I will harm you? Surely.. There were lines of strain on his face. involuntary. as was the raggedness of her breathing. Yet. Absentmindedly. She looked at his reflection in the mirror.” Dousia commanded." She began to step away from him to prevent herself from turning in his arms and offering him her lips. cry of intense need she uttered as his lips moved from hers to blaze a trail across her chin to her ear was almost more than Justin could tolerate. she wound her hair into a twist and secured it with the combs. The tender expertise of his lovemaking was such that she did not even realize that he had taken the combs from her hair. Dousia was more than merely content in his arms as the heat of the passion he obviously felt for her ignited her desire. She found herself trembling with the growing desire she felt for him. Instead. “No . Before she could protest. at herself in the gilt-edged mirror for the longest of minutes. Before she knew it. Again. “Of course. persuading. Then he nuzzled her neck before he swept her into his arms and carried her to the sofa.” he replied throatily as he lowered himself and her to the sofa. His tongue teased at the hollow of her ear before his teeth gently tugged at the earlobe. nibbling sensually upon her bottom lip. he took hold of her arm and swung her around to face him.” she said mournfully as she pulled herself from his arms and crossed the room on shaking legs. he was gentle. She allowed herself to be folded into the circle of the strength of his arms. “You are so beautiful. bringing her to sit firmly upon his lap. disgustedly. “Surely. so that she could feel the heat of his breath in her hair. She began tentatively to return his kiss. coming to stand near enough so that she could feel the warmth of his body next to hers. until she was beyond reasoning. to touch him.” Justin said quietly as he walked up behind her. his breath was coming no more evenly than her own. in the world. the shutters were back over her eyes. Dousia was only too aware of how little more of his . Martha's face had not looked any more flushed than Dousia's did at this moment.He laughed. He could almost see them come down. “Put me down. in what could only be called a very compromising position. “I like your hair much better down. his lips recaptured hers. all the respect. Her fingers laced themselves among the blonde strands of his hair in order to hold him closer to her. deep into the territory where all she could do was to surrender to the waves of emotion which he was stirring within her. as she started to move. allowing her auburn tresses to flow freely down her back. beyond thinking. sending it to a fevered pitch. Of course. but she dared not turn to him. Quickly. ! Please. She remembered the one time that she had walked into her father's study without knocking and discovered him and her stepmother. But the tenderness gradually changed into something far warmer as the heady drug of sensual pleasure completely swamped her senses. and pretended to be absorbed in looking at books.” Justin murmured. Suddenly. my dear. The drug of his kiss spread throughout her body until she thought that she would melt in his arms. she was being kissed with all the tenderness. The small. as she was gently molded onto the very masculine length of his hard body.

Justin. I'll require that the person cook the meals tomorrow as a final test of his suitability. “That is the problem. You did nothing which I did not want. “It was not the best of ideas. Justin.” she admitted. London streets in summer were not terribly pleasant. “You could sit in on the interviews. ” Dousia lowered her eyes away from the reflection." Dousia nodded in agreement. “No. “I wish you luck finding adequate household staff members. But. I." “This confuses me.” she admitted.touches and kisses would be required to make her lose her head entirely. looking at his reflection. Being alone with you is a profound strain on my self-control." Justin shook his head. “You didn't seem to mind. Caro was at a loss to say what was bothering her more about this visit.” she said. yet how could she love him when love was something which grew slowly? Gently he turned her to face him.. Dousia. Will you come to dinner tomorrow night? If I find a chef with whom I believe that I can get along. “I. I have to be back in less than two hours. Yet.." “I could definitely use the exercise.." Justin laughed. I recognize desire when it stirs. my sitting in on the interview would lead to talk. “Justin . I do not believe that either of us is particularly in the mood to simply talk right now. “this way that I feel when you are near me. Justin." She swallowed hard before replying. they were able to make good time on this August afternoon. Suppose that you go change into your riding habit.” she replied.” She turned very red. or the fact . “I'll own that I behaved abominably in trying to seduce you only moments ago. that she thought that she loved him. “Will you not speak with me?” Justin asked. She had to suppress a shudder at the thought that if he had been only moments earlier. “You have nothing about which to apologize. barely able to raise her eyes to his. “Minx!” he charged teasingly as he handed the reins of the horses over to a groom. as much as I would like to be of service to you. “No. a man whom she had loved? How could she tell him that feeling desire so strongly for him.” How would she find the words to tell him that the reason why she was confused was because she had only felt this way for one other man. the fact that it was unexpected... he would come during her interview with Ivo Bates. **** Their ride was wonderful. An agency is sending over applicants this afternoon.” Justin said as he handed her down from her horse after their return to Clairborne house." She shook her head negatively. “Why does it confuse you?” Justin asked. I believe that we both can use the exercise. my lord. “You could do more than wish me luck.. Justin. “We have some talking to do. “Precisely. However. I have a feeling that I could use the moral support. That was something she could not allow.” Dousia replied with a smile and the mischievous twinkle returned to her eyes." “And you would like to have someone else to commiserate with if the cook does not live up to expectations?” Justin teased. **** Lady Caroline quickly masked her surprise at Jonathan's unexpected call. “Please tell me that you do not believe that destructive piece of folk wisdom which says that Ladies are not supposed to enjoy the act of loving. without the crowds that plagued the streets during the season. I shall need to interview them.” she replied.

Always a stickler for proper dress. “Caro. Jonathan! What am I to do with you? You still speak in the most flowery of phrases as you did when we were young. I had forgotten. come in." “That's right. she turned to Jonathan." “Why to her attention? Surely. “Your grace. I was just about to ring for tea. She had always stunned him with her appearance. Jonathan stood at the doorway to the Silver Salon at Lytton Hall admiring the woman who sat there so regally.” he said.. we get progressively more mellow with age. “Must I have a reason for calling on the most beautiful mature Lady in the neighborhood?" Caroline laughed." “Yes. The butler returned with a tray containing a tea pot and two bone china cups. Henderson. “Riding inspection on the fences? Is there something amiss?" “My nevvy is missing about fifty head of sheep. People are like fine wine. Fifty head of sheep is a substantial enough of a loss to have to be brought to her attention. my dear. Caro. is in the mind. and I have worked up a devilish thirst. “I'll make a check with Justin's steward to see if any of our animals are missing. along with a plate of sandwiches and an assortment of small cakes. she was incredibly lovely." “I take it that there were no broken gates to be found. Today was no different. Gowned in a soft velvet morning gown that was an exact match for the color of her gray eyes." “Thank you. After the servant had left." “Age." Caroline rang for the butler. Caro. to what do I owe the honor of this visit?” she asked in surprise. Caroline Rivington could have been taken for a much younger woman.” Jon replied." “Please.” Jon replied with a small smile. Jonathan. He laughed. as usual?" “Whoever is stealing sheep from Seahaven has been clever enough not to get caught. if Jonathan called while wearing riding clothes. Have a seat.that he was calling upon her while he wore his riding dress. Now I understand why my mother used to say that there was a reason why God gave children to the young. I hate to think how Dousia is going to react when she returns from London.. “That's the third time in the last two years livestock has gone missing from Seahaven. I confess that I have been riding inspection on the fences all morning." “Ah ." “I confess that I am glad that I am not responsible for him. are you not aware that mellow is merely the first cousin to rotten?” she teased. “Thank you. my lord.. Will you join me.. Aside from the stately silver color of her hair. you are the boy's guardian?" “No. That will be all. the reason for the visit had to be out of the ordinary. Lady Caroline looked at him. or perhaps you would like something stronger?" “Tea would be fine." “Mellow? But. how many years have we known one another?" . Justin told me that your niece had custody of little William. “Really. William left custody of his son to my niece.

“As for your coming to me with only the clothes on your back. “Caroline. Jon. “Your morality.” Jon's voice was gentle.. She swallowed hard." His grace took both a position on the sofa and her hand. Caro.” he laughed. Jon." “I am not a warm person. He cleared his throat. while his own fortunes he doubled and almost nearly trebled. “Is that common knowledge." “George had seduced you. come here. “Well over forty. Jon.. The first time that you asked when I was seventeen. Jon. It never was widely known. I would lose all rights to my widow's jointure." “Please. I have no other money of my own. A rakish smile split the Duke's face." “In all that time. This is the third time that you have proposed marriage to me. “Jon." The ashen color of her face became a bright red. I would go to my new husband with almost nothing other than the clothes on my back.” A smile graced the older woman's face. “No. I regretted having to tell you no. he told his side of your marriage. Very gently. “Jon.. Don't. George squandered my dowry in his gambling.” she said." “I'm afraid that I have to. one night when he had come for one of our Chess games... pain in her voice. should be buried with him. “I see. I can surely afford to settle an income on you which will exceed what George could afford. my dear." “If I ever remarry. you could come to me in your shift and I would still take you. Any problems that the two of you had. I believe.” Jon said gruffly.” she replied." Caroline smiled. is precisely what I am afraid of. “I want you to be my wife. Jon.” she finally said with some measure of difficulty. teasing voice with real affection.” she choked out. I can't say that anyone ever has expressed doubts about your honesty. “Or at least. I'm set in my ways. your grace. You know that. patting the sofa cushion next to her. Jon turned Caro's head so that she was looking at him. I am most cognizant of the honor which you do me by asking. old George was in his cups and told me the whole story of your marriage to him. please Caro. then. “And that. “darling. “No. then?” she asked. ignoring her last statement.” she added in a soft. I would be the happiest man on earth if you would only consent to be my wife.” Jon said. But. You would be miserable married to me. is another question entirely." . “No. “Caro. “Sit by me. It is ironic that he wasted only my money. Lady Caroline's face lost all of its color." “I could not be any more miserable than I am being apart from you." “Don't say no. Don't be embarrassed.” Jonathan continued. Jon's hand tightened around hers. have you ever known me to say something which I didn't mean.. I know that George wasn't the easiest man to live with. I have been in love with you since the first moment that I laid eyes on you at your debutante ball.She looked at the Duke. it isn't common knowledge. If the money bothers you. or to make an offer which I wasn't prepared to fulfill?" Caroline looked thoughtful. It will do no good to dwell on the reasons why I could not marry you.

I shall not give up the idea.” she replied. “I do not wish to marry anyone. “When I am around you. Please try to understand. Caroline. Jon.” he said.” he said. “Caro. don't you know that I want only you?” Jonathan replied. a true friend is a treasure. before he told her. “don't look at me that way. “Know this. I want you as my wife." “This is all that I can offer you." Caro smiled at him. Let me make you happy." “Be my friend. I mean. I would like to be more than that to you. You could have your choice of mistresses at a drop of the hat. before he replied. I am a determined man. perhaps we could become .” he asked. I don't believe that I shall ever understand you." Jon took her hand and gently kissed it." “No?” the Duke replied silkily. We can go up the back way. “Jon." Jon looked at her searchingly. we might be able to keep the matter from the servants. I do not want to be at the mercy of another man. I have been your friend for forty two years. Jon looked down at her. Jon. I will not marry you." Jon smiled at a thoroughly flustered Caroline. then feeling her response." Jonathan returned to his seat beside her." “How else should a man look at the woman he loves?" “Oh. However. lightly. Jon. “Caro. “Very well. Caroline. I would be a fool to decline that most generous of offers. Gently at first. “I am sixty-two years old." . “I will not marry you. I cannot marry you. “Come Jon." “No. also. Jonathan. “No.. I never wish to remarry. Jon pulled away from her just enough to see her face flushed with desire. kissed her. Are we to sacrifice our friendship because of my refusal to marry you?” she asked. frightened voice as she blinked back the tears in her eyes. Jon! Can you not be satisfied with being my lover?" Jon's lips closed over hers. Someone who could give you an heir. Caro. I feel like a schoolboy.” He rose from the sofa. “From the way that you respond to my caresses. my dearest.” He took her into his arms and with all the finesse his years had taught him.” Caroline added in a small. pained voice. If you can act as my maid.” she replied in a small. Jonathan. But. “I think that I can change your mind about that. I want you for my wife. I will not give a man that much control over me again. “I've wanted you so long. “I won't do it. I want to awake to see you beside me each morning of my life. not as my mistress. Goodbye." Lady Caroline smiled. “Jon. his eyes darkening into the deepest of greens. he allowed the passion to increase. once. Caro.“Marry me." “Sweetheart. “No." Caro smiled lightly. we've been friends for such a long time. But.... Jon. I will not stop asking you to marry me. You should be thinking about marrying a younger woman. “Tell me that you will marry me. If you are certain that you wish to take me to your bed. I know you feel some measure of desire for me. if we both want. Caroline.

Will had been in her charge since the day he was born. the Earl of Wexley) and Justin spending time in London tending to God only knew what matters. That was a development that greatly puzzled her. But. seemingly. when he believed no one was watching was positively indecent. Between his standing as best man in several weddings. Intellectually. (including she noted. I have a big bed upstairs. and Will on his pony. It just seemed that he had grown up. Justin had spent maybe a total of ten days at Lytton Hall during the past month. Will. the man's skills were sufficient to instruct a boy of nearly seven. coming away with the same impression that Dousia herself had. the wedding only days ago of Maria Blansforth to Josiah Wentworth. Come with me. the less she liked him. all at once. Will seemed to enjoy a match with someone besides herself. The more time she spent in Edward's company.” he remarked in amusement. Besides. Of those ten days. Justin had problems of his own to solve. I find myself wondering what pleasures you will show me. To make matters worse.“You sound like you are enjoying the idea. Jon. Dousia hadn't seen much of Justin since the week in which the betrothal contract had been signed. Dousia did not wish to believe that her dislike of Edward was colored by her feeling that he was taking Will away from her. She tried to pretend that it didn't matter to her that Justin seemed to be avoiding her company. we'll be making love right here on your sofa.” he warned. always in a group setting. what little she had seen of their interactions. the day that Martha died in giving birth to him. Dousia had never been good at self-delusion. She stood and took his hand. Edward also took over Will's fencing instruction. “That would be uncomfortable. before. seemingly. Jon?" “Don't you know that I am unable to deny you anything. . Wasn't it to be expected that Will would want to spend some time in masculine company? Edward was certainly good with the boy. Will was chattering on about how Edward said or did this or Edward said or did that. He took him out riding. Dousia had known all along that the day would come when Will would no longer need her as strongly. had taken quite a liking to Edward. “I've never thought about going to bed with a man just because I wanted to. The boy needed a strong masculine influence in his life. She had rather hoped that Justin would take a larger interest in Will. The way that he looked at her. Dousia looked up from the current ledger in which she was posting the bills as she paid them. was the closest male relative the boy had. Edward. She was most thankful for the presence of Aunt Elinor as a buffer between her and Edward. The auditor whom Dousia's solicitor had supplied had made her way through the books for the estate. with the exception of Uncle Jon. my love?" Chapter Six August gave way to September. Dousia had seen him exactly four times. announced that her uncle had arrived and was desirous of seeing her. It is an exciting thought. She was seated at her desk in the study at Seahaven when Raven. However. after all. that was precisely how she felt about Edward's growing relationship with Will. They both knew that there was something very wrong with the estate books. however. the butler. Caro. Little Will was usually such a good judge of character. Edward was a frequent visitor to Seahaven." “If you do not stop being so provocative. While Edward wasn't as good or as skilled of a fencer as she was. Every time she turned around. She had to admit to feeling uneasy about the amount of time that Will and Edward were spending together. Dousia questioned whether she was allowing her personal dislike for Edward to color her perceptions. on the other hand. with Edward on a mild mannered mare.

“Leaving it rather late. I have some business to conduct in the area and thought that you would not begrudge me a bed and some meals. What sort of business are you conducting?" Jon's expression became guarded.. William knew that look too well to try to circumvent it." he replied quietly. she asked quietly.” The humorous tone in his voice removed the sting from his words.. What can I do for you?" “I thought that perhaps you could tolerate my company for two or three days.“Uncle Jon!” she said as she rose from the desk. had taken him down to the pond fishing. You know that I have more than enough room for you. "Ah. “Have you had nuncheon." “I believe that you are quite correct. “I shall try not to be so disobliging. Vinton is a good deal like Francois. “I suspect that is the only way in which you could achieve the status of favorite. ecks. do not even think about it. “The only thing which I would ask of you Uncle is that you do not go and get yourself killed in the process of whatever you are trying to accomplish.” Dousia replied with a smile. the better it will be for everyone concerned.” Dousia added with an indulgent smile. Although neither of them had caught anything. I do not wish to know anything concerning your business affairs where that area is concerned.” Dousia retorted in a very controlled voice.” she replied. the boy looked at her with soulful eyes and asked. you would not wish to ruin such a wondrous day by making me stay in the schoolroom?" “Oh. vay. faou. .” he added teasingly.. tsay. Would you join us at table? Mrs.” he countered with a laugh. aren't you?" “Not really. and failed. bay. gay. Happy for an excuse to change the subject. you mean. ew-psee-lon. The less that you know about this.” he replied. Uncle. in that I have not yet been able to convince her that we are not feeding an army. talking animatedly about his morning's adventures. ay. Nanny Harrow. at all. The clock chimed one. “You may begin now by reciting the German alphabet. What brings you to Seahaven?" “Must I have an excuse to see my favorite niece?" “Your only niece." The boy's face fell. eff." “Now you know why you are my favorite. . (a happening for which Dousia was unceasingly thankful since it meant that she would not have to praise him as she ate the tiny fish which he invariably caught—when he was rarely able to catch anything) it was in Will's opinion a splendid day." “Of course you may stay. “You are so nicely settled here. It was unusual for a small boy to eat with the family. to suppress a smile. “I believe that we can just as well have your lessons out of doors. day. Uncle?" He raised an eyebrow at her." Will sat at the family dining room table. “Please do not ask any further questions. it would be a shame to elevate Will to the status of Duke and to force you to move to Winton Abbey. “Surely. “How good it is to see you. We normally eat nuncheon about now. “Pray.. then I spend the afternoon with Will and his lessons. tsett. but each day at midday Dousia tried to spend time with Will. “Very humorous. That wasn't what he had in mind. After pronouncing that opinion." Jon's lips twitched as he tried. according to Will. niece.

