The regency romances, p.99
The Regency Romances, p.99Laura Kinsale
“Don’t you?” he repeated.
She shook her head.
He wrapped his hand around hers and squeezed. “Because, cailin sidhe—I didn’t want to get shot.”
Roddy frowned, defeated by that simplicity. She turned a little, just enough to give his lips access to her ear. “Has that never stopped you before?” she whispered.
His low laughter kissed her skin with warmth. “No. That’s the irony of a duel, little girl. The man who cares the least for living has the steadiest hand.”
They sat with Geoffrey in a private parlor in the White Lion. Mary had been banished, and Faelan stretched out in a chair with a brandy cupped between his hands. Geoffrey drummed on a marble tabletop, glaring meaningfully at Roddy, his fingerprints marring the polish that gleamed in the late-afternoon sun.
Roddy stood up, a move which pleased Geoffrey, and positioned herself firmly in front of her husband, a move which did not have the same lightening effect on Cashel’s mood.
“My lord,” she informed Faelan with regal politeness, “you may wish to know that I intend to be placed in complete possession of any and all facts concerning smuggling and other acts of treason which might affect your health and well-being.” She took a deep breath at the end of this speech, which she had been memorizing an hour since, and added, “I am not leaving.”
A faint, familiar twitch played at the corner of Faelan’s mouth. The light from the high, small window made a reddish halo around his cropped black hair. “Then you shall stay. By all means, let us have no secrets between us.”
“Here now,” Geoffrey protested. “I won’t have Roddy involved in this.”
Faelan raised his dark brows and fixed his friend with a look which Roddy dearly wished she might learn to emulate. “Your concern does you credit, I’m sure. But the sentiment is a bit belated, don’t you think, Geoff?”
Geoffrey frowned, as much at the unexpected sight of Roddy laying her hand trustingly across her husband’s shoulder as at the pointed rebuff. Geoffrey stared at them a moment while Faelan drew Roddy against him, and then a slow smile touched Lord Cashel’s classical features.
“This is a cozy picture,” he said. “I should have known you’d talk her out of the sulks.”
Roddy lifted her own eyebrows, trying to glare him into submission as Faelan had. She had even less success. Though Geoffrey looked away, his smile turned into a grin.
“Down, poppet. You could kill at thirty paces with those eyes.”
“Which is likely more than you can do with your smuggled muskets,” Faelan said. “Are you going to tell me your woes, my friend, or shall we sit here all night discussing our female companions?”
A brief, provocative vision of Geoffrey’s latest chambermaid flashed into the other man’s mind at the words. Roddy blushed, disturbed by the easy way in which Geoffrey could forget his high-minded love for his wife at the mere recollection of a tempting tavern wench. But Roddy had begun lately to develop a new insight into her old friend. Geoffrey did not forget Mary, exactly. It was more as if his feelings for his wife existed on some different and separate plane from the urges of his body. He loved Mary as he would love a work of art or a graceful sonnet—in that ethereal realm of reason and philosophy where Roddy, grounded in emotion and human passion, had never been able to follow him.
Modest, perfect Mary was worthy of such spiritual love, but Roddy found herself wondering how the two of them had managed to conceive an heir.
“Poppet,” Geoffrey said, in a last effort to be rid of her, “I know Mary’d like your company. She’s been…restless, you understand—cooped up here at an inn for two weeks.”
This polite reference to Mary’s condition was calculated to appeal to Roddy’s feminine instincts, instincts which Geoffrey grossly overestimated. She was saved from a tart answer by Faelan’s arm tightening around her waist.
“She’ll stay,” he said. “I want her here.” He drew a frayed footstool up with his toe and crossed his booted ankles comfortably. “Get on with it, Robespierre. The revolution won’t wait all day.”
Geoffrey took that shaft with an equanimity that surprised Roddy. She would never have been so rash as to ridicule Lord Cashel’s political ideals. He only shrugged, giving up on evicting Roddy in the face of Faelan’s stated desire, and launched into a detailed explanation of the situation.
