Read Since the Surrender Online

Authors: Julie Anne Long

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical

Since the Surrender (7 page)

BOOK: Since the Surrender
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The boy ignored the salient question. “Will ye teach me to fight?”

“No.” Chase thought it all too likely that this one would learn to fight all on his own. He looked down at the dirty boy. His eyes were so blue, Eversea blood could have caused them. Perhaps they were simply blue in contrast to the grime in the rest of his face. He stared at him for a tick.

“Do you have a name?” he heard himself ask, and regretted it immediately. This one seemed to want words as much as shillings, and he wanted nothing more to do with him.

“Aye. It’s Blade.” This was accompanied by a chin jut.

“It’s not. What is your real name?”

“Liam.” Liam seemed in awe of his own inability to not answer Chase’s questions.

Chase looked away from Liam toward the mirage-like Mumford Arms. “Do you have any brothers, Liam?” he asked gruffly. Thinking Arms. “Do you have any brothers, Liam?” he asked gruffly. Thinking this was how he’d learned to fight.

“Loads of ’em.”

He turned back. “Sisters?”

“Loads.”

Chase sighed. “How many actual brothers and sisters do you have?


“One sister.” Glumly admitted. He made having a sister sound like a character flaw.

Chase knew it was unfair, using his captain’s voice on a child. Still, he had no patience for prevarication.

“Your mother? Your father?”

The boy shrugged. A lift of one bony shoulder, nearly Gallic in nature. It could mean anything.

Chase suddenly felt leaden with weariness. He was weary of the boy, of the questions he’d indulged, of himself, of the day, of yesterday, of tomorrow, and more than anything, he longed for the aforementioned strong, nasty drink…and, yes, definitely a woman. Too many new things and too many old things were happening to him all in one day, when in truth he wanted to be left alone again. He roughly fished a coin out of his pocket and held it out. “Go, Liam,” he said brusquely.

The boy stood stubbornly.

“Go.”

“Go.”

He’d said it quietly, but the word contained the dark, impersonal force of nonnegotiable command.

And Liam was someone who seemed hungry to obey someone, anyone, who seemed certain about things.

Certain about things. Ha.

Liam hesitated, fingering the coin, knowing he was being paid to leave.

And then he obeyed.

He spun and ran off, deliberately landing in a puddle to splash another passerby who turned and swore at him. Liam, as if by rote, thumbed his nose, and dodging horse carts and costermongers and walkers of the innocent and not so innocent variety, dashed off to God knew where.

Hang the bloody Mumford Arms, wherever the devil it might be, Chase decided. He wanted the kind of oblivion that took away pain and gave great pleasure, and knew just where to find it.

Chapter 5

Rosalind lingered after Chase was gone, much as one waits out aftershocks in the wake of an earthquake. He’d always tended to leave rooms feeling emptier than they’d been before he entered one. Good heavens, the Montmorency was unnaturally quiet. But it soon occurred to her….

By way of noise, there was the hiss of wax dripping into already melted wax from one of the wall sconces. And that was all. Not even the ambient creak of wood, the usual sound of a building responding to the vicissitudes of weather and age. Not even the distant echo of a footstep on marble. No voices. Clearly the thick old walls allowed in no noise from the inelegant street outside. And scarcely any air, either.

Then again, the Montmorency seemed to lack a certain universal appeal, hung back as it was from the street, as if in lowered-head recognition of the superiority of other museums. She took one last look at the painting, at the great placid cow and the angel with her forward-spilling bosom, and sighed. What on earth could this have to do with Lucy? Lucy with her too-ready laugh and yearning for luxury and her constant, restless aspiring for something she thought would make her happy, when only starting life over again with plenty of things to begin with would have done that. Lucy, her baby sister, not at all a baby anymore, but a very pretty woman who’d never been given a reason to develop any real sense, and this in part was her fault, Rosalind knew, because she had taken upon herself the burden of being sensible enough for all of them. She should have kept a closer eye on Lucy, but she’d been in Derbyshire since Waterloo, wallowing, savoring the rare solitude. Waiting with a curious near-detachment to see what shape her life would take in the wake of the war.

She smoothed dampened palms down the elegant shape of her pelisse.

