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Authors: Diane Gaston

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Back on the street, a handsome carriage drawn by a set of matching bays approached in their direction. Devlin frowned as he spied the crest. The carriage stopped next to them. As Madeleine shrank back, Devlin stepped forward to greet its passenger.

‘Devlin, it has been too long,’ the fair-haired lady at the carriage window exclaimed.

‘How are you, Serena?’ His sister-in-law was a good creature, well intentioned, eminently correct, with classical looks and very little in common with Devlin except a connection to his brother.

‘I am well, as usual,’ she responded in her soft voice. ‘And you, brother? We do worry when you do not call.’

‘I have been shockingly remiss, but I’m fit, I assure you.’

His sister-in-law gazed curiously at Madeleine. It had never entered his mind that he’d be required to introduce Madeleine to anyone, least of all his sister-in-law, the Marchioness.

He pulled Madeleine forward, needing to exert a little physical effort to do so. ‘Serena, may I present Miss England. Miss England, the Marchioness of Heronvale, my sister-in-law.’

Madeleine executed a very correct curtsy.

‘Have we met before, Miss England? I do not recall.’

Madeleine, with her eyes downcast replied, ‘No, madam.’

‘Well, perhaps I may convey you both to your destination? I would be pleased to do so.’

Devlin suspected Serena would be very pleased for an opportunity to find out who her brother-in-law escorted unchaperoned through this shopping district. He felt Madeleine painfully squeeze his arm.

‘I believe Miss England has one or two more shops to visit, but that was kind of you, Serena.’

‘Are the shops worthwhile, Miss England? I confess I have never visited the ones on this street.’

‘They suit me very well, madam,’ responded Madeleine in a quiet voice.

‘Perhaps you could recommend one to me,’ the Marchioness persisted. Devlin knew her inquiry to be meant in a friendly way, but he also knew his brother’s wife was nearly as fixed on him securing his future as was his brother. She wanted nothing more than to see him happily married; the Marquess wanted merely to keep his brother’s fortune secure.

‘I would not presume to.’ Madeleine looked miserable. Only his firm hold on her arm kept her from bolting, he suspected.

A hackney coach came from behind, its driver shouting for the carriage to move on.

‘Oh, dear,’ said Serena. ‘We had better go.’

‘Indeed,’ replied Devlin.

‘Please call soon, Devlin. My pleasure, Miss England.’ The carriage moved forward and these last words faded with distance.

‘Devlin, may we please go home now?’ Madeleine raised a shaking hand to her bonnet.

‘No,’ he said mildly, determined for her not to be made uncomfortable by her encounter with Serena. ‘We need to have you measured for shoes and I must not return without cloth for Sophie.’

‘Oh, yes, I quite forgot Sophie’s cloth,’ she murmured. A racing phaeton whizzed by. She did not even notice.

‘Maddy, were you made uncomfortable by my sister-in-law?’

They walked a few steps before she answered. ‘It was very improper to introduce me to her.’

‘I disagree. It would have been ill-mannered not to introduce you. An insult to you.’

He glanced at her, seeing her brows knitted together and her bottom lip trembling slightly. ‘A fine lady like the Marchioness should not be made to converse with one such as me.’

‘Maddy, I refuse to allow you to speak so. You have studied your appearance. You could not be more presentable.’ He did not yet know the story, but he would wager she’d not chosen her life with Farley. But who would choose such a life? Only a woman with no other choice.

‘My appearance does not alter the fact that you should not have introduced a marchioness to…to Haymarket-ware.’

‘I refuse for you to speak so,’ he said.

She did not look at him. ‘I will endeavour to obey you, my lord.’

He yanked open the door to the shoemaker.

After he’d ordered various pairs of shoes for her, he seemed relaxed again. By the time they’d selected several pieces of material at the cloth merchant’s shop, they were back in temper with each other.

Devlin hailed a hack. As he negotiated with the driver, Madeleine noticed a gentleman across the street looking at her.

Farley.

He saw her look in his direction and tipped his hat to her. Her heart pounded wildly, and she feared she might vomit. She felt Farley’s eyes on her the entire time it took for Devlin to lift her into the hack.

As they pulled away, he saluted her once more.

 

Lord Edwin Farley watched the hack start off down the street. He had taken to frequenting a tobacconist on this row, one of the deplorable economies he was forced to make in his constrained financial circumstances. At first he’d noticed the young lady in the lilac and blue with a connoisseur’s appreciation, but when he saw it was Madeleine, he froze. All that beauty, and he’d let her fall into the hands of Devlin Steele. It irritated him beyond belief.

