In less than ten minutes, Cameron and Alex were in and out of the mercantile and in front of the public baths.
Alex twisted away. “I ain’t goin’ in there to get buggered by some lusty sailor who can’t wait to be slidin’ his wiggle worm into some doxy.”
Cameron halted, his neck hairs bristling. “Is that why you refused a bath aboard ship?”
A slow turn of Alex’s head away from Cameron’s eyes, and he let go a soft, “Oui.”
By now, Cameron had moved beyond hunger and frustration, and was fast working his way into full-blown anger. “Then it’s to my home we’ll go, but if you so much as slip a candlestick inside one of your pockets, I’ll have your head on a platter.”
“Don’t call me that!” Hell, the boy could belong to his cousin, Trevor. No, those were definitely Cameron’s eyes. But still, the idea was preposterous. “How old did you say you were?”
Alex shrugged. “Didn’t.”
“Well, do so, now,” he roared.
Alex only grinned. “I’ll be needin’ dat bath first, don’cha know.”
Bates, a miner-turned-butler, met Cameron at the door to his California Hill mansion. Cameron shoved the paperwrapped clothing at him. “See to it Alex here gets a decent bath, and have Cook fix a couple of plates.”
“Jambalaya would suit,” Alex piped in. “But I ain’t takin’ no bath with your man here tinkin’ to scrub me clean an’ bugger me at the same time.”
The butler’s cheeks flushed, but he made no comment. Cameron fought a grin. That must have curled the old boy’s toes. “There’s no jambalaya to be had in San Francisco, and you can bloody well take a bath alone, but I’ll be checking your pockets when you come down, you hear?”
“Oui,” Alex said, and jauntily climbed the stairs behind Bates. “You got yerself a peculiar accent, Papa. Sometimes you sound like a right good Frenchman out of Nawlins oughta, but other times you sound like a proper Englishman. Just saying so you know I pays attention.”
“Christ.” Cameron turned on his heel and made his way into the library, where he dropped onto the sofa with an exaggerated exhale. How the devil could a predicament like this have popped up out of nowhere? And now of all times, when he was about to embark on an endless journey to nowhere.
A Cajun bastard? Not likely. Cameron had been just seventeen when he left New Orleans. He and Trevor had been hell-raisers, which was why Cameron had ended up in a private school in England and later at Cambridge, but the last thing he could’ve done was leave a child behind. An hour later, when Alex failed to appear, Cameron went looking for him in the guest quarters. He gave a quick rap on the door.
“Entre, Papa. I be all cleaned up and dressed in my new clothes, now.”
“Haughty little fool,” Cameron mumbled, and helped himself inside.
And nearly fell over.