Home > Devil's Daughter (The Ravenels #5)(4)

Devil's Daughter (The Ravenels #5)(4)
Author: Lisa Kleypas

Folding her arms across her chest, Pandora let out a long sigh. “Yes. But why does he want to marry me?”

West took her by the shoulders and turned her to face him. “Why wouldn’t he?” he asked, his voice gentling with concern.

“Because I’m not the sort of girl everyone expected him to marry.”

“You’re what he wants, or he wouldn’t be here. What is there to fret about?”

Pandora shrugged uneasily. “I don’t really deserve him,” she confessed.

“How splendid for you.”

“Why is that splendid?”

“There’s nothing better than having something you don’t deserve. Just say to yourself, ‘Hooray for me, I’m so very lucky. Not only do I have the biggest piece of cake, it’s a corner piece with a sugar-paste flower on top, and everyone else is sick with envy.’”

A slow grin spread across Pandora’s face. After a moment, she said in an experimental undertone, “Hooray for me.”

Glancing over her head, West saw someone approach—someone he had not expected to see on this occasion—and a breath of annoyed disbelief escaped him. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to start off your wedding festivities with a small murder, Pandora. Don’t worry, it will be over quickly, and then we’ll go back to celebrating.”

Chapter 3

“Who are you going to do away with?” Pandora sounded more interested than alarmed.

“Tom Severin,” West said grimly.

She turned to follow his gaze, as the lean, dark figure approached. “But you’re one of his close friends, aren’t you?”

“None of Severin’s friends are what I would call close. Generally, we all try to keep out of stabbing distance.”

It would be difficult to find a man still on the early side of his thirties who had acquired wealth and power at the speed that Tom Severin had. He’d started as a mechanical engineer designing engines, then progressed to railway bridges, and had eventually built his own railway line, all with the apparent ease of a boy playing leapfrog. Severin could be generous, mischievous, and considerate, but his better qualities were unanchored by anything resembling a conscience.

Severin bowed as he reached them.

Pandora curtsied in return.

West leveled a cold stare at him.

Severin wasn’t handsome in comparison to the Challons—of course, what man would be?—nor was he handsome by strictly conventional standards. But there was something about him that women seemed to like. West was damned if he knew what it was. Severin’s face was lean and angular, his build lanky and almost rawboned, his complexion librarian pale. His eyes were an unevenly distributed mixture of blue and green, so that in strong lighting they appeared to be two entirely different colors.

“London was boring,” Severin said, as if that explained his presence.

“I feel quite sure you’re not on the guest list,” West said acidly.

“Oh, I never need invitations,” came Severin’s matter-of-fact reply. “I go wherever I want. I’m owed favors by so many people, no one would dare ask me to leave.”

“I would dare,” West said. “In fact, I can tell you exactly where to go.”

Before West could continue, Severin turned quickly to Pandora. “You’re the bride-to-be. I can tell by sparkle in your eyes. An honor to be here, delighted, felicitations, et cetera. What would you like for a wedding present?”

Despite Lady Berwick’s rigorous instruction in etiquette, the question caused Pandora’s propriety to collapse like a pricked balloon. “How much are you going to spend?” she asked.

Severin laughed, delighting in the innocently crass question. “Ask for something big,” he said. “I’m very rich.”

“She needs nothing,” West said curtly. “Especially from you.” Glancing down at Pandora, he added, “Mr. Severin’s gifts always come with strings. And the strings are attached to rabid badgers.”

Leaning closer to Pandora, Severin said in a conspiratorial aside, “Everyone likes my presents. I’ll surprise you with something later.”

She smiled. “I don’t need any gifts, Mr. Severin, but you’re welcome to stay for my wedding.” Seeing West’s reaction, she protested, “He’s come all the way from London.”

“Where are we going to put him?” West asked. “Eversby Priory is packed full. Every room that’s slightly more comfortable than a cell in Newgate has been taken.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t stay here,” Severin assured him. “You know how I am about these ancient houses. Eversby Priory is charming, of course, but I prefer the modern conveniences. I’ll be staying in my private train carriage, at the quarry railway halt on your property.”

