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Authors: Jo Goodman

More Than You Know

BOOK: More Than You Know
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Copyright ©2000 by Joanne Dobrzanski
First E-Reads Edition 2004
NOTICE: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including without limit email, floppy disk, file transfer, paper print out, or any other method constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment.
For Claire

Her smile dazzles us.

Chapter One

London

April 1875

He was not surprised he hadn't noticed her from the first. She had been successful at making herself rather nondescript, though he was fairly certain it hadn't required much forethought or effort. It was her peculiarity, perhaps her good fortune, to be graced with features that did little to distinguish her. Brown hair. Brown eyes. A narrow face. Her mouth was only remarkable for its humorlessness. She was altogether forgettable, which was good. It was his most fervent wish to forget her.

He turned away again, giving her his back as he had done throughout the interview. It had been an inadvertent snub before. Now it could not be mistaken for anything but purposely rude. He leaned forward, bracing his arms stiffly on the large walnut desk. His head lowered fractionally as he took the full measure of the man sitting across from him. He had no illusions that what he had to say would be greeted with favor, and he did not try to dress it up when a single word would serve.

"No."

Evan Markham, eighth Duke of Strickland, did not blink. Although unused to being denied, he had no startle reflex. The duke's natural reserve, bred to the bone, caused his expression to be shuttered. He raised his pale, rather fine-boned hands slowly and steepled his fingers just below the point of his chin. In spite of the positioning of his hands, the attitude was not one of prayer.

"Perhaps you did not understand,” Strickland said. “I wasn't properly making a request, Captain Hamilton. I was stating the terms of the arrangement. In order to secure the funds you need, you must accept Miss Bancroft as a passenger. This is not negotiable."

Rand Hamilton did not miss the ghost of a smile shaping the Duke's narrow mouth, but he chose to ignore it. He did not care if Strickland was amused by him, and he was not going to be goaded into accepting an arrangement that was so ill-conceived. He leaned a bit more forward, his braced arms relaxing slightly. His voice and his answer remained firm. “No,” he said.

The steeple of Strickland's fingers collapsed and his hands folded into a single fist. The polished surface of the desk reflected the movement as the fist was lowered. His pale blue eyes continued to assess the captain, and though his expression gave nothing away, he wondered if the conclusions he had drawn about the man's character were in error. He had expected to find intelligence and intensity. He had reasoned that Hamilton would be astute enough to understand the importance of the offer before him and desperate enough to seize it.

There were limits, it seemed, to the captain's recklessness.

Under the duke's careful study, Rand straightened. In a gesture that was less absent than it appeared, he raked back the thick, copper-colored hair at his temple and let his attention wander. There had been little opportunity to take in his surroundings. From the moment he was ushered into Strickland's London townhouse, Rand was oddly aware that he was being granted an audience, and that what he was properly expected to feel was a mixture of awe and gratefulness. That struck him as amusing. He would have allowed himself to be drawn and quartered rather than admit he felt any measure of the other emotions.

The duke's library was paneled in walnut and mounted with floor-to-ceiling shelves on the north wall. Hundreds of leather-bound volumes lent the room a fragrance that was pleasing to anyone who loved books as well as Rand. The fragrance was more than the bindings and paper and ink. It was also the hint of pipe tobacco and hand oils that had been absorbed into the leather over decades of human contact. Rand was unprepared for the stab of envy he felt. Knowing these books represented only a fraction of what the duke would have in his estate libraries did not help the sensation pass easily. He resisted the urge to view Strickland's collection more closely, afraid it would show some vulnerability on his part.

His eyes, faintly guarded in their expression now, shifted to the opposite wall, where heavily gilded frames secured the duke's English countryside and ancestry in oils. Here and there among the portraits Rand caught a glimpse of a feature now part of Strickland's own countenance. The duke's eyes were the same pale blue as those of a young woman holding a puppy on her lap two centuries earlier. The austere, even rigid line of his jaw was courtesy of another duke, this one posed stiffly on a horse. Strickland's thick dark hair was repeated in several of the paintings, most notably in a man of middle years who had also imparted the narrow shape of his mouth. Rand did not think he imagined the vaguely disapproving air of these ancestors. Certainly he did not imagine Strickland's.

