The Countess Chapter Nine

Richard had been pacing Daniel's parlor for several minutes when the other man finaly made his appearance. Before he could cry out the "Finaly!" that was trembling on his lips, Woodrow rushed forward, saying, "What is it? What's happened? My valet said you told him it was an emergency and urgent that you speak with me."

Richard nodded. "Where is - " he paused to glance toward the stil open door and then almost whispered, " - the you know what? "

Daniel came to a shuddering halt, his face going blank for a minute before he asked, "You mean - " he too paused to glance toward the door, and then whispered,

" - the you know who?"

"Aye," Richard said impatiently.

"That is your emergency?" he asked with disbelief. "You had my valet roust me from a dead slumber to ask me that?"

"Wel you know who's whereabouts is rather important to me," Richard said stiffly, and then pointed out, "And I wouldn't have had to wake you from a dead slumber to find out where he is if you hadn't left without me last night."

Daniel dropped into the nearest seat with disgust. "Wel what else was I to do?

Sit about in my carriage while you gave you know who's wife a tumble?"

Richard stiffened. "She is my wife, thank you very much."

"My, we've certainly changed our tune this morning," Daniel said dryly. "Last night you weren't sure you wanted to keep her."

"Yes, wel , I changed my mind." He paused to scowl at the man. "How the devil did you know I tumbled her?"

Woodrow's eyebrows rose. "Was it supposed to be a secret? If so, you shouldn't have done it in the front window for anyone on the street to see."

Richard's eyes widened in horror as he realized they had been in front of the window at first. How much of Christiana had been on display? Good Lord, what had he been thinking? Richard knew the answer to that wel enough. He hadn't been thinking at al , his manhood had been the one in charge last night, his presently very content, wel spent manhood.

Richard had woken this morning thinking that marriage to Christiana might be a very fine thing indeed, and he'd been reaching for her again when he'd realized sunlight was peeking through the bedroom curtains. Then, suddenly his brain had managed to speak loudly enough to drown out his manhood and remind him of certain problems that needed dealing with. His brother's body, for instance. Recal ing his intent to hunt down Daniel this morning and find out what he'd done with George, Richard had leapt from the bed, found some clothes in the master with George, Richard had leapt from the bed, found some clothes in the master bedroom that his twin had obviously purchased, and reluctantly donned them.

George had always favored bright, flashy colors while Richard preferred more somber attire. He would have to see about a whole new wardrobe, he thought now.

"Wel ?"

Richard blinked his thoughts away and glanced to Daniel in question. "Wel , what?"

"Are you real y planning to keep her?"

"Yes, of course." He settled in a chair with a sigh, and then admitted, "She was a virgin until last night."

Daniel blew out a silent whistle. "That was very remiss of you know who."

Richard grunted, not bothering to mention that he'd heard a thing or two in the past that suggested it wasn't so much that George was being remiss in not consummating the marriage, but that he was incapable of it. He hadn't paid much attention to the gossip then, but now supposed it must be true.

"So after a year of misery with you know who, whom she thought was you, she just forgave al and fel into your arms last night?" Daniel asked quietly. Richard heard the reprimand in his friend's voice and scrubbed his face guiltily.

Daniel had been there listening at the door when the women had gone past. He too knew about the drink and how it had affected Christiana, so knew exactly what state she'd been in. And while it hadn't seemed that important last night when he'd thought her an experienced woman, now, in the bright light of day with his manhood final y quiet, it seemed rather shameful behavior.

Shaking his head, he muttered with self-disgust. "I took advantage of an inebriated virgin."

Woodrow did not let him off the hook, but left him to wal ow in his guilt for several moments before final y clearing his throat and saying, "Wel , at least you are going to do the right thing and stand by the marriage."

"Which isn't even a legal one," Richard muttered, and then his eyes widened suddenly. "What if she is pregnant from last night's tumblings? Technical y, the child would be il egitimate."

"Wel , one time isn't likely to bring about a child," Daniel said soothingly.

Richard grimaced. "True, but it wasn't one time."

"Wel even two . . ." He paused as he noted his expression and then said,


Richard merely stared back.


Richard remained silent.

"Oh," Daniel said, looking impressed. "Wel , she must be very . . . er . . .

inspiring. We must just hope she is not equal y fertile." When Richard's shoulders slumped, he added, "Or you could marry her to ensure everything was legal."

"We are already supposed to be married," Richard pointed out dryly. "How the devil do I explain the need to marry again?"

