RESCUED BY A DEVIL
Eight Years Later
“It is not big enough, Papa.”
“Surely it is?” Nathan looked down at his son who at seven years and three months old believed himself an authority on all things.
“It’s not. It needs to be as large as her knuckle and flanked by other sparkling things.”
“Sparkling things?” Nathan raised a brow.
“Expensive jewels, Papa.”
Edward had strong opinions about what he liked, and apparently Nathan’s purchase of a ring for his mother’s birthday was one of those.
“Maybe you could go over there and find a pin or something, that you and Ava could give your mother?”
“No, you need our help, Papa, as clearly you do not know what mama likes.”
“I think after eight years I have an idea,” Nathan drawled. Sarcasm was lost on his literal child, who rose to his toes, clearly searching for something.
“Ava!” Edward shrieked, making Nathan and the proprietor of Stone’s fine jewelry wince.
“We use inside voices here, Edward,” Nathan cautioned him. Fairly sure children and shrieking rarely happened inside these walls. “Not everyone enjoys hearing you roar like a bull.”
“Did you know bulls don’t sleep much, Papa?”
“I didn’t know that, Edward.”
“They rest a great deal, but they only sleep for about four hours.”
“And you know this how?”
“Cousin Ella told me.”
“Of course she did.” Forrest’s daughter always had her nose in a book.
“Bulls are naturally aggressive, Papa, but if we keep them with cows, they are less so. Why do you think that is?”
He heard a strangled coughing sound coming from the proprietor, but his face showed nothing when Nathan shot him a look.
“Because bulls like cows, Edward.” Nathan decided that was all the explanation his son was getting on that matter while standing in a shop.
“Because I said so, and that is enough on the subject.”
Edward would resemble him one day, with a touch of the eldest Deville, Gabe. He would also have Gabe’s serious demeanor. Nathan had decided early in the child’s life that he needed to understand the concept if fun.
“Yes, Edward?” Ava arrived, the youngest of his two children. She had a lisp as her front tooth was missing, and sweet round cheeks, and thick golden blonde hair like her mother, and at five could annoy her brother by just blinking.
“Is that big enough for Papa to give Mama for her birthday?” Edward jabbed a finger at the glass case, smearing it. Nathan shot the man standing behind it an apologetic look, as it would need cleaning after they had gone.
“No touching the glass, Edward.”
“We rarely allow children in here, Sir,” the man said with a sniff.
His children were well behaved for the most part, but were only seven and five. He had brought them with him as they wished to purchase their mother a gift. Looking at the man with his mouth pressed into a thin line, he thought about how the old Nathan would have reacted, and smiled.
“Then we shall go elsewhere to purchase my wife’s birthday gift,” he said calmly.
“But I want to get Mama the butterfly brooch,” Ava said, her eyes filling with tears.
“We will find another one.” He lifted his daughter into his arms, then held out his hand to his son. “I have no wish to frequent a place where the staff are upset over a small finger smearing the glass.”
Nathan thought about asking if there was a rear exit, but doubted the man would oblige after what he’d just said. So he turned to face the sour faced woman stomping toward him with her cane.
“How delightful it is to see you, Duchess.” He bowed, tipping Ava with him and making her giggle.
“Of course, it is always delightful to see me,” she snapped. “Hello, Edward and Ava,” she held out her hand to his son, and the boy hurried forward. Ava wriggled until he lowered her to her feet. She too went to the dragoness’s side.
The woman was old now, and stooped, but still as feisty as ever and terrifying people all over London.
Nathan watched as she pulled a small twist of paper from the bag around her wrist and handed it to Ava. He sighed. More sweets. If his brothers weren’t handing them out, then the duchess was.
“Now, you sit over there and touch nothing.” She pointed right to where a small bench seat stood. “Your father and I have things to do.”
“You have no taste, Deville. I will help you select your wife’s birthday gifts then you can help me select one as well.”
“And you have taste?” He looked at the garish puce dress she wore. “Where do you actually get those fabrics from, because I’m sure there cannot be anyone else who’d want them?”
She jabbed his foot with her cane, making him hiss out a breath.
“Lord Ryder gets them in especially for me.”
