Unveiled (Turner 1) - Page 19

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Two pieces of very valuable information. The first sentiment alone was frightfully revolutionary. Nobody would install a lord who espoused such radical sentiments. And if he hadn’t meant his comments in a political way…why, that was simply the price that was sometimes paid in these fracases. A little twist of the truth, and she could end this farce right now. All she would have to do was write the words down.

A simple prospect to set pen to paper. There was only one problem.

She could still feel the heat of his presence, an unconscious echo reverberating through her. She could still feel him leaning over her, his lips so close to hers. She could hear her own protest: You know almost nothing about me. This time, as she went over the memory, she added the truth. I’m Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple, and I have been lying about my identity so that I can better ferret out your faults. You mustn’t trust me.

Still, in her mind, he gave her that enigmatic smile. I don’t need facts to understand how magnificent you are, how eminently trustworthy. I’m not wrong. I’m never wrong.

He was this time. He was utterly mistaken. She was going to betray him, and in doing so, she would tear all his calm certainty to shreds.

Except…she didn’t want to do it. If he was wrong about her trustworthiness, he would have no special insight. He might be wrong about every last thing, starting with his assertion that she mattered. Margaret wanted to matter.

More than that. She didn’t want to betray Ash. She didn’t want to twist his words of kindness into weapons of war. She didn’t want to be the one who first introduced doubt into his eyes. She wanted to kiss him, and she couldn’t do that with a conscience sullied by betrayal.

She took a deep breath and reached for a sheet of paper. She would write her letter—but she would leave out what she had learned. Nobody would understand his words, not as he had meant them. If she was going to betray him, she would have to betray him with the truth, not with some twisted version of it. And so her letter was simple—uninformative, plain and, at the end, the only lie she told was when she sent her brother their father’s love.

When she was done, she snuffed the single candle flame and let darkness fall.

“ASH!” MARK’S VOICE interrupted Ash’s morning conference. His usually even tones were tinged half with despair, half with anger.

Ash turned slowly in his chair. His brother stood in the open doorway, his hands clenched into fists. He hadn’t donned a coat yet, and his gray waistcoat was unbuttoned. His hair was wild, as if he’d pulled it into blond little knots, and his eyes were wide.

“What have you done with it?” he demanded.

Ash had been waiting for this moment. He’d been waiting for it ever since last night, when he’d issued the order. But instead of answering directly, he pretended puzzlement. After all, the role of an elder brother was to make a younger one pull out his hair—just a little bit—before smoothing everything over.

Mark’s spine straightened and he stalked forwards, placing his hands on the table. “Is this your way of punishing me for yesterday’s events?”

Two of the clerks Ash had brought up from London sat next to him. They had turned to look at Mark. At this query, they schooled their faces to careful blankness. They were, after all, in on the joke.

Ash let his look of bewilderment grow. “What sins did you commit yesterday that cried out for punishment?” he mused aloud. “Did I miss an opportunity?”

“Nothing that would justify this!” Fists came up before him in an unconscious fighting stance. “Where, in the name of all that is holy, is my book, Ash? I’ve been working on it for two full years. Do you want me to get down on my knees and beg for its safe return? I will, if only—”

“Ohhhh.” Ash let the syllable slide from his lips, as if he’d had no notion of what they were talking about up until this moment. “Your book. Cottry, can you enlighten my brother as to the whereabouts of his book?”

Mr. Cottry slid him an unamused look but replied evenly. “I believe Farraday has it, Mr. Turner.”

“Farraday has it?” Mark echoed. “Why ever would Mr. Farraday have it?”

Ash gestured at Cottry.

“Mr. Farraday,” Cottry said simply, “is making a copy.”

The fury on Mark’s face smoothed out into gratifying confusion. He glanced from Ash to the clerk and then back again, but made out nothing other than careful blankness.

“Well, then.” Mark’s hands unclenched. “Why is he making a copy?”

Ash leaned back in his chair. “So I can read it. Obviously.”

