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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Coulter Catherine

«Sherbrooke Twins», Catherine Coulter

To Judy Cochran Ward-

You have a beautiful smile and a beautiful heart to match. I’m very grateful you’re in my life.




Who can refute a sneer?





James Sherbrooke, Lord Hammersmith, twenty-eight minutes older than his brother, wondered if Jason was swimming in the North Sea off the coast of Stonehaven. His brother swam like a fish, no matter if the water froze his parts or cradled him in a warm bath. He’d say while he shook himself like their hound Tulip, “Now, James, that doesn’t matter, does it? It’s rather like making love. You can be on a grainy beach with cold waves nipping your toes, or wallowing in a feather tick-in the end the pleasure’s the same.”

James had never made love on a grainy beach, but he supposed his twin was right. Jason had a way of putting things that amused you even as you nodded in agreement. Jason had inherited this gift, if that’s what it really was, from their mother, who’d once said as she’d looked lovingly at James, that she’d delivered one gift from God and now it was time to grit her teeth and deliver the other gift. This had gained her looks of sheer amazement from her sons, and, of course, nods, at which point, their father gave them both a look of acute dislike, snorted, and said, “Gifts from the Devil, more like.”

“My precious boys,” she’d say, “it’s such a pity you’re so beautiful, isn’t it? It really annoys your father.”

They’d stare at her, but again, they’d nod.

James sighed and stepped away from the cliff that overlooked the Poe Valley, a lovely stretch of undulating green, dotted with maple and lime trees and divided by ancient fences. The Poe Valley was protected on all sides by the low-lying Trelow hills; James always believed that some of those long, rounded hills were ancient barrows. He and Jason had built countless adventures about the possible inhabitants of those barrows-Jason had always liked to be the warrior who wore bearskins, painted his face blue, and ate raw meat. As for James, he was the shaman who flicked his fingers and made smoke spiral into the sky and rained flame down on the warriors.

James stepped back from the edge. He’d fallen off that cliff once because he and Jason had been fighting with swords, and Jason had flattened his sword button against James’s gullet, and James had grabbed his neck and flailed about-all drama and no style, Jason told him later. He’d lost his footing and tumbled down the hill, his brother’s yells blasting. “You stupid bloody bleater, don’t you dare kill yourself! It was only a neck wound!”

He’d been laughing even as he’d landed. Hard. But thankfully he’d survived with just a mass of bruises on his face and ribs, which made his Aunt Melissande, who’d been visiting Northcliffe Hall, shriek as she’d run her hands over his face. “Oh my dear boy, you must take care of your exquisite and perfect face, and I should know since it’s mine.” And his father, the earl, had said to the heavens, “How could such a thing have happened?”

It was true. James and Jason were the image of their glorious Aunt Melissande, not a single red hair from their mother’s head or a single dark eye from their father. All their features were from their Aunt Melissande, which made no sense to anyone. Except their size, thank God. They were both near the size of their father, and that pleased him inordinately. Their mother had actually said something to the effect that, “A boy should be almost as big as his father and almost as smart; it’s what all fathers want. Possibly mothers too.” And her boys had blinked at her and nodded.

James had heard a rumor many years before that his father had wanted to marry his Aunt Melissande, and would have, if it hadn’t been for his Uncle Tony, who’d up and stolen her. James couldn’t imagine such a thing. Not that his Uncle Tony had stolen her, but that his Aunt Melissande hadn’t preferred his father. His mother had stepped into the breach, luckily for James and Jason, who, although they found their aunt very interesting, loved their mother to their toes. Fortunately, they had the Sherbrooke brains. Their father had told them many times, “Brains are more important than your damned beautiful faces. If either of you ever forget that, I’ll pound you into the ground.”

“Ah, but their beautiful faces are extraordinarily manly,” their mother had hastened to add, and patted them both.

James was grinning at that memory when he heard a shout and turned to see Corrie Tybourne-Barrett, an annoyance who’d been in his life nearly as long as she’d been in hers, riding like a boy with more guts than brains up the slope, bringing her mare Darlene to an abrupt stop not two feet from the cliff edge and only one foot from him. To his credit, James didn’t even twitch. He looked up at her, so angry he wanted to hurl her to the ground. But he managed to say in a fairly calm voice, “That was stupid. It rained yesterday and the ground isn’t all that firm. You’re not ten years old anymore, Corrie. You must stop acting like a boy with mud between his ears. Now back up Darlene, slow and easy. If you’re not worried about killing yourself, you might want to think about your mare.”

Corrie stared down at him and said, “I admire how you can speak so calmly when smoke is coming out of your ears. You don’t fool me for one minute, James Sherbrooke.” She sneered down at him, and click-clicked her mare right into him, nearly knocking him over. He side-stepped, patted Darlene’s nose, and said, “You’re right. Smoke is coming out of my ears. Do you remember that day you wanted to prove how skilled you were and rode that half-wild stallion my father had just bought? That damned horse nearly killed me when I was trying to save you, which, fool that I was, I did.”

“I didn’t need you to save me, James. I was skilled, even at twelve.”

“I suppose you planned to have your legs wrapped around that horse’s neck, hanging on, screaming. Ah, that was a measure of your skill, wasn’t it? And don’t forget the time you told my father that I had seduced a Don’s wife at Oxford, knowing he’d be furious at me.”

“That’s not true, James. He wasn’t furious, at least not at first. He first wanted proof because he said he couldn’t imagine you being that stupid.”

“I wasn’t stupid, damn you. It took me a good two months to convince Father that it was all your doing, and you whimpered and whined that it was just a wee bit of a little joke.”

She smiled. “I even found out the name of one of the Dons’ wives to make it more believable.”

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