Daniel opened his mouth, but then glanced to the door. In the next moment, he'd risen and crossed the room to close it. As he returned to his seat they exchanged a grimace at having said so much before thinking to close it, and then Daniel suggested, "Rather than present it as a need, perhaps you could suggest to Christiana that you want to do it again, as a sort of fresh start to the marriage to make up for this last very bad year. She wil think you are the most romantic bugger alive, and you wil be assured that any heirs are legal."

Richard raised his eyebrows. "That is actual y a good idea."

"I have been known to have a good idea or two on occasion," Daniel said dryly, no doubt a bit insulted by his surprised tone. Richard merely grunted, his thoughts on what exactly he would say to Christiana and how he could convince her.

"And then you could travel to Gretna Green with Suzette and me when we head off to do the deed."

"Yes, we could leave - " Richard paused and blinked. "You and Suzette?"

Daniel cleared his throat. "Er . . . yes."

"You're marrying Suzette?" he asked, just to be certain he wasn't misunderstanding.

"I haven't quite made up my mind, though I am leaning that way," Daniel muttered, picking imaginary lint off his trousers. Richard considered him silently, his eyes narrowing as he recal ed the passionate embrace he'd stumbled upon and the fact that the man hadn't rejoined him as he'd expected. Just how long had Daniel been in Suzette's room in the end?

He tried to work it out, running through the events of the evening.

"I haven't tumbled her," Daniel snapped, apparently reading his thoughts, and then he sighed and admitted, "But it was damned close, and only you know who's presence prevented it in the end."

"You know who was in the carriage," Richard said at once.

"Yes, wel , so were Suzette and I," Daniel muttered.

"You had Suzette in the carriage with you know who?" he asked with horror. "Did she know you know who was there?"

she know you know who was there?"

Daniel grimaced. "Can we not think of another name for him? This is getting annoying."

"Answer the damned question."

"Wel , of course she didn't know. Hel , I didn't know until I got in. In fact it was my attempt to distract her from his presence that led to the 'damned close'

bit." He sighed and added, "So it's ironic that it was also his presence that brought an end to it."

Richard almost asked how that could be, but then decided he didn't real y want to know. Running a hand through his hair, he asked, "If you haven't bedded her, why consider marrying her? It's rather sudden, isn't it? You hardly know the chit."

"Wel , I know her as wel as you know Christiana and you're marrying her."

"Christiana is a special woman and our situation is not a common one."

"Wel Suzette is just as special and our situation is not common either," he shot back, and then sighed. "She proposed to me at the bal , and then when she found me in her room thought I had come to tel her yes. Rather than explain my real purpose in her room I let her believe it because I couldn't come up with an alternate explanation for my presence there. I am stil trying to come up with one. But I am also considering her proposal seriously in the meantime."

"Why the devil would she propose to you?" Richard asked with surprise. "She wants a husband in need of money who wil agree to her terms."

"Yes, wel , I may have misled her as to my financial status," Daniel muttered.

Richard raised his eyebrows. "Why?"

"Because when she asked me about my income I assumed she was just another fortune seeking debutante and lied," he admitted wryly. "You can imagine my surprise when rather than scaring her off, it prompted a proposal."

No doubt he'd also been a little fascinated, Richard realized. They were both used to fortune seeking debutantes and their mothers chasing them about. Other than this last year and a half when he'd been absent, it had happened on a regular basis. A woman who wanted just the opposite would make an interesting change.

"So rather than just tel her that you have money - "

"I have no intention of tel ing her that, and you'd best not either," Daniel said grimly. "And don't even think about offering to pay off the father's gambling debts. I shal attend those myself whether I marry her or not."

More than a little fascinated, then, Richard thought with amusement, and asked,

"Why should I not offer to pay them off? It would remove the pressure the women are under."

"Suzette is not enthral ed with the idea of marrying after al she's learned about Christiana's experiences this last year. She may very wel bury herself in the countryside and eschew marriage altogether should she learn it isn't a necessity, and I can hardly get to know her better if she is at Madison Manor and I am at Woodrow."

"Ah," Richard murmured, understanding more than his friend was tel ing.

Whether he knew it or not, Daniel had already decided to marry the girl. At least that was his opinion, "Fine, I shal refrain from offering to pay . . . for now."

Daniel relaxed at once. "Thank you."

