My brother takes a sip of his drink. “Did you find what you were looking for? Your purpose?”

He’s talking about a conversation we’d had when he and Michael had visited.

I left Wessco in search of adventure and excitement—and to stick it to my old bastard of a father. But that’s not why I stayed away. I stayed away because I wanted more out of life than a title and vaults full of money I didn’t earn. I wanted a purpose. A reason for being. I was searching for it.

I still am.

“No,” I tell him.

“I didn’t think so,” my brother says. Then he glances at Michael and some secret communication passes between them.

I look him over again—his frail frame and sunken cheeks. And my voice turns as gutted as I feel.

“Why didn’t you write me sooner?”

He lifts his shoulder, taking a mouthful of brandy.

“It’s not really something you put in a telegram. ‘I’m dying. Stop. Come home. Stop. Hope you make it in time. Cheers.’”

I take the folded telegram from my back pocket.

“But that’s exactly what you wrote. Literally that.”

He laughs. “Well . . . I guess it took some time for me to work up the courage. To accept it.”

“I don’t want you to accept it,” I growl through clenched teeth.

I want him to live. And I’m ready to do anything, to make that happen.

“I want—”

He reads my thoughts or my expression. Or both.

“Don’t start. It’s lung cancer, Edward. Aggressive. I’ve spoken to the doctors, specialists. There’s nothing to be done.”

“Doctors don’t know everything. There are alternative treatments. When I was in

India—”

“No.” He shakes his head. “I’m not going to spend my final days being dragged around strapped to your back.” His tone goes somber. Determined. “I want to go on my own terms, while I’m still myself, while I still have a say. It matters to me.”

“For fuck’s sake, Thomas. There must be something I can do.”

He gazes at me with that mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

“Well, now that you mention it. There is one thing . . .”

The next morning, after I shower and shave, I sit with Thomas in his room. He’s dressed, but still in bed. We talked for several hours last night—about many things, but about one thing in particular.

Lenora—the Queen—walks into the room, her expression smooth and composed, wearing gray slacks with a red sweater and a chiffon scarf tied around her neck.

“Good morning.” I stand and bow, watching her carefully.

When you travel the world and live amongst cultures different from your own, you become observant. You note body language and facial expressions; you learn how to read people.

“How’s your ankle?”

She gives the barest shrug. “It’s fine.”

I saw her ankle yesterday—it’s nowhere near fine. It was already swelling out in the woods. It must be hurting her, but she doesn’t limp or grimace even as she walks in black baby-doll pumps.

Little Lenny either has a sky-high pain threshold or self-control made of iron.

She pulls up a chair beside Thomas’s bed and reaches for the porridge on the tray. “You need to eat your breakfast.”

“There’s things we need to talk about, Lenora.”

“Thomas—”

He holds up his hand, swearing, “I’ll eat the whole bowl after we talk.”

She sighs. “All right. What did you want to talk about?”

And my brother, ever diplomatic, just puts it all out there.

“I think you should marry Edward.”

She pauses, but her expression doesn’t change. She doesn’t laugh or gasp or frown. Her tone is cool and reserved.

“Your brother? How biblical.”

Her gray eyes slice my way. “You’ve agreed to this?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“He’s my brother. He asked. I won’t deny him, not now.”

And it’s the truth. But it’s not the only truth. Something about her intrigues me—this beautiful, guarded woman, who rides wild in the woods when she thinks no one is looking.

She turns back to Thomas.

“We’ve discussed this. We’ve agreed. I’m marrying you.”

“You will put me in the ground before the month is out.”

That gets a flinch out of her.

“Don’t talk like that.”

“Why not? It’s true.”

“I said stop it.” Lenora gets to her feet. “I won’t listen.”

Thomas gives in, closing his mouth and nodding his head. But only for a moment.

“No, you know what?” He swipes his teacup with the back of his hand and it explodes against the wall. “To hell with that. If I can do the dying, you can damn well listen to me talk about it.”

“Thomas—”

“There are unpleasant truths we have to deal with. That you have to deal with—you can’t stubborn them away, Lenora.” His jaw is clenched and he’s as angry as I’ve ever seen him. “You have to get married—that’s a fact. You need to be married before your sister gets pregnant—another fact. When I am gone, you’ll be back in the same precarious position you were in two months ago. So who’s it going to be, hmm? Who’s left to choose from? The sadist, who’ll want to smack you around a bit before he fucks you?”

“Stop it—”

“Or the old man, who I don’t even want to know what he’ll have to do to get it up before he crawls between your legs.”

She doesn’t back down; she doesn’t retreat a single inch.

“Don’t be obscene.”

My brother’s words are harsh and furious. “If any situation on earth called for obscenity, it’s this one.”

He barely gets the sentence out, when the coughing starts. So hard it wracks through his body and bends his back, hunching him forward. I pour him a glass of water and give him a handkerchief from my pocket. Thomas presses it to his lips and it comes away with blood on it. After a few moments, he settles.

“I thought you’d be pleased with the idea,” he rasps. “There was a time when we read Edward’s letters that you—”

“Don’t.” Her cheeks flush pink. Whether it’s from embarrassment or anger, I can’t tell. “That girl is gone.”

I wonder about that girl—where she’s run off to and what happened to make her go. I would’ve liked to have met her; I think we could’ve gotten on well.

Thomas’s expression turns searching and sad. He shakes his head.

“Wouldn’t you do it for me?”

“What?”

“If you were leaving forever, and you knew there was something you could do to make it easier on me, wouldn’t you do it?”

“Of course,” Lenora swears, and the sincerity in her voice rings clear.

“Then for God’s sake, consider it. If not for yourself then for me. So I can have the peace of knowing that I’m not completely abandoning you.”

Another round of coughing starts up, this one worse than before. And it’s so damn hard to watch him struggle. I just want her to fucking agree—agree to anything, as long as he can rest easy.

It’s as if she reads my mind.


Tags: Emma Chase Royally Erotic
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