Rescued By a Lady's Love (Lords of Honor, #3)(9)

By: Christi Caldwell

Back in his youth, just before he’d gone off to war, his brother had hosted one of those shocking events. Attired in his resplendent uniform, women had clamored for a place in Derek’s bed, and he’d reveled in the fleeting role of rogue. The agony of remembrance struck as fresh as the day he’d returned; facing horror and disdain.

A potent hatred unfurled inside him toward Davies, who’d dredge forth all the ugliest, darkest memories of his past; memories he’d thought himself immune to. Derek gripped the arms of his chair and forced his attention back to the old servant who eyed him with a rightful degree of terror. “My sister’s husband named Lord Landon as the child’s second guardian. That should suffice in terms of your unease.” Derek swirled the contents of his glass. He’d but glimpsed his niece from the corner of a window when his sister had paid her foolishly devoted visits to his townhouse. Mother and daughter would arrive, knock, be greeted by his butler, and then turned away. He didn’t want Lady Flora to matter, because frankly, she did not matter. Ultimately, she was doomed by the very nature of her birth to their cursed family...and he’d little desire letting her in his life—in any way.

Davies took a hesitant step closer. “Prior to your mother’s passing, she asked that you see to Her Ladyship’s care.” Of course, because the repulsed mother hadn’t been able to manage a letter, let alone a visit.

“She never said a word of it to me,” he taunted.

The ancient man-of-affairs pursed his lips. “Her Grace was too grief-stricken to deal with the matter of the girl.” Yes, because for as little as she’d loved Derek, she’d much loved her Incomparable daughter, Edeline, and her pompous, now dead, ducal son.

...It is unnatural for a mother to look upon her son with a face such as yours... He sneered. “You expect me to care about what she wished?”

Davies winced. He opened his mouth. Footsteps sounded in the hall cutting into whatever the man was about to say. “The girl has been living alone with only her governess.” The footfalls grew closer and Davies spoke louder, as though trying to blot out the sound of it. “Her governess has refused to care for the child as long as she resides in Lord Landon’s home...and...” A rap sounded at the door. “And...”

“Who is next, the bloody, goddamn king?” Derek thundered. “Enter.”

His butler opened the door slowly and white-cheeked, stuck his head inside the room. “Y-your Grace?”

A small child, with dark brown hair stepped around the butler. With her tight curls and cornflower blue eyes, she may as well have been a tiny replica of Edeline, years and years earlier. The girl searched the room; her gaze teeming with curiosity, landed on Derek. The air lodged in his chest. What in blazes? Fear and horror sprang to life inside her eyes and he welcomed that familiar, comforting response to the beast he was, for that was the only thing he understood in this goddamn moment.

Except, with the same boldness and strength demonstrated by his sister when she’d been living, the girl came forward. Uninvited. Unasked. Unafraid? Surely not. She stopped before him. Then, she looked him up and down in an assessing manner. “You are my Uncle Derek.” She stuck her tiny palm out. “And I am here to live with you.” She wrinkled her nose. “Mostly because I have nowhere else to go.”

Derek cocked his head and stared down at the girl. Ignoring her outstretched fingers, he whipped his gaze to the fool Davies.

The man swallowed audibly. “As I was saying, Your Grace. The lady’s governess would not care for Lady Flora in Lord Landon’s home. As such, I took the liberty of having her delivered here.”

He narrowed his eye.

Bloody hell.

Chapter 2

Just outside of London

One month later

It was raining.

Standing at the edge of the floor-length window draped in black bombazine, Miss Lily Benedict, fiddled with the midnight curtains. Her gaze remained fixed on the black carriage that had arrived a long while ago.

Raindrops pinged off the lead windowpane, with a grating staccato that increased the rapid beat of her heart. Lily forced herself to take a deep breath. Except...long ago, she’d come to find those crystal drops portended disaster.

Nor could it be a coincidence that after weeks of uninterrupted sunshine, the skies should open now, of all days.

A slow building dread settled in her belly and fanned out.

And she waited. Waited as she had since she’d received word of Sir Henry’s death a fortnight ago. Just as she’d been waiting ever since. But, when powerful gentlemen went on to the hereafter, the fate of six-year-long mistresses hardly took precedence. In fact, it took no precedence at all.