Beyond Scandal and Desire(13)

By: Lorraine Heath

“She can take care of herself.” His other sister was nothing if she wasn’t self-reliant. As a child, she’d always hung on to his shirttail. Perhaps he should have been more protective, but at the time, they’d all been striving to survive.

“But managing a tavern . . .” Her voice trailed off as though she couldn’t quite decide what to make of that.

Gillie more than managed it; she owned it. Mick had seen to that. Neither of his sisters was going to be under any man’s thumb as their mum had been. He was going to make damned sure of that, no matter the cost. “I’ll stop by and see her tonight.”

Relief washed over her wrinkled features. “Thank you.”

“With that, I should be off.” He rose.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Fancy approached, holding a tray. “I’ve only just finished preparing your tea.”

Slipping a finger beneath her chin, he tilted up her face and winked at her. “Why settle for tea when Gil will give me whiskey?”

Walking over to his mum, he bent low and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Don’t worry overly much. I have everything well in hand. Ask Fancy to describe the fireworks to you.”

She patted his cheek. “You’ve been a blessing from the beginning.”

“As have you.” Heading for the door, he slipped his hand inside his jacket pocket and rubbed his fingers over the faded and fraying threads that formed the Hedley crest, all that remained of the blanket in which he’d been swaddled when the duke had handed him over to her.

Chapter 3

Wallowing in the warmth beneath the mound of coverings, Aslyn raised her hands over her head and stretched, determined to shake off her irritation with Kip. It wasn’t fair. Not fifteen minutes after he’d delivered her home last night, he had pressed a kiss to her forehead before making his excuses and heading out—most certainly to indulge in an assortment of vices. Gambling, drinking, possibly whoring. While everyone expected them to wed, he’d not announced his intentions, so she supposed she couldn’t get distressed about his dalliances.

In return, he couldn’t be distraught that Mick Trewlove had made a place for himself in the corner of her mind. Never before had she been so curious about a man. How had he gained his wealth? Was he a man of leisure? If she removed his gloves, would she discover his hands were rough and scarred from years of labor? She hadn’t asked Kip any questions about the man because she’d been taken aback by her interest in him. Kip would have no doubt found it untoward.

Proper ladies didn’t make inquiries about improper men. Instinctually she knew Mick Trewlove was improper—in spite of his obvious kind regard toward his sister. He had studied Aslyn far too intently and intensely. No man had ever looked at her as though he were contemplating kissing her from her head to her toes.

Flinging back the covers, she scrambled out of bed, rushed over to the nightstand and splashed cold water on her face. What was it about the man that had such wicked thoughts bursting forth as though they were perfectly normal? Never before had she experienced the sort of musings that caused her to grow so warm. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t exorcise him from her thoughts. Nor was there anyone with whom she could discuss these wayward thoughts.

She couldn’t make inquiries of the duchess because then she might have to explain about talking with commoners, strangers at that, and inviting them to watch the fireworks with them. Kip and she had agreed they’d not mention the brother and sister who had crossed their paths the night before. If the duchess thought Aslyn was carrying on conversations with people not listed in Debrett’s, whose lineage could not be traced back generations, she’d no doubt restrict her ward’s outings even further, and they were few and far between as it was, with barely any liberty at all.

She splashed more water on her face, then grabbed the towel to dry it. When the door opened, she gave a start as though caught doing something she shouldn’t.

“I didn’t realize you were already awake, m’lady. You didn’t ring for me.”

Nan tended to slip in and draw back the curtains, allowing the sunlight to gently awaken her mistress. “I’ve only just arisen.”