About the book
Two broken hearts, an old, rusted pendant, and an order hidden in memory...
After the tragic death of the man she loved one week before their wedding, Marian Ocallaghan cannot stand the thought of staying in Dublin an hour longer. And her chance to escape her painful memories comes in the form of a governess position in London.
Amongst the Ton, Erick Sullivan, Marquess of Wheelerhill, is more famous for his sad story than his prestigious title. Left alone after his late wife's death during childbirth, he has ostracised himself from society to care for his daughter. Until the new governess sets foot in the manor, that is.
Healing broken hearts takes time, but Marian and Erick find solace in each other as love blooms again and happiness illuminates their lives. But the announcement of their wedding brings about unexpected consequences: a man determined to walk Marian down the aisle. An aisle leading to a tombstone.
Winnifred Keating sat on a balcony of Drayton Manor and looked out over the garden below. Her novel, a gothic romance by Ann Radcliff, the author she adored above all others, lay beside her. She swiped a strand of her long black hair out of her face and tucked it behind her ear while watching Bell, her black and white cat, tend to her four kittens.
She was about to engross herself in the book when a loud bark sounded. A black pug raced out of the house and toward the cats. Winnie jumped up and leaned over the railing.
“Victoria, watch your dog!” She shouted as the dog charged for the cat and her kittens. Bell’s back rounded, and she hissed at the dog, who shrank back but did not retreat. Winnie slammed her fist on the wrought iron railing and spun around. She dashed through the library, down the hall, and jumped down the last two steps of their grand staircase before turning. She was almost out of the back door when she spotted her sister.
“Victoria, wake up.” Her sister sat in the armchair by the fire, a blanket over her small body, and gently snored. Her pale-pink muslin gown peeked out from under the blanket and her shoes, black half-boots, lay piled beneath the chair. Her pug’s pillow was by her feet, but of course, the dog was not there.
Vicky didn’t stir.
Her sister was a very accomplished young lady, gifted in music. She possessed the ability to play four instruments. She also spoke Latin, French, and Greek, while Winnie struggled to learn French. And yet, despite all of her talents, waking up with ease was not among them.
Winnie dismissed her sister and rushed outside. The hissing continued, and she charged out and snatched Pugsley, who yelped in her arms, away from the cat. Bell’s back was rounded, and her tail twitched, signs of her anger. Pugsley, meanwhile, barked incessantly.
“Bad, bad dog. Bad!”
“What are you doing with my dog?” Victoria’s voice sounded, still drunk on sleep. “Put him down.”
“No, I’m not putting him down. He charged at my cats. Control your dog.” She thrust the dog into her sister’s arms, who immediately cuddled and cooed at him as though he were a baby. Winnie rolled her eyes and turned her attention to her animals. Bell and the kittens retreated to the little wooden house their father made years ago when the family first took in stray cats.
Dubious about the idea of having a cat house, Winnie was more than amazed that several of their pregnant cats had used it. Looking at it always reminded her of her father and the many hours he spent putting it together. It always caused her a peculiar mix of sensations, part sorrow at her father’s passing, part joy at seeing a part of him still with them.
“Why was your dog out here?” Winnie glared at her sister, her green eyes narrowed. Victoria blinked as if she’d slapped her but would not meet her eyes. Instead, she pressed the dog against herself with one arm while using the other to fiddle with her auburn-colored hair, which hung loose into her face.
“I do not know, Winnifred. Someone must have let him out. You know I do not let him go outside by himself; it is not safe for him.”
“Nor for Bell and the kittens.”
Victoria’s blue eyes flashed with rage.
“Maybe you should not be taking in stray cats from the road. You are getting a reputation as an old maid with an obsession for cats.”
Winnie gasped. That was a low, heartless comment even for her sister. At six-and-twenty, Winnifred approached the age where society considered one a spinster. She didn’t wish to think about this circumstance. It wasn’t pleasant, and besides, it was not her fault she was without a husband at this age.
“It is not as though I chose to forgo Season after Season all of these years. Someone had to remain at home and—”
“Do not blame me for your decisions, Winnie. It is not right. I had my coming out ball three years ago now, and you could have taken the opportunity to go to balls with me or go to Almack’s, but you never do.”
“That isn’t true. I went to Almack’s just last week,” she fired back.
