Realm 03 - A Touch of Cashemere (5 page)

BOOK: Realm 03 - A Touch of Cashemere
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Cashémere Aldridge might be beautiful, but she possessed the ability to set the hairs on the back of his neck on edge–and not in a good way. She was singular in her ideas, thinking very little of anyone but herself. She did not consider what became of his estate while he escorted her across the countryside nor the danger in which she placed them by her shortsightedness. Now, she expected him to continue this escapade by seeing her to Cheshire. He would definitely have a word with Shepherd regarding this assignment. “You wish me to continue to serve as your escort?”

Cashé wished he might be a bit pleased by her offer, but Lord Yardley, evidently, found her contemptuous. Hurt by his resentment, she retorted, “Well, Uncle Samuel would not approve; yet, we have traveled this far together, and as long as I have Edana with me, it shall have to do. Besides, Uncle Samuel does not approve of how Lady Worthing conducted her life prior to coming to Linton Park.” The viscountess blustered, but Cashé persisted in repeating what she had evidently heard her uncle say on more than one occasion when Velvet defended the Fowlers. “Even Eleanor’s aiding Lady Amsteadt in the delivery of the woman’s child is not acceptable for a woman of refined society, no matter how admirable the act might be. My uncle would not agree with my staying at Linton Park without him or Aunt Alice, so it is best if I continue to seek my sister.”

“You are quite misleared, Miss Cashé,” the earl accused.

“Rude, my Lord? Or honest? It is a matter of perspective.” She raised her chin defiantly. She saw the anger seethe beneath his composure, but Cashé no longer cared about his holier than thou opinions.

“From my perspective, rudeness is a long way from truthfulness. You accepted the hospitality of Lady Worthing at Linton Park and of her brother at Briar House, and then you repeat malicious, hurtful words spoken about their family.”

The girl flushed. “I apologize, Eleanor; you are my cousin, and my family is thankful to yours for my sister’s care; yet, things were quite different within our households.” She mimicked her uncle by snarling her nose in distaste.

Marcus watched closely as Lady Worthing busied herself with the tea service, using it as a distraction while she took several deep breaths to steady her hand. Finally, she said flatly, “As I would not judge you, I would wish that you might offer me the same. Do not forget what the Good Book says, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone.’”

Marcus thought Eleanor Kerrington chose her response well, but Miss Cashé looked offended. “Such misapplication of the scripture will not silence me or my opposition to depravity. Besides, what might be said of censure for Uncle Samuel’s family?”

Lady Worthing stood suddenly. She surprised Marcus with her composure, however. How did one address the girl’s naiveté? The viscountess’s voice held a deadly warning. “As Peter warned when referring to Paul’s letters, some things are hard to understand by those who are untaught or are unstable and who twist to their destruction the scriptures. Cashé, you make everything black or white, but the world knows not such extremes; it is covered in shades of gray.” Lady Eleanor paused to calm her breathing. “You wish to know of what I might criticize Viscount Averette. How about the fact that your uncle would see a woman and a child die simply to keep the lines of propriety? Or that you have not seen your twin in nearly three years, and until recently, not Velvet for over two? How about that not once did your righteous Uncle Samuel send one quid of support for Velvet’s upbringing? I imagine it is so for Satiné, as well. I know this to be a fact for the past six years because as father became more incoherent, the estate ledgers became my duty to oversee and to update. How about the fact that when Velvet came of age, no one in your family acknowledged it with an appropriate dowry? Again, it was that depraved man known as William Fowler–my father–who bequeathed her a dowry of thirteen thousand pounds. But even more importantly, it was my family who saw to Velvet’s education, who tended her when she was ill, who nourished her hopes and her dreams. You may be Velvet’s sister by blood, but I am her sister in life. Despite our depravity and our ill breeding, my family gave Velvet a home when your righteous grandmother and Uncle Samuel would not.” Lady Worthing gave Marcus a quick curtsy. “Your Lordship, I shall see to your and Miss Cashé’s carriage. I assume you will be a gentleman and will accompany her west.”