He’d hoped to recoup from his recent bad luck by playing until Steele owed him a bundle. The Marquess of Heronvale would have redeemed his little brother’s vowels, even if the sum had been large. Everyone knew the older brother doted on the younger one. But Farley had lost instead. If that were not bad enough, he’d impulsively used Madeleine to settle his debt. Damned Steele.

The hack turned the corner and disappeared from his sight. He resumed his stroll down the pavement. Madeleine had looked quite fetching in that lavender confection. His body stirred merely thinking about her.

He’d have her back, he vowed. He’d unpeel those layers of clothing from her and bed her like she’d never been bedded before. He’d make her beg for him, make her pant with wanting him. She’d been easy to seduce as a girl. He’d only had to say a few pretty words to her, and she’d been his. He laughed, remembering how easy it had been to entice her to his room that night, her father bursting in at the perfect moment—when she’d been naked on top of him.

Yes, he’d get her back, he vowed. This time without the child she was stupid enough not to prevent. Perhaps he could make some money on the child. He knew men whose tastes went to ones as young as that. A little beauty like her mother, she would likely sell at a good price.

What revenge ought he to exact upon Steele? It would give him added pleasure to give that matter some thought.

Humming and jauntily swinging his walking stick, Farley continued on his way.

Chapter Six

T
he packages from their shopping expedition arrived that afternoon amid much excitement. The wide eyes of little Linette as she opened hers made all the extravagance worthwhile. Sophie, whom Devlin did not expect to break out in raptures, reverently fingered the cloth they had purchased.

‘Thank you, my lord,’ Sophie whispered, though she did not meet his eye while saying it.

‘You did tolerably well, Dev,’ Bart said, watching Sophie’s every movement.

‘Indeed?’ He laughed. ‘I am unused to such high praise from you.’

‘The lass is happy. Mind you do not tease her, now.’ Bart shook his finger in warning.

Devlin tried to stifle his grin. ‘I shall endeavour not to.’

Madeleine was unusually quiet. She excused herself, saying she wished to unpack her dresses. Thinking of it, Devlin realised she had been just as solemn on the ride back home.

Linette held the horse up to Devlin, pulling on his trousers as she did so. ‘Horse! Horse!’ she said excitedly. It was inevitable. The horse captured the little girl’s attention and the expensive doll was ignored. Devlin sat down on the floor.

‘Shall we build a stable for your horse, Lady Lin?’ He gathered the blocks together and started building.

‘Wady Win,’ Linette parroted.

‘How much did all this cost, might I ask?’ Bart’s voice was deceptively casual.

‘I think you had better not ask,’ Devlin said ruefully. ‘I thought I might pay a visit to my brother tomorrow.’

Madeleine walked back into the room. ‘You will visit your brother?’

She did not need to know he intended to ask his brother for a small advance. ‘I promised my sister-in-law, as you recall.’

‘Oh.’ She sat on the settee and watched Devlin and Linette build the promised stable with the blocks.

‘Would you like me to make tea, Maddy?’ Sophie asked, dropping her fabric back into its box.

Madeleine popped up. ‘I will do it.’

‘You, Maddy?’ Sophie said. ‘It is not necessary.’

‘I want to. It is not so difficult, is it?’

‘Neigh! Neigh!’ Linette galloped her wooden horse, trying to make it jump over the blocks. The blocks tumbled.

‘Now, I was building that.’ Devlin ruffled the girl’s hair, making her giggle. He kept an eye on the mother.

‘I will do it, Maddy. Do not trouble yourself.’ Sophie started for the kitchen.

Madeleine insisted. ‘No,
I
will do it.’

‘It is my job,’ Sophie said, visibly upset.

Madeleine put her hands on her hips. ‘I would like to make it. I am tired of being waited upon as if I am no use at all.’

‘But, but…’ Sophie burst into tears and ran out.

‘That was badly done, miss.’ Bart gave her a stern expression. ‘The lass wishes to serve you. She credits you with sparing her much hardship.’ He marched after Sophie.

Madeleine glanced at Devlin, her hand rubbing her throat. ‘I did not mean to make her cry.’

Devlin understood. She wanted to feel she had some use beyond the bedchamber. He had even less to offer, except the
money his brother controlled, if he could get it. If Madeleine wished to make tea, what was the harm?

He turned back to the blocks. ‘Maddy, if it would not be too much trouble, would you make me some tea?’

 

The next morning Devlin walked up to an impressive town house on Grosvenor Square and rapped with the shiny brass knocker. The heavy door opened and a solemn-faced butler almost broke into a smile.

‘Master Devlin.’

‘Barclay, you never change.’ Devlin did smile. ‘I trust you are well?’

The man took his hat and gloves. ‘Indeed, I am, Master Devlin.’

‘Is my brother here?’

‘He is expected directly, my lord. Shall I announce you to her ladyship?’