Winnie did not care much for the London social scene. Her parents’ sudden death in a carriage accident seven years before sent Winnie into a spiral of melancholy. Instead of spending time preparing for her coming-out ball and frolicking with her friends in the local parks or the Royal Menagerie, Winnie dwelled on her sudden status as orphan and surrogate mother to her younger sister, with whom she’d never been close.
Circumstances prevented her from having a coming-out ball until she was almost one-and-twenty, old for such an event. She despised it when her sister reminded her of these circumstances. Winnie had hoped to have a husband by now. Not just any husband… An image appeared before her, and she almost broke into a smile when her sister’s dramatic sigh drew her back to reality.
“One night at Almack’s does not make a future bride, Winnie.”
She tilted her head to one side and blinked.
“It is not as though anyone has made an offer of marriage for you yet, either. It seems all of your accomplishments and visits to balls haven’t yielded any better results.”
Victoria’s nostrils flared at this, and she stepped toward Winnie, who chuckled.
“Will you sic your dog on me, Vicky? Or perhaps you wish to plant a facer on me?”
The sisters glared at one another, and while outwardly Winnie knew she appeared harsh and unkind, inside, she despised these confrontations with her sister. They were so unlike each other in both character and appearance. There never was any common ground to be found, and they inevitably traded insults—that’s when there was any communication at all.
“By Jove, what are the two of you doing?” A deep, raspy voice sounded out from the house. Both girls’ heads turned, and the change in the atmosphere was almost palpable.
“Leo,” Vicky’s tone changed entirely as she addressed her brother. Gone were the anger and irritability, and in their place was a genuine sweetness and delight at seeing their brother. Winnie understood, of course, she loved Leo, their elder brother and guardian, just as much. Or dare she even think it, more than her sister? She and Leo were closer in age than she and Victoria, but that was not why. They were alike, two peas in a pod, their mother used to call them.
Where Leo went, Winnie wasn’t far. This was true when they were children, and it was still true to this day.
Vicky placed her thin red lips on their brother’s cheek, and he responded in kind before planting a kiss on Winnie’s forehead. She looked at her brother, who towered over her, and sighed.
“Vicky let Pugsley out, and he chased the kittens.”
Leo turned his head as a frown appeared on his forehead. “Vicky, I told you to keep control of the dog.”
“I did,” she replied with some impertinence in her voice. “He must have escaped when I took a rest in the drawing room.”
“Perhaps if you did not stay out half of the night, you would not need to take such a deep rest in the drawing room in the middle of the day,” Winnie said.
“Winnie,” Leo drew her name out in the same way he always did if he thought she was getting out of line. Which, of course, she was. She had little patience for her sister.
Why must she vex me so? Why is it that me and Vicky cannot be more like Leo and me? How much easier would our life have been after Mother and Father died if only she could have been more amenable, more personable, and less brash?
“Must the two of you quarrel with such ferocity? It is as though you were two children, not grown ladies of high birth.”
Vicky shrugged. “I am not the one who started this quarrel. You perhaps ought to converse with our sister if you think such disagreements are not ladylike, for it is she who starts them time and again.”
She shrugged and did not even look at Winnie before marching back into the house. When she was gone, and the large French door closed behind her, Leo looked at Winnie.
Faith, her brother knew precisely that nothing soothed her quicker than the use of the old childhood pet name only he used for her.
“I do not understand why she is so peculiar. Sometimes I wonder if she is really our sister or if the nursemaid accidentally brought the wrong baby home from a walk in Hyde Park one day.”
Leo’s chestnut-colored eyes flashed. “Do not speak so unkindly of Vicky. She is not like you and me, but she is still our sister, and I know you love her as much as I do.”
“I suppose. I wish we could be closer, Victoria and I. And yet, we hardly speak even though we live in the same house and share the same name, the same table, the same fate. I hoped we would grow closer after Papa and Mama died, but it seems the opposite has been true. I cannot help it. We have different personalities. The best we can do is to be kind to one another.”
Leo wrapped an arm around her. Winnie, almost a head shorter than her brother, leaned against his shoulder.
“Soon either you or she will marry, and everything will change.”
Winnie sighed deeply as they sat on a bench under a mighty oak tree. They were fortunate to have as large a home as they did. Their father had been a Baron, and upon his death, Leo succeeded him as Baron Drayton. As far as the peerage went, Barons were the lowest ranking by far, and few had the good fortune to own a home as magnificent as theirs. While most wealthy Londoners lived in townhouses, theirs was a mansion in its own right. Of course, it was also their only home since they didn’t own a country estate like most peers did.