Past the duke's shoulder, Rand's gaze fell on the small fire laid in the hearth. He surprised himself again by thinking of home. There, in Charleston, there would be no need for extra warmth on an April afternoon. Sunshine would have beaten back the morning chill and brightened the surface of every green leaf lifted in its direction. Bria would be sitting on the verandah, her face also lifted toward the sun. Perhaps she would be smiling. Rand hoped so. He did not like to think that she only smiled for him, as if she knew how much he wanted to believe she was happy.

It made him wonder about the woman at his back, the one who did not smile when he had turned to look at her. She had not seemed to care what he made of her cheerless features, nor had she registered any surprise that he had only just become aware of her. She hadn't blushed or in any way communicated that she was discomfited by his scrutiny. It was almost as if she had been unaware of it.

She did not subject him to the same study, as a bolder woman might have done. Neither did she turn away and try to make him out from a shy, sidelong glance. Her eyes had remained rather vaguely focused on some point just past his shoulder, not quite looking at him, but not quite looking at anything else. Her solemn expression had remained unchanged.

Miss Bancroft couldn't have known, Rand realized, that she had hit upon the very thing that might engage his interest: her complete indifference. He wondered whether, if he turned suddenly, he would find her unchanged. Was she perhaps using these moments to make her own assessment? Bria was fond of telling him, a little more seriously than not, that he could afford the luxury of not being vain. With so many women eager to surround him, casting his reflection in their eyes, mirrors were superfluous. He had always grinned at that observation. Bria was also quick to point out that the secretive, self-mocking nature of that grin did nothing to dim his appeal.

But then, he thought, Bria had not met the likes of Miss Bancroft.

Strickland pushed away from his desk. “Please, Captain, be seated. I think a drink would serve us well. I find that a good Scotch whiskey clears my head. I fear I may have explained myself badly."

Rand did not disabuse the duke of that notion. He understood that it would not occur to Strickland that someone could simply disagree with him or deny his wishes. He was more likely to believe that if he fully explained the logic of his position, agreement must follow. That his opponent might have an alternative equally sound position would not be part of his thinking. “Scotch will be fine."

The duke nodded, pleased with what he saw as the first of many concessions Rand Hamilton would make. “Claire,” he said. “Would you be so kind?"

Rand thought that Miss Bancroft was being asked to serve them. He was aware of her movement behind him as she rose from her chair. He glimpsed her out of the corner of his eye when her path to the door cut into his field of vision. She grasped the bell pull and rang for Strickland's butler.

"Thank you, m'dear,” the duke said kindly. “You may come or go as you please. I fear that hashing out the particulars will merely fatigue you."

Turning slightly, Rand noted that if Claire Bancroft was troubled by this thinly disguised dismissal, she gave no indication. Her faint smile remained reserved, her poise unchanged. When she spoke, however, her tone carried a certain amount of affection and familiarity. It took the sting out of what could have been interpreted as an admonishment.

"Have a care, your grace. Your phrasing suggests that Captain Hamilton will surrender to your dictates. Unless he changes his mind, you will never get to the point of discussing particulars."

Rand watched her slender fingers reach toward the door. He knew a moment's disappointment that she was going to leave them and wondered why that should be so. Perhaps it was because she respected his right to say no where the duke did not. She, at least, was not bent on arguing with him about the matter.

"It was a pleasure, Miss Bancroft,” Rand said politely.

She fixed him with a blank stare as her fingers found the door's brass handle. “It was no pleasure, Captain Hamilton. And well you know it.” Claire twisted the handle. “I will be in my sitting room, your grace.” Then she let herself out.

