Brand stood at the window, a glass of whiskey in his hand, blindly staring out over the street. Pymm had done what he could, but found little to go on. There were rumors, he'd told Brand, but none he could confirm. Most of the rumors led to men long dead. Those who were still alive remembered nothing or denied participation, and not even gold could jog their memories. In the end, he asked the detective to dig into his stepmother's background. There was probably nothing there either, but it made him feel like he was doing something.
He closed his eyes momentarily and his brother's face swam before him, forever frozen at age six. If not for the kidnapping, Michael might still be alive. His hand clenched the glass he held. Someone would pay for Michael's death. He would not give up his search for answers.
Turning from the window, he froze. Lady Felicia stood just inside the door, watching him. For a moment, they took each other's measure, then she closed the door and crossed the room toward him.
He watched her approach warily. The skirts of her light blue morning gown swished around her legs as she walked and curiosity lurked in the blue depths. Her skin, fresh and unblemished, dared him to touch it, and he wondered if her lips were as soft and sweet as they looked. All sailors knew stories of the sirens of myth, but here was one on dry land and he was afraid drowning might be the least of his worries.
"Where's Jon?" she asked, coming to a stop in front of him.
It took a few moments for her question to register, but it shook him out of the daze he seemed to be in. Finishing off the contents of the tumbler, he put down the empty glass and moved further into the room, away from the window. It wouldn't do for either of them to be seen by a passerby.
"He's not here. He was called away this morning."
"Away?" She frowned. "Where?"
"To Wynton Abbey," he replied. "There was a groom waiting for him when he returned last evening with a report of a fire. The damage was apparently minimal, but he left early this morning to view it for himself. Said he'd be back in a week or so. He may have left a note for you with the housekeeper."
"Oh." Disappointment laced her words. She hesitated a moment, then followed him into the center of the room, where she seated herself on a settee as he took up a stance by the fireplace, one arm negligently resting on the mantle. He tried not to stare at her, but the puzzled expression on her face made him curious. He did not expect her next words. "And when do you leave for The Downs?"
The question hit him like a blow, but his reaction obviously surprised her because her own eyes widened in apprehension before she hurriedly continued.
"You and Eliza are obviously related. And since she has been hoping for the appearance of her brother for three years now, it did not take much to come to the conclusion you might be he. Of course--" she grinned impishly, "--you could tell me I haven't the faintest notion of what I'm talking about."
"I see," he said, his equilibrium restored somewhat by her grin. "And you reasoned it out for yourself?" His lips quirked and she responded with a bright smile, unaware of its effect on his temperature.
"Of course," she said. "It didn't come to me until the middle of the night when I finally realized where I'd seen eyes that unusual color before. No one who knows Lady Barrington and meets you would think anything except that you must be brother and sister. The resemblance is remarkable."
"Your brother warned me you might figure it out."
"Did he?" she asked. "Well, yes, I guess he would. No matter. Edward will be thrilled. I hope your father will let him purchase a commission now. It's all he really wants."
He stiffened and his smile vanished.
"And do my brother's wants mean so much to you?"
She frowned. "Well, yes. He'll be much happier once he has a chance to be himself."
"And where do you fit? Do you plan to help him be himself?" Why did he care?
"I don't suppose I'll be able to. I imagine he'll want to be posted somewhere outside of England and I don't think Jay or Jon would think it amusing if I tried to tag along."
"You wouldn't go along?" he probed. "Perhaps as his wife?"
Her laughter rang out in the room. It was a deep, throaty laugh, carefree and untrammeled. Its very lightness caused the tightness in his chest to loosen. "Now, why would I want to do that? Edward is like a brother to me. Besides, his mother hates me."
"Hates you?" He couldn't believe anyone could hate her. She seemed genuinely friendly.
"Well, it's Edward's fault, but she's made it clear that I'm not good enough for him. If it wasn't for the fact that I make an effort to stay out of her way, she probably would have ruined me by now."
"Yes, but it's not important. He's a good friend and he's my best friend's uncle." She stopped suddenly and tilted her head to the side, studying him anew. "I guess you are Amanda's uncle too. Of course, you aren't related by blood, so you could marry her. Oooh, that would be wonderful. Then she could stop chasing Jon."
He was having difficulty keeping track of her thoughts as she jumped from subject to subject, but he did catch the last thing she said.
"I'm not marrying my sister's stepdaughter," he blurted.
Felicia pursed her lips into a pout. "Pity. She's very pretty and would make a wonderful marchioness."
Brand wasn't sure he was hearing right. Here he was discussing marriage with a young, beautiful woman and she was pushing someone else at him. Why didn't she want him for herself? He understood enough of the ways of society to know any other young woman of marriageable age would, especially considering his title and prospects.
Vanity had never been an attribute Brand applied to himself, but he wondered what it would take for Felicia to consider herself a candidate for the position of his marchioness. His body was beginning to imagine what it might take to make those eyes glaze over with desire and what those lips would look like wet and kiss-swollen.
"And you wouldn't?" He didn't know why he asked, but he wanted to unbalance her on some level. Perhaps he wanted to know if his title really meant so little to her.
"Of course I would, if I was in the market for a husband. But I don't want one--and Amanda does."