Heâ€™d known she was attractiveâ€”had categorized her as such almost
as soon as he saw her in the Fox and Pheasant earlier that dayâ€”but
even that observation hadnâ€™t led him to imagine what sheâ€™d look
like in such dishabille. Well, that wasnâ€™t quite true, he amended.
His mind had conjured her in much fewer clothes than this before
heâ€™d realized just who she was. But any such imaginings had been
snuffed out as soon as heâ€™d known her destination. The reality of
facing her here, now, in her virginal bedclothes, however, with
her lovely red hair framing her face like a halo was far more
tempting than his fantasy had been.
So, yes. She was disturbing him, but likely in a way she didnâ€™t
Suppressing the urge to tell her just that, he said instead, â€śI
was too restless to sleep. It takes a bit for me to settle in to a
new place. So thereâ€™s no harm done.â€ť
Moving farther into the room, she set her candle down on one of
the large library tables and wrapped her arms across her chest.
â€śItâ€™s chilly in here,â€ť she said frowning. â€śI hadnâ€™t expected it
this close to the sea. I thought it was supposed to be milder
Wordlessly, he looked away from her and moved over to kneel before
the fireplace, stoking the embers back into a blaze. â€śItâ€™s still
early spring,â€ť he said on standing, brush- ing his hands together
more for something to do than to remove any soot. â€śThe breeze off
the channel keeps the air fairly cool until summer.â€ť
But she wasnâ€™t paying him any mind; instead she scanned the
shelves that lined the walls behind him.
â€śLooking for something in particular?â€ť he asked, not- ing the
impatience flash in her gaze before she replaced it with polite
indifference. â€śSomething to read before sleep, perhaps? Something
Her brow furrowed at his question. Heâ€™d meant it to be playful,
but her response told him that it had come off more sharply than
â€śIâ€™d hoped youâ€™d decided to stop treating me like an op- portunist
here to steal your inheritance from you,â€ť she said, pursing her
lips. â€śI have it on very good authority that youâ€™ve a great many
houses as part of the Kerr estateâ€” ones much grander and more
impressive than this one. I do not understand why you cannot
manage to accept the loss of this one. Unless, of course, like
most boys you dis- like sharing your toys.â€ť
She said this last part dismissively over her shoulder as she
stepped past him and openly began to read through the shelves on
the far wall.
Turning to watch her move from shelf to shelf, he sighed. â€śI
suppose I deserve that after the way I behaved this afternoon. But
let me assure you that itâ€™s no petty childhood jealousy that made
me distrust you and your compatriots, Miss Wareham.â€ť
This must have surprised her, for she turned and looked at him
through narrowed eyes. â€śNo? Then what?â€ť
He thrust a hand through his hair, fighting the urge to look away.
â€śHave you never faced the removal of a child- hood memory?â€ť he
asked, finally. â€śNever wished to hold onto the last bastion of
somewhere that gave you comfort?â€ť
Arrested, she tilted her head. â€śAnd thatâ€™s what this place was for
you?â€ť she asked. â€śA bastion of comfort?â€ť
He wasnâ€™t sure why, but Quill felt more exposed in that moment
than he would have if he were stark naked. But he knew he owed her
an explanation. Especially after the way heâ€™d treated her earlier.
â€śFor me, for Serena, and for my cousin Dalton,â€ť he admitted. â€śOur
own homes were not particularly . . .â€ť He broke off as he tried to
think of a word that wouldnâ€™t shock her. He could hardly tell her
about the debauchery that had reigned in his own house before his
father died. And the circumstances of Serena and Daltonâ€™s
upbringing werenâ€™t his to reveal. â€śLetâ€™s just say that we found
our visits to Beauchamp House to be a relief from our own homes.â€ť
Something flashed behind her eyes. Sympathy? Or something else?
Quill wasnâ€™t sure, but he couldnâ€™t fail to note the way she
squared her shoulders. As if sheâ€™d come to a decision.
Abandoning her scan of the bookshelves, she turned fully to face
him, her hands clasped before her so tightly that her knuckles
were white with it. â€śLord Kerr,â€ť she began, her green eyes
shadowed with trepidation. â€śThere is something I must tell you.â€ť
Quill felt his stomach drop, and a pang of disappoint- ment ran
through him. Now sheâ€™d admit that she and the others actually had
found some way to trick Aunt Celeste into leaving them Beauchamp
House. The whole business of the competition had sounded like a
farce, and though heâ€™d known his aunt to possess a playful streak,
heâ€™d never guessed it would reveal itself in such a way. Certainly
heâ€™d not supposed she would play fast and loose with the dis-
position of Beauchamp House, where sheâ€™d spent so many happy
â€śThen by all means,â€ť he drawled, allowing every bit of the world-
weary ennui that cloaked him in town to settle over him. â€śTell me
all, Miss Wareham. I confess I am curi- ous to hear how you all
managed it, never having set foot in Beauchamp House before. It
must have taken a great deal of coordination amongst the four of
But if heâ€™d expected her to surrender completely, he was to be
disappointed. â€śWhat?â€ť she asked, her nose wrinkled in puzzlement.
â€śI thought weâ€™d just put that behind us. And yet, here you are
with accusations again. You are like a dog with a bone, Lord Kerr.
â€śIf not that, then what is it you wish to tell me?â€ť he de- manded,
exasperated. Heâ€™d never thought himself to be a particularly
emotional man, but since heâ€™d met this chit on the road heâ€™d gone
through more feelings than a year in London had elicited from him.
He must be sickening for something. â€śYou can hardly blame me for
jumping to con- clusions when weâ€™ve just been speaking about my
â€śI can blame you all too easily,â€ť she retorted with a scowl. â€śBut
I will not because I am tired of being at cross purposes with you.
And I do not believe your aunt would like it.â€ť
Indicating with a wave of his hand that she should go on, Quill
â€śI found a letter from your aunt waiting for me in my bedchamber,â€ť
she said, her fine features marred by worry. â€śI greatly fear that
Lady Celeste was murdered.â€ť