Authors: Raven McAllan
Cover Artist: Sour Cherry Designs
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
To…Lee for the tequila induced ideas, and Doris for her perfect 'rediting'. For Paul for putting up with me…and the Steeles for letting us borrow their house in earlier books. We will be back…
Behind Closed Doors, 4
Copyright © 2013
The rumblings and grumblings of his offspring were growing louder and Gerard knew he couldn't put this moment off any longer.
Glancing over at his secretary, Martin Nelson, he asked, "Are they all here?" The man tilted his head to the side as though assessing the sounds outside the locked study door. Cecilia's pert voice was easily discernible as she bantered with her brothers.
"Miss Cecilia is there, and if she's giggling it's a certainty that Mr. Randall is teasing her. I saw Mr. Harold with his nose buried in a book in the library, so he's present, Peregrine wouldn't miss a scheduled meeting if the Regent himself tried to hold him up, and as for that youngest lad of yours, those are his dogs and where he goes, they go. I'd say they're all present."
Steepling his hands together, Gerard eyed the papers on his desk. Was he doing the right thing? "You will stay on and assist Peregrine? Make sure the others have all they need?"
"I am in your employ
My Lord, and until such time as you terminate my employment, I will do my utmost to follow your instructions."
Nodding, Gerard sighed. It was time. "I did my duty. I married, I had children."
Nelson's chuckle interrupted him. He quirked an inquiring brow in his secretary's direction. "You find my plight amusing?"
"No, not at all. It's your children; you say it so prosaically, as though they were not... Well, you know your children as well as I do!"
Gerard regarded the fond smile on his longtime friend and employee's face. Martin Nelson had been with him since before his marriage to Penelope, since his father's death when he'd realized just how disastrous the old man's spendthrift habits had been to the family fortunes. Side by side they had worked to rebuild the Brigstock family coffers, to pay off debts, and to rebuild the family position in society. "We've worked hard, we deserve our reward. When I have found him, when you decide Perry can handle the situation on his own—"
"You mean when he's learned not to act like such a lordly prick toward his brothers and sister?"
Gerard nodded again, hiding his smile at his oldest friend's assessment of his eldest son's character. "Even as you say. When it's all sorted out, you'll hire your successor and come join us?'
Nelson rose from behind his smaller desk. "If things work out, I may join you. If
... your friend's situation is as it was when last you met him."
Gerard understood Nelson's meaning clearly. The secretary had spent years putting his best effort into furthering Gerard's causes, but he had his own interests to pursue as well. At this point, neither of them could tell if their courses would continue in the same traces. "Well, let them in then, we'll neither of us discover our futures until it
's all set in play."
Nelson didn't hesitate. The children's voices rose as he pulled the heavy door open, then fell into silence. Nelson slipped out as the tide of Gretton children trooped into the room
, five handsome children with dark hair and piercing blue eyes, aristocratic noses, and the characteristic Gretton ear lobes. Gerard sighed. He'd done his best to establish each of his progeny on a path that suited his temperament, but the thought of leaving them to their own devices for the indefinite future didn't quite rest easily. "Please, be seated." He held up a hand to forestall the explosion of sound. "I have a matter of grave importance to discuss with you. I regret summoning you all in such a pompous manner, but it seemed prudent to speak to you all at once." He paused to look around the circle of chairs.
Perry sat stiffly, lips compressed in a thin line. Next to him sat Randall, perfectly at his ease in his scarlet uniform, knees crossed, tasseled Hessians gleaming, eyes twinkling. Harold sat next to his brother, and from the dreamy expression in his eyes
, he was either contemplating some scholarly inanity, or dreaming up some bit of mischief. Cecilia was perched on the very edge of her chair, toe tapping impatiently as she twisted a handkerchief to shreds in her lap. Cecilia. He had somehow failed in his duty with her. Girls her age should have been long since married and providing heirs for their husbands, but Cecilia hadn't taken, as it were, and though she was quite popular, had inexplicably not received any acceptable proposals.
You did your best, he reminded himself. Seven seasons, a tour of the continent, visits to Brighton and Bath
, and house parties innumerable. In another year, the girl would be twenty-five and she could take up residence in the house her mother had left her in Tunbridge Wells. He'd provided the same allowance for Cecilia as he had his sons in order to cover just such an eventuality.
His attention was drawn from his musings about Cecilia's fate as a spinster when a minor scuffle ensued between his youngest son, Nash
, and Cecilia that apparently involved some kicking and flying elbows. "Children!" He scolded. Nash was such a scamp, always getting into mischief of one kind or another. "This is serious business. Save your bickering for later."
"Perhaps, Father, if you would..." Perry paused meaningfully.
"Yes. Of course. I'm leaving," he announced baldly and waited for responses. They exchanged bewildered glances. Again, it was Peregrine who broke the silence.
"Would you like us to accompany you to the country, father? It isn't exactly convenient right now."
Gerard waved him impatiently to silence. "No. I'm leaving the country. I've some old friends I want to look up, and many places I've never been. I sent each of you on a Grand Tour, but when I was of the age for it, my family hadn't the funds to send me. Now, everything here is in order, and you all well. You don't need me. Each of you is independent, and none of you wants me interfering in your lives. So, I'm going to travel, look for my friend, and enjoy myself." He cast a glance over each stunned face in turn. "Cat got your tongues, eh? I've done my duty by this family since I was nineteen. I'm turning fifty soon, and I think it's my turn to enjoy life. Perry, I'm leaving you power of attorney to run the estates.