” Dousia quizzed. vier. sweetheart. what does this have to do with you? Are you . acht. “Now that's just not fair!” he protested mockingly. “I believe that I should enjoy that." Will continued with the numbers from eleven to twenty.” she informed the boy. Dousia returned to the office. “Your numbers. can I have the afternoon to spend with him?" "May I have the afternoon to spend with him. “If Uncle Jon wishes to keep you company this afternoon. "das ist nicht die Feder. But she had barely made out three cheques and recorded them in the ledger. Justin. Justin. Dousia. drei. “Just at the moment." “Pray. achtzehn. “That's silly. have a seat Justin.” Uncle Jon replied with a smile. zehn. neunzehn.” Will replied. sechs. “I wanted to spend some time with him. “I want to talk with you. "Ist das die Feder?" she asked as she touched the table. zwei. "Elf. before Raven announced that the Earl of Lytton was waiting in the blue salon. A puzzled expression passed over her face. “Since Uncle Jon is here. “Just that he had some business to conduct in the area. I have no objection. neun. funf." “Has he told you anything about why he has come to Seahaven?” Justin's voice sounded nervous. funfzehn. that is the table."Das gut!" Jon praised. zwolf. das ist der Tish. One day. Ich bin Englander.” she replied as she walked over to a chair." Will replied with a laugh. sieben. hoping to have time in which to pay her bills." No. vierzehn. Jon smiled broadly. “I understand that your uncle is here. mein herren.” Will said with a small giggle." Will replied seriously. but not just yet. “Uncle?” the boy asked. that is not a pen. dreizehn. and since I know my German so good. sechzen. she would stop letting him bait her like that." Dousia rolled her eyes heavenward and sighed deeply. "Bin ich Amerikaner?" Uncle Jon asked quietly.” Justin said as he took a seat on the sofa. if you please." the boy replied showing the numbers on his fingers as he counted.” Dousia corrected. Is this a pen? "Nein. I believe that he's out in the stables with Will. “Good afternoon. zwanzig. "Danka. "Sehr gut!" Dousia praised. "Nein. "Sehr gut!" Will smiled at his sister. “To what do I owe the privilege of this visit?" He turned and looked at her.” Dousia said as she entered the room and closed the door behind her. Not having Will's lessons to tend to. "Eins. siebzehn. Will did seem to get such enjoyment out of it. From one to ten. Man to man.

If Aunt Elinor had not walked in at that moment. would you like to join us for dinner this evening?" Justin smiled at her. It is just that I would rather that she not know. I doubt that I can keep Elinor distracted for much more than ten minutes. “Justin..involved in this?" His lips tightened into a thin line. The dinner invitation was an impulse she came to regret. But I wonder if marrying you like this would not be the wrong thing to do.” he said. Justin. “I know that.” he finally admitted in a tone leaving no doubt as to his honesty. She swallowed hard. Dousia knew that Justin would have kissed her. She has just begun to look upon me with fondness. She did not know whether to thank her aunt or not for the interruption. Perhaps. as they both seemed terribly pre-occupied. or I may have to be away from England for a very long time. in the face of the solemnity of the men. Dousia didn't know what sort of happenings were set for the morning. “Perhaps you are correct. I did not correct her impression. “It would be better if you did not know anything about this distasteful matter. Frankly. He looked at her. there is a chance that you might not come away from it alive?” she asked carefully. Dousia could not recall the last time that she was so anxious for a meal to end. but anything which reduced her uncle to solemn silences. Try as she might to draw them into the conversation. a sadness in his eyes. “If this is so dangerous. “I have grown fond of you.” Dousia said as she rose from her chair and went to sit beside him on the sofa. she could not allow herself to like. then why must you be involved?" “It is something that I must do. By the time the cheese board arrived at the table. It wouldn't be fair to make you a widow twice over. Finally. Justin's gray eyes burned into her." He nodded lightly after a long minute. Have you told her?" “She jumped to a conclusion that we were to be involved in some dangerous business on the morrow. Justin nodded and smiled tightly. “I'll get Elinor and myself out of the way. his voice hoarse with desire.. We could go over to the church and allow Quintin to marry us today. she and her Aunt both gave up the struggle to involve the men in any level of conversation. “This business of yours. I would rather not risk her believing the scandal. “Since your mother is in Bath. Jon." .” he replied. He touched her face lightly.” Jon warned. “You are so very kind. you should try to sleep tonight . “I don't suppose that you would reconsider your position. though. both Dousia and Elinor were all too willing to leave the gentlemen to their cigars. you would be more careful knowing that you have obligations yet to fulfill. Something about the way he was looking at her told her that there was much more to this than he was telling her. I don't imagine that she would be very happy at all to find out the truth about this second hand." Dousia smiled tightly at him.” Justin replied.” he replied. neither lady. and produced lines of strain on Justin's face. “Either that. The Duke nodded. “I'd like some time alone with Dousia.” Justin told Jon. was particularly inspired to be brilliant conversationalists. Besides. “I understand that. neither gentleman was giving the discussion more than a half of a thought. The tension at the table was measurable. but you should tell Dousia." “Then why did you bring it up?” she countered. as her face lost its color. Not too long.

please. Are you going to waste time. and the firmness of his body as it pressed against hers. You will take very good care of it. Carefully. gently with hers. and you will bring it back to me. before.” he admitted." “I daresay that we have. “And how did you arrange that?” Dousia asked with a small laugh as she stood only steps away from him. and I've had it since I can remember. She gave it to my mother on her wedding day. “This was my Grandmother Richardson's. “You won't lose it." As he promised. registered on her mind as she kissed him. Jon removed Elinor and himself from the room after embroiling Elinor in a debate. Justin. She held out her hand and the little gold cross to him. Dousia's face turned bright red as she stepped away from Justin under the amused stare of her uncle and the glee of her aunt.” Dousia replied strongly as she regained her composure. In Mama's diaries. to be with him. “I had to be alone with you. “Is this to be a goodbye kiss?" Justin swallowed hard. He only hoped that when the truth of tomorrow's misadventure came to light that she would still feel the same way about him. her voice throbbing. back away from it. Then he . I want you to carry this tomorrow.. “We should have knocked." “Then be extremely careful. she leaned into him and met his lips. “Stay safe.” Jon remarked. to be a part of him." Justin shook his head. “I cannot do as you ask. She does have a mind of her own. Whatever it is that my uncle has embroiled you in.“Trust her.” she half-pleaded. “Take it. she removed the chain and the small gold cross. Nearly mindless with the desire that they both felt.” Elinor replied. “What if I should lose it?” he countered. touched beyond words at her offering. about the color of the eyes of one of their ancestresses. or will you kiss me?" Dousia looked sad for only a brief moment. “There is that possibility. Their words stopped dead as her aunt and uncle took in the sight of the younger pair so entwined. because it was a sign of her trust in him.” she stated with more confidence than she felt since Justin's nervousness had since rubbed off on her. Without waiting for him to make the first move. I am sorry. or worse. a sign that she was coming to care. “I am certain that you have both seen people kissing. She had to fight to keep her lips from twitching with an almost uncontrollable need to giggle. which could only be served by their repairing to the gallery and looking at the portrait of the woman.” she said. He took it from her. She found herself being driven to the point of desperation by a series of sensations: the purely masculine scent of him. “Nonsense. she called it her lucky charm. Only her need to touch him. the feel of his hard hands on her—almost burning her with the heat which transmitted itself to her skin all too easily through her silk dress and thin undergarments—the slightly brandied and tobaccoed taste of him. Elinor and Jon's voices were a large dose of ice water on the fire that had flared between Dousia and Justin. Dousia. Dousia reached behind her neck with one hand and unfastened the gold chain she often wore." He crossed the distance between them and took her in his arms. But the gentleness was quickly swept aside by the passion they both felt for one another. before you or he become injured. neither of them heard the door of the room open..

She needed a good hard ride. just before he bowed to kiss her hand. she is excellent with Will. Or. It was highly unlikely in her opinion that Mrs. “Thank you. not at all surprised at that development." “Not at all. she poured the black. I am perfectly capable of doing that myself. “Would you care for some. The first pale rays of dawn filtered through the window as Jon finished with his cleaning. Jon felt that the entire exercise was foolish. and brought it to cooking heat.” Jon said. That coffee smells good.” he said in a choked voice. she stirred the cooking fire. No one. and since it was still too dark to ride. “I wouldn't have thought that very formidable kitchen dragon of yours would have been up this early. “I must go. Carefully. and went downstairs. In addition to being a superlative cook. God willing. “You will take care of yourself. and an exceptionally long life. Vinton was yet up and about. When it had brewed. “That is probably part and parcel of the Crawford family curse. shall be injured. Jon's loud laughter reverberated through the room." “I shouldn't let Mrs. he wasn't so terribly certain that it was a good thing that she had been brought to care about Justin.” she remarked pointedly. a need for very little sleep. Uncle?" “If it would not be too much trouble.took her hand. she rose. However. Jon had to admit to himself that he had been initially concerned about the wisdom of coercing her into the betrothal with Justin. “Of course." Personally. Niece. unbraided her hair. that would be enough to take her mind off of the situation with Justin. Then she made herself a pot of coffee. she mentally . Her shock was compounded by seeing him systematically cleaning a matched pair of dueling pistols. fastened the braid into a coil on the back of her head. She went to her desk and resumed the process of bill paying. by the light of that lamp which she held in one hand. It was an understatement to say that she was surprised to see Uncle Jon seated in her office at the long oak table placed in front of the large east window. she decided that she might as well get some work done. bitter liquid into a silver coffee pot and carried it and a cup into her study.” Jon commented. dressed in her riding clothes. A sharp tongue. brushed it out. Jon did not wish to see her hurt. She was worried enough as it was." **** Dousia had even less sleep than usual that night.” Jon mused before changing the subject. At four. we will be careful. As far as I am concerned she is a treasure beyond price.” Jon reiterated. Yes. he knew that there was some degree of emotional involvement between them. I do not expect her to rise in the middle of the night to make my coffee. “You are up early. “Good night to you all. but seeing how worried she was about him. “Have trouble sleeping?" “I am obviously not the only one who is experiencing that malady. However. he wasn't about to say something like that to Dousia. Vinton hear you disparage her in that manner. rebraided her hair. again. Dousia asked him." Dousia had stayed in her office for only about five minutes after Uncle Jon had left the room. won't you? Don't do anything foolish. washed. As long as she couldn't sleep. She poured his coffee into the goblet and gave it to him." “Smells good. Given the possible outcomes of this morning's business. When he rose.” she replied far too sweetly as she placed the pot and the lamp she held in her other hand down on her desk before she walked over to the corner cabinet and retrieved a stemmed goblet. to make herself some coffee.

At this moment. Uncle Jon was kneeling beside him. Accompanied by a groom.” the dark man said. “This is not a fit sight for a lady. their seconds. moving as one with the animal beneath her. my lord. that she hoped that it would be sufficient to do so. When she came closer. Her vision was trained on Justin and her uncle. she could see that both men were wounded. She took the last fence skillfully.” Dousia said. “It is simply a graze. Justin was sitting. her mouth set into a disapproving line. Dousia urged Daystar forward. “Allow me to be of assistance." “I will see for myself. her fear and anger displayed in her voice.” Justin said. it was her second large surprise of the morning when. my lord. turned. but Dousia could see no sign that anyone was present aside from the combatants. “It looks. More than that. she could not be certain. This should heal nicely if you can keep it from getting infected. she realized that among the combatants were Uncle Jon and Justin. Eva has an ointment that will help in that regard. against a tree. it seemed as though they were preparing to duel. she crossed the distance between herself and Justin in long purposeful strides. She had dismounted quickly.amended.” she replied matter-of-factly as she sank beside Justin to sit on her heels. and went over to the other men. Carefully. several horses. so she didn't see the look of admiration and puzzlement which came her way from the other man's second. “I'll send some of Eva's ointment over to you at Lytton Hall. in order to investigate. thank you. she urged Daystar on faster. she saw the cloud of black powder smoke come from the barrels and heard the explosions at the discharge of the pistols. and outrider." She pulled several pins from her hair. She pushed his hair aside in order to get a good look at the wound. she saw a carriage. taking the fences with ease. It was more than a scratch. the coachman. she used the pins to fasten Justin's hair away from his wound. Approaching. she rode cross-country at a breakneck pace. “We shall discuss that matter later. this was the dangerous business in which they were involved. With that comment. Have you any other symptoms besides a devil of a headache? Is your vision blurred?" “I shall be fine. at high speed. she did not know whether to kiss him or kill him. she thought angrily. in the clearing of the woods which sat at the edge of the Seahaven property where it marched along the land belonging to the Earl of Lytton. “How badly are you injured?” she demanded. Thrusting the reins into the hands of her groom. There should have been a surgeon present. So. The sound of the approaching hoofs warned the men that she was approaching. but it looked as though they were on the Seahaven property. Panicked. my lord. leaning weakly. It was rare that she encountered anyone up and about on her early morning rides. “Possibly not. and a group of men. The solitude was one thing that she particularly liked about riding at dawn. The ball had barely grazed his skin. “as though you will have a new part to your hair. but far less than it could have been. From the distance.” she replied. She rode a spirited sorrel mare named Daystar. Another man lay were he had fallen and was being tended to by the man who had obviously been his second. Even at this distance. So. she rose. “Men's disagreements are .” Dousia acquiesced quietly as she continued to take in his injuries. by the name of Jenkins. who rode upon an equally spirited animal.” she said quietly as she sank down beside the fallen man and assessed his state. Justin cleared his throat.

" When no one moved." Dousia took hold of the flounces at the bottom of each leg of her linen drawers and ruthlessly ripped them from the garment. where he can be dosed and properly treated. to duel. Justin." . you wound me!" Dousia exhaled loudly. The injury itself was not life threatening. do not even try to concoct some Banbury tale. be seated. possibly even some of the bones in his hand. gentlemen. “So. she had the strong feeling that his fingers were broken.” she said. Dousia looked up at her uncle who had just now come over. Miracles were something in which she no longer believed.” she instructed them as she paced across the room. my lady.. “Don't just stand there! The longer you hesitate. have some degree of respect for my intelligence. and had reached Seahaven in time to give instructions to the staff and to send for the local surgeon. “Not yet. They wrapped the injured man in blankets. “Well. at her insistence. By the time she was done. “If we are going to save his life. a man named Hill. The pulse was weak and thready. His skin was cold and clammy.frequently unfit sights for any of God's children.” she said as she looked into the almost black eyes of the second." Dousia arrived back at Seahaven before the coach containing both the injured man. Efficiently. It's criminal not to have a surgeon in attendance. They at least have the excuse of hot blood. “Somehow. And that. before you fall down. she wasn't going to have Justin blamed. Then she tore the fabric into strips. my Lord. I sincerely hope that you have some notion of the position in which you all have placed me by holding your duel upon the grounds of Seahaven. as you are well beyond the first flower of your youth. You. the more likely it is he will die. “What do you think?" “Have Jenkins unsaddle the horses. “Come on. one expects irresponsible behaviour like this from young bucks. I'll need the saddle blankets to keep this man warm. She felt his throat for a pulse. but you do so tempt me to put you out of my misery. Dousia's composure cracked.” The wound was on the man's hand. He may well lose the hand. cross country. Uncle Jon and the other man had returned.” she replied. and get him back to Seahaven. s'il vous plait. however the state of shock that he had gone into might well be life threatening. We need to get laudanum in him. “Damn your hides. gentlemen. we have to move quickly. Get the blankets. you appear as if you have never seen a wounded man before. interrupting her.” Dousia chided. would be difficult to explain. “Pray. gentlemen. ” Dousia said flatly as she began sorting through the sticks to find those suitable for bracing the hand. straight sticks of about a foot in length and four of about six inches in length. I'm not at all certain that you haven't a mild concussion. This is irresponsible. Dousia had ridden bareback. It would take a small miracle to save that hand from the sawbones. Jon's face was pinched. One critically injured patient is quite enough to deal with at one time. the injured man was carried up to the room prepared for him. or another opiate. Uncle Jon and the injured man's second rode along side of the coach. let's splint it. I would have a word with you in my office. “We'll brace the hand. But. both Justin and Jenkins. at least until the surgeon arrives. They were all standing in the entry hall. before the coach arrived. when a pistol had exploded in the hands of a friend. and. “I will need at least five sturdy. “Ah. From the look of his mangled hand. you sit down. Dousia said commandingly. to deaden the pain before those bones are set. She had seen a wound like that once.” Dousia said tightly." Justin interjected.. but I am afraid that the pain would kill him right now. “This situation is beyond explanation. Eva will be able to relieve his pain. at breakneck speed. “I would set his fingers. gentlemen. Uncle Jon. Pray. If the man died." Once they were all within her office and doors were closed.

