A Convenient Christmas Proposal
“Oh, Adelaide,” Scarlett Wentworth said, rushing into her sister’s guest bedchambers and awing over her white silk dress. “You have never looked more beautiful than you do right now.”
Betty, Adelaide’s lady’s maid, was adjusting the veil on her sister’s head. But when Scarlett burst into the room, Adelaide whipped around to grin at her sister, causing Betty to drop the delicate lace. She shook her head indulgently at the younger women, smiling warmly as she stooped to pick it up. Scarlett ran into her sister’s arms, sobbing joyously in her arms.
“Sister, darling,” she said. “I can hardly believe it. John and I will be married in just a couple of hours.”
Scarlett squeezed her sister, her senior by three years, tightly.
“I couldn’t be happier for you, Addie,” she said. “But I will miss you terribly.”
Adelaide pulled away and gave her sister a sad smile.
“And I will miss you,” she said. “But you can come and visit any time you wish.”
Scarlett nodded, wiping away her tears. At sixteen, she still had two years before she would come out to society as marriageable. It wasn’t a long time, but without her sister there, it might as well have been an age. But she was truly happy for her sister. It had always been their dream to find a good man and fall deeply in love. And for Adelaide, that’s exactly what had happened. It helped remind Scarlett that the same was possible for her, too.
“Will you try for children straightaway?” Scarlett asked.
Adelaide blushed and giggled shyly for a moment before nodding.
“I certainly hope so,” she said.
The sisters laughed.
Betty gently put her hands on both their shoulders and stepped up to Adelaide.
“If I do not get this veil and these flowers in your hair, Miss Adelaide, you will never get married,” she scolded in her gentle fashion.
Scarlett laughed and stepped back.
“I apologise, Betty,” she said. “I will behave.”
Another hour later, the women boarded the carriage that would take her to John’s family’s parish. Scarlett walked into the church with her family, then followed her mother to their seats to wait for the ceremony to begin. Scarlett noted the joyful expression on the vicar Torvert’s face, even before Adelaide entered the sanctuary. When the music began, Adelaide began her march down the aisle.
Scarlett noted with disappointment that John’s father, the retiring vicar, was walking her sister down the aisle. Their own father, wealthy businessman and merchant, didn’t enter the sanctuary until his eldest daughter was standing with her husband-to-be. Her father-in-law-to-be had offered to perform the ceremony as his final act before retiring his position and turning it over to John.
Scarlett tried to keep a frown off her face as she watched her father take a seat in the far back of the church with a look of disdain on his face. He had made no secret of his dislike of the vicar’s lowly status. But Scarlett had hoped he would set it aside for his daughter’s happiness. But her father’s approval wasn’t the important thing. The smiles on Adelaide’s and John’s faces was what mattered.
The ceremony began, and Scarlett forgot all about her scowling father. For as bright as the smile was on her sister’s face, the one on her lover’s face was brighter still. Scarlett thought she had never seen such love and devotion on the face of a man. She had certainly never seen it on her father’s face toward her mother. She glanced over at her mother, who was beaming as she wiped tears of joy from her cheeks. Scarlett smiled. Perhaps, her mother could eventually get her father to warm to John. If only for the sake of his eldest daughter.
As the couple kissed, Scarlett applauded with the rest of the wedding guests. She and her mother embraced as Adelaide and her new husband made their way down the aisle, accepting the congratulations from all the guests. If Adelaide had been happy before, she was positively elated right then. As was John. The two of them laughed as they stopped halfway up the aisle for him to pick her up by the waist and twirl her. Scarlett took her mother’s hand and smiled at her.
“This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” Mrs. Wentworth said. “Oh, I am so happy for your sister.”
“As am I,” she said.
Scarlett held onto her mother’s arm, thinking about her own wedding day. She had more reason now than ever to dream of making a match filled with love. Her sister was now solid proof that such a match was possible. She still felt the longing of knowing that her sister would now be moving away to begin her new life. But she also had the comfort of knowing that she, too, could find the kind of love that her sister now had.
When Scarlett and her mother went to file out of the church, her father was nowhere to be seen. Scarlett supposed that was just as well. It was a happy occasion, and he clearly didn’t intend to join the celebration. Scarlett felt bad that her father felt so little love for his family that he could care so little about such an important day. She wanted to believe that her father was simply feeling overwhelming emotions. Deep down, however, she knew that wasn’t true.
The wedding breakfast took place at the home of the retired vicar and his wife. It was small and quaint, but the food was delectable, and love and tenderness clearly went into all the flower arrangements that decorated the dining room of the modest home. Her father was, of course, absent, and Adelaide looked a little sad. But then, John came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her softly, and she smiled once again. Scarlett sighed.
What I would give to find such a love, she thought dreamily. Watching her sister and seeing how happy she was, it was easy to tell herself that, just like she and Adelaide had discussed, it was possible for her, too. Such hopes and dreams were the reason she had recently taken to reading romance novels. Even though the characters were fictional, seeing young ladies find love in their respective stories made it almost impossible to not have such hope. And yet, as she was watching her sister with her new husband, her heart grew heavy.
Their father had wanted Adelaide to marry someone of noble birth, with great wealth and a substantial title. He didn’t dislike the vicar personally, as far as Scarlett knew. He had been upset that his eldest daughter wasn’t marrying well. A vicar’s salary had nothing to offer any wealthy or titled family, not even a mere gentleman who earned his place amongst high society by accruing his own vast fortune with his shrewd business dealings throughout his life. In fact, Adelaide’s dowry likely offered him more wealth than he would see in his lifetime. Scarlett thought that her father probably saw Adelaide’s marriage to John as a sour business deal. After all, what were daughters but another way to gain more wealth and improve one’s social status?
Not wanting her sister to see her sadness, Scarlett went to the table and helped herself to some of the food. With Adelaide now married, their father only had one more chance to rise beyond his station within high society. Scarlett’s future marriage would determine her family’s future in the ton. And that wasn’t something that her father would likely take lightly.
The realization made her heart heavier still. She couldn’t imagine a father putting his own selfish wants before those of his children. She and Adelaide had just a few true friends within the ton, as most young ladies still saw the Wentworth family as beneath them, despite their fortune. The few friends they did have seemed to have strict fathers, as well. So, perhaps, it was that she was being unreasonable in wishing that her father would want his daughters to be happy when they married. Or, perhaps, he truly believed they couldn’t be happy unless they married a rich man of a high station. Though she doubted it was the latter idea.
She also doubted that her father would give her the choice of marrying for love. He had been unsuccessful in preventing Adelaide from marrying the vicar. She was sure that, especially with her being the youngest daughter, and his perceived failure with his eldest, he would exercise his full power as her father to get her to marry a richer, titled man. And she knew that her mother wouldn’t have any say in the matter.
She took a deep breath and pushed the thoughts away. She had no business wallowing in self pity on the happiest day of her sister’s life. She should be focusing on celebrating the joyous occasion with her family. Besides, she still had two years before she would start looking for a husband. She couldn’t spend her time worrying about something that wouldn’t happen for a while yet. And what if she was wrong? What if, in those two years, her father realized how happy Adelaide was, and that she was cared for despite not being incredibly wealthy, and decided that he wanted the same for Scarlett, too?
That was another thing she doubted. But she decided something else. Whatever happened when it came time for her to find a husband, there was nothing wrong with having her fantasies. The heroines in her romance novels all dreamed of finding happy, true love. And they usually found it in the end, despite turmoil and obstacles in their lives that tried to prevent them from being with their perfect lovers.
She couldn’t predict her future, or what her father would do when it came time for her to marry. But in the meantime, she would be thrilled for her sister, and continue hoping for her own romance story. Hope was everything, and she was consoled with the knowledge that marrying for love was not wholly impossible. There was nothing wrong with dreaming, right?
