Read When Angels Fall Online

Authors: Meagan McKinney

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BOOK: When Angels Fall
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“I sent you to check up on Powerscourt.” The marquis’s statement was adamant.

“Yes, of course, my lord. But Nodding Knoll sits right at the foot of the castle. I assumed you wanted me to make the usual discreet inquiries into Miss Alcester’s welfare—”

“And in what condition did these inquiries find her?”

Holland looked at Tramore, but something in the fire had caught the marquis’s interest and his head was turned.

“Elizabeth Alcester is doing fine. Just fine, from what I could gather from the gossip.” Holland’s blue eyes narrowed. “If I may ask, my lord, why must you cut her off? Though I’ve never formally met the girl, nor her family, I must say it’s been quite noble of you to help her out. Especially since you’ve not seen her in five years—”

The marquis’s head snapped up. “It’s not your place to speculate upon my relationships.”

“No, my lord,” Holland placated, “I don’t speculate at all, particularly since I know Miss Alcester was barely a young woman when you last set eyes upon her.”

“That’s right.”

The statement was brittle, yet the undertone, for some reason, struck Holland as oddly poignant.

He began again, this time more slowly. “But if you
will pardon me, my lord, I know the Alcesters have a rather disgraceful past; and it’s true that the neighbors gossip about Elizabeth Alcester like little foxes; but, still, for the three years that I’ve been doling out her money, Miss Alcester has spent it only on her family. Why, I’m positive the girl hasn’t bought a new gown in years.”

“All very well,” the marquis answered succinctly, “but I want you to write her a note and tell her that poor ‘Great-aunt Sophie’ has died in Paris and left all her guineas to the Museum of Practical Geology, or whatever you like. Tell her that after next month, her pension ends.”

“My lord, I’m sure you have good reasons for cutting off Miss Alcester. But there is her family to consider. Her brother is merely a lad. And have you forgotten that Miss Alcester’s sister is blind?”

“I haven’t forgotten anything about Elizabeth Victorine Alcester, nor her family. Of that, I can assure you.” The marquis’s dark eyes flashed. When he seemed to have calmed down a bit, he changed the subject. “When will the castle be ready?”

“There is a lot of work to do on it,” Holland said. “It may take months . . .”

“In the will, when did the tenth marquis say that I may live at Powerscourt?”

“Three years after his death, my lord . . . as you well know.” Holland crossed his arms. It was common knowledge that Ivan Tramore was a bastard. And it was common knowledge that for the past twenty-some years of Tramore’s life he had made his way as a stableboy, and at a neighboring estate at that. Tramore had even been denied the dubious honor of being a servant in the shadow of Powerscourt. The previous marquis had treated his only offspring like a beggar to be thrown out of one’s path on market day. But still, in spite of this, Tramore had always cut too terrifying a figure to be pitied.

Holland still found it disconcerting that Tramore never referred to his father as anything but the tenth mar
quis. Not even now did he admit to his lineage, three years after he had inherited everything the marquis’s legitimate son could have been due. Possessing wealth and position, Tramore had then lacked only one thing: knowledge. And it was said that the first thing he had done when he had inherited was to read every book in his father’s library. It was as if he wanted to make sure there was nothing the tenth marquis knew that the eleventh marquis did not.

“It has been three years and then some, hasn’t it?” The marquis’s face tightened with some repressed emotion.

“Yes, my lord,” Holland answered uneasily.

“Jones,” Tramore baited, “remind me, will you, why was it stipulated that I wait three years?”

Holland met the marquis’s level gaze. If Ivan Tramore abused one aspect of his vast power, it was his ability to make people uncomfortable. There were times when Holland swore the man enjoyed that more than he would enjoy a woman. Now was just such a time.

“I find it hard to believe that such a thing would have slipped your mind, my lord.”

Tramore remained silent.

Seeing no way out, Holland began haltingly. “Your fath—excuse me, I mean the tenth marquis, stipulated three years, for he did not want you, I believe the words were, ‘to walk upon his grave until it was sure to be cold.’ ”

The marquis let out a black laugh. His dark, handsome face lit up with a passion that Holland was sure would never cross his own proper English schoolboy features. And for that, he didn’t know whether to be envious or relieved.