Richard waved his gratitude away and changed the subject. "The good news is that since I've decided to uphold the marriage to Christiana, we can simply dispose of you know who. I was considering our options on the way here - "

"That might not be the best idea," Daniel interrupted quietly. When Richard raised an eyebrow in question, he added, "I think perhaps it would be best not to dispose of him at al yet. At least not until we sort out this business of who kil ed him."

Richard sat back with a frown. "Why? It is not as if he can be a witness in his own murder."

"No, but we cannot prove murder without a body," Daniel pointed out and then added, "Whoever poisoned him wil soon think they failed, if they don't already. They wil try again."

"Then I shal have to be careful," Richard said grimly. "But I see no need to keep you know who around until we catch his kil er. We can charge whoever it is with attempted murder when they try to kil me."

Daniel frowned. "It just seems to me to be smarter to keep you know who around until we have it al sorted out."

"Very wel ," Richard said final y. "Have you hidden him somewhere safe?"

"Er . . . wel , actual y no," he admitted, looking uncomfortable. "I placed him in the pavilion in the back garden for the night."

"In the . . . ?"

"It was the only place I could think of. I needed somewhere cold but covered, and that was al I could come up with at the time. But he shal have to be moved before too much longer."

"Yes, he definitely needs to be moved," Richard agreed grimly.

"I had an idea about that too."

"Do tel ," Richard requested dryly.

Daniel ignored his sarcasm. "I thought it might be best to put him back in the master bedroom."

"What? You - "

"Now hear me out before you protest," Daniel insisted, and then explained, "The girls have already seen that 'Dicky' is gone and so believe you are you

. . . which of course you are. They also know the bed is now in ruins thanks to the ice they packed around who they thought was you. So, we dump him back in the bed, you keep the windows open to cool the room, and then lock off the doors and keep the keys. Then you say you have ordered a bed to replace the ruined one and that no one should bother entering the room until it arrives and the chamber can be set to rights." He sat back with satisfaction before adding, "That way he is close at hand if we need him for proof of anything, and yet out of the way of being found."

"I suppose that could work," Richard said thoughtful y.

"It wil ," Daniel assured him. "The only real problem I see is getting him out of here and back to your townhouse in broad daylight." When Richard raised his head at the suggestion, he said, "He has to be moved soon. One of the servants might decide to take a turn around the gardens and stumble upon him before the day is out."

"Damn." They had to move the body and quickly, but the question was how did one move a body about in broad daylight without anyone knowing it was a body? He lowered his head to consider the problem, his eyes staring blindly at his own feet briefly before they focused on the patterned rug under them. Smiling, he raised his head. "You don't happen to have an old rug you don't mind getting rid of?"

The sound of the door opening and closing stirred Christiana from sleep and she rol ed over in bed to peer toward it, coming more awake when she saw Grace crossing the room toward her.

"Lord Langley is here and asking to see you," the maid said solemnly.

Christiana stiffened where she lay and then cast a quick glance to the other side of the bed to see that Richard was no longer there.

"He left nearly an hour ago," Grace announced as she gathered a fresh gown for her to wear.

"Oh," Christiana murmured, immediately assaulted by a variety of emotions. Not one of them good. Dawn was casting a harsh light on the situation at hand and forcing her to acknowledge that she had consummated the wedding with her husband, who may or may not be her husband, because she stil was not sure if it was actual y a birthmark on his behind that she'd glimpsed. Bril iant.

Worse than al of that, though, was that while she was now sober, lying alone in her bed with Grace there looking so grim, and the light of day shining through the windows and spotlighting her in her shame, had she woken natural y and alone with Richard, Christiana knew she might very wel have merely rol ed over, cuddled up close and begun to kiss and caress him awake to initiate another round of the consummation. It was how he'd woken her several times in the night and her body wanted it again even now. Just the thought of it was making her breasts tighten with desire. What they'd done had been that delicious, the excitement and pleasure he had shown her that addictive.

"Should I tel Langley you are unavailable?" Grace asked, setting a basin of water on the smal table beside the bed. Langley. Christiana grimaced, her shame increasing at the thought of talking to Robert. Here he had been trying to get her out of her miserable marriage and she had ensured that there was no way that she could. Dear God, she wished she'd never . . . wel , she wasn't sure what she wished. Having tasted such pleasure, it was hard to wish she hadn't. God, her body ached in places she hadn't known it could, but she'd never felt so physical y replete.

