Seductive Silence – Larissa Lyons

“‘Than in the b-breath that from my mistress reeks.’” Daniel Holbrook, the fourth Marquis of Tremayne, repeated the last few words with a grim smile. “Reeks is right,” he muttered beneath his breath (breath that most assuredly did not reek of onions as that of his former mistress often had). He crumpled the topmost page off the stack he’d liberated from a desk drawer and tossed it over his shoulder. When it bounced against the window coverings and crinkled to the floor, a curious sort of satisfaction threatened to dissipate his gloom. With great zeal, he balled up more of the filled pages that had been languishing in his desk ever since her ill-fated demand. Poems. Stupid poems. Said former mistress had begged him to memorize and recite poetic verse to her. Though he’d—wisely—refrained from succumbing to her urging, Shakespeare’s 130 had been the only sonnet to remotely tempt him into performing. Thinking of her likely response to his stumbling recital, assuming she perceived the intended slight and took affront, a real laugh emerged. Cy huffed a surprised bark at the sound, the first Daniel had heard from his faithful, snoozing companion since the damnable rain had caused man and beast to retreat to the safety of his study. Now, with drapes drawn and fire roaring, he sought to forget the downpour lashing the house and the dark memories apt to drown him. He’d only taken to cleaning out his desk in order to avoid what resided on it—an advertisement he’d saved and Penry’s unanswered note: Are you still planning to attend the festivities this eve? Lest you forget, you already agreed. Ahhh, the “festivities”.

Amorous festivities, no doubt. Was he going to attend? Daniel didn’t rightly know. He fingered his bruised jaw, working it from side to side. The swelling had gone down to the point he didn’t think he’d terrify a potential inamorata with his battered visage. But what if he did? Mayhap ’twould be a good thing—scare off any candidates before he opened his mouth. Was replacing the reeking Louise really something that had to be done tonight? Just to hear the potentially uplifting crackle, he hefted several bunched-up poetic missiles overhead into the burgundy drapes. Cy gave a curious sniff, his languid gaze following one paper ball when it rolled drunkenly toward him. Louise. Sometimes he’d thought marbles resided in her upper garret. But he’d tolerated her less-than-desirable qualities in exchange for the ones he did like.

Most notably, her mouth. Fact was, despite her off-putting fondness for onions, he’d often found her mouth worthy of appreciation (if not its very own sonnet), for she typically kept it open and active, chattering about everything yet saying nothing. He could spend two nights a week in her company and only be called upon to utter a handful of sentences per fortnight. Add her lack of expectation for meaningful conversation to her lusty fervor for lovemaking and was it any wonder he’d made her his mistress a decade ago at the absurd age of twenty-one? His long nap complete, Cy stretched and sauntered over, placing his ugly mug on the desk until he received the expected scratch behind his ears, then thanking his master with a sloppy bark. Daniel blotted the ever-present drool with the handkerchief he kept at the ready. He’d rescued the one-eyed mangy mongrel, now plump on doggie pudding and old age, when he’d caught the scarecrow of a pup being whipped for making off with the baker’s meat pasties. A coin flipped in his direction persuaded the baker to turn over the dog. A meat pasty in Daniel’s outstretched hand persuaded the frightened animal to follow. It might have taken several years and several hundred hours to win the canine’s trust, but Daniel had accomplished the deed, and gladly. He had no use for those who beat others, whether they had four legs or two.

Cyclops gave a hearty whine and pushed past Daniel to nuzzle the drapes aside where he promptly pressed his nose to the windowpane, the unrelenting storm on the other side making a hash of the view. Daniel frowned at the grey sky. I know, mate. I detest this weather too. But he detested more the dance necessary to find a new mistress. Waltzing the pretty and paying glib compliments to secure a warm and willing body in his bed might prove to be his undoing. Of a certainty, contemplating it posed significantly more pain than Penry’s lightning jab, else he would have seen the task done before now. Gad. Ten weeks. His head clunked forward into his waiting hands.

Ten blighted weeks equating to seventy long nights he’d palmed his staff rather than find another ladybird to do the job for him. He scrubbed at his hair as though the friction would lessen the growing tension centered in his groin. Blast. If he chuffed his pipe any more frequently, he’d likely yank the thing off. The momentary ease such release brought was just that—a few seconds’ respite from urges growing ever more insistent. A surging morning erection growing ever more persistent. “I need a woman.” “Well, aren’t you the fortunate one?” A decidedly feminine voice jerked his head upright. “Just as you call out to the universe, I present myself in all my wilted glory.” Raking his hair into some semblance of order, Daniel skewered his sister with a glare.