He forestalled Perry's moment of triumph by continuing. "Under the direction of Nelson. He has my authority to naysay anything too outrageous. The rest of you, I've set up your allowances to be paid quarterly. If there is a problem, you may direct corres
pondence to me through Nelson. I advise you to do your best to live within your means, because neither he nor Perry will be able to bail you out if you take a swim in River Tick. That's all. You may go now.
He held his breath as they rose, and pretended to study the papers on his desk. It was too much to hope that the lot of them would just troop on out and let him get on with finding Jonathon.
"Pardon?" He glanced up at Nash, his youngest child, the jack-a-napes who courted scandal assiduously in the tradition of younger sons everywhere
"When are you going?"
Was that regret or sorrow in the boy's eyes
"In the morning." Good boy, that Nash. High-spirited as hell, but a heart of gold
"And when will you return?" Harold piped in, focusing hi
s gaze on his father for the first time since entering the room
Gerard hadn't been at all certain that his dreamer son had even understood that he was leaving.
"I’m not certain. It depends on whether I find my friend, and once I find him, whether I can
convince him to return with me." He caught Randall's startled look of cognition. "Yes." He knew Randall understood the significance of his words. "Yes, exactly, Randall. I had no choice,you understand, as I had no brothers to take my place. You're fortunate in that Perry and Nash are so eager to propagate the family name.
"I wish you every success on your journey then, father." Randall bowed deeply and followed his younger brother from the room
Cecilia crossed the room and pressed a kiss to his cheek. He patted her head briefly. "Now then, my girl. No need for you to be concerned. I've set things up for you. You'll have your pin money as always, and the use of any of the houses. Perry will look after you. I don't suppose you've found a husband yet?" he teased his only daughter
"I’m afraid I'm not actually looking. You
know, I'm quite old enough to look after myself." The apple of his eye cast a disparaging glance at her elder sibling. "Perry needn't trouble himself.
"It's done. There's no need to argue the point, puss. Perry will look out for you until you turn twent
y-five, and then you'll have all the joy of looking out for yourself you could wish. A year isn't so long to wait. And Perry…" He frowned sternly at his eldest boy. "Will not be a trial to you, will you my boy?
Perry grunted noncommittally and Gerard sighed again. "Go on. I've a lot of packing to do. And you... Yes, it is necessary to leave Nelson to help you. You've a damned supercilious attitude and frankly, I'm rather concerned that you'd run roughshod over your siblings if I left it entirely up to you
Oh, I know you wouldn't abuse them, but they aren't a stack of blank canvasses to be repainted in your image, either.
"But nothing, Peregrine. They are high spirited and lively, and that's the way we love them. Help them, support them, and if
they are in true danger, rescue them, but otherwise let them live their lives. I intend to at last live mine, and you, my serious son, I highly suggest you live yours.
Nash Gretton glanced around the crowded ballroom and sighed. It was all well and good Peregrine demanding he attend the Gravesends’ masquerade, and keep his eyes and ears open, but it would be a lot easier if he knew what for. Everyone was masked, and although a few people were instantly recognizable—Lord Welland by his hawkish nose, and the Countess of Kivven by her horrendous laugh—the majority were not easily decided on. Nash arrived as late as he thought he could get away with and not annoy his brother, and circled the room once before he became bored. It all looked very much the same as usual: assignations, amorous encounters, gossip, and speculation. He'd be better suited back in the shires, looking after his hounds, and walking the fields. Why he ever agreed to come to London he'd never know. Except that for all his prosy ways, his eldest brother was a good man, and rarely asked for anything.
Nash took one more turn around the ballroom, ducked the advances of a drunken lady, and walked to where the refreshments were. He passed Lord Gravesend in earnest discussion with Lord Welland, who was his nearest neighbor in Rutland, and was amused neither of them recognized him. Gravesend could be forgiven
—Nash was a good ten years younger—but Welland saw and spoke to Nash at least once a week. He caught just a few words of their conversation. "Tuesday week, and she will…" Nothing to wonder about.
For some reason known only to herself, Gussie Gravesend had set the refreshment out in a room well away from the ballroom, and on the other side of the house. Nash strode along the corridor. It was deserted, the supper dance had yet to be announced, and he intended to be away by then. He'd done as Perry asked and saw nothing untoward. So a bite to eat, because he'd instructed the servants not to wait up, and then back to his lodgings. He'd had enough of London; he'd leave for the shires as soon as he'd spoken to Peregrine.
The corridor took a sharp left turn. Nash wheeled smartly in the same direction and ran into a soft wall. He put his hand out to steady himself and found a warm womanly breast in his palm. It was of course attached to a smooth female body. The simple touch as he felt her quiver sent shock waves of heat rolling through him. His cock, always eager to participate in any activity with a woman, stiffened. Nash ignored the tingles that raced across his skin, and cursed the fact that his body and mind wanted more than a brief touch.
"My apologies." He bowed and removed his hand with reluctance. There was something perfect about holding a woman, in any manner.
She dipped a slight curtsey. "Accepted if…" The lady tilted her head and put one finger to a set of rosy lips. Above a pert nose, the rest of her face was covered with a white mask and only her eyes—with irises of a blue so deep that it was almost black—could be seen. The hood of the nondescript black cloak she wore covered her hair.
"If?" Nash prompted.
"If you get me out of here." Her eyes sparkled and he saw the pulse in her neck beat erratically.
"If I do, what then?" Nash asked her. "Once I've spirited you away." Surely it couldn't be the invitation he now hoped for