‘If you please.’

He followed Barclay to the parlour, decorated with Serena’s usual perfection, couches and chairs arranged to put visitors at ease. A moment later, the Marchioness came through the door.

‘Devlin, you kept your promise. How good to see you.’ She reached out her hands to him.

He clasped them warmly and kissed her cheek. ‘Serena, you are in excellent looks, as usual.’ His brother’s wife had the cool beauty of the fine china figurines gracing the mantelpiece, disguising her warm-hearted nature. Her reserve and unceasing correctness could so easily be mistaken for coldness.

She coloured slightly. ‘Do sit with me and tell me how you go on. I’ve already rung for tea.’

He joined her on the couch. ‘I am well, Serena.’

She peered at him worriedly. ‘Are you sure? You look a little pale. Do your wounds still pain you?’

He laughed. ‘I am quite well. Thoroughly recovered and there is no need to fuss over me. Where is Ned?’

‘Attending to some business.’ Her brows knit together. ‘Are you in trouble, Devlin?’

‘Good God, no, Serena.’ Her solicitude rivalled his brother’s. ‘I have something to discuss. Nothing to signify.’

The tea arrived and she poured with precision. He sipped the liquid, brewed to perfection, and thought how different this cup was from the strong, leaf-filled concoction Madeleine had made the day before.

Serena spoke. ‘It was pleasant seeing you yesterday.’

‘Indeed.’

‘That young lady—Miss England, I believe—was lovely. Who is she, Devlin?’

He should have expected this question. He gave Serena a direct look. ‘An acquaintance.’

Her eyebrows raised.

He held her gaze.

Serena glanced down demurely. ‘Does she interest you?’

Did Madeleine
interest
him? Keeping her safe interested him. Making love to her interested him, but he would not explain that to Serena. At least Serena must not suspect Madeleine to be anything but a well-bred young lady, unchaperoned though she had been. She would not have mentioned Madeleine at all if she had thought her to be Haymarket-ware, as Madeleine called herself.

‘She is an acquaintance, Serena,’ he repeated in a mild voice.

She tilted her head sceptically, but was much too well bred to press any further.

They sat in awkward silence.

‘I should tell you I have moved, Serena.’

She peered at him. ‘Moved? For what reason?’

Devlin paused. ‘No reason.’

‘Some difficulty with the rent?’

‘No.’ Devlin hid his impatience with a small laugh. ‘Why
do you suppose I should have difficulty with the rent? You and Ned. I cannot say who is the worse. I am not in difficulty. I am well able to take care of myself. At six and twenty I should know how to go on. I survived Napoleon’s army, if you recall.’

Serena looked stricken. ‘But you were so badly injured. We feared you would not live. You do not realise how close a thing it was.’ She fished a lace-edged handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed her eyes. ‘And you have been gambling so. Ned was concerned because no one has seen you for days.’

‘Ned can go to the dev—’ This was too much. ‘Good God, what does he do, scour the town for news of me?’

Serena’s eyes glittered with tears. ‘I believe he hears word of you at White’s,’ she replied in all seriousness.

Devlin burst into laughter. He sat down next to her and put his arm around her, squeezing affectionately. ‘Dear sister, I beg your pardon. I do not mean to upset you. I know you and my brother mean well, but you forget I’m out of leading strings.’

She blushed and straightened her posture. ‘I am sure we do not.’

‘Tell me how you and Ned go on? Is my brother still managing the family affairs to perfection?’

Serena lifted her chin protectively. ‘Ned has much on his shoulders.’

Devlin gave her a kind smile. ‘Indeed he does. He is a man to admire, Serena. I mean that.’

‘I have heard from your sisters and brother. They are excellent correspondents.’

Unlike himself who wrote little and visited less.

‘Indeed? What is the family news?’

Serena, with a wistfulness in her voice, chattered on about the trifling activities of his nephews and nieces. Percy’s son, Jeffrey, the eldest, at Eton. Rebecca, Helen’s daughter, learning the pianoforte. All the little ones merging into a blur. He listened with as interested an expression as he could muster.
Serena doted on all the children. By far she was their favourite aunt. And he, the Waterloo Dragoon, was their hero uncle, even though he had difficulty keeping their names straight.

What a pity Serena had not had a child. Fate had no notion of fair play. She would make a perfect mother, and a loving one, as well. He suspected her disappointment in that quarter was immense.

‘And you, Serena? How do you go on?’

‘I am well.’ A sad look came over her face.

Devlin gave her another hug. She would not wish to speak of her disappointment at not presenting the Marquess with an heir.

‘Dear sister,’ he murmured.

She recovered herself. ‘Ned will be here directly. Will you wait for him?’

