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Authors: Dangerous Games

Amanda Scott (32 page)

BOOK: Amanda Scott
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“Vexford is not the man I would have chosen for you.”

“I have met the man you chose.”

He chuckled. “I daresay you will hold that against me till your dying breath, but indeed, I was desperate, darling. Yarborne likes to pretend to be a gentleman, but at heart he’s a banker, and an unforgiving one at that. Recollect, too, that I scarcely knew my little daughter anymore. Is it any wonder that I thought of you as an asset first and as a daughter second? Would it help if I admit that what I did was unconscionable and that I know I have no reason to hope you might one day forgive me?”

“You’ve apologized before, only to do the same things again,” she said, looking at her gloved hands, folded tightly around the whip in her lap. She felt uncomfortable, and wished she had not come. She certainly did not want to admit that she, too, now owed a debt to Yarborne. Oddly, however, she no longer feared her father.

He sighed. “You are right, of course, darling. I wish I could explain my behavior, but I cannot. When rage overcomes me, I become quite another person inside, one who hurts the people I love the best. If you believe nothing else, Melissa, you must believe that I love you.” An odd break in his voice made her look at him. His eyes glittered, as if with unshed tears.

She wanted to touch him, to comfort him, to tell him she believed him. To her surprise, however, the feeling quickly disappeared. She said evenly, “Was that what you wanted to tell me, sir?”

He straightened abruptly, glancing out the window as if he did not want her to note his temporary weakness. His voice was controlled when he said, “That and to find out if you are happy. I hope Vexford treats you well.”

“He does.”

“Excellent. Are you enjoying your first London Season?”

“Yes, thank you.”

He turned to face her again. “What have you enjoyed most?”

She found herself telling him about places she had gone and people she had met, talking more easily than she had thought she could with him. When she told him she thought the King was very fat, he said, “I recall once in Brighton, they had to use a hoist to put him on his horse. Nearly broke the hoist then, and he’s much fatter now.”

She laughed. “The poor horse!”

He smiled. “You and your cousin Charlotte always did care more about horses than people. Do you go to the opening of Vauxhall Gardens tomorrow night?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “I’m told they are quite spectacular.”

“Yes, indeed. You will go with Lady Ophelia and Charlotte, of course.”

“Why, no, sir. I believe Vexford means to take me.”

“Does he, by God?”

His frown and the note of surprise in his voice made her realize that she had just assumed Nicholas meant to take her. He had not definitely said he would, but when one of his friends had said he would see him there, Nicholas had agreed that he would. Melissa realized that Charley’s assumption that he meant to take her had reinforced her own belief that he would. Wondering now if she could have misunderstood him, she realized he might only have meant that he was going, alone. The past four days had been very unlike him. No doubt he longed to return to his normal pastimes.

Speaking carefully, so as not to reveal her uncertainty to Sir Geoffrey, she said, “You seem surprised, sir. Did you think Nicholas would not take me?”

“I think he shows damned cheek if he does.”

“But why? I’m sure any number of ladies go to Vauxhall.”

“Yes, but not—That is, there are circumstances of which I am aware that perhaps …” He grimaced, then looked at her ruefully. “I must ask you again to forgive me. I’d just assumed that he did not mean to take you. The fact that he does puts me in something of a quandary.”


“My darling, one gentleman simply does not … uh, squeak beef, as they say, on another. That is to say—”

“I know what the phrase means, sir. Gentlemen don’t reveal each other’s misdeeds. But what tales could you tell of my husband?”

When he hesitated, she remembered the face in the carriage window. She was as certain as she could be that the face had been Lady Hawthorne’s. Well aware now that her ladyship had enjoyed a certain relationship with Nicholas before his marriage, and remembering Charley’s words about discreet widows but determined to ask no question that would betray either her knowledge or her uncertainty, Melissa waited to hear what Sir Geoffrey would say.

He seemed strangely unsure of himself, glancing at her, then away again, before he said, “Dash it, my daughter’s happiness must come before any schoolboy notion of honor. I have it on excellent authority, my darling, that Vexford’s attention might be—shall we say?—divided tomorrow night. I don’t know how to put it more plainly without sullying your tender ears, but I have been told that at a certain hour …” He let his words trail meaningfully to silence, watching her, looking very uncomfortable.