It was much as Roddy had told Faelan before. The guns were hidden in the great house at Iveragh, and the road out of the isolated estate blocked by the militia. Geoffrey had received even worse word since—his stricken lieutenant had died, and the rebels were without local leadership. Rumors of the guns were already spreading, and the army was showing signs of dangerous curiosity. A simple murder of the archeologically minded parson in Ballybrack would no longer be enough to protect the secret.
Faelan listened to that, and more, in silence. Roddy tried to keep her expression controlled, hiding her horror at Geoffrey’s matter-of-fact talk of killing. As easily as he violated his marital vows, he seemed to have forgotten that the parson in Ballybrack was a human being, with hopes and dreams and loved ones, instead of just a negative numeral in the great equation of liberty.
Geoffrey finished, and no one spoke for a long moment. Faelan took an idle sip of his brandy. “You’ve been landing in Saint Finian’s Bay?”
“Aye. You know the spot.”
“As does half the loyal militia, I’m sure.” He smiled down into his glass and shook his head. “You may be about to catapult us all to freedom with rhetoric, Geoff, but you’re a damned poor hand at reality. Did you never think to appoint a second in command?”
In Geoffrey’s response to that comment, Roddy saw a glimpse of the strange camaraderie that made these two disparate men friends. Instead of the affront Roddy had expected, Geoffrey sighed and said, “God knows, you’re right about reality. Morley was second. I was to be there myself, if this blasted militia situation hadn’t developed. I suppose I should have appointed a third and a fourth, and a fifth as well, and you don’t have to say it—I damn well know you would have, and I wish you’d have handled the whole thing as I asked you in the first place.”
“You flatter me,” Faelan said mildly. “And I thought I was only good for raking stables.”
“Planting potatoes, I think it was.” Geoffrey grinned, unashamed, exerting his charm as easily as he breathed. Roddy was amazed to see her husband smile back—a slow, deep smile that lit his eyes and changed his face.
“What would I be,” he said softly, “without you to rescue, my friend?”
Geoffrey shrugged, hearing only Faelan’s cynical humor where Roddy heard much more. I’ve loved three things I can remember, Faelan had said…and one of them was Geoffrey.
She bowed her head and closed her fingers on her husband’s shoulder, feeling the smooth texture of living muscle beneath his coat. It frightened her, to see that light in his eyes, to watch the unreserved curve of his lips. She knew what love meant to him now. She could lose him, to the ideals of a man who thought nothing of murdering an innocent parson in Ballybrack.
“We’ll need a ship,” Faelan said, the smile vanishing as he turned to business. “Contact the O’Connells at Derrynane this time—tell them you’ll be wanting to land a small orchestra there…just a harp and a few violins. Four white horses of impressive size and high action, the worse-tempered the better. A score of the most elegant rebels or Frenchmen you can scrape together, and a dance partner for each one. Full ball dress for the dancers,” he added tonelessly. “Preferably a quarter century out of style. Wigs and powder and all the paste jewelry you can muster.”
Roddy and Geoffrey stared at him, both convinced he had lost his senses.
He met their incredulous looks with a particularly demonic grin. “Have I ever failed you, Geoff?”
Geoffrey, having created the muddle, kept his questions to himself and shook his head.
“November Eve.” Faelan stood up, kicking the stool back into its earlier position. Th
“Certainly.” Geoffrey was miffed at the glaring lack of any explanation for Faelan’s weird requests, but he was chary of his friend’s uncertain temper. That Faelan could save the guns Geoffrey never doubted, and he had no desire to jeopardize the commitment by crossing Faelan’s mood. Let him have his fun, Geoffrey thought. And get back to his damned potatoes.
Roddy hung back a little as Faelan started for the door. “My lord,” she said. “I’ll join you in a moment, if you please.”
He paused, looked at her and then at Geoffrey. The warm grip on her arm loosened. “Of course,” he said, in a chillingly neutral voice. Before she could make up an excuse—a word with Mary, or some other reason to linger alone with Geoffrey—her husband had opened the door and shut it behind him.
