Chapter Three

“Good afternoon, Drew.” Major Phineas Allan Storme tried to ignore the building anxiety that circled through his chest like a restless beast as his older brother came toward him. Every time he was in the same room as his sibling, inadequacies and self-doubts plagued him. From the traveling woven-willow basket on his lap came a pitiful mewl from his cat, Wellington. She obviously knew he was upset, but she couldn’t comfort him due to being confined. “You remember my wife, Lady Jane?”

“Vaguely.” But his brother did the pretty and scooped up one of her hands and brought it to his lips. “I’m glad you’ve both come.”

Jane blushed. “Hullo, Lord Hadleigh. I’m looking forward to knowing you and your family better while we’re here.”

One of her brothers snickered. “Lud, but you have no idea how upset our own father was when we told him we wouldn’t spend the holiday with him and Mama in London.”

Oh, damn.At that moment, Finn realized he’d neglected to inform Drew he’d asked other people along for the house party fun. He hastily cleared his throat until his brother’s attention landed back on him. “I hope you don’t mind. Jane and I have invited a few extra people for the holidays.” The gloved fingers of one of his hands dug into the top of the cat’s basket. Would his sibling explode in anger?

“So I can see.” Annoyance scudded across Drew’s face as he flicked his gaze from the others, who stood awkwardly uneasy, then back to Finn. In a lowered voice, he added, “This was supposed to be a time for family. To make certain the Stormes are as strong as they can be.”

“They are family—in laws and friends.” A hot flash of anger surged through Finn’s chest, but when Jane laid a hand on his shoulder, he tempered the emotion. “It takes more people than are related by blood to form a family, Drew. And quite honestly, Royce is an honorary Storme for all that he’s done for me over the years. Relax your boundaries and stow your arrogance. It’s Christmastide.”

“You should have written,” Andrew maintained. A muscle in his cheek ticced.

“Yes, but I didn’t. There’s been much on my mind since I last saw you.”

He enjoyed sending his brother into the boughs. Even though they’d come to a sort of understanding late in the summer after his family erroneously believed he’d tried to die by suicide, Drew was still his brother and Finn still wanted to annoy him.

From inside the basket, Wellington uttered another meow. She didn’t care for Drew overly much.

Jane put her lips to Finn’s ear. As always when she was near, awareness of her prickled over his skin. It didn’t matter that he was paralyzed from the waist down. Over the course of knowing her and marrying her, they’d discovered other ways to make him feel pleasure as well as sexual satisfaction. “Why don’t you greet your mother? She seems anxious to talk with you. As are the other ladies who are watching you with unconcealed interest.”

“But, we have news,” he whispered back and when he turned his head, their lips nearly touched. “I’d wanted to—”

“All in good time, Finn.” One of her red eyebrows rose as in challenge. Something twinkled in her emerald eyes, and it bordered on this side of wicked. What the devil did she have planned? “Wait until after the introductions are performed.”

“Very well.” Damn, but it was remarkable how much he wanted his wife in that moment. He snapped his gaze back to Drew’s. “I’d ask you to behave, but that might prove beyond your ken.” Before his brother could offer a comeback, he hooked a thumb toward the three people crowded behind him. “You remember my surgeon, Doctor Royce Marsden? That’s his brother, Trey.”

The younger brother snorted. “That’s Captain Marsden, if you please.”

Finn chuckled. “Of course, Captain Marsden.” Military titles were hard-won and deserved their place in society.

“They’re both sons of the Earl of Worchester as well as my ne’er-do-well brothers,” Jane stepped in with an indulgent smile. “And we’ve brought my best friend too. Miss Fanny Bancroft, daughter of Viscount Nattingly.”

“Welcome.” Andrew nodded and shook hands with everyone involved. He even unbent enough to bring Miss Bancroft’s hand to his lips, which earned him a raging blush on her account. “Let me ring for the housekeeper. I’m sure you’d like to settle and freshen from travel.”

Trey waved a hand—his only hand, if truth be told, for he’d lost his left arm in the war. “Actually, what we need is the fire and perhaps tea.”

Jane rolled her eyes. “I apologize. They’re always hungry.”

A tiny grin tugged at the corners of Drew’s mouth. “I can relate.” He gestured toward the remainder of the people in the room. “Come. There are more introductions.” As everyone moved en masse toward the groupings of furniture, Drew spoke again once he’d reached the side of his wife’s chair. “This is my wife, Sarah, the Countess of Hadleigh. Over there is my Aunt Patricia and my mother, the dowager countess.”

“Pish posh, Andrew. They can call me Lavinia.” His mother offered a bright smile and landed a curious gaze on the new arrivals. “I’m glad you are all here. It’s been too long since Hadleigh Hall has rung with laughter or Christmastide games.”

“Yes, well.” Drew cleared his throat. “That’s my youngest cousin, Miss Isobel Storme.”

With interest, Finn looked at the young lady past the first and second blushes of youth. She appeared to be of an age as Jane’s friend Fanny. If he scrutinized her face long enough, he could begin to pull out distinctions of the Storme line. Blue eyes stared back at him that had the color of Arctic ice and she smiled with the warmth of remembrance. Her dark hair, so very much like the rest of them, was caught up in a sloppy chignon, but she was striking enough that she shouldn’t have issue in marrying.

Why hadn’t she done so?

“Hullo, Cousin Isobel. It’s been an age. How has life treated you since we were children?” Finn asked softly as he guided his Bath chair forward, not caring that Drew hadn’t completed his introductions.

“Well enough, I suppose. Better than it has you, I’ll wager.” Her expression shifted into pity as she roved her gaze over his person as well as his chair. “I’m sorry the war took much from you.”

As his chest tightened, he reminded himself that he hadn’t seen this branch of the family for decades, and they weren’t privy to his private life. “Yes, well, what’s done is done, but please don’t think you need pity me. I am doing quite well and couldn’t be happier.” He sought out Jane’s gaze and grinned. “I’m married to a wonderful woman, some of the feeling has returned to my right leg, which gives me the freedom to stand for a few seconds or even take a few tottering steps upon occasion, and…” He couldn’t help pausing for effect as all eyes turned to him. “I’ve had a letter just this week from a book publisher in London. My first book has been accepted and will be available in the shops by late June.”

Tags: Sandra Sookoo The Storme Brothers Historical
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