Trevelyan was standing with his back to her, looking out the window, and for once he was dressed properly. No embroidered silk robe, no velvet boots. He wore a perfectly cut morning coat. His hair had been trimmed neatly to a decent length. If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought he was a handsome young gentleman.
“I am here,” she said to the back of him. “What do you want of me?”
He turned and she saw that he looked tired, as though he’d slept less than he usually did. It had been nearly a week since Nyssa had died, and nothing that had been said had changed Claire’s anger. Every minute of every day she could see Nyssa’s laughing face. She could hear Brat’s cries of horror after she’d been told that Nyssa was dead. Claire remembered seeing the smoke from the fire that she was sure was the burning of Nyssa’s body.
Trevelyan walked toward her. Claire held her ground, but when he reached out to touch her cheek, she turned her face away. His hand dropped to his side, then he turned away and went back to the window.
“Leatrice said she told you of our mother.”
“Yes,” Claire said coldly. “I was told the great family secret.”
“And you have read my letters to my sister.”
“And what did you think?”
Claire took a moment before answering. She had spent days reading those letters and in them she had seen a man who was capable of great love. She had read how he had seen death all over the world. Were she indeed Captain Baker’s biographer, the letters would allow her to write a story of great power. But she knew now that she would never write that biography. “I found the letters extremely interesting.”
“But neither the letters nor the tale of my mother have made you forgive me?”
“No. I cannot forget Nyssa.” Her voice lowered. “I cannot forget that you gave me so little of yourself.”
He looked at her for a moment then turn
ed back to the window. “When I was a child, my grandfather thought it was a good discipline for me to never have anything I wanted or liked. If I said I liked a certain type of bread, then he saw to it that I never had that bread again. If I said that I hated carrots, then I was served carrots three meals a day. Since then it has been difficult for me to ask for what I want most.”
“Yes,” Claire said angrily, “I have heard more than I want to know about your childhood. I am sure it was dreadful. I am sure you had a mother who hated you, a father who didn’t know you were alive, and a grandfather who was cruel to you. You have more than enough reason to brood and sulk. You have every excuse in the world to feel a great deal of self-pity.”
Trevelyan turned and looked at her, his eyes wide.
She grimaced. “Did you expect sympathy from me? Isn’t your own self-sympathy enough? You have the pity of your brother and sister and, as far as I can tell, the pity of nearly everyone in this house. Poor Johnny. Poor little earl who no one ever loved. Of course it never seems to have occurred to anyone that if you had behaved yourself and thought of anyone besides yourself you might not have been punished as often as you were. I can imagine that you delighted in telling your grandfather that you hated carrots. Did you learn to lie to him and tell him that you loved what you hated?”
Trevelyan stared at her, blinking, looking as though he were shocked by her words, then he began to smile. The smile broke into a laugh. “As a matter of fact, I did. The cook once made some almond cakes that were heaven. At the first bite, I spit it out and said they were the nastiest things I’d ever eaten and that I would never eat another one. My grandfather served them to me every meal for months until I reluctantly admitted that I was beginning to enjoy them. To this day I like to celebrate any victory with almond cakes.”
Claire did not smile. “Is that supposed to amuse me? It sounds to me as though you and your grandfather were well matched. I imagine he knew that. Of course, in the end, it was you who won, wasn’t it? You left him when you wanted to and you did what you wanted. But then you have always done exactly what you wanted to do, haven’t you? No one has ever hindered you, or even influenced you, in any way.”
“Ha!” Claire said. “You cannot lie to me now. I know too much about you. I think that if I’d spent more time with that woman I would have realized she was your mother. You two have a sameness of temper about you. You are both the personification of selfishness. She uses her lost love as her excuse and you use…”
“Yes,” he said softly, “what do I use?”
“Whatever is available. May I go now? You have tried to win my pity and you have failed. All of you have failed in your attempt to make me feel sorry for the poor, unwanted duke.”
Trevelyan walked to a high-backed chair and sat down. “Did I fail in my attempt to make you love me?”
“No. I loved you for a while, but that was before I knew you.”
Trevelyan sighed. “So now you will marry Harry and breed blond brats.”
She took a deep breath. “No, I don’t intend to marry Harry. I think I’m too much of a romantic. I want to marry a man I love. I know that will be difficult, especially since I have—”
She looked at him in defiance. “Loved you. Loved someone like you,” she said softly. “You will be a difficult memory to supersede.”
He gave a smile of irony. “I am thankful for any praise from you.”