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Chapter 10

"Viscount?" Olympia stalked into her study a half hour later. She whisked off her bonnet and whirled around to confront Jared. It was the first time she had been alone with him since the scene in the mechanical museum. She was simmering with outrage. "You're a viscount?"

"I regret that you had to learn the truth under such circumstances, Olympia." Jared closed the door and locked it. He stood with his back to it and faced her with the same grim, enigmatic expression he had been wearing since he had introduced her as his wife. "I'm well aware that you are entitled to an explanation."

"I should think so. I am your employer, Mr. Chillhurst." Olympia scowled. "I mean, my lord. Whatever. Damnation. It would appear that I should have insisted upon references, after all. I suppose you did not produce any for my uncle, did you?"

"Ah, not as such," Jared murmured. "No. I'm afraid not. He did not request any, you see."

"He hired you as a tutor for my household and he did not ask to see your references?" Olympia demanded in disbelief.

"He did not actually hire me as a tutor," Jared said evenly.

"This grows worse by the moment. What, precisely, did he hire you to do, my lord?"

"He did not hire me to do anything. He asked me to do him the favor of escorting his shipment of goods to Upper Tudway." Jared looked at her. "A task I carried out very well, if I may say so."

"Rubbish." Olympia tossed the bonnet onto the sofa and went around behind her desk. She always felt strong and secure when she was sitting behind her desk, she reflected. She dropped down onto her chair and glowered at Jared. "Let me have the rest of the story, if you please, sir. I grow tired of playing the unwitting fool in this scene."

Something flickered briefly in Jared's single-eyed gaze. It might have been pain or it might have been anger. Olympia could not be certain. Whatever it was it sent a chill down her spine.

Jared sat down slowly, stretched out his booted feet and rested his elbows on the arms of the mahogany chair. He touched the tips of his fingers together and regarded her with his brooding gaze. "It's a somewhat complicated matter."

"Do not concern yourself with the complexity of the business." Olympia smiled, telling herself she could be calm and cool, too. "I feel certain I am intelligent enough to grasp the essentials."

Jared's mouth hardened. "No doubt. Very well, where shall I begin?"

"At the beginning, of course. Tell me why you are masquerading as a tutor in my household."

Jared hesitated, apparently searching for words. "Everything I told you about meeting your uncle was true, Olympia. We encountered each other in France and I agreed to escort the shipment of goods to you."

"Why did you bother with the task if you were not seeking a position as a tutor?"

"The Lightbourne diary," Jared said simply.

For the second time that day Olympia's mouth fell open in shock. "The diary? You knew about it?"

"Yes. I, too, have been pursuing it."

"Good grief." Olympia felt as if the very breath had been knocked out of her. She sat back in her chair and tried to think quickly. "Of course. That explains everything."

"Not quite."

"You were on the trail of the diary but Uncle Artemis got to it first so you arranged to meet him. Am I correct thus far?"

"Yes." Jared began to drum his fingers together. "However"

"You soon realized the diary was stowed in the shipment of goods that was on its way to me. So you found a way to accompany the shipment."

Jared inclined his head. "Your cleverness never ceases to amaze me, Olympia."

She tried to ignore the compliment. This was no time to be swept off her feet by honeyed words from the man she loved. She had to remember that Jared had deliberately deceived her. "Once you arrived in this household, you found a way to stay. You apparently realized at once that I needed a tutor."

"Your uncle put the notion into my head," Jared admitted. "He said you had already been through three tutors in six months."

"So you took advantage of the opportunity to stay close to the Lightbourne diary."

Jared studied the wall above her head. "I realize that appears to be the reason I deceived you."

"I suppose you feared you could not decipher it, yourself, so you wanted to see if I could untangle the secrets of the legend for you."

"I know it looks that way."

Olympia frowned in thought. "What drew you to the diary, Mr. Chillhurst? I mean, your lordship."

"Jared will do," he said quietly. "The reason I was searching for the diary when I met your uncle is that it belongs in my family." He shrugged slightly. "So does the treasure, if, indeed, it actually exists."

