Always a Rogue, Forever Her Love(4)

By: Christi Caldwell

A protest formed on his lips as she hurled the contents into the metal grate. Jonathan frowned. “You make a gentleman glad to have left his rooms at his clubs for your lovely company,” he muttered under his breath.

They fixed matching glares upon him. And then in a unison better suited to lieutenants in His Majesty’s infantry, they sank into the leather sofa opposite him.

As a wagering man, he considered the two women, and speculated as to which of them would be the first to reveal the reason for the missive requesting his presence on a matter of utmost urgency. Mother had the reserve of a mature dowager of far more years than Patrina’s mere nineteen years.

“You cannot go on like this,” Patrina began, making him wish he could have placed the wager in the book at White’s. He’d have made a fortune on his obvious prediction. She frowned. “Are you listening to me, Jonathan?”

Knowing it would infuriate his vexing sister, he grinned and reached for another glass. Her black glower stopped him. He’d be wise to choose his battles this day. “I’d wager all the servants hovering at the doorway heard you with great clarity.”

Mother’s frown deepened. “Our servants do not eavesdrop. Or gossip. They are entirely loyal…” She shook her head. “That is neither here nor there.” She jabbed a finger in his direction. “And that is why you’re here. It is time you set aside your…your…” A red blush stained her cheeks.

“Womanizing?” Patrina supplied.

Mother fanned her cheeks. “Trina!” Then, “And yes. Your womanizing, Jonathan.”

“And your excess drinking,” His sister added unhelpfully.

“I do not indulge in excess drink,” he cut in. He shifted in his seat. What respectable gentleman didn’t enjoy the occasional drink, now and then? “I indulge in drink.” He strolled over to the leather winged-back chair opposite their sofa, and plopped himself into it. “Humph, and here I’d thought I was here about the whole governess business.”

“Well, that as well,” Mother said, with a touch of annoyance in her tone.

Patrina glanced pointedly at Jonathan. “There is the whole matter of his gaming, Mama. You mustn’t forget his gaming,” she spoke with the same passion of a county vicar blasting the villagers for their great sins.

Jonathan sat back in his chair and stretched his legs out in front of him, long-tired with his sister and Mother’s barrage. He feigned a yawn. “No, we mustn’t forget my gaming.”

“The gossip columns report on your frequent, and outrageous, wagers at the gaming tables,” Patrina went on as though he’d not spoken.

He hooked one ankle over the other. “Do they also report on my astounding success at whist and faro?” Because he’d done remarkably well at the turn of the cards of late. There’d been that particularly fine hit with the Baronet Albert Marshville. The blasted fool hadn’t known when to turn on his heel and quit the game, and Jonathan had made out the better for it.

Patrina leaned forward in her seat. She flattened her lips into a disapproving line. “They also say—”

“I’d not taken you as one to pay attention to the gossip rags,” he said with a dry twist of humor to his words.

His mother held a hand up, staying Patrina’s response, and looked to Jonathan. “Do you find humor in this, Jonathan?” Faint disapproval underscored her quietly spoken question.

He climbed to his feet, no longer able to bury his annoyance under the veneer of affected disinterest. “I’ve done nothing to merit your disapproval,” he bit out. “My actions are no different than other respectable gentleman.” He didn’t indulge in any more spirits than his fellow peers. Unlike the young gentlemen recently out of university, he knew when to quit the gaming tables.

Mother and Patrina shared a look. His neck burned at the almost pitying glance they passed between them. He gritted his teeth. He needed no one’s pity.

“I know you were hurt,” Patrina intoned quietly.

Jonathan wandered over to the window that overlooked the London streets. He tugged back the curtain and stared down into the bustling thoroughfare at the passing lords and ladies. “I wasn’t hurt,” he said. Not any of which he’d admit to, anyway, not even to his well-intending family. The fact that Patrina, his young, unwed sister had sensed the level of his disappointment when Abigail had chosen Redbrooke’s suit over his own, chafed.