“Not quite. came upon the scene." “Shall I retrieve the surveyor's plat. the success of the tale will require that the coachman and outrider can be convinced to tell the same story. may I present his lordship. would you prefer something stronger?” Dousia responded. That is easy.” she looked directly at the man who had served as second." She sighed. that is still neither here nor there since Jenkins will not say a word about what he witnessed and neither shall I. Uncle Jon and the Earl who were out riding fences.. “I came upon you and offered the use of my brother's home." Dousia shook her head as she looked at the three men who were seated in various chairs in her office. but I assure you that I know where the property lines are. I am assuming that you can effect that.. this is my niece.” the dark man said.” She chuckled. Dousia's lips twitched into a half smile. shall I ring for coffee. then continued. but not before one of them got off a shot at the Earl. “It would seem to me that a logical story would be that you. I fear. for I fear that honor has had uncommonly little to do with the proceedings of this morning . under any circumstances. Now. then added. gentlemen. the Lady Theodousia Langley. do not exactly approve of my dawn ramblings. my lord. However. since it was the closest house to where the attack occurred. “Know this: I am very much displeased with the entire situation." The men exchanged glances among themselves. Everyone in the area has heard of my penchant for riding at dawn. “We were on the grounds belonging to me. then continued. “Of course. All of the men were of average height and build with no distinguishing marks or features. from my safe in order to disprove your statement? I may not have been at Seahaven long. “Would you care for breakfast?" . Then I believe that we have said that which must need be said.” he replied. “I shall need the name of the man who is above stairs and the name and direction of his next of kin. “That would explain everything but your involvement. That part. should any official queries be made. and thus none of you got a good look at any of them.” Dousia shrugged.. were over set by a band of highwaymen. “The locals. The men were all masked. “AH . my lord Trouvaine. “along with the injured man were traveling in the coach. Seeing that the odds had changed considerably. You were at least five hundred yards inside the line. but thankfully the bullet did naught but graze his incredibly thick skull. the Marquis of Trouvaine. Well. There was a struggle during which the gentleman was injured. Trouvaine. my Lady. “Sometime during the fray. and allowing for the fact that you all nearly got yourselves killed. healing hands?" Dousia looked over to her uncle for the introductions. my lady. I do care about mine and that of my brother. “Money generally quiets tongues." “I am honored.” the second to the injured man remarked." Justin cleared his throat..” Dousia replied with a slight nod. or in spite of the hour. I will not have scandal touching Seahaven. at least." Dousia cleared her throat. especially as the consequences would be dire.Not giving them time to respond." “I believe that achieving the goal of the driver and outrider corroborating our stories is well within my power. Might I have the honor of knowing the name of the woman with the quick mind and skillful." “Good. “Niece. she continued. They were riding nondescript horses. the highwaymen retreated. “This matter is distasteful enough without implicating the innocent in your folly. even remotely. Thus you would not be able to recognize them again. is close enough to the truth not to cause me problems in relaying it to the authorities. “Then you are easily honored. While none of you may give a hang for your reputations. a suitable explanation will have to be found for the man's injury.

” Dousia stated evenly. “That is a very impressive woman. please continue eating. “In spite of Josiah's accusations." Justin smiled tightly." “Very wise. “Where is her husband?” Trouvaine asked.” Harry. it was only a sketchy account containing only the barest of facts. “Well. Harry Finston. “Well. “Must we be so formal?” Justin teased. I intend to have her. but he shan't lose his hand.” Justin replied in a relieved voice.” Harry replied. He seems to be coming out of the shock." “Do you? How interesting! There is always hope that you won't treat her the way that you did Maria. Are you calling Maria a liar?” he asked in a strained voice. “I should still like a private word with you. how would you feel about my paying court to the lady. your niece. said. He will be in pain for several weeks. As Dousia had very little appetite." Justin and Dousia were safely ensconced in her office with the distance of her desk between them. you are proceeding along the correct path. your Grace. “Oh?” Trouvaine replied with a raise of an eyebrow.” Jon replied." She walked into the room and over to the sideboard to pour herself another cup of coffee. the Marquis of Trouvaine said to Jon. “If you should like to have your business being discussed by all the servants. “Surely. The bones have been set and the hand securely splinted. When Dousia had left the room. since he had noticed her wedding ring. I believe. “Don't get any ideas about her. just barely keeping his temper under control. “I rarely see her at any hour before noon. my lord Lytton. “Certainly. sat back and smiled. I have never had anything to do with Maria. since that gave her an excuse to leave the table. . it was almost a relief to see the surgeon come. my office in a half hour?” Ostensibly. the Marquis. Doctor Hill arrived sometime during the middle of the meal." “She does have her moments. my lord. Harry had nearly the entire story of her life out of Jon. I should like to have a word with you. “All we can do at this point is to rise up.” Harry replied with a shrug which was anything but casual. “You will be relieved to hear that the doctor believes Wexley will be keeping his hand. The topic of conversation became centered on the topic of Theodousia. and go forward. there was a question in the words. Aunt Elinor. wipe off the dust.” Dousia replied with a small smile and a laugh.Breakfast was a strained affair." “My lord Lytton. Harry. someone got to her before Josiah did. sometimes not until one or two. but the tone brooked no argument. “Gentlemen.” Justin replied quietly. the Marquis. “She said that it was you. “This entire situation has enough blame to circulate to all concerned.” Dousia reminded him.” Justin informed him. said in a heartfelt voice. His Lordship. “Thank God!" “Amen to that.” Dousia's raspy voice came from the doorway. is allergic to morning. providing that infection does not set in. “Gentlemen." Harry. Is your aunt up and about?” Justin answered. Of course. “She's a widow. Shall we say. you jest. the Marquis. my Lady. I feel that I must go check on the patient.

she stopped and knocked lightly. it was not a day that was in any danger of being remembered fondly.” she replied. she would need to have a very good idea of just what it cost to run Seahaven and what the profits from the estate were. was the son of a dear friend of Aunt Elinor's. closing the door behind her. but before she did that. Late that night. “I would not hurt Will for all of the gold in Mexico. “May I have the return of my mother's cross. Will was far too excited by the rumors which he had heard in the house this morning about an injured man and highwaymen for the boy to be able to give much attention to his studies. So. I do not want Will to be tainted with scandal. if that is all you had to say. That is entirely your option. Too many people know. “Yes?” she entered. before we are wed. “We both know that I cannot break this engagement. Eventually. The Marquis of Trouvaine.” she replied. for you have no other option. When she heard a muffled. . “The truth of the allegation will not matter. she noticed that there was a light showing under Uncle Jon's door. my lord?" Justin handed the necklace to her. Then it will be all over about you and the Countess of Wexley. “Remember the late night conversations that you and Father and I had when you came to America?” Dousia asked. “While I do not care about myself.“I think that it is for the best. “Anyone associated with you will be tarred with the same brush. wide awake. my lady!" After Justin closed the door to the study behind him.” she replied.” she told him. that the story of this duel will get out. was occupied with Will's lessons. as well as I do. she discovered when she had come down to dinner. “Why do you believe that formality would be for the best?" “I cannot have scandal touching my brother. “Good day. “Get used to the idea of marrying me. He is going to have a difficult enough time adjusting to and being accepted by society." “Just say what you mean!" “I want you to reconsider your offer of matrimony and rescind it. and since you find my scandal tainted company profoundly distasteful. Yet. as usual. Dousia was locked in her office the majority of the morning with her accounts. “You know. **** The remainder of the day was no better.” Justin replied. I shall not impose myself upon you any more than may be necessary. I shall promptly remove myself to Lytton Hall. unable to meet his eyes." Justin had to admit the truth of her speculation.” Justin told her. There was Jon seated at a small table in the room that had been his bedchamber for more years than she had been alive. All in all. Someone is going to let something slip. She crossed the room and placed her small lamp on the table as she took a seat opposite him. as usual. Her afternoon. She decided to go down to the library and get a novel. Now." “It is an option which I am not willing to pursue. On her way.” she added. she would turn the entire matter over to a steward. the tears flowed freely down Dousia's face. Dousia was. so Aunt had obligingly invited him to stay as long as Wexley was forced to remain at Seahaven.

I believe that I would like to have you as a friend. again?” she asked hoarsely.. perhaps. Uncle. “Please?" “What was it that you wanted to discuss." “Would you?" “Never." “Then again. Uncle.. that you've seen a bit of how bad an enemy I can be?” he offered teasingly. “Is there anything to be accomplished by discussing the matter. You look too much like your grandmother for anyone to have any doubts of your lineage. “No. now. Uncle. if you weren't a bit that way.“Those were good memories.” she said. tell me the real reason that you are anxiously promoting this marriage. “Ah . I should doubt that you were a Crawford. Uncle? I have very little choice in the matter." “Would your pushing this marriage between Lytton and myself have anything to do with your dangling after the hand of the Dowager Countess of Lytton?" . I know that you must feel that I am forcing you into a marriage you cannot desire." “Well. Jon laughed. do I?" Jon shook his head. I cannot think of any two who are better suited to one another than you two are. There is very little choice in the matter." Jon laughed.” she said. I wouldn't have threatened you into accepting him.. “We are too much alike." “Frightening. “I believe that we need to discuss the matter of you and Justin.” Jon said. I do not know that it is totally possible to do so. I would appreciate it if you could try to see things from my position." Dousia shrugged. perhaps I am merely devious. Dousia." “I will make you an offer. It would take a very special woman to be able to make him happy. “Dousia. her voice becoming more raspy than normal." “Now. We may be. Theodousia . there are times that I swear God gave you a masculine mind." “Which is.. Niece. “Now. “You truly do not wish to be married to Justin?” Jon asked." “We have nothing to discuss in that regard. “This is not simply some natural reserve?" “Does it matter. Uncle.?" “Justin is a good man." “If I didn't believe that you two would make each other happy. However. We just may be. you said that you wanted us to be friends. We can try to put today behind us. Uncle?" “I wish that you would not take me in disfavor. isn't it?” she teased in return... However. But then again." “You still haven't answered my question. Of all the young people whom I know." “Woman.

but they don't form Greek words." “I have made the decision to give my allegiance to the Crown. Uncle?" “Will you speak with my friend?" Dousia drew a deep breath. “I will speak with your friend." Jon looked at his niece through narrowed eyes.” Dousia countered.” she warned. what would I know about codes? Although why anyone should take the time to encode a message. “Not tonight. then transliterate it into Greek is beyond me. “Now." “Probably not." “Are you tired?" “Not overly. I believe that I shall retire to my room. “And how would you know that?" “I can read Greek. Niece." “Why?" “You are in a unique position to give us some unique observations on the state of affairs in America." “Better observant than completely stupid. if this is all that you had to say.” Jon replied in a non answer." “Would you care for a game of chess?” Jon offered." Jon looked at her. “And what would you know about it?" “Me?” she replied in a mocking voice." “Sometimes. “Possibly. I have interrupted your work quite long enough. Uncle." “Good. But. “Do yourself a favor. I will not violate any confidence. “I would like for you to take time to talk with a friend of mine from the Foreign Office. That means there is a code at work. You ought to return to translating those papers. Greek can be monstrously difficult. you are entirely too observant. Is this some sort of test to verify the strength of that allegiance?" “You have to admit that you are in possession of information which His Majesty's government would find useful. “No one would ask you to do so.“Impertinent chit!” he replied with a smile. his face full of shock. I recognize the letters. Neither do they form English words." “Why don't I believe you.” Jon's voice was harsh." “Then. “My relationship with the Lady Caroline is absolutely none of your business. Especially when it appears to be in code. Uncle. except when it impinges on my life. child. Now. Perhaps tomorrow night. Forget that you ever saw this. Dousia laughed. Uncle." Jon's face became serious. you know. “See what? I have seen nothing." .

Perhaps in a few years. the Marquis of Trouvaine." “No. Since Uncle Jon was remaining at Seahaven. he was keeping a frustratingly proper distance from her. The strain of their argument. Edward sent them back via a footman and remained at Seahaven. By this time. even if she had been granted a temporary deathbed reprieve from the grim reaper in order to have the days to live over. Then they saw one another at church on Sunday morning. Justin. Dousia wished that he would allow her to speak to him. longing looks. Dousia hoped that Maria would allow that spark to develop. under that pattern card beauty. But. Dousia had to admit that a more proper china doll beauty than Maria Blansforth Wentworth she had never seen. coolly. Harry. Uncle. If this was not enough. Uncle. for the most part." “I never do. that is. Dousia. They saw each other one morning on a fox hunt." “Go to bed. avoiding her company. with his intense. in order to act as a buffer between her and Trouvaine and to take the wind out of the sails of any gossip which might have otherwise arisen from the event of an eligible parti staying in the same house with an unmarried woman. then there was the matter of the very young Countess of Wexley." “And they are quite correct. But. who. by all concerned. himself. with his polished words and flowery phrases. there was a spark of intelligence. in neither of those circumstances did he show any desire to speak with her privately. Edward made an appearance with papers concerning Winton Abbey. had been. that would be a time which Dousia would not have wanted to relive. would be certified by the doctors to be fit to travel. remaining true to his parting words to her. upon receiving the note saying that her husband had been injured in an encounter with a highwayman. Dousia was beginning to feel as though she was running a boardinghouse. Maybe then. Naturally. at least a strong distaste for one another's company. For various reasons. The sound of raised voices at night coming from within his bedchamber had been noticed.“And people think that I am manipulative. had been placed. child. a rooming house in which the tenants had. But. they could straighten out matters between them. But. Frankly. regardless of chaperonage. was most clearly evident to all. the Countess was given the room adjoining the one in which Wexley. if not a definite aversion." “Good night. however. and picked up the lamp. when the younger woman could no longer survive solely on her good looks. Josiah. everyone was civil—coldly civil. The level of tension in the house did absolutely awful things to her . I think not. Why should tonight be any different?" Chapter Seven It was to be a month before the Earl of Wexley. had come running to Seahaven. buried so far beneath it that Dousia wondered if she had imagined seeing it. had done everything in his power to make certain that Dousia knew of his interest in her. was decidedly. But instead of taking the papers back to the abbey. in public. she found herself longing for the simple honesty found in Justin's company. instead of returning to Winton Abbey. Sleep well. However. However. formal to his young wife. the Earl of Wexley. I'll leave you to your dispatches. papers he claimed needed Uncle Jon's signature immediately. Josiah Wentworth.” she responded with a mischievous smile as she rose from the chair. In the space of a single week. Uncle Jon had stayed on. and tactfully went unremarked upon. without taking on the reformation of young Maria. At Dousia's request. Dousia was most anxious not to have to spend much time with Trouvaine. The man made her completely uncomfortable with his exceptionally bad poetry dedicated to her. “Good night. Dousia had far enough to cope with. Oh.

. and Edward (whom she was growing rather much to hate instead of to merely distrust) was greatly diminishing her ability to feel hospitable. I do not believe that my brother will be in any condition to be disobeying me again for a very long time. In fact. I'll announce myself. Daystar. I doubt that he will want to sit in a chair.” Justin stated categorically." Dousia's face lost its color. The only seemingly good thing was that William was greatly enjoying having Edward around.." Justin took her into his arms.outlook. Dousia remained uneasy about having Edward and Will spend all that much time alone in one another's company.. She buried her face on his shoulder. Unfortunately. “I don't know what I would do if something happened to that boy. was never absent. but the constant company of the group consisting of an ill-natured invalid and his simpering wife. Justin. “My lady. I shudder to think what would have happened . the closeness sparked within both of them the desire that... her own aunt and uncle. rather harder than necessary." “Never mind. “Good morning." . Yet. I suppose that I was mistaken. Raven. “Oh." “What are you talking about?" He cleared his throat. the Earl of Lytton. “Be gentle with the boy. but the expression was more of a smirk than anything else. though often ignored.” Dousia responded. “William? What about William?" “He was riding your mare. then she flushed." She looked at him and blinked back tears. you are no more sensible than any other woman. Justin smiled slightly. graven faced. Raven. How could you have been so irresponsible?" “Sit down. “To what do I owe the honor of this visit?" “Woman! I thought that after everything you would have more sense than make an error of this magnitude! But. after I'm through with him. let alone on a horse. that uneasiness proved to be more than founded during the day when Justin made his first appearance at Seahaven since the day of the duel. doing her accounts for the estate. Justin!" “I ought to turn you over my knee and make certain that you won't be able to sit for weeks! How could you allow something so terribly insane? You are far too fine of a horsewoman not to know that the boy isn't capable of handling an animal like that! Or do you not care?” Justin snapped angrily as he walked around her desk to come to stand beside her chair. my lord.. had come into the room without knocking.. Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. “If I hadn't been there. a relentless ladies’ man. I believe that I've already put the fear of God into him. “Excuse me. as usual. I think that it is time for me to have a small talk with a certain young man. Dousia was seated in her office. “What animal? What in the name of all that is holy are you talking about?” Dousia demanded in puzzlement as she stood so that he would not have the added advantage of glaring down at her from such an extreme difference in height.." Dousia looked up from her books to see Justin stride into the office and to close the door. Her face became chalk-like. “William. I love him so much." Justin placed his hand on her arm to stop her. intending to comfort her. Papa had taught her to be charitable and hospitable.

