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It was eight o'clock on a rainy Thursday evening. Knight Winthrop, Viscount Castlerosse, was at home at Winthrop House on Portland Square, seated in his favorite leather chair in his high-ceilinged, thoroughly masculine library. Voltaire's Candide lay facedown on his thigh. He was looking into the flames that were sluggishly throwing off embers, a snifter of French brandy in his hand. The wainscoted room was dim and shadowed, the only splash of light from the branch of candles near his right arm. It was a cozy setting, and Knight felt appropriately coddled and relaxed and pleasantly tired.
He grinned at the memory of Sir Edward's face when Allegory, Knight's chestnut Barb, bred at Desborough Stud, had left him and his nag in the dust only halfway to the finish line marked by the Four Horse Club on Hounslow Heath. Knight had placed a healthy bet on Allegory's speed and indomitable spirit, and on his own skill, and had come away with a thousand pounds in his pocket, at Sir Edward Brassby's expense.
Allegory hated to lose even more than he did, he thought. The chestnut got that mean look in his eyes when he saw another horse drawing close. Knight wondered if the gelding had gotten his mean look from him or from his famous sire, Flying Davie.
He took another slow sip of brandy, then leaned his head back, closing his eyes. Life was well-nigh perfect. He had no complaints, no suggestions to the powers-that-be for improvement. He was content. He was healthy, his teeth were white and straight and strong, he was in no danger of losing his hair, he currently mounted a mistress who met his every sexual whim, and no one save anoccasional new stallion ever disturbed his very fine existence. No, there was nothing more he could ask for.
He picked up his book and thumbed negligently through the pages.
Knight cocked open an eye at the sound of Duckett's soft voice. It could be quiet as a vicar's closet and still one wouldn't hear Duckett approach. Just five feet tall, round as his nearly bald head, Duckett was blessed with an abundance of perception, knew his master better than did even his master's valet, Stromsoe, and endeavored to smooth away any rough pebble that found its way onto his path.
"What is it, Duckett? Nothing dire, I trust."
"That I cannot say, my lord."
Knight opened both eyes at that and looked at his butler. "I beg your pardon?"
"There are a Young Person and three Very Young Persons here to see you, my lord. The Young Person wishes to see you first."
"The Young Person, as opposed to the Very Young Persons?" Another thing about Duckett, Knight thought, he had no sense of humor. Not even an echo of one. "Well, tell this person I've left the country, tell her--him?"
"A she, my lord."
"-I've fallen into the North Sea, tell her--who the devil is she anyway?"
"She says she is your cousin's widow."
"My cousin's what? Tris?" Knight stared at Duckett blankly. Tristan dead? Knight paused a moment, trying to remember the last time he'd heard from him. Lord, it had been five years at least. He rose to his feet and straightened his clothes. "Bring her in, Duckett. As for the three Very Young Persons--I assume they are Tristan's children-give them over to Mrs. Allgood. She'll feed them, or whatever it is that very young per-, sons require at eight in the evening."
"Yes, my lord."
Tristan dead! He felt a wrenching sadness, deep inside him, for the Tristan he'd known as a boy. Tris had been his senior by ten years, and on the rare occasions Knight had seen his uncle's son, he'd worshipped him ardently. Gay, devil-may-care Tris. A man who fascinated women, from what the fifteen-year-old Knight had observed when Tris had visited Castle Rosse and gathered every young girl about him with scarce any effort.
His widow was here with three very young persons who had to be Tris's children. Why? Knight turned to face the door. It was opened by Duckett, who stepped aside and said in hushed tones, "Mrs. Tristan Winthrop, my lord."
A female, covered from the top of her head to her booted feet in a serviceable brown wool cloak, came into the library.
"How do you do," Knight said politely.
"Hello," said Lily, and he heard the fatigue in her voice. "My Lord Castlerosse?"
"Yes. Please come in. Let me take that cloak. You can warm yourself at the fire. It is not a pleasant evening, is it?"
"No, I suppose it isn't. However, you are home, and that is a relief."
Knight assisted her out of the cloak and immediately wished he'd left her as covered as a package. He stared at her a moment, then forced himself to offer her a chair dose to the fireplace. She looked pale and very weary; her hair was pulled back in a severe bun, her gown was wrinkled and not of the best quality, and she was so beautiful it made his toes ache just to look at her. He realized he was staring and said quickly, "Please, sit down and tell me how I may help you./#
Lily sat down gratefully.
Perhaps it was the dim lighting, he thought. No woman could look like that, at least not in the harsh light of day. "I shall order up some tea. Are you hungry? Some sandwiches and cakes, perhaps?"
"I should like that. Thank you."
"I told Duckett to give the children over to Mrs. Allgood. She'll see to them." Night Shadow
. Copyright © by Catherine Coulter. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.