Their fortune did not come from lands or mines or even plantations overseas. Theirs came from the sugar-spice trades, and thanks to their father’s investments and her brother’s skill, they were wealthier than even some Earls.
“Perhaps it will be you who marries first. While Victoria enjoys the social circle, she does not appear inclined to court, or if she is, she has not shared it with either of us. And I…”
“You,” her brother said as he stretched his long legs out before him, his arms crossed behind his head, “you are madly in love with Seth and have always been.”
“It is the truth. Have you not smelled of April and May since the very beginning of time? Or at least since that first night you set your eyes on Seth Dunn? Have you not dreamt of becoming the Duchess of Cambarton since you were but a young lady just out?”
She colored up and averted her eyes. Even in front of her brother, Winnifred couldn’t allow her feelings for her brother’s friend and business partner to show. Alas, Leo always read her like an open book, and there was nothing she could do about it.
“He is a charming man, even I must confess that. Whenever the two of us go anywhere together, he draws all the attention. Remarkable, given how mawkish and moody he can be. Seth is the one who is sought after and admired. I do not envy him. ‘pon my honor, I do not wish to have his responsibilities. It’s no wonder he is sometimes so sullen.”
Winnifred shook her head. She couldn’t imagine what it was like to be a Duke and become one at such a young age. Seth had succeeded his father to the title the year before her parents passed away, and she remembered the sorrow in his eyes, the weight that rested upon his shoulders and didn’t seem to lift for years. It was then, during those years they each struggled with their sorrows, that a spark awoke in her heart for him, and it had grown into a roaring fire over the years that nothing, not even time, could extinguish.
“It must be difficult for him, I agree.” Her thoughts wandered to the brooding young man who was never far from her mind. It was odd, while he and her brother were close, both as business partners and as friends, she never found occasion to be alone with him. Even in company, they did not converse much. He was in many ways an enigma, a mysterious man who existed in the same realm as her, and yet an invisible veil kept them apart.
She spoke to him on occasion, always in company, of course. He was charming when he wanted to be, witty and intelligent. However, their interaction was always superficial. It was no wonder. She was, after all, nothing to him but the sister of his friend. And he was a Duke. Despite their connection by way of Leo, they were as far apart within their class as any two members of the nobility could be. One day, she knew, he’d marry the daughter of a fellow Duke or a Marquess at least. He’d never have eyes for someone who was the mere sister of a Baron.
“He told me he saw you at Almack’s a fortnight ago,” Leo’s voice penetrated her thoughts. Her eyebrows rose as she examined her brother’s visage.
“He did? I didn’t know he frequents Almack’s.”
“He does not. Rose had an unfortunate encounter with a young lord the week prior—the young man would not accept her refusal to dance with him a second time—and he was quite rude to her. Seth went to have a word with the young man, alas, he was not there. Anyhow, he mentioned he saw you and that you looked as though you’d rather be anywhere but there.” He paused and cleared his throat. “Perhaps that is why you have such trouble finding someone to dance with at these affairs. They can tell you’d rather tend to a gaggle of geese.”
The laughter burst out of her before she could control it. “I really would. I am uncomfortable at these events, and I only went because our aunt insisted. She made me feel quite terrible over the cost of the voucher.”
That Season, for reasons Winnie had yet to figure out, her Aunt Anna had purchased vouchers for Almack’s for herself, Victoria, and Winnie. Vouchers to Almack’s Assembly Rooms were hard to come by, but they could secure them as members of the aristocracy. Alas, unlike her sister, Winnie rarely used them, much to the chagrin of her aunt.
Beside her, her brother groaned.
“I hope that is not why Uncle Ezekiel summoned me.” He rubbed his bushy eyebrow as a sweat pearl formed on his temple. It was June, but the heat had arrived early this year. This was in stark contrast to the prior year. 1816 would surely be remembered as the year without summer, as it had been a miserable year.
“You’re to go to Westminster?”
“Yes,” he consulted his golden pocket watch. “I must go now. I have to make a stop at the office. Seth is going out of town, to Devon, for a few days to see if we can expand our business, so I need to keep an eye on the office. Anyhow, I am already late.” He placed another kiss on the side of her head and jumped up. “If I am not coerced into staying for dinner, I’d like to take dinner with you and Victoria. If she will have us, given her present mood. What do you say? Family dinner together?”