Christiana supposed the truth was she wished this was the first morning after her wedding and that the last year hadn't taken place, that she stil had a chance of happiness, of enjoying the pleasure she'd experienced last night again and again and sharing a life ful of laughter and joy with Richard

. . . who would have to be Richard for certain, of course.

"I shal tel him you are stil asleep," Grace decided for her and turned toward the door, but Christiana forced herself to sit up.

"No," she said on a sigh as she pushed the blankets away. There was no sense putting off this meeting. She may as wel get the unpleasantness over with and out of the way and see what could be salvaged from it.

"Are you sure? I could - "

The way Grace's words died so abruptly as Christiana rose from the bed, made her glance toward her curiously. The maid was staring at the bed and the smal splotches of blood that had been revealed when she'd pushed the bed covers aside to get up. The evidence of what had taken place last night, Christiana realized with a grimace and felt herself blush when Grace's sharp eyes turned her way.

"I knew he'd slept in here, his bed was ruined by the ice, but - " She paused, anger fil ing her face. "He took advantage of your inebriated state?"

Christiana grimaced and turned away, aware that she was blushing. Having no idea what to say, she moved to the basin of water and simply murmured,

"He is my husband."

Grace snorted angrily and began to strip the bed. "This blood proves he has been less than a husband this last year. I suspected he had not visited your bed since the wedding, but I thought that night, at least, he'd done his duty. The devil!"

she added with disgust. "Why could he not stay dead?"

Christiana bit her lip as she picked up the clean bit of linen, dipped it in the perfumed water and began to wash herself. She'd wondered the same thing many times last night. Wel , at least she had before Richard had kissed her. She suspected she would have protested vociferously at his dying in the middle of their exploits, but she was certainly now thinking it would have made things much simpler.

"And look what he did to you!" Grace said with dismay, leaving the bed for now and hurrying to her side. Christiana glanced around with confusion at that cry and then fol owed Grace's gaze over her body, her own eyebrows rose slightly as she saw that her body bore several dark red marks and even a faint bruise or two. She didn't recal how she'd got them and certainly hadn't felt any pain at the time. While Richard had been cruel and cold this last year, she didn't think he'd marked her deliberately last night, but the activities had got very vigorous at times and she knew she'd scored his back more than once during their more passionate moments.

" 'Tis al right." Christiana turned back to her washing. "They do not hurt."

Grace was silent for a moment and Christiana could almost hear the rant the maid wanted to let loose. Much to her relief, however, she didn't but returned to the bed, taking out her anger by almost ripping the bedsheets from it, no doubt imagining it was Richard and she was ripping his flesh off. Grace had been her mother's lady's maid before her and had become Christiana's on her mother's death. She had watched her grow up and had a great deal of affection for her, an affection that was returned. She also had something of a temper. Both women were silent as Grace helped her dress. Confused and miserable herself, Christiana did nothing to end it, but was grateful to escape the room once she was dressed and ready. She wasn't exactly eager to have the conversation she knew was coming with Langley, however, so didn't rush downstairs. Unfortunately, despite dragging her feet, she did eventual y arrive at the parlor, where Langley paced the floor as he waited. He stopped the moment she entered the room though and his first word was, "Wel ?"

Christiana felt her lips twitch into a grimace, and then turned back and closed the parlor door. It wasn't quite the done thing for a married woman to be in a room alone with a man who wasn't her husband and have the door closed. But it did seem smarter than leaving it open so that anyone passing might hear their conversation.

Turning back to the room, she moved to sit primly in a chair and then just sat there, not sure what to say or how to start.

"Wel ?" Langley repeated, sitting on the corner of the couch. "Does he have the birthmark?"

Christiana felt her lips twist and lowered her head. After al that had happened last night she should be able to say yes or no, however she just wasn't sure. She wished she'd taken a closer look, or thought to try again later, but once passion had overcome her the last thing she'd cared about was getting a look at his bottom.

Squeezing it with her hands to urge him on, and digging her heels into it as he drove his body into hers, yes, but look at it? It just hadn't been high on her list of priorities as he'd kissed and caressed, kneaded and touched, buried his face between her legs and drove her to, and then over the edge of madness before plunging his body into hers and driving her there again, and again, and -

"Christiana? Are you al right?" Langley asked with concern. "You are suddenly quite flushed."

Torn from her increasingly feverish recol ections, she blinked and then glanced around and waved her hand in front of her face, asking, "Is it hot in here?

I feel over warm."

