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It hardly needed brightening, Daisy thought. The drapes had been pulled back from the windows and the room was flooded with morning light. It was a handsomely appointed room, with rich carpets and ornate furniture. Her nostrils twitched. There was no stale, medicinal smell of a sickroom here; instead the room bore a slight familiar and delicious scent of soap and warm sandalwood.

“I got you a book and some sweets,” she said, ignoring his compliment. “But it looks like you don’t need for anything.”

“Oh, but I do,” he said. “I needed company
des-
perately.
Not that Geoff isn’t delightful, but he’s woefully short on gossip.”

“Well, so am I,” Daisy said, as she took a chair the earl moved to the side of the bed. “All I can tell you is that it’s a beautiful day.”

“Then let’s
make
some gossip,” Leland said with a tilted grin.

“I’m only here because they promised me you couldn’t,” she said.

She heard Helena take in a breath, and the earl laugh. Daisy smiled as she realized how much easier it was to talk with the viscount when he was safely confined to his bed.

He laughed. “They can’t promise what they don’t control, Mrs. Tanner. But never fear! I’m on my best behavior. That’s not difficult this morning. Did you know I creak when I move, like Prinny in his corset? Very distracting. But you, Mrs. Tanner, tempt me most awfully. And speaking of distractions, Helena, I see you’re wearing the gown Mrs. Tanner told me about. I’m so pleased. You look splendid in it. Not that the lavender didn’t suit you, but you glow in saffron, just as Mrs. Tanner promised.”

As Helena smiled and thanked him, Daisy tilted her head to the side. So it was “Helena” so soon, and no correction offered, even when her companion was such a monster of propriety? And
four
“Mrs. Tanners” in a row? She doubted it was an accident. A glance at the light dancing
in the viscount’s dark blue eyes told her it wasn’t.

“You can call me Daisy,” she told him grudgingly. “Save yourself some breath that way, and I guess you need it today.”

He put one hand on his heart. “I’m moved almost to tears. Thank you, Daisy.
Is
that your given Christian name, by the way?”

Daisy’s face flushed. “My father always called me that, so everyone else did, too. But I was given the name Deidre. He thought it was too formal for”—
“a little redheaded sprite”
was what her father had said all those years ago, but that she wouldn’t share—“a little girl. Daisy suits me, though. I don’t think I’d even answer to Deidre if I heard it.”

“‘Deidre of the sorrows,’” Leland quoted thoughtfully. “Yes, I can see it doesn’t fit a little sprite like you. Have I said something wrong?” he asked when he saw her start.

“No, it’s just that was what he said. Anyway,” she said, trying to collect herself, “sometimes a name you get by accident is the one you keep. Funny, that. Even my father forgot Daisy wasn’t my name. Years later, I asked if the fact that it wasn’t my
real
name on my marriage lines made them invalid, but the magistrate said no, since everyone knew me as Daisy.” She sighed with remembered regret. “Well, it was a long shot, but I tried. So it seems if you use a name long enough, it’s yours to keep.”

Leland watched her, seeing how bleak memory brought sorrow to her face. “Why, yes,” he said. “In many ways. If I suddenly turned to nothing but acts of charity and repaired to a monastery, I’d still be called a rake. Not that I plan to do that!” he said in mock horror, to make her smile again. “My injury didn’t frighten me
that
much. I’d need to be struck by an axe, not a knife, for that kind of repentance.”

She smiled at him as his lips quirked in a real smile, too. Their eyes met in acknowledgment of the joke. It was a curiously intimate moment for Daisy. She liked the feeling she was sharing something amusing with another person who understood; she hadn’t done that since she was a girl and had shared secret jests with her best friend. When she realized that a second later, her eyes widened.

What was it about this man? He wasn’t handsome, not by half. But she found herself increasingly appreciating his arresting, angular looks. She’d passed so many years in a place where females were in the minority that she’d thought she’d met every kind of male. But she’d never met one like him, so full of manners and yet also filled with mirth and clever wickedness. He spoke as lightly as he moved and seemed to take nothing seriously except fashion. And yet he was strong and virile.

He was a novelty. She thought that might be it, entirely. At least she hoped so. In time, after
meeting more fellows like the viscount, she might come to regard him with fondness, not the disturbing mixture of pleasure and alarm she felt whenever she met his gaze. As now, when she felt like squirming because of how he was watching her with rueful amusement and yet with sympathy.