She stood frowning at the heavy wood, sure that he had jumped to old conclusions. It made her angry, to realize even a moment alone with another man was enough to spark his jealousy, when she had reason enough to believe he had spent four entire days ravishing a besotted débutante. She said sharply, “I’d like a word with you, Lord Geoffrey.”
Geoffrey had been deep in trying to puzzle out Faelan’s peculiar plans, but the tone of her voice made him look up quickly.
Roddy grimaced at his cheerful response. It was outside of enough, she thought, to have a murdering rebel bent on high treason turn to one and ask, “What’s to do, poppet?”
“I’ve found out that Faelan keeps other women,” she said boldly, hoping to jolt clear truth into his head by her brazenness.
It didn’t work. Instead of dwelling on Faelan’s sins, Geoffrey immediately took Roddy herself to task. “Good God, madam,” he said stiffly. “That’s no fit topic to bring up with me.”
Roddy tried to catch his eye, but he would not look at her. He turned away to the writing desk. Little hussy, he fumed. Knew she’d never make a proper wife. What the devil can he want with musicians? Already lists of possible recruits were forming in his mind, and he reached for a pen and inkwell as he sat down.
“Geoffrey,” she said urgently. “People say that Faelan—”
“Gossip,” Geoffrey said absently. As far as she could tell, he believed that himself. He began writing names. “Don’t listen to tattlemongers, Roddy. That isn’t like you.”
She made a small huff of frustration. “Geoffrey,” she snapped, “Faelan told me why you wrote Papa that letter of recommendation about him.”
Geoffrey sat up. A wave of guilt swept him, and then a memory of Faelan’s arm around Roddy’s waist. He shrugged, setting his moral unease aside. “It seems to have turned out well enough.” He looked up, not quite straight into her eyes. “There are higher causes that we have to obey sometimes, Roddy. Things that override individual claims on our duty.”
She had an idea what her husband would have said to that. With only slightly more politeness, she murmured, “Spare me the lecture, please,” in her best imitation of Faelan’s razor-sharp smoothness. Geoffrey’s surprise gave her a moment’s heady power, and she plunged on. “I want to know…Geoffrey, I need to know, is Faelan…do you think that he’s perfectly—” She broke off, struggling to frame the question, afraid to put it into words. “—in control?” she finished, unable to keep the scared quiver from her voice.
Geoffrey stood up so suddenly that the chair tottered on two legs and then fell back into position with a loud thump. “What are you saying?” he asked, in a voice of deadly challenge.
The instant defensiveness was both reassuring and frightening. “Faelan told me he doesn’t remember things,” she blurted. “His father, and—”
“Of course he doesn’t,” Geoffrey snarled. “Damn you, have you been pestering him about his father? Leave off, Roddy—I warn you. That’s over; years gone, by God. Do you think I’d have written your parents that letter if I’d thought there was the slightest danger to you? He promised me—he vowed he’d never hurt you. It was an accident, Roddy. An accident that he’s better off forgetting. Lord, he’s lived with it all his life—can’t you let well enough alone?”
Behind the words was a turmoil of emotion, of anger and loyalty, and beneath it all, a twinge of fear that drove the aggression. Geoffrey believed what he was saying, because he was afraid not to believe it.
She opened her mouth to speak again, but Geoffrey grabbed up the paper he’d been using, without even sanding the ink. “I’d best be dressing for dinner. As would you, my lady.” He gave her a chilly nod as he passed her for the door. “Faelan and I will be busy enough without your meddling. I’d advise you to go shopping with Mary tomorrow, and refrain from bothering your husband with foolish questions.”
Roddy pulled the bedclothes up under her chin, wondering if she would spend the night alone in this lumpy bed. The sheets were clean enough, even if their rough surface tended to rub raw on the tender skin of her cheek and ear.
Thinking of those sensitive spots made her think of Faelan, of his lips, his breath soft and seductive on her skin, and the cold distance he had maintained through the long and uncomfortable dinner.