“I ask you, man, when you were up at Powerscourt, was the grave cold then?” Tramore’s eyes glittered darkly.

“Yes, my lord. Quite frigid, in fact, considering the weather they’ve been having up north.” Holland rose from
his seat, hoping that this unpleasant visit had come to an end.

“Then I want the work done on Powerscourt right away. I plan to reside there in one month.” The marquis went to the door to hold it open for Holland’s exit.

“One month! My lord, I cannot be sure it can be done in that amount of time!”

“The tenth marquis is not getting any warmer in his grave, Jones.”

Holland prickled. “Yes, my lord.” Tramore
was
a bastard, he thought ungraciously as he stepped into the light of the hall. And not about to let
anyone
forget it.

“Jones.” The marquis stopped him before the major-domo opened the front doors. “Your family has been estate manager for the Powerscourts for how long?”

“Six generations, my lord.” For the second time that day Holland wondered if he should have pursued becoming a chemist like his brother.

“I see. Then you’re the only man qualified to do this for me, Jones. You’ll get the job done and when you do, there’ll be hearty compensation, I promise you.” Suddenly the marquis smiled and shook his hand. “See you at Powerscourt in one month’s time.”

“Yes, my lord.” Dumbfounded, Holland was ushered out the door. The tides had abruptly turned. Instead of threatening him, the marquis had done something even worse. He had placed his faith in him. Holland knew now he would have to give Powerscourt back its old glory in an absurd four weeks or dishonor himself.

Wondering how he would ever accomplish the task before him, he picked up his stride and walked grimly down Piccadilly heading for Pall Mall and the Carlton Club.

 

As Holland left, he was unaware of the eyes that watched him. In the library, the marquis had shoved aside
one panel of velvet to peer through the window. His breath clung to the cold panes until Jones was hardly a shadow beneath the streetlamps. Only then did the marquis let the drapery fall back, closed once more.

As if agitated, Tramore ran his knuckles over the scar on his cheek. His hand dropped immediately, however, when a soft knock came upon the door.

“Who is it?” he asked brusquely.

“Mrs. Myers, my lord.” The frilly-capped head of a plump housekeeper appeared at the door with a tray.

“Take it all away, Mrs. Myers. He’s gone already and I’ve no need for refreshment.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, sir. You see, the girls were all cleaning the lamps and there was no one to serve. That’s what took the brandy so long. I had to come myself instead of sending the parlormaid.” In contrition, the housekeeper shook her head so hard that if not for the fat ribbons beneath her cherubic chin, her cap would have flown off her head.

“It’s all right.” As if he were used to her performing contrary to his wishes, the marquis didn’t even look up when she entered the library. She moved past him with a tray of decanters and glasses. Underneath her evening black dress and starched white apron, her horsehair crinoline crackled with every step she took to the hearth. When she reached the pair of club chairs, she set the tray upon a mahogany drum table.

“There. I’ll be leaving the drink with you nonetheless. Just in case you’d like a spot.” She turned. “Anything else before I go?”

“Yes.” The marquis slowly met her gaze. “I’d like to dine in my rooms this evening. And I shall be having an evening companion, so I should like service for two.”

“Very good, sir.” But Mrs. Myers’s expression proclaimed that it was not very good at all.

“Indigestion?” the marquis inquired.

The housekeeper’s jaw dropped, then she abruptly re
membered herself. “Nothing of the sort, my lord! I shall see to your service immediately!” She headed for the door.

“You don’t approve, do you?”

Hearing the unexpected question, Mrs. Myers whisked around to face him.

“What?”

“You don’t approve of my . . . lady friends, do you?” The marquis eased his large frame upon a nearby sofa done in the current Gothic taste.

“It’s certainly not my place to disapprove of anything you do, sir.”

“But come now, if it were your place, you would not approve, would you?” He crossed his arms over his chest with an air of nonchalance, yet his dark stare pinned the housekeeper to the floor.

“I believe in marriage, my lord.”

“I see.” The marquis thought on this for a while.

“Will there be anything else, sir?”

“Would you be surprised to find that I share that same sentiment?”

“What sentiment, my lord?”

“That I believe in marriage too.”

“No, my lord. I would believe it.” Mrs. Myers lowered her head. “Your mother’s situation still pains you, if only you would admit it.”