London, 1815, Winter
Scarlett stared out the window of the drawing room in her family’s lavish townhouse, watching the snow fall. The flakes were thin and sparse, but it was a lovely sight. She delighted in the warmth offered by the fireplace across from where she sat, but she thought snow was beautiful. She and Adelaide had loved playing in the snow as little girls. Now, they were grown women, Adelaide was two years married, and expecting her first child in just a few weeks.
Mrs. Susan Wentworth, Scarlett’s mother, had gone to spend the last few weeks of her eldest daughter’s confinement with her. She had only been gone for one week, and Scarlett already missed her dearly. She missed her sister as well, having only seen her twice since she married John and went to Bath.
She and her mother had been making arrangements for both of them to help prepare for the birth of Adelaide’s child. But at the last minute, her father had forbidden her from going, insisting that she spend Christmastide with him in London.
Her mother had done what lay in her power to reason with him, but he would not be moved. Scarlett had been heartbroken as she bade her mother goodbye. But as she spent more time thinking about it, it puzzled her. Why was so important for her to stay for Christmastide when he normally couldn’t be bothered with her?
She sighed, tired of dwelling on her loneliness. She reached for the book she had brought to the drawing room with her, Pride and Prejudice, and touched the cover of the novel fondly. Jane Austen was a revelation in romances, in Scarlett’s opinion. She loved the author, and she read a little in the novel every chance she got. She hadn’t seen much of her father the past couple of days, so she read more often than normal. When her father was there, however, she hid her reading as though it was a naughty secret.
Her mother encouraged Scarlett and her sister to embrace their respective hobbies. Her father, however, thought Scarlett’s love of reading to be shameful, and a waste of time. He was terribly disappointed that she had failed to make a match since her come out earlier that spring, during the past season in London. And he hadn’t been shy about blaming her failure to pull in suitors largely on her bookish ways.
She and her father had nothing in common, but that wasn’t the worst of their relationship. Her father’s sole concern seemed to be wealth, business ties and ways to climb the social ladder. He had never shown his wife or daughters much in the way of affection. And, at times, he almost seemed to resent them. Scarlett, especially, she often thought. That was why she had been surprised when her father made her stay with him, instead of being with her mother and sister.
Determined to make use of the equanimity without her father around, she opened her book. She hadn’t seen much of him since her mother left, so she had no reason to think that he would catch her reading. But she had to admit that, because of his displeasure with her reading, there was something of a thrill to be had at the idea that she was doing her reading in secret. Mostly, however, it was just the giddiness of being able to read without being disturbed.
The fireplace provided a decadent warmth, perfect for reading on such a cold winter’s day. It didn’t take Scarlett long to become immersed in the story. When she read, she could escape from the loneliness she felt with her sister married and away from home. She could forget the distance between her and her father, and his disapproving looks and words. She could rekindle her hope that she, too, could find love, just as she had always dreamed. The world of fiction was the one place where happy endings abounded, and the world always righted itself in the end. If she couldn’t be with her mother and sister, that world was where she wanted to be.
She had read through several chapters before she knew it. She flipped page after page, unaware of the passage of time. Each chapter was more engaging than the last, and the characters found new ways of winning her over. She was in the midst of a particularly interesting chapter, about a quarter of the way through the book, when something in the doorway pulled her attention from the book.
She looked up, expecting to see her father, but she smiled with relief when she saw the butler.
“Good day, Bradley,” she said warmly. “How do you do?”
Bradley bowed. His expression was stoic, but his eyes were apologetic.
“Good day, Miss Wentworth,” he said. “Do forgive my interruption, but the widow Wentworth has just arrived.”
Scarlett’s throat went instantly dry. She tried to swallow but failed as the color drained from her cheeks.
