Someone to Care (Westcott #4)(5)

She was aware of him, then. Not just as someone she had recognized. She was aware of him. He was almost certain of it, just as he had been all those years ago, though her final words to him had seemed to belie that impression. Go away, Mr. Lamarr.

“Well,” André said cheerfully, picking up his tankard and draining its contents. “You can come and visit me in debtors’ prison, Marc. Bring some clean linen when you come, will you? And take the soiled away with you to be laundered and deloused. But as for today, are we going to stay for a while and watch some of the contests? We are in no big hurry, after all, are we?”

“Your debts will be paid,” Marcel said. “All of them. As you know very well, André.” He did not add that the debt to him would also be forgiven. That went without saying, but his brother must be left with some pride.

“I am much obliged to you,” André said. “I will pay you back within the month, Marc. Depend upon it. At least you are unlikely ever to have a similar problem with Bertrand. Or Estelle.”

Quite right. Perhaps it was illogical to half wish that he would.

“But then,” André added with a laugh, “they would not have been brought up to idolize you or emulate you, would they? If there is one person more dusty than William Cornish, it is Jane Morrow. And Charles. A well-matched couple, those two. Are we staying?”

Marcel did not answer immediately. He was looking at the former Countess of Riverdale, whom he could not quite think of as Miss Kingsley. She was eating, though he did not think that was one of the landlady’s famous but somewhat overhearty meat pasties on her plate. And she was glancing up to look straight at him again, a sandwich suspended a short distance from her mouth. She half frowned, and he cocked one eyebrow before she looked away once more.

“I am staying,” he said on a sudden impulse. “You are not, however. You may take the carriage.”

“Eh?” André said inelegantly.

“I am staying,” Marcel repeated. “You are not.”

She was not wearing her bonnet and there was no other outdoor garment in sight. He could not see her bag beside her. She had signed the register—he had seen her do it—surely proof that she was staying, though why on earth she had chosen this particular inn in this particular village he could not imagine. Carriage trouble? Nor could he imagine why she was alone. Surely she had not fallen on such hard times that she could not afford servants. It was hardly likely she had come for the express purpose of participating in the harvest celebrations. He might soon be kicking himself from here to eternity, though, if she was not staying. Or if she repeated her famous reproof and sent him away.

But since when had he lacked confidence in himself, especially when it came to women? Not since Lady Riverdale herself, surely, and that must be fifteen years or more ago.

“Miss Kingsley,” André said suddenly and with a clicking of his fingers and great indignation. He looked from his brother to her and back again. “Marc! Surely you are not . . .”

Marcel turned a cold gaze upon his brother, eyebrows raised, and the sentence was not completed. “You may take the carriage,” he said again. “Indeed, you will take it. When you reach Redcliffe Court, you will inform Jane and Charles and anyone else who may be interested that I will arrive when I arrive.”

“What sort of message is that?” André asked. “Charles will turn purple in the face and Jane’s lips will disappear, and one of them is sure to say it is just like you. And Bertrand and Estelle will be disappointed.”

Marcel doubted it. Did he wish André was right? For a moment he hesitated, but only for a moment. He had done nothing to earn their disappointment, and it was a bit late now to think of yearning for it.

“You hate this sort of country entertainment,” André said. “Really, this is too bad of you, Marc. I am the one who suggested staying awhile. And I left that house party before I intended to in order to give you my company just when I was making some progress with the redhead.”

“Did I ask for your company?” Marcel asked, his quizzing glass in his hand.

“Oh, I say. Next time I will know better,” his brother told him. “I might as well go on my way, then. I always know when arguing with you is useless, Marc, which is most of the time. Or all the time. I hope she intends to be back on the road within the half hour. I hope she will have nothing to do with you. I hope she spits in your eye.”

“Do you?” Marcel asked softly.

“Marc,” his brother said. “She is old.”

Marcel raised his eyebrows. “But so am I, brother,” he said. “Forty on my next birthday, which is lamentably close. Positively decrepit.”

“It is different for a man,” his brother said, “and you very well know it. Good Lord, Marc.”

He left a few minutes later, striding off without a backward glance and only a cursory wave of the hand for the villager who asked redundantly if he was leaving. Marcel did not accompany him out to the innyard. He heard his carriage leave five minutes or so after that. He was stranded here, then. That was more than a bit foolish of him. The crowd was eyeing him uncertainly and then began to disperse, the platter of meat pasties having been reduced to a few crumbs and the festivities beyond the inn doors apparently being imminent. The former countess was drinking her coffee. Soon there were a mere half dozen villagers left in the taproom, and none of them occupied the tables between him and her. He gazed steadily at her, and she looked back once over the rim of her cup and held his gaze for a few moments.

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