Copyright © 2013 Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“Sir? You must read this one.” Farley, his valet/secretary, dropped something light on Gerard’s chest.
Gerard roused from an uncomfortable doze. He blinked and looked down at himself, or rather up. Dressed in rumpled eveningwear, he appeared to have his boots on, and yes, his feet were propped on a chair. He lay on his back on the hearthrug next to the drawing room fireplace. He clutched a wilted glove in one hand. In the other he held an almost empty brandy glass. A white object lay on his chest—the piece of paper and an envelope Farley had dumped on him.
“What time is it?” His voice came out as a croak. His head hurt, but he’d felt worse in the last year of dissipation.
“Ten a.m., sir.” With a long sigh, the portly Farley sank onto the chair near the fireplace. Gerard turned his head enough to see that the valet had also polished his own boots to a perfect shine.
“That early, eh? Wonder what time I got back.”
“Sir arrived home four hours ago and refused to go to bed.” Farley’s words dripped with disdain.
“That I recall.” Gerard touched his aching head, and the paper on his chest rustled. “What the devil did you drop on me just now?”
“A letter from the abbey’s gamekeeper, sir.”
“Pickens?” Hadn’t he died years, more than a decade, earlier? Gerard had a vague memory of a man with a squint and a tray of cheeping baby birds.
“No, sir. Mr. Kenway is now our gamekeeper.”
Gerard remembered the interview, as he’d been quite knackered from an evening’s festivities. Mr. Miles Kenway from Yorkshire by way of Canada, or perhaps the other way around. He had a peculiar accent, mostly the long, soft vowels of Yorkshire. And he had shoulders that barely fit through the doorway of the solicitor’s office.
“He’s a bailiff, or steward. Not gamekeeper. No one has hunted at the abbey for years. I recall Kenway. He’s that hulking man I hired a while back. The one with the voice sounded like the toll of a church’s funeral bell.”
“Very poetic, sir. Kenway claims he has sent us two letters already.”
“You opened my mail?”
“Yes, sir. Surely he is mistaken, sir? Two previous letters?” When Farley spoke in first person plural and added many sirs to his speech, he was more annoyed than usual. He rose to his feet. A servant must not sit in his master’s presence, and on occasion Farley remembered he was Gerard’s servant.
“I doubt he’s lying.” Gerard had tossed several letters into the fire, telling himself he needed the space on his desk.
Throwing away unwanted correspondence—when had he turned into such a coward? He patted his chest until he found the paper.
Farley loomed over him, waiting.
“Yes, I was wrong to toss the letters away. Stop the sniffing noises, Farley. See? I pick up the paper like so, unfold and read it… The man has the most appalling hand, and…eh? What?” He squinted and read again. “What in God’s name does Kenway mean ‘my son’? I have no son.”
“Are you certain of that, sir?”
“Yes.” Gerard didn’t elaborate.
Farley made a soft, disbelieving grunt. He was convinced Gerard’s recent habit of dissipation included bedding women. Gerard had once overheard the valet telling a footman that he should be ashamed to believe the rumors; a manly man like Mr. Gerard would never have spent the night in the Conte Azzari’s bed.
Farley was technically correct. Gerard and the count had only been in the bed for four hours, hardly the whole night. There’d been an invigorating hour on the floor as well.
A month before breaking a lifetime’s fast with Azzari, Gerard had received the news of his father’s death. At that news, all virtue, self-discipline and temperance had flown out the window like a flock of doves—and no birds had flown back to the roost since.
Gerard pulled his feet off the chair and sat up, groaning softly. He held up the letter to read one more time. “Oh, well, of course it can’t be. This so-called son of mine is about nine years old, so I would have been in school when he was conceived.”
“Yes, sir.” Farley leaned over and plucked the letter from his hand. He held something in his other hand, a tintype.
Gerard took it from him. A thin, unhappy face peered at the world. The heavy Gerard eyes and the distinctive full lower lip. Christ. He looked down at a copy of his own features and attitude in a much younger face.
“Well. Whoever his father might be, he’s certainly one of us,” Gerard said.
He pulled the letter away from Farley, who was reading it again. He’d probably memorized the good bits, of which there were plenty.
Kenway had written: The boy arrived here by foot, half starved. His mother gave him your name and direction, a train ticket and information about your family, but little else, not even proper shoes. The servants are convinced he is your child.
The man’s indignation showed in every scrawled line. Apparently Miles Kenway didn’t care if he offended his employer. He didn’t hint or approach the subject crabwise or skirt around it.
You must come to the abbey. No one else has the authority to cope with the situation. I had thought a simple letter of instruction from you might be enough, but I am afraid we require you here as soon as possible.
He had some cheek, Garret thought without anger. Perhaps he would interview other possible bailiffs, because this one apparently didn’t want to keep the job.
“I’m warning you, put it down. Now. And carefully. Don’t aim it at me or the windows.” Miles was fairly sure he’d unloaded the shotgun, but who knew? Maybe the young devil knew how to load guns.
“Why should I?”
Miles examined the scarecrow-thin figure who seemed too scrawny to lift the weapon. “If you do, I’ll teach you to shoot properly. If you don’t, you’ll end up learning about birdshot too well, my boy.”
No. Not his boy, thank God. Though unfortunately the young devil was more his than anyone else’s. If any abbey servant should want to find young Ipsial Gerard, they’d ask Miles. If they did ask, usually they wanted to be able to stay away from the troublesome lad.
Standing in the middle of the room, the boy narrowed his heavy-lidded eyes at Miles. “You’ll teach me to shoot?” There was pure disbelief in the voice.
“Yes, I promise.” They’d had similar conversations before. Miles would make a promise and then listen to Ipsial’s scoffing disbelief. No matter that so far Miles had kept the promises. The boy never believed the next one.
Ipsial had grown better in the weeks he’d been at the abbey, Miles supposed. He no longer cursed as much. He’d stopped trying to steal wallets—mostly. He actually engaged in conversation rather than trying to escape Miles’s house with food tucked under his hideous jacket. And the boy stole only a meal’s worth now, instead of as much as he could carry.
When Miles had arranged the picture-taking with a traveling photographer, the boy had protested for only half an hour and hadn’t attempted to invade the man’s wagon or annoy his horse. That counted as progress.
Ipsial sniffed. He touched the gun’s stock, peered into the barrels, the young idiot. He looked around the main room of Miles’s cottage with feigned interest.
Miles counted to ten slowly. He could wait out animals, and this boy was certainly a beast. After what had to be two full minutes of pretending to think about it, Ipsial lowered Miles’s gun and put it on the rough wooden plank floor.
He watched Miles, smirking. The big pale blue eyes dared him to protest at how slow he’d been to obey, but Miles stayed silent and allowed him the victory. Miles usually did when it came to the details. Let the fiend win in small matters.
Ipsial. Miles tried to think of him using the silly name no one else would. The name wasn’t from the Old Testament as the staff had first guessed. Joey, who acted as groundsman, footman and groom all rolled into one, had quipped, “Unless Satan wrote a version of the Bible?”
Certainly everyone else on the estate called him the young devil.
Everyone agreed Ipsial had made a nest somewhere on the estate. Miles suspected it was the hut that had once belonged to the abbey’s gardener, but he didn’t go inside to make sure. Wild animals tended to abandon their homes if humans poked around too much.
Miles went to the shotgun and cracked it open. Loaded and ready to fire.
“Christ.” He rarely cursed.
“What?” Ipsial slunk to the door. “I put it down,” he whined.
“So you did. Tomorrow morning, an hour’s lesson.” Miles held back a sigh. The boy fled the cottage without a backward look.