Tempted By His KissBy: Tracy Anne Warren
Cade Byron tossed back the whiskey in his glass, then reached for the bottle on the side table next to his armchair. Pouring another hefty dram, he downed the second libation as quickly as the first, the alcohol spreading in a burst of fire over his tongue and throat. Leaning back his head, he closed his eyes and waited for the liquor to do its work. With any luck it would ease the ache in his leg.
Confounded thing, he cursed silently, trying not to think too much about the badly healed wound in his right thigh. Always acts up when the weather turns wet—or in today’s case, icy, since it’s snowing outside.
He supposed he could always take a draught of the laudanum the damn quack had left for him, but he hated the stuff and took care to avoid it. He never felt himself when he used laudanum. The opiate clouded his senses to the point where the world seemed to spin around him like some kind of fantastical, disjointed dream, leaving him listless, stultified, and confused. Hard liquor might be just as destructive in the long run, he realized, but at least it dulled his pain without erasing who he was; and even more important, without robbing him of his sense of control.
He knew all about how it felt to lose control. To be denied free will while one trembled on the brink, a second shy of breaking, of begging, of agreeing to violate one’s most sacred oaths in order to make the agony stop.
His stomach tightened, a faint wave of nausea rising with the memories. Shoving them aside, he reached again for the glass and bottle, hand shaking as he poured a double measure of whiskey and drank it down. Warmth and calm stole through him. The sensations were artificial, no doubt, but right now he would take what he was given. If only he could add peace to the equation.
That’s all I want, he sighed in his head, peace and quiet and to be left the hell alone.
Which is exactly what he’d told Edward last week when his older brother came for a visit, determined to dislodge him from his exile and return him to the bosom of the family—and in the case of the Byrons, that was a very big bosom indeed.
“You’ve buried yourself up here like a bear in hibernation,” Edward had told him as he paced the study with a long-legged stride. “It’s been six months now. Don’t you think it’s time you rejoined the world?”
“From what I can see, the world appears to be spinning along just fine without me,” he replied.
Edward frowned, his black brows granting him a fearsome look. “Well, Mama is not fine. She’s worried, especially since you refuse to answer her letters.”
Cade raked his fingers through his hair. “I read them. Tell her I’ve read them, and…appreciate them. Give her my love. More than that, I can’t offer right now.”
“Look, I know what you went through in Portugal—”
“Do you?” Cade asked in an almost expressionless voice.
Edward had the grace to lower his gaze. “I know enough. And because of it, I’ve given you room. Let you have time to yourself to grieve and heal. But all you seem to be doing is grieving with none of the healing. You look like bloody hell, Cade. Come to Braebourne with me. Be with people again, with family. Come home.”
For the tiniest moment, Cade had considered the plea, but just as quickly discarded it. “I am home. This estate is mine, or so I was informed in the reading of Uncle George’s will. Now, if that’s all, Your Grace, I suggest we go have our dinner before it grows cold.”
Cade had known Edward wanted to argue further—and his brother had. But after three futile days that did nothing to change Cade’s mind, Edward finally conceded defeat, climbed into his coach and drove away.
Or been driven away, Cade mused, knowing he’d forced his brother out—out of his house, out of his life. Just as he wanted.
And I do, he assured himself. I want solitude. Solitude and peace.
Taking up the bottle again, he refilled his glass, the last drops of whiskey draining out in a slow drip-drip-drip. Setting the bottle aside, he lifted the glass to his lips.
Just then, the study door opened on a set of well-oiled hinges, a tiny old man with a downy nimbus of white hair slipping into the room. Cade gave him no more than a cursory glance before leaning his head against the high seat back once again and closing his eyes.
“Have Harvey carry in some more wood for the fire, would you, Beaks?” Cade commanded in a low tone. “And bring me another bottle of scotch. This one’s ready for the rubbish bin.”
“Aye, my lord. Oh, and ye’ve a visitor here to see ye.” With that, the old man shuffled from the room, as silently as if he had never been there at all.