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Authors: Johanna Lindsey

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Chapter Nineteen

T
HE
S
T.
J
OHNS HAD
always been city dwellers, according to their long, distinguished family history. The original home of the St. Johns had been in Old London town, though it had been destroyed centuries ago by a city fire. Much later, they had acquired some property in the country outside of Plymouth that was associated with the Rochwood title that had been earned centuries ago, but it had never been developed. As London had expanded, the St. Johns had moved with it.

The title Marquis of Rochwood had come to Rupert when his father, Paul St. John, had died. The current house, a mansion on Arlington Street built by Rupert’s paternal grandfather, was his as well. Although its façade resembled those of most other London town houses, inside it was extravagantly appointed.

Just north of the palace and a block east of Green Park, Arlington was no longer the quiet street it used to be. When Victoria made Buckingham her official royal residence, the first monarch to do so, all of the streets near the palace, including
the narrow ones, became secondary routes for city dwellers who wished to avoid the major thoroughfares congested with deliveries to the palace. Residential or commercial construction was usually going on, too, since the entire area had become much more valuable with the royal residence nearby.

Rupert arrived home at noon, in good time to share luncheon with his mother and his two brothers if they were all available. He always missed his family when he was away too long on one of his missions, and in particular his mother’s amusing attempts to whip him into shape, since she went about it so dramatically. He’d only been gone a few days this time, but his mother would still no doubt complain.

His brother Avery, who was two years younger than Rupert, didn’t actually live with them anymore. As soon as he’d reached his majority, he’d talked Rupert into turning over to him one of the St. Johns’ many rental properties in town, for him to transform into a bachelor flat where he could keep a mistress if he was lucky enough to find one. Rupert would have been a hypocrite to deny him that luxury, though he had never wished for such a place for himself. Too many bedroom doors were opened for him, so he didn’t really need a home away from home.

Their mother had objected, of course, to Avery’s moving to his own flat. She’d thought she’d succeeded with her two younger sons where she’d failed with Rupert, and with Avery’s departure it appeared as if he were following in Rupert’s footsteps. But the lad just didn’t have Rupert’s knack for debauchery. He’d been appalled when he’d lost his first fifty pounds at the card tables, so he certainly hadn’t taken to gambling. He did have a passion for horse racing, though not riding them, and he frequently entered his stallion at the races and won. And Avery kept his amorous pursuits within social dictates. He’d
had a few mistresses, but those affairs had never lasted long and he hadn’t moved any of the ladies into his flat. He kept that part of his life quite private, as most young lords of the realm did.

Because Avery lived fairly close to Arlington Street, he still tried to take lunch and dinner with his family, though it appeared he wasn’t doing so today. Rupert’s youngest brother, Owen, though, at sixteen, was still being tutored at home, so he was usually around. Julie St. John’s youngest and quite unexpected last child, Owen, had been born the same year that Julie became a widow, so Owen had never had a chance to know their father as Rupert and Avery did. Already as tall as his two older brothers, Owen was the quiet one, and the most studious of the three.

No sooner did Rupert appear in the doorway to the dining room than his mother demanded, “Where have you been?”

Rupert took the seat across from her, gave Owen a conspiratorial grin to warn that the battle was about to begin, and replied, “Do you really need to ask?”

“Who is she?” Julie shot back.

“No one you would know.”

She humphed, “When are you going to stop dallying and find me a daughter-in-law?”

He laughed. “What was my last answer to that question? Do you really think it’s changed, when I’m having far too much fun debauching my way through the ton and leading vestal virgins astray?”

“Virgins!” she gasped.

Damn, he’d even surprised himself. Where the deuce had that remark come from? As if he didn’t know. He’d entered the room with Rebecca still on his mind.

But before he could backtrack on that comment, Julie warned, “If you weren’t joking, I’d shoot you m’self before some outraged father does.”

His mother merely complained—a lot—about his sordid skirt-chasing career, as she saw it. She wasn’t really
that
impatient for him to marry and carry on the St. John line, any more than he was eager to do so. All in good time. He was only twenty-six after all, and she had two other sons who could carry on the line. So as long as he didn’t go beyond the pale and add seducing innocents to his social misdeeds, she confined her disapproval to grumbling complaints.

Julie Locke St. John was still quite a striking woman in her midforties, but then all the Lockes had those remarkable good looks. Although Julie was blond with blue eyes like most of the Lockes, all three of her boys had taken after their father and had much paler blue eyes and black hair.

She was a proud woman, and stubborn. When her husband had died, she didn’t run home to her family in Norford. She’d been determined to raise her children herself, without remarrying. She often claimed that she’d been lucky in her marriage to Paul St. John to have found a man she loved, and that sort of luck was too rare to encounter twice in a lifetime, so like her brother Preston, the Duke of Norford, who’d lost his wife, Julie didn’t seek another spouse either.

But that had left her with a dilemma, three young sons, ages one, eight, and ten, with no male role model other than their tutors, which wouldn’t do at all in her mind. This was one reason she often took her children to visit their uncle Preston.