Olympia froze. "What do you mean, it belongs in your family?"

"Claire Lightbourne was my great-grandmother."

"Never say so." Olympia nearly fell off her chair. "Your great-grandmother? A countess? But there is no reference to a title in the diary."

"She married Jack Ryder when he was still plain Captain Jack. He did not become the Earl of Flamecrest until several years after he returned to England from the West Indies. The family does not like to discuss the matter, but the truth is, he more or less bought the title."

"Good heavens."

"It was not all that difficult to buy a title in those days," Jared said mildly. "It only required a great deal of money and influence. Jack Ryder had both."

"Yes, of course." Olympia remembered some of the entries she had skimmed over in the diary. Jack Ryder had come back from the West Indies a rich man. He had amassed even greater wealth after he had settled down in England.

"After securing the Flamecrest title," Jared continued, "my great-grandfather acquired a second title, that of the Viscount Chillhurst, which is used by the Flamecrest heir. In this instance, myself."

Olympia was reeling from the unrelenting series of shocks. "You're heir to an earldom. Your great-grandfather was Claire Lightbourne's Mr. Ryder." Claire's beloved Mr. Ryder, Olympia thought.

"Yes."

My beloved Mr. Chillhurst.

Olympia's spirits were plunging deeper into despair with every passing revelation. She reminded herself that she had known from the beginning that she would not be able to have her Mr. Chillhurst around for very long. Still, there was no denying that deep inside she had hoped to have him with her for longer than a few short weeks.

Her dream was ending much too soon. Too soon. She had to find a way to save it even if she could only have it for a little while longer.

And what about Jared, she thought with a growing sense of desperation. She could not bring herself to believe that their shared passion meant nothing to him, that he had deceived her even as he took her into his arms. Perhaps he did not love her, but he wanted her. She was almost certain of it.

She forced herself to think logically. "Well, no wonder you wanted to find the diary, Mr. Chillhurst. You clearly have a claim on it. You have no doubt been pursuing it for years. You must have been exceedingly annoyed when you discovered that I had located it first."

"Chillhurst will do, if you cannot bring yourself to call me Jared."

"Whatever." Olympia struggled to produce a brisk, cheerful smile. "I must say, this opens up a whole new avenue of inquiry for us."

Jared gave her a blank look. "It does?"

"Certainly." Olympia jumped to her feet and went to stand at the window. She clasped her hands behind her back and gazed out into the tiny walled garden. She was about to take a calculated risk and she knew she had to be very cautious.

"I do not comprehend your meaning, Olympia."

Olympia took a deep breath. "Your knowledge of family history may well give me some very useful clues, sir. It could assist me in deciphering the diary."

"I doubt it. My knowledge of family history is limited to a series of Banbury tales concerning Captain Jack and his ridiculous exploits."

Olympia's nails dug into her palms. She must convince Jared to let her continue with her work on the diary. It was the only excuse she had for maintaining a connection with him.

"One never knows, sir," she said. "I might be able to use some of the information in those tales to make sense out of various odd phrases in the diary."

"Do you think so?" Jared sounded dubious.

"Yes, I am certain of it." Olympia swung around to face him. "I am quite willing to continue my work on the diary, sir. I will be more than happy to share my conclusions with you. I understand that the secret of the hidden treasure belongs to your family."

Jared's expression hardened. "Olympia, I don't give a damn about the secret of the Lightbourne diary. I have tried to make that clear."

"Of course you care about it," she insisted. "You went to a great deal of trouble to find the diary and to insinuate yourself into this household so that you could learn the secret. I want you to know that I comprehend precisely why you deceived me."

"You do?"

"Yes, and I must tell you that I think your scheme was a very clever one, sir. It would have worked brilliantly if you had not encountered Lady Beaumont this afternoon."

"Only you could make excuses for my behavior, Olympia."

"Hardly excuses, sir. Now that I consider the matter, your actions make excellent sense to me."

"You must be wondering why I did not content myself with remaining a tutor," Jared said quietly. "You are no doubt asking yourself why I seduced you."

