|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||525 KB|
Read an Excerpt
"Yes, my dear, I'm sure your cook is all very well for plain fare like scones. But, really, in a house of this stature, you should have a French chef who knows how to make those dainty little iced cakes."
"Petits fours," Gideon said politely.
"I beg your pardon?" Mrs. Mannering's tone was icy.
"The little cakes. They are called petits fours." Gideon's face was without expression. Only his dark, hooded eyes, as bright as a falcon's and as unforgiving, gave any hint of the murderous anger that consumed him.
Amelia, forced to put up with this spiteful, vulgar woman and her man-milliner son! Cook, who had been with the Bradshaw family practically since her birth, to be fired! He set his teeth and vowed to keep his temper. Usually he had no trouble doing so. His sangfroid was legendary in his regiment, but he had a strong desire to run Hortense Mannering through with a sword, or lacking that, any sharp instrument that came to hand.
"And"--the odious woman was still talking--"we insist that you spend Christmas here, with us! It is only fitting, now you no longer have the right to be here, that we make you welcome."
Gideon clenched his hands, automatically reaching in his pocket for the small iron ball he habitually fingered in moments of high emotion. Talking as if Amelia were some penniless relation! There were no sharp instruments handy, dammit, but he could always hit her over the head with the fireplace poker. Anything to still her tongue.
"That is very kind of you, Cousin Hortense." Amelia's cheeks were pinker than usual, and her blue eyes held a dangerous look, if one were wise enough to recognize it.
Hortense Mannering wasnot. "Oh, my dear, we do not want you to feel that you have been ... supplanted. You are welcome to remain here until you marry. And, indeed, perhaps afterward as well." She cast a simpering look at Amelia. "If you take my meaning."
Amelia ignored her. Gideon's sharp eyes noted that her cheeks showed a deeper flush, but her tone was polite, her voice quiet. "I thank you. But, as I was about to tell you, I will be removing to my friend Jane Forrester's home until I can arrange for my own house here in London."
Cousin Hortense protested loudly. "But, my dear Amelia, you cannot live by yourself! A green girl like you! It is unheard of. Preposterous. People will think we did not offer you a home. You cannot. Indeed, you must not."
For once, Gideon was inclined to agree with Mrs. Mannering. Young, unmarried ladies did not hire their own houses in town. They might, under unusual circumstances, live quietly in the country with only old family retainers as long as they did not entertain. But in London? Never. Gideon, however, knew Amelia a good deal better than Mrs. Mannering did, and held his tongue for the time being.
"I do not intend to live alone." Amelia's voice had frozen. Her tone brooked no further questioning of her purposes.
"Oh" was all Mrs. Mannering had to say. Something in the militant sparkle of Amelia's eyes must have communicated its message to the duke's mother. After a few more random comments on the joys of spending Christmas with one's family, she took her leave.
Gideon drew a deep breath. It might not be any of Hortense Mannering's business where Amelia was going to live, but as her oldest friend he thought it damn well was his. He looked at his hostess. She had sunk into a chair and was contemplating her untasted cup of tea with an absent look in her eye.
"Amy," he began.
"Do not start a lecture on the strict chaperonage required by my unmarried state, Gideon, unless you want the tantrum I spared Cousin Hortense." A half smile touched her lips, but he knew she was serious.
"Very well, Amy. I know you have been sorely tried this afternoon, and I will keep my opinions to myself for the time being." He bent down and brushed a kiss against the bright softness of her hair. "But be warned! As the next thing you have to a brother, I am not going to keep silent forever."
"No, I never supposed you would, my friend." Amelia sighed. "But I shall treasure my peace for as long as you do."
"Poor Amy. I shall leave you alone to bask in it, then. Remember, my dear, you have only to send word and I can be here at any time. For any reason. If I do not hear from you, I shall call again tomorrow."