I only have one hero at the moment who is a father. (The rest of them are in a pre-fatherhood state, having just found their lady loves, so we need to give them time...) One day Lord Wastrel learns, to his surprise, that he has a four-year-old little girl. He doesn't consider himself father material--he's better suited to siring a child than to raising one. Fortunately, he learns a few things along the way! But I don't want to get ahead of myself. . .
It wasn’t the night of hard drinking Hugh Longford, Lord Weyson, regretted in that particular moment. Nor was it the fact that the sun blistering his eyes meant night had slipped away without his knowledge, once again.
The cause of his agony, and the source of his sudden wish that he had lived his past few years differently, was standing in front of him, calling him "Papa".
"What the deuce?"
Hugh blinked again, and then rubbed his red-rimmed eyes, but there was no mistaking the little creature gazing up at him. Not with fear, he noticed. Her expression was more of fascination than anything else. The poor mite was probably wondering what kind of father she had—
He gazed at the child's nursemaid with unabashed hopefulness. Surely she had some other sort of explanation, something other than the one he was being asked to accept.
"My lord, Miss Marguerite told me were anythin' ever to happen to her. . ." She coughed as she struggled to regain her composure, and then extracted a letter from her coat.
Even knowing he did not want to see the contents, Hugh found himself reaching for the parchment, unfolding it with trembling hands.
She had never meant to bother him, her letter said. He had been so generous with her, especially when he had given her her congé, but she had become gravely ill recently, and had no one else with whom to entrust their child. . .
"Haselton!" Hugh sought his unflappable butler, the one who assured Weyson House always ran smoothly, despite its owner's well-known excesses.
"Yes, my lord."
Haselton gazed upon the unusual scene without the slightest bit of perturbance, even though he was as unaccustomed to young children standing in the parlor as his master was.
Hugh sighed with relief. "Well, yes, there's—her." He thrust his hand out toward the young child. "And, it says here—that is, I don't know how it could be possible, for I always took every precaution, but I suppose it is not outside the realm of possibility—apparently I—this child is—"
He ran his hand through his hair, quite undone by the morning's unexpected revelations. At this hour, he was more accustomed to stumbling into bed, and generally not his own. Though he had earned the nickname Lord Wastrel for his profligate ways, he had never anticipated dealing with a fracas of this sort.
He caught a glimpse of himself in the looking glass over the fireplace. God, he looked wretched. His hair had no semblance of the latest style, his eyes were bleary and bloodshot, his chin darkening with stubble. He was fast becoming an old reprobate, with little resemblance to the wealthy young London buck he actually was.
He growled, his lips turned up in a sneer.
"Are you the debbil?" a small voice asked.
Haselton coughed, turning his head, but Hugh saw the smile he was trying to conceal.
He also saw the little girl trying to hide her uncertainty. His heart softened. Her life had been turned upside down too. He bent down, to keep from towering over her, though it took more effort than he wanted to admit just to keep steady on his pins. The movement also made him feel a bit nauseous of a sudden.
Why not just sit down where he was?
The child giggled as Hugh plopped down onto the carpet, putting his face level with hers.
She had the most beautiful blue eyes. He remembered Marguerite, a fiery opera dancer, with those very eyes. And the child had the same dark-as-night curls that he possessed, not to mention features that clearly descended from his branch of the family tree.
"Are you the debbil?" she repeated. She put her fingers on either side of her bonnet as if they were horns, and wiggled them.
Hugh laughed, throwing back his head, wishing he hadn't when the pain sliced through his skull once more.
"Ah, no, but I sure feel like the debbil."
Since he no doubt looked like Old Nick in that moment, it was a wonder he hadn't set the poor child to crying. Obviously she was made of sterner stuff. She had gazed at him quite fearlessly, and even with a hint of compassion.
"My lord," Haselton said, "perhaps you could sort everything out with your solicitor."
Hugh knew that was the best advice, but for some reason he resisted it. He certainly didn’t want this responsibility. He wasn’t even sure he should take it on.
His misgivings were not about the child being his. No, his concern was that while he was well versed in siring a child, he hadn't the slightest notion of how to actually parent one.
Hugh groaned, dropping his head in his hands. What on earth was he to do?
He felt a light touch on his head, more tender than a wretch such as he deserved. It filled him with a strange sense of peace, one he did not want to lose anytime soon. Yet he was terrified at being the utter failure his own parents had been.
"I cannot have a child in my life right now," he blurted, with more ferocity than he had intended.
The little girl stepped back. Her bottom lip quivered, and for the first time she lost her composure. Hugh could feel a wrench in his heart, and even though he struggled against the odd emotion, he was powerless when tears started pouring from those innocent blue eyes.
His daughter. And he had been the one to finally make her cry.
The lump in his throat nearly choked him. He pulled her onto his lap, holding her protectively, resting his chin on the top of her head while she sobbed. He rocked her back and forth, comforting her, and himself, with the sounds used throughout the ages to ease unbearable heartache.
"What's your name, child?"
"Lucinda," she answered, sniffling and trying to control her tears. Her breath caught. "What's yours?"
"Lord Wast—" The hopeful expression on her face changed everything. The wretched Lord Wastrel was no more. He had a child to care for—his child. "Lucinda, your father is Hugh Longford, the fifth Earl Weyson."
"Can I call you Papa instead?"
Hugh's heart melted completely, all because of this child he had not known of until moments ago. Even so, he could not help but quake at what it meant to be a Papa. He squeezed her a little more tightly, for his own reassurance.
Still, he knew without a doubt she had proved to be his salvation. He would not permit his profligate past to mar her future. Nor would he deny her the fine things in life to which she was entitled, even if she had the misfortune of being born on the wrong side of the blanket.
He stood up with Lucinda wrapped in his arms, and strode towards the stairs.
"Now all we have to do is find you a mother. A perfect, biddable female who will raise you into a proper young lady."
The words fell on deaf ears, for there was only so much excitement a four-year-old could endure before she fell asleep, safe and comforted in her father's arms.
Hugh's head instantly filled with visions of what lay ahead of them, only this time he was not frightened. Now that he had been given this opportunity, this redemption, he couldn't wait to get started on his grand plans for their future.
"Haselton," Hugh whispered, so as not to wake Lucinda. "I have need of a wife."
"Indeed, sir," Haselton answered as calmly as if he'd been asked to deliver a tray to the nursery. "And where shall you procure one?"
"London is filled with dozens of such females. All I need do is pick someone respectable, marry her, and a perfect life for Lucinda will be set in motion. I'm sure it couldn't be any easier."
Haselton nodded, his expression grave. "One would hope so, my lord. One would hope so."