far.” “I’ll see what I can find out about any debts he left owing or if anyone owes him.” Andrew nodded. “That might give you some lead as to his whereabouts.” “I’d also like to have your permission to widen my search and check out other towns, the hells of London and even some of the seaports to see if anyone remembers him boarding a ship.” Andrew hadn’t forgotten what it felt like when Hawkins’s shot grazed his arm. “By all means, Thompson, do whatever you must. I don’t care if you have to bribe one of the scoundrel’s family members to tell you where he is. I want the man found.” “Thank you, sir. I’ll get right on it.” “Stay in touch.” Andrew looked up and saw Whibbs waiting in the doorway. He nodded for him to enter and speak. “The Viscountess Hollingsworth has arrived and would like to speak to you, sir. She’s waiting in the parlor.” Andrew let out a heavy sigh and whispered a curse under his breath. He didn’t have to wonder what his aunt wanted to talk about. He might as well see her and get it over with. “After you’ve shown Thompson out, tell her ladyship I’ll be right in.” “Yes, sir.” His aunt couldn’t possibly have had time to talk to Miss Loudermilk and then get here, but no doubt she wanted to discuss what happened at the party last night, especially since she had been his hostess for the evening. Aunt Claude was the matriarch of the family, and she wore her well-earned title with strength. Getting caught with a young lady in his room was not the kind of thing she wanted to happen, but then neither had he. As much as he hated to do it, he had to face the fact that for the first time in his life a lady had outsmarted him. He didn’t know if she was a trickster or a lunatic—neither of which he wanted to marry. And he had to decide what he was going to do about it.
27239_ch01.001-297.qxd 9/19/05 6:09 PM Page 89 Seven 8 A ndrew walked into the parlor and Claudette rose to greet him. He took her hands in his and kissed the backs of both palms. “Don’t tell me you’ve come so I can take you on a ride in the park because you’ve rejected all the handsome suitors who are vying for your hand.” Claudette smiled graciously at him, and then laughed. “If only that were true, but no, I’ve come on a much more important matter than the possibility of a fourth husband for me.” Andrew folded his arms across his chest and pretended to study what she’d said. His aunt was short and thin, but when she spoke everyone in the family listened. Watching her laughing face, he could see why even at her age men still wanted to pursue her. She had that unique combination of femininity and strength, the same qualities he saw in Miss Banning.
“Let me guess. Does your visit have anything to do with a certain young lady in the care of Miss Loudermilk?” Claudette took a seat again on the settee. “Of course, why else would I come out on a rainy afternoon? You know how I hate to get my feet wet. I had a note from Agatha today asking me to visit her.” “So you haven’t seen Miss Loudermilk?” “No, I wanted to speak with you first. Pour me a splash of that good port you have, will you, dear?” Andrew walked over to the rosewood side table that stretched against the back wall. His Aunt Claude usually had a sip or two of the fine, expensive combination of wine and brandy with him every time she visited. “I can tell you what she wants,” Andrew said as he filled two glasses with the port that was more brandy than wine. “She wants me to marry her niece.” “Of course she does. It’s inferred because you were alone with her in your chamber. I always knew your recklessness would catch up to you one day. It was only a matter of time.” He handed her a glass and sat down beside her. He sipped from his glass with confidence and then said, “I’m not married yet.” “I’m here to tell you that it has to be.” Anger at being