Home > Devil's Daughter (The Ravenels #5)(7)

Devil's Daughter (The Ravenels #5)(7)
Author: Lisa Kleypas

At the end of Henry’s life, when he’d been too weak to go anywhere on his own, Gabriel had taken him fishing one last time, carrying him to the bank of his favorite trout stream and setting him on a triangular camp stool. With endless patience, Gabriel had baited the pitches and helped Henry reel the line in, until they had returned with a creel full of trout. That had been Henry’s last day outside.

Gabriel patted her back and briefly laid his cheek against her hair. “This situation must be damned difficult for you. Why didn’t you mention it before? At least half the Ravenel family stayed with us at Heron’s Point for a week, and you didn’t say a word.”

“I didn’t want to cause trouble while you and Pandora were trying to decide if you liked each other well enough to marry. And also . . . well, most of the time I feel like a rain cloud, glooming up the atmosphere everywhere I go. I’m trying not to do that anymore.” Stepping back, Phoebe wiped the wet corners of her eyes with her fingertips. “It’s not right for me to dredge up past grievances that no one else remembers, especially at such a happy time. I’m sorry I mentioned it at all. But the prospect of being in Mr. Ravenel’s company fills me with dread.”

“Are you going to say something to him about it? Or would you like me to?”

“No, please don’t. It would serve no purpose. I don’t think he even remembers it. Promise you’ll say nothing.”

“I promise,” Gabriel said reluctantly. “Although it seems only fair to give him a chance to apologize.”

“It’s too late for apologies,” she muttered. “And I doubt he would anyway.”

“Don’t be too hard on him. He seems to have grown up into a decent fellow.”

Phoebe gave him a dour look. “Oh? Did you come to that conclusion before or after he lectured me as if I were some feudal overlord who’d just been trampling the peasants?”

Gabriel fought to suppress a grin. “You handled that well,” he said. “You took it with good grace, when you could have sliced him to ribbons with a few words.”

“I was tempted,” she admitted. “But I couldn’t help remembering something Mother once said.”

It had been on a long-ago morning in her childhood, when she and Gabriel had still needed books stacked on their chairs whenever they sat at the breakfast table. Their father had been reading a freshly ironed newspaper, while their mother, Evangeline, or Evie, as family and friends called her, fed spoonfuls of sweetened porridge to baby Raphael in his high chair.

After Phoebe had recounted some injustice done to her by a playmate, saying she wouldn’t accept the girl’s apology, her mother had persuaded her to reconsider for the sake of kindness.

“But she’s a bad, selfish girl,” Phoebe had said indignantly.

Evie’s reply was gentle but matter-of-fact. “Kindness counts the most when it’s given to people who don’t deserve it.”

“Does Gabriel have to be kind to everyone too?” Phoebe had demanded.

“Yes, darling.”

“Does Father?”

“No, Redbird,” her father had replied, his mouth twitching at the corners. “That’s why I married your mother—she’s kind enough for two people.”

“Mother,” Gabriel had asked hopefully, “could you be kind enough for three people?”

At that, their father had taken a sudden intense interest in his newspaper, lifting it in front of his face. A quiet wheeze emerged from behind it.

“I’m afraid not, dear,” Evie had said gently, her eyes sparkling. “But I’m sure you and your sister can find a great deal of kindness in your own hearts.”

Returning her thoughts to the present, Phoebe said, “Mother told us to be kind even to people who don’t deserve it. Which includes Mr. Ravenel, although I suspect he would have liked to deliver a dressing-down to me right there in the entrance hall.”

Gabriel’s tone was cinder dry. “I suspect his thoughts had less do with dressing-down than undressing.”

Phoebe’s eyes widened. “What?”

“Oh, come,” her brother chided, amused. “You had to notice the way his eyes were waving about on stalks like a lobster about to be boiled. Has it been so long that you can’t tell when a man is attracted to you?”

Gooseflesh rose on her arms. One of her hands crept up to her midriff, trying to calm a storm of butterflies.

As a matter of fact, it had been that long. She could read the signs of other people’s attractions, but not, apparently, when any of it applied to her. This was unknown territory. Her relationship with Henry had always been safely tempered by a sense of the familiar.

