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Authors: Karolyn Howard

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BOOK: Devil Disguised
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Charles burst out laughing as he clutched his side and gasped for breath. His composure faltered as he continued to laugh before he shook his head and managed to say, “I had heard about the wine and the horses, but not together.”

“So it is true,” she exclaimed.

“No!” Charles shook his head, still smiling. “Duncan Cavanaugh, the Earl of Westbrook, is one of my closest friends. I trust him and he is not crazy. He can come across as a little rigid and set in his ways, but he has full use of his wits.”

“If he is one of your closest friends why have I not met him or even seen him visit the estate?”

“Because he left London just as you started your first Season.”

“And he never returned?”

“No. It is not my business to say what happened exactly, but he refuses to return to London.”

“That is absurd!” Pausing, Lily tilted her head and said, “Still, I am surprised I cannot recall him.”

Charles grimaced. “Well, there were times you could have been introduced to him, but your parents likely steered you away from him.”

“What?” Lily narrowed her eyes. “Why?”

Charles took a deep breath and looked uncomfortable. “His reputation is not one to which your parents would have approved. When he was in London, he was quite notorious. Frankly, had this been four years ago I am not certain that I would have let you stay in his home.”

Lily’s eyes widened. “Oh! But, you will now?”

He smirked. “I believe he has mellowed with age and he has become quite refined, so I am told. Besides, he is
well aware that you are my niece and his sister will be there as well. I expect him to treat you with the utmost respect. I also know you can handle yourself.”

Lily grinned, surprised at the praise, but then crossed her arms over her chest. “Mellowed with age? Oh, no. How old is the earl?”

“He is thirty, and like me, he has never married and has a title to pass along.” He cast a sideways look at her.

“I am glad to see my words do sink in occasionally,” she said with amusement.

“We met just before we went to Cambridge and have been friends ever since,” he added.

“Why does the earl not wish to return to London?” Lily stared at her uncle knowing she could not let this go.

“I know you plan to badger me about this now for the rest of the way to Brentwood, but you will have to ask Lord Cavanaugh as it is his business. Saying that, you need to know he is very private and I doubt he would appreciate you hounding him about it. It is a very sensitive subject where he is concerned.”

Lily took a deep breath as she considered her uncle’s words. They had another hour or so left in their near five-hour journey to Brentwood and it would take a lot of her will power to not pursue the subject. She looked at her uncle as if trying to read his mind.

He looked up at the coach’s ceiling. “Let this go for now, Lily.”

She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I will just have to ask Lord Cavanaugh about it myself.”

He grinned and said, “Of course you will.”

UNCAN TOOK A
sip of his tea as his butler entered the room and handed him the newspaper. “Is everything ready for our guests, Simon?”

Simon nodded and replied, “Of course. Per your request, the two guest rooms are ready for both Lady Worthington and Lady Montgomery. The kitchen is stocked and the staff has their instructions. I must say, everyone is delighted to have your sister staying with us.”

“I am glad.” Duncan stared at his teacup for a few moments.

“Is there anything else, my lord?” Simon asked.

Duncan nodded. “Yes. I want you to keep an eye on Lady Montgomery.”

“Of course. As you indicated, the staff and I will look out for her safety.”

“In addition, I want you to let me know if you notice anything unusual about her activities, but do not let the rest of the staff know about this.”

“I will do my best to note her activities. Is there anything I should pay particular attention to, my lord?”

Duncan looked up at the older man who had been a servant in his family’s home for as long as he could remember. Simon was more than a trusted servant; he was a friend. Duncan replied, “I have some suspicions about the Lady Montgomery and I want you to tell me anything that she does that seems the least bit interesting to you.”

“Suspicions?”

“Yes.” Duncan smiled without mirth. “Suffice it to say that I find it very strange that the Lady Montgomery has avoided injury when others close to her have met untimely demises.”

Simon’s eyes widened. “My lord, you think she is dangerous?”

“Apparently, she is the one in danger, but I think my friend’s judgment may be clouded where his niece is concerned.”

“I see.” Simon looked down and appeared distraught.

“Simon, please do not judge the lady yet. I have never even met her and have very little information, but I think we need to watch her very closely.”

“I will do just that. Discreetly, of course.”

“Thank you, Simon. Please let me know as soon as either my sister or Lady Montgomery arrives.”

Simon nodded and left the room.

Duncan stared at the amber colored liquid in his tea cup and wondered what he would do if he found out his suspicions about the Lady Montgomery were true.

