Rage distorted her face. “You can’t do that.”
“But I can.” The law favored the fathers in such matters. A female, particularly an unmarried one of questionable motive and mind who had abandoned her daughters, had no hope of having her children restored to her. “If you are able to reform yourself, you are more than welcome in their lives. Until then, you’ll not be seeing them.”
Perhaps he was being harsh, but his outrage at this woman for keeping his daughters from him for six years and then callously abandoning them remained. He had no wish to expose Anne and Elizabeth to her when she was in such a state. He could recall all too well what it had been like to be a boy with a drunkard for a father.
The dreams still haunted him some nights.
And he would be damned if he would consign his daughters into the same depths of hell he had once known. They deserved better, just as he had, just as every child did.
“Reform myself?” she sneered. “You think you’re so mighty, Jasper Sutton? Looking down your nose at me. I kept those girls for six years.”
“Only to leave them in the night with no word of when you would return, if ever,” he reminded her. “You’re deuced fortunate nothing ill befell them. I wouldn’t trust you with an old shoe, let alone my daughters.”
“They’re my daughters!” she howled. “You can’t steal them from me. Let me see them. I want to see them.”
“You’ll not be seeing them. Not unless you stop swilling your poison.”
He was going to be late for his own wedding, by God. This would not do.
Stalking past her, he threw open the door, gesturing for Hugh to enter the office. His big guard obliged, looking grim.
“See that Mrs. Bellington is taken somewhere she may find a meal and a bed for the night. Give her enough coin to last a month.” He turned back to Tess. “Don’t come back unless you’ve changed your ways.”
The shift in her countenance at the promise of funds confirmed his suspicions. Tess Bellington had not returned for her daughters. She had returned because she wanted money.
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ve a wedding to attend,” he ground out, disgusted with her.
Disgusted with himself.
He could only pray Tess would accept his offer of aid and stay away from the gin. She deserved better, and so did their daughters.
Fortunately, today was a chance for a new day, a new beginning.
Hopefully, for them all.
If she had married a lord, Octavia would have been introduced to the servants immediately upon her arrival at her new husband’s townhome. But she had married Jasper Sutton. So instead, he led her into the private quarters of The Sinner’s Palace where she was greeted by three dogs bounding with energy.
One of them, a large brown bloodhound with floppy ears, leapt on her, nearly knocking Octavia off her feet.
“Down, Drunkard.” Jasper ordered, his voice firm and stern as he placed a staying hand upon Octavia’s back to keep her from falling.
Ah, the infamous Drunkard.
Octavia straightened her gown and bent to give the enthusiastic pup a pat on the head. His tongue lolled, and he licked her hand. Another dog approached, larger and—judging from his lumbering gait—a bit older. Jasper sank to his knees beside her, giving the dog an affectionate scratch on his neck.
“This is Barnaby.”
The low rasp of her new husband’s voice, along with his nearness, sent a trill of something sinful down Octavia’s spine. His other hand still rested on the small of her back, his warmth cutting through the layers separating them.
She patted Barnaby on his silken head as well, casting a sidelong glance at Jasper. He was staring at her, and for the first time since their earlier ceremony, he appeared relaxed. The man she had exchanged vows with had been serious, almost harsh. A collection of formidable angles and planes. Now, however, some of the tension had seeped from his bearing.
She wondered if it was the church which had set him on edge or the wedding itself. Perhaps both.
The sharp nip of teeth on her arm dragged her attention from Jasper, however. The third pup, presumably the dog Anne and Elizabeth had said liked to bite, was nibbling on her forearm.
“Motley, no,” Jasper commanded. “Sit and be a gentleman.”
The pup released its hold on Octavia and settled on his rump, gazing adoringly at his master. He whined as if apologizing. She was impressed by the manner in which Jasper directed the dogs. He was tender but firm, and they appeared to respect and adore him in return.