Andrew; Lord Of DespairBy: Grace Burrowes
I will not run from the sight of my brother’s front door—I hope.
Andrew Alexander’s composure felt as tentative as if he were facing another Channel crossing under stormy skies, though he nonetheless rapped the lion’s head knocker stoutly three times against its brass fitting.
“Have you a card, sir?” The butler posed his question with that precise blend of hauteur and deference appropriate in the household of an English marquess.
“I’m afraid you have me at a loss,” Andrew replied. “My cards went missing somewhere between the Levant and Gibraltar.” He’d pitched them overboard at a point in his wanderings when he’d been so homesick that, despite all his misgivings, despite the sea voyages involved, and despite the prospect of renewed proximity to Astrid Worthington, he’d turned his sights for England.
Not Astrid Worthington. Astrid Allen, Viscountess Amery.
Andrew had something better than calling cards, however. He had a pair of dark eyebrows, which when lifted at a certain angle over eyes of a particularly brilliant blue, proclaimed him—to those possessed of a modicum of perspicacity—the younger sibling of the marquess.
The butler apparently numbered among such noticing souls. “My apologies, my lord. I will see if the family is receiv—Lord Andrew?”
Andrew assayed a smile, though he did not recognize this man.
“It’s Hodges, your lordship. I was the newly hired underbutler when you left on your travels four years ago. Welcome home! Welcome home, my lord!” The fellow—whom Andrew still did not recognize—was bowing so enthusiastically his wig nearly came down over his ginger brows.
“Thank you, Hodges. It’s good to be home.” Andrew had rehearsed that very line, and thought it came out rather well.
To be on dry land was always good. Always.
“Lord Heathgate has been on a tear ever since we got your letter, my lord,” Hodges declared as he divested Andrew of hat and gloves. “Her ladyship, too. Please do come along. The master is in his library.”
Hodges bustled down the hallway, while Andrew sustained a sensory blow that had to do with the scent of beeswax and lemon oil, the sight of red roses in a silver bowl on the side table, and the jingle of a passing carriage.
He was as much at home as he was ever going to be.
Hodges tapped three times on the library door, a small sound that guaranteed for a while, at least, Andrew would remain at home.
“We’ll surprise him, eh, your lordship? And I’ll let the marchioness know the happy news.” Hodges was fair to bursting out of his silver and blue livery to tell Heathgate’s lady that the prodigal was home, while Andrew felt a sense of frigid waves closing over his head and brine filling his belly.
Though beneath those reactions also dwelled a stubborn joy. Andrew seized the joy with both hands as Hodges announced, “a visitor,” then promptly dropped it when he found himself standing in his brother’s library.
“You’ll have him to yourself,” Hodges whispered with a cheeky wink.
Which was exactly what Andrew did not want.
Will he, nil he, the door clicked quietly shut. Andrew’s only surviving brother stood in quarter profile by a set of French doors that led out to the back gardens. Gareth looked the same, no gray in his sable hair, no age creeping into his face, no dimming of his icy blue eyes. If anything, the man looked… younger, and the sight of him hale and whole comforted unbearably.
Gareth shot across the room and enveloped Andrew in a silent embrace, as a queer feeling suffused Andrew’s chest, then his whole body, a kind of chill and heat that left him weak-kneed and resting his forehead against Gareth’s shoulder. He did not deserve this unseemly display, but he held fiercely to his brother a moment longer.
“Squeeze me any harder and you will make me cry,” he said, stepping back when Gareth’s hold eased. A boyhood taunt between brothers was nothing less than the God’s honest truth now. Andrew tried for a smile—and mostly failed.
“You have damned near made your brother cry,” Gareth growled. “God’s balls, you’re skinny. Between Felicity and Mother, you will soon be fat as a market hog.” He went to the sideboard and gestured with a decanter. “A celebratory tot?”