“I believe I understand you, sir,” she said. She realized that if Nicholas had arranged an assignation, she would not have nearly as much difficulty as she had expected in slipping away from him long enough to conclude her transaction with Yarborne, but the knowledge provided no comfort. She wondered how, when the knowledge ought to bring relief, she could be so uncharitable as to want to strangle her husband for his unfaithfulness.

Sir Geoffrey turned the topic deftly to the weather, apparently feeling that her nerves required soothing, and she followed his lead gladly, having no wish to discuss the matter further. The drizzle had turned to a downpour by the time they arrived in St. James’s Square, and the lackey who emerged from the areaway carried an umbrella. He ran to open the carriage door and put down the step, and Melissa said, “Do not get out, sir. You will only get wet to no purpose. The boy can see me to the door.”

“Very well, my darling, but I hope we will see more of each other. I should be very sad if my past behavior has created an unbridgeable gap between us.”

To her surprise, she was able to be frank with him. “Truthfully, sir, I’m still a bit wary, but I promise I won’t offer the cut direct if you choose to speak to me.”

He chuckled, reminding her again of his innate charm, and when he reached to squeeze her hand, she smiled at him. A moment later, ducking beneath the umbrella the lackey held, she ran with him up the steps and into the front hall, only to come face to face with her husband.

Nicholas looked stern. “Where the devil have you been?” he demanded.

Aware of the porter, the butler, and a maid dusting the silver salver that generally held the post before it went out, Melissa said calmly, “Were you anxious, sir? I was gone a bit longer than I intended to be.”

longer? You left this house hours ago without so much as a word to anyone about where you were going. You did not take a carriage, only your horse and a groom. I damned well want to know—” He broke off when she put a hand on his arm and shot an oblique, warning look toward the servants.

She said calmly, “Is the library free, Preston?”

“Yes, my lady.”

Reddening slightly, Nicholas said, “Pour her ladyship a glass of sherry, Preston. She looks chilled.”

“Yes, my lord.” The butler signed to a footman who appeared just then from the nether regions to open the double doors to the library, and Melissa and Nicholas went in. Preston, entering behind them, went to a side table where several bottles, decanters, and glasses lay ready to hand.

A fire crackled on the hearth. Heavy dark-blue-velvet curtains hid the gloom outside, and candles flickered warmly in sconces set at intervals between the book shelves lining three walls of the room. The huge overhead luster remained dark except for dancing reflections of candlelight. While Preston poured Melissa’s sherry and a glass of wine for Nicholas, she removed her hat and gloves, and gave them, along with her riding whip, to the footman. A moment later she and Nicholas were alone.

Eyeing him warily and hoping he would not press her for details, she said, “I am sorry you were concerned about me. You were up before I was, and I did not think you were at home when I left the house.”

“I went riding with Tommy, then had breakfast with him. Where have you been?”

She set down her glass and moved to warm her hands at the fire, saying, “I rode in the park for a time, then visited Mama and Great-Aunt Ophelia.”

“If that’s all, why the devil didn’t you tell someone where you were going?”

“I didn’t know I was expected to. You usually don’t tell me where you go or what you do, and if you give that information to anyone else, I never knew of it.”

“That’s different.”

She glanced at him. “Why?”

“Because I can take care of myself.”

“I see. You don’t think that I can.”

“I know damned well you can’t, and don’t change the subject. The plain fact is that you generally do explain your plans to someone, but today you did not. You slipped out of the house without a word to a soul.”

Drawing a deep breath, she turned toward him and said, “I don’t understand you, sir. You told me at the outset that you prefer women who look after themselves, who understand the rules of your game, and who don’t need to be constantly coddled. Yet whenever I attempt to act independently, you become vexed with me.”

He said flatly, “You misunderstood what I said. Though I may once have been attracted to certain qualities in certain women, I am not attracted to those same qualities in my wife. Your independence, as you call it, has so far led you to flirt with other men, to attend a gambling party, and to disappear for hours without a word to anyone. None of those actions is particularly sensible or safe. I protect my own, Melissa. You are not to disappear like this again. I won’t say that you may not go out when you like, but I will insist that you tell someone where you are going when you do. And I hope I need not add that you are never to go out all alone.”