He looked away, releasing her. “Any new ideas about my assailant?” he asked the earl.

“No. And you?”

“None,” Leland said. “I pride myself on my enemies. After all, it isn’t only one’s friends that are the measure of a man. My enemies are superior, too.” When they stopped laughing, he added, “At least my enemies are outspoken and would never hire anyone to do their dirty work. The more I think of it, the more I think it was an accident. London’s full of thieves; they can’t all be expert. But Daisy,” he added, meeting her eyes again with a steady, serious gaze, “you be careful, at least until we’re sure.”

“I’m prepared,” she said, holding up her chin.

“I’ll bet you are,” he said. “But I don’t want to see you tested. Now, I should be ready for a public viewing by the end of the week. Shall it be at the theater or a party? Or a ball? I’ve invitations to a delightful ball; it will be a mad crush. I haven’t sent in my card yet.”

Daisy considered it. She wanted to go anywhere the earl could, to find out if she’d fit into his world.
She just wasn’t sure if she was ready for such a big test. It wasn’t a matter of suitable gowns. Because if she found she was a total scandal, she’d have to leave Geoff, with regrets. She wanted him as her husband but it wasn’t fair to saddle him with a wife who could never be accepted. She knew too well how it felt to be an outsider, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone she liked.

“But surely you aren’t ready to dance,” the earl protested.

“No, but I never am,” Leland said. “I do it only to be obliging, but I don’t care to caper, I’m just not cut out for it. I look like a scarecrow in the wind if I join a country dance, and like I’ve also got a broomstick up my breeches if I try a minuet. Excuse me,” he said, with a look at Helena, seeing she was trying to suppress her laughter. “I’ll try to be more sensible of my guests’ tender ears, ma’am.

“Still, I
could
dance by then, if I wished,” he added. “And if not, then surely flirting won’t use up my strength, and that’s what I do best. Another benefit is that I’ll be such a sensation after my mishap that we can slip Daisy into any fashionable party without anyone looking at her with undue scrutiny. They’d be too busy goggling at me. Would you mind not being the belle of the ball?” he asked Daisy.

She could swear he’d read her mind. “No,” she said, with relief, “not at all.”

“I’m not sure the doctor will let you,” the earl told him. “But if you want to try, we have to leave you now, so you can be up to it. The doctor said rest, and that’s what you’ll get until his next visit.”

“Alas!” Leland said, sinking back on his pillows. “You’re not going to let any more lovely ladies come up to my bedchamber?
That
might kill me. But I will survive, if only because I’ll be readying myself for Saturday evening. Save a waltz for me, Daisy, will you?”

His voice asked for more than a waltz; his eyes did, too. She found herself unable to say yes, because of the sudden vision of herself in his arms. How could she resolve her uneasy feelings about him if she got that close to him?

“I haven’t danced in years,” she said truthfully.

He waved a hand. “You’ll remember when you hear the music. And I’m infinitely patient. So?”

“Thank you, yes. I’d like that,” she lied.

He grinned, and she knew that he knew that, too.

 

Leland lay back and closed his eyes after Daisy left, seeing the red of his inner eyelids in the sunlight, and the red-gold of her hair in his mind’s eye; feeling the warmth of the sun on his face, imagining the warmth of her body next to his. He didn’t know if he’d ever feel that in reality, because for some reason he’d frightened her today. He didn’t know why.

He had the reputation of a rake, that was true.
But why should she fear that? Especially coming from where she’d been? After all, with all he was, he
was
a gentleman. She had to know he’d never force her to do anything. In fact, he wasn’t sure he was that much of a libertine; it was only that he’d gotten the name and it amused him to keep it. Many gentlemen had just as many lovers, but he was more open about it than most; he’d concede that.

The truth was that he loved to love. The joy of a woman’s body was a miracle in which he could always forget himself, and that was no small miracle in itself. He liked more than their bodies; he numbered women, even though many were unobtainable, among his friends. Unlike other men he knew, he didn’t believe a person’s body shaped her mind, at least not entirely. Yet he’d never loved the way poets said a man could: once and forever and with a burning desire that was more than passion. Since he hadn’t, he didn’t know if he could. But the game of love, flirtation and challenge, acceptance and pleasure, always delighted him.

He didn’t know whether Daisy Tanner knew she’d been flirting with him. She’d done it beautifully, though, until he’d frightened her. That surprised him. Did she have a guilty secret? Did that have something to do with why she was wary of him and making a dead set for Geoff?

