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Chapter Three
From Damon’s Point of View

There are days that one cares to remember months later, and there are days that one would just as soon have stricken from the book of life. Or whatever that tome was really called. Damon had always thought that instead of a recording angel somewhere, totting up lists of crimes for future punishments, the fellow was likely handing out the punishments right on the spot. To wit:

Damon Reeve, Earl of Gryffyn. April 8, Slothful to the bone, didn’t rise from bed til noon
Punishment for said Deadly Sin: April 10, hellish conversation with brother-in-law

“Did it occur to you that the presence of an illegitimate child in my house is not precisely helpful to my career?” bellowed said brother-in-law.

Damon had to admit Beaumont had a point. The House of Lords was a dashed stuffy lot. Without a doubt, most of them probably threw any children foolish enough to born out of wedlock out the door. In fact, he would quite like to do that himself. It would make life much easier. It was just that somehow Teddy …

He shrugged. He wasn’t one of those happy fellows who could send Teddy off to live in a sheep farm somewhere in the country simply because the boy was unlucky enough to be born out of wedlock. Or unlucky enough to have him for a father, however you wanted to look at it.

Naturally his sister Jemma had leapt to his defense and was battling it out with her husband.

Beaumont made a comment about Jemma’s reputation, and she snapped back something about him bleating about his career. Damon winced at that one. To call a man who worked as hard as Beaumont did a bleater seemed a bit stiff. Her brother-in-law gave her a homicidal glare and then stalked off.

Jemma’s face was red as fire, just the way she used to look when they were children squabbling over a toy. Really, the more he saw of his sister’s marriage, the more Damon was happy to think that he himself had escaped matrimony.

“You see why I wanted you to move in with me, Damon?” Jemma said, with a catch in her voice. “I can’t do it, I really can’t. I can’t live here with him.”

Damon was all sympathy, but after all, she was married to the man. “I’ll come for a visit if you really want me to, Jemma, but I think it would be easier for both of you if I didn’t.” Not to mention, he added silently, easier for myself.

“I shan’t survive here otherwise, Damon. I can’t live with Beaumont.”

Jemma kept babbling on about her inability to live with her husband – something that was no surprise to Damon, given as she’d spent the last eight years in Paris, living as far away from the said spouse as possible – when Damon suddenly noticed that the little charity worker, who had turned out to be Lady Roberta someone-or-other, was watching the whole thing from the side of the room. As soon as he met her eyes, she vanished back into the sitting room.

Perhaps she’d gone off to have a good fainting spell. Though that depended whether she was from the Reeve side of the family (which included Jemma and Damon, and their propensity for scandal), or the Beaumont side of the family (righteous in every way and bound to go straight to the top of the line at the pearly gates).

Lady Roberta didn’t look like a shoe-in for the pearly gates. Not with that red hair, and those gorgeous eyes. They tilted at the corner, like the eyes of a Venetian courtesan. Though few courtesan had lips that color without painting it on, and he didn’t think that the country relative had been near a pot of lip color.

Jemma followed Lady Roberta into the sitting room, so Damon went as well. After all, any relative of Jemma’s was bound to be one of his. It was his duty to make her comfortable. No one could say that he wasn’t a family man, not given his inappropriate fathering of Teddy.

He barely got in the room before Jemma snatched away the plate of ratafia cakes, started trying to get him to leave, and generally acting like the shrewish little sister that she was.

“I haven’t even met Lady Roberta properly,” Damon pointed out.

“This is Damon Reeve, the Earl of Gryffyn,” Jemma said, with an irritating sigh. “If I tell you that his best friends call him Demon, you’ll know precisely how unworthy he is. Beaumont was absolutely right about his laziness: he never does a worthy action all day.”

“A charming introduction,” Damon said. “Please call me Damon. After all, we’re family members, as I understand.” He took another cake and eyed the cousin under his eyelashes. He’d never seen quite such an ugly dress in his life, but her figure…that was another story.

Naturally Jemma took the plate away and put it on the floor between herself and Roberta, so he couldn’t eat any more. And then he and Jemma bickered a bit about whether he ought to accept her invitation to stay in the house. But in truth, Damon had made up his mind to stay in his own house. Why on earth would he move across town to Beaumont’s townhouse, when it would just cause aggravation to his brother-in-law? It wouldn’t make it any easier for Jemma to live with her husband, and likely worse. Jemma was turning him into one of the many weapons she wielded against her husband.

