Four

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Chapter Three

 

Damn it all!

James paced down the hill from his mother’s modest estate toward the road leading into the village. His sister-in-law was driving him to madness. She lurked in every room, around every corner, perpetually throwing herself at him. He was rapidly running out of patience and polite rebuffs. He felt like a caged lion, and his growing obsession with Phoebe Landon did not help matters.

Why couldn’t he wipe the enticing Lady Phoebe from his mind? He’d thought to satisfy his curiosity over her with a kiss, but one kiss had not been enough. Would neverbe enough. Those saccharine lips ignited a fire within him unlike anything he’d experienced before. Her mouth was undoubtedly the sweetest thing he’d ever tasted. It may have been the punch she’d been drinking, but he rather doubted it. He wanted more. More Phoebe. Of course he couldn’t have more Phoebe. Any further contact with her would spell certain disaster.

Instead he’d seek out a whore. And a drink. Not necessarily in that order. He’d take whichever came available first seeing as his mother had poured every ounce of liquor in the house either out the window or down the chamber pots. Damned frustrating.

He passed several houses with smoke curling toward the early morning sky, and followed a bend in the road. The town was close, as was the tavern. He kicked up the pace, looking ahead. “Heaven help me,” he muttered, grinding near to a halt.

Straight ahead, walking down the dusty roadway with a basket looped over her arm was Lady Phoebe. Their gazes connected and a slow smile spread over her lovely face. She actually looked happy to see him!

James lifted a hand in greeting, all thought of whores and liquor dissipating in the light of her smile. By God, she actually glowed. “Good morning, Lady Phoebe. Are you out for an early picnic?” When their paths crossed he reversed his direction and fell into step beside her.

She shook her head, motioning the basket with her free hand. “One of the village women, Mrs. Porter, had a baby last week. I am delivering some Jam and rolls and a new blanket for the child.”

“That is very kind. Is Mrs. Porter a particular friend of yours?”

“No. It is a tradition brought about by my mother for our tenants.”

James nodded, understanding. The late Duchess Corsair had been famed for her kindness and beloved by all who’d known her. “I heard wonderful stories about your mother as a child when we visited this part of the country.”

“Did you ever know her?”

“No. The history between our families prevented it.”

Phoebe  nodded. Falling silent. James wondered if she, like so many others, believed he’d murdered her brother years before. After a moment she glanced up. No accusation glimmered in her eyes.

“I’m very sorry about your father, Colonel. I understand the general’s death was unexpected.”

James cleared his throat, surprised by the turn of the conversation. “Thank you,” he said gruffly. Long suppressed anger and guilt flared to life inside him. He endeavored to tamp it back down, but could think of nothing light-hearted or funny to shift the conversation. “Actually, the general was my uncle.”

Phoebe glanced up, genuinely surprised. “Your uncle? But the newspapers always referred to him as your father.”

“He was my step-father,” James explained. “My father, Hector Witherspoon, died when I was three years old. My mother married his brother a year later and one year after that my half-brother Tobias was born.”

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