Roddy wished she had done as Mary, and pleaded a headache. It was apparently a good enough excuse to avoid sitting down with the Devil Earl. During the meal, Faelan had refused to discuss his plans for the guns, and those plans were all Geoffrey thought about, so conversation was slow and desultory. Roddy had left them immediately after dessert—hours ago.
She turned over and stared at the candle, burned down nearly to its holder. A slow dribble of wax made a puddle on the table, a liquid pool that gleamed like gathered tears. She felt her own eyes go hazy, and her throat filled. In spite of all the rest, in spite of Ellen Webster and Liza Northfield and the horrible fear that Faelan was not…right; in spite of it all, the worst was to lie in this bed alone and want him.
The candle went to a bright prism of color, gold swimming with blue and red and green. She sniffed, hearing the forlorn plop of a tear on the stiff sheets. Damn him, damn him. Everything that should have destroyed her faith only seemed to drag her deeper into love than before.
Below, the sounds of the taproom had subsided long since. She heard footsteps down the long corridor, coming closer—pausing at the door to the anteroom of their suite. So…he would stay there, on the narrow bed in the outer room provided for husbands who preferred—for whatever reason—not to sleep with their wives.
But after a moment she heard him move again, coming closer down the hall. The click of the door handle was loud in the silence.
Roddy drew in her breath as the door swung open and the faint light of his shielded candle made dim new shadows in the room. When she looked, he was standing in the doorway with darkness behind him and a decanter and glass in one hand. She waited, but he came no farther. She sat up at last, and whispered, “Faelan?”
“I thought you would be asleep,” he said softly.
“I waited for you.” Her voice sounded small in the wide, misty ring of candlelight.
“Did you?” He lingered in the door. “Did you indeed.” There was an odd ambivalence in his stance, as if he could not decide whether to enter or withdraw. He seemed to be inordinately interested in the carving at the foot of the bed; he spent a full minute staring at it without speaking.
Finally Roddy said, “Will you come to bed, my lord?”
His light eyes flicked up toward her. She felt the gaze like a physical touch, gathering in her tousled hair, caressing her face and shoulders and breasts. She moistened her lips, letting them part in an invitation she was barely aware of.
His mouth curved in a bitter smile. “How eager you look,” he
Her eyes went wide, with shock at first, and then with dawning anger. He set down the candle, turned, and shot the bolt home on the door. She watched him as he strolled into the room, the candlelight painting contours of dark and light on his face.
“I fear your rebel prince has found a willing chambermaid,” Faelan said. He sat down on the bed, and Roddy caught the sweet whiff of alcohol on his breath. “A mite more buxom than you, my dear. I’m afraid you aren’t quite in Geoffrey’s usual style.”
“I believe you’re drunk,” Roddy said.
He grinned, his eyes glowing demon-blue. “Do you think so?” The long black lashes swept downward, a slow perusal of her breasts that made the blood rush to the surface of her skin. “But drunk is so much better than insane, don’t you agree?”
He shifted, setting the glass down on the table with careless force and pouring a generous splash of amber liquid. He held the glass up in a mock toast. “To honesty, my love. I shall stay here and keep you an honest woman, and you shall make sure I remain an honest man. I should be distressed to wake in the morning and find that I’d murdered my wife and my only friend.”
“Nonsense,” Roddy said sharply. “Is this because I stayed a moment to talk to Geoffrey?” She glared at him with her chin set. “Whatever do you think, that we arranged some tryst to cuckold you and Mary under your very noses? Give us credit for some discretion, my lord, if you give us none for simple honor.”
His lips curved without humor; he downed the shot of whiskey in one swallow. “Ah, but I know to a fine degree where Lord Geoffrey’s honor begins and ends. If he wanted you, he’d have you if you were willing.”
“Well,” she said stoutly, “I’m certainly not.” Which was somehow better than admitting that Geoffrey harbored no desire for her whatsoever. Faelan’s obsessive jealousy was insulting, but it was just a little gratifying, too. The way his blue glance traveled over her and left and returned again with renewed intensity made her throat tighten in anticipation.
The Regency Romances by Laura Kinsale / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes