Authors: Kathryn Caskie
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
“I know nothing of the sort.” Mary shook the letter at her sister. “What I do know is that by being thrifty with wages, I was able to engage a butler and a cook, and I have just placed a notice in
Bell’s Weekly Messenger
for a maid. So unless you would rather handle the cooking, shopping, and emptying of the chamber pots for the duration of our stay in
, you would do well not to mention
minor shortcomings again!”
“Minor shortcomings? The butler and our cook are completely unsuitable. This house would have been far better served if you had kept Aunt Prudence’s existing staff.”
“Please stop, Anne. We’ve had this discussion too many times. The old staff took complete advantage of Aunt Prudence’s age and poor memory. They were robbing her blind, and you well know it.”
turned then, caught Mary’s arm, and guided the letter before her eyes. “Come now, tell us who it is from.”
Mary swallowed deeply, then, her composure regained, broke the crimson wax wafer and opened the letter. She scanned the heavily inked words quickly, then stared for a clutch of seconds as the name of the sender met her eyes.
“Oh my heavens.” The letter slipped through Mary’s fingers to the bare wooden floor.
“Please do not make us wait any longer, Mary—may I read it?” When Mary didn’t answer but simply stared down at it on the floor,
snatched the letter up and began to read. When she finished, she backed stiffly to her chair and collapsed into it.
Anne’s mouth fell open. “Will one of you please reveal the contents of the letter? My patience with your drama is growing ever thin. Who is the letter from?”
turned her gaze to Mary. “We must go to him, Mary, we must!”
Mary huffed at that. “Are you mad? Pay a call to a gentleman we do not know? A man we haven’t heard from
“He claims to be an old acquaintance of Papa’s. I see no reason he would make such a claim if he were not.”
When Mary shook her head,
then reached across the small tea table and took Anne’s hand into her own. She peered into Anne’s gold-flecked eyes until she nodded.
“Yes, I’ll go, Lizzie.”
turned her gaze to Mary. “We all
“Aunt Prudence must be informed of your plan,” Mary noted. Of course, even if she told their dear great-aunt that her sisters were off to call upon a gentleman, their supposed guardian, she wouldn’t remember within an hour’s time. But that wasn’t why she’d mentioned it. She was hoping to appeal to Anne’s great sense of propriety.
Only her ploy did not work.
“Aunt Prudence is napping,” Anne replied matter-of-factly. “I shouldn’t wish to wake her.”
rose and raced from the room. She returned with the shiny brass key extracted from the document box’s keyhole. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement.
“According to this letter,” she told them, “this key has a dual purpose—one that may assist us in our quest.”
Mary raised her eyebrows. “How does this gentleman know of our ‘quest,’ I ask you?”
“He was a friend of Papa’s.” Anne’s eyes glittered with excitement. “He may know all about our true parents.”
“I think you both suppose too much.” Mary sighed as she walked over to
and pulled the key from her fingers. “You both actually believe that this simple brass twist of metal may in actuality be... the key to the mystery of our births.”
’s eyes locked, then in an instant, they shot out of the library. The thunder of boots echoed down the passageway floor.
“Mary, do come. We must away—this instant!”
“This is naught but a lark, I tell you—though I
come along, only so I can be there to remind you that I told you so.” Resignedly, Mary turned and started for the passageway.
When she neared the door, her excited sisters flung a woolen shawl around her shoulders and shoved a straw bonnet down upon her head.
“But I will not waste good coin on a hackney for this useless sojourn.” Mary gave her head a hard nod to emphasize her point. “
Anne opened the front door and stared up at the heavy gray clouds above. “But Mary, it is about to rain.”
Mary turned a concerned gaze to the skies. “Oh dear. That
make a difference. Wait just a few moments for me, please.” Turning, she hurried back inside the house.
Anne and Elizabeth stood in stunned silence for several seconds.
Finally, Anne turned to her sister. “Good heavens. Our frugal Mary is actually going to spend a coin to hire a hackney. Why, I can’t believe it.”
“Nor can I, so let us find a hackney cab before she changes her mind.” At once,
rushed into the street and waved her hand madly, finally catching the notice of a hackney driver who stood puffing on his pipe at the corner of the square and
, we are in
!” Anne rushed into the square and dragged her sister back to the steps. “Your hoydenish ways must end. We are ladies, no longer coarse country misses. Remember that.”
When Mary came back out the door, she was dismayed to find her sisters about to board a hackney.
“No, no! I do apologize, my dear sir,” Mary called out to the driver. “But my sisters shan’t require your services after all.”
Anne and Elizabeth jerked their heads around and stared at Mary, their mouths fully agape.
Mary smiled pleasantly and handed each of her sisters an umbrella. “Since we’re walking, we’ll most certainly need
he scent of coming rain permeated the damp air as Rogan
, the Duke of Blackstone, and his brother, Quinn, the newly belted Viscount
, reined their gleaming bays down
A single chill droplet struck Rogan’s cheek, and he turned his eyes upward to the darkening sky.