“Grandmother?” she croaked, her heart racing. If there was one person who disapproved of everything she did more than her father, it was her grandmother. And if her grandmother was there, where was her father? He had to have known she was coming, did he not? Why had he failed to mention it to her?
She knew the answer, of course. Her father would have never considered her important enough for him to tell her. Now, it made more sense as to why he had wanted her to stay behind when her mother left to be with Adelaide. But why not just tell her that the rest of the family was tending to her sister?
The butler stood expectantly in the doorway. She nodded weakly, scrambling to collect her thoughts. Bradley bowed again, stepping into the hallway to usher the widow in the room. Scarlett sat frozen as her stern-faced grandmother entered, her stomach twisting into knots. She hated any time her grandmother came to visit. But with it coming as such an unexpected shock, she was completely speechless.
The widow looked her granddaughter over, her lip curling into a sneer. Scarlett realized what was coming, even before her grandmother spoke.
“My heavens,” she said with bitter disgust. “I wonder how a young lady could dress so poorly when her father has such great wealth. Does your mother not supervise your outfit choices when you go to the modiste?”
Scarlett bristled, regaining some of her senses. She knew that her grandmother was judgmental and opinionated, especially when it came to her granddaughters. She had been no kinder to Adelaide, even since she married. Especially since she married, as she had not approved of Adelaide’s match any more than their father had. But Scarlett couldn’t bear the idea of her grandmother speaking ill of her mother.
“I choose dresses to wear around the house whenever we have no plans to leave or have company,” she said. Her voice trembled, but she held her grandmother’s gaze firmly. “And then, I have nice dresses for the times when I need them. And Mother doesn’t make any selections for me, because I am a grown woman. I choose what I like.”
Her grandmother chortled and continued sneering.
“That much is clear,” she said, shaking her head as she looked at Scarlett’s dress again. “Though a proper young lady should have far nicer dresses, even just for sitting at home. “She paused, looking down at the book in Scarlett’s lap with disdain. “And reading.”
Scarlett felt her cheeks grow warm. Even though there was nothing wrong with a young lady reading in her spare time, and there was even less wrong with the simple but lovely pale green silk day dress she was wearing, her grandmother managed to make her feel ashamed.
Her grandmother behaved as though she was dressed in drapes and partaking in the most unspeakable behavior for young ton ladies. And she was doing a great job of making Scarlett feel as though she was right. She desperately wished that her mother was there with her.
“Shall I go tell Father that you’ve arrived, Grandmother?” she asked. In truth, she had no desire to speak to her father, either and she wasn’t sure if he was home. But she would have done anything to get away from her grandmother. Even if she only pretended to go find him herself while sending the butler to convey the message. If he hadn’t already, that was.
Her grandmother huffed and clicked her tongue.
“A young lady does not do such errands herself,” she said. “The servants handle such menial tasks. I do hope you are more refined than this, and that you just suffered from a momentary lapse of judgment.”
Scarlett tightened her jaw to hold back tears that were threatening to fill her eyes. Why was her grandmother so utterly cruel to her? It was easy to believe that the woman abhorred her grandchildren.
“I only thought to save you the trouble, Grandmother,” she said, defeated. “I thought you might wish to rest after your trip.”
The widow waved her hand, wearing an expression of disgust and agitation as though she thought her youngest granddaughter was a lost cause.
“It is my right as a lady to order domestics to fulfill requests,” she said. “It takes no effort to issue a command to a servant.”
While Scarlett squirmed in her seat and regretted her attempt to be thoughtful, the widow barked her request to a nearby maid. The maid couldn’t get away fast enough to go find out if the butler had found Mr. Wentworth and announced her arrival. The room grew eerily quiet, and Scarlett thought the tension alone would give her a megrim. She dared to glance at her grandmother, who was frowning at her with terrible disdain.
“I will not see you dressed so disgracefully at dinner this evening. Do you understand?” she asked in a way that made Scarlett feel daft.
