Lyon’s Prey – Anna St. Claire

WHAT İS TAKİNG the miserable doctor so long? Evan Prescott, the fifth Earl of Clarendon, poured another measure of brandy and took a long sip. The heartbreaking screaming coming from upstairs had gone on for hours. Rogue tears slid down his face as he stared at the open door to his study, and he brushed them aside. He wanted it to be over for her. Evan had sent for her family and his, but the weather was making it difficult for anyone to get there. He only hoped the doctor would make it soon. The frosted glass of the large windows drew him, conflicting with the warmth of the room and the brandy. He rubbed some frost away with the side of the hand holding the brandy to peer outside. The pristine beauty of the snow and full moon offered a sharp contrast to the terror he felt inside. Heavy snow covered everything, leaving an almost fairy tale quality to the grounds glimmering beneath the moonlight. It had been snowing all day and showed no signs of letting up. A throat cleared behind him, and he turned to see his butler, Bernard, standing near him. “My lord, the doctor has arrived. His carriage got stuck in a snowdrift, and he had to leave it and walk the rest of the way. He is about the size of your father, so I ordered some dry clothes for him.

Do you wish to speak with him before he goes upstairs?” “Thank God! Thank you for getting him some warm clothes. My needs are all upstairs. Please send him to my wife at once.” A piercing scream rent the air, causing both men to jump. “Immediately, please. She needs him now.” “Right away, my lord.” The older man scrambled to move quickly but knew only one speed. Unable to control his growing frustration, Evan walked to the door and stuck his head into the hall. “Good God, man.

Hurry.” He immediately regretted his action, even though the sound of footsteps almost running away from his door felt more satisfying. Taking a deep breath, he walked to the fireplace and leaned against it, staring as the flames licked wood and ricocheted off the back of the chimney and into the night sky. Evan pressed the now warm glass of brandy to his forehead to dispatch a pounding headache, feeling a weakness he had never known before. “God, please pull her through this,” he said aloud to himself. While he was not deeply religious, Amelia was. “I promise to be a better man; please do not take my wife away.” He swiped at the tears that ran down his face. Thoughts flooded his mind. Amelia had pronounced the house ready for Christmastide, having been on her feet against his wishes, supervising the footmen and maids as they assembled boughs throughout the house.

“It is snowing, and you know how I love it. Will you take me on a sleigh ride?” Amelia had pleaded. She wanted fresh air, tired from the bedrest of the past four months. They even joked about how they may not get another sleigh ride like this for a while after the baby came. Rather than disappoint her, he ordered the sleigh and horses brought around, and the two took a ride into the village and purchased trinkets for the baby. His wife wanted a little boy that looked like him, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. Evan wanted a girl, one that had rosy cheeks, blue eyes, and curly blonde hair like her mother. A son could come later, if that was what happened. He could cherish a house full of girls that all resembled their mother. His own mother was pushing for a son to carry on the family name, constantly reminding him of their duty to produce an heir.

Amelia would gently respond that she would do her best. His wife understood his mother, something he struggled to comprehend, yet was always grateful for. Memories clawed at him. The two of them had had the road to themselves that afternoon, laughing and kissing as they rode with the snow swirling around them. The clop-clop of the horses’ hooves rhythmically hitting the earth created a romantic, memorable moment. “This is the most wonderful day, Evan,” Amelia enthused, snuggling closer under the blanket. “Tell me again that you will be all right if this turns out to be a girl instead of a boy.” Evan lightly touched her pert red nose with his forefinger. “Yes, darling. I love this child, whatever it may be.

I mean that.” He kissed her nose, basking in her smile. They spent the afternoon discussing names again, cuddling together under the thick cover as the driver took them on roads, some with perfectly shaped canopies covered in fluffy snow crystals. It had been a day full of beauty and only the hundredth time they had discussed names in a fortnight. They both liked the name Jason, after his father. However, she liked Edward, saying it was a potent name, and as his second name, it was her favored choice. They decided if it was a girl, the baby would take Amelia’s mother’s name. By the time they returned, he realized that they had still made no decision on the boy’s name, but it mattered not. They would meet the babe first. Stark quiet invaded his thoughts.

