Mary Jo Putney

Angel Rogue


The great estate of Wolverhampton graced the Vale of York like a royal crown, its placid majesty dating from the late days of the seventeenth century. The mansion had been built by the first Marquess of Wolverton, whose grand taste in architecture had been matched by his eye for heiresses; in his long life he had married and buried three of them.

In the century and a half since its completion, Wolverhampton had been visited by the great and notorious of every generation, and had provided a splendorous setting for a succession of worthy lords and ladies. The Andrevilles were the first family of northern England, its members known for unimpeachable honor, conscientious management, and sober behavior. At least, most of them were.

It would have been more sensible to hire a post chaise, but Robin preferred to ride through the English countryside after so many years away. The weather was dry and relatively warm for early December, though there was a hint of snow in the air, the hushed stillness that heralds a coming storm.

The ancient Wolverhampton gatekeeper recognized him and rushed to open the gates, almost falling over himself with eagerness. Robin gave a brief smile of greeting, but did not linger to say more.

The mansion itself was half a mile farther, at the head of the elmlined drive. He reined to a halt and scanned the vast granite facade. Wolverhampton was not a homelike place, but nonetheless it had been his home, and it was here his weary spirit had demanded to return when his duties in Paris were done.

A footman spied him and bustled out. Robin dismounted and wordlessly handed over his horse before climbing the steps to the massive, ten foot high double doors. He should have notified his brother that he was coming, but he had chosen not to. This way, there was no chance to be told he was unwelcome.

The footman who crossed the marble paved foyer was young and didn't recognize the newcomer until he looked at Robin's calling card. Eyes widened, he blurted out, "Lord Robert Andreville?"

"In person," Robin said mildly. "The black sheep returns. Is Lord Wolverton receiving?"

"I shall inquire," the footman said, his face properly blank again. "Would you care to wait in the drawing room, my lord?"

"I can find my way there on my own," Robin remarked when the servant started to show the way. "I was born here, after all. I promise I shan't steal the silver."

Coloring, the footman bowed, then disappeared into the depths of the house.

Robin strolled into the drawing room. He was overdoing the nonchalance; anyone who knew him well would realize that he was nervous. But then, he and his elder brother did not know each other well, not anymore.

He wondered how Giles would receive him. Despite their vastly different temperaments, they had been friends once. It was Giles who had taught him to ride and shoot, and who had tried-with little success-to keep peace between formidable father and contrary young brother. Even after Robin left England, he and Giles had maintained a tenuous contact.

But it "had been fifteen years since they had lived under the same roof, three years since the last brief meeting in London. The occasion had been bittersweet, the pleasure of reunion undermined by a tension that had ended in a short, furious quarrel just before it was time for Robin to leave.

Giles seldom lost his temper, and had never done so with his brother, which had made the incident all the more upsetting. Though they had managed to patch matters up and part amiably, the painful regret was with Robin still.

He studied the drawing room. It was brighter and more appealing than before: Versailles softened by a touch of English coziness. Probably that was Giles's doing; he had never had much patience with pomp. Or perhaps the redecoration had been done by the woman who had briefly been Giles's wife. Robin had never met her, did not even recall her name.

He considered taking a seat, but it was impossible to relax when he could almost hear the echoes of old rows with his father rebounding from the silk clad walls. Instead he paced the drawing room, flexing his aching left hand. It had not healed well after the incident several months earlier when an unpleasant gentleman had carefully broken the bones one by one. A pity that Robin was left handed.

Portraits of stern, upright Andrevilles adorned one wall, their reproachful gazes following their unworthy descendant. They would have respected the goals for which he had worked, but they certainly would not have approved of his methods.

The place of honor above the carved mantel belonged to a portrait of the Andreville brothers, painted two years before Robin had left Wolverhampton for good. He paused to study the painting. A stranger would not know the two youths were brothers without reading the engraved plate. Even their eyes were different shades of blue. Giles was tall and broadly built, with thick brown hair. At twentyone he had already worn the grave air of someone who carried great responsibilities.