Scarlett nodded meekly.
“Yes, Grandmother,” she whispered.
The widow sneered and snorted.
“We shall see,” she retorted.
Scarlett glanced at the clock, noting that dinner was still hours away. But she found the only opportunity she was going to have to get away from her horrid grandmother. She rose quickly, averting her gaze to hide the tears that wouldn’t stop stinging her eyes.
“If you will excuse me, I shall go see to that at once,” she said.
Olive Wentworth made a humph sound, but she didn’t say anything further. Scarlett fled the room, not caring about grace or tact as she did so. She couldn’t stand her grandmother’s presence a moment longer. Any excuse, even though she wouldn’t be really getting dressed for dinner for a couple of hours, was good enough for her to hide in her chambers.
When Constance came into her room later that afternoon, she found Scarlett ripping out her dresses from her wardrobe and frantically trying to choose one. She personally didn’t care which one she wore. But she knew that her grandmother would tell her father of her outfit expectations of Scarlett, and how allegedly poorly she was dressed when the widow arrived. She had to do her best to comply, no matter what.
“Are you all right, Miss Wentworth?” Constance asked, closing the door and hurrying over to her mistress.
Scarlett shook her head, explaining her encounter with her grandmother to her lady’s maid. Constance gave her a sympathetic look and took a stack of dresses out of Scarlett’s hands.
“Let me help you,” she said sweetly. “Do not worry yourself so.”
Scarlett nodded, stepping aside while Constance reorganized her wardrobe. The maid selected a pale blue silk evening gown with pearl embroidered gloves, shoes and hat that matched. She expertly dressed Scarlett in no time, then ushered her to her vanity, where she styled her hair in a bun that was perfectly sized to fit beneath the hat. Then, she applied some rouge to her mistress’s cheeks and spritzed her with some rose perfume.
When Constance was finished with her, she looked at herself in the mirror. She braced herself, forcing herself to put on a broad smile. She thought that she looked perfectly presentable. But she didn’t know what to expect when she arrived in the supper room. Would Constance’s efforts be enough to appease the widow?
Nolan Hartley toasted his second drink with his lifelong friend, David Kendall. He had spent the better part of the morning visiting with his friend and his wife, Ruth, who had just excused herself to go upstairs with their two sons, Thomas and Harry. Nolan sighed with contentment, settling back in his chair opposite David and sipping his drink leisurely.
“You seem rather happy, Nolan,” David said, giving his own drink the same treatment.
“I am,” he said. “I have enjoyed having time to myself to do as I please.”
“When did the charming viscount leave?” he asked.
Nolan thought for a moment.
“About six weeks ago, I believe,” he said. His grandfather, the Viscount Hartley, had gone to London to oversee some urgent business matter. Nolan had thought it odd that his grandfather hadn’t wanted him to come along. As he was the sole heir to the family fortune and the viscount title, Victor Hartley had been adamant about Nolan attending as many meetings as possible to learn his way around the business ventures, as well as the duties of viscount.
David nodded again.
“Are you expecting him back any time soon?” he asked.
Nolan gave his friend a wicked smile.
“Why?” he asked fiendishly. “Do you have some wicked mischief in mind that we can find?”
David laughed aloud.
“It sounds a little more like you do,” he said. “Although, if you please, I would ask that you remember my duties as a father.”
Nolan waved his hand grandly as though dismissing his friend.
“Oh, posh,” he said, grinning. “There’s nothing I would get up to that you couldn’t do as a married father.”
The men exchanged a look for a minute before bursting into laughter.
David wiped his eyes with a cloth and shook his head.
“I know that you wouldn’t,” he said. “I am merely being a jester.”
Nolan nodded, frowning.
“You understand that, but Grandfather doesn’t,” he said. “I feel as though he believes that to let me out of his sight for a single moment is to let me fall into some variation of criminal or ne’er-do-well. He never misses an opportunity to slay my ideas or business decisions, either. One would think that simply by speaking, I will sink our family’s entire fortune and title”
David shook his head, clucking his tongue.