To fill the role of
both
parents in her sons’ lives, Julie had transformed herself. The change had occurred gradually, but Julie had turned into a male bully in skirts! While their father
had never been gruff or bossy, this was Julie’s interpretation of masculinity, and she mastered it quite well. While she provided her sons with love and emotional support, her tone and manner reflected how she thought a man would deal with his sons. Her style of child rearing was comical, but no one had the heart to point that out to her. She thought she’d done the right thing.

Rupert was more aware of this than anyone else, and he loved his mother all the more for it. She had made this huge sacrifice for him and his brothers. So he’d taken it upon himself to make sure that she never came to feel that she’d done it for naught. By being a rebellious rogue he gave her a purpose in life and would continue to do so as long as he could, because if she didn’t have him to browbeat and try to whip into shape, he was sure she would flounder.

His brothers knew his outrageous behavior was a ruse on his part, which was why he’d box their ears himself if they ever tried to emulate him. Rupert found it rather easy never to do exactly as his mother wanted. She wanted him to wear his hair short, which is why he wore it long. She wanted him to dress discreetly, which is why he wore some pretty outlandish outfits—just for her. She’d like him to marry and settle down, but they both knew there was no real hurry for him to do that. She wanted him to stop flittering his life away on nothing but amusements. She knew absolutely nothing about his work for the crown. She didn’t know, either, that he kept on top of their family’s finances and wasn’t just leaving to factors as she assumed.

One of his ancestors on his father’s side had got into trade and other financial endeavors to recoup the family fortune that an earlier marquis had squandered. Future generations of St. Johns never talked about him, frowning on his sullying his
hands in commerce, so no stories had been handed down about this enterprising great-great-grandfather of his. Rupert was even named after him, a name he’d always been proud to bear, which is why he’d been rather annoyed when Rebecca had made so much about the name not suiting him.

Rupert considered his relatives’ scorn absurd. The man should have been dubbed a hero instead of thrown into the closet with the rest of the family’s black sheep.

Rupert fit well in that closet himself, he’d thought on more than one occasion. And his mother thought so, too!

“Rest easy, Mother. I really was joking,” he assured her now.

“In poor taste,” she said with a scowl. “But I’d rather not shoot you, if you must know the truth.”

“Glad to hear it! But you worry too much.”

“As if you don’t give me cause,” she replied grouchily.

“Nonsense, I’ve only worked my way through half the women in London. Besides, I’ve heard there’s a cure for the clap.”

“There’s no such thing!” she sputtered.

“No? You’re certain? Gads, I may be devastated to discover you’re right—one of these days.”

Owen hooted with laughter. Julie gave her youngest a quelling look. Rupert waited until his mother looked at him again, then winked at her and grinned. So their lunch went, nothing out of the ordinary in this household.

Rupert was cheered by the meal. He loved teasing his mother in this fashion. As he had no need to remain at the palace any longer now that he’d drawn his conclusions, other than that he was enjoying his encounters with Rebecca, he assured his mother that he would be home again in a few days. Reporting his results to Nigel would have to wait until the older man returned from abroad.

Nigel would no doubt be disappointed that none of the new maids of honor were likely candidates for his camp, including Rebecca, but Nigel would make do as he always did. Rupert had concluded that Rebecca was the most dangerous of the lot, with her flawless lying. He’d given her the chance to come clean when he’d asked her what she’d been doing on Wigmore Street, but she’d evaded the opportunity. But as long as Rupert warned Nigel, he would have done his job.

He almost wished Nigel would ask him to investigate Rebecca further. She was the prettiest maid of the lot and the most intriguing, which was a tempting combination to play with.

Although she took on maidenly airs, Rupert was beginning to suspect she wasn’t quite the innocent she ought to be. This had first occurred to him after he’d kissed her in the hallway. Even though she’d been outraged—or had pretended to be outraged after the act—she’d fully participated during the kiss, so much so that she’d aroused him much more than he’d seemed to arouse her! And earlier today at the yardage shop, she hadn’t protested when he’d stood so close to her and pressed his body against hers in such a suggestive manner. She certainly didn’t seem too innocent in that, had seemed to even like his bold advances.

Rebecca Marshall was turning out to be a little too tempting. Perhaps it was just as well that he’d drawn his conclusions and finished his investigation of her.

Chapter Twenty

I’
VE NO DOUBT YOU
will be asked to sing, once they find out what a splendid voice you have. Don’t be shy. It’s a gift you have. Be proud to share it.”

Rebecca really wished she hadn’t remembered her mother’s words when she and Constance returned to the duchess’s chambers after their trip to the city, and Sarah immediately asked if either of them could sing something soothing. The duchess, apparently, had a headache and wanted soft music to help her through it. Evelyn was already playing the violin. Constance moved over to the harp to join in. Rebecca recognized the song and sang a few verses.

“That will do nicely!” Sarah had exclaimed, seeming genuinely pleased. “I will be sitting with her until she feels better, so I will let you know when to stop or if she falls asleep.”

