About the book
There’s a thin line between love and hate and they set it on fire…
Lady Morgan Atwater and Lord Brandon Henderson hate each other with a passion.
Forced into a truce upon the announcement of their siblings’ betrothal to each other, Morgan makes it her life’s mission to avoid Brandon at all costs.
Heir to the Marquess of Cranston, Brandon enjoys nothing more than to ruffle the feathers of the explosive Lady Morgan. His feelings shift when a suitor appears, eager to do one thing: win Morgan’s heart.
After a riding accident that nearly claims Morgan’s life, and his mother’s suspicious case of food poisoning, Brandon vows to bring the culprit to justice. A document hidden in his father’s drawers might be a clue: these are no mere accidents and a set of foreign diamonds seems to be the cause.
Storming to her cousin’s side, Lady Morgan Atwater seized Isabel by her arm and physically hauled her from the group of young socialites with whom she had been politely conversing. Morgan’s mind clouded with fury, whirling with the murderous thoughts she wished to put into physical form, so she barely heard Isabel’s protests.
“Morgan, stop, what are you doing?”
Ignoring her, Morgan continued toward the ballroom doors, her firm grip on Isabel’s arm not slackening a whit. That was until Isabel, taller and stouter than the more diminutive Morgan, brought her up short by hauling back on her arm. “Stop, I say.”
Morgan glared at her cousin, her fury heating her cheeks into a blush she knew was visible to anyone who might glance at her. “We are leaving, Isabel.”
Isabel frowned, as a full scale scowl was not in her normally cheerful and happy demeanor, and Morgan could not remember the last time she saw her cousin angry. Annoyed, perhaps. Never angry. Still, Isabel appeared annoyed now, for her fair brows had lowered slightly and her perpetual smile looked disjointed.
“The party is far from over, Morgan,” Isabel replied, gesturing, her smile improving slightly. “To leave now would be the very height of rudeness. What is the matter, anyway?”
Now realizing she had made a complete spectacle of herself, and heads turned in her direction, Morgan felt her cheeks flush hotter. Tapping her foot on the polished tiles helped alleviate some of her pent-up fury, and she crossed her arms, but anyone with half an eye for body language knew she barely contained her rage.
“Lord Brandon,” Morgan gritted in reply.
Comprehension flooded Isabel’s porcelain cheeks, and her smile widened, not with mockery but with the true love and understanding that only a best friend could have. “Morgan.” Isabel discreetly reached out and squeezed Morgan’s wrist. “You must not let him bait you. Is this not what he wants by making his outrageous remarks? To have you lose control, make a scene, storm away from this wonderful ball?”
Drawing a deep breath, Morgan nodded. “Of course, you are right. But, Isabel, he makes me so—angry. See? I almost cursed, I am that furious.”
“Dare I ask what he said?”
Morgan viciously chewed the inside of her cheek, and knew it would leave a festering sore for days, yet she could not seem to stop. “He called me—a frog.”
Isabel blinked. “A frog?”
Morgan’s foot tapped harder. “Yes. He said the way I danced reminded him of a frog on a hot rock.”
“Oh, dear.” Isabel giggled, then halted the sound with her fingers over her lips. “Morgan, dear, do not listen to him. You dance more gracefully than anyone I know. Ignore him. You know he is trying to get a rise from you.”
“Well, it is working, is it not?”
“Come on.” Isabel led her back into the middle of the ballroom among the circulating cream of England’s aristocracy, the music, the footmen offering wine on silver trays. “To leave without saying goodbye to our hosts is not just rude, we do not need to leave anyway. Lord Brandon is down there with his friends, well away from us. Uncle and Lord Cranston have an announcement to make and we certainly cannot miss that.”
Following Isabel back to the young lords and ladies Morgan had just dragged her from, Morgan feigned a smile. “I apologize for my behavior. I simply got very angry.”