“That makes sense. The man always had a strange sense of humor. Now if you will excuse us, Duchess, we were actually just leaving when you stomped in. The proprietor has a no children rule inside his shop.”
“Really?” She glared at the man who was hovering nearby. “How dare you speak to my family in such a way. Do you know who I am? Who he is?” She demanded, making the man stammer and retreat several steps as she jabbed her cane at him.
“I-allow me to apologize,” he added.
“I’ve a mind to leave, but you have acceptable jewelry so I’ll stay, but you will apologize to Ava and Edward at once!”
Nathan watched the man hurry to his children, who were now sucking peppermint sticks loudly.
“What are you thinking?” The duchess demanded, jabbing her finger at the glass case that held some of the jewelry.
He chose the ring, the children, the butterfly brooch and the duchess, a hideous bug-eyed Beatle, that he knew Beth would love. He then gathered his children, and ushered them and the duchess from the shop, knowing the proprietor would already be cleaning the glass before they’d shut the door.
“Now for an ice,” Edward said as if it was pre-planned, which it was not. “Come along, Duchess, you can have an orange one, which I know is your favorite.”
“Lately I’ve moved to lavender.”
“I don’t remember an ice being part of this outing, Edward?” Nathan took a hand each and walked along the path swinging them. He had to admit that holding your child’s small hand was something he doubted he’d tire of.
“Oh dear, Papa.”
“What’s wrong, Ava.”
He followed her eyes and saw the dog lying in the doorway. Fur matted ribs sticking out. It looked in terrible condition.
“We need to help it, Papa,” Edward said, dropping Nathan’s hand.
“Do not approach that dog!” Nathan roared as his son made for the animal. “Edward!” He ran with Ava, but it was too late. The boy had crouched before the dog.
“Back away, Edward.”
“He will not hurt me,” Edward raised a hand and stroked the head.
The dog raised its head and dragged himself closer to the child. He then licked the hand.
“We need to take him home,” Ava said, trying to get closer. Nathan held her at his side.
“No, we don’t. He’s flea ridden and likely diseased. Now come along, Edward, we shall get an ice from Gunther’s,” he said hearing the desperation in his tone.
“Of course you need to take him home,” the duchess said. “Walter will love him.”
The dog made a pitiful sound and edged further forward, placing this head on Edward’s knee.
He found Beth in the small parlor that caught the afternoon sun. Walter was lying beside her on the sofa. His muzzle now grey. He was getting crotchety in his latter years.
“Hello.” He bent to kiss his beautiful wife, then scratched the dog behind an ear. It was still a miracle to him he got to wake with her in his arms every day. The woman he’d once believed he’d lost.
Her beauty had grown over the last few years, and there was not a day went by he didn’t smile simply because she was near. Yes, they argued, and bickered, and yes, she had a stronger will than he’d originally realized. But he’d have her no other way.
“Hello, how was your mysterious trip with the children?”
“Fruitful. We saw the duchess. As you can imagine, it was a moment I will cherish.”
“I’m going to be like her when I’m that age.”
Nathan actually shuddered at the thought.
“Your nature is far too sweet to ever be like her.”
She rose, then wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. Lord, how he still loved her kisses.
“Is there a particular reason for that kiss? Not that I’m complaining of course.”
Her smile warmed him to his toes.
“I imagine after a few hours with our children you needed it.”
“I hope you are not suggesting we breed heathens, my love.” He kissed her again. “Because I’m sure there are no children sweeter than ours.”
She snorted, then frowned.
“Where are the children?”
“Ah, well they are—”
“What have they done now?” Beth sighed, easing from his arms. “Honestly, you only had them in your care for a few hours. Surely nothing too disastrous can have occurred?”
“Hello.” Nathan turned to watch his eldest brother walk into the room. His hair was greyer now, and he had the look of a happy man. “Have you told her about the large dog creating mayhem in the nursery?”
“What?” Beth shrieked loud enough to have Nathan wincing.
“Hello, Uncle Nathan. We have just arrived. Papa sent me up to tell you and Aunt Beth.”
“Hello, Ella.” He moved to hug his niece, who was now thirteen. Tall like her father, she had dark hair and serious blue eyes.