Maybe she was mad. Flailing for clues the way someone plummeting to the ground flails the air for holds of any kind on the way down. She hated her sudden uncertainty, but she’d felt the tug of Captain Eversea’s usual certainty as he spoke. It was tempting to surrender to it, to conclude she was of course misguided. Deluded, even.

And this is why she hadn’t told him about the letter she’d received a week ago. Because she could imagine his expression then. Unsigned, comprised of one vague, offhand sentence. It frightened her, coming as it had just after she’d begun inquiring into Lucy’s disappearance. But when she held it up to the cold light of Captain Eversea’s surgical reasoning, it, like everything else she considered a clue to Lucy’s disappearance, seemed circumstantial. Worrying about Lucy doubtless made her easier to frighten. She sighed and turned to leave the museum.

Which is when she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a man dart across the room next to her.

Shock congealed a scream that would have tattered her throat. An embarrassing rasp of sound finally emerged from her. Her heart crashed so punishing against her breastbone that she touched the wall for balance.

She could have sworn the man was wearing…a doublet. And a cloak that he’d swished elegantly aside as he walked. And…puffy drawers. Stuffed hose, in other words. She was certain she would have heard another human being anywhere near her. Had another living human being in fact been near.

Her wits reconvened with the aid of a few deep breaths, and she found herself cleaved by two impulses: to investigate, and to flee. Curiosity, that wonderful panacea against all things frightening, moved her two steps forward into the room before she fully realized what she was doing. She stopped, and wondered dryly if courage by nature required a deficit of sense.

Then again, despite all the other things she might have been, she was not, nor had she ever been, a coward.

She paused, and listened, and tried concertedly to feel whether anything was amiss. Whether another human was present. Once again she heard and sensed nothing at all.

She was emboldened to inventory the room with her eyes. It was stocked with furniture allegedly plucked from King Henry VIII, according to the brass wall plaques—an enormous, complicatedly carved bureau, fashioned of a cacophony of shining whorled woods and propped on fussy gilded legs—surely one needed a ladder to reach whatever one kept in the top drawer. A crown? A writing desk as fussy and shining as the other furniture, the wood as patterned as the pelt of a jungle cat, an inkwell and quill atop it—looked ready for its owner to settle in and record the happenings of the day: Flogged serf for insolence. Devoured hart haunch. Ravished mistress.

The ravishing, she decided, must have taken place in the canopied and curtained bed the size of a barouche that occupied the center of the room. An uncompromisingly, arrogantly masculine bed, curtains titillatingly drawn about the mattress upon which surely hundreds of bouts of sweaty royal ecstasy had ensued. As arrogant as Captain Eversea, that bed. As potent in its confidence. Before she truly was aware of what she was doing, Rosalind was near enough to touch it, apparently spooled forward by its sheer magnetism.

magnetism.

In truth, she hardly felt entitled to be in the presence of such a sensual thing. She stared for a moment, biting her lip. Then she stretched out a hand tentatively, furtively; she drew it back abruptly. And then she drew in a sharp breath and boldly seized the decadent velvet of the curtains and slowly, deliberately, wound her fist in them. She drew in a shuddering breath. Her eyes fluttered closed in deference to her senses.

And she remembered.

Not once had she…yearned for her husband’s touch. He’d made love to her with the enthusiastic and unimaginative rigor one would expect of a sinewy old soldier, and she could not truthfully say she’d loathed it, because there was much to be said for gratitude and ease and a warm body stretched alongside hers at night. But had he survived the war, she would have spent the remainder of her days alongside him carrying the burden of a tamped, ferocious

…hunger. An awareness, a sense of infinite sensual possibility she never would have dared acknowledge or indulge again lest the regret prove more than she could bear.

Not regret over the indiscretion. Regret that she may have died never knowing whether desire that incendiary had anything to do with love.

Chase’s legacy to her. She could not say she was grateful for it. But that tamped hunger needled her now, like a limb wakened from sleep.

When she tossed her head to shake off the torpor she could ill afford, she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror: it was brilliantly polished but a trifle warped, framed in a network of gilt branches and satyrs. Her wavy reflection gazed back at her, and she could and satyrs. Her wavy reflection gazed back at her, and she could see, abashed, how very white her face had gone when she saw the man.

