Someone to Care (Westcott #4)(2)

“Some of them pray all week for rain on Sunday,” someone else added.

André Lamarr joined in the general guffaw that succeeded these witticisms. “Perhaps we will stay an hour or two to watch some of the contests,” he said. “Log sawing, did you say? And arm wrestling? I might even try a bout myself.”

All eyes turned upon his companion, who had neither spoken nor shown any spark of interest in all the supposedly irresistible delights the day held in store.

They offered a marked contrast to the beholder, these two brothers. There was a gap of almost thirteen years in their ages, but it was not just a contrast in years. Marcel Lamarr, Marquess of Dorchester, was tall, well formed, impeccably elegant, and austerely handsome. His dark hair was silvering at the temples. His face was narrow, with high cheekbones and a somewhat hawkish nose and thin lips. His eyes were dark and hooded. He looked upon the world with cynical disdain, and the world looked back upon him—when it dared look at all—with something bordering upon fear. He had a reputation as a hard man, one who did not suffer fools gladly or at all. He also had a reputation for hard living and deep gambling among other vices. He was reputed to have left behind a string of brokenhearted mistresses and courtesans and hopeful widows during the course of his almost forty years. As for unmarried ladies and their ambitious mamas and hopeful papas, they had long ago given up hope of netting him. One quelling glance from those dark eyes of his could freeze even the most determined among them in their tracks. They consoled themselves by fanning the flames of the rumor that he lacked either a heart or a conscience, and he did nothing to disabuse them of such a notion.

André Lamarr, by contrast, was a personable young man, shorter, slightly broader, fairer of hair and complexion, and altogether more open and congenial of countenance than his brother. He liked people, and people generally liked him. He was always ready to be amused, and he was not always discriminating about where that amusement came from. At present he was charmed by these cheerful country folk and the simple pleasures they anticipated with such open delight. He would be perfectly happy to delay their journey by an hour or three—they had started out damnably early, after all. He glanced inquiringly at his brother and drew breath to speak. He was forestalled.

“No,” his lordship said softly.

The attention of the masses had already been taken by a couple of new arrivals, who were greeted with a hearty exchange of pleasantries and comments upon the kindness the weather was showing them and a few lame flights of wit, which drew disproportionate shouts of merry laughter. Marcel could not imagine anything more shudderingly tedious than an afternoon spent at the insipid entertainment of a country fair, admiring large cabbages and crocheted doilies and watching troops of heavy-footed dancers prancing about the village green.

“Dash it all, Marc,” André said, his eyebrows knitting into a frown. “I thought you were none too eager to get home.”

“Nor am I,” Marcel assured him. “Redcliffe Court is too full of persons for whom I feel very little fondness.”

“With the exception of Bertrand and Estelle, I would hope,” André said, his frown deepening.

“With the exception of the twins,” Marcel conceded with a slight shrug as the innkeeper arrived to refill their glasses. Once more they brimmed over with foam, which swamped the table around them. The man did not pause to wipe the table.

The twins. Those two were going to have to be dealt with when he arrived home. They were soon to turn eighteen. In the natural course of events Estelle would be making her come-out during the London Season next year and would be married to someone suitably eligible within a year or so after that, while Bertrand would go up to Oxford, idle away three or four years there, absorbing as little knowledge as possible, and then take up a career as a fashionable young man about town. In the natural course of events . . . There was, in fact, nothing natural about his children. They were both almost morbidly serious minded, perhaps even pious, perish the thought. Sometimes it was hard to believe he could have begotten them. But then he had not had a great deal to do with their upbringing, and doubtless that was where the problem lay.

“I am going to have to exert myself with them,” he added.

“They are not likely to give you any trouble,” André assured him. “They are a credit to Jane and Charles.”

Marcel did not reply. For that was precisely the trouble. Jane Morrow was his late wife’s elder sister—straitlaced and humorless and managing in her ways. Adeline, who had been a careless, fun-loving girl, had detested her. He still thought of his late wife as a girl, for she had died at the age of twenty when the twins were barely a year old. Jane and her husband had stepped dutifully into the breach to take care of the children while Marcel fled as though the hounds of hell were at his heels and as though he could outpace his grief and guilt and responsibilities. Actually, he had more or less succeeded with that last. His children had grown up with their aunt and uncle and older cousins, albeit at his home. He had seen them twice a year since their mother’s death, almost always for fairly short spans of time. That home had borne too many bad memories. One memory, actually, but that one was very bad indeed. Fortunately, that home in Sussex had been abandoned and leased out after he inherited the title. They all now lived at Redcliffe Court in Northamptonshire.

“Which I am not,” André continued with a rueful grin after taking a long pull at his glass and wiping froth off his upper lip with the back of his hand, “Not that anyone would expect me to be a credit to Jane and Charles, it is true. But I am not much of a credit to you either, am I, Marc?”

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