Always a Rogue, Forever Her Love(6)

By: Christi Caldwell

Her mouth went dry at this familiar topic of discussion. “Of course I will.” Or she still hoped with that foolishly optimistic sliver of her heart that still beat, that there would be a husband for her and a handful of happy babes.

“Lord Williams is growing tired of waiting for you.”

Gooseflesh dotted her arms. Lord Williams. With his noble brow and thick chestnut hair, he’d earned the oohs and aahs of nearly every lady in the county. Juliet, on the other hand, had gone to great lengths to avoid the gentleman since he’d first shown up, friend of her brother, recently of London, and visiting his recently acquired property in Kent. It was surely foolish on her part, a product of far too many Gothic novels, but something of him raised an unholy terror inside her. “I do not care to speak of Lord Williams.” She’d rather continue on the subject of Rosecliff Cottage.

Albert gestured with a hand upon his hip and his leg stuck out in front of him like he was an English version of Boney, himself. “Well, talk on him, we will. You see,” he pushed away from his spot over by the window and strolled over. “He is the sole gentleman good enough to set aside concern with your being lame.”

She winced at the mention of the leg she’d shattered as a girl of three and ten and he eleven. They’d climbed up the sturdy branches of the wych elm tree, up to the crown where the branches diverged, and he’d knocked into her. She’d tumbled to the ground and her leg had been badly broken. As she’d lain whimpering and crying on the ground with him standing above her grinning, she’d realized the extent of her brother’s hatred for her.

Juliet tipped her chin up a notch, not willing to let him see the effect his cruel taunt had upon her. “You can hardly know the thoughts of all gentlemen, Albert, and certainly not the honorable gentlemen. Not when you keep company with such odious, foul creatures.”

“Silence!” His shout boomed off the wall, more reminiscent of the young boy who’d kicked his toy soldiers around the room. Then, he seemed to remember himself. He smoothed his palms over the front of his jacket and drew in an audible breath. “As I was saying, Lord Williams would have you, if—”

“Lord Henry will never allow it,” she interjected.

“Lord Henry is dead.” He spoke so matter-of-fact; a chill stole down her spine.

“He’s not.” A captain in the Royal Navy, Lord Henry’s ship had gone lost at sea several months back.

“Yes, he is,” Albert, said mercilessly.

She’d never met Lord Henry Thine, Papa’s godson, and the Marquess of Bath’s second son, but she believed in her heart she’d know if the one last hope she held onto for freedom from Albert’s machinations was, in fact, buried at sea.

Though her wishes for his safe return were not solely self-serving in nature. Her father had spoken with great fondness of his godson.

“Either way,” she went on. “Lord Wallace would never force me to wed where I’d not want to.” Though in truth, she couldn’t say anything about her other guardian, Lord Wallace, with any real confidence. He was the brother of a mother she no longer remembered.

Albert snorted like one of the pigs in the pen at Rosecliff Cottage. “Lord Wallace is one foot in a grave and wouldn’t turn away a baron. Not for a cripple.”

Juliet leaned back in her seat and yawned into her hand, knowing it would infuriate her brother. “We will not likely know if I can make a match if you insist on denying me a Season.”

“Rubbish!” he barked. “It would be an utter waste of funds to launch a faulty ship like you off into a sea made of diamonds of the first water.”

Brava, on that unexpected, but not unexpectedly cruel, quip from her usually lack-wit of a brother. Juliet had tired of this tedious discussion. She held a staying hand up. “I’ll not wed Lord Williams. I will, however, insist you speak to this Earl of Sinclair and manage to get back that which you’ve lost.”

He slashed the air with his hand. “Sinclair collects winnings like he collects mistresses. He’ll not part with the cottage, even if it is a horridly modest dwelling.”

Her eyebrows dipped. Yes, she but knew of the earl’s name from the scandal sheets. This Lord Sinclair sounded like just the manner of gentleman her callow brother would keep company with. A string of mistresses, indeed. Juliet took a deep, steadying breath, or else risked burning her brother’s ears with a stinging diatribe. That would result in little good. “Well, then, I shall speak to him.”