He hated being caught unawares. Beyond the glass panes Cy had revealed, rain drizzled freely and her fashionable attire did the same. The once pristine walking dress, made of the palest cream French cambric and complete with intricately fringed hem, was topped off with a fur-trimmed spencer in what was supposed to be a coordinating spring green. Wet, it looked more like something Cyclops had cast up after emptying one of Daniel’s snuff boxes. What a decline for the costly toggery (he should know; he’d paid enough for it when she’d spied the plate in Ackermann’s and pleaded with him to have it made up). Evaluating it now, he doubted the finely woven cambric would ever return to its former, undrizzled-upon glory. The delicate, coordinating parasol he’d commissioned as a surprise had obviously been a waste of his blunt—it was bound up tight, unused. Everything else dripped and sagged. Her once-new bonnet, her dark blond hair beneath. And the spencer’s fur trim? “You have a…dead ferret strangling your neck.

What b-brings you here this fine spring… day?” And damn him for remembering so much about ladies’ stylish apparel. Useless information, now that he’d seen his precious Elizabeth matched in a happy union. All smiles and sunshine despite her disastrous, dripping attire, she swept toward him, pointing that conspicuously dry parasol his direction. “Ridicule all you want. It won’t do any good. I’m in a lovely state of mind and have no intention of allowing anything to alter it.” She paused to scratch Cy beneath his chin when he bounded toward her. “And aren’t you the most remarkable boy?” Her shining eyes found Daniel’s. “Sometimes I forget how good he looks. In my mind, he’s still the scrawny bag of bones you described in your letters.

” Elizabeth had only been in town a short while. Married in the country last fall, she’d spent the time since living on her husband’s estate and the majority of time before chained to their father’s. When Cy began snuffing at her hand, Elizabeth laughed and returned her attention to the dog. “I do apologize, Sir Cyclops, but I don’t have any treats. Ann’s in the kitchen”— she mentioned her lady’s maid—“I wager she’ll sneak you a dollop of whatever’s to be had.” “What he needs. Mmm—” Surprised rather than frustrated when his lips unexpectedly stuck together, Daniel faked a cough into his fist, and then finished, “More food.” Ignoring the scowl in his voice, Elizabeth ushered the dog toward the door and asked one of the hovering footmen to escort Cyclops downstairs. An identical pair, his footmen were, twins he’d picked up years ago when they were but mere lads engaged in pilfering pockets on the dirty streets of London. One named John, the other James.

Only James went by “Buttons”, a childhood nickname Daniel knew he’d butcher. B’s might not be as bad as D’s, but they were close, so he’d renamed the boy “Swift John” the day they’d met and to this day called him thus. While Swift John watched with a knowing grin, Elizabeth whispered something to John before relinquishing the dog into his care. Daniel suspected she went to the trouble because her maid was sweet on John rather than any real desire to see the dog off. Her matchmaking duties done, she whirled round and came in. “Thank you, Buttons,” she said as his remaining footman moved to close the door behind her. Wasting no time, she marched straight to the curtains behind his desk and hauled them open. The metal rings clacking along the rod sounded like gunfire and Daniel barely masked his wince. But he needn’t have bothered. She was busy gathering up the crushed pages and, after seeing the lyrical lines Louise had penned upon them, tossing the whole lot into the rubbish bin.

“What have you been up to? Providing Cyclops new toys to chase after?” Her tidying efforts complete, she straightened and grinned, her brown gaze fairly shimmering with joy. “Rain or no, it’s too glorious a day to shroud yourself up like this.” Coming up beside him, she relinquished the frilly parasol and placed it square on his desk—still spring green, he idly noted, and not the muddy color of Cy’s snuff-induced cascade as was the rest of her gown. Next she took off her bonnet, the silk flowers planted among lace and pintucking every bit as wilted and bedraggled as the rest of her. “And I can’t believe you’d waste the fuel on a fire, as muggy as it is outside. Don’t tell me my big brother is turning into an old maid?” Granted, along with everyone else he’d been enjoying the unusually mild week, but all that changed with the latest deluge that chilled the air, and his soul. Avoiding the topic— something he excelled at—he plucked at the parasol’s dangling fringe, as arid as a desert, and gave her sopping dress a speaking glance. “Useful item.” “Stop that.” She slapped his hand away and smoothed the fringe.