Olympia laced her fingers together and lifted her chin. "No, Mr. Chillhurst. I am not asking myself that particular question."

"Why not?" Jared got up from the chair. "Most women in your position would."

"I already know the answer." Olympia was intensely aware of him.

"Do you? And what is the answer, Olympia? How do you explain my conduct? We both know very well that I have not behaved as a gentleman should behave. Most would say that I have taken advantage of you."

"That is entirely untrue." Olympia glowered at him. "We took advantage of each other, sir."

Jared's mouth curved ruefully. "Did we?"

"Yes. We are both of the world, sir. We knew what we were about. Indeed, if anyone is to blame for what transpired between us, it is I."

"You?" He stared, astounded.

She blushed but met his gaze steadily. "You are a gentleman, sir, but I sensed at once that you were also a man of excessive passions. I fear I took advantage of that fact."

Jared cleared his throat. "Excessive passions?"

"It is no doubt a family trait," Olympia said kindly. "After all, you are a descendant of Mr. Ryder and from everything I have read about him, he was, indeed, a man of fierce emotions."

"Allow me to tell you that you are very likely the only person on the face of the earth who sees me as a man of excessive passions, Olympia." Jared's mouth twisted in rueful amusement. "In point of fact, I am considered a rather dull sort."

"Nonsense. Anyone who says that does not know you very well, sir."

"My entire family holds precisely that opinion. And they are not the only ones. Lady Beaumont does, also."

Olympia was momentarily distracted. "That brings up another matter I wish to discuss. Who is Lady Beaumont? An old friend of yours?"

Jared turned and walked back to Olympia's desk without a word. He propped himself against it and folded his arms across his chest.

"Lady Beaumont was, until recently, Miss Demetria Seaton," he said without any sign of emotion. "Three years ago she and I were engaged for a short while."

"Engaged." For some reason that news shook Olympia more than anything else that had happened thus far. "I see."

"Do you?"

"She is very beautiful." Olympia tried to force back a rising tide of panic.

The knowledge that Jared had once loved the lovely Demetria was difficult to handle. Until now, Olympia realized, she had not really considered the fact that there had been other women in his life. She had known that he was not entirely without experience in such matters, but she had not allowed herself to contemplate the notion that he might have actually loved another woman. Loved her enough to become engaged to her.

"For various reasons which I will not bore you with today, Demetria and I decided we did not suit," Jared said.

"Oh." Olympia could not think of anything else to say.

"The engagement was ended shortly after it was announced. There was very little gossip about it because the whole event took place at my family seat on the Isle of Flame, not in London. A year ago, she married Beaumont and that is all there is to it."

"Oh." Olympia could not think of anything to say to that, either. She knew instinctively that there was much more to the story but she also knew she had no right to pry. "Well, I suppose that is neither here nor there."

"Precisely."

"However," Olympia plowed on, determined to stick to important matters, "we are left with an unfortunate situation because of the fact that Lady Beaumont recognized you this afternoon."

"I would not call it unfortunate," Jared said. "Perhaps awkward would be a better term."

"Yes, well, whatever. The point is, we must deal with the matter."

"I have a suggestion." Jared watched her intently.

"So do I." Olympia began to pace the small study. "The answer is obvious."

"It is?"

"Of course. We must pack and leave for Upper Tudway immediately."

"If that is your wish, we can certainly do so. However, leaving town will not solve the problem."

"Yes, it will." Olympia shot him a quelling glare. "If we are quick about it, we can be gone before we are obliged to confront any more of your friends or associates. Back in Upper Tudway you may continue to pass yourself off as a tutor."

"I do not think"

"I can continue to work on the diary," she said enthusiastically. "Everything will be as it was before we came to London."

"May I remind you that it was your plan to pass ourselves off as a married couple in the event we were discovered?"

Olympia reddened. "I am well aware that this is all my fault, sir. But in fairness, I must point out that my plan would have worked very well had you been what you appeared, a gentleman of modest means and birth. It is the fact that you are a viscount and heir to an earldom that muddles the thing."

