“I shall make you a list,” Gaunt said, beaming.
A list. Bloody hell.
Vander turned to leave. But something nagged at him, and he paused to look back at the butler. “Gaunt, I take it you were acquainted with my duchess’ former intended?”
The butler inclined his head. “Indeed.”
“Send a couple of footmen—or hire a Bow Street Runner—but I’d like you to make absolutely certain that the man still lives. It strikes me as exceptionally convenient that she was jilted. He referred to ‘my estate.’”
Gaunt’s eyes widened. Clearly, the idea had never occurred to him.
Vander was a great deal more cynical; a life spent in and around the stables had taught him that men like Sir Richard Magruder felt that they had a right to effect change wherever they wished, and the devil (and the law) could take the hindmost.
Quite likely, Mia’s fiancé had actually fled the responsibility of a wife and child. A vision of Mia came into his head, lips rosy after his kisses, breast heaving.
NOTES ON PLOT
1. Flora left 100,000£ by the ancient but kindly Mr. Mortimer. Proviso she spend it on herself (a struggle, bec. of sweetness of her nature). Torn between Count Frederic, who wants none of the money & Mr. Wolfington.
2. Gives up bequest; Count Frederic jilts her.
3. She ends up nearly dead in countryside, rescued by the evil Lord Plum, who has designs on her virtue.
4. Although Lord Plum offers her a castle, she cannot forget her first love. Bec. he is wild and reckless and has a devil’s heart (and an angel’s form).
5. Escapes from castle. Lord Plum wld. rather she die than marry another. No: Boring.
6. Evil Lord Plum has a pet tiger! Trained to attack. Excellent!
“I’ll take my ward home with me to Rutherford Park,” Vander told Gaunt, after Sir Richard had been dispatched. “Have my carriage brought back around in thirty minutes. You can send over all personal belongings at leisure.”
At that, Gaunt took on the air of a stern yet attentive grandfather. “Is Her Grace aware that you are fetching Master Charles Wallace?”
Vander was not accustomed to being questioned by servants. He gave Gaunt a look. “Show me to the nursery, if you please, or must I find it on my own?”
The butler didn’t even twitch at this set-down, but began pacing up the stairs, keeping Vander behind him by dint of walking in the middle of each step. “The young master has faced challenges in his short life,” he said, pausing on a stair as if to catch his breath. “Yet he has all of his father’s courage and forbearance. He is a Carrington to the bone.”
“Good to hear it,” Vander said. The disquisition was irritating, but he admired the butler’s loyalty. It was good that the amphibious child had supporters.
When they reached the nursery door, Gaunt gave him yet another inappropriate look, saying without words that he had better be kind or else.
It seemed to Vander that everyone he’d met in recent days was challenging the hierarchy that underlay all society. It was unsettling. “I’ll introduce myself, Gaunt,” he said.
With obvious reluctance, the butler bowed and retreated down the stairs.
At first, the nursery seemed empty. It was a large chamber, bright and cheerful, though it could use repainting. Its walls were covered with lumpy-looking paintings on foolscap, which he assumed must be the artistic efforts of young Master Charles.
Vander had never seen anything like it. His nanny hadn’t allowed paints, and if she had, his crude efforts would surely not have been displayed.
From the corner of his eye he caught a movement. A young boy had put a thick tome aside and was rising from a chair, pushing himself up awkwardly. Vander had no experience with children; his new ward looked around five or six.
As he watched, Charles Wallace picked up a small crutch, hitched it under his armpit, and stood. The problem seemed to be his right leg, though Vander didn’t see anything particularly deformed about it.
“Good afternoon,” the boy stated. “May I inquire who you are?”
Not five. Older. His voice was clear, composed, and—unexpectedly—authoritative.
Vander approached, but not so close that he threatened the boy in any way. “I am the Duke of Pindar, your new guardian. And you must be Charlie.”
A moment of silence ensued before the boy said, “If you will forgive the impertinence, Your Grace, I am Master Charles Wallace to those who know me, and Lord Carrington to those who do not.”
Vander felt a flare of amusement and it took everything he had to suppress a smile. Instead, he swept into the bow he had been trained to give to royalty. “Lord Carrington.”
On straightening, he was disconcerted to discover that the gray eyes opposite his showed distinct signs of disapproval.
“If you are expecting me to bow in return,” the boy said, “I shall disappoint you. As you can see, my right leg does not function as well as it might.”
Vander had never had much to do with children, though he was extremely fond of Thorn’s young ward, Rose. India had told him once that it was best not to deceive children. They saw through you.
“My bow acknowledged your rank,” he said. “In the event that a gentleman is unable to bow with a bended leg, whether through illness or injury, he bows from the waist.”
“I might topple,” Charles Wallace countered.
His eyes were light gray and surrounded by an extraordinary fringe of dark lashes. His hair was curly and thick, and stuck out from his head; his chin was pointed and his cheekbones were sharp. He wasn’t beautiful, by any stretch of the imagination.
Still, the worst thing Vander could do was to coddle him. Mia had probably pampered him, albeit with the best intentions in mind. Kept him around the house splashing paint onto sheets of paper even though any idiot could see the boy had no talent.
He shrugged. “Give it a try.”
Charles Wallace gave him a narrow-eyed glance, bent at the waist and—as he’d predicted, toppled. He rolled smoothly as he met the floor.
Vander took a few steps closer. “Nice form in the roll,” he observed coolly. “Would you like a hand up?”
“No,” Charles Wallace said. He turned onto his side and pushed himself up.
“I think your crutch may be a bit short for you.”
“Are you Aunt Mia’s new husband?”
“You call your aunt by her first name? Just don’t do it in public.”
“I do not go in public,” Charlie stated, with all the hauteur of a young emperor.
He didn’t answer, but his eyes silently informed Vander that he shouldn’t ask stupid questions.
“I believe I’ll sit down,” Vander said. “Why don’t you join me?” He moved to an ancient sofa and sat, deliberately refraining from looking back to check Charlie’s progress.
The boy showed up after a moment and seated himself at the other end of the sofa.
“Haven’t you a tutor or someone of that nature?”
The boy shrugged his thin shoulders. “Sir Richard declared my tutor a toadying idiot, and dismissed him. The curate is drilling me in Latin and Mr. Gaunt is teaching me chess.”
“Why didn’t Sir Richard find another tutor?”