“Did you know there is a dog running up and down your staircase barking with Ava, Edward and everyone else charging about after it?” She queried politely.
“And who does this dog belong to, Ella?” Beth linked an arm through Nathan’s, holding him in place. “Is it yours, Gabe?”
His brother shook his head solemnly, but his eyes twinkled.
“Edward told me it was yours,” Gabe added, throwing Nathan into the firing line.
Beth looked at him.
“You distinctly told me there will be no more dogs entering this household. Only Albert, who is small and fluffy, and of course Walter, who can do as he pleases in any of our households.”
“Ah well, the thing is, my love—”
The door burst open and in loped the large dog they’d brought home with them in the carriage. He was the color of straw, with lots of hair and big floppy ears. His tongue was hanging out the side of his mouth and he was still wet from the washing he and the staff, along with Ava and Edward, had given him.
He’d told his children that cleanliness was important to their mother, and if they had a chance of keeping the large beast, then he would need to look presentable.
The dog charged at Nathan, who had rescued him, and skidded to a halt when he roared the word stop as he prepared to leap. The dog skidded to a halt and sat on his haunches. He looked up at Nathan, then at Beth with a pathetic look in his eyes. He then whimpered.
“Nathan, where did you find this dog?” His wife asked.
“He was lying in a filthy street, Mama,” Edward ran into the room, followed by his cousins and sister. “He was whimpering pitifully, and a man had just kicked him,” his son lied, without hesitation. “Papa stepped in and made the man leave. Then gave the dog a peppermint stick.”
Beth made a small sound that told Nathan it was working, so he gave Edward a look. His son was no slow top and embellished his story further.
“While Papa was telling the horrid nasty man he was naughty, the dog struggled to his feet, clearly weak from lack of food, and stood between me and Ava, as if to protect us.”
“Edward reminds me of someone,” Gabe drawled. “I’m not sure who it is… oh wait, it’s his father.”
Beth grabbed Nathan’s hands and inspected his knuckles.
“What are you doing?”
“Have you been fighting?”
“No, Mama. He said it is not right to settle an argument with your fists,” Edward rushed to add.
Beth raised a brow at those words and dropped Nathan’s hands.
“He didn’t always think that way,” she then muttered.
“I love him, Uncle Gabe,” Ava moved to her uncle, taking the hand he held out to her. “I want to call him Starburst, but Edward says Brutus is far more suitable.”
Gabe lifted his niece into his arms. “Well, to my mind, Starburst is an exceptional name, but Brutus is good as well. If I may suggest he be addressed as Starburst Brutus, and you could call him Startus for short?”
“We are not having another dog,” Beth said in a stern voice. “And that is a ridiculous name, Gabe.”
Starburst Brutus, hearing her tone lowered to the ground and put his head on his paws whining softly.
“You’re scaring him, Mama,” Edward rushed forward. “It’s all right, boy, she’s actually a friendly person.”
Beth pinched Nathan’s arm.
“Ouch,” he replied dutifully.
She then dropped to her knees and looked at Starburst Brutus. The dog raised his head, eyes sad, and then crawled to where she crouched. He then placed his head on her knees.
“Clever boy,” Gabe muttered. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was related to Walter.”
Hearing his name, the older dog opened an eye, then climbed off the sofa. He then moved closer and bent to inspect Starburst Brutus. The dog stayed perfectly still, knowing when he was under investigation. Walter then licked his nose and wandered back to the sofa, climbed on and closed his eyes.
“Well then, I guess that’s that,” Nathan said. “We now have a dog named Starburst Brutus.”
He walked her down the stairs into the room where their friends and family all waited. Tonight was Beth’s birthday, and they were hosting a ball.
“I have never liked being the center of attention,” she whispered out the side of her mouth.
“And yet in that dress I fail to see how you cannot be.”
It was ivory silk and draped and folded over her lovely body in a way that highlighted every lush curve she had. He could see the valley of her lovely breasts and the skirts seemed to have vast amounts of material and fell in soft elegant folds to the floor.
“You look stunning, my love.”
She wore the butterfly and bug brooches and his ring, which she’d thanked him for at least ten times today.