How long has Dr. Pembroke been up there? It is too quiet. Unable to wait another minute, Evan threw his drink into the fire and hurried from his office, taking the steps two at a time, praying. The thirsty wail of a baby caused him to stop and look up. There are no voices. He reached his wife’s room in a trice and flung open the door. Amelia’s lifeless body lay on sheets still pooled with blood. “My lord, she . ” Her maid’s tear-stained face saw him approaching, and she hurried away from the body to stand near the wall. “No!” he howled, moving Amelia’s hands to his shoulders and pulling her up to him as he cried into her damp blonde hair.

Dr. Pembroke put a hand on his shoulder, and he pushed it away. There was no comfort. He could have no life without Amelia. A weak cry sounded behind him, and he tried to turn from Amelia to see the baby. “My lord, you have a son,” the midwife whispered brokenly, offering the small child to him. Swiping at his face, he looked down at the bundle of wrinkled pink skin. Carefully laying his wife back down, he reached for the baby. Blue eyes framed by tiny wisps of blond hair looked into his face, and a small hand grabbed his finger and held on. “Edward.

You are Edward.” He smoothed back the baby’s hair as the door opened. His sister had arrived. Through swollen eyes, he watched her glance first at Amelia, then at Edward before rushing to his side. “Evan, oh my God! How… what can we do to help?” Catherine said tremulously, pressing her hands to her ashen cheeks. “She is gone. My Amelia is gone,” he cried hoarsely, thrusting the baby into her arms. “Where are you going?” she screeched after him. Evan stopped and half-turned to face his sister. “I need air,” he croaked, looking down once more at the bed and noticing the rattle and cloth doll he and Amelia had purchased just that day.

“Please understand.” I am broken. Chapter One December 1816 London, England EVAN PRESCOTT PUSHED himself up from his mattress and squinted at the windows. The deep green velour curtains had been pulled back, allowing the bright morning sunshine to beam into his room— and straight into his face. “God’s teeth, Charles! It is too early to get up,” he groaned loudly. Irritated with his valet, he buried his head into his pillow, pounding on the mattress. A vague memory of Charles trying to yank off his boots while he slept pricked his senses. Except for his boots, he was still fully clothed. There had better be a good reason for waking me at this ungodly hour. His head hurt a lot—testament to his almost nightly routine of brandy, cards, and more brandy.

As long as he continued to hold a winning hand at the table, he saw no reason to quit, and he had no memory of losing the previous evening. His new routine kept him focused on the part of his life that he could control, the part that—outside of a resounding headache—did not hurt. He liked the cards because he was always a winner. He was not a winner in marriage. Evan still felt numb from the loss of his wife. Amelia had died in childbirth. They had been betrothed by their parents. They had been neighbors, then playmates and lifelong friends, and finally man and wife. He had loved Amelia. His wife had died meeting her obligation to give him an heir.

That was how he saw things now. He hated the word—obligation. He could not hide his feelings. He had hated his familial obligation and now he had another obligation, a parental obligation. Evan had a son and knew nothing about parenting. He had not even seen his son in months. His sister felt strongly that he needed to know his son, but Evan did not know how to fulfill that responsibility. He could hire someone, he supposed. He dared not think of Amelia and what she would say if she saw him today. Charles had been part of his household as long as Evan could remember, having also served Evan’s father, the former Earl of Clarendon.

The man took more liberties than a valet should—or at least that was what his screaming head was impressing upon him after being subjected to the cruel morning sun. He should speak to Dean, his man of business, and secure a new valet. He would if these were better times. He would hire one that obeyed his wishes and did not foist his own opinions on his betters. “Devil it!” Evan took a deep breath and rolled over, resolved to face the sun. Who am I kidding? I only made it home from the club intact last night because Charles collected me. No other valet would not have made it his business. Evan had been totally foxed and staggering in the alley when Charles had coaxed him into the coach. He vaguely recalled sitting against the dark velvet blue squabs of his carriage. He could have been robbed, killed, or worse had Charles not come for him.

