Authors: Loretta Chase
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #General, #Regency
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BRENTMOR PUT AWAY THE NOTE HIS sister-in-law had given him. His
glance swept unseeingly across the blue Adriatic, glistening in the
early autumn sun, and around the stone terrace of his brother's
he met Diana's blue gaze. Then he smiled.
relieved to learn my mother hasn't gone soft in her old age,”
he said. “Doesn't waste a word, does she? You'd never know she
hadn't laid eyes on me in twenty-four years. To her, I'm still the
reckless boy who gambled away his inheritance and ran off to live
with the barbarous Turks.”
prodigal son, rather,” came Diana's amused response.
I've merely to creep to her on hands and knees and beg forgiveness,
and I and my half-breed daughter will be restored to the bosom of the
Brentmors. What on earth did you write her, love?”
that I'd met up with you in the spring in Venice. I also enclosed a
copy of my new will.” Diana gestured toward the elaborate chess
set that stood on a table near her chaise
“The set was yours once.
Now it shall be Esme's dowry.”
was my wedding gift to you,” he said.
answered. “But we spoke all our regrets in Venice, didn't we?
And we had three glorious weeks to make up for it.”
Diana, I do wish—”
looked away. “I hope you will not become maudlin, Jason. I
really cannot abide it. We've both paid a high price for our
mistakes. Still, we had Venice, and you're here now. The past is
done. I don't want our children to go on paying for it, as though
they existed in some ghastly melodrama. Your daughter needs a proper
home and a husband
England, where she belongs. The set's been appraised. It will bring
her a large sum.”
course she does, if you want her to marry happily. With the dowry and
your mother's backing in society, Esme may take her pick of eligible
bachelors. She's eighteen, Jason. She can't remain in Albania to be
shut up in some Turkish harem. You said as much yourself. Now, just
take her home and make up with your mama, and don't argue with a
knew she was dying. He'd suspected it by the time he left Venice;
otherwise, he'd not have attempted a second visit to Italy so soon.
In the interval, his golden-haired Diana had faded to a wraith, her
graceful hands so sadly frail, the blue veins throbbing weakly under
nearly transparent flesh. Yet she was determined to appear strong.
Proud and stubborn, as she'd always been.
moved away from the stone railing and, looking away from her still
beautiful face, took up the black queen from the chess set. The
minute gems of the elaborately carved Renaissance costume sparkled in
the sunlight. Though the chess set was supposedly more than two
hundred years old, it was complete and in fine condition.
you,” he said. “I'll take Esme back as soon as I can.”
I can't just yet,” he said. “But soon, I hope.” He
met her reproachful blue gaze. “I have obligations, love.”
important than those to your family?”
put back the queen, then moved to Diana's side and laid his hand
gently on her shoulder. He hated to disappoint her, but he couldn't
lie to her, either. “The Albanians took me in when I had
nothing,” he said. “They gave me a loving wife who bore
me a strong, brave daughter. They gave my life a worthy purpose, gave
me a chance to do some good. Now my adopted country needs my help.”
she said softly. “I hadn't thought of that. Your life's been
there for more than twenty years.”
it were just the usual thing, I'd not hesitate to leave. I know I've
put it off too long, and that's hardly fair to Esme, as you say. But
Albania is on the brink of chaos at present.”
looked up at him.
always unrest,” he explained. “Lately, though, the
uprisings show a pattern, as though they were being orchestrated.
I've captured a store of English weapons
it turns out, and smuggled. There's definitely someone behind it,
someone of considerable cunning who, unfortunately, appears to have
an equally adept supplier.”
conspiracy, Uncle Jason?”
and Diana turned toward the doorway, where her twelve-year-old son
Percival stood, his green eyes glowing with excitement. Jason had
forgotten about the boy, who had discreetly withdrawn more than an
hour ago with the excuse of trying on the Albanian costume his uncle
had brought him.
how dashing you look,” said his mother. “And how well it
the snug trousers with their distinctive braiding fit perfectly, as
did the short black jacket Percival wore over the loose cotton shirt.
had it made to Esme's size. It's what she usually wears. She's a
terrible hoyden, I'm afraid.” Jason ruffled the boy's dark red
hair. “Do you know, at the moment, you might pass as her twin.
Same hair, eyes—”
hair and eyes,” Diana said.
moved away and, with typical boyish disregard for life and limb,
jumped onto the terrace wall. Far below him, the sea lapped lazily at
the jagged rocks of the shore.
I was never so scrawny,” Jason answered, smiling. “It's
not so bad for a boy, but most exasperating for Esme. Be
she's so small and slight, others
tend to forget she's a grown woman
she objects very strongly to being treated like a
wish I could meet her,” said Percival. “I like tomboys.
The other sort of girls are so ghastly silly- Does she
afraid not. Perhaps, when we return to England, you'll teach her.”
Uncle? I'm most pleased to hear it. That's what Mama wishes, you
know.” Perched on the wall, his legs dangling over the side,
Percival squinted against the sun at the faint line of peaks just
visible on the opposite shore: Albania's coast. “Every fine
day,” he went on. “Mama and I come out to wave to you and
Esme, and pretend we can see you waving back. Of course, we don't
tell anyone, do we, Mama? Not even Lord Edenmont. He thinks We're
waving to the sailors.”
Jason repeated incredulously. “Not Varian St. George, surely?
What the devil was the fellow doing here, Diana?”
lives here,” she said with a faint smile. “You know of
got an earful in Venice. He was one of Byron's circle. Left England
to escape his creditors
proceeded to cut a swathe through the contessas, not to mention-”
Jason recollected Percival's presence. He perched himself on the
whispered fiercely, “The man's a parasite, a libertine, a
wastrel. What do you mean
mean he lives upon my husband.”
parasite, as I said. Hasn't a groat to his name
obviously he must rely upon others, I think of Lord Edenmont as
ornamental ivy, supporting itself upon an otherwise vulgar and boring
is to say Gerald, and others like him. Varian is very ornamental. He
is darkly beautiful in that brooding way so fatal to ferninine
glanced at Jason's face and a ghost of a laugh escaped her. “Not
to mine, darling. All I feel for him is pity and
occasionally, gratitude. If Lord
Edenmont has sunk to playing foot-boy to an ailing woman and
nurse-maid to her precocious son,