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Three Weeks With Lady X(3)

By:Eloisa James

His intended probably wouldn't appreciate the comparison, but Thorn had  the notion that she was like a rescued hound, one that would adoringly  follow her new master in return for some kindness. That was absurd,  given that she was as beautiful as a wild rose, with hair like a  Botticelli angel. By all rights, she should be arrogantly aware of her  dominion over men. But instead she had a desperate look about her eyes,  as if she needed saving.

It was a fair trade, in his estimation. Her beauty in return for his protection.

"You plan to drop your wife at this new estate of yours with a brood of children?"

"I see no reason to live at Starberry Court with her." His own father  had taught him little more than how to fence. Thorn intended to be that  type of father, and he needn't be in residence to do it.

"A mother does more than nurture her family," Vander objected. "I hear  scientists have estimated that half of one's intellect comes from each  parent."

Thorn just looked at him. His children would be his children, just as  his father's were his father's. He and the Duke of Villiers were carved  from the same block of marble. It wasn't just the white streak in his  hair that had appeared in his and his father's hair after each of them  had turned nineteen. It was the set of his jaw, the way Villiers  calculated outcomes, even the way he breathed air.

If one wanted more proof, it could be had in the fact that the duke had  spawned children with five different mothers, and each of those children  was-in his or her own way-a copy of their father. "Of course, I hope  that they look like their mother," he added, with a wry look.                       


"Bloody hell," Vander said, disgusted. "I suppose you'll raise the poor babes as a pack of wolves."

Thorn grinned at that. "You'd better find someone to marry. You don't want your wolves to be puny in comparison to mine."

"I haven't met the right woman yet." Vander took a gulp of brandy,  slumping lower in his chair. Thorn never sprawled. Sprawling would put  him at a disadvantage; he would lose critical seconds before he could  dodge a blow and launch an attack.

"Why don't you ask Eleanor to find you someone suitable?" Thorn asked.  His stepmother, the Duchess of Villiers, knew everyone in society worth  knowing. Moreover, she was brilliantly strategic and would enjoy  determining the future of the duchy of Pindar.

But Vander shook his head. "I want what your father has."

"What's that?"

"You know what."

"You want Eleanor?" Thorn was, frankly, astonished. His stepmother was  beautiful, intelligent, witty . . . and she was also deeply in love with  his father. Eleanor wasn't interested in younger men, nor indeed in any  man other than her husband.

He gave Vander the kind of look he reserved for pickpockets just before  he knocked them off their feet. "You keep your hands off my stepmother. I  had no idea that you had propensities of that nature."

"You should see your face!" Vander was positively howling with laughter.  "Your stepmother is a very nice woman," he said finally, more or less  recovering himself. "But I don't want her, you idiot. I want the type of  marriage those two have. I want what Villiers has." He took another  slug. "I'll be damned if I'll settle for anything less."

"I don't consider the marriage I'm contemplating to be lesser," Thorn  objected. "Just different. My father's life revolves around Eleanor, and  hers around him. I can't see either of us altering our habits for a  woman. What about all those horses you're training, and the fact you're  constantly off to one steeplechase or another? I have no problem  imagining you with a wife-but one who is the center of your life? No."

"I would make time," Vander stated.


"You really have no idea, do you?"

"What I know is that Laetitia is remarkably beautiful and she's a lady,  which will protect my children from being shunned as a result of my  birth. Part of the reason I treasure my stepmother is that she's unlike  any other woman I've met. Quite frankly, I've come to believe another  such woman doesn't exist."

"She has to, Thorn." Vander came to his feet but didn't walk away, just  stood, staring down at Thorn. "I want to love a woman the way your  father loves his wife. I don't care if she looks like an apple seller. I  want to feel passion for the woman I marry. It doesn't seem too much to  ask."

"My father almost married a woman who belonged in Bedlam," Thorn said,  leaning back so he could see Vander's face. "It was pure accident that  paired him with Eleanor. Are you hoping that the perfect woman will  simply wander in your door?"

"If she doesn't, then I'd rather not bother," Vander said flatly. He  moved to the decanter and refilled his glass. "If I'm to change my life  to suit a woman, she'd damned well better be worth my trouble."

He had a point there. Thorn was fairly sure marriage would be a bother.  In order to woo Laetitia, he had been obliged to buy a country estate,  although he was perfectly comfortable living in London. What's more, he  was taking on a wife when he already had twenty-three servants, along  with men working in factories, solicitors' offices, and the rest.

But he wanted children, and for that he needed a wife. He liked  children. Children, whether boys or girls, were curious. They liked to  ask questions; they wanted to understand how things worked.

"Since you're not planning to change your life, I suppose you'll keep  your mistress?" Vander dropped back into his chair, taking care not to  spill his brandy.

"I pensioned her off the day after I met Laetitia."

"Then I'll point out the obvious. You are signing up to sleep with no  woman other than Laetitia Rainsford for the rest of your bleeding life."

He shrugged. "She will give me children. And I have no doubt she will be faithful, so I'll pay her the same respect."

"Loyalty is one of your few virtues," Vander acknowledged. "The problem  with you," he added, staring contemplatively into his brandy, "is your  infernal childhood."                       


Thorn couldn't argue with that. Spending his boyhood as a penniless  mudlark-diving into the Thames to search for anything of value in the  muck-had shaped him. He had learned the hard way that danger lurked  where you couldn't see it.

"You don't trust anyone," Vander continued, waxing philosophical. "Your  father should have kept a better eye on you. I'll be damned if I  misplace any of my children, even if I produce a bastard, which I  won't."

"My childhood made me what I am. I wouldn't trade it to be the pampered son of a duke."

Vander shot him a sardonic look. Thorn was the only one who knew what  horrors had lurked inside the Duke of Pindar's country seat.

"I trust my father, Eleanor, my siblings," Thorn stated. "And you. That's good enough."

Frankly, he didn't waste much time thinking about trusting women. And he  found it rare that he respected them. His life revolved around his  work, and most gentlewomen didn't seem to do anything except their part  in bed, though he generally did most of the work there too. That was the  nature of it. He wasn't a man to give a woman her way between the  sheets.

"I trust you," Vander replied. He added no other names. Not that Thorn  expected him to, because he knew there were no other names to add.  Vander's face had darkened, and as Thorn saw it, his friend's darkness  was his own business.

"That's why I want a marriage like your father's," Vander continued,  staring at the fire through his empty glass. "There have to be more  people in the world I can trust than a muscle-bound, sweaty bastard like  yourself."

Back when they'd been fourteen, that weak jest would have been an  invitation, and the two of them would have pummeled each other until  half the furniture in the room had been broken . . . and they'd come out  the other side panting and happy.

What's more, that remark, or another like it, would surely have been  made on this very day of the year, because it was the anniversary of  Vander's mother's death, which he generally spent skating on the edge of  violence. Consequently, every year on this day Thorn ensured he was at  Vander's side.

Thorn got to his feet. "I'm sick of sitting around with a maudlin romantic, talking about women. Foil or épée?"

Vander rose with no sign that three glasses of brandy had impaired him.  Probably they hadn't; he seemed to have been endowed with the ability to  burn off alcohol within minutes.