This was the first time Phoebe had ever felt so drawn to a stranger, and for it to be a man who was all brawn and boorishness was a cruel joke. There couldn’t be a greater contrast with Henry. But as Mr. Ravenel had stood there, radiating virility, his gaze shocking her with its directness, she had felt her knees wilt and her blood race. It was mortifying.

Even worse, she felt as if she were betraying Edward Larson, with whom she had an understanding of sorts. He hadn’t proposed yet, but they both knew he would someday, and she would probably accept.

“If Mr. Ravenel has any interest in me,” Phoebe said shortly, “it’s because he’s a fortune hunter. Most second sons are.”

Gabriel’s eyes twinkled with affectionate mockery. “Thank God you know what labels to affix to people. It would be so inconvenient to have to judge them individually.”

“As always, ‘annoying lunkhead’ is perfect for you.”

“I think you secretly liked the way Ravenel talked to you,” Gabriel said. “People are always telling us what they think we want to hear. Raw honesty is a refreshing change, isn’t it?”

“Refreshing for you, perhaps,” Phoebe said with a reluctant smile. “Well, you’ll certainly get that from Pandora. She’s incapable of being awed by anyone.”

“It’s one of the reasons I love her,” her brother admitted. “I also love her wit, her zest for life, and the fact that she needs me to keep her from walking in circles.”

“I’m glad you found each other,” Phoebe said sincerely. “Pandora’s a dear girl, and you both deserve to be happy.”

“So do you.”

“I don’t expect ever to find the kind of happiness I had with Henry.”

“Why not?”

“A love like that can only happen once in a lifetime.”

Gabriel pondered that. “I don’t understand everything about love,” he said almost humbly. “But I don’t think it works like that.”

Phoebe shrugged and tried to sound brisk. “There’s no point in worrying over my future—it will happen as it wants to. All I can do is try to carry on in a way that will honor my husband’s memory. What I know for certain is that as much as Henry hated Mr. Ravenel, he wouldn’t have wanted me to be spiteful or vindictive.”

Her brother’s warm gaze searched every nuance of her expression. “Don’t be afraid,” he surprised her by saying.

“Of Mr. Ravenel? Never.”

“I meant don’t be afraid of liking him.”

That startled a laugh from Phoebe. “There’s no danger of that. But even if there were, I would never betray Henry by making friends with his enemy.”

“Don’t betray yourself, either.”

“In what way—how do you think I—Gabriel, wait!” But he had gone to the door and opened it.

“Time to go back, Redbird. You’ll sort it all out eventually.”

Chapter 5

To Phoebe’s relief, Mr. Ravenel was nowhere in sight when they returned to the entrance hall. Guests milled about and chatted as old friends were reacquainted and new ones were introduced. A battalion of footmen and maids carried trunks, traveling cases, hatboxes and all manner of luggage toward the back stairs.

“Phoebe,” came a light, sweet voice, and she turned to find Devon’s wife at her side. Kathleen, Lady Trenear, was a petite woman with red hair, tip-tilted eyes and high cheekbones. Phoebe had come to like her very much during the week the Ravenels had stayed at Heron’s Point. Kathleen was cheerful and engaging, albeit a bit horse mad, since both her parents had been in the business of breeding and training Arabians. Phoebe liked horses, but she didn’t know nearly enough about them to carry on a detailed conversation. Fortunately, Kathleen was the mother of an infant son who was close to Stephen’s age, and that had provided ample ground for conversation.

“I’m so delighted to have you here,” Kathleen said, taking Phoebe’s hands in her small ones. “How was the journey?”

“Splendid,” Phoebe said. “Justin found the train ride very exciting, and the baby seemed to enjoy the swaying.”

“If you like, I’ll show your nanny and the children up to the nursery. Perhaps you’ll want to have a look?”

“Yes, but must you leave all your guests? We could have a housemaid show us the way.”

“They can do without me for a few minutes. I’ll explain the layout of the house as we go. It’s a labyrinth. Everyone gets lost the first day or two. We have to send out search expeditions every few hours to collect the stragglers.”

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