“I hardly want to cause the fraying of your marriage,” he pointed out.

Jemma snorted inelegantly. She sounded just like their former governess, a fact that he stored away to infuriate her with some day.

“Beaumont doesn’t mean to be such an ass,” Damon added. Really, if you looked past the melon-colored bodice, Lady Roberta seemed to have a delectable chest.

“He just acts that way?” Jemma with a bitter little twist to her voice. “But enough airing our linen, dirty and otherwise, in front of Roberta. You must bring Teddy and his nanny this very afternoon.” More and more like their governess. Any moment she’d be ordered him to pay a visit to the chamberpot.

“Unfortunately, he has no nanny at the moment,” Damon said, deciding to distract her. “Teddy has an annoying habit of escape and the latest nanny stomped away in a temper yesterday.”

“Escape? Where does he go?”

“Anywhere but the nursery. Generally he goes to the stables during the day. And he wanders the house at night until he finds my chamber, and then he climbs in my bed.” He stole a look at Roberta. She hadn’t said much yet, but ladies always loved pathetic stories about little children. They couldn’t help it. “Last night,” he added sadly, “Teddy couldn’t find my bedchamber, so he slept in the vestibule until I came home. Marble floor. Cold, I should think.”

“My father had a dog like that,” Lady Roberta said. And then she clapped a hand over her mouth. “I didn’t mean to compare your son to a dog, my lord!”

Damon bit back a grin. So much for sentimental gush about babies. She had to be from the Reeve side of the family tree: that dry irony was a family trait. “You really must call me Damon,” he told her. “Children are slightly doggish, don’t you think? They need so much training, and they have a dislikable habit of urinating in public places.”

“I suggest you bar the nursery door,” Jemma said coolly, “particularly now that you remind me of children’s indiscriminate attitude toward hygiene.” Obviously his beloved sister was rethinking the whole living-with-her-darling-nephew idea.

“Can’t do that,” Damon said. “What if there was a fire? And Teddy, by the way, is past the age of indiscriminate peeing. He’s very good at seeking out a tree, just like the well-trained puppy he is.”

“Perhaps you could carpet the vestibule,” Roberta suggested. “If you mean to allow him to continue in this habit.”

Damon couldn’t help grinning at her. She was a sharp tongued little thing. Like a sweet with a bite in the middle. His favorite.

“That’s remarkably uncharitable of both of you,” he said, throwing Roberta his very best flirting smile, the one that said I like you, and a load of other things besides. Then he did a double-take. Roberta met his smile with a funny, ironic little one of her own – a smile that he’d seen a million times on his sister’s face. Damned if she wasn’t some sort of illegitimate daughter of his father.

“How odd!” he said, wondering if the recording angel had noticed a bout of incestuous lust, or whether it didn’t count if the sinner didn’t know that the lady was his sister. “I suddenly see quite a resemblance between the two of you. I have it — my illegitimate child is only matched by our father’s own indiscretions!”

“Actually not,” Roberta said.

Damon felt a grin curl his lips. He was ridiculously pleased to hear that.

“I’m legitimate, but from a far branch of the family tree. I only wish that I resembled Jemma.”

Far branch, eh? He was alarmingly pleased. “You have Jemma’s blue eyes,” he said. Her eyes were more beautiful than his sister’s, but he wasn’t going to say that aloud. Jemma had boxed his ears for less when they were children.

What he really wanted to know was just how far out on the family tree her particular branch was located.

“Roberta is going to be my project,” Jemma said. “I’m going to dress her up to look absolutely gorgeous, which of course she is, and then marry her off to whomever she wishes. It’ll be great fun.”

It did sound like fun. Damon wouldn’t mind dressing up – or down – Roberta himself. In fact, why bother with dressing at all?

Roberta seemed to be a little worried about money, but if there was one thing the Reeves didn’t have to worry about, it was money. Jemma’s husband had loads, and he himself had even more.

“Jemma’s husband can manage a dozen debuts and not notice,” he told her. “I don’t know why Beaumont bothers with his speechifying; he could just buy the votes he needs to get a bill passed, in the time-honored fashion. That’s what father always did.”

