“I don’t think so. Ransom went up to have a talk with him. In his usual cryptic fashion, Ransom writes that Lambert is now ‘out of the country.’ ”
“What the devil does that mean?” Tom asked curtly.
“Who knows? It’s Ransom. It could mean Lambert’s fled to France, or he’s been shanghaied, or … I’m afraid to speculate. I’ll try to get more information out of Ransom, but that’s like pulling teeth from a crocodile. The point is, Lambert won’t be bothering anyone for a long while.” West pushed away from the door frame. “I’ll leave the two of you to your negotiating. If that’s what we’re calling it.”
“BUT YOU’LL HAVE TO spend time with the children,” Cassandra insisted. “They’ll need your influence.”
“My influence is the last thing they’ll need, unless you’re planning to raise a pack of immoral little devils.”
She took the pencil and began a subsection. “At the very least, you’ll have to participate in family time in the parlor every night after dinner, outings on Sundays, and then there are birthdays, holiday festivities—”
“I don’t mind older children, who can be threatened with Scottish boarding schools,” Tom said. “It’s the younger ones, who cry and scream and totter from one catastrophe to another. They’re nerve-wracking and tedious at the same time.”
“It’s different when it’s your own children.”
“So I’ve heard.” Tom settled back in his chair, looking vaguely surly. “I’ll go along with whatever you think is appropriate, but don’t call on me to discipline them. I’m not going to whip or thrash them, even if it’s for their own good.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to do that,” Cassandra said hastily. “There are other ways to teach right from wrong.”
“Good. Life doles out enough inevitable pain for each of us—my children won’t need extra helpings from me.”
She smiled at him. “I think you’ll make a fine father.”
His mouth twisted. “The only part I’m looking forward to is their conception.”
“WHY THE DEVIL DO we have to put Bazzle in the contract?”
“I’ve worried about him ever since the day I met him at the clinic,” Cassandra said. “I want to find him and take him out of the dangerous situation he’s living in.”
“You won’t have to look far,” Tom said sardonically, “since he’s at my house.”
“What?” she asked, both incredulous and relieved. “You took him in after all?”
“I sent him back that day,” Tom admitted, “and as you predicted, there was a repeat infestation soon thereafter. I realized having him become part of the household was cheaper and more convenient than hauling him back to Dr. Gibson’s clinic every week.”
“How is he?” Cassandra asked eagerly. “What kind of schedule have you arranged for him? Have you found a tutor or school for him? I’m sure there hasn’t been time to decorate his room yet, but I—”
“No. You misunderstand. I didn’t take him in as a ward, he’s one of the household staff.”
Cassandra quieted, some of her excitement fading. “Who looks after him?”
“No one needs to look after him. As I understand it, the housekeeper won’t let him come to the dinner table unless he’s clean, so he’ll soon learn to overcome his scruples about bathing. With decent food and regular sleep, I expect he’ll be much healthier.” Tom smiled briefly. “Problem solved. Now, on to the next issue.”
“Are there other children for him to play with?”
“No, I don’t usually hire children—I made an exception for Bazzle.”
“What does he do all day?”
“So far, he’s come to the office with me in the mornings to sweep and do odd jobs, and then I send him home in a cab.”
Tom looked at her sardonically. “He’s navigated some of the most dangerous areas of London by himself for years.”
Cassandra frowned. “What does he do for the rest of the day?”
“He’s a hall boy. He does … hall boy things.” Tom shrugged irritably. “I believe polishing shoes are among his tasks. He’s better off than he was before. Don’t make too much of this.”
Cassandra nodded thoughtfully, shuttering her expression. For some reason, the issue of Bazzle was sensitive territory. She realized she would have to proceed with care when it came to making decisions about the child. But she was determined to have her way, even if it meant using the iron-hand-in-a-velvet-glove approach.
“Tom,” she said, “it was wonderfully kind of you, and so very generous, to take Bazzle in as you have.”
One corner of his mouth curled upward. “You’re laying it on with a trowel,” he said dryly. “But continue.”
“I feel strongly that Bazzle must be taught to read. It will benefit him for the rest of his life, and it will help you for as long as he continues to work for you, in the running of errands, and so forth. The cost of his education would be minimal, and it would allow him to be in the company of other children.”
Tom considered the points, and nodded. “Very well.”
“Thank you.” Cassandra smiled brilliantly. “I’ll make the arrangements, once I’m able to take stock of his situation.” She hesitated before adding carefully, “There may be other adjustments I’ll want to make, for the sake of his wellbeing. However you wish to write it in the contract … I’ll require some leeway where he’s concerned.”
He picked up the pencil and looked down at the paper. “Leeway,” he said darkly, “but not free rein. Because I’m fairly certain your concept of Bazzle’s future doesn’t match mine.”
“WHAT ABOUT BELGIUM?” TOM asked. “We could go from London to Brussels in approximately seven hours.”
“I couldn’t enjoy a honeymoon while feeling uncertain about where I’ll live afterward.”
“We’ve already agreed to live at Hyde Park Square.”
“I want to spend some time there for a while, and become acquainted with the house and servants. I want to nest a little. Let’s go on a proper honeymoon later in the spring or summer.”
Tom shrugged out of his coat and loosened his necktie. The hearth fire had made the room too hot. He tossed the coat over the back of a chair and went to open a window. A welcome rush of ice-cold air cut through the stuffy atmosphere. “Cassandra, I can’t marry you and go about business as usual the next day. Newlyweds need privacy.”
He had a point. But he looked so disgruntled, Cassandra couldn’t resist teasing. With a glance of wide-eyed innocence, she asked, “What for?”
Tom appeared increasingly flustered as he tried to come up with an explanation.
Cassandra waited, gnawing on the inside of her lips.
Tom’s face changed as he saw the dance of laughter in her eyes. “I’ll show you what for,” he said, and lunged for her.
Cassandra fled with a shriek, skirting nimbly around the table, but he was as fast as a leopard. After snatching her up with ease, he deposited her on the settee, and pounced. She giggled and twisted as the amorous male weight of him lowered over her.