"I know," Jared said apologetically.

"No one would have cared a jot about our relationship before this. Now, however, your title and position makes our situation gossip fodder for the polite world."

"I am well aware of that. I am responsible for all that has transpired."

Olympia sighed. "Do not blame yourself, sir. What happened was probably unavoidable, given your nature and temperament. A man of strong passions is always at risk of causing talk. However, I believe that if we depart for Upper Tudway at once, the gossip will soon cease."

"The damage is done," Jared said. "We have introduced ourselves as Lord and Lady Chillhurst. One can hardly expect that sort of gossip to simply evaporate."

"It will if the next time you happen to be in London, you put out the word that it was all a jest," Olympia said quickly.

Jared stared at her. "You want me to pass this whole thing off as a jest?"

"It could be done," Olympia said earnestly. "You can explain that I was just a friend."

"A friend?"

Olympia frowned. "Well, perhaps you could say that I was your mistress, or paramour, or something. I know very well that gentlemen frequently keep their convenients tucked away in houses here in town. It's done all the time."

"Bloody hell." Jared's jaw went rigid. "What about your reputation, Olympia?"

"No one knows me here in London and it is highly unlikely that anyone in Upper Tudway will ever hear about this nonsense." Olympia stopped her pacing and began to tap one toe. "Furthermore, I do not particularly care if anyone does hear about it. I have told you before that I am not concerned with my reputation."

"What about me?" Jared asked quietly. "I have a reputation to consider also."

Olympia eyed him uncertainly. "I believe you will be able to brush through this without too much damage to your reputation."

"Is that a fact?"

"It is not as though you will actually be seeking work as a tutor in the future," she pointed out. "And no one will take any notice of the lady you seduced. After all, I do not have any position in Society. You apparently rarely even appear in London, yourself. All you need do is simply keep out of sight for a few months."

"I have another solution, Olympia."

"Yes? What is it?"

"I suggest we make the thing a fact. We can be married quietly by special license. No one need know precisely when the marriage took place."

"Married." Olympia's mouth went dry. "To you?"

"Why not? It seems a very logical answer to our predicament."

"Impossible." Olympia recovered herself and hurried around the corner of her desk. She collapsed into her chair and took a deep, steadying breath. "Absolutely impossible, Mr. Chillhurst. I mean, my lord."

Jared straightened and turned to face her. He planted both hands on top of the desk and leaned forward. The expression on his face appeared to have been carved in stone.

"Why not?" Jared asked through set teeth.

Olympia gave a start. Then she narrowed her eyes, refusing to give way beneath the blatant intimidation. "For one thing, you are a viscount."

"So?"

Olympia was flustered by that response. "I am hardly a suitable wife for a viscount."

"I'll be the judge of that."

She blinked. "You are asking me to marry you only because of the awkward situation in which we find ourselves."

"I would have gotten around to asking you eventually, Olympia."

"That is very kind of you to say so, my lord, but you will forgive me when I tell you that I do not entirely believe you."

"Are you calling me a liar, Miss Wingfield?"

She braced herself. "Not precisely. You are merely behaving like the noble gentleman that you are."

"Bloody hell."

"It is only to be expected," she assured him. "However, I am not going to allow you to trap yourself in an unwanted marriage when there is absolutely no need for such a sacrifice."

"I assure you, Miss Wingfield, I want the damn marriage. Having you in my bed will more than compensate me for any sacrifice on my part."

Olympia felt herself turn scarlet. "Sir, that is your passionate nature speaking. Passion is all very well and good in its place, but it hardly constitutes a sound reason for marriage."

"I disagree, Miss Wingfield." Jared lifted his hands without any warning and caught her face between his palms. He bent his head and kissed her fiercely.

Olympia was so startled that she could not even muster a token resistance. Her mouth opened beneath his and she trembled as she always did when Jared kissed her. The familiar warmth gathered in her lower body. She moaned softly.

Jared released her and stepped back with a look of fierce satisfaction. "Between my passionate nature and your own, Miss Wingfield, I am certain that we shall deal very well together."