“It’s my very favorite, as you well know. I tucked it under my dress so it wouldn’t get wet.” “Ah now.” Recalling how he’d just mangled the sound, he took a slow breath before continuing. “Makes…total sense. And the reason for your visit?” He was curious what would bring her out in such weather. Not that he wasn’t pleased to see her. The one member of his immediate family who still drew breath. More than that, the one member who’d never betrayed him—either in fact or by dying too damn soon. With her customary composure, his sister took possession of the leather chair flanking his desk and evaluated him as one might a captured butterfly.

Her brows drew into a frown. “Why is half your face a veritable bevy of purple and green?” “Half?” He barely refrained from fingering his lip. The new scab over the old scar had dropped off two days ago. “Ellie, surely you em…bellish.” “Not by much,” she muttered. “Covered in whiskers, it still shines through.” She rose and approached him. “I fear ’tis becoming unseemly, Daniel, this fascination you have for sporting rainbows.” Elizabeth turned his head with gentle fingers to inspect the worst of it. Lips pursed, she released him to rummage in the reticule dangling from her wrist.

“When will you realize you no longer need to prove yourself?” When I stop hiding in here every time it rains. Hiding in his study, where his mechanical pursuits provided the solace nature denied him. He glanced over at one apparatus in particular and felt a grimace tighten his cheeks. When they worked, that was. “Silence. I should have known. Your answer to everything unpleasant.” Daniel glanced back at Elizabeth. His bad memories weren’t to be laid at her doorstep. Neither was his sour mood.

“If I recite p-p-po-etry, will you smile?” That got a laugh from her. “The day you recite poetry is the day I juggle torches standing on my head.” “Unlit ones, I hope.” Relieved he could still smile, he suffered through the application of the lotion she’d pulled from her bag. She was always slathering him with some concoction or other “to help with the bruising and aid healing”. He should be grateful, but the stuff put him in mind of an apothecary. Nose wrinkling by the time she finished, Daniel jerked his head back. “What’s in there? Smells like a harem.” Elizabeth stumbled in her efforts to screw the lid on. “A harem? My, where your mind veers…” Jar sealed, she slid it across his desk in between stacks of yet-to-be-crumbledand-discarded pitiful poetry.

“I tried a different blend this time,” she admitted without meeting his gaze. What else had she chopped and crushed and stirred in there? “Ellie?” “I think it smells rather lovely.” He sniffed again and frowned. There was more to it than that, over and above the smell. “Out with it.” “Oh, very well.” A tiny huff and she finally met his gaze. “If you must know, I added a wee bit of honeysuckle. For hope.” “And?” Although, by now, he was almost past caring.

His face felt better than it had since the practice round that landed such a fierce chop to his jaw. He was even starting to like the scent—a little light and fluffy for his tastes to be sure, but it did have a spicy undercurrent, a bit of zest. “Clovesforlove,” she said in one breath. “Huh?” “Cloves. To attract love.” “Ellie.” His sister and her potions. Romantic whimsy, her and her “spells” for happiness —usually his. But she stood there, looking at him so earnestly, so drippingly—and his face felt so damn comfortable—that all he did was tuck the jar into his newly cleared desk drawer. “Thank you.

” Her witchy rescue cream accepted, she resumed her seat and fixed him with one of her sunny smiles. “Surely you can cultivate an interest in something other than smashing your face into your friends’ fists?” Daniel’s eyes again veered toward the orrery collection occupying the bulk of his study. Nothing gave him greater satisfaction than tinkering with the mechanics of the planetarium models he’d collected. But his satisfaction had dimmed considerably since resurrecting and repairing (or attempting to) the pinnacle of all the models he’d amassed: the one originally owned by his grandfather. The one, despite his every effort, he couldn’t get to operate properly. Not on his own. He had an interest other than boxing, dammit—he just didn’t know how to pursue it. Not without branding himself a simpleton. “Daniel,” Elizabeth called his attention back to her. “Why can you not find a hobby that doesn’t involve being at daggers drawn or going at loggerheads several times a week?” Feeling instantly defensive, and uncertain why, he sputtered, “I like to bu-bu—” Blast it! He couldn’t even get out a simple three letter word: box.