In contrast, Robin was no more than average height, slightly built and brightly blond. The portrait painter had done a good job of catching the mischievous twinkle in his azure eyes.

Superficially, he knew that he had changed very little, though he was now thirtytwo instead of sixteen. Ironic that he retained that boyish look when he felt so much older than his years, from having seen and done things better forgotten.

He moved to the window and looked across the rolling, green velvet grounds, immaculate even in late autumn. The first light flakes of snow were starting to fall.

What was he doing here? A scapegrace younger son didn't belong at Wolverhampton. But Lord Robert Andreville didn't belong anywhere else, either.

Behind Robin a door swung open. He turned to find the Marquess of Wolverton poised in the doorway, slate blue eyes scanning the room as if doubting the footman's announcement.

Robin suppressed a shiver at the sight of his brother, for Giles's stern, handsome face was far too reminiscent of their late and unlamented father. The resemblance had always been there, and years of authority had strengthened it.

Their eyes met and held for a long moment, wary azure to controlled slate. Using his lightest tone, Robin said, "The prodigal returns."

A slow smile spread over the marquess's face and he moved forward, his hand extended. "The wars have been over for months, Robin. What the devil took you so long?"

Robin clasped his brother's hand in both of his, almost dizzy with relief. "The fighting might have ended at Waterloo, but my special brand of deviousness was useful during the treaty negotiations."

"I'm sure," Giles said dryly. "But what will you do now that peace has broken out?"

Robin shrugged. "Damned if I know. That's why I've turned up on your doorstep, like a bad penny."

"It's your doorstep, too. I've been hoping you would come for a visit."

After too many years of deceit, Robin felt a powerful need to be direct. "I wasn't sure I'd be welcome," he said baldly.

Giles's brows rose. "Whyever not?"

"Have you forgotten that the last time we met, we had a rousing argument?"

His brother's gaze shifted. "I haven't forgotten- I've regretted it ever since. I shouldn't have spoken as I did, but I was concerned. You looked as if you were at the breaking point. I was afraid that if you returned to the Continent, you'd make a lethal mistake."

Perceptive of Giles; that had been a difficult time. Robin looked down at his damaged left hand and thought of Maggie. "You were very nearly right."

"I'm glad I wasn't." Giles put his hand on his brother's shoulder for a moment "You've had a long journey. Would you like to rest and refresh yourself before dinner?"

Robin nodded. Trying to keep his voice casual, he said, "It's good to be back."

They talked through dinner and into the night while silent snowdrifts rose outside. As the level in the brandy decanter declined steadily, the marquess studied his brother. The signs of strain that had concerned him three years earlier had intensified to the point where he suspected that Robin was on the edge of mental and physical collapse.

Giles wished there was something he could do or say, but realized that he did not even know what questions to ask. He settled for saying at the next conversational lull, "I know this is premature, but do you have any plans for the future?"

"Trying to get rid of me already?" Robin said with a faint smile that didn't reach his eyes.

"Not at all, but I think you'll find Yorkshire rather flat after all your adventures."

The younger man tilted his gilt head back into a corner of me wing chair. In the flickering light he seemed fragile, not quite of the mundane world. "I found adventures to be deucedly tiring. Not to mention dangerous and uncomfortable."

"Are you sorry for what you have done?"

"No, it was needful." Robin's fingers drummed an irregular tattoo on the arm of his chair. "But I don't want to spend the second half of my life the same way I spent the first half."

"You are in a position to do anything you wish- scholar, sportsman, politician, man about town. That's more freedom than most people ever have."

"Yes." His brother sighed and his eyes closed. "The problem is not freedom, but desire."

After an uneasy silence, Giles said, "Since you were occupied on the Continent and communications were chancy, I didn't notify you at the time, but Father left you Ruxton."