But Sarah didn’t return to the room, and Rebecca ended up singing for the rest of the day, such a long time that her voice was now quite scratchy. Finally, one of the duchess’s personal attendants came out to thank the maids for the entertainment
and mentioned that the duchess had left her chambers over an hour ago to join the queen for dinner. The other girls laughed about Sarah’s not having bothered to tell them sooner. Rebecca didn’t think it was an oversight. Sarah was simply a vindictive witch.

A full orchestra was playing that evening and the maids and the ladies had been invited to enjoy the event. Rebecca had had quite enough music for one day, but she couldn’t very well not attend, especially when the royal family might make an appearance and the prince could use that opportunity to speak with her about Nigel Jennings.

Which wasn’t the case. A number of gentlemen had also been invited, and the dinner was formal with eight full courses that lasted for hours! But the royal family dined privately that night, close enough to hear the music, but still, just family. Nigel had said it might take a few days before the prince spoke to her, which had been fine at the time because she hadn’t expected to come across information so soon that Nigel might be interested in. But now she did have intriguing information!

Although Rebecca had decided to help Nigel, she still wasn’t going to tell him anything until the prince vouched for him. However, she felt she could trust Rupert in regard to matters of state. After all, his uncle was the Duke of Norford. At any rate, Rupert, who seemed to be a friend of Nigel’s, would know whether the information she had was important and if it should be relayed to Nigel.

Rebecca knew she’d had her chance to ask Rupert what to do with the information this morning on Bond Street, but instead she’d taken offense at his not-so-subtle interrogation. She also had to admit she’d been thrown off-balance because of his well-practiced seductive charm. How foolish was that!? Now she’d have to find Rupert.

She looked around the grand dining room again. He wasn’t at the dinnertime concert. Had he even returned to the palace yet from his visit home? Or had he changed his mind about returning at all? His being a guest “for the moment” as he’d said could end at
any
moment, she realized.

Now she was furious with herself for not taking care of business while she’d had the chance. She decided the whole matter could wait until the morning. It would have to. But what if it couldn’t? What if Sarah was cooking up some kind of scheme with Lord Alberton that was imminent and there was no time to waste? With so many possibilities, Rebecca worked herself frantic during dinner, thinking about it all. So when she saw the footman John Keets standing at duty in the hallway as she walked back to her room after dinner, she fairly pounced on him.

He was happy to oblige her. No, the footman told her, the marquis had not yet vacated the palace. John prided himself on knowing such things. Yes, he could show her the way to Lord Rupert’s room, but he was hesitant to do so, even mentioned it would be scandalous for her to be found there. Embarrassed over what he must be thinking of her for making such a request, she assured him she wasn’t going to be there long. He pointed out that Rupert might not even be in his room this early of an evening. Early? It was ten o’clock! Or did John know something he’d rather not relate to an innocent maid of honor? Was Rupert dallying with some woman somewhere private? That would explain why he hadn’t been at the dinner concert when he was still a guest in the palace.

She told John she would take her chances, that the matter was important. He warned her he wouldn’t be able to stay to escort her back. Which wasn’t necessary anyway. Rebecca no longer found the palace a maze of corridors. She could find her room with no difficulty now.

It was still a long walk to Rupert’s room. The light coming from under the door indicated he was there, so she thanked John for his help and knocked as soon as he walked away. There was no answer. She knocked again, but still no answer. Had Rupert fallen asleep and left the lamp burning? She knocked several more times. Louder. Her impatience was kicking in. He had to be in there and was just sleeping. But she couldn’t keep knocking so loudly. Someone else in one of the rooms nearby or a servant was going to hear her, and she didn’t want to have to explain why she was knocking on a man’s door this late at night. Darn! But at least she knew where to find him now.

She turned to leave, disappointed at not having been able to resolve what had been weighing on her mind tonight. She tried to ignore her disappointment at not seeing Rupert again, especially since he’d indicated he wouldn’t be a guest in the palace much longer. But the importance of her mission still nagged at her, too. She supposed she could come back later tonight—no, that wasn’t a good idea. Leaving her room once she was in it was going to be too difficult with a roommate in it. Slipping a note under Rupert’s door wasn’t a good idea either. Nigel had warned her not to leave notes.

She was halfway down the corridor when she did an about-face. She hadn’t even tried his door! She should at least have done that. If he was such a sound sleeper that knocking at a door wouldn’t wake him, surely she was justified in entering his room to wake him. It would only take a few moments for her to tell him about Lord Alberton, then she could go to bed with her mind relieved, the matter out of her hands and into his.

Back at the door to Rupert’s room, Rebecca turned the knob. The door was open! She understood immediately why
Rupert wouldn’t have heard her knock. His quarters were large! There was even a separate bedroom and no light coming from under that door. She set about knocking on this bedroom door, four times before she tried the latch and pushed the door open. It was dark inside, too dark to make out a bed, and she wasn’t about to go in there. She fetched the single lamp that had been left burning and, bringing it to the opened door, was met with the same disappointment as before. The bed, and the room, were empty.

“Why am I not surprised?” came a sarcastic voice from behind her. “Let me guess, you’re looking for a scarf again?”

BOOK: A Rogue of My Own
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