Winnie got up and nodded. “I will ask the cook to make pea soup and fresh bread,” she smiled. This simple meal was a Keating family tradition. Pea soup was one of the few meals their mother, the late Baroness Drayton, knew how to make herself. It remained a treasured meal for the Keatings to this day.
“I cannot wait,” he winked at her and dashed up the garden stairs. As he disappeared through the door and into the interior of their manor, Winnie looked after him—entirely unaware that it would be the last time she would see her brother.
Two weeks later
Winnifred sat in the plush chair in front of the desk occupied by Charles Markham, a renowned private detective, and bit her lips while the man frantically wrote notes on a sheet of paper.
She studied his face. He was an older man. His hair gave his age away, showing more grey than chestnut-brown, combined with deep circles around his eyes.
A former Bow Street Runner, his reputation preceded him wherever he went. All of the ton knew him and admired him for his skill. Markham had brought home several run-away ladies on their way to Gretna Green, brought to justice an assortment of thieves, and didn’t even fear a venture into the rookeries of St. Giles.
He was precisely the kind of man she needed.
“You say it was a fortnight ago that you last saw your brother?”
She nodded quietly. “Yes, it was late afternoon, he was going to my uncle’s.”
The man nodded and confirmed her uncle’s address before carrying on with his notes.
A surge of grief overcame her, and she closed her eyes, her fingers curled around the arms of the chair. She had all of her hopes pinned on this man—he had to be the answer. He had to be the person to find Leo.
Two weeks had passed since Leo walked out of the garden of their home and out of her life—and he’d never returned. All hoping and praying and searching thus far was in vain. It was as if her brother was swallowed up in an invisible hole, never to return.
Winnifred could not let that be. She’d find her brother—somehow. And if she could not, then Charles Markham undoubtedly could. The man looked up, his large sunken brown eyes reminded her of the neighbor’s beagle.
“What is the business your brother is a partner in?”
She blinked, taken aback by the question. “The Sweet & Spice Corporation.”
The investigator pressed his lips together. “The other partner is the Duke of Cambarton, Seth Dunn?”
At the mention of Seth’s name, there was a slight pinch in her stomach, but she forced herself to nod.
“He is out of town, otherwise, I would have spoken to him already. He and my brother are quite close.”
Markham looked at her with his head tilted to one side and licked his lips. “I see.” There was something in the way he spoke, something in the way he carefully enunciated the words that puzzled her. She was about to follow up on the exchange when the man changed the subject.
“Well, Miss Keating, I have another meeting following ours. I, of course, cannot reveal the nature of other clients’ business—privacy, you understand. But I have a feeling I might be in a better position to assist you after. Would you be able to return here tomorrow?”
She nodded slowly, not looking forward to making the long journey to Camden again, but for Leo, she’d do just about anything. She nodded in agreement, bade the man farewell, and stepped back out into the street.
Markham’s office was located in a run-down gothic-style villa and was shared with several other offices. A matchmaker was located down the hall, and a barrister kept an office upstairs. Camden was not the kind of neighborhood a young lady such as herself was able to visit without a chaperone. Even coming here to see Mr. Markham without anyone to accompany her was risky. Yet, she did not wish to involve anyone in this venture. She wasn’t sure whom she could trust, and she’d rather not put her trusted maid, Mary, into an awkward position. She marched down the street toward where her carriage sat and pondered her predicament.
Victoria was at sixes and sevens at the disappearance of their brother, and Winnie did not wish to involve her aunt or uncle. Her uncle had a habit of taking over any venture he was involved in, and she didn’t think he was quick-witted or clever enough to be of much use when it came to finding Leo. She’d only called on him to see if Leo actually visited them that day, and upon hearing the answer, left it at that. There was no need to tell them more. She’d turn to Uncle Ezekiel only if she had no—
“Seth?” She stopped in her tracks and squinted into the sunlight.
She could hardly believe it. The man rushing across the street and toward the villa containing Mr. Markham’s office was none other than Seth, Duke of Cambarton, Leo’s friend and business partner.
Under normal circumstances, Winnie would shrink back at the sight of him, such was her crush on him she could not stand to be near him without blushing. However, today her curiosity and desperation outweighed any feeling of mortification at being in his presence.
She darted back toward the office.