“No, sir. I will try not to vex you again. Now,” she added, moving toward the door, “If you will excuse me—”

“Just a moment.”

She stopped, stiffening at the note of command in his voice.

“Look at me.”

She did, aware that her heart was beating faster. She said carefully, “I would like to change out of my habit. I’m a trifle damp.”

“In a minute. I collect from the fact that your habit is not soaked that Lady Ophelia must have sent you home in her carriage.”

“No, but—” She broke off, wondering how much to tell him. He would most likely think her an idiot even to have gotten into a carriage with her father, and because of the need to take care not to reveal what Sir Geoffrey had said about Vauxhall, or to reveal her debt to Yarborne, it was hard to think what to say.

After a few tense moments of silence, he said with a grim look, “Never mind, Melissa, I will refrain yet again from pressing you to explain things you do not want to explain. But don’t mistake my self-restraint for anything more. I am aware that you have misunderstood me in the past, so let me make myself plain now. You are my wife, and I expect you to be faithful. Don’t give me cause to doubt your fidelity, or I will make you very sorry.”

Fine words, she thought, from a man who had made an assignation with his ex-mistress for the following evening. The thought gave her courage to say sweetly, “In that case, sir, I will take care not to take so much as a step from your side tomorrow night without your express permission.”

He looked at her blankly. “Tomorrow night?”

“We are going to the opening of Vauxhall Gardens together, are we not?”

“Oh, that. Yes, if you like, although I did assume that you had already made plans to go with Lady Ophelia and Charley.”

“But I thought, from something you said before, that you meant to take me.”

“Then I will do so, of course.”

She escaped then, satisfied that although she had inadvertently stirred certain unfortunate suspicions, she had managed to lay them to rest again.

Her sense of well-being lasted only until her return from Berkeley Square the next day. Strongly aware of the presence of one hundred pounds in her reticule, it was with no little dismay that she encountered her husband halfway up the swooping main stairway. He was coming down, and he clearly saw her distress, for he demanded in much the same tone as the day before to know where she had been.

“Only t-to Berkeley Square again,” she said quickly.


Her cheeks flashed fire, and she stumbled over her words. “Just v-visiting Mama and Aunt Ophelia. I must go, Nicholas. I’m already late for an appointment.” She moved to pass him, but he blocked her way.

“What appointment?”

“Your mama’s dressmaker is to measure the length of my domino for Vauxhall. I promised to be back here to try it on for her thirty minutes ago.”

He said, “Well, as to Vauxhall, the reason I’ve been on the watch for you is that Drax will be in town tonight on his way to Epsom, so I can’t take you, after all.”

She had looked away, but she looked back at once, dismayed, and without thinking of anything but that he would cause her to miss meeting Yarborne, she exclaimed, “But you must, Nicholas! I must go, and there is no one else who—” Catching his gaze then, she broke off, silenced by the flash of anger in his eyes. Forgetting where she was, she stepped back, and would have fallen down the stairs had he not caught her. His grip was like iron.

“Please,” she gasped with a familiar sense of rising panic, “oh, please don’t!”

He released her instantly, saying in a tone much more gentle than any she had expected, “I won’t hurt you, Melissa. You need never again fear that from me.”

She breathed more easily. “A-and Vauxhall, Nicholas? Surely, you said that about meeting Drax just to tease me. Everyone we know will be going tonight.”

“You won’t, unless you mean to explain this sudden urgency of yours to go. Drax is moving my horses to Epsom, and he will be in town tonight, just as I said. So although I’ll admit I mentioned it only as a wild cast to see what would turn up, I will meet him, and you will stay home, if I don’t get an explanation.” He waited, watching her. Then, sternly, he said, “Well?”

Much as she would have liked to demand a few explanations herself, she knew she could not, but neither could she do as he commanded. When she remained silent, he said, “Well then, that’s that, isn’t it?”

BOOK: Amanda Scott
11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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