It was important, for Geoff’s sake, that he find out. He laughed aloud.

“My lord?” his valet, who had been cleaning the room, asked. “Are you all right?”

He opened his eyes. “Nothing,” he said. “It’s nothing. I laughed because I was so amused by lies I was telling myself. It must be the effect of the medicine the good doctor gave me for pain. I tell you what, give me some more to make me sleep. I have to be ready to dance.”

D
aisy took one last look in the mirror. She was going to pay another call on Geoff and Viscount Haye after breakfast, and so had tried to look both elegant and cool this warm summer’s morning. Her hair had been tamed, drawn taut and smoothed back from her face, allowing ringlets to riot only at the back of her head. She had on a yellow gown, sprigged with tiny pink flowers and green leaves. There was even a parasol to match, but she regretfully left it in its wrapping tissue. She still didn’t feel enough of a lady to sport one, never knowing when to use it for shade, rest it on her shoulder, or twirl it flirtatiously, in the easy way ladies of fashion did. That, along with the use of a fan,
was like using another language, an art she meant to acquire.

She picked up a pair of yellow kid gloves. “I can’t look better,” she said. “Let’s have breakfast. I’m starved.”

Helena sighed but held her tongue. A lady wouldn’t have said she was starved, but she wouldn’t hurt Daisy’s feelings by correcting her for something that minor.

But Daisy had seen her expression. “I mean,” she said puckishly, raising a hand to her forehead, “I vow I am fairly
famished.

Helena laughed. “No. You said it right the first time, because you said it the way only you could.”

“I may never be styled a lady, you know,” Daisy confided as they walked to the door.

“You’ll be called ‘charming’ and ‘candid’ and ‘refreshing,’ and that’s much better.”

Daisy stopped and looked at Helena. She was frowning. “Do you really think they’ll do that? That they’ll accept me?”

Helena didn’t have to ask who “they” were. “If the earl does, they will,” she said diplomatically.

“Good,” Daisy said in relief. “I can change, but only so much. I mean, I suppose I could, but I’ve had enough of being someone I’m not in order to please a man.”

It was Helena who was frowning slightly as they went down the stair. But Daisy didn’t notice, she was too intent on getting downstairs to eat
and then see Leland. And Geoff, she reminded herself.

 

“Go right on up,” Geoff said when Daisy and Helena arrived. “I’ve a visitor, my man-at-law; our business won’t take long. Leland’s still upstairs, but only because he can’t get down here on his own yet and refuses to be carried.”

“I’m on my way,” Daisy said. She saw Helena’s face grow pink. She hoped there wouldn’t be another objection to her seeing the viscount in his bedchamber.

But Helena turned to the earl. “May I be excused for a moment?” she asked in embarrassment. “And have you a withdrawing room?”

Daisy suppressed a giggle. No question that good breeding complicated things. Few people in Port Jackson would have known what Helena was talking about; they’d a much simpler way to say they needed a chamber pot. But Daisy had seen how much tea Helena had drunk at breakfast, and the earl was used to good manners.

“It’s just down the hall,” Geoff said, and indicated the direction.

Helena nodded. “I’ll be there soon,” she told Daisy unhappily, because though she clearly didn’t want Daisy to go up alone, she knew she wouldn’t wait.

This time, Leland’s door was open. This time, too, he sat up in a chair by the bed. He wore a robe over a shirt and breeches. His face wasn’t as
pale as it had been the day before. His eyes were just as intense and blue, but she thought she saw pain in them.

“Why look at you!” she said. “Out of bed already. That’s very good.”

“So it is,” he said, and sat back, letting out a gusty sigh of relief, as though talking had exerted him. Then he smiled. “And look at you! You’re wearing one of Madame Bertrand’s gowns today. Very lovely, the color suits you. Take a chair, please. If you continue to stand, I’ll feel I must, too.”

She looked around. There was a chair near the window, far from him. And there was one right next to his. Too close, she thought, and too awkward. But how stupid she would look sitting on the other side of the bed! She’d have to shout to talk to him. She sat down, gingerly, next to him.

He saw her hesitation, and she saw amusement in his gaze. But “Tell me about the world outside” was all he said.

“You’ve only been here a few days,” she scoffed. “And you read the newspaper. I don’t know anything that’s happened that you don’t.”

“Oh, do you not?” he asked softly. “I think you know much that I want to know. What do you think of me now, for example?”

She blinked.

