“They grew into their wings,” he grumbled. “Anne and Elizabeth aren’t running wild over the floor tonight.”
Since he had been forced to remove Mrs. Bunton from her position, Lily and Pen were temporarily taking charge of his daughters while he attempted to carry on with his business. Business which included finding a woman to mother them. A woman whose role it would be to make certain they wanted for nothing and possessed the manners of a true lady.
Someone like her, whispered an insidious voice again.
But Lady Octavia Alexander was not the answer to his problems.
“Do you intend to stay here drinking jackey all night long, or are you going to see to the lady?” Rafe queried, tearing Jasper from his whirling thoughts yet again.
“Deciding what I’m to do with her is all,” he defended.
“Take her where she belongs,” his brother suggested. “Winter ain’t going to be pleased, and we’ve just made peace with them not long ago. And it won’t be good for word to make the rounds that we’ve been kidnapping ladies.”
There had been a time when the Winter family had been the biggest rivals of the Suttons. Recently, they had begun working together. It had all started with the sale of the waterworks. Caro’s marriage to Gavin Winter had truly cemented the truce, however.
As for kidnapping? What shite! He could not kidnap a woman who had come to him of her own will—repeatedly. Now th
at he thought upon it, this was all her fault, really.
“I’ll be the one deciding what is best,” he told Rafe. “Don’t forget who is the head of this family.”
With that pointed reminder, he rose to his feet and quit the room before his brother could offer any further attempts at inciting his guilt. But he did not return to his chamber immediately. Instead, he found himself in the kitchens, dredging up some sweets and wine for her. Maybe she would be hungry or thirsty.
With the provisions in his arms, he made the journey back to his chamber, wondering with each step what he was going to do. Rafe was right. Keeping her here was trouble. But if he returned her to her home at this hour, it would cause more trouble. And if he locked her in his chamber for the night…
As he approached the door to his chamber, the silence greeting him gave him cause for suspicion. Drawing nearer, he discovered the door ajar. Why had he left the key in the lock, damn it?
Cursing low, he shouldered the door open.
The sight that greeted him was the last he had expected.
Three heads were in his bed, the counterpane drawn to their chins. Eyes closed.
Asleep, all of them.
What angels they appeared—Lady Octavia in the middle, Anne and Elizabeth nestled close to her on either side. They must have somehow wandered from Pen and Lily, the hellions. He would give his sisters a stern talk in the morning.
And yet, he could not be angry in this moment of quiet and peace. For there it was, the answer. The answer to his problems.
Something shifted inside his chest. Something heavy. Something unfamiliar.
Marry her. That was what he was going to do with her.
Octavia awoke to girlish giggling, an aching ankle, and the sense she was being watched.
Blinking the sleep from her eyes, she stretched her arms over her head.
And froze. The chamber was not her own. The giggles belonged not to her niece Joanna as her slumber-fogged mind had assumed. Rather, it was Jasper Sutton’s daughters, dressed in nightgowns, their midnight hair in braids down their backs, playing some sort of game the two of them had invented together.
The chamber was his as well. And the eyes on her—stony hazel, assessing.
He was by the window, the curtains pulled back to send early morning light into the room, but he was watching her. And he was in a state of shocking undress. Wearing a shirt and trousers only, no neck cloth, no waistcoat. Barefoot. His dark hair damp, as if he had recently bathed. It was so very intimate. And he was so very handsome.