The Earl's Mistress

The Earl's Mistress by Liz Carlyle Read Free Book Online

Book: The Earl's Mistress by Liz Carlyle Read Free Book Online
Authors: Liz Carlyle
Tags: Fiction, Historical Romance, Victorian
daresay. Well, out with it, my girl. What’s the daily diatribe?”
    “Lissie should not be left alone at Loughford now that Aunt Hepplewood is gone,” said his cousin. “She is only six.”
    “Five,” said Hepplewood.
    “ Nearly six,” said Lady Keaton. “She needs to be with family. With you. Or with Mrs. Willet. Or with me—or even with Gwen and Mrs. Jansen at the Dower House. But she should not be left to freeze to death alone in the wilds of Northumbria.”
    “Actually, I rebuilt all the chimneys at Loughford,” said Hepplewood dryly, “with her filthy-rich grandfather’s money. And you do apprehend, Anne, that your sister and Mrs. Jansen are—well, how shall I put this?—devotees of Sappho?”
    “Oh, good Lord!” Lady Keaton rolled her eyes. “How it galls me that you, of all people, should question a devoted and monogamous relationship—friendship—arrangement— whatever. They adore Lissie.”
    “I know,” he said more gently, “but Lissie is perfectly warm, Loughford is staffed to the teeth, and I’m searching for a new governess even as we speak.”
    “No, you are drinking whisky in your wrapper at one in the afternoon,” said his cousin hotly. “You will send for her, Tony, or by heaven, I shall! Harry and Bertie could do with a playmate. She may take her lessons with them.”
    Hepplewood slammed his whisky down, all pretense gone. “By God, don’t you dare suggest, Anne, that I give up my child,” he said, stabbing a finger at her. “I will never surrender her; no, not even to you. Indeed, you and Mrs. Willet are two of a kind, I begin to think—the damned old vulture.”
    “Mrs. Willet is not wrong,” said Lady Keaton hotly. “She’s Lissie’s grandmother, for God’s sake. Let one of us raise her, Tony, if you will not.”
    “Mind your own business, Anne,” he snapped. “Doesn’t Sir Philip have an election to rig or a reform to push? Can you not occupy yourself in being his wife, rather than running up here to bedevil me? If I’d wanted to put up with a lifelong harangue, by God, I would have married you instead of Felicity.”
    “Oh, I knew you too well, Tony, to have you,” said Anne grimly, “and Felicity simply did not.”
    “Oh, thank you, Anne, for pointing out the obvious!” he said bitterly. “But in the end, my dear, Felicity did know, didn’t she? It was simply too late.”
    “And that,” declared Anne hotly, “was Mr. Willet’s fault. He could have let Felicity break your betrothal. He could have. Indeed, she begged him. I know . I was there—and you were not.”
    Hepplewood felt his anger burn down to futility as swiftly as it had come. “I was not there,” he said, shrugging, “because she did not want me there. And it was a bloody good thing in the end old Willet forced our hands. Felicity paid a price, did she not, for her one brief moment of folly?”
    Anne fell silent, staring into the fire. After a long moment, she heaved a great sigh. “Shall I tell you what your problem is?”
    “Have I an option?” He felt his mouth twitch. “Experience suggests not.”
    “Your problem is that you cannot bear to look at that child. Lissie is pining away for her family, and you are down here whoring yourself blind.”
    “ Whoring —?” He forced a wicked grin because it was expected. “My, Anne, how the pristine have fallen! And raging promiscuity, by the way, does not actually cause blindness. That’s just one of Uncle Duncaster’s old saws.”
    “Tony, you are the very devil.” Leaping up, Anne snatched up the reticule and shawl she’d tossed aside. “I loved Felicity. She was my friend . And I owe her daughter this—so I’ll tell you how it’s going to be. Philip and I are going up to Loughford to fetch her and take her down to Burlingame—and if you try to stop me, I will go straight to Grandpapa, do you hear me? I will, I swear to God.”
    “Duncaster’s a hundred years old and house-bound,” said Hepplewood dryly.

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