This question came from Lord James, a young man both Morgan and Isabel had known since they were children. Catching the twinkle in his blue eyes and his lack of mockery, Morgan at last laughed at her own predicament. “Yes, James, Brandon again.”
“I do not understand why you dislike him so,” James’s sister, Lady Stephanie, said with a breathy giggle. “He is so handsome.”
Morgan watched Brandon from across the room as he stood amidst his cronies, a glass of red wine in his hand, his even white teeth flashing under the candles as he laughed. Forcing herself to admit he was, indeed, one of the best-looking men she had ever seen, she let her eyes roam over him. His broad shoulders seemed to hold more muscle than a young bull, and his angular features under that wealth of jet black hair could have been chiseled from a god. Even as she stared at him, his green eyes met hers, and he toasted her silently with his glass. Turning quickly away, she replied, “Well, a pity his personality does not match his pleasant looks. Even the devil might be as handsome.”
“Bravo,” James exclaimed, laughing. “That is what I always thought.”
Lady Stephanie pouted. “He is very well connected, Morgan,” she said. “It has been rumored his father plans to leave him the diamond business.”
“He is the second son of Lord Cranston,” Morgan reminded her. “His brother will inherit the wealth and title of Marquess of Cranston.”
“But, Morgan,” Lady Stephanie went on, her eyes round. “Diamonds. With those, he may be richer than King Midas.”
James eyed his sister with disillusion. “Younger sons do not inherit businesses like that, Steph. Lord Cranston will leave the diamond importing to Lord Brandon’s brother Luke, Viscount of Addstone along with everything else.”
“That is not what I heard,” Lady Stephanie retorted with heat.
Morgan exchanged an amused glance with Isabel, who naturally laughed. “Who knows what might happen?” Isabel said, her tone light, breezy. “The Marquess can do as he wishes. It is his business, after all.”
Catching the eye of a footman, Morgan took a glass of wine from his tray, and sipped it, gazing around at the huge ball Lord Cranston had put on in his baronial manor house. Her father, the Duke of Hartington, stood with the Marquess of Cranston, his good friend, and a few other peers of the realm, talking seriously of politics, no doubt.
Her mother, Selina, the Duchess of Hartington, stood with a few wives whose husbands spoke politics together. Morgan wanted to roll her eyes at the seriousness of the discussions in those particular circles, then she caught sight of her sister, Roslyn.
Roslyn stood alone against the far wall behind a small group of gossiping matrons, her round face unhappy. Older than Morgan by only a year, she had not inherited the family good looks. Her plain face accompanied by mouse-colored hair that defied any attempt to coil it into an attractive coiffure, and her tiny blue eyes flittered here and there, never still. Their mother, the Duchess, who was famous for her attractiveness, had passed her looks to her younger daughter, bypassing her elder.
Morgan, too sensible for vanity, knew she outstripped her sister by a wide margin when it came to beauty. Prospective suitors, female friends, even that despicable Lord Brandon, all reminded her of how her red-gold locks, wide hazel eyes, dainty features, and cupid’s bow mouth all came from her famous mother while Roslyn had received nothing.
Her heart wrenching for her sister, Morgan excused herself from the group of young aristocrats, and dodged the milling people who had come from all over England, Wales, and even a few from Scotland, to attend this ball. Roslyn saw her approaching, and tried to smile, brushing her hands self-consciously down her skirts, a pale pink color that did nothing for her complexion.
“Morgan,” Roslyn said, “for a moment I thought you were leaving.”
“I was.” Standing beside her sister, Morgan gazed out over the throng and sipped her wine. “Brandon worked his way under my skin again.”
“Oh, no.” Roslyn laughed, and when she did, her face became beautiful.
Trouble is, Roslyn does not laugh nearly enough.
“You have not learned to get along with him yet?’ Roslyn asked, her smile nearly lighting the entire room.
“How can I?” Morgan complained. “He is always making these rude, nasty little comments that make me want to wring his—there, I almost cursed.”
“Might I offer some advice?”
Morgan eyed her askance. “Of course.”