He had little choice. ‘Serena,’ he said, surmising a change of conversation was in order, ‘do you suppose Ned would mind if I borrowed a pair of horses some morning? I’ve a notion to ride.’

‘You will ride again?’ she said brightly. He had not been on a horse since charging the French, east of the Brussels road. ‘Indeed he will not mind. He will be glad of it, and I will personally ask Barclay to instruct the stable to provide any horse you wish.’

‘Any two horses. I…I wish to have Bart join me.’

‘Two horses it is.’ She smiled.

The parlour door opened and the Marquess strode in at a quicker pace than was his custom. Devlin stood to greet him.

‘Devlin, how good to see you.’ Equally uncharacteristic of him, he embraced Devlin heartily.

This idol of his childhood, his oldest brother Ned, usually did not betray emotion. Ned always could be counted on to remain unflappable when his youngest brother came begging for his help out of the latest scrape. Because of those days, Devlin always felt in awe of that tall, ramrod-straight figure. He always expected to crane his neck to look at Ned. It never
failed to be a shock when he found himself half a head taller and his brother going grey at the temples.

‘What brings you to call?’ Ned asked with such surprise, it suggested he had given up altogether on a visit from Devlin.

‘I wished to see you and Serena, of course, but I also have a matter of business to discuss with you, if it is convenient.’

Ned regained that strict composure. ‘Indeed. We shall go into the library. You will excuse us, Serena?’

With a nod to his wife, he preceded Devlin out the door. Devlin followed dutifully, feeling much like that little boy, in a scrape once more.

Inside that book-lined room, Ned poured two glasses of port. Devlin glanced at the shelves and had the incongruous thought that Madeleine might enjoy a good book. Not the sort of book to be found in this room, he supposed, but perhaps a Miniver Press novel such as his sisters had read when they sat by his sick bed.

Ned handed him his glass. ‘What did you wish to discuss?’

Devlin sipped and paced the room, trying to figure out the best way to present this.

‘Are you in trouble?’ Ned’s voice was low and steady.

Devlin flashed him an irritated glance and muttered, ‘You and Serena.’ Speaking more firmly, he said, ‘I am not in trouble.’

His brother’s face remained impassive.

Devlin took a gulp of port. ‘I have moved.’

‘Yes?’

‘To a larger place.’

‘You required a larger place?’ A disapproving tone crept into his brother’s speech.

‘It was too good an opportunity to pass up. On the same street, but a much better situation.’

‘And?’ One of Ned’s eyebrows rose.

Devlin took a deep breath. ‘I am short of money as a result. I would ask if you would advance me some additional funds until next quarter.’

His brother did not drop his gaze, nor did his expression change, even a muscle. Devlin knew he was considering, weighing the matter silently in his head.

As a child, this silence had been a comfort. It meant Ned was reckoning a way out of his difficulties. As a man, he was less certain.

His brother stared implacably into his port. ‘How wise was this move?’

‘Devil it, Ned, the move is made. Whether it was wise or not is moot.’

‘You engaged in this impulsively.’ This was not a question but a statement of fact, a disapproved-of fact.

Devlin put his glass down on a table and faced his immovable brother. ‘It is done, Ned, and I need some money to get through to next quarter. Will you give it or not?’

Ned sat in a nearby chair and casually crossed his legs. ‘You have been gambling heavily, little brother.’

Devlin knew that was coming. ‘As your spies have reported? I do not suppose they were present when I won back my losses?’

Ned’s cronies would never have been present at such an unsavoury place as Farley’s. If they had, his brother would be discussing what else Devlin won that night.

‘I have heard your losses to be steep. This gambling must stop, Devlin.’

If his brother had not ordered him to stop gambling, he might have informed Ned that he’d come to the same conclusion. Now he would not give his brother that satisfaction.

‘And what else might I do, Ned? What is there for me to do? The war is over, and I’m damned if I’ll go anywhere else in this world to fight. India? Africa? The West Indies? I’m no longer keen on dying on foreign soil.’

Ned swirled his port and tasted the rich, imported liquid. ‘It is time you took your rightful place in the family.’

‘Rightful place?’ Devlin prowled the room. ‘What the deuce is my rightful place?’

Calmly his brother spoke, ‘You need to assume the control of your estate. It should not fall to our brother Percy, who has enough of his own to oversee.’

‘You know I cannot.’ Devlin glared at him. ‘You and my father saw to that. I cannot take control until I marry. I must subsist on what you obligingly provide me until I marry a suitable woman of whom you approve. Good God! What possessed you and my father to contrive that addle-brained plan?’

‘You know why.’ Ned spoke in the most reasonable voice possible. ‘You lack control. You have always been devil-may-care. Father had the wisdom to know you would cease your wild ways when you had another person dependent upon you. A wife.’

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