Ah ha! She must have seen her own reflection in the mirror, she thought, with a sense of Eureka. Not a man, for heaven’s sake. Not a bloody ghost. The movement of her pelisse as she turned—she must have mistaken it for a cape. She was a bit light-headed, after all, having downed just one cup of tea and crumbled a piece of toast into powder by way of breakfasting this morning, though she would eat heartily enough tonight.

Once she was convinced she was alone, it was suddenly difficult to shake the impression she was invading someone’s admittedly posh privacy. She began to back from the room.

“Sorry to intrude,” she muttered whimsically.

“Oh, it’s no intrusion at all,” came a pleasant voice from behind her. This time her scream had no trouble at all emerging.

The Velvet Glove fit every man who crossed its portals like its namesake: deliciously snug. It was lit just enough to ensure that intriguing shadows filled corners, and carpeted and upholstered in silk, satin, and velvet in shades of rose and cream and beige, colors and textures evoking the wonders of nude women. Its carpets and chairs and settees—and mattresses, of course—were as lush and inviting as the lap of its proprietress, the Duchess. Her real name was Maggie Trotter, but this knowledge had mostly been lost to the annals of time. No one could recall how she had come by her aristocratic appellation, but then again, a good deal of forgetting went on at the Velvet Glove.

Chase was hoping to continue that fine tradition this evening, with the aid of a strong hasty drink and a woman.

“Captain Eversea.” The Duchess greeted him with the hushed reverence usually reserved for royalty. Chase wasn’t unduly flattered, as every man who crossed the Velvet Glove’s portals was given much the same greeting, but it was still undeniably pleasant.

“It has been far, far too long. A year? Two years?”

Chase couldn’t recall, so he ignored the question.

“Duchess.” He bowed low, because this was part of the ritual, and then he kissed her cheek, because he liked her. Her flesh was dusty beneath his lips, and she smelled of powder and rouge and a variety of other female unguents. “Always a pleasure. You’re looking radiant.” The radiance was in part a contrivance of rouge and lamplight, but age, and her profession clearly agreed with her. “The coronet suits you,” he added.

She nodded regally and touched her hand to her complicatedly coiffed and hennaed hair, where a coronet did indeed precariously perch. “Thank you, Captain Eversea. It’s new. And real. Well, mostly real. A gift from an admirer.”

“Of which you have many.”

“Naturally.”

“You may count me among them.”

She tilted her head and looked at him for a tick of silence.

“You’ll forgive me, Captain Eversea, if I observe that your compliment sounded a trifle rote. Might I suggest that you’re a bit distracted this evening? Or perhaps you’re in need of distraction?”

Chase laughed.

And when he laughed, all the female heads in the place turned so quickly and in unison they nearly created a wind. That’s when he realized that something was amiss: his was the only male laughter he’d heard since entering. The Velvet Glove’s front parlor, in his experience, was usually decorated with entwined malefemale duos or even trios, giggling and whispering, flirtations punctuated by the clink and gurgle of spirits endlessly poured and imbibed, and the creak of the stairs as some man was led up, often speedily.

But now all he heard was low, desultory female conversation and, of all things, the pop of a faro box. The girls were seated around a table, and apart from the fact that their wares, as it were, were virtually as visible through their diaphanous clothing as delicacies were displayed in a shop window, they might have been matrons at a game table at Almack’s. One of the girls dangled her slipper from her toe in boredom. Another had her chin in her hand and was nibbling her bottom lip thoughtfully, examining her cards, brow furrowed.

“Good evening, ladies,” he said solemnly.

They each promptly struck a pose designed to reflect their best angles, card game forgotten. Some had decided a pout flattered them best. Two of them decided upon smiles. He turned to look at the Duchess, a brow upraised, and angled his chin toward the girls by way of asking a question.

“Oddly, it’s been quiet of late,” she confessed, her voice lowered as though a crowd were indeed present and would overhear. “There must be a great shooting party in the country, or some such.”

must be a great shooting party in the country, or some such.”

“There might well be. I can tell you that Sussex, at least, was quiet when I left it. I’ve just arrived in London and haven’t been to White’s, so I haven’t been freshly apprised of any shooting parties that may have sent the men away or scandals that might be keeping them at home rather than out at brothels. I’m expected at a soiree at Callender’s tomorrow, so I know a few diverting friends will be on hand then. Perhaps I’ll discover a thing or two.”

BOOK: Since the Surrender
11.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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