“I love my ring, Nathan.”
Make that eleven times.
“Every time you thank me from now on, I’m going to kiss you in front of whoever is near.”
“But, Nathan, it is so beautiful. I can never thank you enough.”
He swung her into his arms, then dipped her back over his arm. His lips held hers for long seconds. When he straightened, she was flushed, her eyes twinkling.
“Well then,” she giggled. “I will have to remember not to thank you again.”
Nathan laughed as his eyes traveled over her. He was sure she would thank him again many times.
“I hope the staff can cope with the extra pressures this evening will bring,” Beth said.
“They can cope and are extremely excited that finally they have more than us to serve.”
Nathan looked around them, and then to the balcony above the room they were in. He saw little hands gripping the railings. And a large, shaggy dog looking over.
“Raise your eyes,” he whispered to Beth. “I believe there is a Starburst Brutus out tonight.”
She did, then giggled.
They reached the bottom step, and their family surged forward to greet them.
“Happy birthday, Beth, you look lovely,” his sister Abby kissed her cheek.
“Am I not to get the same greeting, sister?” Nathan said.
“You look passable, I suppose.”
“Witch,” he hissed.
And so the night went. They danced, laughed, drank too much champagne, and Nathan and his siblings annoyed each other.
“Do you know,” Zach said, lounging in a chair beside him. “I believe that crab patty was simply the best I have tasted.”
“Mrs. Leadbottom is a superb cook,” Nathan said, watching Beth twirl on Michael’s arm. She did not appear to be tiring like him.
“I found the fruitcake gritty,” Zach added.
“I’ll be sure to pass that on to her, and next time you eat here she’ll likely make you eat those words… literally.”
Suddenly, they heard a loud screech. Nathan and Zach moved forward to see what had caused it and saw them. Walter and Starburst Brutus thundering through guests with a small fluffy white dog on their heels desperately trying to keep up.
“Get Walter, I’ll get Startus!” Nathan roared. It was too late. The dogs had reached the supper table and lunged. Gabe, Nathan, Michael, and Zach arrived seconds later. Cake and pastries went flying. Ducking, Nathan missed an eclair, but Zach caught it in the face.
“Rather good texture,” his youngest brother roared, almost like a war cry, and seconds later he flew by Nathan, diving for Walter. The dog stopped, shot left and Zach hit the leg of the remained table and it turned.
Mayhem then ensued, and the sound of barking dogs and screaming guests filled the room.
Nathan grabbed Startus around the neck. The dog gave him the side eye.
“Stay!” he thundered.
“Don’t yell at him, Nathan, you’re scaring him!” Beth cried. She then slipped on some cream and fell on top of him. Sartus escaped. Wrapping his arms around her, she shimmied them sideways and under the now leaning table. He then took advantage of the moment and kissed her.
She braced her hands on his chest and looked down at him.
“Nathan, we need to do something. The guests—”
“Are probably having the time of their lives. Besides, I haven’t had you alone for several hours.”
Beth looked under the edge of the table.
“Lady Edgecombe just threw an éclair at Lord Plunge.”
“There you go then. All is not lost.”
“Gabe is roaring with laughter. Oh dear.”
“Dimity just threw an aspic jelly at him.”
Laughing he pulled her back into his arms and kissed her.
“Happy birthday, my love.”
They did not come out from under that table for some time.
Front Page, The Trumpeter, the following day.
The birthday celebrations of Mrs. Bethany Deville were held last night for those lucky enough to be invited, as this author was. The evening was as most are. Dancing and preening. Everyone there to be seen. Then the dogs arrived.
Starburst Brutus, Walter and Albert made their entrance by leaping at the super table laden with delicacies. The hosts took cover and were not seen again for quite some time.
The Duchess of Yardley was heard to say to the elderly Lord Haast, that the baked apple and pear dumplings did not go at all with her lime evening dress, and Lord Flute was seen running from the room behind one dog who had his wig in its mouth.
If you are planning to host any social functions, can I suggest a food fight to liven things up? It will be some time before anyone forgets Mrs. Bethany Deville’s birthday ball.
Allow me to congratulate Mr. and Mrs. Nathanial Deville for such an entertaining evening.