“You have visitors, my lord,” Charles’s deep voice broke into his thoughts. “This early? Tell them I am not available,” Evan rasped. “I took the liberty of accepting the message from Bernard for you, my lord.” The valet drew a breath. “Your bath is already prepared. I do not believe either of these callers will easily be put off. I believe you should see them,” Charles urged quietly. “Really? You feel I should see them?” His voice dripped with sarcasm, and Evan lamented his tone at once. God, my head hurts. “Why do you think I should see them?” He tried to ask more plaintively.

“Because, my lord, Lord and Lady Rivers are here to see you, and they have Lord Edward.” Charles hesitated. “And the other woman.” “There is another woman besides my sister?” Evan started. “Yes, my lord. While I did not catch her name, the lady was quite emphatic that she should see you. She told Bernard that your carriage nearly killed her brother while they were shopping in Mayfair yesterday afternoon. I overheard her say she is not going away until she sees you,” Charles responded evenly. “Your sister is with Lord Edward and Lord Rivers in the nursery and has requested you meet her there. Bernard placed the other visitor in the study and asked that tea be served.

” “What the hell? Dammit!” Evan could not be mad at Charles. He was, however, mad at himself. He knew he had been drinking and gaming a fair amount. Perhaps he needed to . what, exactly? He had little memory of the day before. This had happened in Mayfair? Had he just left the house? Crikey! He could not even remember leaving. Had it happened on the way to the Lyon’s Den? He had no memory from the gaming hell, except winning. He always won. Guilt gripped his heart, a now-familiar feeling. Guilt was all he felt these days when he was not drinking.

He needed to parent Edward. The baby would be a year old in a week, and Evan rarely had anything to do with him. His dead wife’s face flashed in his mind, forcing Evan to squeeze his eyes closed. Her gut-wrenching screams were replaced by a single lusty cry from his son, but all else was silent. Amelia had died, and it was because of him. He had killed his own wife. “No. Please inform Catherine that I have commitments. I will drop by to see them later in the day or tomorrow.” Evan glared at Charles.

“Do you have something more?” Fatigue made it difficult to hold his temper. “As you wish, my lord.” Charles’s mouth pinched tightly as he nodded and left to relay his employer’s message. “Charles, have my driver see me when my guests have departed.” “Yes, my lord.” The valet inclined his head. He watched his valet leave as he sat back on his bed, throwing his head against the headboard in exasperation. Evan had been a perfect ass. He knew it. He stared out of his bedroom window and suddenly felt trapped.

No one cared what he wanted. He needed more sleep, but that was his own fault. Evan knew the women would still be waiting regardless of anything Charles told them. His sister was stubborn when she felt justice was on her side. And the other woman? He had a niggling feeling that she would not leave either. What was wrong with him? He had two women waiting on his presence. Evan was no coward, but he dreaded the conversation he would have with his sister. Catherine had a purpose for being there, and he needed to see her first. Charles had only been gone a few minutes. Grabbing his green velvet dressing gown, he secured it and walked to the door, opening it slightly.

His housekeeper, Mrs. Hutchins, buzzed past with an armload of towels. “Mrs. Hutchins,” he caught her attention. “Yes, m’lord?” The elderly housekeeper stopped in the hall and turned to curtsy, almost losing all the folded towels. He did his best to help her pick up the fallen towels without exposing himself. “I know your arms are full, but when you have a minute, could you let my sister know I will see her in the nursery in fifteen minutes, after all? And please alert Bernard that I will be down shortly afterward to see the lady waiting in my study. Make sure scones and fresh tea are served.” “Yes, m’lord.” The elderly woman hastily bobbed a curtsy and scurried down the hall.

Evan eased himself into the now cold bathwater, rushing his toilette. He shivered, knowing Charles had probably ordered it warm, realizing it would be cold before he used it. Penance for his mischief last evening. Evan should be angry, but it would be a waste of his time and energy. Charles would not be changing, and he would not be firing him. Evan enjoyed fantasizing about it, but in truth, the man was indispensable and knew it.

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