Rescued By a Lady's Love (Lords of Honor, #3)(8)

By: Christi Caldwell

Derek thrust aside that unwanted emotion and searched his mind for the familiarity of that name. He’d not had a woman since he’d been back from his heroic pursuits upon the Continent. Since his return, not even a heavily paid whore had braved his touch. Shame pricked his neck at the memory.

“Lady Flora,” the man repeated.

“I’m not in the mood for your guessing games, Davies.” He snapped up a bottle of brandy. With quick, jerky movements, he yanked out the stopper and tossed it down where it clattered noisily upon the sideboard. Derek poured himself a tall snifter of fine French brandy. The bloody French. When Davies still did not speak, he turned. “Who the hell is Lady Flora?”

At that lethal whisper his man-of-affairs dropped his books once more. He fell to his knees and scurried about collecting his papers and folios, like a mouse who’d found crumbs in the kitchen.

Derek grabbed his cane and stalked over to the still silent man. Davies craned his neck back. “Your Grace, she is your niece,” he croaked. “Lady Stonehaven’s daughter.”

Edeline’s daughter. He gripped hard the top of his cane. That child born to his sister, a stranger whom he’d not met. The child he’d not wanted to meet, despite his sister’s occasional attempts to invade his sanctuary, with her daughter in tow. “What of her?”

The man, who’d loyally served the previous two dukes before, stared wide-eyed at him. “You were named guardian, Your Grace.”

“She has two guardians.”

“But her other guardian,” Davies yanked at his collar and then the folios drooped in his arms. He hurried to catch them. “Your mother would never have approved of Lord Landon, Your Grace.”

A mocking grin tugged the unscarred corner of his mouth. “But my mother is dead now, isn’t she?” He raised his glass in salute. For his devoted mother, the same one who’d taken one look at him upon his return from Toulouse and ordered him to hide his face from Polite Society, had been so devastated by her other children’s passing, that she’d willed herself to death.

Proving more loyal than smart, Davies frowned. “I have served your family for nearly two decades, Your Grace. Your mother was honorable and good and put the Blackthorne title first. As such, she’d not care to see her granddaughter living in Lord Landon’s household.”

That devoted, devastated mama had mourned her dead son, and then with Edeline’s disappearance aboard her sunken ship six months earlier, had abandoned all aspect of living. “You dare presume to tell me what manner of woman my mother was?” Proud and boastful of Derek when he’d been a young man in the 2nd regiment, and disgusted and horrified when he’d returned a monster.

The man gulped loudly. “N-no, Your Grace.”

He fixed a black glower on the loyal servant. That loyalty, no doubt, accounted for his willingness to bear Derek’s company, weekly. Derek returned to the sideboard to retrieve his brandy and limped toward his seat at the hearth. A mirthless half-smile formed on his lips. Loyal mother, indeed.

The flames danced and twisted and froze him mid-movement. ...Ah, God. Mother of God. Make it stop...

Davies cleared his throat. “Your Grace?”

That hesitant inquiry propelled him into movement and Derek reclaimed his chair. He settled his cane alongside his comfortable leather seat. With the muscles of his thigh aching from his exertions, Derek rubbed the throbbing tendons.

His man-of-affairs followed his efforts and he stilled. Tired of the servant’s presence here this day, Derek spoke in emotionless tones. “The girl can be Lord Landon’s responsibility.”

He expected Davies to take his leave. Instead, he set the burden in his arms on the side table and tightened his mouth. “She is your sister’s daughter. Surely that means something?”

“It does not.” Derek took a long, slow sip of his drink and then stared at the amber drops that clung to the other side of the glass. At one time, when he’d been human, such a thing as his sister’s child would have mattered. Then, he’d been a man who’d loved his sister and cared for her happiness. He didn’t care about anyone or anything, anymore. Not even himself. He looked up and frowned. “Why are you still here?”

The other man snapped out a kerchief, removed his wire-rimmed spectacles and brushed off the lenses. “Lord Landon is a rake. He has...” A mottled flush stained the other man’s cheeks.

It mattered not what Lord Landon had or did not have? And yet... “He has what?” he snapped.

“Parties.” Davies jammed his spectacles on his nose and then wrestled with his cravat once again. “Improper parties,” he said on a whisper. “With ladies and gentlemen who are not at all respectable. Shocking parties. Scandalous.”