The Lady's Forbidden Love - Wendy Vella

Chapter 1

“Why are we walking past this place again?”

“We haven’t walked by here lately, have we?” Daniel Dillinger schooled his features to appear confused as he looked at his sister.

“How can you not remember walking by the Duck and Goose Tavern three times in the last week?” Kate looked annoyed. “It may be dark, but I am intelligent enough to be aware that this is familiar.”

Daniel made a scoffing sound as he looked at the tavern. Is she in there? “You are not intelligent, just an excellent actress. You may have others fooled as to your knowledge; I, however, am not one of them. And it’s on our way home, so I fail to see what the issue is.”

“It’s not the direct route,” she muttered, not in the least offended by his slur on her character. With eight siblings it was likely that you would be insulted twice before midday, and taking umbrage really was too much effort.

“Are you hungry, Kate? You’re usually only this grumpy when you are.”

Kate was one half of the twins in the Dillinger family. Dark-haired like him, she sometimes came to assist his clerk when he was busy. Lately he had been inundated with clients, mainly foolish noblemen who had no idea how to manage their failing finances, so he had been collecting her daily to take her with him to work. The fact she usually came with baked goods from his mother was simply an added bonus. Today they’d had treacle cake.

“It’s true I am hungry, and there is always the matter of Peter eating the majority of the food before I get a chance. Plus, tonight we are having custard pudding, and it’s my favorite.”

Daniel’s mouth watered at the prospect, but as he’d chosen to move out of his family’s home some time ago, custard pudding was not in his immediate future.

“There is plenty of food to go around now, Kate. I’m sure they will save you a sliver.” There hadn’t always been, Daniel remembered. He’d been born hungry, and his belly had been empty for many years thereafter.

She huffed out a breath, then made a small choking sound.

“What?” He looked at her, ready to hit her on the back should it be required, yet she appeared all right.

“Sssh.” She elbowed him hard enough in the ribs to make him grunt. “It’s Bernard.”

His sister had recently become engaged to Bernard Simpkin, the man walking toward them with a silly look on his face that matched Kate’s. A doctor and good man, it had to be noted, but his sister came completely undone and giggly when he was near—which was always something of a surprise to her family, as Kate rarely lost her composure.

“Oh, no, not the beauteous Bernard,” he whispered in her ear. “La, how will we cope in the face of his magnificence.” Daniel stepped out of his sister’s reach as she tried to elbow him again.

“I’m going to make you extremely sorry if you keep that up, Daniel.” The words were spoken from the side of her mouth.

“Surely not? Me, your favorite brother? What could you possibly do to me?”

She smiled slyly. “I will tell Mother you’ve not been eating and look pale and sickly.”

He had to concede that as far as threats went, that was a good one.

“Then I’ll say I think you need to come home to us, your family who misses you,” she added in a pious tone. “Home where she can monitor every mouthful you eat and woman you—”

“All right, I’ll be quiet,” Daniel said quickly.

“I thought I’d win.”

“You didn’t win.” No one got a rise out of him quicker than a sibling. “I just don’t want the bedazzling Bernard to see your true self. Then where would we be? Back to the start of our long and extensive search to secure you a husband. No, indeed, we do not want to go through that again.”

“Lord, you are annoying.” Kate was smiling now, although her teeth were gritted.

“I do my best.” Daniel smiled too.

Bernard was indeed a good man, friendly and intelligent. Both Daniel and their eldest brother, Oliver, had had him investigated. The man had not made one misstep in his life.

“Do you and Oliver research words starting with B to annoy me?”

“For my part, I have a list I carry in my pocket,” Daniel whispered. “Would you like to hear some more?”

Kate stepped sideways and stomped onto his foot.

“Bernard.” Daniel held out his hand with only a slight wince. “How are you?”

Not overly tall, Bernard only