“You thought I was a fop and a man milliner, or worse, when we first met. Don’t deny it,” he said, raising a hand. “But now,” he said, watch
ing her intently. “What do you think now? I ask because you are so very wary of me. Surely you know I mean you no harm?”

“Well, of course I know that,” she exclaimed. “You took a knife in your chest in my defense.”

He cocked his head to the side. “Any gentleman would have done that. What is it about me that frightens you, Daisy?”

Well, there was plain speaking, she thought with a little panic. She cleared her throat for time. “You say such flirtatious things, my lord,” she finally said. “And flirtation is a thing I’m out of practice with.”

“It isn’t all flirtation, Daisy,” he said softly. “I mean everything I say. You are beautiful, I do desire you, and I think I could make you very happy. But don’t be afraid. I am a gentleman, and would never do anything you didn’t want me to. That’s a solemn promise.”

“What do you want to do?” she asked without thinking, mesmerized by his soft voice and the intimate mood. Then she squeezed her eyes closed and shook her head. “No, no. Stupid question!” she said, and shot up from her chair. “I know very well what you want.”

He smiled. “Good. I hoped so.”

She didn’t know whether to laugh with him or rail at him, but didn’t have to do either.

“What the devil are you doing up and out of bed?” the earl said as he marched into the room, Helena at his side.

“Recovering,” Leland said gloomily. “Terrorizing Daisy and frightening you. Seeing if I can move at all. Oh bother, I’m sick of lying in bed. In fact, that’s it. I
will
be sick if I stay there.”

“The doctor said bed rest,” the earl said.

“The doctor also wanted to regale me with leeches,” Leland said on a barely concealed shudder. “And that
after
he’d let blood. I decided to save some for my veins. There are some things I still do control, you know. And look at me, I’m in fine fettle, and up to all kind of mischief,” he added, with a private smile for Daisy.

She couldn’t help smiling back at him. The dark, erotic mood he’d established was gone. He was Leland Grant, the trifling nobleman, again.

“I promised the doctor,” the earl said, crossing his arms.

“Oh, very well,” Leland said ungraciously. “I’ll do it to please you.” He started to rise, and faltered. His company darted forward. With the earl on one side and Helena on the other, they helped him walk the few steps to his high bed, and into it, so he could lie back on his pillows.

“I confess,” Leland said when he was settled, hand on the bandage over his heart, “This does feel better.”

“There’s a concession!” the earl said. “Do you want us to leave?”

“Never,”
Leland said, and sounded as if he meant it. “I’m really feeling much better and I enjoy the company, believe me.”

“Good,” the earl said, “because you’ve another visitor coming. A lady who asked special permission to see you even if you were in bed.”

Leland’s eyebrows went up. “And you
agreed
? I must be corrupting you, Geoff.”

“Not that kind of visitor,” the earl said. “It’s your mama.”

Leland’s smile faded. “Unfair,” he said softly. “You ought to have asked me first.”

“No, I couldn’t and wouldn’t,” the earl said. “Because refusing wasn’t an option for you or me.”

Both men fell still.

“Would you like us to leave?” Daisy asked.

“Good God, no!” Leland exclaimed. “Finding me with a room full of young beauties may well speed her on her way. So please stay. You brighten my day. I’m a most unnatural son,” he added because of the shocked look on Helena’s face. “And she, a most indifferent mother. Still, if I greeted her with exclamations of profound joy, she’d believe me about to depart this life. We haven’t the warmest relationship,” he explained. “And everyone knows it.”

“Well, I can understand that sort of thing,” Daisy said with a shrug. “I loved my father, but I always knew he didn’t feel the same about me. He didn’t dislike me,” she added hastily. “Or treat me badly. He just didn’t think of me at all, is what it was.”

Leland narrowed his eyes against the blaze of
color that surrounded her where she sat, in a pool of sunlight at the side of his bed. Or was she the light that dazzled him? he wondered. She was radiant; her hair, her gown, her frequent smile, her laughter.

Again, he wondered why she was attaching herself to a middle-aged recluse and his wounded friend, when she could have all London at her feet. It was true that with her past she might not attract a man who was a stickler for propriety. But this was the nineteenth century, after all. She was wellborn and well funded. Her wit and beauty, the novelty of her, could lure any normal male to ask for her hand and yearn for the sumptuous rest of her to follow as soon as possible.

