His Housekeeper's Christmas Wish - Page 54

‘Good,’ Dorcas muttered, her eyes on the back of the liveried footman sent to collect them for dinner. ‘I’m glad we have an escort, this place is huge.’

The footman stopped, opened a pair of double doors. ‘The Green Salon, ma’am.’

Tess took in a breath down to her toes. I can do this.

‘Ah, good evening, ladies.’ Lady Moreland held out one hand, gloved to the elbow in lavender kid. ‘Do come and meet my younger son. Matthew, Miss Ellery, Mrs White.’

‘Mr Tempest.’ Tess inclined her head to the man who stood on the other side of the fireplace. She could see the resemblance to Alex, although he was shorter and stockier, but he had none of Alex’s elegance or air of sophistication. He looked, she thought, sulky.

‘I will leave Matthew to keep you company for a few moments while I make sure my husband has all he requires. I know you will excuse him eating in his chamber.’ Lady Moreland shared a brittle smile between them and left the room.

‘Miss Ellery. Absolutely charmed to meet you.’ Matthew Tempest’s gaze flickered over her figure, lingered on the bare skin exposed by the neckline of her simple evening gown. Tess felt her own smile congeal. She was not used to wearing anything so revealing and she was certainly not used to being ogled. Occasionally she caught a gleam of masculine awareness in Alex’s eyes when they rested on her—more than occasionally, if she were to be honest—but not this blatant assessment. ‘A bore for you to be landed with my brother’s company,’ he added.

‘You think so, Mr Tempest? Lord Weybourn has been all that is kind.’

‘He is hardly a ladies’ man.’ Mr Tempest appeared to find that an inordinately amusing remark.

‘He is, however, a gentleman,’ Tess said as sweetly as gritted teeth would allow.

The laugh this time was a trifle forced. Not such a fool, Matthew Tempest, that he could not recognise an insult when it was offered. ‘No doubt you feel very safe with him.’

Tess stared at him, then noticed the knowing smirk. He didn’t mean... He couldn’t. Yes, he did. She resisted the urge to box his ears and lowered her lashes coyly instead. ‘As safe as a lady wishes to feel with a handsome gentleman.’

His jaw dropped and she strolled away to where Dorcas had perched on one end of a sofa. ‘That poisonous little toad,’ Tess whispered as she sat down beside her. ‘He is jealous of his brother.’

‘Oh, hush, Miss Ellery, he is coming over.’

Matthew Tempest had, it seemed, recovered his temper, or at least his composure. Or else he thinks we are whispering about him and wants to find out what we are saying, Tess thought as he strolled over to their sofa.

‘May I fetch you ladies a glass of Madeira? Or sherry, perhaps? Ratafia?’

‘Nothing, thank you,’ Tess said as the door opened and Alex came in.

‘Miss Ellery, Mrs White, forgive my tardiness. Matthew, now I see you in good light, how you have changed.’

‘Hardly surprising, given that I was fifteen when you walked out on the family.’ Neither brother made any move towards shaking hands, let alone embracing, Tess noticed. ‘I had expected quite the court card, if not a fop.’ There was reluctant admiration in Matthew’s expression, Tess realised. Or perhaps envy. ‘Tell me, who is your tailor? Weston?’

‘Of course.’ Alex’s smile became more natural, as though to take the edge off the words. His clothing was so plain as to be almost austere. He wore black and white, his shirtfront with barely a ruffle, his only ornament the gold of his watch chain, the dull gleam of the intaglio seal ring and the glow of the amethyst in his neckcloth. ‘Do you get up to town much?’

‘No.’ Matthew’s voice was sulky. ‘I’m kept tied to this place, at Father’s beck and call.’

‘He is sick after all. I have no doubt you’re a help to him.’

‘Ha! He’s got perfectly good stewards and agents, but nothing will satisfy him but that he has to have a finger in every pie, read every report, send me out to check on this and that, and then what I tell him is always wrong, or too short in some tiresome detail or I’ve missed the point. Again.’

Tess felt a twinge of reluctant sympathy for the young man. His father must be seething with impatience at his own limitations and nothing Matthew did was going to be good enough. ‘What would you prefer to be doing, Mr Tempest?’ she asked him.

He shrugged, then seemed to realise he was speaking to a guest and a lady and took the sullen look off his face. ‘Breed hunters. Hunt.’

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