“Do not let him see you get angry.” Roslyn gazed down the grand room and its mix of milling guests, toward Lord Brandon, still laughing with his cronies. “Pretend he does not exist. Ignore him. If he makes a rude comment, lift your chin, smile, and speak with someone else. That behavior will get to him as nothing else could.”
Morgan gaped. “Why did I not think of that?”
“Maybe because you are too busy being angry.”
As it was impolite to point, Roslyn unobtrusively jerked her chin toward a pair of men not far away, deeply engrossed in conversation. “Now those are true gentlemen both, and have the kindly dispositions to match.”
Following her gaze, Morgan discovered her sister had indicated Lord Addstone, the eldest son and heir of the Marquess of Cranston. With him was Alexander Wallace, the Earl of Broville. “Yes,” Morgan agreed, admiring the two men from across the room. “They are a pair of fine looking fellows.”
Lord Addstone shared the dark hair, chiseled features, and green eyes of his brother Brandon. Yet, while Brandon was as beautiful as a Greek god, Luke’s looks were harder, as though he had sprung from rock, not flesh. The Earl of Broville, on the other hand, was tall, elegant, and slender with skin as pale as a woman’s, high cheekbones, and a winning smile.
His pale gold eyes, that almost matched his dark blond hair, caught hers from across the room, and he lifted his wineglass in a toast with a sincerity that Brandon certainly lacked. Lord Addstone followed his eyes, then grinned, and offered Morgan a bow.
“If only I were as pretty as you.” Roslyn sighed.
“Stop that,” Morgan told her, her tone sharp. “Looks are not everything, as you very well know.”
“That may be true,” Roslyn replied. “Or it is supposed to be true, anyhow. But these days, looks are everything.”
“Why do you say that?” Morgan demanded. “You are the eldest daughter of a powerful Duke. You can have any husband in the realm.”
Roslyn smiled sadly. “But a husband who will love me? I think not.”
“Good looks do not ensure a loving husband, as you very well know,” Morgan gritted her teeth. “Look at Lady Sweetwater. As beautiful a woman as you can ever envy. And she married that—here I go nearly cursing again, that man who regularly beats her. Now she goes about like an old hag who cannot lift her face in public.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Roslyn admitted. “Would it not be wonderful to marry men who love us?”
Morgan sipped her wine, trying to stifle her anger. “Of course, that would be excellent. But ladies like you and I are as pawns in the great game of chess. We are forced to marry whomever our Papa deems best suited for himself.”
“Morgan!” Roslyn stared, shocked. “You take that back. Father is not like that.”
Swallowing her anger with her wine, Morgan lifted her chin, and refused. “I will apologize for shocking you, but not for my words. You know it is true, even as we know Father does love us. He will marry us to suit his political and financial needs, you mark my words. Father will do what is best for the family, not you or I.”
Lord Brandon watched with suppressed laughter as Lady Morgan sipped her wine beside her plain-faced sister, Lady Roslyn, and pretended he did not exist. She always reminded him of a cat. Moving with a feline grace that fascinated him, he never failed to picture her tail lashing when he succeeded in antagonizing her.
“Are you ever going to grow up, Brandon?” asked his close friend, Lord Jasper Kavanaugh.
Brandon eyed him with a sidelong glance. “Is there any reason I should?”
His sally was met with laughter from the five of them, all his friends from childhood and then school. Of them all, only Brett, Jasper’s younger brother, and Brandon were yet to be married. His best friend, Murphy McTavish, had married only a few months before, while the fifth of their crowd, Lewis Peachtree, was expecting his second child.
“Growing up does have its advantages,” Brett commented. “Maybe you should ask His Grace for Lady Morgan’s hand.”
Brandon’s smile faded. “Marry that viper?” he demanded. “I shall remain unattached, thank you.”
“She does have some very nice attributes, Brandon,” Murphy added. “I think you would make a very nice couple.”