.” The ice in her voice was evident. reducing everything else to insignificance.” she drawled. demanding. seemingly to last both forever and an exceptionally short time. You did not seem to have either the time or the inclination to instruct him. however. Not only that. then blushed. Edward said that it was acceptable. “Will.” Jon offered. Will was mounted on Daystar. in order to taste the honey of the dark secretness of her mouth. Neither of them heard the door open. “Come in and close the door. I've been teaching him to control a horse. you know that I have forbidden you to ride any animal larger than your pony. dear. “Get your hands off of my sister!” William roared in his childish voice. “Well. Justin walked over to the large bay window and looked out.. There standing in the doorway was not only William. and looked guiltily at Edward.” Will countered.” Dousia replied. She then turned her attention on William." Will shot her a puzzled look before he turned to look at Edward. So. The stable hands have their orders that the pony is to be the only animal saddled for you. That you would be my big brother. The only thing that mattered to her was that she was with the man whom she loved more than she loved her own life." “But Dousia. “Edward is not responsible for you. “Dousia. “On whose authority have you taken the responsibility of my brother's tutelage?" “On my own authority..” Will protested. “Anyone who told you otherwise is the worst kind of liar. I have absolutely no intention of marrying Edward. Apparently. “that is more than I can say. The kiss went on and on. “Well. “Edward and Will have filled me in on the situation. but Uncle Jon and Edward as well. Then the kiss deepened as his tongue made its way past the white non-barrier of her teeth. Dousia remained standing. but apparently there was some difficulty in Will keeping control of the animal. The boy expressed an interest in learning to ride.” Dousia said." A count of four expired before she spoke. That difficulty could have proven injurious or perhaps even fatal.” Uncle Jon said expansively as the three newcomers took seats. Very gently. “I have been giving the boy riding lessons. you seem to have done an absolutely marvelous job of it. A great swell of love swept over her." .” Dousia's eyes narrowed dramatically as she glared at Edward.“Theodousia. his back to the room. her voice thick with sarcasm..” Justin said hoarsely as he pushed her away from him slightly.” Edward said. She found herself returning his kiss with an intensity that fanned the— sometimes banked but never totally extinguished—flames of desire between them. Dousia and Justin broke apart from one another. I am!” Dousia replied. “What I haven't quite figured out is how any rational person would have been so utterly devoid of common sense as to place a small boy upon such a spirited beast!" Edward didn't as much as flinch under her glare. “Will. He is much better of a horseman than you credit him. “But. “But when you are married to him. Dousia fought back the blush. he lifted her head and lowered his lips to hers. had his lordship not intervened. He kissed her with a gentle intensity that left her helpless to do anything except cling to him. Sit down. you said that we would all live together. as if they had been scalded. from what his lordship has told me.

“Romans. “You are mad!” Edward finally replied in a voice which. I think that it would be better if you would remove yourself from Seahaven as quickly as possible.” Dousia announced.. the thirteenth chapter. William could have been killed. “I cannot believe that you would be so irresponsible as to place upon a spirited mount a child whom you had to know was incapable of managing a beast like Daystar. You've seen that for yourself. Clancey's horse saddled and brought round. Not only has he endangered Will. There was no need for him to be jealous.. “Slandering me in front of witnesses. let's see . Clancey to .” the boy replied dejectedly. I forbid any further contact between you and my brother." William made his bows and left." Dousia felt Jon's eyes burning into her. “has gone quite far enough. it is time past that we had a very long talk.. To hear you recite the chapter from memory. “On the contrary. “Unfair?” Dousia echoed. therefore.. “I shall be up to see you within the hour. post haste. The incredulous and faintly disdainful expression on her face told Justin all that he needed to know about her sentiments towards Edward. “I think not. but I must insist on an apology for those accusations. argghh .” Jon demanded. it is extremely fair. “Cousin Edward. Her voice took on a profoundly logical tone. You shall remain there until such time as I come to you. the tone of the voice contained more desperate denial than anything else. I forbid you further access to him. Will.." “You are excused..” Dousia said. “Now. St.” Edward dismissed. I want you out of Seahaven as soon as possible.Edward smiled at the boy. in fact than my having you clapped in irons on charges of attempted murder. there is nothing which I would like better than to be your big brother. That should do nicely. but for a brief moment. engaged in contemplation of . “No thanks to you. are you?” Edward countered easily in a condescending voice. and I am attempting to make allowances for your behaviour." Edward stiffly rose from his chair. that you have intentionally put William on Daystar in hopes that he would be killed so that you could inherit the title. Justin turned around to look at Dousia.” Edward protested. You are no longer welcome here. “what is this nonsense about?" “That is precisely what I should like to know. Yet.” Dousia told him. the thirteenth chapter. please have Mr. ma'am.. closing the door firmly behind him. Dousia rang the bell for the butler. “Will. Then.. she supposed. “Again.” Dousia said. “I can only believe. “Raven. Is this understood?" “Yes. Have a footman accompany Mr.." “This conversation. that had been the overwhelming emotion surging through him. was intended to convey shock. I do not trust you to be around my brother. Much more fair. “I realize that you are overwrought and only an emotional woman. but she refused to look at her uncle." Dead silence met her accusations. “Is it so great a crime for me to be in love with you?” Edward asked soulfully." “Unfounded?” Dousia once again echoed.. “That is unfair. you shall go immediately to your rooms. He shall be leaving us. Did you not think of that?" “The boy is fine. Paul's Epistle to the Romans.” Dousia replied. he has obviously been filling Will's head with ideas that somehow I would .” Dousia said in a far too controlled voice which anyone who had known her would have been aware was a definite sign of anger. this is beyond enough.

“I thought that you. it wasn't true.his room and help him pack and then to escort him directly to his horse. Lady Maria. “It is not like you to condemn anyone so out of hand. Is this important?" “No. Lady Maria.. I must go check on my brother. Dousia thought that Justin would be calling on her to finish whatever conversation he had in mind when Maria had interrupted them so untimely. “At your pleasure.” Jon stood. Yet. “It isn't important. “Uncle. You will notice that Edward's reactions were not those of an innocent man falsely accused.” Dousia replied.. if I could give you hard evidence to support my actions. “No. But.. entered. my lady.. Waiting only until the door was closed.. . beyond words. Dousia. “Come in." Jon looked at her thoughtfully. Justin walked over to her. he did not call by. Dousia did not have much time to dwell upon Justin's absence as she had another. “Shall I have you summoned for nuncheon? Or would you rather take a tray in your room?" “Summon me.” Dousia replied to his departing form. more pressing.” Maria replied. I told him that it wasn't true.” he said softly as he turned to leave the room. I think that I shall retire to my room for a short while. “I was unaware that you were on such intimate terms with the Earl of Lytton. “Lady Maria. Justin was it. Justin. Adjusting back to being a landman after so many years at sea was a circumstance she felt must have been a severe strain upon his spirit. Jon charged. Servant. to Edward. Clancey is no longer welcome at Seahaven. “Yes. “There are times I believe that they may be.” Maria said. ladies. Mr. Finally. Excuse me. “Wexley got the idea that Lytton and I had been .” Jon stated. he was far too well trained to allow that to show on his face. “I am weary." Dousia smiled slightly." “I was just leaving. we will continue this conversation later. well . “they weren't.” Maria agreed.." “I will not allow any harm to come to William. “All I am asking is that you respect my wishes in this matter.” Her words trailed off as she saw Justin. “Dousia. “My lady?” she asked carefully.” he finally admitted in a grudging tone. that I believe men are far more trouble than they are worth. according to local gossip." If Raven found her request strange. “What has gotten into you.” she said by way of explanation. “There are times. If there had ever been a born seaman. Maria's cheeks flamed. Theodousia? You were rude. it came to her attention that he had been summoned to London on a matter for the admiralty.” Dousia replied. Dousia was glad that Justin's knowledge and skills were being put to good use. I would have already have had him arrested." Dousia's expression became concerned." It was a relief to Dousia to be finally free of the duelist crowd. the Countess of Wexley.” Justin said before departing. But.” he started to say before he was interrupted by a knock on the door... suddenly looking much more than his sixty-three years.” Dousia answered the summons.

Will remained surly. Dousia was at wits’ end in an attempt to think of something.” she replied. She talked with Nanny to see what Will's plans actually had been for the morning. “I hate you. the idea of sending William to Eton was becoming progressively more attractive with each passing day of dealing with the boy's unwaveringly foul mood.” she replied. Dousia's only wish was that Will would display some of that former charm to her. she knew that she could not give in to him by removing the restrictions she had placed on his activity. “We do not take the Lord's name in vain. But. Will!" Will uttered a long string of curses in German. Perhaps washing out your mouth with soap will teach you a lesson which you will not easily forget. William. Dousia began to worry about him. her voice cracking with emotion.” Dousia said. This was rapidly approaching that time. he was a perfectly charming little man to them all. in lieu of his accustomed pony rides.matter with which to deal. solitary. To do so would be to permanently impair her ability to discipline him. tearfully. . William. “I never taught you to speak like that. Dousia was standing on the front steps of Seahaven organizing a search party of the footmen and some of the stable hands when Justin rode up to the house on Demon. there were times in which one had to get the child's attention. not even in German. to snap him out of this thoroughly foul mood. However. no matter what." “If you loved me. “I am not terribly fond of your actions. Nanny had suggested that she accompany him. for she wasn't. Will preferred to be alone. but that offer was refused. the boy was taking very hard indeed the revocation of his pony riding privileges for a period of one month. Given time. If it had been possible to bury William and to dig him up when he had passed this difficult period." Even after this. perhaps it is time for me to teach you not to speak in that manner. as she stood at the door of his room." After the punishment was administered. William had been rude and ill-tempered to the point of being surly since the day of his accident. He is fun to be around. “That is quite enough. had developed the habit of taking long. anything. sweetheart. Dousia might have considered it. walks around the grounds at Seahaven and the immediate surrounding area. William. Dousia had looked at him with pain in her eyes. “Right now. if she didn't throttle him first. he did not show them his surly mood. That matter stood about four and a half feet tall and was red-haired with green eyes and freckles. However. Thankfully." “That sort of fun nearly got you killed. you would let Edward come to see me. But. Dousia left William in bed with orders to reflect on the nature of his faults. but I still love you. Truthfully. “He is probably playing somewhere and has lost track of the time. no one likes being punished. Instead. fighting back her own temper.” Will charged one day during their lessons. Will had told Nanny that he had planned to take a walk and to look for interesting additions to his rock collection. among several other choice expressions of rage. When Will did not return from his walk one bright morning at his accustomed hour. she knew that Will would come around. Not that she was a great proponent of corporal punishment. “You don't love me. Dousia Langley!” William cried out. she would not have made book on the chance that she would be able to continue to restrain herself from expressing the depth of her displeasure in the time honored fashion of administering a cane to his recalcitrant backside. in which he questioned her legitimacy and condemned her to flames. “Will hasn't come home from his walk. The tenants and the employees kept a loose eye on him. Frankly.” Justin told her as he came to stand beside her. “You have a problem?” Justin asked without as much as a polite greeting as he swung himself down from Demon's back. that was. Of course.

now. “Dear God. She looked at the berries in Justin's hands. She could have done it. In a plain knit. A doctor has been sent for. the room was silent except for the sound of the turning of pages. Dousia.” Elinor said. Justin turned to face her. it was simple enough for her to do without paying attention to it. His expression was so pain-filled that she wanted to comfort him. please. “You go on up. I'll find him and bring him home to you." “I'll try. “What is it? What is wrong?” she demanded. her own chores completed. I'll try. I shall read him a fine scold for having worried you so. “When I find that young jackanapes. But. and let me try to save his life. “His lordship is taking the boy to the nursery. “That boy isn't going anywhere. Eva. “Trust me.” Dousia replied. When Raven's knock came at the door. child. Elinor did not ask any questions. She went over to the bed and sank to her knees. “ Set your mind at ease." “Keep that in mind.” Eva said firmly. Seeing the stricken expression on Dousia's face.” Justin told her in a tight voice as he held out his handkerchief containing a collection of berries. All she had to do was to knit one row. Aunt Elinor." Dousia nodded. “Dousia. I have to get the poison out of him. “He's eaten these. sat across the room from Dousia working on the embroidery of a cover for a throw pillow.” Dousia countered. I have this feeling that there is something terribly amiss. Now move. sat in the Blue Salon. Eva. almost. in her sleep.” Raven said gravely. God help us.” he told her. “I've sent for Jonathan. Not if I can help it.” the middle aged woman said. . “I do. Take the Earl with you. That there was worry and fear both on his face and in his voice was enough to thoroughly terrify her." “You'll need help. Dousia rose from Will's side." Justin had no more settled the boy in on the bed in his room than Dousia came bursting in.” Eva said commandingly as she fished through her basket for the right concoctions. unable to concentrate. and of the soft clinking of knitting needles.” Justin said with a smile.” Justin declared. “leave the room. You are only going to be in the way. Nanny can help me. honey. “Not yours. I'll get my medicine basket and join you. all three women in the room were startled by the sound. “My lady.. So. turn the work..” she begged as she looked at the unconscious boy with tears in her eyes." Eva's voice came from behind her. “Take care of him. The cloth would match the color of a pair of gloves she had already completed for him. “don't take Will from me.“I wish that I could be sure of that. Dousia.. never particularly clever with any sort of needlework. “This is not going to be pretty.” Dousia whispered in shock." Obediently. was reading one of the latest novels from the Minerva Press. and knit the next. “Nightshade.” she said under her breath." Aunt Elinor had made it up to the nursery about the time that Justin and Dousia were asked to leave. “Belladonna. Raven continued. Justin. None of them opened the conversation to the subject about which they were all worried. knitting a woolen winter muffler for William. “The Earl of Lytton has returned with the young marquis.” Raven had always impressed her with his ability to maintain a calm facade." Dousia looked over to Eva who nodded calmly and urged.. We shall discuss the subject in length at some later time.

" “He will die if I don't get the poison out of his system.” Eva stated strongly." Thurston Hill flushed angrily.“That's good." Elinor looked from Dousia to Justin and back again. “Dousia." “I would suggest that you do not threaten me. We will go sit in my sitting room. He wouldn't be in this situation if I had just done that simple thing. the repercussions would be beyond tolerating. “I hope that you are correct. Justin!” she moaned as she leaned her head against his shoulder. I'll see to it that you are charged with contributing to his death." After the doctor left. The choice for her brother's life lay in her hands. “I should have made certain that he knew which of the local flora was poisonous..” Doctor Hill said flatly. “My ladies. “The boy's death will be on your head. “Come. he loves her." “That's right.” Dousia said as she nodded in agreement.” Justin replied." Dousia looked between the two healers with their differing philosophies. too.. Dousia said to Eva. the older woman thought with satisfaction. “there is no good way to say this. There is nothing left in his stomach. “I can be a profoundly bad enemy. Without her former nurse's tender care." Dousia sighed.” The pain in her voice was obvious to both Elinor and Justin. Goodbye. if I can only get Dousia to admit how she feels for him. Doctor Hill. But. it is just a waiting game. the nigra woman will not allow me anywhere near him with the leaches. “I hope so." Dousia couldn't prevent herself from pacing. Doctor." Dousia stiffened. “Oh. “Most of the poison is already gone. “He's experiencing the effects of the poison that made its way into his blood. Yet.” she replied under her breath. “The boy's life is hanging from a thread. “Cry. I will see that you are promptly paid for your consultation. “Now what can I do to help?" “Now. His hand moved up to gently stroke her hair. Thurston Hill continued. However. Yes. Dousia knew that she would never have recovered from her own injuries. If she chose Eva's word over the physician's and Will died. “Thank you for coming. The wrong decision could very well be fatal. Taking blood from him will only make him weaker.” Dousia said." Eva smiled tightly. Now. He'll sleep for maybe the next twelve or fourteen hours during which his body will throw off the remaining poison. Even if you had lectured him at length about the local foliage. “I want to stay near Will. Eva dear. Eva had been right so many times when the doctors had been wrong.” he said as his arms encircled her.” Dousia said finally in a very stiff voice. Justin. as if she were trying to make a decision. my lord. A tender expression came over his face.” Eva said from the doorway. your services are no longer required. He rose from his seat on the sofa and walked over to her. “Please direct your bill to me. not after the kind of emetics which I've forced down him. But. Dousia. Doctor Hill was shown into the sitting room by a stern-faced Raven. Elinor sat looking at them.” the young surgeon said tightly. her eyes narrowing dangerously. “He's weak enough. he's out of immediate danger. He must be leached if he is to survive. he is a boy. chances are that he would not have listened to you. if you wish. .