“How appropriate,” West remarked sourly, “in light of the fact that you tried to steal the mineral rights to that quarry, even knowing it would leave the Ravenels financially destitute.”

“Are you still miffed about that? It wasn’t personal. It was business.”

Hardly anything was personal to Severin. Which begged the question of why the man was really here. It was possible he wanted to become acquainted with the well-heeled Challon family with future business dealings in mind. Or he could be trolling for a wife. Despite Severin’s staggering fortune and the fact that he owned majority shares in the London Ironstone railway company, he wasn’t welcome in upper-class circles. Most commoners weren’t, but Severin especially wasn’t. So far, he hadn’t found an aristocratic family that was sufficiently desperate to yield one of their wellborn daughters in matrimonial sacrifice. However, it was only a matter of time.

West scanned the gathering in the entrance hall, wondering what his older brother Devon made of Severin’s presence. As their gazes met, Devon sent him a grimly resigned smile. Might as well let the bastard stay, was his unspoken message. West responded with a short nod. Although he would have enjoyed throwing Severin out on his arse, no good would come of making a scene.

“I’ll need only the slightest excuse,” West told Severin, his expression deceptively pleasant, “to send you back to London in a turnip crate.”

The other man grinned. “Understood. Now if you’ll pardon me, I see our old friend Winterborne.”

After the railroad magnate had sauntered away, Pandora took West’s arm. “Let me introduce you to the Challons.”

West didn’t budge. “Later.”

Pandora gave him an imploring glance. “Oh, please don’t be stubborn, it will look odd if you don’t go to greet them.”

“Why? I’m not the host of this event, and Eversby Priory isn’t mine.”

“It’s partly yours.”

West smiled wryly. “Sweetheart, not one speck of dust in this place belongs to me. I’m a glorified estate manager, which I assure you the Challons will not find compelling.”

Pandora frowned. “Even so, you’re a Ravenel, and you have to meet them now because it will be awkward if you’re obliged to introduce yourself later while passing one of them in the hallway.”

She was right. West cursed beneath his breath and went with her, feeling ill at ease.

Breathlessly Pandora introduced him to the duke and duchess; their teenage daughter Seraphina; their youngest son, Ivo; and Lord St. Vincent. “You’ve already met Lady Clare and Justin, of course,” she finished.

West glanced at Phoebe, who had turned away on a pretext of brushing invisible lint from the back of her son’s jacket.

“We have one more brother, Raphael, who’s traveling in America on business,” Seraphina said. She had reddish-blond curls and the sweet-faced prettiness usually depicted on boxes of scented soap. “But he couldn’t return in time for the wedding.”

“That means I can have his cake,” said the handsome boy with deep red hair.

Seraphina shook her head and said drolly, “Ivo, Raphael would be so glad to know you’re managing to carry on in his absence.”

“Someone has to eat it,” Ivo pointed out.

Lord St. Vincent came forward to shake West’s hand. “Finally,” he said, “we meet the least seen and most often discussed Ravenel.”

“Has my reputation preceded me?” West asked. “That’s never good.”

St. Vincent smiled. “I’m afraid your family takes every opportunity to praise you behind your back.”

“I can’t fathom what they find to praise. I assure you, it’s all in their imagination.”

The Duke of Kingston spoke then, in a voice that sounded like expensive dry liquor. “Nearly doubling the estate’s annual yields is no figment of the imagination. According to your brother, you’ve made great strides in modernizing Eversby Priory.”

“When one starts at a medieval level, Your Grace, even a small improvement seems impressive.”

“Perhaps in a day or two, you might give me a tour of the estate farms and show me some of the new machinery and methods you’re using.”

Before West could reply, Justin broke in. “He’s going to take me on a tour, Gramps, to show me the smelliest thing on the farm.”

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