“Only a fool would think that,” Brandon retorted. “I can see us now—married and a house full of thorns and prickles that tear my flesh at every turn.”
Lewis shrugged. “Someone else will snatch her up, then. I happen to like her. With anyone except you, she’s kind, polite, gracious, and every bit a lady.”
“And His Grace has no sons,” Brett continued with a grin. “She grows more attractive every day.”
“Then you propose to her, Brett,” Brandon replied dryly. “You are a second son, as she is the second born in her house. Your bloodline is suitable.”
“Do not think I will not,” Brett said, his eyes on the distant Lady Morgan. “I will have a decent income once Father sets me up in the family business.”
“It is Lady Roslyn’s husband who will end up owning everything she inherits of the unentailed Hartington properties and wealth,” Jasper said. “Lady Morgan will have an inheritance, I am certain, but nothing that comes close to that.”
Brett pursed his lips in a small moue of disgust. “I am not certain wealth and properties would be enough to marry that one.”
“Lady Roslyn is one of the kindest, gentlest of souls,” Brandon snapped, furious with his friend. “A true lady if ever there was one. Are you so narrow-minded that all you can see is her lack of beauty?”
Brett blinked at Brandon’s sudden anger. “Uh, well, I am sure she is beautiful on the inside.”
Uncomfortable throat clearings and swift glances among one another met Brett’s comment. Brandon snorted. “And you say I am the one who needs to grow up?”
“Yes, well,” Brett started to speak, but he was interrupted by the music trailing off, and the room growing quiet as the murmurs of conversation died away. Heads turned toward the front of the room where their host, Lord Cranston, and his good friend the Duke of Hartington stood, waiting for the full attention of the crowd.
Saunders lifted his voice over the babble. “Pray silence for My Lord.”
“Welcome, Your Graces, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Lord Cranston boomed, a wide smile on his angular face, his black hair lined with silver gleaming under the chandeliers. “I hope everyone is having a good time. We, His Grace and I, will not long keep you from the dancing which will begin shortly. We have an announcement to make.”
Brandon glanced at Murphy. “Did you know of this?”
“That there was an announcement coming, yes. But I do not know what it will be.”
“I do not recall that.”
Murphy leaned in close. “You were too busy provoking Lady Morgan.”
Lord Cranston, Brandon’s father, lifted his hands to quell the murmurs of anticipation. “The Duke of Hartington and I have agreed to join our families in marriage.”
Brandon stiffened, his eyes flicking from Lady Roslyn and Lady Morgan and across the room to his brother, Luke, who stared, almost transfixed, at the two men. “Am I going to like this?” he muttered under his breath.
“Shh.” Murphy sent him a warning glance.
“I announce the engagement between Luke, Viscount of Addstone, elder son of the Marquess and Marchioness of Cranston and Lady Roslyn, eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Hartington. Please come forward, Lord Addstone and Lady Roslyn.”
As Brandon was watching Luke’s face when their father made the announcement, he saw a rapid flash, there and gone, an expression of anger cross it before Luke grinned widely. Turning his head, he saw Lady Morgan beaming at her sister, happy, while Lady Roslyn’s pale features turned pink.
Lady Roslyn brushed her hands down her skirts as she walked among the people who congratulated her as she passed through them to reach her father and Lord Cranston. Luke shook hands as he ambled through the throng who wished him well and a happy marriage.
“I expect I should have seen that coming,” Brandon commented as the newly betrothed pair stood with the Marquess and the Duke to receive the accolades from the well-wishers.
“Makes perfect sense to me,” Jasper admitted. He glanced slyly at Brandon. “Which leaves you with the prickle bush.”
“Silence, lout. My father and the Duke have their connection now, which leaves me free to choose my own bride.”
“Being the second son can have certain advantages,” Brett commented.
Murphy leaned close to Brandon. “Your brother looks less than happy.”
He was right. Though Luke smiled and waved, his wife-to-be beside him and blushing crimson, Brandon observed the stiffness in Luke’s carriage, the slight tightness in his eyes. “I do not know why,” Brandon replied, his tone soft. “He is to marry the most eligible heiress in the kingdom.”