” Justin replied. “William. In fact. “Killing Edward would only land you deeply in trouble. “those berries that you ate. “Dousia!" “Yes. “I have to return to town within the next few days on a matter of business. to all of their relief.Uncle Jon had left Winton Abbey almost as soon as he had read the note Elinor had sent to him. “Thank you. Would you care for some company on the way to London." Justin smiled.” Dousia asked." “He must be brought to justice. Finally. I believe that a solution can be found which will not lead to the matter becoming a public scandal.” Dousia replied as she turned to face the trio of Uncle Jon.” she replied without bothering to turn around. Will's sleepy eyes came barely open. “And what would that accomplish?” Justin asked her." “Australia should be far enough away to prevent any further harm to the boy. “Yes. Eva handed Dousia a glass containing plain water. not once. Theodousia.” was all he answered before he was once more asleep. and Justin. because of his actions?" Uncle Jon replied. he kept watch in William's room. “His actions won't be ignored. believe me. Along with Dousia. I believe that I shall put him on the boat myself. leaving the others to absorb the impact of William's accusations.” he complained hoarsely. and Justin.” Uncle Jon informed her. Riding hard. your grace?" Jon returned the smile. “Edward told me that they were good to eat. “Satisfaction." Chapter Eight . “No. She had entered her suite of rooms." “I doubt that the moon would be far enough away. I'm here. they weren't. But. “That would be most agreeable. Did you say that Edward told you that those particular berries were good to eat? Are you certain about that?” Dousia asked in a far too casual tone. but twice. leaving the doors open behind her. “Am I supposed to sit back and ignore the fact that my brother almost died. and taking the cross country route. What you are going to do is to leave this matter to me.” he said quietly as he sank back wearily onto the pillows. Why did you eat them?" Will looked at her as though he did not understand the question. “Sweetheart. The boy was able to take a few sips. sweetheart. The last thing that this family needs is more scandal attached to its name. this is important. Dousia rushed from the room. None of us want that. Will awoke. Elinor." “I just want Edward out of the way so that William won't be able to be hurt by him. and was taking her pistols out of the box when she heard the doors close. “I strongly suspect that Edward will have the sudden overwhelming desire to emigrate to Australia. Dousia?” Will replied innocently with a yawn. he was able to arrive at Seahaven much sooner than expected. Why did he lie to me. “I'm thirsty. Aunt Elinor.” she said quietly as she stroked his brow.

this is a decision only you can make. I am certain that you will have several fine offers of matrimony from which to choose. Both Jon and I feel that you would not be happy in a forced marriage. a packet of letters from Thomas. God willing. My dearest Theodousia. She blinked back the tears and smiled tremulously. Maria's reputation is in such a tattered state that I severely doubt she will ever be able to attend a function without some spiteful old tabby whispering about her. my leaving the country so precipitously is going to fuel the already active flames of gossip. The only good point of the matter is that your name has been kept out of this sordid affair. sweetheart. yours faithfully. the matter is totally in your hands. my darling. I shall have already left the country. There are rumors of Wexley's seeking a bill of divorcement. I remain. No matter what your decision. Then she went to the nursery to check on William. She opened and read it. Your uncle and I saw Edward Clancey off on his voyage to Australia on Tuesday. She placed the letter in a large oilcloth bag in which she kept her most prized possessions such as her mother's last diary. a manuscript of her father's sermons. Your uncle and I are in full agreement: neither of us is going to hold you to your promise to marry me. Of course. But. however unjust it may be. your uncle will be able to forward letters to me. I feel like three kinds of a fool for having to tell you this in a letter. as always. So. Dousia looked up from the writing as it began to blur from the tears in her eyes. in light of the current scandal attached to my name. Please do not worry about me. Know that if this had not been a matter of profound significance I would have never agreed to take on the assignment. With that amount of triumph to your credit. However. franked by Justin from London. The scandal is very public to the point of my being caricatured along with Wexley in the papers.Days later. and now this letter from Justin. In fact. Will had been confined to his rooms to allow him to recuperate. if you choose not to become my countess. By the time this missive reaches you. “Dousia!” the boy said excitedly as he came toward her. Then she returned her eyes to the paper. I love you. my darling. If you want to marry me. While I hope that you will decide in my favor. Justin Dousia carefully folded the papers and took them from her study where she had been reading the mail up to her room. I shall be out of the country for several months on a matter of some importance. I thought that perhaps we both could use some time in which to consider the feelings we have for one another. . I have no doubt that you will take London by storm. Of course. the fact that you will be well known to the ton will make circumstances that much simpler. I do not believe that I could stand the pain of seeing pity or indulgence on your face if I told you this in person and you did not return the sentiment. this will be the last that any of us will be troubled with the man. We both know how you feel about scandal. It is a matter so terribly simple and at the same time so incredibly complicated. I shall miss you dreadfully. It very much has. If you need to reach me. My only regret is that I did not have time to tell you this in person. she had planned to take him out of doors for a short time today. no one could doubt that I had fallen in love with you. Unfortunately. You will be out of mourning by the time I return to England in March. go back and reread those three short words for they tell you what I feel for you. it would be far better if you went to London for the Season. my darling Dousia. In the short time since his battle with death. Dousia received a letter. It will be some time before I can return to Lytton Hall. All I desire is that you make the decision that will give you the greatest amount of happiness. you were correct in your assessment that the story of the duel would leak out. That is correct. now.

. Still. Or. the Duke of Clarence.. she could not .” he murmured. meeting new people was something Dousia enjoyed. she knew that the reason for her loneliness was because Justin was not here with her. “Possibly.” Tony said. Dousia.. Dear Lord. however. Still. Mrs. The guest list for the ball read like a who's who of society consisting of: Lady Jersey. Tony. she was free to join the party.” Dousia replied as she followed Tony's steps. Your lady wife. But. Day by day. She had to admit that Jon's niece was an exceptionally lovely woman. it was good to have Will happy and healthy. and a scattered assortment of various other members of the aristocracy. sound brought attention their way from the other dancers. Christmas day passed with only the barest of merrymaking at Seahaven." Dousia smiled. they had graciously accepted her invitation to the ball that marked the end of her mourning. Vinton had worked her fingers to the bone in supervising the preparing of the food. Life went on without much excitement. Normally. she found this group somewhat daunting. However." Tony looked at her. faces of the area residents and other honored guests. at least. then changed the subject. One month faded into the next as winter arrived. It had been months since she had seen them.. “I am certain that I do not know. That lack was made up for by the grandest of balls on Twelfth Night. “Where is he?” Tony asked. “I expected to see Justin here. One day merged with another as she kept atop the business of keeping Seahaven profitable for William. she was coming to feel that this area was home. one of the patronesses of Almack's." Tony stiffened for a moment. “Ah . it was a gathering of which she did not know many people. the brother of the Regent and a friend of Uncle Jon's. But. at least on the outside. that was what she tried to tell herself. who happened to be a dear friend of Aunt Elinor's.She smiled down at her brother. she had to admit that that looked more than merely presentable in the gown of emerald green velvet. Once Dousia had greeted her guests.” she answered. for example. Dousia's animated face drew her attention again and again. The ballroom at Seahaven was packed to an extreme point with the happy. “I knew that you were a beautiful woman. The amused. after having been in black gloves for so long. felt uneasy being dressed once more in the bold colors which she had always loved." Lady Caroline sat looking at the dancers. then laughed. “Is he back in the country? My information was that he would be away for at least two more months. throaty. The musicians were both skilled and seemingly indefatigable. Dousia realized that she was lonely. a color of which nearly matched her eyes. “All I know is that I am worried about him. Although how she could be lonely with so many people around her was beyond her powers of comprehension. save your flattery for women who are susceptible to it. smiling." “I see. although many of them were actually Uncle Jon's or Aunt Elinor's friends. I cannot swear to that. Tony Blythe was most obliging to ask her to dance as the strains of a waltz rose from the orchestra." Dousia laughed. “Minx! You will definitely keep London on its toes. She was never more happy to see anyone than she was to see Maggie and Tony Blythe. However. but you have astonished me by your transformation out of mourning. “This sounds suspiciously like something he is doing for Jon. might be appreciative of a large dose of your not inconsiderable charms.

Lady Jersey's attention went to Dousia. “Has she decided to marry?" “I believe that she has decided to look over what is available in the way of men. “What is this?" Elinor told Sally about Dousia's experience with the murderer. I believe that your neighbour is a most unusual lady." “When are you leaving for town?" “In a fortnight. I believe." Sally Jersey's eyebrows raised in query as she looked at Elinor." “It doesn't matter. Elinor turned to Caro questioning her strongly. It's about time that the old place saw some parties. rose from her chair. I haven't seen her in months. then again. Caro. “Was it some sort of secret?" “Of course not. Jon walked over to where Caro was sitting. The house hasn't been used during the season in a half dozen years. just knowing that a man. the story was bound to get out anyway. albeit an allegedly reformed one. I think that she is a remarkable woman. There will be a good deal of work to get ready for the Season since Dousia's wardrobe is virtually non-existent on account of her having been in strict mourning for the last year. “But to tell that to Silence Jersey is to guarantee that the story makes the rounds. found her attractive was enough to keep her sane through all the years of the travesty of her marriage. There was the matter of her long time friendship with Jon. Excuse me. I doubt that I would have had the courage to take a man's life when I had seen him kill someone whom I loved. It was beyond Caro's experience to think that a man could have a pure friendship with a woman.” Lady Jersey asked baldly.bring herself to like the woman who had been revealed in the reports Ivo Bates had sent to her from America. was beyond enough. “I'm opening up Clairborne house.” Elinor replied. even if he was her husband's best friend. she didn't delude herself that the spark of attraction had not been there between them all along. For a woman to smile and laugh so openly at the conversation of such a redoubtable rake.” Elinor replied." . “Yes. But. and gave him her hand.” Elinor replied. as Sir Antony Blythe.” he replied with a smile. Since we will be going to town for the Season. “Well." When Sally Jersey had left them. would you stand up with me?" “Don't you think that we are a little too old for such things?" “Absolutely. “But. Caro joined Elinor and Lady Jersey after she had danced with Jon. Caroline dear. “Why did you bring up the issue?" Caro looked puzzled." The dowager countess's face took on a contrite expression. But. “I didn't mean to cause any embarrassment. I see the Duchess of Imbrie over there. Whether any of them will touch her heart or not is another matter. Caro looked over at Lady Margaret and wondered how Maggie Blythe could sit there so calmly and smile at the spectacle of Sir Antony dancing and obviously flirting with Dousia. dear. “Caro. Caro thought that Maggie Blythe had to have considerable experience in turning a blind eye to her husband's numerous infidelities. At times. “what do you think of your new neighbour?" Lady Caroline smiled and remarked casually. A smile crossed Sally's face. shall we dance anyway?" Caro smiled at him. “Considering everything.

you really should be in bed. Out on the terrace. “Indeed?" “What a brave woman you are. An attractive woman with a fortune always attracts more than her share of masculine attention. “How did you know that I was here?" Dousia laughed softly as she sank to his level. She wondered how long he had been in the ballroom as she walked over to him.. The boy looked up at her sheepishly as he stepped from behind the pillar. he preferred china doll blondes. she was puzzled. You simply wanted to be part of all the excitement. He should have been in bed hours ago. “Come on. It had taken months for him to be able to jump ship and return to England. that would have the added benefit of ruining Jon's happiness as well. However. “Ah . Dousia. In fact. However." “Will you dance with me. Elinor looked at the dowager and wondered when Caroline Rivington had come to be so terribly cynical. that was none of her business. A few more letters to Lady Caroline should be enough to goad the woman into ruining Dousia beyond redemption. The fact that she is well past the first bloom of youth should not matter in the least. For the briefest moment. But." The duke smiled at her. Elinor suspected that the relationship between Jon and Caro was more than simply friendly. who has made me that way?” he demanded. Since she wasn't exactly the Duke's type. are spoiled beyond praying for. I do have eyes." Will smiled impishly at her." By this time. my lady. The Duke of Clarence requested Dousia's company for a waltz.” . I am not angry with you. Elinor had become aware of the attraction between her brother and Lady Caro. The sound of music swept over him. my dearest brother. please?” Will asked again.. Will. Edward Clancey pulled his collar up around his ears and walked away. A young child at an adult party was not a usual occurrence." “I do not discuss that incident. “Just one dance. a figure lurked in the darkness. but now it was nearly overwhelming. “I have been hearing some very interesting things about you. Elinor feared for her brother's happiness. a small crowd had assembled around them.” she urged. her puzzlement did not remain for long. . Anger filled him.” he replied with admiration. “Of course. that was a side-effect about which the man could not bring himself to feel sorrowful. Dousia? Just once. But. “You." “Are you angry with me?" “No. my dear lady. Tell me about your horses?" Dousia looked over in time to see William duck behind one of the pillars that lined the ballroom. then I promise that I will go to bed. It had been pure luck that a returning ship had picked him up in the lifeboat only days after he had jumped ship. The desire for revenge had been strong before. “Not every woman would be able to keep her wits about her and to do that which was necessary in that situation. his green eyes sparkling with mischief. I should like to be able to put the past behind me and simply go forward with my life. Of course.” Caro replied thoughtfully. Money can be a very powerful incentive for a man. With a smirk. “If I am.“I suspect that you will be inundated with callers. She smiled at her brother.

shall we. “Oh. were to be made. For the following month. and Lady Theodousia arrived at Clairborne House in Berkeley Square.” Henry said. She could have fed and clothed a hundred and twenty families for a year on the six thousand pounds which her wardrobe had cost her. perhaps was closer to the mark. my lady. he is causing no harm. But the remainder of her wardrobe. “No. “She should have children of her own. “She should have sent the boy back up to his nanny. glovers. “Now. Harry. “Oh.” Maggie allowed. We have some interesting times ahead this Season. as her aunt continually reminded her. Dousia proceeded to dance the steps of the waltz with her brother as several members of the ton looked on in amazement.” Elinor replied amusedly. She was able to retain three riding habits and four morning gowns which Aunt Elinor decided weren't too terribly far out of fashion. Understood?" Holding William up off the floor. spoke with Jon." “Yes. your grace. Yet. one dance and then you are off to bed. “You know. don't you think?" Interesting was not the word. “but." Across the room. “Indeed? She is old enough to have a child that age." Elinor's face took on a serious expression. a slight smile on her face. the major pursuit of the Crawford women was to shop and to shop and to shop.Dousia laughed." Sally Jersey looked on the sister and brother. Dousia and Aunt Elinor visited them all. this is what Justin wanted. I happen to value my skin. I doubt that there will be any trouble doing that. “Your niece is some woman. so that their heads were roughly at the same level.” Jon allowed. where all good young boys should be at this hour. Lady Jersey smiled broadly. “The way that she spoils that boy.” Jon countered good naturedly. the young Marquis of Edmonton. “our hostess is an exceptional woman. It was the middle of January when the Countess of Clairborne. “Let's get her married off first. for the most part. Mannering." “You won't help me?" Jon laughed quietly. modistes. the Duke of Clarence looked in amusement at the dancing siblings. before we start talking of children. her face taking on pure joy.” she remarked strongly to Elinor." The other woman's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. she had been in mourning for a year. Exhausting. she is at that. “Absolutely not." At the other end of the hall. Milliners. That is a matter between you and her. including an unbelievable ten ball gowns and a court dress. not even myself. “Very well. since. you would almost think that he was hers. her clothes from before her mourning period were decidedly out of fashion. “My niece is in charge of her own life and answerable to no one. “I want to marry her. my lord.” the woman sitting next to her said disdainfully. “We'll just have to see about that.” Caro replied in an equally disdainful tone. Dousia counted the cost of her new wardrobe and found it absolutely appalling. perhaps." Lady Caroline looked upon the sight of Dousia holding William. Still.” one old woman said to Maggie Blythe. shoemakers.” he said to the viscount standing beside him. “There's a sight that you don't see everyday. . Dousia was thoroughly tired of having fittings after fittings after fittings. Trouvaine. for her to make a good impression on society. the Marquis of Trouvaine.

even before her official introduction to London society. Once each momma had met Dousia. Uncle Jon looked up at Freddy Willard appraisingly. “Glad to hear it. The raven-haired countess looked at Dousia in open curiosity. How is old Danver doing these days?" “The earl is in fine health. She had been plagued by fortune hunters for so many years that she could easily recognize one when she saw him. she half expected the building to be nearly as garish as the Regent's home. that she found herself at some trouble to keep from laughing openly at their machinations. they might have clashed horribly with some lady's dress. Instead. but in a voice which held respect and perhaps even a degree of fear. Having never been on King Street. Frederick Willard. Dousia's official introduction to the ton was an evening at Almack's. “How is your arm? Fully recovered. I trust?" There was a tense moment as Freddy seemed to debate about asking her to dance. Willard. men. your grace. then it was a small matter for the women to introduce their respective sons to her. as the ton came back to town in force during the last of February. Privately. Justin. Lady Jersey and Countess Lieven. Dousia didn't know what it was that was between Uncle Jon and Mr. Unfortunately. Having heard so much about the Marriage Mart. before she turned to Sally Jersey with a smile and a nod. thank you. the wife of the Russian ambassador. the rooms were spacious and tastefully decorated without the gilt and glitter or overly ornate architectural pseudo-art which plagued far too many buildings. Dousia accepted this as the way of things. Dousia found the buildings there. “May I have this dance?" . then again. so she accepted the invitation. to be very much a relief. Several pairs of eyes were firmly affixed to Justin and Dousia as he took her hand and kissed it in greeting. were the array of gentlemen who called upon her. open. the label stuck. came up to solicit her hand in the set of country dances which was just then forming. The flames of gossip began burning as the broad. if the walls of the main assembly room had been any color but stark white. The strains of a waltz came to his ears. yet well placed. the fact that Freddy Willard was afraid of Uncle Jon made him a safe partner for a dance. after paying his compliments to the patronesses. The only reason that she was in London for the season was to please Justin. “Good evening Willard. the Earl of Lytton was announced. were there in all of their glory. mostly mommas of impecunious.” Freddy replied politely. As it was.” Jon responded tightly. However. A steady stream of callers. Dousia thought the entire situation ludicrous in the extreme. the Crawford trio made their way across the room to where the lady patronesses of Almack's were holding court. So smooth. Dousia sent the man who had been her escort to fetch her a glass of orgeat. smile which Dousia gave to Justin was noted. Dousia thought irreverently. first part of March. Dousia was not seated for even two minutes before a gentleman whom she had met. Her ladyship the Countess of Clairborne. a Mr. with the setting carefully neutral. made his way directly over to her wearing a very content smile. After a stocky white-haired porter cleared his throat and had announced the arrival of His Grace the Duke of Winton. filled Aunt Elinor's front parlour in order to make the acquaintance of the young woman whom they each felt could save their families from financial ruin. full attention could be given to the richly costumed and bejeweled occupants as opposed to having some measure of attention taken away with consideration of the surroundings. each set with a different partner.The news of the new heiress in town spread rapidly. so polished. Almack's included. and Lady Langley. Carlton House. She danced every dance. She had been labeled ‘The Unattainable’ by one gentlemen who had gone through a difficult time in understanding that she simply was not interested in him. Dousia was anything except a wall-flower. But. But. even she had to admit that the London variety of the species made the Virginia variety look like rank amateurs. She had been dancing solidly for about an hour with barely a break between partners when His Lordship.

