Read an Excerpt
The ball flew across the lawn and landed in the pond amidst shrieks of laughter. From the terrace overlooking the rolling lawn, Jason Culver, the eighth Marquess of Romley watched as his young son attempted to dive in fearlessly to retrieve it, captured at the last second by his attentive nanny. Miss Alton carried him a safe distance from the water, set him on the grass and ruffled his dark curls in a reassuring gesture. She proceeded to remove her shoes and stockings and lift her skirts to reveal dainty ankles and smooth calves and waded in to get the errant ball herself.
“Is it too early for a brandy?”
Sprawled in a chair by an ornate iron table topped with glass, Jason glanced up and saw his younger brother stroll across the flagstones. Vincent expertly balanced two glasses in one hand and held the decanter in the other, a talent that undoubtedly came from much practice.
Dryly, Jason acknowledged, “You must have read my mind. Actually, I was rather thinking I could use a stiff drink. Good afternoon, Vince. It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?”
“It is indeed, but it isn’t like you to notice the weather.” Vincent dropped into a chair and poured amber liquid into two glasses. “Usually you stay cooped up in your study all day.”
“I’m just taking a small break. You always harp at me that I work too hard, so here I am, enjoying a few minutes of leisure while I watch the children play in the sunshine.”
Only a year apart in age, they knew each other very well. Vincent’s eyes narrowed at his sharp tone and he took a small sip of his brandy. “Don’t get defensive. I know managing your different financial interests takes a lot of time and I do think you work at it at little too diligently. I’ve said so many times. My observation was not a criticism. Why would I object in any way to you sitting in the sun for a few minutes?”
Bloody hell, he had sounded defensive and that would never do. Jason idly lifted his drink in an effort to seem nonchalant. “Sorry if I sounded abrupt.”
His brother elevated a dark brow. “Can I venture a guess as to what might be the cause of both your current state of tension and your presence here on the terrace?” His gaze went pointedly to where Miss Alton stood in attendance as both boys, Trevor, who was four, and Carlton, a year younger, wrestled in the grass. Nearby, Patricia sat on a blanket with her doll and miniature tea set, her long dark hair drawn neatly back in a bow and her pink ruffled dress primly around her.
His daughter, at seven, was at least sweet-tempered, where as the two boys were positive hellions. Jason had no idea how the remarkable Miss Alton managed to keep them from constantly damaging each other and everything else in their path.
He was very lucky she’d applied for the position, even if it had plunged him into a small personal hell.
“No,” he said, lifting his glass to his mouth and murmuring over the rim, “you may not venture a guess.”
Predictably Vincent ignored him. Sinking lower in his chair and crossing his booted feet carelessly at the ankle, he watched as the young woman in question separated the two boys and distracted them by tossing the wet ball across the lawn. “She’s very competent.”
“Yes.” Jason couldn’t argue that.
“And damned beautiful.”
Unfortunately he couldn’t argue with that either. “Yes.”