A fast exhalation and he spit out, “Like sparring.” “You like beating things to a pulp and proving how strong you are.” A pulp? Talk about embellishing! So he enjoyed a few rounds of pugilistic endeavors every week. Could he help it if he was adept at fighting? If the exhilaration he got from firing off punches and having onlookers cheer him on helped sustain him through the silent—and solitary—hours of his life? He didn’t have to talk in the ring. Wasn’t expected to wax eloquent at the boxing academy. Didn’t have to jabber over inane comments that in reality meant nothing. All he had to do was strip off his shirt, strap on his gloves—when he and his sparring partners agreed to them—and let his fists talk for him. It was the one place he could be around his peers without fearing coming across as weak. “Men!” A decidedly feminine lift of one shoulder accompanied that pronouncement. “Why you cannot all find tamer amusements closer to home that satisfy your manly urges, I’ll never comprehend.

” What? Had she been reading his mind? “What’s this?” She noticed the advertisement he’d cut out announcing Mr. Taft’s visit to London and presentation on orreries. Something Daniel had been debating whether or not to attend. “A lecture I’d like t-to hear.” “On what?” She turned the page toward her, then flicked it away with a smile. “Orreries. I should have known. Go. I daresay it’ll be a good experience for you.” Her gaze drifted across the room.

“Have you fixed it yet?” His scowl answered for him. “Then go. Learn who else shares your interest. Possibly get Grandfather’s machine running again.” She gave his face an arch look. “A much better pastime than fighting, if you ask me.” Before he could respond, the bright smile slid from her face. “Daniel. I came because I needed to see how you got on.” Her gaze flicked over to the window behind him, then she focused on his face.

Her beautiful eyes were somber, sadder than they should be. “I know where your mind tends to dwell on days such as this.” He wondered whether she knew he was expecting her husband. That he had other, even more pressuring, topics on his mind. As always, when in the company of anyone save Cyclops, he carefully considered his words before he spoke. “Meeting someone shortly. ’T-tis what snares my attention.” Well, that and Penry’s note. “Oh, posh.” She dismissed his excuse.

“No one ever calls this early.” Elizabeth rose and gripped his clenched fists. He hadn’t realized his fingers were tangled until she applied herself to unknotting them. “When shall you forget all he did?” He didn’t need named, nor the incident in question. They both knew what had transpired that long ago rainy afternoon. Elizabeth had been so young, Daniel marveled that she still remembered. God knew he’d never forget. After all this time, it wasn’t what their sire did that haunted Daniel; it was what he’d said. ’Twas barely a year after his twin brother died; David’s sudden absence leaving a gaping hole in young Daniel’s life. He’d just seen Robert, his older brother, and their dear mother put in the ground.

A child of nine should’ve been allowed to grieve. But that would have been a luxury in the presence of his austere parent. A parent who had just found Daniel and his sister crying in their mother’s abandoned morning room and who quickly made his displeasure known. Craven bastard. Stop cowering like a whipped cur! It’s only a little blood. Father had turned from him then and wiped his riding crop clean while leaving the blood to dry on his only remaining son’s face. “Daniel.” The sound came from far off, far away from the memories gripping him. Not a day goes by I don’t wish you’d expired instead of them. Sodding Fate—took me wife and real sons and left me a useless cripple! The revered Tremayne title, going to a bloody idiot—it makes me sick.

“B-but, Father,” he’d stammered, as he had for years, “you du-du-don’t mean—” Damn imbecile! His sire had rounded on him, crop slashing toward his head for another strike. You are dead to me, do you hear? Dead to me! The blows fell swift and accurate, piercing his heart and shredding confidence more than skin, slicing will more than flesh. Dead! To! Me! Some fiendish plot of Satan may have saddled me with his stuttering spawn, but you will not speak in my home. Ever, ever again! Warm fingers plied at his neckcloth, stroked his cheeks. “Daniel. Come back to me, dearest. Daniel!” The terror receded under the heartfelt pleas of his beloved sister. His arm came round her, and Daniel was startled to find himself standing in the middle of his study with no recollection of having moved there. “Ah, Ellie, I am… Fine.” When she would have gone on smothering him, he pulled her hands down and set her away.

“Fine now, thanks to-to-to you.” She gripped his wrist when he tried to escape toward his desk. “What has happened?” Her grasp tightened and she forced him to face her. “What has changed? You’ve not— not…” Humiliated, he spun from her hold to finish bitterly, “Not acted the madman?” “You are not and never were,” she cried. “And that wasn’t what I meant to say!” “Acted the-stupid-clunch?” Without thought or intent, the words rushed out, angry bullets peppering the air. “Buffle-headed-chaw-bacon-nnnnnn—” Noddy! If his tongue hadn’t glued itself to the roof of his mouth, who knew how long he might have gone on spewing self-directed insults? Insults he’d heard time and again from both Robert and his father. “Not retreated.” Elizabeth said it as though he’d gone on a mere vacation, a weekend sojourn, when in fact he knew the lapses frightened her. Damned if they didn’t frighten him too. Which probably explained, if not excused, his anger.

