From the pen of best selling author Cerise Deland
Excerpt of HER BEGUILING BUTLER
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“What is your background, Finnley?”
He frowned. Why would she ask? His cover was superb. His acting, excellent.
“Ah, ah.” She waved a forefinger in front of him. “No prevarications, sir.”
He shot ramrod straight. “I told you of my past. You have my reference.”
She inched closer to him, so near he could see the purple rays in the glory of her velvet eyes. “I do, dear Finnley. But why do you speak with such crisp precision? Why do you command me with your very presence? Your power?”
“Ma’am?” Was that his voice that sounded like an echo of his own? She should not undo him. But she did.
“Wallace Finnley. You have education and breeding. I can tell. Do you know how?”
He shook his head, her nearness a magnet to his body, his soul. Her lips, his only lure.
“For one thing, you own that very fine, very French Ferdinand Berthoud pocket watch. My great-uncle owned one similar.” She dropped her eyes toward the point on his chest where he kept his treasure. “I can hear the delicate chimes when it rings every quarter hour.”
He should have left it in his rooms. But it was the dearest memento he owned from his grandfather. Besides, he ran his daily duties by the precision of it. “I cannot part with it. It keeps me on task.”
“It does. I see it.”
“May I go now?”
“No. Certainly not. I would learn more. You say you come from Yorkshire. But I detect no hint of it in your pronunciation. You went to school. Some fine institution that weaned you from your native speech. Where?”
Good god. She was perceptive. He set his jaw. He’d not reveal his year at Edinburgh. He never told anyone of that, he’d hated it so. “The Army was my schooling. Taught me responsibility.”
She smiled at him, her face around her eyes crinkling in appreciation. “So then your family purchased a commission for you?”
My father gave me nothing of value. “I ran away. Began as a recruit.”
“Noble of you.”
“Necessary, ma’am.” He shook his head, thinking them done, moving to rise.
She caught his hand. “A moment, Finnley. There is more to your story. From your time in the Army, I see then when and how you acquired your demeanor with those under your command.”
He wished to escape her touch and her sound perception. “The Army gave me a good education.”
“And war is a demanding teacher,” she concluded.
“It was. I wish to never fight again.”
“Nor do any of us. My brother died. At Waterloo.”
He schooled himself to remain placid. Her brother had been his best friend. What he did here for Alicia was as much for her as for Jerome.
“I find it intriguing, dear Finnley, that with such rank in the military, you now offer yourself in domestic service.”
Her statement, he knew, was a question and he had to avoid the whole answer of his origins. “Being a butler is an honorable occupation.”
She fell back to her cushions, her hand dropping and freeing him of her hold. Her expression told him she was dismayed with his obstinate ways.
He stepped backward and rubbed his wrist.
She stared at him, clear-eyed and assured. “Finnley, I will be forthright. I look into your endearing blue eyes and can see that when you speak truth to me, your pupils darken and enlarge.”
“And when you lie to me, your pupils constrict and your body tightens like a drum.”
Well, damn. Foiled by my eyes?
Once more, she took his hand and put his open palm to her soft cheek. “Might you care for me, Finnley?”
Might? There was no might.
“I see in your eyes that you do,” she whispered. “Tell me who you really are, dear sir. And then we can begin again. Anew.”