Forbidden to the Duke(6)

By: Liz Tyner

He couldn’t have been much more than five years old.

Warrington had instigated many of the unpleasant moments of Rhys’s childhood. Actually, almost every disastrous circumstance could be traced back to War. Rhys had been lured into a carriage and then trapped when they wedged the door shut from the outside, and then he’d spent hours in the barn loft when they had removed the ladder. When they’d held him down and stained his cheeks with berries, he’d waited almost two years to return fresh manure to everyone involved. It had taken special planning and the assistance of the stable master’s son to get manure put into Warrington’s boots.

Rhys’s mother and father had not been happy. The one time he had not minded disappointing his father.

War’s face held camaraderie now—just like when the new puppy had been left in the carriage, supposedly.

‘I must speak with your wife’s sister,’ Rhys said. ‘I might have an idea which could help us both.’

‘What?’ The word darted from Warrington’s lips.

‘I thought Miss Cherroll might spend some time with the duchess. Perhaps speak of Greece or...’ He shrugged. ‘Whatever tales she might have learned.’

‘I forbid—’ Warrington’s head snapped sideways. ‘No. She is my family and she must stay with us.’

Rhys lips quirked up. ‘But, War, we’re like brothers. Your family is my family.’

Warrington grunted. ‘You didn’t believe that flop when I said it. Don’t try to push it back in my direction.’

Rhys smiled. ‘I suppose it is your decision to make, War. But remember. I am serious and I will not back down.’

‘I assure you, Rhys, Miss Cherroll is not the gentle sort that the duchess is used to having tea with.’

Rhys gave a slight twitch of his shoulder in acknowledgement. Warrington had no idea his mother was only having tea with memories of death. She’d lost her will to live. With her gone, he would have no one. No one of his true family left. And he was not ready to lose the last one. ‘Call Miss Cherroll. Let me decide.’

With a small cough of disagreement, Warrington shrugged. ‘Speak with her and you’ll see what I mean.’ He reached for the pull. A child’s laughing screech interrupted him. A blonde blur of a chit, hardly big enough to manage the stairs, hurtled into the room and crashed into Warrington’s legs, hugging for dear life, and whirling so he stood between her and the door.

Bellona, brandishing a broom, charged in behind the little one and halted instantly at the sight of Warrington.

Rhys took in a breath and instantly understood Wicks’s fascination with the woman. Her face, relaxed in laughter, caught his eyes. He couldn’t look away—no man would consider it.

‘Just sweeping the dust out of the nursery,’ she said to Warrington, lowering the broom while she gingerly moved around him. The child used him as a shield.

Warrington’s hand shot down on to the little girl’s head, hair shining golden in the sunlight, stilling her.

Bellona’s attention centred on the waif. ‘Willa, we do not run in the house. We swim like fishes.’

The child laughed, pulled away from the silent admonishment of her father’s hand on her head, puffed her cheeks out and left the room quickly, making motions of gliding through water.

Warrington cleared his throat before the chase began again. ‘We have a guest, Bellona.’

Rhys saw the moment Bellona became aware of his presence. The broom tensed and for half a second he wondered if she would drop it or turn it into a weapon. Warrington was closer, and Rhys was completely willing to let her pummel him.

She lowered the bristles to the floor, but managed a faint curtsy and said, ‘I did not know we had a visitor.’ Her face became as stiff as the broom handle.

Warrington turned to Rhys.

‘Bellona is... She gets on quite well with the children as you can tell.’ His eyes glanced over to her. ‘But she is not as entranced with tranquillity as her sister is.’

‘I do like the English ways,’ she said, shrugging. ‘I just think my ways are also good.’

‘But my children need to be well mannered at all times.’ Warrington frowned after he spoke.

‘I do adore the paidi. They are gold,’ she said, voice prim and proper. ‘But no little one is well mannered at all times. They have life. It is their treasure. They should spend it well.’

‘They should also know the way to be proper and comport themselves in a lofty manner when they meet such a person as we are privileged to have in our presence.’ He glanced at Rhys. ‘His Grace, Duke of Rolleston. Rescuer of lost puppies, everywhere.’ He turned to Bellona to complete the introduction. ‘Miss Cherroll, my wife’s kind and gentle-spirited youngest sister—’ his brows bumped up as he looked back at Rhys ‘—who has called me a few endearments in her native language that our tutor neglected to teach us, and when her sister translates I fear something is lost in the meaning.’