Make Me Love You
“THIS IS INTOLERABLE. HOW dare that dissolute joke of a royal heir give the Whitworths an ultimatum!”
Aging badly, twenty-five years his wife’s senior, Thomas Whitworth still had a face that defied the passage of time. Though his hair had turned pure white, he had no wrinkles to speak of. He was still a handsome, if old, man, riddled with pain in most of his joints. But he had the constitution and stubbornness to appear otherwise, could stand hale and hearty in the presence of others even if it took every ounce of his will to do so. Pride demanded it and he was a very prideful man.
“He is Regent now, officially sworn. England and her subjects are in his hands,” Harriet Whitworth said, wringing her own hands. “And not so loud, Thomas, please. His emissary isn’t out the front door yet.”
But with the emissary gone from the room, Thomas collapsed on the sofa. “D’you think I care if he hears me?” Thomas snarled at his wife. “He’s lucky I’m not adding my boot to his arse to help him out the damned door.”
Harriet hurried over to the parlor door and closed it, just in case, before she turned back to her husband and whispered, “Even so, we don’t want our opinions of the Prince Regent carried straight to his ear.”
She had been young when she married Thomas, Earl of Tamdon, a prime catch in her day and a beauty still at the age of forty-three with her blond hair and crystal blue eyes. She had thought she could love this husband her parents had picked for her, but he did nothing to encourage that emotion from her and so it never came to pass. Thomas was a hard-tempered man. But she had learned how to live with him without becoming subject to his rants and rages, and never, ever to cause them.
She’d had to become as hard and callous as he was and didn’t think she would ever forgive him for turning her into a copy of himself. But at least he didn’t scoff at her opinions, even heeded her suggestions occasionally. That said a lot for a man such as Thomas, so maybe he did care for her a little even if he never showed it otherwise. Not that she wanted affection from him anymore. Frankly, she wished he would just die already so she could be herself again—if there was even anything of herself left. But Thomas Whitworth was too stubborn to even do that in a timely manner.
She brought him a lap robe and tried to tuck it around his legs, but he pushed her hands aside to do it himself. Summer was upon them and yet he easily took chill while others sweated. He hated his infirmities and aching joints. Most of his rages these days were directed inwardly because he was no longer the robust man of old. But his current rage was solely directed at the Prince Regent.
“What outrageous audacity!” Thomas said. “D’you think he isn’t aware of what the entire nation thinks of him? He’s a
hedonist with no interest in politics, only the pleasures his royal blood affords him. This is just a ploy to confiscate our wealth because, as usual, he’s utterly in debt from his extravagances and Parliament won’t grant him relief.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” Harriet disagreed. “One duel could be ignored, despite that old ban on them that the emissary was keen to mention. Two duels would raise eyebrows but could still be ignored since no one has died yet. But the last duel Robert had with that northern wolf was too public and has become a scandal because of it. This is our son’s fault. He could have declined.”
“And be branded a coward? Of course he couldn’t decline. At least he nearly killed Dominic Wolfe this time. The bastard may still die of his wound and we can be done with this vicious vendetta of his and the Regent’s bold ploy to take advantage of it.”
“You think Prince George is bluffing? That he will do nothing if we don’t form this alliance with Lord Wolfe that he’s demanding? I fear he isn’t. One duel is for honor, but three is simply attempted murder, and there have been far too many public outcries against dueling from sectors that will fully support the Regent in this case. I say we end it this way, or d’you want to see our son forced to risk his life yet again? Need I remind you that he’s already been wounded himself in those duels?”
“I don’t need reminding of that, Wife. But the Prince Regent is as insane as his father is if he thinks a marriage between our families will end Dominic’s vendetta. The wolf is as likely to murder your daughter as he is to take her to his bed, if we give her to him.”
Harriet pursed her lips. It infuriated her that her husband
never referred to his daughter as his, only as hers. But it had been that way since the day Brooke was born. Thomas had taken one look at the beautiful daughter she’d given him and turned away with a snarl. Sons he’d wanted and lots of them, not mewling females. But Harriet had only given him two children, not by choice. Five other pregnancies hadn’t come to term.
But now she said what she knew he would want to hear and just as callously as he would state it. “Better her than Robert. Robert is your heir. Brooke is just another mouth to feed in this house.”
The Whitworth heir chose that moment to open the parlor doors and join them. He had obviously heard the last remarks. In a bored tone, Robert said, “Send her immediately. The wolf won’t accept her. He’ll be the one to lose his lands and title while we comply with the Regent’s underhanded ‘suggestion’ of an alliance.”
Harriet expected no less from her son, who bore no love for his sister. No taller than his father at five feet ten inches and every bit as handsome and strapping as Thomas had once been, Robert had his faults, but she loved him in spite of them.
Both of her children took after Thomas with his once black hair and pale green eyes. Brooke was even taller than Harriet by several inches. But Robert was just as much a hedonist as the Prince Regent was and at twenty-three had already racked up quite a few mistresses at home in Leicestershire and in London. But then he could be charming—when he wanted something. Otherwise he was much like his father, disdainful of peers and servants alike.
Thomas was too furious over the entire matter to let Robert shrug it off with his usual disregard. “If you’ve gotten yourself
into another situation like the one we had to deal with last year. . . . If you’ve broken your word—”
“I haven’t,” Robert was quick to cut in.
“You called these duels trifling, but this man’s determination to gain satisfaction smacks of a dispute that is anything but trifling! What the devil did you do to him?”
“Nothing. I’ve run into him only a few times in London. Whatever his real reason is for wanting me dead, he’s not fessing up to it. I imagine it’s jealousy or some slight I dealt him that is so ridiculous he’s ashamed to admit it.”
“Then you had good reason to decline those duels.”
“D’you think I didn’t try? He called me a liar! I couldn’t very well ignore that, now could I?”
Harriet knew her son. He was inclined to be less than candid when the truth did not serve him well. But Thomas believed him. Of course he did. He would not want to punish his precious son.
Less volatile now and more to the matter at hand, Thomas demanded, “You knew this outrageous demand was coming?”
“I had warning George might try this, yes, which is why I’ve returned from London. He heeds foolish advice from his sycophant cronies who bemoan that his purse strings have been tied yet again. He is hoping we will ignore his ridiculous assertion that this silly alliance will result in a peaceful end to the violence, so he can carry through with his threat. I assume you will not please him in that regard?”
“Then you don’t think he’s bluffing either?”
“No, unfortunately. Napoléon is killing enough Englishmen on the Continent. The Regent’s counselors do not believe it is good for the nation’s morale for the nobility to be killing each other at home, and the Prince is making the rounds to
ensure that exact sentiment is shared by one and all. He’ll have all the support he needs to wield the royal hammer against us if we defy him.”
Thomas sighed and glanced at his wife. “Where is the chit? I suppose she will have to be told she is to marry.”