Chapter Twenty-Seven (completed)
Crestwell Abbey, Cumberland, April 17th, 1816
All this was so unexpected for Rowena that she felt completely baffled. When the door flew open to Lord Carlisle and his constables, she was not even startled as much as she was by the new revelations by Bleak. For the sake of prudency, she took a few steps back.
“I find all this a bit far-fechted, Mr Bleak,” Lord Carlisle said, his voice calm but firm. “You seem to have taken your solicitor’s task a bit lightly, do you not agree? Why have you not examined the new will more thoroughly, if you were in possession of the old one?”
He gave the man no time to reply but addressed his own man. “Mr Beaumont, will you please do Mr Bleak’s work for him and scrutinize both documents?”
At that moment, Alex stepped forward. “We will do this together, Mr Beaumont. No offence, but I need to protect my wife’s interests.”
Rowena’s heart skipped a beat at these words. She looked at Alex, took in his strong face, locked tightly in concentration, as he skimmed the document in the solicitor’s hand. He fought for her and her affairs, she realized. Why? Because they were also his affairs?
Oh, God … was that why Alex had been so diligent, almost obsessed in pursuing Roderick?
The searing pain of understanding Alex’ motives was excruciating, yet Rowena managed to conceal it. Nobody could know of her crushed hopes, ever. She forced herself to listen to what was said.
“This is outrageous,” Alex growled. “Do I understand this correctly and has Daveston written a fraudulent will after his father died?”
“Indeed, my lord. As you can see all too clearly, the two handwritings do not match, nor does the signature.” Mr Beaumont looked at Bleak accusingly. “You, sir, are an accomplice to forgery.”
“Horace Bleak,” Lord Carlisle intoned. “I am arresting you for forgery and fraudulence. You will appear before a court of law and your assets will be confiscated if you are found guilty. Take him away.”
Bleak’s wailing did not stop him from being dragged away. Alex, however, returned to the matter at hand.
“Mr Beaumont, we need to recuperate my wife’s inheritance funds from this wreckage. Do you have a notion as to how?”
Rowena stopped listening, as this confirmed Alex’ motives all too clearly. She went out to the coach they had taken to get there and asked the driver to bring her back to Crestwell Abbey. Emma needed to be fed and Rowena had dallied long enough away from her darling.
By the time she got there, Emma’s nanny Bessie had already done her duty by feeding Emma some of the fine grain gruel she asked Lord Carlisle’s cook to prepare exclusively for the baby. Emma seemed to thrive on it but Rowena needed her to breastfeed anyway, since her breasts were painfully full of milk. She would need to ask Richard Orme how she could solve that problem.
As it happened, the doctor entered the nursery just as she was done feeding Emma.
“Rowena, my dear, I wonder if you could spare me a moment.”
The expression on his honest face was troubled, so Rowena had dire forebodings. “Roderick is worse, I presume?”
Richard winced. “He is gone, Rowena. He died an hour ago without regaining consciousness. It is probably for the best, because consciousness would have brought excruciating agony. I am so very sorry, my dear.”
Rowena handed Emma to Bessie and stood. “I will see him now, Richard.”
They had laid out Roderick in the room where he had been brought to after the fire. Rowena’s half-brother seemed peaceful in death, although it was clear to her that his face had been worked on. The horrible traces of the fire were hidden under a thick layer of face powder, and Roderick looked magnificent in his most splendid attire.
Rowena felt something kin to bereavement but no sorrow or sentiment of loss. She realized that those feelings had been plaguing her a long time ago, in fact so long ago that they had faded to almost nothing. That was why she was surprised when a single tear began rolling down her cheek. And then another one, and yet another one.
An arm came around her shoulder, and the next moment she was burying her face into Alex’ wide chest and sobbing disconsolately. “Oh, my love, I am so very sorry. Hush, my sweet, hush. Roderick is in a better place now.”
Alex was in an even greater agony than his darling little wife was. He wished he could take all that stupid grief away from her, grief that was not even deserved by the selfish bounder her half-brother had been. Every quiet sob she uttered was like a knife to the heart, and he felt so utterly helpless that he gritted his teeth in rage. He raked his brain for something that would distract her from her sorrow.
“Mr Beaumont is confident that he can recuperate at least a part of your inheritance, my dear. Lord Carlisle will no doubt give him permission to examine Daveston’s finances.”
She stiffened considerably in his arms before tearing herself away. Baffled to the extreme, Alex stood by helplessly when she ran from the room. What the devil!