“You know how your brother is. He wants nothing less than everything.”
Brandon eyed him askance. “With this marriage, he will have it.”
Murphy pursed his lips, and shook his head slightly, but said nothing more. At Lord Cranston’s gesture, the music started up again, guests ambled to the sides of the ballroom to clear the way for dancing. Luke led Lady Roslyn onto the floor to dance as other couples joined them. Brandon observed Lady Morgan smiling up at the Earl of Broville, who no doubt had asked her to dance.
Brandon accepted a fresh glass of wine from a servant as Jasper found his lady to dance with, and Brett melted into the crowd to find his own partner. Lewis excused himself to go to the buffet table for food while Murphy continued to stand beside Brandon.
“Lady Stephanie is eyeing you,” he muttered in Brandon’s ear. “Perhaps she is hoping you will invite her to dance.”
Sipping his wine, Brandon shook his head slightly. “I am not especially keen on dancing this night. And not with her.”
“You do not find her attractive?”
“Oh, I suppose she is pretty enough,” Brandon admitted. “But trying to have a conversation with her is akin to speaking to a potted plant.”
Murphy laughed. “I fear I agree with you there. I do enjoy a spirited dialog with a lady who has some wit. Which is why I married Elanor.”
“You have the perfect combination, my friend. Beauty and brains.”
“I know it.”
As Lady Stephanie found a dance partner in a young lord, Brandon drank his wine and moodily watched Lady Morgan smile up at the handsome Broville as he spun her around on the floor. He was forced to admit they made a very attractive couple, and by reputation, the Earl had zero flaws. Wealthy, handsome, the perfect gentleman, Alexander would make Lady Morgan an ideal husband.
Despite knowing he was doing it, though not why, Brandon drank heavily of the wine and champagne through the rest of the evening. Murphy, far more circumspect, watched him closely. “Is that a good idea?” he asked. “You are going to make a proper fool of yourself.”
Brandon blinked at him owlishly. “Eh?”
Murphy shook his head, but before he spoke, Lady Morgan and a few of her friends strolled past, talking happily about the upcoming nuptials of her sister and his brother. Brandon brightened. “Look here, Murphy,” he said, his voice louder than he had planned, and heads swiveled in his direction. “That thorny creature could not catch a husband with both hands and a net.”
Lady Morgan and her friends halted, their mouths opened in shock, as were the guests close enough to hear his insult. Murphy hissed through his teeth, and only then, in the midst of his laughter, did Brandon realize how truly terrible his words were. His laughter died, and he flushed to the roots of his hair. Remorse seized his heart, but no apology reached his lips as he stared through narrowed eyes at Lady Morgan.
Her chin lifted. Turning her back on him, she murmured something he could not catch to her friends, who all chuckled, throwing amused glances toward him. Then Lady Morgan walked away, her cronies in tow, without a word. Brandon blinked, and then stared at Murphy.
“Did you see that?” he exclaimed. “She snubbed me.”
“I do not blame her.” Murphy gestured toward the door. “Now that you have indeed made the spectacle of yourself I predicted, I think it is high time you went to your rooms to sleep it off.”
“I am not ready to leave.”
“Yes, you are.”
Mildly shocked at his brother’s blatant insult of Lady Morgan, Luke still admired how well she handled it by simply turning to walk away. Discreetly watching Murphy hustle Brandon out before he did or said something else scandalous, Luke grinned to himself. “What a woman,” he murmured, following Lady Morgan as she and her cousin, Miss Isabel, departed the ballroom.
“Excuse me,” he said, hurrying slightly to catch up to them. “Lady Morgan, Miss Isabel.”
Both turned to gaze at him inquiringly, dipping into polite curtsies as he approached. “I feel I must apologize for my brother’s behavior,” he said.
