Desperate Duchesses

Page 29


She didn’t even feel like cooing over this one.
She was bitterly tired, and there was a sweaty, snoring man, albeit a small one, in her bed.
With a sigh she reached out and pulled the cord by the bed. A housemaid appeared and clucked. “They’ve been looking for that child all over the house,” she said. “His lordship is that worried!”
“Well, tell him to come fetch it,” Roberta said, unable to make her tone more enthusiastic.
A minute later Damon himself appeared. His face had lost all its easy charm of earlier; he barely looked at her, Roberta noted with a pulse of irritation. Instead, he half-lunged at the bed and then stared down at his son.
“Christ,” he said. It sounded half a curse, half a prayer.
“Well, you can’t have thought he’d left the house,” she said, letting irritation drip into her tone.
“I didn’t know where he was. I couldn’t find him,” Damon said, not turning to look at her. “Christ, what a couple of hours it’s been.”
“Could you possibly take him with you now?” She was feeling more and more irritable. Damon had kissed her earlier, and now he acted with as much interest as if she were a housemaid he had bussed in a side corridor.
He was already folding back the covers, but he stopped, and looked at her for the first time. “I’m sorry, Roberta.”
He scooped up the sleeping child and she saw exactly what he meant. Where the boy had nestled—in her bed—there was a dank looking spot. A very large, wet spot. And the smell that arose from it was everything one might expect.
Her maid let out a little shriek.
Damon smiled at her ruefully and Roberta registered exactly how adorable he was, at the same time she felt a swell of irritation that almost had her screaming along with the maid.
“I do apologize. It only happens when he’s in a very deep sleep.”
“Is that a compliment to my bedding?”
He nodded. “You are right to be annoyed. I’ll return immediately.” And he made a leg while holding the sleeping child, which Roberta had to admit was quite a trick. Particularly since the rose colored sleeve of his brocade coat was, quite likely, getting ruined.
The only good thing about it, Roberta thought as the housekeeper and a flock of maids burst into the room, was that it confirmed that vague sense she had that children were undesirable.
The headache pounding behind her right ear said the same.
Two minutes later, Damon reentered the room and pulled her unceremoniously to her feet. “Come on,” he said.
“I gather you didn’t hear that it will take some time to air and make up another room,” Roberta said.
“So Mrs. Friss, the housekeeper, told me. We came up with a solution.”
Down the hall they went, until they turned into a room. It was beautifully made up, linen sheets turned back and looking so inviting that Roberta almost fell into them directly.
“Thank you!” she said, and only then did she realize that a rather rotund individual was hastily sweeping away an assortment of masculine looking accoutrements. “Oh, no!”
“Oh, yes,” Damon said. “That will be all, Martins. Thank you.”
Martins took himself and a collection of neck clothes out of the room.
“I couldn’t take your room,” Roberta said. But she felt as if she were swaying in place.
“Of course you could. These mattresses are all old, you know. Wool, most likely. Yours is going to soak up Teddy’s urine like a flower in the sun. You don’t want to sleep in that bed until the mattress is replaced.”
Roberta shuddered.
“You look like a ghost but more sickly looking.” Then, before she quite knew what was happening, he undid the knot at her waist, pulled off her dressing gown, ignoring her protests, and bundled her under the covers.
“I feel like a larger version of your son,” she said, peeping at him from under the covers.
He sat down on the bed—which was vastly improper—and said, “You don’t resemble Teddy in the slightest.”
“I suppose that is something to be grateful for. Why was he in my chambers?”
“I imagine he was on his usual search for my room and thought he’d found it. Jemma’s mother-in-law didn’t waste any inspiration decorating the bedrooms; they’re all precisely the same.”
Roberta cast a bleary look at the walls, and sure enough the crest of the Beaumonts marched around the top of the walls, and a painting that looked remarkably like Judith holding a platter was directly opposite the bed. She shut her eyes.
He kissed her so swiftly that it might have been a dream.
Perhaps it was.
Chapter 14
April 12
Day one of the Villiers/Beaumont chess matches
Beaumont House
E arly the next afternoon, Beaumont House was brimming like a stagnant pool full of brine shrimp wearing heels and velvet jackets. The only problem was that the residents weren’t in a position to receive them.
The duke had left the house early in the morning, bound for a meeting with Pitt and then the House of Lords. Teddy woke up at seven in the morning. Damon rose just long enough to push his son in the direction of a maid, and then collapsed back into bed. Teddy migrated to the kitchens, and from thence to the little shed where the gardener kept his spades and the cat kept her kittens. Roberta woke briefly at nine, groaned, and went back to sleep. Jemma was one of those people who only needed five hours of sleep, but never left her room before three in the afternoon on principal. Philidor had given her a book by an Italian chess player named Greco as a goodbye. She was working through the combinations and finding them surprisingly unambitious.
In consequence, flowers were dropped in the duchess’s sitting room until it resembled nothing so much as a royal funeral. Carriages drew up and left with the regularity of traffic to a new apothecary promising miraculous increases to one’s bosom.
Finally, the duchess decided that she would receive. “Two of them may come up,” Jemma said to Brigitte.
“The Duke of Villiers didn’t wait but left a card,” Brigitte said.
Jemma picked up the beautifully embossed card, as elegant as the man who owned it. His hand was nothing like Elijah’s impossible scrawl. At the time you choose, it said.
Very nice. There was a certain lack of eagerness there that was entirely appealing in a gentleman with whom one might be embarking on an affaire—she caught herself hastily. Of course, she was merely dallying with the idea. Had she not promised her husband that her salad days were behind her? More to the point—since Elijah had made no promises about his mistress—she had decided to deliver Villiers into the virtuous, if thorny, bonds of matrimony. She sighed and handed the card back to Brigitte. “Six of the clock. Inform him that he may stay to sup afterward. And do send a note to Lady Roberta informing her the same.”
Of course, the servants would gossip, but servants always knew everything so Jemma saw no reason to prevaricate.
“Oh, and Brigitte,” she said.
Brigitte turned as she was about to leave the room. She was as exquisite a little Frenchwoman as existed on British shores and sometimes, Jemma thought, dressed with more éclat than did her mistress. “You know the écharpe cloak that you so admire?”