"Er . . . I do not think so. It seems fine to me," Langley assured her and then asked a touch impatiently, "Did you get the chance to see if he has the birthmark?"

Christiana opened her mouth to say no, but then stopped, because that would be a lie. The truth was, of course, that she had had the chance, she'd just been too preoccupied with other things to take it. Final y, she said, "I am not sure if he has the strawberry or not."

Langley sat back with a sigh of disappointment, but then just as quickly sat forward again. "Wel , we shal just have to think of another way to find out. I was worried sick last night about the three of you here in this house with him. I'l take you, Lisa and Suzie away today. You can stay at your father's townhouse while I arrange for an exam and an annulment."

"Er . . ." Christiana cleared her throat and then murmured, "I don't think there can be an annulment."

"Of course there can. The marriage hasn't been consummated."

"Wel . . . yes, wel , that's the thing," she muttered, "Last night I was trying to see the strawberry and - Wel , I was trying to see it - I fear the alcohol had something of an effect on me, I - he - we definitely hadn't consummated it on the wedding night,"

she ended lamely.

"What are you trying to say, Christiana?" Langley asked slowly, looking like he already knew what she was saying but didn't want to believe it.

"We consummated last night," she blurted final y.

"Dear God," he groaned, closing his eyes, and then immediately opened them again and asked, "How could you?"

"Rather easily as it turned out," she muttered, and felt herself blushing.

Langley rubbed his forehead as if it were suddenly aching, and then sighed and sat up. "Okay. We shal have to force him into divorce then. We wil pretend to be lovers, and flaunt the supposed relationship openly until he has no choice but to demand a divorce. There wil be more of a scandal, but at least you wil be safe. I - "

"Safe?" she interrupted sharply.

He frowned. "Wel , surely you realize that if it is George, then it's possible Richard's death may not have been an accident."

Actual y, she hadn't realized that, Christiana thought faintly. It simply hadn't occurred to her that George could envy Richard so much he might kil him to take his place. She'd just assumed that Robert was worried that George had taken advantage of what was an accident.


"Just a minute, I must think," Christiana muttered.

Langley paused and waited, his expression questioning and she bowed her head, trying to gather her scattered thoughts. She was taken aback somewhat by his suggestion. It put a whole new slant on things. At least, it did for a moment, but as her mind raced over the events from the night before, her thoughts began to clear a little. While she might have believed the man she'd lived with this last year capable of such a thing, she just found it impossible to believe that the man who had been so considerate and kind at the bal , and then such a patient and giving lover last night, could have kil ed his own brother out of envy.

Christiana grimaced as she realized she was separating his good behavior from his bad behavior rather than considering it al as a whole, but that was how she was starting to think when it came to her husband. There was the Dicky she'd lived with this last year who she could believe would have done such a thing, and would be happy to find some way to escape. And then there was the sweet, considerate and passionate lover, Richard, from last night. The problem was she had no idea which man he was, and who she would be confronted with the next time they met. Would he be the Dicky who was so mean and cold to her, or the lover Richard? And if it was Dicky by day and Richard by night, was it worth spending her days in a sort of hel to enjoy nights of heaven?

She supposed that didn't real y matter. The marriage was consummated, so unless it turned out Richard was real y George, the marriage would stand firm. She would never al ow Robert to sacrifice himself by pretending to be her lover to gain her a freedom she'd lost through her own wanton desires. Though she had to admit the very fact that he would even suggest it was touching. She didn't doubt that he'd carry it out if she agreed. She also knew without a doubt that he'd make the same offer to both Suzette and Lisa were they in similar situations. Truly, he was the best of friends, a brother in every way but blood . . . and she couldn't al ow him to ruin himself for her.

"Chrissy?" Langley prompted again.

Christiana sighed and final y just said, "Why do we not just wait a bit? I am sure I can get to see his bottom tonight. I wil make sure I do, and then we shal decide what is best from there."

"Christiana," he began sternly, but it was as far as he got, for the door opened just then and Lisa and Suzette entered.

"There you are," Lisa tril ed brightly as she led Suzie to join them. "Haversham said Robert was here. Why was the door closed?"

Christiana blinked in surprise at the scowl Lisa cast on both her and Langley for such an impropriety. Lisa rarely scowled at anything or anyone. "I'm afraid I closed it without thinking when I entered. Come sit down, I was just about to ask Langley if there are any bal s we should attend tonight."

