“Who is she this time?”
“Do you really care?”
“I don’t know. Do you?” Barrow gave him a look that cut like a switch. “Someday you’ll have to put a stop to this.”
Chase bristled. “You are a solicitor. Not a judge. Spare me the moralizing. I make women no promises I don’t intend to keep.”
In truth, he made no promises at all. His lovers knew precisely what he had on offer—pleasure—and what he didn’t have to give—anything more. No emotional attachment, no romance, no love.
As war, illness, and his own unforgivable failures would have it, in the space of three years, Chase had gone from fourth in line for his uncle’s title to the presumptive heir. It was a development few could have imagined, and one that nobody, Chase included, had desired. But once his uncle let go the thin cord connecting him to life, Chase would become the Duke of Belvoir, fully responsible for lands, investments, tenants.
There was only one traditional responsibility he wouldn’t take on.
He wouldn’t be fathering an heir.
The Belvoir title should have been Anthony’s by rights, and Chase refused to usurp his cousin’s birthright. His line was the crooked, rotting branch of the family tree, and he meant to saw it off. Cleanly and completely. It was the least he could do to atone.
And since there would be no marriage or children in his future, didn’t he deserve a bit of stolen pleasure in the present? A touch of closeness, now and then. Whispered words in his ear, the heat of skin against skin. The scent and taste and softness of a woman as she surrendered her pleasure to him.
A few scattered, blessed hours of forgetting everything else.
“Which of these would look better hanging above the bar?” Chase held up two paintings. “The fan dancer, or the bathing nymphs? The nymphs have those delightful bare bottoms, but that saucy look in the fan dancer’s eyes is undeniably captivating.”
Barrow ignored the question. “So if you haven’t found—or kept—a governess, who’s minding the girls?”
“One of the maids. Hattie, I think.”
No sooner had he said this than screams and a thunder of footsteps came barreling down the stairs.
Hattie appeared in the doorway, her hair askew and her apron slashed to tatters. “Mr. Reynaud, I regret to say that I cannot continue in your employ.”
He cut her off. “Say no more. You’ll have severance wages and a letter of character waiting in the morning.”
The maid fled, babbling with gratitude.
Once he heard the door close, Chase sank into a chair and buried his face in his hands. There went his plans for the evening.
“Now that,” Barrow said, “was a despairing sigh.”
The front doorbell rang. “I’d better answer that myself.” Chase rose to his feet. “I’m not certain I have any servants remaining to do it.”
He opened the door, and there she was: Miss Alexandra Mountbatten. Soaked to the skin, her dark hair dripping.
He tried not to look downward, and when he did so anyway, he told himself it was out of concern for her well-being. He was concerned for her well-being. Especially if one defined “well-being” to mean “breasts.”
So he noticed her nipples. What of it? He spent a ridiculous portion of his waking hours thinking of nipples. Hers just happened to be the nearest, and the most chilled. Hard as jewels beneath her bodice. Red as rubies, maybe. Or pink topaz, pale amethyst . . . ? No. Given her dark coloring, they were most likely a rich, polished amber.
The chattering of teeth pulled his attention back upward. God, he was every bit the repulsive cad she’d called him, and more.
She caught her bluish bottom lip beneath her teeth. “Is the post still available?”
He didn’t hesitate. “Name your price.”
“Ten pounds a week. Another hundred once they’ve gone off to school.”
“Five pounds a week,” he countered. “And two hundred once they’ve gone off to school.”
“One more thing.” From beneath a dripping umbrella of eyelashes, her eyes met his. “I want the use of your telescope. The one down in your . . .”
He crossed his arms and leaned against the door. “Cave of Carnality?”
Chase supposed he had offered her an astronomical sum. Besides, he wasn’t making use of it. “Very well.”
She sniffled. “I’ll report first thing tomorrow.”
He caught her arm as she turned to leave. “Good God. At least come in and get warm first.”
He chased the errant thought away, like he would an eager puppy. She was in his employ now, and there would be no such ideas. Even he had that much decency.
“Thank you, no. I’ll need to pack my things.”
She walked away, leaving a trail of sloshy bootprints. Chase looked about the entrance hall for an umbrella and found none. Of course there wouldn’t be a greatcoat, either, not in the middle of June.
With a curse, he bolted through the door empty-handed and dashed after her. “Miss Mountbatten.”