There was a reason he loved tweaking his younger brother. Mark’s mouth dropped open in stunned bewilderment. And then his eyes lit with every ounce of the happiness that Ash had wanted to see.

“But—but—you!” Mark shook his head. “I could kill you, if I didn’t want to hug you right now. You great big bullying angel.”

“One day, Mark, you will doubtless discover that I am not a particularly cruel man, dedicated to frustrating your every ambition. I actually would like to help you with your chosen career. Even the parts that make me uncomfortable. You want me to read your work? Then I’ll read it. You had only to ask.” He wasn’t sure precisely how he was going to keep that promise, but he would find some way to accomplish it.

Mark inhaled. “But—this is just draft form, Ash. I still have so many changes to make, so much work still to be done. You’ll tell me if there are any parts that don’t make sense, will you?” Protests finished for the mere sake of form, Mark ducked his head shyly. “When do you think Farraday will be finished with his copying?”

“Cottry?”

“He’d finished the first ten pages when I left him an hour ago. It’s slow going, sir. He keeps being overcome with laughter.”

“About chastity?”

“Apparently so.”

Mark’s face lit even more, but he looked down at the floor and blushed, as if he were a schoolboy unused to praise. He couldn’t understand what Ash had just promised to do. Ash might as well have offered to send him to Jupiter for a brief visit. But then, if Mark had wanted to flap his wings and embark on a voyage to distant planets on holiday…

Well. Ash would have found a way.

CHAPTER EIGHT

THE CANDLELIGHT CAST flickering shadows in Margaret’s father’s room, doing little to combat the dusk. Margaret tapped her foot impatiently as she studied the man. He sat, his hands clasped together, not looking at her. As if he were unaware of her presence.

“The maids say you are making faces at them.” Margaret set her hand on her hip and tried to look forbidding. Likely, it only scrunched up her face. It was rather difficult to discipline a man more than three times her age, especially when he had nothing to lose.

“Bah” was her father’s less-than-articulate response. He sat staring up at the ceiling, his gaze tracing the gilded plast

er. “Unnatural faces. You’re scaring them.”

“They’re too easily frightened, then. I want servants, not rabbits.” He glared at her, as if it were somehow her fault that he’d upset the household.

“Must you be so difficult about everything? Don’t you think you’ve caused enough hardship already?”

The lines on his cheeks deepened as he settled in for a protracted bout of glowering. “Oh, no,” he said sullenly, folding his arms about his skinny chest. “Am I making your life difficult, Anna?”

Margaret dropped her hand in the act of reaching to smooth out his hair. Instead, she turned to the bottles on the table at the side. There were six or seven of them, all lined up. It was her task to make her father take his medicines. Today it looked as if she was to have a battle on her hands. She unstoppered the first, pulling the cork out with perhaps more vengeance than the bottle deserved. The liquid sloshed with the fury of her movement, and as it did, the fumes from the acrid mixture seemed to burn directly from her nostrils into her brain. She stifled a cough.

“Don’t call me Anna,” she said, once she was sure she could speak without sounding upset. She poured out a generous spoonful of dark green liquid. “Nobody calls me that.”

“I named you, Anna. I can call you what I wish. If I wanted to rename you something utterly horrid—something like—”

Margaret tightened her grip on the spoon and turned slowly back to him. “Margaret. You used once to call me Margaret.”

“Only because Anna was your mother’s name. As she’s dead now, I see no reason to—mmph!”

He glowered at her again as she popped the spoon between his lips. For a second, the nasty medicine did the trick, and he simply screwed up his nose in silent, undignified protest. She pulled the spoon away—and he spat it out. Green viscous liquid sprayed in her face.

Margaret’s hands trembled as she reached for a cloth. She could not do him violence. She could not. He was old. He was frail. He was her father. She wiped the disgusting residue from her eyes, and then looked at him. He sat, his smile perhaps a bit broader than before, his arms folded once more in self-satisfaction.


Tags: Courtney Milan Turner Romance
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