Lord Vile (Beastly Lords Book 3)(7)

By: Sydney Jane Baily


“Balderdash!”

Michael waited. Then he waited some more, staring into his father’s golden-brown eyes, the mirror of his own. Nothing more followed.

“That’s it?”

The waiter set down another glass of brandy before him and removed his empty one.

His father clucked his tongue. “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

Picking it up, Michael shook his head. “No, not nearly.” He sipped, then sipped again. “If I understand you correctly, you wish me to return to the bosom of the family? Forgive and forget? Go give Mummy a peck on the cheek?”

“Don’t be insolent.”

“I’ll be any way I like. I’m a grown man.”

“Then start acting like one,” his father quipped, “instead of a truculent child.”

“Nothing you say can bother me.” Though, in truth, he felt like hurling the contents of his glass at his father’s face. “You took away the woman with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. And you did so in such a cowardly way no one even knew it wasn’t my doing. Imagine how I felt finding out you broke it off for me after telling me she was the one who ended our arrangement. If I’d known sooner, I would have gone after her and married her.”

His father drummed on the highly polished tabletop. Then he signaled for the waiter and ordered his own brandy.

“I will speak plainly. We couldn’t afford for you to marry her. It was ridiculous enough for you to consider a baron’s daughter. However, your mother and I were willing to consider it when we thought her father had some money. He didn’t have a shilling, as it turned out, and that was the end of it.”

“That was the end of it,” Michael repeated. “For you and Mummy. It wasn’t for me. I loved the girl.”

His father shrugged.

“I loved her,” Michael insisted. “Don’t sit there like a cold fish. What if someone had snatched Mummy away from you?”

The earl sipped his brandy, gazed into the tawny liquid, and then back at his son.

“Then I would have done my duty to the house of Alder and married another woman with your mother’s charms and an equal dowry. I love your mother, but I would have found someone else to give me an heir, and she would have found another man to wed her. I certainly wouldn’t have moped around, fallen headfirst into a bottle, and begun a campaign of carousing that makes your name and the word libertine nearly synonymous.”

“Shall I tell Mummy you believe her so easily replaced?”

His father’s expression tightened.

“Ah, I thought not. As pragmatic as you believe her, I don’t think she’d enjoy knowing she was merely a fat purse and a breeding cow,” Michael concluded.

His father slammed his glass down and stood. “How dare you? You impertinent cullion!”

Michael nearly yawned to complete the farce, but he restrained himself. With other nearby gentlemen’s interest perked and watching the scene unfold, his father might jump over the table and try to throttle him. He would fail, but his aging sire could have an apoplectic fit in the process. Not a good thing at White’s. It could tarnish his membership after all.

“Very well,” Michael said, his gaze locked with his father’s. “Why are you here?”

A few long moments went by. Eventually, the earl looked around, stared down anyone still audaciously looking at their table, and then resumed his seat.

“We are going broke.”

Taking in his father’s words, Michael considered them. He cocked his head, waiting, wanting more information.

The earl sighed. “The family accounts are low and not replenishing with the small holdings we have. We sold the house in France last year and the hunting lodge at Dunk’s Green this past winter. Still, I find our situation grows more precarious. As I said, we are going broke.”

Michael had rather liked the house in France. Right on the sea. Pity.

“Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, Father, but you are going broke. I have money from Grandfather. Plenty of it, in fact.”

Did he have plenty? He wasn’t truly sure, though it seemed to him he’d lived frugally these past years. He must have saved a lot by not avoiding any events of the past Seasons. Ticket prices for balls and soirées weren’t cheap. Indeed, if he recalled correctly, the last time he’d attended an event, it had been with the fervent desire of running into his delectable garden goddess again.

When he hadn’t found her after two or three attempts, he’d given up. There were too many marriage-minded ladies at those events anyway. It had been much more enjoyable to cozy up to a lonely widow in her luxurious townhouse. They never needed much in the way of expensive things, more desirous of his company than any sparkling bauble.

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