What is he doing here? Perhaps his destination is the barrister’s office? Surely it cannot be Mr. Markham… Unless…
She opened the door to the office and let herself inside. The large waiting room, used for all of the different proprietors, was empty, but the door to Mr. Markham’s office stood ajar, and from within drifted Seth’s familiar, deep baritone voice.
“Two weeks, Mr. Markham, as I said in my letter. At least two weeks. I was in Devon to attend to business, and when I returned, I found Rose gone.”
Rose? His sister Rose was missing? Winnie’s heart beat loudly in her chest. How could this be? Both of their siblings were missing? Did he know Leo was also gone? Before she knew what she was doing, she pushed open the door to Markham’s office.
“Rose is missing?”
Mr. Markham looked up, startled. “Miss Keating, this is most unusual.”
“Winnifred?” Seth’s tone was at once surprised and irritable.
“Did you say Rose is missing?”
Seth licked his lips; his almond-shaped brown eyes flickered as if he wasn’t quite sure what to say.
“She is. The servants reported not seeing her in more than a week. They assumed she’d gone to Devon to join me, but of course, she didn’t. I’ve looked for her, questioned her friends—to no avail. She appears to be missing. Thus my visit to Mr. Markham. But why, pray, are you—”
“Leo is also missing. It has been almost two weeks. He disappeared after a visit to my aunt and uncle. Or so I thought. When he didn’t return, I assumed they convinced him to stay for dinner, alas, I received word the following day that he never arrived at their home.” She bit her lips and examined his face. His hair and strong jawline always struck her as incredibly attractive, but she was drawn to his eyes today.
She saw his pupils dilate as she gave him the news, and yet, he didn’t show any other outward reaction but crossed his legs and gave a nod.
“I see, and you have engaged Mr. Markham’s services?”
Why is he not more alarmed? He seems entirely calm. How can he take the news with such ease? Leo is his friend, more than a friend. They are incredibly close and he hardly even flinched when I gave him the information. I do not understand.
She pushed her confusion aside and took a step toward the two men.
“Do you not find it odd? Both your sister and my brother, missing around the same time? Do you not think we ought to join forces?”
Yes! She knew this was the best thing for them. Suddenly, the sense of helplessness she’d experienced over having to handle this issue alone eased at the prospect of having an ally. Alas, Seth shook his head and crushed her hopes at once.
“I think not, Winnifred. Rose and Leo hardly know one another.”
He shook his head and looked back at Mr. Markham. “I am pleased with the terms we’ve agreed upon, Mr. Markham. And I have delivered in this parcel all the information you required.”
Markham swallowed and pulled on the sides of his mustache with one hand as he looked from Seth to Winnie and back again.
“Very well, Your Grace. Although I must agree with Miss Keating here, your cases are similar, and there is a connection as it pertains to the business.”
Seth shook his head. “My sister is not connected to the business, neither is Miss Keating here. I suspect my sister’s absence has more to do with her very active social life, I am afraid.”
Winnie shook her head. This did not make any sense. Why would he act this way? Why would he decline her help? They needed one another. More specifically, she needed him. But he didn’t appear inclined to help her at all.
“Seth… I mean, Your Grace, please reconsider.”
He shook his head. “I do not think it is a good idea. I will find my sister, and I will do all I can to find Leo as well, but I am not interested in working with anyone but Mr. Markham here. I do not think you could be of help to me anyhow.”
He might as well have thrust a dagger directly into her heart, such was the impact of his words. He thought her a hindrance, a burden. He would look for Leo, but without her. Even though Leo was her brother. Anger replaced the pain of his word. How impertinent of him and how cruel to refuse her offer to join forces.
She reminded herself that she was still a lady, still the daughter and sister of a nobleman. And he a Duke. She pressed her lips together and curtsied—having forgotten to do so as she entered.
“Very well, Your Grace, I shall hope you find your sister and if you hear of anything about my brother….”
“I will, of course, tell you the moment I have news of him. Of either of them.”
She gave him a nod and turned. When she was almost out of the door, he called her back.
She glanced over her shoulder.
“Leo is a strong man, do not worry about him. He will be fine.”
Winnie turned on the spot and scanned his face. The moment her eyes met his, she shook her head. He didn’t believe a word of it. No, Seth was as terrified as she was—it was written all over his face.
So why, then, did he refuse to work with her? And why did she have such an urge to convince him otherwise?
“Thank you, Your Grace,” she left and exited out of the villa and into the street, her mind racing. How could she persuade him to assist her? Perhaps a bribe? She shook her head.
