Although I wasn’t certain what I’d been expecting, I could never have expected Lady Corinne Blackwell.
Her choice of wardrobe in particular was not precisely what a man might expect from the mother of Miss Bianca Blackwell…
Though I didn’t mind seeing where Miss Bianca’s ample…gifts originated from.
Green eyes–so similar to Miss Bianca’s–widened at the sight of me, as did a fanged smile. “A human! Did you tell me you were marrying a human, sweetie? Or is he just one of your lovers? Is he the baby’s daddy?”
“Several times, Corinne. And Lysander is my intended husband.” Miss Bianca’s hands clenched and unclenched. “He is not the father of my child as of yet, because I am most definitely not pregnant.”
“Now don’t you get started with that ‘Corinne’ business, young lady. You call me some form of Mama or I’ll–”
I cleared my throat. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lady Blackwell.”
“Well, aren’t you just a picture-perfect butler!” she squealed. “You’re a butler, aren’t you? You have the look of your great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. My baby girl always did like butlers–her mama too, but I like ’em older. Did she ever tell you how she got the name Bumblebee?”
“Mother,” Bianca hissed.
Lady Blackwell continued without hesitation. “She just loved nibbling on old Frederick Lyons–well, she could only reach his shin at the time, poor thing. And only one of her fangs came down for the longest time–like a little stinger. Bart and I worried the other one would never come in, but just look at her now: perfect set of fangs just like her mama’s.”
I had no choice but to cough to mask my laughter, though I was uncertain to what extent I managed to fool Miss Bianca. “Her fangs are indeed perfect,” I said. “Along with everything else about her…”
That earned a laugh from Lady Blackwell, who smiled fondly at her daughter. “Ooh, sweetie, you’ve trained him well…you’ll have an easy marriage. Until he croaks, of course. Why haven’t you turned him yet? Do you need your mama to do it for you?”
My mouth went dry. “Ah…”
“I wouldn’t change anything about the man I love.” Miss Bianca dropped the words like a thunderbolt.
“So passionate,” said Lady Blackwell, her eyes trained on my face. “I wonder what’d make my baby girl finally settle down after all these years–or open her legs for the first time.”
I was unsure as to whether an answer was expected of me, but I was experiencing great difficulty keeping my eyes upon her face.
When I tried to wrench my gaze upward, that seemed only to have the opposite effect…
“He’s handsome,” Lady Blackwell murmured. “Very handsome. I bet he’d look real good in a spotless butler uniform, and with a little more gray in his hair…”
“You’re…too kind, Lady Blackwell,” I managed. Was the air conditioning in need of repair yet again…?
“Call me Corrie, sweetheart. Or Cor. Or anything you want, as long as it’s not this Lady business. Do I look old to you?”
I loosened the collar of my shirt. “You’re…you’re the very picture of youthful beauty, La—ah…”
“Mother,” Bianca snapped. “Stop that at once.”
“Stop what, sweetie?” Her fangs glinted as she offered me a warm smile. Very warm. “Sandy and I are just having ourselves a nice mother-son chat. Aren’t we, Sandy?”
“Sandy…” I repeated. I’d never been called such a ridiculous nickname in all my life, but from Lady Blackwell’s lips, I no longer had any desire to hear my full name. “I…yes. Very nice…”
“Are you intent on taking everything from me?” Miss Bianca’s footsteps were heavy as she left us.
The bathroom door’s hinges whined when she slammed it behind her, sending an offensive jolt through my mind. I straightened. I would need to oil the squeaky hinges–and to tend to Miss Bianca. The latter took priority.
“I beg your pardon, Lady Blackwell,” I said. “I need a moment with your daughter.”
She smiled, her maroon lips dark against white fangs. “You’re stronger than you look. I like that.” Her serpentine eyes narrowed. “My baby girl needs a firm hand–a weak will won’t survive long.”
“…So I’ve learned, Lady Blackwell.”
The bathroom door was firmly shut, but not locked. The sight of Miss Bianca’s slumped shoulders squeezed my heart.
“So she’s released you from her clutches, has she?”
“No,” I said. “You would have to release me first for me to ever fall into anyone else’s.”
She turned to face me, though she wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Do you think I’m anything like her, Lysander?”
I had to tread carefully. “In what way, Miss Bianca?”
“Disgraceful. Common. Wildly inappropriate.”
“There’s nothing disgraceful or common about you. You are…like no one else, Miss Bianca. And we’ve been quite diligent in containing anything wildly inappropriate to this very room.”
“I suppose you must be furious with me, hiding such a nightmare from you for all this time…and Byron must hate me.”
“I can’t speak for Master Byron,” I said. “But I would forgive you anything. You’re my future wife, and the mother of–our future children.” I reached out to brush a stray lock of hair from her pale cheek. “We can’t help who our parents are, or what they do. My father hurt you…who am I to pass judgment upon either of your parents?”
And then she was in my arms where she belonged, our daughter nestled safely between our bodies.
“I had no right,” she whispered as she pulled away. “No right to keep such a secret from my brother. He’ll hate me, Lysander–I know he will. And he should. He belonged with them. I was the one who deserved to be alone for eternity.”
I wanted to pull her back against me, but her tortured expression made me still my hands. “Master Byron is hardly a hateful man…and you would never deserve such a thing.”
“I deserve far less than I have. I should suffer for the suffering I’ve inflicted on him.”
I opened my mouth–and closed it again. “Sometimes a wicked young lady needs to be punished.”
Her head snapped up. “Lysander…?”
“No,” I growled. “Mister Chutney-Worthington.”
“I’ve missed you, Mister Chutney-Worthington…”
“I have no choice but to take a firm hand with you, Lady Blackthorne.”
And she did know. Though I made Lady Belladonna Blackthorne beg quite prettily for the honor of that hand.
Her…derriere was noticeably more…ahem.
But her banshee screeching was as familiar as ever…
My hand, although firm, was perhaps less firm than usual, so as not to disturb any peacefully slumbering daughter. However, I received no complaints. And when Lady Belladonna Blackthorne had been sufficiently punished, I considered my time in the bathroom complete.
But Miss Bianca had other ideas. Her strength never failed to surprise me–how easily she pushed me down upon the (spotless) commode. “Miss Bianca? It was my understanding that any such activity would–ah–wait until the wedding night…”
“Consider this an early wedding present.”
…Oh, how I did. Even as my legs gradually lost feeling beneath the combined weight of Miss Bianca and our unborn daughter…relief was sweet. And swift, although I received no complaints from my beautiful, stubborn wife-to-be.