As the two girls took their seats, Christiana turned a warning glance to Langley.

She didn't want the conversation to continue in front of her sisters. She real y didn't want to discuss it anymore at al , at least, not unless Richard didn't have the strawberry birthmark. Then, she supposed there would be a lot of discussion going on. Fortunately, Robert obeyed her silent plea and began to discuss bal s.

"I hear voices."

Richard paused in the entry at Daniel's hissed words. After listening for a moment, he relaxed. "It is coming from the parlor. It sounds like the women are al in there, which means we won't run into them upstairs."

"Right, wel that's something," Daniel grunted, shifting his hold on his end of the carpet-rol ed George. Nodding, Richard started forward again, moving quickly toward the stairs.

George was a lot heavier with the added weight of the carpet around him and no doubt they would both be relieved to set him down. He just hoped they managed to do so without encountering anyone.

They made it up the stairs and were moving quickly up the hal with their burden, Richard thinking they might just manage the task undiscovered, when Haversham appeared from the master bedroom and started in their direction. Richard heard Daniel curse under his breath behind him and silently echoed the sentiment, but kept calm. It wasn't like they were carting a naked, dead George about for anyone to see. He was wrapped in the carpet after al . No one could tel he was in there, Richard assured himself. They would just carry the rug past as if nothing were amiss. That was the plan anyway, however, Haversham put an end to it by stopping in the middle of the hal directly in front of him, forcing Richard to a halt. The elderly butler peered at the rol ed up and slightly bulgy carpet, raised an eyebrow and then peered at Richard and asked, "Would you like me to send for a couple of footmen to help you with that, my lord?"

"Er . . . no," Richard forced a smile. "I - we are just - it's a bit chil in my room and Lord Woodrow offered this carpet to take away the worst of the chil ."

"Hmm." Haversham nodded solemnly. "The ladies had a similar problem just yesterday."

Richard frowned at his words, but before he could ask what the man meant by that, the butler continued.

"I would venture to suggest that closing the window of a night would help warm the room as wel , my lord . . . which I just did. I noticed it was open as I was inspecting the bed. The upstairs maid feared it was quite ruined. I came to see what could be done, however it looks as if it somehow got quite soaked through."

"Oh . . . er . . . yes. It . . . er . . . I . . ." Grimacing, he simply said, "Don't worry about the bed, Haversham. I've ordered a new one and wil just sleep with Lady Christiana until it arrives. I mean in her room, not - wel , not that there is anything wrong with a husband sleeping with his wife, I just - "

"What his lordship means to say," Daniel interrupted Richard's bumbling. "Is that he wil reside in Lady Christiana's room until his own bed is repaired. That being the case there is real y no need for the maid to worry about his room at al for the time being. In fact, he wil probably just lock the doors for now so she doesn't waste her time dusting an unoccupied room."

"Yes. Exactly. What he said," Richard muttered uncomfortably. Real y, he tended to avoid lying because he wasn't very good at it. He supposed he didn't feel it was a very honorable ability anyway so had never practiced it.

"Ah." Haversham looked extremely solemn as he nodded. "Very good, my lord. I shal tel the staff to leave the room be until you say otherwise."

"Thank you." He smiled his relief and then steered around the man, eager to continue up the hal .

"Shal I tel Lady Christiana you are returned and wil join the ladies and Lord Langley in the parlor soon?"

"Oh, no, that's al right. I - Lord Langley, you say?" he interrupted himself to ask as the name registered in his head. Pausing again, he frowned back at the butler.

"Yes, my lord. He arrived some time ago asking to speak to her ladyship and has been cloistered in the parlor with her and her sisters for some time now."

Richard felt his eyes narrow. "He has, has he? Wel , yes, please tel her I shal join them shortly."

"Very good, my lord." The butler turned smartly and headed for the stairs, apparently to do just that. Richard scowled after him, contemplating that Langley was here in his home, cloistered in the parlor with his wife and her sisters. And the man had asked for Christiana when he arrived. He'd also danced with her twice last night at the Landon bal , appearing very protective and caring of her as he did. Richard hadn't cared for it much at the time, but he liked it even less after spending the night with Christiana and deciding the marriage would continue. She was his now and he wasn't having Langley -

"For God's sake, Richard. Are we going to stand here al day? This rug is heavy."

"Oh, right," he muttered and began to move again. The sooner they had taken care of George, the sooner he could get down to the parlor and let Langley know Christiana was his.

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