She had nothing he would want. He was a Duke, after all. His London townhouse was among the most opulent in the area, comprised of two townhouses merged into one. Lester House was known up and down the country for its splendor and beauty. These were not accomplishments Seth would ever claim; she knew this.
It was his mother and grandmother’s doing. They’d decorated and purchased the rich tapestries, artwork, and statues. Seth was not the kind of man to care for such things. In any case, he had all he could need. There was nothing Winnie could give him to make him reconsider.
She stopped in the street and looked around, hands planted on her hips. She raised her head high, straightened her straw bonnet, and nodded to herself.
Very well then, Seth. You do not want to help me find my brother? I shall do it myself. And I shall succeed.
With determination, she strutted down the pavement toward her carriage—entirely unaware that behind her, the young man stood at the investigator’s window and looked after her, his hands balled into fists.
Seth stood at the window and watched her leave. He knew outwardly he appeared stoic and closed off as he often did, but inside he trembled with fear and rage.
Leo was missing as well?
How could this be, his sister and his partner both disappeared at the same time? Of course there was a connection. It was impossible for there not to be. But he could not allow Winnifred to know of his suspicion.
“Your Grace?” The investigator called out.
“Yes, Mr. Markham?” Seth didn’t turn. He fixed his eyes on the small, slender figure of Winnifred. How much he wanted to assist her and to ease her mind—and yet he knew he couldn’t. She’d be a distraction. Seth would never admit it, but he’d found Winnifred magnetic for many years. However, he never had and never planned to act on those feelings.
Attachments of any kind were dangerous—and this notion was never more evident than right now with both his friend and his sister missing.
Am I to lose them both on the same day? What cruel fate is this? Haven’t I endured enough trials in my life thus far?
He shook his head, knowing if he continued down this train of thought, he’d find himself drawn into melancholy, a state almost impossible to escape from, as he knew well from years of experience.
“May I speak freely?” Mr. Markham said behind him. Seth nodded and turned away from the window. He tugged on his Pomona-green waistcoat and reached into his inner pocket for the delicately painted wooden box containing comfits. He placed one onto his tongue as he motioned for the investigator to ask whatever he wanted.
“Do you really believe your sister’s disappearance is connected to her social activities?”
He shook his head. “Of course not. Rose is nothing if not a lady. She would never put herself into unsavory positions nor keep undesirable company. My sister is a good person. No, I said that to ease Miss Keating’s mind as to there being a connection.”
The investigator licked his lips and smoothed his greying mustache.
“It seems there is a connection.”
“Of course, there is, Mr. Markham, it is quite obvious.” The man squinted at him, and Seth found himself compelled to explain his position further. “I do not like working with others on affairs as delicate as this. Miss Keating is a young woman who tends to follow her heart, not her mind, and I fear she’d only hinder my investigation.”
This was not the only reason, but it was the only reason Seth could comfortably give Markham without giving too much of himself away.
“I see. Well, in that case, I shall have to change my approach. I’d hoped for a merged investigation, but I shall have to peruse the leads separately.”
Seth shook his head. His long, wavy brown hair fell into his face.
“I want you to look for Lord Drayton. But do not tell Miss Keating I’ve asked this of you. To her, I want this to appear entirely unconnected.”
Markham sighed as he shook his head, exasperated by Seth. Seth knew his request might seem odd, after all, merging the investigations would make sense, but he could not bring himself to do so. Winnifred would distract him, he knew it. There could be no distraction on this matter. There could be no confusion nor outside influences. Seth had to focus, and he could not, not with Winnie and her beautiful eyes and red, inviting lips.
“It could be dangerous for her. Don’t you agree?”
Markham blinked. “You have an idea who or what could be behind the disappearances?”
He shrugged. “I have a clue, but I’d rather you came to your own conclusion. It’s better we each pursue our ideas and then come together to see what we’ve discovered, rather than influence each other, do you not agree?”
Markham’s eyes narrowed, making it quite clear he did not. However, he knew better than to challenge Seth. Nobody challenged a Duke. Ever.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Rose challenged him with some frequency, and so did Leo, albeit only when it came to business. No, nobody other than Rose stood up to him, at least not in a long time.
A heavy melancholy threatened to crash over him when he suddenly rose and extended his hand to the investigator.
“I shall leave you to your work, and I will return to mine. Please send word when you have news.”