“He is a fool, if that’s what he thinks,” he said. “If it is any consolation, I know full well better than all that.”
Nolan smiled, but he shrugged. Since his father, the original heir to the viscount title, had passed away suddenly, ten years ago, Nolan had been thrust into the position of having to learn everything his father had spent his life learning and preparing for. As irrationally controlling as his grandfather could be sometimes, Nolan knew he should be grateful that the viscount had taken him in. Losing his father at fifteen had made him an orphan, since his mother had died when he was only eight. He had thought that he and his grandfather would learn to get along well in time.
However, so many years later, it seemed that his grandfather cared for nothing other than his beloved title. The only interactions the viscount had ever had with his grandson, even when Nolan was still grieving his parents, was to prepare him to take over the title after his death. There wasn’t an ounce of affection in the viscount’s tone or touch, and he didn’t want to so much as see Nolan unless he was teaching him something.
“I challenge you to tell him that,” Nolan said, swirling his drink thoughtfully.
“Be careful, Mr. Hartley,” he said. “You would be remiss to think that I would not. I know how unreasonable the viscount is, and I would be a terrible friend if I did not defend you.”
Nolan gave his friend a kind, sad smile.
“That is one of many reasons why you are such a dear friend to me, David,” he said. “But he won’t listen to his own daughter, let alone one of my fellow flakes.”
David gasped in mock horror and put his fingertips to his chest bone.
“I dare say,” he said, fanning himself. “I take great offense to that.”
Nolan burst out laughing, and he shook his head. That was something his aunt often did after his grandfather had just given one or both of them a dressing down for one thing or another. David had witnessed such an incident once, and it had become a private joke between them.
Many times, Nolan had wondered why he couldn’t have been handed over to the care of his aunt. She had had never married, and thus, she continued to live with her father as a spinster. But despite all the social stigma regarding spinsters, Eleanor Hartley was the opposite of her father in every way. Nolan had become instantly attached to her when his grandfather took him in, and his aunt treated him like her own son.
“Oh, you are incorrigible, my good man,” Nolan said, dabbing at tears at the corners of his eyes.
David shook his head.
“No, my name is David,” he said, grinning impishly.
Nolan laughed again.
“Are you teaching those boys of yours such sharp wit?” he asked.
David rolled his eyes.
“Teaching them?” he asked. “I believe they were both born with sharp tongues. Even with the speech levels of toddlers, they never cease to make me blush at least twice a day.”
Nolan slapped his knee.
“Good luck with those boys, then,” he said. “I have a feeling you will need it.”
David gave the bridge of his nose an exaggerated rub and nodded.
“With Ruth encouraging such behaviour, I certainly will,” he said, but he was laughing, as well.
Nolan grinned. David was quite the card, but so was his wife, Ruth. It was one reason why they got on so well, and why it was clear to Nolan how dearly they loved each other. He knew they would raise a good, respectable family. But that they loved to have fun amongst each other was another of the reasons why Nolan was so close with them. And one reason why his grandfather sneered at them.
“You should bring the boys to visit more often,” he said, slowly rising from his seat. “I’m sure that Aunt Eleanor would love to see them again.”
David also rose, but he looked slightly crestfallen. It was rare that they had time to visit as they were right then, and even Nolan felt a sense of disappointment at having to leave.
“Leaving so soon?” he asked.
Nolan sighed and nodded.
“I must get back to destroying the family’s good name,” he said. “I mean, back to the work I actually do to contribute to Grandfather’s reputation.”
David chuckled, but he nodded.
“I understand,” he said. “And perhaps, Ruth and I will come to visit sometime when your grandfather is away on business. As charming as we find him, I’m sure we would be more welcome with just you and your aunt.”
“That sounds delightful,” he said. “Give Ruth my best, won’t you?”
