London, March 17th, 1816
Rowena could not entirely grasp the enormity of what had just been revealed to her; it appeared she was entitled to an inheritance, which her half-brother had denied her. As she sat with her aunt in the quiet retiring room, her head was spinning with the inevitable conclusion she had to draw; her half-brother must have committed fraud regarding their father’s will.
“Rowie, what are your thoughts? What will you do next?”
Rowena straightened her shoulders. “I am going to find my husband and inform him about our findings, aunt. We – you and I, uncle Matthew and Melissa – must keep in touch from now on. I hope you will all come to stay at Ketteridge House in the near future, and if you wish it I shall send you a formal invitation.”
“I would like that extremely well, Rowie, and I am certain the others will do, too. We all missed you, you know.”
“So have I, dear aunt.”
They embraced and parted, and Rowena went in search for Alex.
Alex was lounging against the billiard room wall, a glass of fine brandy in his hand. This room was very large, with four enormous tables set like the sides of a square in the centre of the thick Aubusson carpet. Four games were quietly proceeding, not entertaining enough to hold his full attention, so Alex was listening to the voices coming from the corridor door at his left side. Two male voices, unknown to him, were chuckling in mock pity. What he heard made him rigid with indignation.
“Poor Ketteridge. Do you not agree that fickle Fate has dealt him a rather unfortunate hand?”
“Exactly my own thoughts. First that horrible injury, then the blindness, and now the marriage to a woman hardly better than soiled goods.”
“By Jove, where did you get that information? I thought she was one of the Drakes of Daveston.”
“She is Daveston’s half-sister, from the second marriage of the old baronet. Rumour is that she got knocked up by some military man who died at Waterloo. As I said, soiled goods. Imagine what that is going to do to Daveston’s aspirations to a seat in Parliament.”
“Now who did spill the beans?”
“Daveston himself, at the High Chancellor’s ball, when he confronted his half-sister, and at least half a dozen matrons listening. Ketteridge nearly came to blows over it, since, he too heard it. Daveston is such a stupid sod, he will never make it to Parliament, mark my words.”
The two chuckled and moved on, leaving Alex seething. They were gossiping about him and his wife, as viciously as only Ton members could do so. He had stood there, violently suppressing his fury and the almost overwhelming need to force the blighters to apologize, come what may. Yet what would it matter? As an experienced soldier, he knew the wisdom of preparing and plotting. He also knew again why he had become a recluse after Waterloo, the machinations of the Ton not worthy of his attention.
However, with little Emma’s arrival, he might want to review his opinion, were she to make a advantageous marriage one day in the far future, perish the blasted thought.
“Alex, thank God I found you!”
Rowena’s voice held a note of panic, effectively jolting him out of his gloom. “Rowena, what is it?”
“I must speak with you,” she all but whispered, “but not here.”
“Let us leave, then.”
It took them over half an hour before they finally climbed into their carriage, the throng of vehicles clogging the street too large for traffic fluency.
“Well?” Alex could not suppress his impatience. “What has happened?”
“It seems that my wretched half-brother is even more a villain than we have credited him to be. I met my aunt Charlotte at the ball, and she told me a few things which will interest you.”
When she was finished, Alex was more determined than ever to go and pay a visit to Roderick Drake, baronet Daveston.
However, when Alex called on the baronet in Curzon Street the next morning, the butler with the roguish demeanour informed him that his master was not at home.
“Not at home or not receiving?” Alex gave his voice enough of a threat to try and persuade the man. Closing the distance between them, he towered menacingly over the servant, who scowled but also flinched.
“The master ‘as gone back te Daveston ‘All, m’lord. I can’ ‘elp ye there! Just doin’ me job, sir.”
Alex chose to believe the man and left, determined to return to his own estate and regroup from there. Rowena would be happy and relieved to leave London.