He started toward the door.

Olympia swallowed and found her voice. "Hold one minute, sir. Where do you think you are going?"

"I am going to obtain a special license and to make arrangements for an extremely discreet marriage. You had best prepare yourself for your wedding night, Miss Wingfield."

"Now, see here, Mr. Chillhurst, I mean, Lord Chillhurst. You are, strictly speaking, still in my employ. You cannot issue orders of that sort without my permission."

Jared unlocked the door and opened it. He glanced back briefly. "In case you have failed to notice, Miss Wingfield, I have been running your household since the day I arrived. What is more, I have a talent for it."

"I am well aware of that, sir, however"

"There is no reason for you to concern yourself with the pesky little details of day-to-day life at this juncture, Miss Wingfield. Such matters are not your forte. Just leave everything to me."

Jared went out the door and closed it with enough force to make it shudder on its hinges.

Olympia started to rise and then fell back into her chair with a groan. Although she had never had occasion to witness Jared's streak of hot-blooded arrogance until now, she knew she should not be surprised to discover it. It went right along with his excessively passionate nature.

Nevertheless, she could not allow him to get carried away with his outrageous scheme to marry her. The man was, after all, driven by passion and honor, not true love.

He would only live to regret his impulsive decision, she told herself sadly. He would come to resent her and she would end up with a broken heart.

She had to save him from his own passions, Olympia thought. She loved him too much to allow him to go through with the marriage.

Besides, when one got right down to it, this entire mess was her fault. She was the only one who could put it right.

The knock on the door of Jared's bedchamber came shortly before the evening meal. He had just sat down at the small writing table to compose a letter to his father.

"Enter."

He glanced up as the door opened to reveal Robert, Ethan, and Hugh. Minotaur brought up the rear of the small column that filed into the room.

Jared took one look at the determined expressions on the three young faces and put aside his quill. He turned slightly in the chair, and rested one arm on the back of it.

Robert squared his shoulders. "Good evening, sir."

"Good evening. Was there something you wished to say?"

"Yes, sir." Robert took a deep breath. "We came here to find out if what Mrs. Bird says is true."

Jared stifled an oath. "What was it, precisely, that she said?"

Ethan's eyes lit with excitement. "She says you're a viscount, sir. Not a tutor at all."

Jared looked at him. "She is half right and half wrong. I am a viscount, but I believe I have also done a creditable job in my position as a tutor in this household."

Ethan glanced at his brothers in confusion. "Well, yes, sir. You are a very good tutor, sir."

Jared inclined his head. "Thank you."

Hugh frowned anxiously. "The thing is, sir, will you continue to be our tutor now that you've turned into a viscount?"

"I fully intend to continue to supervise your studies," Jared said.

Hugh relaxed slightly. "Very good, sir."

"I say." Ethan grinned. "That's good news, sir. We would hate to get another tutor."

Robert scowled at the younger boys. "That is not what we came here to talk to him about."

"What did you come here to talk about, Robert?" Jared asked quietly.

Robert's hand was clenched in a tight fist at his side. The words came out in a headlong rush. "Mrs. Bird says you've had your way with Aunt Olympia and that you've got what you wanted and everyone in town knows who you really are now and you'll disappear soon because of the scandal which will occur when everyone finds out you are not actually married to Aunt Olympia."

"Excuse me, sir," Ethan said before Jared could respond. "But what does it mean, you've had your way with Aunt Olympia?"

Robert glared at him. "Be quiet, you idiot."

"I was just asking," Ethan muttered.

"Mrs. Bird says you've ruined her," Hugh said to Jared. "But a short time ago I asked Aunt Olympia if she was ruined and she said she was feeling quite fit."

"I am pleased to hear that," Jared said.

"It appears there's more to it than that, sir." Robert shifted uneasily. "Mrs. Bird says that the only way to set things to rights is for you to marry Aunt Olympia and that you are hardly likely to do that."

"I fear that Mrs. Bird is wrong on that last account," Jared said. "I have already asked your aunt to marry me."