Lady Morgan exchanged a quick glance with her cousin, then offered him a tight smile. “Thank you, but I believe it should be your brother apologizing, not you, My Lord.”
“Perhaps,” he admitted, admiring her stunning features, her brilliant hazel eyes, hardly able to take his eyes from her wealth of unusual red-gold hair. “But I am a gentleman and he clearly is not.”
“May I offer my congratulations on your betrothal to Roslyn?” Lady Morgan asked. “A union of our families will be quite beneficial to both.”
“Thank you,” Luke replied with a slight bow. “Of course it will.”
“If you will excuse us,” Lady Morgan said, turning away. “Isabel and I are retiring for the evening.”
“Might I escort you to your rooms?”
Lady Morgan lifted her brow, then glanced toward the ballroom where her sister stood with the Duke and Duchess of Hartington and his own parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Cranston. “I do not believe that would be appropriate, My Lord,” she replied. “Good night.”
Luke watched them go, their heads bent together as they no doubt whispered gossip about him, as well as Brandon, who had vanished with Murphy. Finding Lady Roslyn’s small eyes fastened on his from across the grand hall, he gave her a tiny bow and watched her smile. I should dance attendance upon her, as she is now my fiancé. He certainly did not want to. The young lady might very well be the catch of a lifetime, but her plain round face, mousy hair, and tiny pig eyes were abhorrent to him. She was not even blessed with an attractive figure to offset her somewhat ugly face, and was rounded in places a lady should not be.
“Why did you pick her, Father?” he muttered, turning away to wander toward the drawing room and the brandy and port within.
“I say,” said a voice, forcing Luke to turn. The Earl of Broville caught up to him, smiling in a friendly fashion. “I was hopeful I might speak with you, Lord Addstone.”
Luke bowed. “I was headed to the drawing room for port if you would care to join me, Lord Broville.”
“I would indeed.”
The drawing room stood empty save the footmen on duty, and a blazing fire roared on the hearth to drive the winter chill away. Luke invited Broville to sit in an armchair near the blaze, and gestured for the servants to pour their drinks.
“While I understand your father and His Grace are close friends,” Broville began, “I am wondering how well you know Lady Morgan.”
Sinking back into his own chair, Luke studied him. “Yes, our fathers are indeed good friends, and my brother and I grew up with the Atwater sisters.”
Broville nodded briefly. “So you say you know her well?”
“I suppose that could be agreed upon,” Luke replied slowly. “Lady Morgan is a true treasure, perfect in almost every way.”
Luke chuckled. “Lady Morgan has a fierce temper, and she has opinions she does not fear sharing. Lately, however, she has ceased airing them among the ton, and no longer scandalizes as much as she used to when she was younger.”
Broville sipped his port, gazing into the hearth. “I seem to recall hearing rumors of her outspokenness. I confess that does not trouble me much, and I hope to get to know her better.”
Swallowing his drink, Luke asked, “You are interested in courting her?”
“Oh, yes,” Broville replied fervently. “I think she is an amazing young lady.”
“Then why are you talking to me, Broville?” Luke asked, annoyed. “You should speak to Lady Morgan.”
Broville flushed. “Well, as you are now betrothed, you are no longer competition, so to speak. I wished to hear about her from someone who knows her, yet has no claim on her affections.”
“I could not help but observe your brother seems to have an animosity toward Lady Morgan, and she returns it equally,” Broville commented, lifting his glass to squint at the color of the port.
Luke chuckled. “That has been the norm since we were all quite young. They hate each other, and constantly spar like feast day mastiffs. I cannot remember how many times they were forcibly dragged from one another before one or both lost an eye.”
“Ah, so my field of competition has narrowed considerably,” Broville remarked, then took a drink of his port. His pale amber eyes studied Luke, his lips smiled faintly, while Luke wondered what else the man might be after. “I so dislike competing for a lady’s affections.”
“I fear you might be forced to,” Luke told him. “Lady Morgan is quite popular among the many heirs and young lords of our polite society. Her beauty and status, despite being the second child of His Grace, means any man would fight to have her as his wife.”