Dangerous things to be thinking while lounging in bed, Leland realized, feeling his body stirring in reaction to his thoughts. He struggled to sit up straighter, but the high featherbed defeated him, embracing him and sinking him deeper every time he tried to move. “My lord,” he pleaded when he couldn’t manage it, punching one of the pillows behind him. “See how helpless I am. At least let me sit in a chair again.”

The earl lifted an eyebrow. Leland subsided.

“I don’t want your blood on my hands, literally or figuratively,” the earl said.

“At least tell the viscountess that I’ll see her another day,” Leland said. “I feel far too vulnerable this way. She hasn’t seen me in bed since the day I was born.”

The earl shook his head. “I can’t. She’s already on her way.”

“Damn!” Leland said, and then quickly said, “I meant ‘drat,’ ladies. Mark it down to my distress and forgive me.”

Daisy wondered what he was apologizing for, until Helena spoke up. “It’s nothing, my lord,” she said. “Or at least nothing we never heard before.”

The viscount apologized for saying “damn”? Lord! Daisy thought, what would he have made of how they talked back in the colony? Her eyes met the earl’s and they smiled at each other, obviously both struck by the same thought.

“My dear Leland,” a cool voice exclaimed from the doorway. “So it was true! You were injured, attacked in public by a cutpurse.”

“Hello, Mama,” Leland said in an equally cool voice. “No saying it was a cutpurse. It could have been anyone with a grudge against me, as you always said might happen if I didn’t reform my way of life.”

His mother paused in the doorway, looking at him. Here, in the unrelenting light of day, Daisy could see that the years had left their mark on what was probably once flawless beauty. But signs of age—the few wrinkles at the eyes and around the corners of the mouth, and the gray in the golden hair—didn’t detract so much as point up the fact that she was still remarkably handsome. And cold.

From her voice to her smile, Viscountess Haye was a model of composure. She didn’t look like the sort of female who had once kicked over the traces and run off with a Gypsy. Or like the kind who had conducted countless affairs afterward. Daisy couldn’t imagine this woman showing any kind of passion. But then Daisy remembered a murderess she’d known who had poisoned three husbands and yet looked as though she was incapable of pouring a guest tea that was too hot.

Daisy saw that cool blue gaze fall on her, and looked away. The woman made her feel guilty, and she wasn’t sure of what.

“Mrs. Tanner, good morning,” the countess said as she stripped off her gloves and came into the room. She glanced at Helena, but only gave her a brief nod, because servants weren’t acknowledged, and if Helena wasn’t precisely a servant, she was in a paid position, and so, of no account.

Then that piercing blue gaze found the earl, and the countess smiled. “My lord,” she said. “Thank you for taking Haye in after the incident. It was very kind of you.”

“No kindness involved,” the earl said. “Leland’s a friend, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, please, have a seat and stay as long as you wish. Mrs. Masters, if you’d be kind enough to come with me? I’ve a few questions to ask you about just that incident that I ought to have asked before.”

“I’ll come, too!” Daisy said, springing up from her chair.

“Please stay,” Leland said, “Or my mama will think she’s frightened you away.”

“Indeed,” the viscountess said. “Do stay, Mrs. Tanner. We hardly had time to get acquainted before, and I see you are already a fixture in my son’s life.”

“Lud, no!” Daisy blurted. “I mean to say, I’m not. That is, I’m an old friend of Geoff’s, I mean, the earl’s, and since the viscount’s a friend of his, we’re thrown into each other’s company a lot, is what it is.”

Daisy’s face flushed. Gracelessly said, and not what she meant, it made the viscount laugh and the viscountess’s gaze grow sharper.

“Absolutely true,” the earl said with a chuckle. “And just like Daisy to say it that way. Come along, Mrs. Masters. We’ll be back in no time.”

“Don’t look so anxious,” he murmured to Helena as they left the room. “I’ve just a few questions, because the man from Bow Street said everyone present that night should be interviewed, and I wanted to spare you the ordeal of having him do it.”

Once they were gone, Daisy sat back, feeling uneasy and out of place. Surely mother and son needed some private time together. So she sat quietly, trying to disappear by her silence.

The viscountess sat upright in her chair and put her hands in her lap. She turned toward
Daisy. “So you are in England to stay now, Mrs. Tanner?”

“Yes,” Daisy said, wondering why she didn’t ask her son how he felt before she chatted with his visitor.

“I see. And where will you live?”

“I’m staying at Grillions, on the park, for now.”

BOOK: Edith Layton
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