. you have to admit that it is a different matter for a widow like Lady Langley. m'dear. She had thought with all the attention the woman had been getting from the male population of London.. but I couldn't wait any longer to see you.. I suppose that I have no worries on that score since you are only half tempted. It seemed that every gazetted fortune-hunter in town was hanging out after the Langley widow." “Do you have any notion of how much I would like to have you alone just now?” he said in a voice designed to carry no further than her ears. “I am half tempted to carry you off right now." “What?" “Nothing . I don't know." “Really. The chit was only the daughter of a baronet. the dowager thought angrily as she recalled the words of the report which Bates had compiled..” one turbaned matron remarked to her longsuffering husband as they sat at the side of the room. well. our Elsie could do a good deal worse for herself than Lytton. that Dousia would have accepted one of the many offers of marriage of which the tattle mongers had been talking. Elsie Forrester. it was fairly clear that Dousia had been Thomas Langley's mistress for almost a year before they had married. it was clear that she had killed one man. Emiline. But she wasn't about to protest since she wanted to be nowhere more than in his arms. You should be grateful to Lady Langley for keeping his attention away from the debutantes. the daughter of Sir Clement Forrester. Especially not since Dousia was giving every indication of being profoundly attainable to Caro's son. from the report. bringing even more attention to them. and most of all." “Justin. Not at all. “Oh... More than that. Now. the sound. my lord.. profoundly biddable." “Ah . Caro's eyes strayed to a blonde debutante of a good family. If only the man weren't such a rake. I was going to wait until tomorrow to call on you. You are quite as lovely as I remembered you.. “Disgraceful. Justin?" “Yesterday evening." “He's just come back to England after having gone abroad in the wake of that most disgraceful duel with Wexley. The dowager was not overjoyed to hear that Theodousia had been given the label “The Unattainable". I confess that I spent most of today at the Foreign Office." “Still. a girl who would be intimidated by Caro enough not to have any ideas of taking the management of Lytton Hall away .” the gentleman replied lightly. a girl who was young enough to have a dozen children to assure the continuation of the name. low and throaty.” Dousia replied in a far too casual tone. that was more like it.” the matron replied thoughtfully. what does Lytton's conduct matter to you. While nothing could be proven about Dousia's involvement in the deaths of her husband and father.. I will not have this.. “Reformed rakes make the best husbands." Lady Caroline watched as her son waltzed with Lady Theodousia. but she was exactly what Justin needed: a young. malleable wife who would make him comfortable.. This was not the type of woman whom she wanted for a daughter-in-law.." “Reforming that one would take a better woman than our Elsie.“Of course. Just Justin. “While I would not want our Elsie to be involved with a man like that. Justin held her just a bit tighter than was strictly required. “When did you return to London." “Vixen!" Dousia laughed.

” Jon said.” she countered in an attempt at humor. Dousia smiled as Justin twirled her around the room.from Caro. the black braid trimmed. along with black leather gloves and black boots completed the outfit. Jon crossed the room to come sit beside Caro as Justin and Dousia were dancing. He had to laugh at her statement. Dousia. “May I ride with you in the morning?" “I think that I should very much like that. She nodded in agreement." “Where were you. That would start tongues a wagging. There is no one at home but the servants and me. as was her custom at a most unfashionably early morning hour.” she said after she had made sure of the fact that no one was within easy listening distance. in the company of a groom. then rolled into a knot at the back of her head." She looked down. rust colored superfine coat outlined the soft curves of her figure. I am going to kiss you right here on the dance floor. “Good!" “Good? Is that all you have to say?" “Because I've missed you more than I can tell you. But. Her deep auburn hair. Dousia. don't they. not as good of a couple as we make. may I call on you tomorrow?” His green eyes were dark with the desire he felt for her. very much anticipating their time together. I have to arrange that. “You think so?" “Of course. I can't tell you any more than that. Justin escorted her back to the chair in which she had been sitting. “I've missed you." Justin's grey eyes glimmered as they looked into her green ones. Justin reigned in Demon as he approached her. he became serious. “Then come to my house. Caro smiled. A chip hat of black netting and twirling black feathers. she was glad that she was wearing what she considered to be her prettiest riding habit.” he urged." Chapter Nine Justin awoke feeling much better about life in general than he had in a very long time. . towards the floor as the music died away. Caro thought." “I can feel your heart beating.” Jon said. “If you don't stop looking at me like that. Cut along rather a masculine line. “Justin is home. Caro looked at Jon in surprise. “They make a good looking couple. There was no doubt in his mind from the way that Dousia responded to him last evening that she cared for him." “Meet many exotic Russian women?" “I was too busy to pay much attention to women. Seeing Justin riding Demon. she had braided. I'm not certain that we can get any privacy. or is it a secret?" “St. She had granted him no fewer than three dances: two of which were waltzes. Jon smiled at her. Then suddenly. Petersburg. “Caro. so I know that you aren't dead. The divided skirt was of the same cloth and trim. rode out. Yes.

“When is it ever out of the way for a gentleman to accompany a lovely lady?" “Come now. Dousia would have far rather been able to slip out into the back garden for a few moments alone with Justin. you said that you didn't play the pianoforte.. she knew that they would go back to Clairbourne House for a late supper. in spite of the fact that this wasn't how she had planned the evening at all. and not terribly stimulating. But Dousia did not notice as her attention was all taken up with the knowledge that Justin. my lord. Once in the front parlour. The last thing that she particularly wanted to do tonight was to be the center of attention. leaving the gentlemen to their port and cigars. “ However." Dousia looked over at Aunt Elinor for permission. carrying her violin case.” she replied with a smile. my lord.. Justin. “The first time that you had dinner at Lytton Hall. However.” she chided softly. together. After the play. several people could not but stare at Dousia and Justin as they tried to find something to re-enforce their own belief as to the nature of the situation. Uncle Jon and Lady Caroline.” she teased unmercifully. Caro turned to Dousia. The late supper was every bit the culinary masterpiece which Dousia had expected. They drew their fair share of attention from the playgoers. The play was insipid and melodramatic. or whether the earl had simply found himself a new mistress. Aunt Elinor's chief had anticipated everyone being out. Justin raised an eyebrow in curiosity. Dousia turned to Justin.“Good morning. if she could manage the situation correctly. my lady. to London and would play for us when the gentlemen return. “I really shouldn't. even in spite of the fact that until this morning. after months of absence. I would suggest that we get moving. Wagers were duly recorded as to whether The Unattainable would become the next Countess of Lytton. The story of how Dousia had granted Justin three dances at Almack's the night before had rapidly made the rounds. it didn't look as though that was going to materialize. Soon. It was a glittering evening. “I'd wager that there are a good many things about me which you do not know. “Then how can I refuse?" That evening. after a most energetic ride." Returning to Clairborne House. Then maybe. Dousia dear." She smiled at him. Aunt Elinor along with one of her husband's many nephews. “May I offer you breakfast. You know how I love to hear you play. my lady!" She smiled broadly at him. I was wondering if you have brought your instrument. Regardless of the opinion held. “That is totally your affair. Dousia could have been eating ground glass for all she knew." . Dousia was happily ignorant of the extent of the speculations about her and Justin. there is absolutely no need for you to try to turn me up sweet. the story of revenge gone terribly wrong. her eyes twinkling with mischief." “I shall return in a few moments. Justin and Dousia made up the impromptu party filling the Lytton box. my lord?" He returned her smile. then. By the time Dousia returned. my lord. if you wish to ride with me. a rather dour faced young man named Norman. Opinion was divided as to whether there was to be an engagement announced. “And a good morning to you. was seated beside her. whatever it is. the ladies retired to the parlour." “I assure you that I shan't mind your dirt. she and Justin would have some time alone. What brings you out at such an unfashionable hour?" He smiled at her. However. the gentlemen had come into the parlour. Dousia canceled out her plans to go to a ball. Arguments were made for both positions. “I didn't know that you played the violin. Elinor nodded. in favor of attending a performance of a play with Justin. Conversation was general.

there is not much that I could do about the family to whom I was born. my dear. “You must practice quite a bit.” Aunt Elinor's nephew. Mother?" “I had forgotten that you rode over. “If I miss practice on one day. “Come here. with a talent like that. asked at the conclusion of the piece." Justin smiled at his mother. “Play something lively. for her to enjoy his embrace. there are. Perhaps someone else would give us a tune?" Uncle Jon laughed. “Well. Dousia smiled and laughed quietly. Missing practice on two days. I fear that none of us wish to follow that performance." With a thoughtful smile. “However. while beautiful. she went to him. “By your permission?” she asked her aunt. But.” Dousia replied. she began to play the Rondo from Mozart's Violin Concerto number three in G. “I rather thought that you would. “It is a shame that. Norman. leaving Dousia and Justin alone in the parlour. From the first notes. “I should rather be excused from doing so. She .” Caro replied lightly." Smiles went around the room.” he commanded hoarsely extending his arms to her. his eyes sparkling. I can tell the difference.” Aunt Elinor replied. I cannot think of a more pleasant pursuit than attempting to learn your secrets. “In that case.” Norman remarked thoughtfully. “Do you propose to ride double with me. Uncle Jon offered to take Lady Caroline home in his carriage." Shortly after his mother and her uncle had left. alone. Norman quickly took his leave. “Play something else. Willingly. as only one person in the history of the world has ever been fortunate enough to have been able to choose His own parents. “Herr Mozart's music. I shall go home with Justin. Jon. They had not had enough time together. Placing the violin under her chin. other people can tell. “Of course. claiming that he had to meet with his solicitor early the next morning." She took only a moment to make certain that the instrument was in tune. It was just as well that she did not see the look of profound consternation that flickered over Caroline's face as the dowager realized that Dousia was quite an accomplished violist.“Indeed. ma'am. she closed her eyes and gave her full attention to the music. After the insipidness of the play this evening." Dousia walked across the room and put her violin away. my lady. Elinor excused herself. “That's is quite all right. Dousia walked over to where the pianoforte stood. if she missed that sight. I should be most happy to take your offer. you were born into the aristocracy. she also missed the look of pride and joy which was on Justin's face as she played. Jon. we all could use something to snap us out of the lethargic mood. is difficult enough to perform creditably that I do not feel equal performing further.” Justin replied with a broad smile.” Caro responded thoughtfully. Silly of me. my dear. “No.” she replied softly." Jon smiled at her.

of marriage was made. “One kiss. then leave. milord. The butler stood at the door. One morning. Slowly. she wanted to take him up to her room and make love with him. neither of them mentioned the betrothal contract from which he had so gallantly offered to release her. come back to Clairborne house for breakfast. at all. Justin would ride with her first thing in the morning. her confidante. “Good morning. when they were alone. Justin.” Dousia responded harshly. Realizing that he would not press her for a culmination of the physical relationship.wanted to be in his arms. Dousia wasn't there. but built rapidly. my lord.” Dousia instructed them. “Thank you. . Timmons. She had even known that she loved him. gave her the room to make up her mind what it was that she wanted. I have been so tired of not being able to talk to you without fear of interruption. “Goodnight. but most of all as her husband. said as they reached the door." “You realize that we have just broken more rules of conduct than are acceptable to break?” Justin said lightly after she dismissed the butler. During their time together. she backed away from him. We will serve ourselves. she knew that she wanted him. He had become her friend. prepared for the explosion of passion which always had happened when their lips met. Right now." “Yes. This way please. Without a single doubt. the butler. He smiled at her. Justin. What was a surprise to her was how much she had come to actually like him. She knew that she wanted him in a way that she had wanted only one man before him. tenderly.” Justin said with a smile. yet she was half afraid of the wantonness which he so easily solicited from her. Oh. my lord. “Her ladyship requests that you join her in the library." “Shall I call by for you in the morning for your ride?" “I believe that I should like that. as a lover. A footman came into the room carrying a coffee service." “What did you want to say?" Timmons knocked at the door. that she felt desire for him. No mention. Neither did he seek any intimacy further than kisses at the end of the evening. only to reappear that evening in order to escort her to whatever function they were attending. Timmons followed. A liveried footman met him." She leaned up slightly to touch her lips to his." The next two weeks proceeded in the same pattern. She was afraid of touching him. that was out of the question." “Take care of my horse. then I'll be going. The sexual tension between them grew quite intense. Justin pulled Demon up in front of Clairborne house. Completely. for fear of sending them both out of control. looking at him appraisingly. “Good morning.” Timmons. “Remember what passed between us the last time that we were in here?" She smiled at him. “Come in. She wasn't disappointed. The kiss started slowly. “Very well. But. I understand that I am expected. Timmons. as a friend. She had known before he had begun this period of gentle courting.

I won't be responsible for my actions. conjugally . But. Theodousia. “Yes. “Do you still have the license?" “Yes. sweetheart.“Come. Dousia darling. “Do you mean it?” he asked incredulously. Just our secret?" Justin smiled at her. “That's what I've been waiting to hear. eying her warily. “We . I would like to keep this just between us for a little while longer... How much do you know about my marriage?" “You weren't married long." “Then we can forego the banns being read.” Dousia said lowly as she poured coffee into the bone china cups.. Justin. Justin..” Justin warned in a growl. A knock at the door forced Dousia out of Justin's arms. It wasn't a pleasant experience . Justin looked at her. “If you continue to look at me like that..." He took her in his arms. “How would three weeks from Saturday suit you for a wedding?" Justin smiled. “I love you." “I am not any other woman." He touched her face. instead.” she answered after a short pause to catch her breath and to straighten her clothing. “What did you want to discuss?" “Us. . Dousia.. I think that it will be different with you. then placed the cup down on the table before them. Justin." “I had noticed that. sit beside me.” she replied as she took a sip of the coffee. on our wedding night . He was thrown from a horse and died of a head wound.” she whispered softly. She looked down and drew a couple of deep breaths to steady her nerves. “Thomas and I were very close.. “Do you know how difficult it has been for me to kiss you goodnight and walk away from you?" “It hasn't been easy for me to let you..” he said hoarsely. I loved him. the one time ." “Will you think me shameless. “Kiss me." “I've never felt this way about any other man.. Justin smiled as he took her into his arms.” Justin told her flatly. please." She looked at him. yes..” he whispered. her eyes showing the depth of her love for him. His breath seemed to catch in his throat." “Never? Not even with Thomas?" “I was a girl when I married Thomas. if I ask you to kiss me?” Dousia asked as she looked up at him for the first time since she told him about Thomas." “Oh?" “Don't play with fire. “You've been married.. “Any other woman would be wanting to shout it from the rooftops. you know what I want. Deeply. But.. “Oh. Justin sat beside her. we were only together .” she replied hesitantly..

We'll have to keep an eye on him to make sure. “That means quarantine." “Mother.Eva was at the door. I would like a word with you. “Mother.." Justin's eyes glimmered dangerously. if it comes to that." “Chickenpox. Mother. It can't wait any longer. “You don't want to be involved in the quarantine. “You had no right to do that. “is a report on the woman. Not a bit of it. Justin." “Ill?” Dousia replied tightly. He knows that little Will was his brother's son. “Did you know that she was her late husband's mistress for about a year before she married him? Did you know that she was suspected of murdering him? Did you know that the man who killed her father was her lover? Or that she killed him while he was making love to her? Did you know that the boy that she passes off as Jon's heir is actually her son." “Listen to me. doesn't she?" .” she said as she picked up the final report Bates had prepared. please. Mother?" “You've been spending an inordinate amount of time with Theodousia Langley. You haven't had any contact with Will lately." “I didn't want you to make the same mistake that you did with that Spanish chit. Mother. Justin laughed. privately. It has waited long enough.” Justin said. In the library.." “She has you so involved with her that you won't believe the truth about her. Will is ill. None of that story is true. Jon was present when the boy was born. Read it for yourself. I don't have time to waste in reading fiction. His mother met him in the entry hall." “Here's the report.” Caro said strongly." “Can it wait. I think. instead of her brother?” Caro demanded hysterically. “I don't believe that is any business of yours. “Justin." “You had better go." “This." “Keep care of yourself. “Chickenpox. I sent an investigator to America to find out what I could about her. Following his mother into the library and closing the door behind them.” Justin said far too quietly. “Dousia .” Dousia said reluctantly. One unworthy wife is enough for you to bring into the family." Justin's expression changed from an indulgent one to a fierce one. Nothing in that report could possibly mean anything to me. Everything about her past that is important. Mother?" “No. **** Justin wore a thoughtful expression as he walked into Lytton House on Grosvenor Square. whoever did that investigation for you was thoroughly incompetent.” Justin replied. Justin asked strongly. “What is so important. I already know.