“Ah, I suppose that is quite true. She is an incredibly lovely lady.”
Luke sipped his wine as the two fell silent, staring into the fire and half listened to the wind howl around the windows. “Might you be willing to put a rumor I heard to rest?” Broville asked, not glancing at Luke.
“If I can.”
“People whisper that your illustrious father will pass his diamond import business to your brother, not to you.”
Luke stiffened, anger growing within him. Not permitting his emotions to be either seen on his face or heard in his voice, he forced calm reasonableness into his reply. “It is true that Brandon has a very keen business mind,” he said slowly. “My father turned that portion over to my brother to run, as under Brandon’s care the import business has more than tripled its profits. But whether or not he inherits it is still up to my father.”
“I see. I made the inquiry as I am entertaining the notion of perhaps opening a venture of my own that your father, or in this case, your brother, may be interested in.”
“Then, of course, you should speak to him. I will be happy to make introductions if you would like.”
“That would be enormously kind of you.”
Dressed impeccably for breakfast, Luke left his private chambers to walk down the stairs. Several guests from the ball the evening before also headed down to the great dining room, and Luke, as the host’s eldest son, greeted them with cordial compliments. As the guests flowed like a river into breakfast, he found his father standing just outside, smiling as he received them, often shaking hands.
Catching his eye, Lord Cranston jerked his chin toward the side, indicating Luke was to wait for him. Slightly confused by this, Luke obeyed and stood to one side as guests continued to stream into the vast dining hall. When Brandon, his green eyes bloodshot from his heavy drinking the night before, arrived, he, too, was told by their father to stand and wait.
“What is going on?” Brandon asked in a low voice, glancing from their father to Luke. “Are we in trouble?”
Luke eyed him sourly. “I know I am not. You, however, might be after your little display last night.”
Brandon grimaced. “I suppose I did get carried away.”
“Carried away? Lady Morgan is a guest under our roof, dear brother, and you offered her insult. A rather nasty one at that.”
“Will you apologize?”
Brandon glanced aside and did not reply. “I did not think so,” Luke went on with a deep breath.
At last their father turned to them, and ushered them further away from the door where guests were seated at the table according to rank. Lord Cranston’s light green eyes surveyed them both, and Luke observed Brandon stiffen as though prepared to receive a reprimand.
“I wanted to speak to you privately for a moment,” Rupert, Lord Cranston said, glancing between them. “Word is getting around that I may be stating in my will that Brandon inherits the diamond import business.”
Luke nodded. “I had heard that, yes.”
“It is true, Luke.”
Appalled, Luke prevented the shock from showing through his expression, and had no idea what to say. He dared not look at Brandon, and instead gazed steadily back at his father. “As you are marrying Hartington’s daughter,” Lord Cranston continued, his level gaze on Luke’s face, “you will have more than you need in wealth and properties. I wish Brandon to have something after I pass, and I believe he has earned it justly. He has worked hard for it, and will soon make a name for himself in the import and export business.”
“But, Father,” Luke protested, “as the eldest son, it is my right to inherit everything, including the business.”
“He is right,” Brandon added, surprising Luke with his support. “I can work for Luke just as I work for you.”
Lord Cranston shook his head, frowning, his eyes snapping with irritation. “I will not argue with either of you,” he declared. “Brandon will have the import business for his own, just as you, Luke, will still have wealth and the revenue from the estates.”
His eyes bored into Brandon’s. “And if I hear of how you insulted a guest under our roof again, young man, you will receive a punishment not unlike one you would have gotten as a child. Am I understood?”
Brandon bowed. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Now let us go in for breakfast.”
As he and Brandon followed their father into the vast dining room and the muted roar of the guests seated around the mahogany table, footmen industriously serving tea, Luke unsuccessfully tried to subdue the anger his father’s pronouncement caused him.
I am the eldest. It is my right, under the law, to inherit everything. Everything.
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