Strickland did not watch Claire go. His attention was fully on his guest. He had not missed the captain's slight start at Claire's setdown. It was a pity, he thought, that Claire had. “I suspect you will have to make some allowances for my goddaughter's plain speaking,” he said. “I have."

Rand didn't know which surprised him more: the fact that Miss Bancroft was the duke's goddaughter or that he made allowances. He commented on neither and said instead, “Has she been ill?"

"Aaah,” Strickland said slowly. “My comment that she might become fatigued did not pass unnoticed."

Rand let the duke believe that was all he had observed. He could have added that except for the shadows beneath her eyes, his goddaughter's complexion was like whey. “Has she?” he repeated.

Strickland motioned for Rand to have a seat and made no response until it was done. In this way it was more of an order than a suggestion. “Not ill in the usual sense,” he said as Rand stretched his legs casually in front of him. The duke doubted he would get used to this peculiar American sprawl. It came from having too much land, he thought, and almost limitless boundaries. There was a tendency, which Strickland found undisciplined, to use all the available space. Quite purposefully he sat up straighter, hoping the captain would follow by example.

"She has had rather a bad time of it lately. She has...” He paused, thinking of how to explain it. “I suppose it would be correct to say that she has been through something of an ordeal. She is on the mend now. All the doctors agree. As far as her being able to travel, you should have no concerns that there will be any problems. She assures all of us that she is up to the journey."

Rand's eyes were the color of polished chestnuts, but without the warmth. He regarded the duke frankly. “Do not mistake my inquiry for interest. I could not care if Miss Bancroft were fit to swim the Channel. She will not be stepping on board
Cerberus."

Strickland chose not to argue the point. The whiskey, after all, had not yet arrived. “Tell me, Captain, why does one name one's ship after the guardian of the gates of hell?"

"I suppose, your grace, because one is expected to name a ship something."

The duke's displeasure was in the marginal tightening of his mouth. There was an air of insolence that Rand Hamilton barely kept in check. Strickland's encounters with Americans had led him to conclude that while they took an almost fanatical pride in their commoner ways, even addressing their president as mister, they were also strangely fascinated, perhaps even a bit in awe, of the royal titles and lineage they overthrew. Thus far, Captain Hamilton was falling outside the duke's experience. “I confess I thought I understood a few things about you Yanks,” he said.

"That might still be true,” Rand drawled, “if you were dealing with a Yankee. We're a distinctly different breed south of the Mason-Dixon."

"Mason-Dixon?"

"Something like your Hadrian's Wall, I imagine. Barbarians to the north."

"Then it's a boundary."

"Yes, between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Though, come to think of it, a wall wouldn't be amiss."

Strickland glanced toward the door as it opened. He gave the butler no more notice than that. Emmereth's wraith-like presence was so unobtrusive, the crystal tumblers and decanter of Scotch seemed to appear as if by sleight of hand. “Really, Captain, you speak as if there are still serious differences between the northern and southern factions of your country. Your civil war is ten years in the past."

"The war's over,” Rand said without inflection. “Whether anything was settled is for history to judge."

One of Strickland's dark brows rose. “Do I hear some bitterness?"

"Do you?"

The duke paused as he was raising his glass. He considered his guest thoughtfully over the rim. “It would be understandable.” He took a sip of his drink and saw that if anything, the captain's eyes had grown colder. “Forgive me, but I did not invite you to come here without learning something about you. I know, for instance, that you lost everything in that civil—"

"War between the States,” Rand said.

"Pardon?"

"We prefer to call it the War between the States."

Strickland nodded, understanding suddenly that the
we
Rand Hamilton referred to was everyone south of this Mason-Dixon line. Apparently it was a point of some importance, and the duke had no wish to test the limits of his guest's patience, especially when he was maneuvering to win his own campaign. “Very well. You lost your father, your brother, your home, and your land. I believe that what you salvaged was
Cerberus.
If anyone has a right to be bitter, I imagine it would be you."

BOOK: More Than You Know
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