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A Kiss in the Dark
"Blast the girl!"
Tristan Knight, the fifth Earl of Ellington, raked his fingers back through his hair and began to pace the area in front of the fireplace, his movements agitated. "I tell you, Archer, if I cannot rein in Emily's antics, and soon, I shall be a suitable candidate for Bedlam!"
Standing just outside the circle of firelight, the elderly butler shook his head, his rheumy blue eyes full of concern. "She is young yet, my lord, and she has had little guidance in the past several years. I'm afraid your father allowed her to run a bit wild."
"I am well aware of what my father allowed." Tristan came to an abrupt halt, his hands going to his hips as he pivoted to face his servant. "The man wrought a bloody mess with his ambivalence and neglect and has left it to me to untangle."
As though realizing there wasn't much he could say in reply, Archer remained silent.
Tristan's brow lowered as his gaze traveled about the study, taking in its masculine décor. On the surface, nothing much seemed to have changed in the eight years he'd been gone. The massive mahogany furniture was as grand and imposing as ever, the vast collection of books lining the shelves as awe-inspiring. Only an extremely discerning eye would have noticed the fraying edges of the Axminster carpet or the faded hue of the heavy brocade draperies hanging at the windows.
"His lordship was never the same after your mother's death," Archer finally spoke again, shifting the weight of his spare frame from one foot to the other. "I'm afraid he spent most of his evenings at his club and in the gambling halls, and when he did come home, he was usually a trifle too ... inebriated to attend to any of the household affairs."
The mention of the late countess made Tristan's heart squeeze painfully in his chest. Letting out a soft exhalation of air, he sank into an armchair close to the hearth, reaching up to rub wearily at his temples. "I know. And I apologize for snapping at you, Archer. None of this is your fault. I'm afraid I let my temper get the better of me. Again."
"I understand, my lord. The Lady Emily can be a bit trying at times."
That was putting it mildly. "How many governesses is it now? Three? Four?"
"Five at last count, I believe."
Five in less than four months! Bloody hell, was his sister intent on going through every available governess in London?
"To be fair," Archer ventured, "the Mrs. Eversley incident wasn't entirely Lady Emily's fault. That cruet of vinegar did look rather amazingly like the woman's flask of nightly restorative in the right light."
"I doubt Mrs. Eversleyw ould agree with that assessment, especiallyaft er swallowing a mouthful of vinegar. And there is absolutelyno excuse for the honeyi n Miss Dalrymple's shoes or the garter snake in Mrs. Petersham's bedclothes. Why, if Mrs. Petersham had been a few years older, the poor woman might have had a fit of apoplexy. As it was, she was hysterical."
The butler's lined face flushed a dull red. "Lady Emily is rather high-spirited, my lord, but as I'm sure you can appreciate, the last few months have been quite an adjustment for her. What with his lordship's death and then your arrival... well, I'm certain all she needs is some time to accept the changes in her life."
"I have given her time. I've given her four months, but the situation seems to be getting worse instead of better, and I am fast running out of options, not to mention suitable governesses. Mrs. Petersham came very highly recommended, and this latest debacle of Emily's has sent her packing in less than a week."
"Why, my lord, I d o believe you managed to a ccomplish the same feat with your last tutor in less than twenty-four hours."
Tristan couldn't restrain the slight smile that curled the corners of his mouth at Archer's words. It was true. He had been far from the model son and heir. In fact, after years of trying to please a father who couldn't be pleased, he'd rebelled rather shamefully.
Tristan's stare went to the large writing desk in the far corner of the room, and in his mind's eye he could envision Sinclair Knight seated behind it, his expression stern as he once again lectured Tristan on the error of his rakehell ways. He and his father had never seen eye to eye on anything, and on many occasions it had only been the calming presence of Lady Ellington that had kept them from each other's throats.
As always, thoughts of his gentle mother sent a shaft of anguish piercing deep within him, and his smile instantly vanished. Images flashed across his vision. A man's scarred face. The flash of a knife. The flow of blood as it stained the cold stones of a dark alleyway.
Unable to face the tormenting memories, Tristan forcefully pushed them away and glanced up at Archer. "Emily hates me," he murmured aloud, "and I can't say that I blame her. I abandoned her, left her alone with a man who was so caught up in his own pain he couldn't even take care of himself, much less a daughter."
The butler shuffled forward to lay a gnarled hand on his arm. "She doesn't hate you, my lord. She simply isn't used to having someone in her life who cares what she does."
Pushing himself to his feet, Tristan strode over to the windows and pulled aside the curtain to look down on the street below. Dusk was just starting to fall over the stately town houses on Berkeley Square, and except for a lone lamplighter making his solitary rounds, all was peaceful and still ...A Kiss in the Dark. Copyright © by Kimberly Logan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.