Heart's Demand

Heart's Demand by Cheryl Holt

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Authors: Cheryl Holt
    “You are, but we’ll let it go at that. Will you ever trust me? I’m worried about you.”
    “You needn’t be.”
    “You don’t have to be so tough and independent. Would it kill you to lean on me a bit?”
    She was silent for a long while, then she confided, “The past few months have been awful. I learned the hard way that I have no friends.”
    “I’m sorry to hear it.”
    “It’s not easy for me to trust others. It used to be, but it’s not now.”
    “I can certainly tell. You’re not from Boston, are you?”
    “No.” As if the admission was embarrassing, she peered down at her lap. “We’re from Europe, but please don’t ask me where.”
    “I won’t.”
    With how Nicholas had clicked his heels when saying goodnight, Bryce had guessed they were from Europe. But where? Prussia? Switzerland? He’d figure it out eventually.
    “If a miscreant was sneaking up on you, what might he look like?”
    “He’d likely have a trimmed beard, and he’d have a hat pulled low on his head. He’d be wearing an embroidered wool vest too. It’s a common garment in my country.”
    “You’ve described the man who assaulted you outside Valois’s villa.”
    “I’m sure that was a coincidence. It was a failed robbery. You said so yourself.”
    “What if I was wrong?”
    “You weren’t.”
    “Well, that fellow has met his Maker, but I’ll keep an eye out for his brother or cousin.”
    “I’m positive there’s no need, but I’m relieved by your vigilance.”
    He stood and went to the railing, and he tossed the butt of his cheroot into the water. It was slowly occurring to him that Valois had put him in an untenable predicament. Bryce hadn’t been present when Valois was alone with her attacker. What had the brigand told Valois?
    Bryce liked Valois and was grateful for his assistance, but he had secrets and hoarded them like gold. What did he really know about Kat and her siblings? Bryce should have pressed him for more information before he’d sailed off with her.
    He studied the porters gathered around their fire pit on the shore. Chase and Miss Clementi had gone ashore too, and he wondered where they were.
    He glanced back at Kat. “Is Miss Clementi sensible?”
    “Sensible? Yes, I suppose.”
    “Would she recognize a cad if she saw one?”
    “I should hope so. She was engaged to one when she was eighteen, and he jilted her and vanished without a trace. Why?”
    “My friend, Chase Hubbard, is a scoundrel and libertine. Caution her, would you?”
    “I will, but I can’t imagine it’s necessary.”
    Her reply vexed him enormously. She didn’t seem to have accumulated much pragmatism or prudence. She was extremely gullible and never thought anything bad could happen, never thought anyone would behave in a way she wasn’t expecting. The prior months should have taught her to be wary, but they hadn’t, so his job of protecting her would be even more difficult.
    If she never noted a person’s unsavory traits, a criminal could get much too close before she realized she should be afraid.
    He turned to face her, his hips balanced on the railing, his arms crossed over his chest. “I hate that I’m working for you, that you’re paying me.”
    “I’m not having financial trouble. Don’t concern yourself over it.”
    “I wish I could have helped you as a favor without demanding remuneration, but I simply couldn’t afford to be altruistic.”
    “I understand, but I wouldn’t be poor if I had ten lifetimes to spend all my money. I won’t notice the expenditures.”
    “So you are an heiress after all.” He grinned. “Didn’t you once suggest I snag an heiress? It sounds as if I’m in the right place.”
    “I won’t precisely admit to being an heiress, but I’m not eager to marry so you’ll have to find your rich bride somewhere else.”
    “Drat it. I figured it would be easy to persuade you.” He gestured to her and said, “Come here.”
    “I’ll tell you when

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