“I’m afraid that the third earl – our father – was a tad disreputable,” Jemma said. “You interrupted me, Damon. I was trying to warn Roberta that she might not want my chaperonage.”

Of course, no young lady in her right mind would choose Jemma as a chaperone. His sister was only married a couple of weeks before she scandalized all of London by haring off to Paris. Much though he loved his sister – and he did, for all her snappiness – Jemma was no model of ladylike behavior. But then… he looked Roberta over.

She didn’t look like a model of virtue either. There was just something about her. No question she was a virgin. But she was the least virgin-like virgin he’d ever seen, with that ruby red lip. And the way her eyes…not to mention the fact that she looked like a delicious peach. He’d—

Roberta was turning pink and Damon was damn sure that she knew exactly what he was thinking. He pulled himself together and reminded himself of his code of ethics. No innocents.
But if she chose to stay with Jemma, then she wasn’t entirely off-limits. If she left the house with a shriek of dismay, then – then she was innocent by definition.

“It’s true that your reputation is marred by merely walking into this den of inequity,” he said bluntly. “Or it will be once the English ladies get the measure of my sister. My sister is unlikely to be a prudent chaperone. The Reeves have been disreputable back to the days of King Alfred, and though I regret to say it, the tendency bred true in both of us.”

She didn’t look very shocked.

“Jemma has neglected to tell you that I am the only child of the Mad Marquess, to use the term the popular press prefers,” Roberta said. “So the ton will have more hurdles than Jemma’s reputation to consider when it comes to my marriage.”

Damon’s mouth fell open. Roberta was the daughter of the Mad Marquess – ie, the marquess who lived with a succession of mistresses, if even half the stories were true. Meaning that she had grown up with a succession of mistresses at the dining room table. Not innocent. No.

He could feel a wolfish kind of smile on his lips. “You grow more fascinating by the moment,” he murmured. “Do tell me a bit of poetry.”

She ignored him, and handed Jemma one of her father’s poems, which was just as incomprehensible as he would have expected.

Jemma, being a really decent person at the heart, kept rereading the poem and trying to get her mind around it. “But what’s the part about a rude ungrateful bear, enough to make a parson swear?” she finally asked, looking up from the sheet of parchment.

“I find with Papa’s poems that it’s best not to devote oneself too strictly to meaning,” Roberta said. Her voice had just the right hint of dry amusement: loving to her father, and yet aware.

Damon let out a bark of laughter. She was a Reeve all right. He’d never met a woman as smart as Jemma – until now.

He wasn’t moving into the house to stay with Jemma. But damned if he wouldn’t be over every day, just for the pleasure of talking to a woman with a sense of humor.

“There is just one more thing that I should tell you,” Roberta said.

“Wait, don’t tell us,” Damon said. He was feeling foolishly happy, for no good reason. “The family character bred true in you as well, remote relative though you are. Let’s guess: You have a child – you, with such a young, innocent –”

“No!” Roberta said, frowning at him.

But before she could continue, he said: “Your turn, Jemma.”

Jemma looked thoughtful. “At some time last year, you were in an inn. You gazed out of the window and were instantly struck by an ungovernable passion for my brother.”

“Very nice!” Damon said. “But can you work Teddy into the picture?”

“More than anything, Roberta wished to be a mother, but unfortunate circumstances have decreed that she will have no children of her own, therefore Teddy will become her most cherished possession.”

“What about me?” Damon said, laughing. “I want to be her most cherished possession.” He shocked himself and almost choked.

Jemma turned to Roberta. “You must forgive us; it’s an old game that we –” She stopped. “You did see Damon last summer! And you fell in love with him? How very peculiar. Are you sure you wish to marry my brother? I can assure you that he’s terribly annoying.”

Roberta started giggling. “No, I don’t wish to marry your brother!”

“There’s no need to be quite so emphatic,” Damon said, raising an eyebrow. “I would quite like to marry you myself, although I see that I shall have to assuage my grieved heart elsewhere.”

She was laughing at him, this new cousin of his.

It wasn’t even a decision, really. Of course he would move into the house for a few days to succor his newly-returned sister.

Nothing to do with his new cousin.

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