"You have?" Robert looked startled and then hope dawned in his eyes. "Sir, we are not precisely certain what is going on but we do not want anything bad to happen to Aunt Olympia. She has been very kind to us, you see."

Jared smiled. "She has been very kind to me, too. And I intend to see that nothing bad happens to her."

"I say." Robert grinned with relief. "If you're going to look after her, then there's no problem, is there?"

"Well," Jared said slowly, "there is one slight difficulty remaining to be resolved before matters are settled to my satisfaction, but I am certain I can deal with the issue."

Robert's face crumpled with renewed concern. "What is the difficulty, sir? Perhaps we could help."

"Yes, we'll help," Hugh said eagerly.

"Just tell us what needs doing," Ethan added swiftly.

Jared stretched out his legs, leaned back, and braced his elbows on the arms of the chair. He touched his fingers together. "I have asked your aunt to marry me, but she has not yet consented to do so. Until she agrees, matters will remain a trifle unsettled, I fear."

Ethan, Hugh, and Robert exchanged uneasy glances.

"There is," Jared continued smoothly, "some urgency about the situation. Your aunt really ought to make up her mind to marry me as quickly as possible."

"We shall speak to her," Hugh said at once.

"Yes," Ethan agreed. "I'm certain we can convince her to marry you, sir. Mrs. Bird says only a madwoman would refuse to marry under these circumstances."

"Aunt Olympia is not really a madwoman," Robert assured Jared. "Just a bit preoccupied at times. She is actually quite intelligent, you know. I'm sure we can convince her to marry you."

"Excellent." Jared sat forward and picked up his pen. "Go to work on the task, then. I shall see you at dinner."

"Yes, sir." Robert made his bow and led the way back to the door.

"We'll handle this for you, sir," Ethan told Jared. He sketched a quick, polite bow and dashed after Robert.

"Do not concern yourself, sir," Hugh said confidently. "Aunt Olympia is very reasonable about most things. I'm certain we can get her to marry you."

"Thank you, Hugh. I appreciate your assistance," Jared said gravely.

Minotaur rose from the floor, wagged his tail enthusiastically, and trotted after the boys.

Jared waited until the door had closed behind his small band of trusty supporters before going back to his letter.

Dear Sir:

By the time you receive this letter I intend to be married to Miss Olympia Wingfield of Upper Tudway. I hesitate to describe her other than to assure you that she will make me a suitable wife.

I regret that the wedding cannot be delayed until such time as you might be able to conveniently attend. I shall look forward to introducing my bride to you at the earliest opportunity.

Yrs ever,

Jared

Another knock sounded on the door just as Jared was in the process of sealing his letter.

"Enter."

The door opened and Mrs. Bird took one step into the room. She stopped and regarded Jared with wary belligerence. "I come to see what was going on here for meself."

"Did you, Mrs. Bird?"

"Is it true what ye told the boys? Did ye ask Miss Olympia to marry you?"

"Yes, Mrs. Bird, I did. Not that it's any of your business."

Mrs. Bird appeared momentarily stunned. Then her expression turned to one of deep suspicion. "If ye asked Miss Olympia to marry ye, why ain't she actin' like a woman who's about to be wed?"

"Probably because she rejected my offer."

Mrs. Bird stared at him in horror. "She turned ye down?"

"I'm afraid so."

"We'll see about that." Mrs. Bird shook her head. "That young lady ain't never had a proper attitude toward some things. Not her fault. Miss Sophy and Miss Ida raised her up with some strange notions. Still and all, she's got to be made to see reason on this."

"I shall trust you to guide her in the matter, Mrs. Bird." Jared held out the letter. "By the by, would you kindly see that this gets posted?"

Mrs. Bird slowly took the letter from his hand. "Are ye a real viscount?"

"Yes, Mrs. Bird. I am."

"In that case, we'd best get Miss Olympia married off to ye afore ye change yer mind. She ain't likely to do any better than a viscount."

"I'm glad you feel that way, Mrs. Bird."


Chapter 9 | Deception | Chapter 11