The clouds were black and heavy with moisture. They were bloody insane to venture even a few short miles from Marylebone—for the sake of a woman.
But the lady in question, according to Quinn, who was set on making her acquaintance, visited the park every Tuesday at this hour. And who was Rogan to dash his brother’s hopes of meeting her?
“Good God, Rogan—
!” Without warning, Quinn unsteadily rose up in his stirrups, reached out, and caught Rogan’s right rein. He yanked back hard, driving Rogan’s horse straight into his own, stopping the beast’s forward progression.
Rogan’s heart lurched in his chest. “Bloody hell, Quinn! If you were trying to unseat me, you very nearly succeeded.”
Quinn cleared his throat. He removed his hat and tipped his head forward, turning Rogan’s attention to the trio of wide-eyed, stunned misses.
They must have crossed from
The tallest of the three women glared up at Rogan from beneath the faded silk brim of a most ridiculous beribboned hat. Her amber eyes flashed angrily.
For the briefest moment, her mouth twisted, then opened, as if to give him a suitable dressing down. Then her expression suddenly changed—to one of distress. Abruptly, she looked away.
Rogan was about to call out to her when she caught up the gloved hand of the copper-haired beauty closest to her and guided her small party quickly from the center of Oxford Street down the
in the direction the two men had come from.
“Where was your mind? You might have trampled them.” Quinn turned in his saddle and watched the three women make their way through the bustling crowds and down the street.
“They obviously walked straight into the road without paying any attention to oncoming horses. Even had my horse trod upon one of them, I daresay the fault would not have been solely my own.” Rogan turned his skittish mount in a circle and joined Quinn in gazing upon the women’s retreat. “Did you see the way the tall one looked at me? Like she bloody well thought I had the pox, or worse.”
“No, I did not notice. I was far too occupied with stilling your damned horse.”
Rogan tightened his reins and stood in the stirrups for a better look as the young women stalked past the shops lining
Quinn exhaled. “No doubt. I know you have adopted a respectable mode of living since assuming Father’s title, but after years of roguish adventure, it is not inconceivable that you somehow wronged the woman in the past.”
Rogan huffed at that. “Not that one. Oh, she’s comely enough to be sure, but did you see her clothing—and good God—that hat? Straight from the country with nary two shillings in her palm, I’d say.”
Quinn grunted at the comment but didn’t reply. He nudged his horse and started again toward
“Come now, you cannot seriously wish to continue on,” Rogan called out, but his brother did not stop. “Look at the sky.”
Quinn settled his beaver hat and pushed it lower upon his head. “You can come along, or return to the house, Rogan, but I will continue on. She
be there, I know it, and this time, we will meet.”
Rogan shook his head and turned his mount around. He drove his heels into his horse and drew alongside his brother a moment later. “So, this woman you seek in the park... you think she is the future
“I do not know. We have not properly met. But she may be.”
“Why the race to the altar? You’re certainly not a wrinkled maid withering on the vine. You’re a hero, awarded a grand title for your valor. You’re handsome, young, and moneyed. You have everything to live for—and yet you wish for shackles?”
Quinn’s expression grew solemn. He jerked his horse to a halt and did not speak until Rogan did the same. “I wish it because I do not want to wait to be happy, to have the life I desire. At
, I learned how position and rank can suddenly mean nothing. How I could clink glasses with a friend one night, then dig his grave the next.”
Quinn gave a long sigh as he lifted his lame right leg and withdrew his foot from the stirrup, allowing the leg to hang limp. “If war taught me anything, it was that life is to be lived, Rogan. And for me, that means a wife and children. And I don’t intend to put it off any longer.”
Rogan nodded resignedly. How could he argue with that logic? His younger brother had seen more death during his years on the
than he himself would in a lifetime. He didn’t begrudge Quinn the idyllic life he dreamed of. Lord knows, after all Quinn had endured on the
, he deserved it.
Only the blissful married life he sought didn’t really exist, no matter what Quinn believed.
But that was a discussion for another day.
Rogan straightened his back and smiled. “Well then, Quinn, we shall find your lady—as long as we get back to
Quinn hooked his hand beneath his knee and
his boot back securely into the stirrup. A mischievous smile curved the edges of his lips. “We best make haste then.” He leaned low over his mount’s neck and brought down his heels hard. “I’ll see you at the gate, old man.”
Rogan chuckled, then drove his steed hard toward Cumberland Gate. How pleasingly diverting it was that Quinn, injured as he was, actually thought he could reach the park before he would.
The wind rose up as Rogan spurred his horse down
He had a race to win.
A damp breeze raked through his thick hair, and his coattails rode the wind behind him.