It had been years since he’d lost the present like that, fled inside himself to escape the taunts. “You’ve not retreated in so very long. Why now? What has happened?” “I’ve not been sleeping well,” he admitted, startled when the truth slid from his tongue with such ease. “Not sleeping much at all. Not since pa-pa-parting ways with Louise and— D-damn me! I should not have said that to you.” Red crept over her sun-tinted features, rendering her as cherry bright as one of the tomatoes she grew with such pride. “Daniel,” Elizabeth chided, and he saw how she busied her hands arranging the folds of her dampened skirt in order to avoid his gaze, “lest you forget, I am a married woman now. I daresay you may speak of your…your paramours without any fear of censure from me.” Bemused by her attempt at sophistication, he was nevertheless taken aback when she added, “As to that, if you cannot sleep for the lack, though how one could miss that coarse wretch I cannot fathom, then why not simply find another?” A single time, well before her own recent marriage, Elizabeth had visited London and stumbled upon him and Louise during one of their rare public outings. A new Egyptian exhibit had opened and apparently both women had fancied seeing a mummified cat.

Likely the only thing his sister and former mistress shared in common, given how Elizabeth possessed elegance and sweetness and the most tender of hearts, qualities the self-serving, sometimes crude, always lusty Louise could never hope to attain. “You’d recommend I find another coarse wretch t-to warm my bed?” He didn’t try to halt his chuckle at her look of outrage. “Never that, you wicked fiend!” She swept up her frilly parasol and playfully swatted his shoulder with the side. “You are the best of men and deserve only the best of women. Louise could never be that for you and I’m relieved you finally saw it. I do think it’s time you found a wife though. Someone to love—” “A wife? I think not.” He cut her off by snaring the pointy end of her parasol. It might not be one of her hair ribbons he’d filched but it would do. He set off, tugging her round the room as he had when they were younger, swerving between furniture, orreries on display and book-lined walls as he steered her toward the exit.

The subject of a wife was not one he chose to contemplate, not today. Especially when he’d yet to respond to Penry’s note. “Let me amuse myself with at least one fine mistress ’ere I fall upon the bubu-blade of the parson’s mousetrap.” By design, they’d reached the door of his study. Daniel nudged it open and waved for the remaining footman to summon her maid from the kitchens before he turned back to Elizabeth, who frowned up at him. “What?” he asked, their laughing trek around the room loosening his tongue. “And why are you shredding me with that affronted look? I cannot indulge in a bit of b-bachelor fare before I am no longer one?” “’Tis not that. ’Tis—” “Ah. Tremayne.” The masculine voice interrupted whatever she’d planned to say.

“Your good man Rumsley told me to come right up and here I find you entertaining my lady wife.” A grin broke free and Daniel released the parasol to take the outstretched hand of his brother-in-law. “Wylde. You made it.” An hour overdue. And looking a mite haggard. Odd, that. “Glad to see the latest storm d-d-”—didn’t, dammit—“failed to carry you off.” “Wylde.” Her demeanor subdued, Elizabeth gave her husband a deferential curtsy.

“My lady.” Wylde’s bow was just as restrained. “I did not expect to find you here.” The formal greeting between the pair wasn’t anything unusual. Nor was the flush on her cheeks—Elizabeth pinkened over the slightest provocation. But the sudden anger glinting from her expression? The hard clench of Wylde’s jaw when he addressed her? His unpolished appearance, coat buttons askew? Those were definite surprises. “And I did not realize visiting my brother was disallowed.” Daniel’s brows flew skyward at that. It wasn’t his place to inquire into the married lives of others but still… “Is all well…between you?” Elizabeth flashed teeth and eyes at him. Hazel eyes that shimmered with unshed emotion.

“Lovely. And now, I’m off. The house does not run itself you know. Oh wait.” She cast a cutting look toward her husband. “It does! How juvenile of me to forget.” With an uncharacteristic flounce, she whirled toward the stairs. “Pardon me,” Wylde said swiftly. “I need a word with my wife.” He sped across the landing.

“Elizabeth!”

.

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