On the first day that it was safe for her to go out without risking spreading the infection to other people. “You are one of the strong ones. Yet.” she replied quietly.” he told her in no uncertain terms.” he said throatily. There was no choice in the matter. in order to take her for a drive in Hyde Park. No matter what Justin had just told her. “I've spoke with Uncle Henry. I will personally see that you regret it. Will had been both profoundly itchy and in a foul mood." “You would have survived. Justin called for her in his curricle. “The estate north of Craigenputtock sits empty. She shook her head sadly. “I do love you." Dousia smiled. then swearing the woman to secrecy should insure that all the tales spread like wildfire. by any reasonable thought process. “Like I'd imagine it would feel to be suddenly released from prison. as does the house in Dumferline. “You would actually bring that woman into this family?" “That's enough. just before he left the room. She had no doubt that Justin would carry out his threat to exile her to Scotland. Caro looked at the door out of which her son had just left. or you will suffer the consequences. You remember. alone. “I think that I would have gone mad without your letters. reflect on him. since contact with chickenpox in children was suspected of causing shingles in middle-aged adults." “I've missed you. We will be marrying in three weeks. Perhaps you would care for Scotland?" Caro's face went white as a piece of sun bleached linen. she needed all the ammunition that she could possibly possess in her battle to free her son from the clutches of that woman. If you say even a word about those lies to anyone. that is very good. and about the extremely close resemblance of Dousia and William considering that they had different mothers. Justin. On Caro's afternoon calls. None of this could. There was only one way of carrying out the ruining of Dousia Langley. Eva had been able to keep him somewhat soothed with a lotion which she had compounded. Telling one carefully selected gossip each story. It wasn't Jon's fault that his niece was a murderess and a whore. She had to discredit Dousia Langley to the degree that Justin could not possibly marry her with honor.” Justin said menacingly. She smiled in return. Aunt Elinor had to stay out of contact with the boy.” he replied jovially. The occupants of Clairborne House had been out of the public eye and out of personal contact with other people for two weeks until William's disease was past the point of being contagious. Caro would have to make certain that he had no choice in the matter. about how Dousia had been raped by the man who killed her father. my uncle the bishop?" “Yes.” Justin said proudly. she would make some casual comments about the way in which Dousia's husband died so soon after the wedding. But that didn't worry her nearly as much as losing Jon's affection. “How does it feel to be out of quarantine?” he asked gently as he handed her up into the carriage. There was only one way. Mother." “That's good. Since we are to be married on Saturday. And she had to do that without either Jon or Justin finding out that she was the one behind it. . Chapter Ten William had truly succumbed to chickenpox. If Justin would not break with the woman voluntarily. You will treat Dousia courteously.“Listen to me very carefully Mother. He had to be constantly reminded not to scratch at the blisters. Caro was not going to sit idly by and watch her only remaining son make a sad muddle of his life. It had not been at all a pleasant period of time for the occupants of Clairborne House.

I can hardly contain myself." “Of course. as Edward came into the morning room. It is a rather important matter. The thing of it is that he did. I don't want another.” Justin said thoughtfully. “Or we will end up at the house on Lisle Street. “ Are you certain that you wish to have such a small wedding?" Dousia shook her head affirmatively.. my love. he would rather be making the vows with you than leading me in doing so. I think that we had better change the subject. my dear. “How am I looking at you?" “As though you want me to make love with you.” Dousia responded lowly. “I've heard worse. I'm sure that he didn't at all mean his proposal. at times." Dousia smiled." “Well. She smiled and blushed. puzzled. Edward looked around." “Sweetheart.” he replied easily with a large smile.” Caro replied. please be seated." “That almost sounds like a good idea. I have absolutely no doubt." “Demned right!” he replied. “You mustn't take Quentin's teasing too seriously." “Of that." Dousia smiled at him.” Justin replied for only Dousia's ears. **** Lady Caroline was surprised to have a caller in the form of Edward Clancey using the name William Chance. You and I with the minister and the required witnesses will do just fine. I understand that. shall we have Quentin read the ceremony?” she asked quietly. “I want more than a few stolen hours with you. “Mr.” Justin told her huskily. Dousia. “Yes. Then he became serious. Clancey? I thought that Jon told me you had gone to Australia?” she said. “I had one big wedding. or I wouldn't risk being here. “We'll wait until Saturday. Clancey.." “Justin?” Dousia replied curiously. “Could I have a moment alone with you." “Saturday seems a long way away. then. “What is it that I can do . instead of Hyde Park. complete with the large reception. “I do believe that you are jealous of Quintin. Justin." Dousia looked at him in surprise. my lady. I do apologize. my gown will be pale green. Justin." Dousia smiled. Then he looked sideways at Dousia. Mr. “You read me too well. “He'd like that.” he replied throatily.” she replied quietly. “I know.” Justin warned." “Ah." “You must definitely stop looking at me like that. regaining her composure. et cetera.“He's unable to marry us on Saturday. I am quite content the way that I am . In case you are planning on giving me flowers to carry or wear. “My language is deplorable. “Although.

I know that she is treacherous. she needed.” Edward said quietly. Mister Clancey. God help me.for you?" “I had hoped that I could be of service to you. “The woman is most persuasive in her arguments. he continued. is a grown man. “Perhaps. her face showing naught but pain.. “That you had decided to emigrate.” Caro replied compassionately." Edward cleared his throat." “Pray. if we think long and hard enough about this. Mr. my lady.” he said firmly as he printed the address of his lodgings on the back. “I hate to have to admit this. She has already placed one of her own people in the position of steward for Uncle Jon. That was really all. Edward's mouth turned up into a smirk.. “My lady. the heart is not always wise. That is one reason I was so surprised at his letting you go to Australia without a fight. “Oh. This is something which you cannot allow to happen. You see." Edward removed a card from his case and a pencil from his pocket. “Something has to be done about that woman." “Yes. When Caro's face showed no disbelief." ." “My son. that I have served the Duke of Winton faithfully for years." “You know. Clancey." “My dear. Mister Clancey. dear. there is not a thing I can do about it. “His niece made some accusations against me which Jon believed based on manufactured evidence. “I do not know. I know that Jon always found your services indispensable." Caro shook her head quietly. “So. “Please. I found out that she was stealing money from her brother's estate. “That woman!” she muttered. How bad for you!" “How bad for Uncle Jon. my lady." Caro closed her eyes tightly. to make certain that I would not be able to go to Jon with the evidence of her embezzlement. Edward's face seemed to crumple. Jon did not even allow me to defend myself before he told me that I was out of a job and strongly suggested that I leave the country. for I feel like a fool. you see. but. yet I swear to you that it is true. go on.” Caro replied quietly. She wanted me out of the way. we may be able to come up with a solution which would be mutually beneficial. in the extreme. at any time. I fear that she means to rob him as well as her brother. I fell in love with the woman. my lady. You see. I still love her. the only reason that I've come to see you is that it has come to my attention the Earl is contemplating marrying the woman." Caro drew a shocked breath. But. “This is where you may find me. my dear fellow. feel free to call upon me.” Caro said flatly. if you find that you have need of me. What did you hear about my departure to Australia?” Edward asked intensely. Oh. If he decides to marry her." “Yet. what can any of us do about her without sinking to her level?” Edward said in a mendaciously pain-filled voice. “The story that I am about to tell you is going to sound strange.” Caro replied.

Although. The men weren't much better. it would flake off without doing too much damage. Instead. “No! Really? She looks so refined. seeing the cold shoulders she was receiving. “I don't know what is going on. at ten o'clock.” he urged her quietly. did not even allow her to sit. which were all proper and good. neither were the propositions and proposals put to her. The killer was found .” the other girl replied. She was going to give herself plenty of time to pamper herself and get ready for Lady Caroline's ball. so lady-like. in strength. debutantes talking about her." “I've survived worse than social ostracism. But Dousia had gone through this before. but I will find out. as though she were somehow less than a lady. so she informed Aunt Elinor's butler to tell any further callers that she was not at home. darling. But. Once a season. but in the way in which they looked at her. the looks which she received were anything but respectful. Dousia found herself the recipient of no less than ten direct cuts from ladies with whom she had previously been on easy terms. this time. He extracted a promise from her that she would not be overly late to the ball at Lytton House this coming evening. if you wish to cry off on marrying me. in her uncle's escort." “They even say that the young Marquis of Edmonton is her son. She had heard her name mentioned. “I overheard Momma tell Lady Sefton that Lady Langley killed her husband. “That I hadn't heard. at all. if she was patient and allowed it to dry. they didn't cut her acquaintance. Justin.” she offered. She had the feeling she would need all the help she could get. it was likely to create only a bigger mess and a possibly permanent stain. Lady Caroline gave a grand ball at Lytton House in order to pay back all of the invitations that she had received during the year. not her brother.” Justin said. “We are getting married on Saturday. you know.” one girl said strongly. A steady stream of callers plagued her for a good two hours that afternoon. I did hear that Lady Langley lived with her husband for a year before they were married. of course. my love. conscious. Having put up with a steady stream of callers for two hours. I will not hold it against you. Instead he swept her off onto the floor for a waltz. that eavesdroppers seldom hear good things about themselves. But. If the looks were not respectful. there was a decided lack of formality in their address to her. Coupling that personality fault with the fact that she never could stand the feel of damp. Justin returned her to Clairborne House after their drive. Momma says that there has to be more to the story of how the Duke's brother died than Lady Langley is letting on. And that is all there is to it. so she stopped and listened. But. Dousia stood behind a potted palm. first season. she thought that she had tolerated quite enough in the way of impositions on her time. “Just smile. listening to two young. it had been extremely warm in comparison to one the which she received in the ballroom. by rubbing it while it was still wet. The party was well under way when she arrived. The Lytton ball was always a glittering affair with everyone of social prominence attending. Several other women were noticeably cool to her. added up to a singularly unpleasant time ahead for Dousia. mucky mud.**** During their drive in the park. If she thought that the reception which she had received in the park was cold. She knew that gossip was a good deal like mud on clothing. Not so much in their words. The fortune-hunters who had since given up on her were now back. Dousia was at wits’ end trying to figure out exactly what she had said or done to cause such a widespread reaction. If she tried to eradicate it. The only thing was that she had never been a particularly patient woman.

sweeting. she pulled away from him with a blush on her cheeks. Tony Blythe smiled at Jon and Caro. Uncle Jon rose from his seat. since she was certain that Dousia would not care to have her underfoot. Maybe Mr. There had to be some way of preventing the marriage. Jon spoke softly to her. No. That was something. In his booming voice. unchaperoned. glass raised." Justin smiled. I'll be your wife. “Yes. It made no sense for Thomas to have a house. my lords and ladies. there was nothing more than a few kisses pass between us until our wedding day. “I know that there was nothing improper about it." Caro. to your good health and happiness together. as he stood. leaving Thomas and I.” Dousia replied quietly." With that. She would send for him in the morning. “I know. “I would give you a toast to the health of the Earl and future Countess of Lytton. gentlemen and gentlewomen. She wished that she could be as certain that this marriage would be a good thing. just for himself." Dousia walked out onto the terrace in order to think. he said. But she knew that it was a lost cause. But for gossip to concern her innocent brother.” Justin replied tightly.with a knife in his back. Jon kissed her lightly in the presence of the entire company. Dousia could understand that she had left herself open for comments. she knew what was being said about her. . and that William is my son. now. Uncle did a fair amount of traveling that year. smiled at Jon and said softly. It is almost time for supper. He was single. indeed. He looked so happy. this was too much to bear. She would think of something. no matter what they personally thought of the couple. “Shall I be the first to wish you happy?” he asked amusedly." Justin looked at her in puzzlement. then into the supper room. Clancey would have some notion of how to proceed. When Uncle Peter was widowed. to the happiness of the Earl and his lovely Countess-to-be!" With Prinny's so obvious approval of the match. “Caroline. although Thomas and I became aware of our feelings for one another. She looked over at Jon. Thomas continued to live there in Uncle's house. Uncle Peter also taught me his business. When supper was nearly over. “Your Highness. There were times that he took me with him. she wouldn't let herself believe that. “Thomas and my Uncle Peter were business partners. Justin followed her out onto the terrace. All you have to say is yes. Yet. Come back inside. They are also saying that I lived with Thomas before we were married. That's not exactly a lie." There was a stunned silence for the briefest moment. my offer of matrimony is still open. He and Peter were good friends. Theodousia. and all the expense. There were times when Uncle would be gone. “Not all of it. I've asked what the gossip was. there was time to convince Justin of what sort of mistake he was making. dearest. it would have been less than politic for anyone not to stand and join the toast. seeing the prospect of a future of being relegated to the Dower house or one of the properties in Scotland. Embarrassedly. Caro was very careful in her acceptance of congratulations and best wishes for her son. “Sweetheart?” he asked quietly as he came up behind her. Jon. “Yes. “They are saying that I murdered Thomas. stopping only a moment to speak privately with Tony Blythe. in the house with the servants. At least. It is all so ludicrous. Still. Justin.” The room became silent. alone. Thomas lived in Uncle Peter's house. All she knew was that at this moment she could not afford to show any disdain for this match. Perhaps it was improper. A silence which was broken only by the Regent saying strongly. I went to live with him to supervise the running of his household and to serve as hostess at his table. Dousia explained." Justin led her onto the floor for the supper dance.

would be able to do that." The rest of the party passed too slowly for Caro. who professed to love the woman. Clancey would agree. Quentin. Maggie and Tony Blythe were seated immediately behind Will. She rather thought that it would be." . “Thank you. How Dousia managed to keep her wits about her enough to be able to make the proper responses. The only way to stop this marriage between Dousia and Justin was to have Dousia kidnapped and married off to someone else. with Uncle Jon standing by his side. glass in hand. we are privileged to be present at the tapping of a rare vintage indeed. A plot began to hatch in her mind. she would never know. the Dowager Countess of Lytton. I am tired of waiting. And then that Quentin handed her their marriage lines. That would be nearly perfect since he was supposed to be in Australia. why the hurry? You've only just now become betrothed. Perhaps. Francois was seated in a back pew along with Eva. “Your highness. Justin smiled at his old friend. Clancey. Justin. Aunt Elinor was walking directly in front of her. Your grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were all married in the chapel there. but she could prevent the marriage. Will sat in a front pew. for it was only a few short minutes later that they were signing the register." “No. Caro might not be able to prevent the wedding." “Saturday?” Uncle Jon demanded incredulously of Dousia as they were dancing. The wedding will be Saturday. But. “But. “Saturday? This Saturday?” Caro replied hollowly when her son told her of the date of the wedding as they danced. even Mr. gleam. Dousia and I signed our betrothal contracts last August. the more she was resolved that this would be the way to proceed. boyish. casting colored shadows on the well polished marble floor. since the beginning of the Christian Era. If only Mr. Chapter Eleven Quentin stood at the ancient stone altar of the chapel at Winton Abbey. Mother. I had rather hoped that you could join me on Thursday or Friday. It would be preferable if you were able to find yourself capable of carrying on the tradition. Justin's mother sat by herself in the other front pew. apparently she did. They were the only occupants of the chapel as the late morning sun streamed through the carefully preserved original stained glass windows." “Winton Abbey would be closer. some of the local females will start looking seriously at me. “I shall be leaving tomorrow for Seahaven.” Tony said with amusement in his voice.Jon smiled broadly. instead of dreaming about becoming the Countess of Lytton. If the marriage was to take place in a matter of days. Tonight. “That is only five days away.” Jon told her. in some form or other. gentlemen and gentlewomen. “People. “Maybe now that you are no longer available.” The parson's eyes took on a mischievous." Dousia smiled." Quentin smiled in return. Quentin cleared his throat and began to read the words that had been read. To the health and happiness of the Duke of Winton and his future bride. “It was my pleasure. The more she thought about it. Bates had been right: there were many men in London who would be only too glad to do the job. But she needed to complete her mourning and then I was out of the country. so the wedding kept getting put off. Justin stood there in front of Quentin. Perhaps preventing the vows would be impossible. my lords and ladies. and then be there for the wedding. Tony stood. grow better with age. that didn't leave much time to prevent the marriage. like fine wine.

By the time that they had eaten. “Justin. Maggie and Tony agreed to take Will for the rest of the weekend and to deliver him to her at Lytton Hall on Monday. drank. and they had signed the register. “Careful. “May I kiss the bride?” Quentin asked..” Maggie teased. your grace. Tony and Maggie Blythe had come forward. “If there isn't. afterwards. thank you for your assistance. “Lady Margaret.” Quentin said. “if you had planned on making it a double ceremony. Jon and Caro walked up to where the bride was being kissed by the parson.. Quentin. “I doubt that it will be on account of any lack of trying. for his part. the mischief which you have done." Quintin laughed. Justin. Adjoining bedrooms had been prepared for Justin and Dousia's use in order for them to prepare for the wedding. “I have a special license in my pocket. would you stand as my best man?” Jon asked.. husband." Maggie looked at Dousia. and danced to the imperfect. “Now?" “Your mother and I are a bit on the old side to be wasting time. Then she forced the blush down. “Really. His neck cloth was loose and his shirt partially unbuttoned. Will you marry me. you and the Duchess should have gone first. now?" Caro smiled softly.” she said. and to change out of their finery. “Darling. was anxious to see the several suits of armour which Tony had told him were present at Blythe Manor. “I shall be most disappointed if there is not a child to be christened within a year." She nodded and gave him her hand.Both men laughed good naturedly. Tony congratulated both couples." A large and elaborate wedding luncheon had been prepared. “See. “Are you sure that this is what you want?" “I've never offered anything which I wasn't willing to do. music Aunt Elinor insisted on providing upon the pianoforte. Will. Maggie Blythe had accompanied Dousia up to her room to help her change.” Dousia warned.” he said quietly. . don't you think?” he answered jovially. changing the subject. but joyfully performed. Justin opened the door without waiting for acknowledgment. I'll take over now. She stole a glance at her husband. Jon walked over to Caro.” Justin teased his friend. You have gone and married me to a bold. “You know. There was still a matter of several hours drive to Lytton Hall. it was well into the afternoon.. talked." Dousia colored brightly. Maggie had just finished unfastening the hooks on the back of Dousia's wedding gown when a knock came at the connecting door. As soon as Quentin had pronounced the older couple as man and wife. laughed.

