Updated: Aug 20, 2021
It didn’t seem possible that there could be more kittens. Three wriggled in a basket, and their eyes would be shut for some days to come.
They’d each been rescued from certain death.
Lord Reeve Malliston, Third Duke of Nidderdale, would be first to admit that he knew little about cats and even less about kittens. He’d never kept them while growing up — unless they were to be mousers — and neither his mother nor his father were very interested in companion animals. Short of horses and the occasional hound, Reeve had next to no experience with an animal who was friendly.
And he did not consider Nyx, Sophie’s cat, friendly. Oh, he supposed she could be, depending on the human in question. Duckie got on with her well enough, and so did Caroline.
Reeve frowned, coming up from a crouch. He’d been looking under a chair.
Perhaps the feline just prefers women?
There was a thought, and if it were the case, he couldn’t blame the sleek beast. He wouldn’t prefer himself, if it came right down to it.
A great, lumbering creature who stomped about in boots and made too much noise.
Even his girls made little noise compared to him, and they were admirably good with Nyx. They never grabbed at her or demanded she cuddle.
These kittens, though, might be another story. Sophie was kneeling by the basket, peering at the minuscule creatures. She was only nine years of age, but her inquisitiveness was formidable. He thought they had a bluestocking in the making, which was not horrifying to him — as it might be to other fathers.
Nyx was supposed to have resided in the stable. That was what Reeve would have preferred; he would have wanted the ultimate say in the matter, too.
But as she did with other things, Caroline won. She interceded for Phoebe and Sophie, who wished for the cat to have her kittens in the manor.
It was, Sophie explained, only proper. “Nyx is part of the family,” she had said, loudly enough for him to hear.
After some familial coaxing and an afternoon of Caroline incentivizing him privately, Reeve agreed that Nyx’s bed could be shifted to the kitchen. He suspected that it was not terribly convenient for Duckie, but she did not complain and cheerfully marked out a space that suited both her and the servants. It was a tall order for a bustling part of the manor, but it was done.
He also couldn’t say no to three pairs of beseeching eyes: his wife’s, and his daughters’.
Secretly, he saw little harm in allowing Nyx to birth her brood here and wondered if he’d been too stringent. He had been needlessly strict in the past, and it was possible that he was falling into habits he’d thought he’d shed.
There was one flaw in his leniency.
Cats, apparently, liked to hide their young. He dearly hoped Nyx had not chosen anywhere too near fire. Then again, he would only suspect a man capable of such stupidity — not an animal.
Phoebe looked up at him. “Papa, do you think we will lose the other kittens?”
“No, darling, I think they were simply well-hidden. There might only be one or two more.”
Or so he prayed.
“Why would she hide them?”
Reeve had no idea, so he blustered. “Cats are simply… secretive… animals.”
That seemed logical. He was satisfied with the answer.
But Phoebe said, “How will we know how many there are?”
“I wager she had more than three,” said Sophie.
“You wager?” said Reeve. “Who taught you to say that?” She’d probably picked it up years ago, when he’d had his friends around for parties. Lord, but those memories made him grimace, now.
“Do you know who liked cats?” Phoebe said.
Bored, Sophie replied, “Cardinal Richelieu.”
“I wonder whether he let his —“
For the last hour, Reeve had relied most on his sense of sight to try to find the kittens. He could not hear their faint mewing.
He saw, in the corner of the kitchen, a little wriggle near a sack of potatoes.
Allowing the girls to chatter about His Eminence, Reeve went to the corner and retrieved a small creature who looked like it was wearing a white shirt and black coat. Nyx was stone gray and so were her other three children — this little fellow, perhaps, held a clue to the father’s identity.
Phoebe stared at it. “This one is different!” Tentatively, she brushed a gentle, small finger along black fur.
Reeve carefully deposited the kitten into the basket with its siblings.
As though summoned by Phoebe's exclamation, Nyx barreled into sight, yowling fiercely.
“Yes, madam, I have done you a great service,” Reeve said.
Caroline spoke from the doorway. “Perhaps that means she is missing no other offspring?”
“I didn’t consider that,” said Reeve. He smiled. She was probably correct. “Have you been around mother cats before?”
“No, never, but I expect that if she has been quiet this whole time… it very well might be that you’ve succeeded in your mission.”
Nyx shoved her way into the basket. For an instant, it appeared as though she might be stifling her kittens and Reeve debated intervening. But they seemed content to wiggle around her.
“Where’s Thea?” Sophie asked Caroline.
“Your darling, wicked little sister is sleeping, thank goodness.”
Reeve chuckled at her candor. Little Thea was not calm or biddable, although they all doted upon her. She’d only truly listen to Phoebe, which was as much a mystery to the now-middle child as it was to anyone else. Thea’s governess would often conspire with “young Lady Phoebe” if Thea was proving tempestuous. Invariably, Phoebe would work her magic, such as it was, and all would settle happily.
“I propose an idea,” said Reeve.
Sophie and Phoebe eyed him.
“We should retire elsewhere and allow Duckie the use of her domain.”
“But —“ Sophie started.
“If Nyx is in more distress, we will certainly hear of it. Well,” Reeve corrected himself. “You will all hear of it, and inform me, and I shall get back on my knees to see if there are any errant kittens.”
Did you know my fourth novel, Duke of Misfortune, is available now for preorder? It releases on April 28th, but I'd love it if you showed your support by preordering.
And come back next Monday for another short story!