UNCAN SAT ACROSS
from his sister as servants were bringing her suitcases into the guest room. He was about to speak when Simon entered the room and said, “My lord, another coach has arrived. It appears to be Lord Montgomery.”

Duncan nodded at the butler and then turned to smile at his sister.

Eleanor said, “Oh Duncan, please tell the Lady Montgomery that I look forward to seeing her at dinner.”

“I will. Are you sure you do not need anything else?” He looked at his younger sister with concern. Her usual pleasant demeanor seemed strained, but she had just spent a long journey in a coach and she looked exhausted.

Rubbing her extended belly, she managed a smile. “I think we are fine, but the carriage ride was uncomfortable, I think for both of us. I really just need to lie down for a few moments.”

“Of course.” Duncan leaned down and kissed her forehead. “Let me know if you or the baby needs anything.”

“I will. Now, go. Please do not keep your other guest waiting on my account. Oh, and give Lord Montgomery my regards as I assume he will be with his niece.”

Duncan nodded and turned to leave. He stepped out of the room and straightened his suit coat. As he tugged at his coat sleeves, he heard voices. The Montgomery’s must have just entered the foyer. He began to descend the staircase and saw Charles speaking to Simon. A woman was facing Charles and he heard the sound of her laughter. The sound was surprisingly charming.

Charles noticed his descent and nodded in his direction. As Duncan neared the bottom of the staircase, the woman turned towards him. Deep blue eyes met his gaze as a smile spread across a face of pure beauty. Blond hair cascaded around her angelic features and he was mesmerized. Gripping the railing to hide his misstep, he took the next two steps smoothly and completed his descent.

She looked down at his feet, obviously witnessing his near fall and grinned. She looked as if she was about to speak, but bit her lip instead. Time slowed as she smiled wider, lifting her gaze to meet his own. The color of the bluest waters of the sea held his regard directly and he thought he could drown in the depths of the color of her eyes. Charles stepped forward and held out his hand, breaking the moment.

“Duncan,” Charles said in greeting.

With effort, Duncan shifted his gaze and shook the proffered hand.

Charles said, “Lord Duncan Cavanaugh, please let me introduce my niece, Lady Lily Montgomery.”

Lily did a slight curtsey and held out her hand. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Lord Cavanaugh.”

Duncan took Lily’s hand and held her gaze again as he kissed the tops of her fingers. “It is a pleasure to meet you as well, Lady Montgomery. I am surprised we have not met before, but then again I have not been in London for quite some time.”

She blushed and pulled her hand gently from his grasp. He felt his eyes widen as he just realized he had not immediately released her hand.

She said, “I had just mentioned to my uncle that I was surprised as well that we had not met, but I was even more astonished that you have not returned to London. I am frankly not certain how I will be able to stay away for very long.”

Duncan wondered how much Charles had told Lily about his past. He smiled before he said, “Well, I hope you are able to enjoy yourself while you are here.”

Duncan turned towards Charles. “My sister gives her regards to you. She would have greeted you both as well, but the carriage ride made her very tired.”

Charles cleared his throat. “Is your sister well?”

“Yes. As well as a woman heavy with child can be after a long carriage ride.”

“Good, I am glad to hear that.” Charles shifted his gaze. “Well, Lily, now that you are here safely, I must be going.”

“What?” Lily’s eyes widened at her exclamation.

Charles turned towards her. “Yes. I need to return to London. Tonight.”

Duncan was surprised by the words, but watched as near panic crossed over Lily’s features. Then she pressed
her lips together and a mask of calm appeared before she said, “I thought we had another day or two before you left.”

Charles shook his head. “I am sorry for that misunderstanding, but you had just recently started speaking to me again.”

Lily’s eyes darted towards Duncan as her cheeks turned bright red. Then she lowered her voice and looked at Charles. “Although I was not speaking to you, I do not recall that I covered my ears at any point so that I would not listen to words that you said to me. You could have told me that you were not planning on staying here.”

Ignoring her, Charles looked at Duncan and said, “Good luck.”

Lily glanced at him and then followed Charles outside. Duncan watched the two stop near the carriage and noticed Lily’s worried expression as she spoke to her uncle. Then Charles gripped her hands and spoke to her for some time. She nodded and then hugged her uncle. Then she waved as the carriage departed and appeared to wipe her eyes before she walked back towards the home. Duncan stepped back as she entered the foyer. Her face was utterly composed and her emotions appeared well under control.

BOOK: Devil Disguised
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