Markham bowed, and when he rose once more, gave a nod of the head.
“I shall, Your Grace.”
Seth spun on his heel and stalked out of the room when the man called after him.
“Yes, Markham? What else is there?”
The man cleared his throat. “Just this. Take care of yourself.”
The words chilled Seth to the core as he remembered the last time he’d heard them spoken with such seriousness, such conviction.
No, I must not let the past catch up to me. Not today. Not when my sister’s life and that of my friend depends on it. I must keep my wits about me and press on. Dwelling on the past will do nothing but hinder and distract me. Just like Winnie would hinder me. I must do this alone. I must solve this puzzle alone. Just as I always do.
As he walked down the road toward his carriage, he pondered the events of the past few days once more. Nobody had seen his sister in almost two weeks now. The servants hadn’t alerted him until his arrival home when they found she wasn’t with him. He glared at the coachman as he pointed to the carriage door, and the man took a step back after opening it.
“Your Grace,” he bowed. “Has there been any word on Lady Rose?”
Seth closed his eyes and swallowed, forcing the rage down into the depth of his stomach.
“No, Bradford. Nothing.” He stepped up to climb into the carriage but then thought better of it.
“Bradford, why would the servants not alert me to my sister being missing for nearly two weeks?”
“I…” The man stammered as his eyes darted from Seth to the road and back, in a desperate attempt to avoid his eyes. “I do not know. I was in Devon, with you, Your Grace.”
“I’ll be deuced, Bradford. I know that. But you are a servant, you eat in the servants’ hall. You hear them talk. Why did they not alert me?”
The coachman’s eyes focused on Seth, and he shrugged. “They assumed she’d gone to Devon with you.”
“Without letting even her lady’s maid know, without asking a maid to pack?”
The coachman took a deep breath. “There… There was a bit of fiddle-faddle among the servants that perhaps she’d….”
“By Jove, Bradford. What is it? I haven’t all day.” Seth’s patience was running out, and the coachman’s evasiveness vexed him profusely. He knew the servants were keeping secrets, but he wasn’t quite sure why. Or what. “Bradford, if I must, I will call the constable and have every one of you questioned.”
“That will not be necessary, Your Grace. The servants were aware of the argument between yourself and Lady Rose, and there was an assumption that she’d either gone to Devon on her own, via coach to make things right with you, or…”
“Or?” He prompted the man, although much gentler than before. He knew he could be hot-headed and reckless and didn’t want to take his terrible mood out on the poor coachman who wasn’t even present when Rose disappeared.
“Or that she’d perhaps run away to stay with your aunt, as she sometimes does.”
Seth’s shoulders dropped. His aunt Ophelia kept an estate in Kent, and upon discovering Rose not home he, too, assumed she’d gone there. A messenger was at once dispatched and returned with a reply in the negative. His sister wasn’t in Kent. Along with the message came a lengthy letter, disparaging Seth’s guardianship over Rose as though she were a small child, not a young, accomplished lady.
“She is not in Kent. I dare say I would have rather she stayed with Lady Ophelia—which is not a sentence I expected to utter in all of my life.”
The coachman smiled, and for a moment, so did Seth. His dislike of his aunt was well known among the servants—none of whom cared for the harsh, arrogant, prideful woman, either.
“I do not understand how my dear mother was related to such a woman,” he muttered, more to himself than anything else.
“Your mother was a well-loved lady, adored by all.”
He placed his hand on Bradford’s shoulder and gave him a nod. “Thank you, Bradford.” As he sat, the coachman shut the door and tilted his head to one side.
“Home, Your Grace?”
Seth was about to nod when he remembered the letter he carried in his pocket and shook his head.
“No, not yet. First, we must make a stop. St. Giles.”
Bradford’s eyes grew wide, and he swallowed so hard his Adam’s apple bobbed visibly.
“Are you sure, Your Grace?”
“It is daylight, Bradford. We shall be quite safe, and we will not remain long.”
The coachman climbed onto the box seat, and as the carriage set into motion, Seth turned up the collar of his coat. It did nothing to chase the chill from his bones, and no wonder. The weather didn’t cause the shivers that ran down his spine; it was a glorious day after all. No, the ice in his veins had quite another cause.
Fear. For Seth knew one thing for sure. He’d just lied to his coachman, for where they were going, it was never safe. Day or night. But he had no choice—not if he wanted to see his sister again alive.
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