Tramore stiffened at the housekeeper’s frankness. “That’s enough, Mrs. Myers. You go too far.”

Though she should have been chastened by the marquis’s reply, the housekeeper instead burst out with another unwanted opinion. “Perhaps you’re right, Lord Ivan, but I’ve known you all your life and I remember when your mother died. And I’ve seen how tough and silent a little boy becomes when he finds he has no other home but the streets.” When she was finished, she watched for the marquis’s reaction.

“I see,” Tramore uttered with difficulty.

The housekeeper finally looked chastised. “Forgive
me, my lord,” she whispered. She then looked around the room to see if he needed anything. “Would you like the girl to bring more coal for the fire, or will that be all?”

“No, you may go.” He shot her one last disapproving look, then turned away.

“Thank you, sir.” Mrs. Myers made her way to the door, but before she exited, she paused and looked as if she wanted to speak.

“Is there something you’ve forgotten?” Tramore acknowledged her.

“Aye, my lord. ’Tis not been my place to say such things . . . but if I may, you’re not a bad man. That’s what I tell everyone. You’re not a bad man and I hope someday you’ll find a ladylove who can convince you of that.” Suddenly, as if she remembered what such an outburst could cost her, she brought herself upright and said, “I beg your pardon, my lord.”

“Don’t be absurd.” The marquis’s face was so tight from unexpressed emotion it looked as if it were hewn from marble.

“If I may be excused?”

“Of course.”

The silence in the room was leaden and Mrs. Myers’s brow cleared considerably when she was finally able to close the door behind her.

But in the library, the marquis’s brow furrowed more deeply. Something was on his mind. He ran his knuckles down his scar, but only twice. Then he stood and strode out the door himself.

He went up the staircase, taking the steps two at a time. He passed the second floor where the chambermaids were already setting his apartments to rights for the evening. He passed the third floor where most of the house servants had their rooms. Yet he didn’t stop until he was in the enormous fourth-floor attic. He discreetly pulled the attic door closed behind him.

Tramore looked around, his only light from a candle
he had picked up from the servants’ landing. It didn’t take him long to find the path he sought. Through a maze created of tattered French chairs, rotting Elizabethan chests, and fractured gilt mirrors—an entire history of the old owner—he followed his own previous footprints in the dust to reach the article he wanted. It was a huge canvas; the top rail of its frame easily met with Tramore’s chin. A great linen lay over it, and when he snatched it off, a cloud of dust sent the candlelight shimmering over the portrait of an exquisitely beautiful woman.

She was young, but not so young as to be unaware of her effect upon people, particularly those of the opposite sex. Her eyes were eloquently expressive. They were crystalline blue and heavily lashed, but it was not coyness they held, never that, for her expression was much too artless. Rather it seemed as if they held a promise, or a secret that even she had yet to discover fully, much less practice upon the world around her. But someday when she did understand this secret she would bring men to their knees.

But not the eleventh marquis.

He stood before her, his features taut in the sputtering candlelight. The inscrutable expression on his face was as close to hate as it was to love, as close to joy as it was to pain.

Slowly he reached out his forefinger and began tracing the girl’s firm, sweetly curved jawline. His finger moved higher to her nose, which was slightly haughty yet also gamine. His thumb brushed her flaxen-haired temple and he traced one silvery blond curl to the level of her lips, where his forefinger once more took up its quest. His last touch was upon the rose-petal curve of her lower lip, and as if this were almost too much for him, he closed his eyes.

“Lissa,” he uttered in a tight voice. His eyes flew open but he was held captive, marveling at the girl’s femininity. For she was as vulnerable in it as she was made powerful by it.

He bent down and wiped the dust off the brass plaque
on the frame’s bottom rail. The fair-haired girl’s name was engraved upon it in heavy ornate script. It said:
Miss Eliza
beth Victorine Alcester of Nodding Knoll 1850
.

He straightened and gave the portrait one last glittering stare. Then, as if he were fully aware of his own madness, Tramore tipped back his dark head and laughed. He ended this strange self-indulgence by violently whipping the linen covering back over the portrait. He left the attic without a backward glance.

BOOK: When Angels Fall
6.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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