David murmured his agreement as he walked Nolan to the front door. Even though Nolan wasn’t expecting his grandfather back for a while yet, he was still reluctant to return to the home he shared with the viscount. Even when his grandfather wasn’t there, it was as if his grandfather’s bitterness lingered, like a spirit ill at ease. But perhaps, he could get a considerable amount of work done and then settle in with a good book.
David lived just a short ride from his grandfather’s home, so he was riding up the viscount’s driveway in no time. He was planning out the rest of his day and already planning another visit to his friend’s home. He was also considering speaking with his aunt about having David and his family for dinner, as he had suggested to his friend. But as he topped the final hill in the driveway before it leveled out to a flat circle where coaches parked, he saw his grandfather’s carriage.
He groaned out loud as he brought his horse to a stop at the side of the mansion, where the servant’s entrance was. He signaled to a footman to take the animal back to the stables as he dismounted. Then, he dragged himself up to the front door of the mansion. He wondered how long his grandfather had been there, and if he had sought out Nolan when he returned. He would surely be upset that Nolan was out if he had, even though he hadn’t told Nolan exactly when to expect him back.
He slipped in the front door, considering sneaking up to his bedchambers before his grandfather could spot him. He heard someone join him in the hallway and he thought he was too late. But when he turned around, he saw that it was his aunt, and he gave her a warm smile.
“Good afternoon, Aunt,” he said, reaching for her and kissing her on the cheek.
His aunt returned the affection, smiling sweetly at him.
“Good afternoon, my darling,” she said with the doting affection of a mother. “Did you enjoy your visit with the Kendall’s?”
Nolan beamed and nodded. He loved his aunt for many reasons. But her genuine interest in the goings on in his life, and her affection for the people apart from her who meant something to him, was one of them. He told her, very quietly, about his idea to have them over for dinner when his grandfather was gone.
“That sounds lovely, my dear,” she said. “Though, I am sure that you saw he has returned.”
Nolan nodded, crossing his eyes and making his aunt laugh. It felt as though she was not just a mother figure, but his true best friend in all the world, and he loved making her happy.
“I did, indeed,” he said, making another face as he did so. “Have you spoken with him yet?”
Eleanor Hartley nodded, her smile faltering.
“I did,” she said. “Only briefly. He seemed rather perturbed that you weren’t here, but I told him that you were out on a very important errand.”
He gave his aunt a hug.
“You needn’t lie to him for me, Aunt Eleanor,” he said. “I will handle him if he doesn’t like the places I go.”
His aunt shrugged, smiling impishly.
“As far as I’m concerned, it was a very important errand,” she said, winking. “There is nothing more important than spending time with those closest to us.”
Nolan grinned. He loved that they thought so much alike, as well. Sometimes, it was hard for him to believe that the two of them were related to his grandfather at all.
“I’m sorry that I wasn’t here with you when he arrived,” he said. “I didn’t guess that he would be back so soon.”
His aunt waved her hand and shook her head gently.
“He simply said that he was retiring to his bedchambers,” she said. “He also said to let you know that he would see us at dinner.”
Nolan wrinkled his nose. He always hated dining with his grandfather. It was always a tense, formal affair, at which he usually told Nolan and his aunt just how disappointed in them he was. He was easier on his daughter, but only marginally, and only if she kept quiet and didn’t defend Nolan when the viscount scolded him about something.
“Very well,” Nolan said, giving his aunt another small smile.
Eleanor Hartley patted her nephew’s shoulder gently.
“You should also know that Father returned home in a fairly good mood,” she said.
Nolan’s eyes widened, and he pondered those words for a minute. The expression on his aunt’s face mirrored what he was feeling. It was very rare that the viscount was in a good mood. Without another word, Nolan and his aunt nodded simultaneously. It was suspicious, indeed. And Nolan could only guess what it meant. But he was sure it wouldn’t be good.
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