Jon whispered in her ear. “Let me help you out of that dress. “You have just embarrassed me. my lord husband. my love?" “Regret?” Dousia asked. my lord husband?" Justin laughed throatily. None of our friends are likely to spread the tale. “How would that be any different from everyone at Winton Abbey knowing? We weren't exactly discreet..” Dousia rose and stepped across the carriage. They had not been gone ten minutes when Dousia asked Justin. Her eyes sparkled. Thank you." “Then why are you sitting all the way over there?" “Because. at last. Do you regret it. down on the velvet seat." “You minx!” he murmured. Justin. Jon's butler. behave!” he told her as he gently lifted her from his lap and sat her. Forbes. how?” she countered mischievously." Maggie smiled at them as she left. “No. She laughed.. chasing Maggie away like that. “You sound as though you've done that once or twice.. who was seated across from her." “Go on.” Justin said quietly as he crossed the room to her.“You really think that you're qualified as a ladies’ maid. Justin." Justin smiled wryly. “No. just before he kissed her deeply. “Let's go to bed. “Darling. as his lips grazed her neck while his hands gently pushed the light green fabric from her shoulders. “Behave? Behave. Maggie. my dear. if you keep looking at me like that. I don't regret a minute of it. drastically. if I sit beside you. you will be so mussed when we arrive at Lytton Hall that everyone will know what we've been doing.” she said breathlessly. “You seem exceptionally quiet." She laughed softly. is there anything amiss?" He smiled at her. “Justin.. nothing a-tall." The soft silk fell into a pool at her feet. we will end up making love in this carriage and I'm far too old for that kind of cramped discomfort. “Sweetheart. The Blythes were most obliging to invite Elinor to come back with William and them to Blythe Manor. She knows about such things. Maggie Blythe is a grown woman. only to have a sudden bump throw her straight into Justin's lap. answered the .” he warned. Alone. Dousia and Justin left Winton Abbey three hours later in a well appointed closed carriage drawn by a team of six." “Justin. “I believe that you shall have no cause to complain. “I probably shouldn't have done that. “Now. beside him." “Would you mind if they did?" “Why should I mind that people know that my husband loves me?" **** Caro and Jon finally got rid of the rest of the guests." “Sweetheart." They were almost to the stairs when a man appeared at the front door.

“Keep that in mind. Justin?" “I hope that I am wrong. she retreated back into the coach and told Justin what see had seen." “Yes. he corrected himself. I'm going to insist that you show me. remind me to tell you how much I love you when we get out of this situation. insisted loudly. I don't want to risk your getting in the way of a stray ball. Dousia peered out to see three men. Plum ‘orrible ‘tis.” the man said strongly. Not fallen. instead of the outrider. Dousia dear." She reached for the wooden box containing her dueling pistols." Dousia smiled.” she replied. my love.” he called loudly when he saw Jon's form at the foot of the stairs. Dammit. it would appear that we are going to be robbed. Baker and ‘is family is inside." Justin laughed. Baker's cottage has done fallen in. are cheap." “Are we going to sit here and take it?" “What do you have in mind. whose faces were hidden partially by handkerchiefs tied just under their eyes. of course. my lady. one of Jon's tenants. a man named Ward.” the man. know that the feeling is quite mutual. “What is it. I hate this. before he turned to face the intruder." “Sweetheart. my lord husband. I would hate to have you as an enemy. yer grace. sweetheart?” Justin asked with a smile as he withdrew a pair of deadly looking pistols from a compartment under the seat. Another man was on foot.” Jon looked at Caroline. It's ‘orrible. The outrider and coachman had already gotten down to try to move it. but at this distance she wasn't sure that she would be able to hit her target. Quickly. I have more balls and powder.” she said as she cocked one of the pistols. Just . I'll be right there. “What is it. She was a decent enough shot. “I ‘ave ter speak with ‘is grace. cut. standing with a gun pointed at the outrider's head. Her blood chilled as she realized the identity of the man who was holding the gun on the outrider. “These are all that I have to defend us with." The man only repeated his previous statement much more loudly." “Tell me?” she replied impishly. Yer gotta come. The coachman and the outrider are armed. Hoof beats sounded from ahead. Edward! This was not a robbery. “I'll be back when I can. two miles away from the nearest farmhouse. “Remind me to keep you on my side. “Words. The road turned to the right just ahead. who were riding towards them." Jon muttered an imprecation under his breath. of course. by the way. “I'll be here when you return. But. “It would be better not to disturb him. Wade?" “Sorry ter interrupt ya. Justin looked out the window to see what appeared to be a tree fallen across the road right at the beginning of the turn." “In broad daylight?" “Apparently. These are loaded. “please yer grace." “Do what you must. “Yer Grace. “Yer gotta come.door. However. which she had always carried when she traveled. “I can handle myself." Chapter Twelve The coach containing Justin and Dousia had been on the road for nearly an hour and a half when it rolled to a sudden halt while they were on a meandering road inside a small wood. But.

Edward stood there.” Edward ordered strongly. The man flipped open the small communicating door on the top of the roof. at an angle. upon seeing the pistol barrel. if need be.” Edward asserted firmly.” Edward said. she fired one of her pistols at the place where the shot had come from. A pistol fired and the ball came through the floor of the carriage. We will walk away from this." Dousia and Justin exchanged glances. Dousia kicked the man's wrist. killing him in the explosion. she jumped to her feet and kicked him. a pistol in each hand. “I do. There was a thud as the man fell from the carriage. she did not know. Know that!” Justin told her. The fact that the curtains were closed was a double edged sword." A rider approached the carriage and rode around to stop on the far side of the carriage. unconscious.” She only hoped that her voice was stronger than she felt. Justin looked at his wife with approval as he checked the pistol that the man had been using. Someone was climbing onto the roof of the carriage. thick neck. striking Justin in the left shoulder. the carriage door opened. but not fatal. The ball tore through the carriage walls and whizzed past Justin's head.” Justin said. Just as Dousia moved to look out. Without a second's hesitation. Dousia could tell that she had wounded the man who had shot Justin. Acting while he was still surprised. “Come out of the carriage and I'll let your uncle and brother live. Simultaneously with hearing her husband moan.” he said disdainfully. If the man's screams were any indication. hard. brawny shoulders." “Theodousia. across the bridge of his nose.” Justin called back. “Come out of the coach. A shot rang out. but she didn't notice. “'e's dead. Stay there. How badly she had wounded him.then the sound of two pistols firing. and balding head were visible. it was fairly bad. was heard. Four against two. milord. “I'll worry about it later. Justin had screamed only once. “I can wait all day. I am sorry that I didn't let you go after that bastard when Will was poisoned. Through the holes in the floor of the carriage. “Bloody ‘ell!” came an exclamation from outside. He pointed the pistol into the carriage. causing the pistol to drop out of his hand. There was a sound coming from the front of the coach. The coach was high enough off of the ground that only the man's meaty chest. . “At this moment. It meant that Edward and his bunch could not see the Rivington newlyweds. Justin fired. assuming that the shots meant that the coachman and outrider were down. this is between you and me. sending him slumping backwards. Tiny bits of hot metal cut into her. not observing the pistols they held. and sending shrapnel throughout the carriage. Justin pulled the door shut with a resounding clang. “Out with ye. The horses were being taken out of harness. Justin had already taken aim at the little door when he heard it being opened. but it also meant that neither Dousia nor Justin had any idea of where their assailants were. and you will all die. A fat hand extended well into the coach held a pistol. “You can wait in hell. Justin. He fired at Dousia only to have the pistol in his hand burst as he did so. there was so much adrenaline in her system that she would have had to have been practically dead to feel the pain. One of the men came to the door of the coach and opened it. my love. “I love you. one right after another. “How bad are you?” Dousia asked.

One of the men volunteered to drive them back. he would have probably spent the remainder of the day in bed with his wife. she reloaded the pistols. That one there. The ball is still in his lordship. “I've got to go get the horses. Several footmen were out at the carriage. Dousia looked out. he's lost a good deal of blood. Forbes knocked. “What happened?” Jon insisted. “Stay here. “is the only one yet alive. please come. Justin insisted on walking in. go fetch Eva and summon a surgeon. was carried in by three footmen and laid down on some sheets that had been arranged on the marble entryway floor.” Justin said in a pain filled voice. It was decided that the best thing to do was to return to Winton Abbey. drinking brandy in the hopes of getting thoroughly foxed. the scoundrel who had shot Justin. wounds. The mere number of the shots had roused attention..” he said faintly as he tried to move his arm. The other man. has been shot by the same men who have run off our horses and killed our coachman. “I'll think about it later. If it hadn't been for the disaster earlier today. Justin tried to stand. They pulled into Winton Abbey at twenty five minutes after nine." Numerous hoof beats came closer. The sound of shots had carried far. the four men out there were dressed in work clothes.” Jon said. Even though I've tried to stop the bleeding.” Dousia told them quietly.” another said." “You're hurt. only to collapse once inside. My husband. the Earl. “Forbes." “Oh God. The other man moaned. But as it was. “Hello in the coach. this was his wedding night and his bride had retired to her chamber early with a headache.” he told her. niece to the Duke of Winton.. Jon was alone in his study. and feeling sorry for himself. The horses were reigned in. “It's nothing. “Your grace. There has been some trouble. They were riding plow horses. I'm worried about Justin.” she chided. In order to allow Dousia to tend to her husband's.. “Can you help me find and rehitch the horses? I have to find a doctor for my husband. Dousia went over to him. and a group of three others." The horses were relatively easy to locate and bring back to the coach." “Dousia. “Who was responsible for this? Who hired you?" . riding fast. And I doubt that he will survive much longer. The pain rendered him unconscious once more. “Christ!” one man said.” Uncle Jon urged.“You're injured. The Earl of Lytton has been shot. Dousia looked up from where she was kneeling by her husband. Edward. and outrider.” Jon said as he rose from his chair and bolted for the door.” motioning her head to the man on the floor.” Quickly. Dousia climbed out of the carriage. “We were ambushed.." Justin opened his eyes. and the one surviving highwayman's. “You're in no shape to be trying to do anything of the sort. “I won't make you a widow. “I am the Countess of Lytton.

” Then he wheezed and died. “Drinking alone is a terrible habit for a lady to get into. So she went into Jon's study and poured herself a brandy. the chef. “Don't do it. Quietly. Dousia came back downstairs. “How's Justin?" “He'll be fine. Caro went into the kitchen to get her own tea. let's get his lordship upstairs to a bed. now... “What are you doing here?" Dousia looked up at her mother-in-law. she went into Jon's study in order to retrieve a novel from the shelves.. but there wasn't a fresh pot of tea. “Justin and I were ambushed last evening and nearly killed." Around midnight. but don't compound this situation by doing her harm." Caro tried at various times during the day to see her son. The situation had to be handled delicately or it would be the scandal of the century." “Thank God!" “Amen!" “The Crawford's have all the luck about wedding nights. When she had finished eating.. it was white as freshly fallen snow. No one came. “ You ." If Caro's face had been pale before." Caro's face went white. don't we?" Dousia downed the last of her brandy. saw her. and you .. The ball did no irreparable damage. Please do not disturb him. Jon straightened and headed for the stairs. He was rather badly injured. “Will he live?" Dousia nodded.. “Lady .. son's . He'll have a new scar. carefully." “Of course. he agreed that she was correct. This is going to be hard enough on Justin without everyone knowing that his mother nearly had him killed.. she returned to the family dining room to have her breakfast. wanted .. “I suppose so. A buffet luncheon was laid in the family dining room. Please. Six people died. she went to her room and stayed there. she went in search of her husband. The Duchess of Winton was shocked to find her daughter-in-law sitting in a chair. Think about everything. But Jon was nowhere to be found. The way . before you do anything. Uncle Jon. I am rather exhausted myself.“Edward.” the man said quietly. “You will excuse me. she got out of bed and washed in cold water and dressed herself. She felt in dire need of a drink. She rang again. I sat up with Justin all night. he'll live. A servant appeared. Finally. She rang.. “Where is my son?" “Upstairs. I've always known that Justin's mother didn't like me. Eva came through from the kitchen where she had been having a comfortable coze with Francois.. She rang for her maid. and you . But. in every case. ended. reading." Lady Caroline awoke very late that next morning. please.” Jon warned from the shadows. Finally. she was denied access to his room on the grounds that his lordship was asleep. marriage . I suppose that we should be grateful for that. Dousia ran after him. So late in fact that she missed church. No one came. and turned to leave. Finally.. Every servant in the kitchen acted as though Caro was invisible to them...... Reluctantly. resting.. Insulted and aggrieved." Jon looked at his niece. But.

when a knock came at her door. standing there beside Justin's sickbed. “Should you not stay there. Then he called for the footmen. Caro followed the maidservant to Justin's room and entered without knocking. “Mother. waiting for her. immediately. “Caroline. “After all these years. Dousia refused to look at her mother-in-law. the way that she has killed so many other men. in bed. You will have no money at your disposal.” Caro charged. I guess that there is no fool like an old fool. “I was in love with a woman who didn't exist outside of my mind." “My poor boy. sorrow in his voice. “I'm sorry. Justin. Dousia. It would be better all around if you take your exile graciously. “The Crawfords are survivors. It takes more than a broken heart to lay any of us low. under the scathing tone of Jon's question.” Justin said. I thought that I knew you. But you are nothing but a scheming. She would have something to say to Jon about this.” Jon broke off his statement.that the servants were treating her was insupportable. “You don't know what the word means. manipulative.. “I was so scared that she would kill you. Justin saw his mother." Jon shook his head.” Caro said. please don't do this to me. “What is this?” she asked. woman. “Escort the dowager down to her carriage. upstanding. You will be allowed no visitors and no outgoing letters that have not been read and approved prior to being sent. were Justin." “You are all condemning me without a hearing.. How could you have done this?" Caro shrank. and several other charges. Jon. and Jon. visibly. Mother. She was informed that her son wished to see her.." Dousia walked around the bed and hugged her uncle. “Come in. sitting on the edge of the bed with her back to the door. Uncle.” Justin said." . Jon gave his wife a look of pure hatred. “there is a carriage waiting to take you to the ship on which you will be taken to Scotland. He shook his head negatively.” Caro said in a heartsick tone. if he ever showed his face. you are all that I have left. Her first lover. Mother!” Justin said. The servants will be paid by me. “Read it!" “Annulment papers?” Caro said in disbelief as she sank to a chair behind her. Justin. closing the door behind her. thrusting some papers at her. the man who killed her father . “None of us want to see you hang from a silk rope. her father. I love you!” Caro begged. I thought that you were a good. conspiracy to commit murder. Inside the room." Justin sank wearily back into the pillows.” he told her flatly.." “Jon. God. his voice full of pity. Caro. “Have a safe journey. You will be residing at the Dumferline house. I didn't wish to lose you." “All I wanted was to keep you safe. fighting back the tears.m. It was nearly four p. you should know that sufficient evidence has been gathered in order to charge you with conspiracy to kidnap. too!" “Goodbye.

“No. Justin knelt down beside the boy. It was all that Justin could do not to laugh.. The boy was suckling noisily upon his mother's breast.” Justin said resolutely.” Jon complained.” she said with a smile.. soon there would be a hole worn in the carpet. But he had no more opened the door of the salon than Eva was standing there. Why don't you go see what she has prepared for you?" The boy's eyes lit up. “Will. Tony. young Will. “I'm too old for this nursery business. the Honorable Jonathan Justin George Rivington. Dousia smiled up at Justin. too. Justin." . “And his mother. He started crying. ick. The other men in the room had the same trouble. “I understand how you feel. “I am going up. “Well?” Justin said abruptly." “I don't know anything about babies. Justin walked into the bedroom where his wife and infant son lay. I happen to know that cook has some extra-special treats ready for you in the kitchen. “You don't think that there is anything wrong?" Justin smiled down at his brother-in-law. Who wants to get that close to a girl. Eva?” Justin asked with real fear in his voice. There is probably nothing wrong. Will. when a man and a woman love each other very much. “I'm going up to check on her. anyway?” Will asked almost angrily." “That is all women's work..” Will responded sharply. anyway . “Pick him up and hold him." “I know how babies are made.” Tony told him. “You'll call me when the baby is born?" “What the devil is taking so long.” the small boy added disdainfully. Will.. “Now. That's enough.” Justin replied with a smile. “She's beautiful. “Breeding is a strange business." “Why did she have to have a baby. If they kept up that degree of nervous activity. “I'll remind you of your opinion in about ten years.” Jon stated mostly to himself. worried. Eva smiled at Justin. “Dousia told me all about it. Sounds awful to me. She has Eva with her and the doctor and Maggie.Epilogue Jon." Little Johnny turned his head away from his mother. Will looked up at Justin. and Justin paced along the floor of the Blue Salon at Lytton Hall.” Justin replied. children are a natural result. “Come and meet your son.” she said teasingly. “You have a beautiful son.” Justin asked rhetorically after Will left for the kitchen. Get to know your son.

“You hold him like this.” she said as the small red and wrinkled figure in her arms stopped crying.” she said amusedly.awe-struck. There was no more lovely sight in all the for information on additional titles by this and other great authors.awe-struck.” Dousia said as she picked up her son. . please. “He won't break. ~The End~ To learn about other books Awe-Struck Visit www.“Sit down beside me. go to the Awe-Struck E-Books website www. Dousia looked upon the sight of her husband holding their newborn son. Then she placed the boy in his father's arms.