Marcus certainly wanted nothing more to do with Miss Cashémere, but he would not leave the girl to plague Linton Park with her misconstructions. He refused to subject Kerrington’s wife to such a fate. He would remove Cashémere Aldridge from the viscountess’s household if he had to physically carry the spoiled brat all the way to Cheshire. “Unfortunately, Lady Worthing, my parents raised a gentleman.”

“And the world is a better place for it, my Lord.” Lady Worthing rolled her eyes in disbelief. She plastered a cordial smile on her face when she turned one last time to meet Marcus’s gaze. “Tell my brother that I pray for the speedy and safe return of each of you.”

“Yes...certainly, Lady Worthing,” Marcus stammered. Then she left them alone in the drawing room. Marcus waited until Lady Eleanor’s receding steps had told him that she had departed before he vehemently attacked Miss Cashé. “I have traveled through much of the Continent and the East. I have known schemers and liars, but not in all the years of my life have I known anyone who spoke with such hatred and such ignorance! What is it about you that makes you so despise the world–to see nothing but evil and iniquity? To put yourself as judge and jury? I can conceive of your immaturity, Miss Cashémere, but I cannot comprehend your need to lash out at everyone.”

Tears misted the girl’s eyes. “I am not immature, Your Lordship. I have learned my lessons well. You have no idea...”

“Then tell me, Miss Cashé. I will understand. Explain it to me, and I will make the things right. I swear by my honor.”

“I need not your honor nor your understanding, my Lord!” She stood quickly. “I also do not need your protection. I release you from your promise to see me to Cheshire. It is still daylight, and we can be at Chesterfield Manor in a matter of hours.” Cashé reached for her reticule and bonnet. “I thank you, Lord Yardley, for your concern for my well being.” She made a curtsy to leave.

Marcus caught her arm. “If you think I will allow a girl to travel alone even for a few hours, Miss Cashémere, you are sadly mistaken.”

She hissed, “I am not a girl, Lord Yardley.”

“You are not yet a woman for you act as a child,” he growled.

She flushed. “I am nearly nineteen. My uncle intends for my betrothal after my next birthday. If I am woman enough to marry, I am no longer a girl.”

Marcus studied her countenance. Cashé Aldridge was an enigma to which he held no answer. “I will see you safely to Baron Ashton’s estate and then join my friends in your oldest sister’s rescue.”

Her bottom lip trembled. “As you wish, Your Lordship.” She jerked her arm from his hold and raced from the room.

Marcus simply shook his head. “No, as you wish, Miss Cashémere.”

 

Chapter Three

“Miss Cashé, we must talk.” Marcus assisted Cashémere into the waiting coach. “I could ride with you, and Edana could join the driver for a few minutes.” He breathed the words into her hair. He had spent the last twenty minutes in a private conversation with Lady Worthing. Eleanor Kerrington had pleaded with him to assist Miss Cashé in breaking the hold Viscount Averette held over the girl. In tears, Fowler’s sister described a jovial Samuel Aldridge and the carefree child she remembered. “Find a way to reach her, Lord Yardley,” she had begged. “I fear it is too late for her uncle, but Cashé always had the most generous heart. Assist her in finding it again before she becomes a bitter old woman.”

Marcus did not understand why Lady Worthing entrusted her remembrances to him. She should have directed her discourse to Viscount Lexford. The man held an affection for the girl. He supposed Eleanor Kerrington simply needed to air her concerns, and he was the only one available; yet, he had promised his “captain’s” wife that he would see it through, and now Marcus wondered about the sanity of his words.

Red rimmed the girl’s eyes, but she refused to look away from him. “We need only to find my Uncle Charles. He shall see to Velvet’s safety and mine.” She stepped into the carriage and motioned for Edana to join her. With a shrug, Marcus folded the stairs into the coach and secured the door. With a nod to the driver, he swung up into the saddle to cover one more British shire today. He glanced at the girl as he rode forward to take the lead. Cashé Aldridge dabbed at her eyes before looking away. The sadness reminded Marcus of someone else he knew: him.

“Yes, Sir.”

Marcus stood before the Chesterfield Manor butler. “The Earl of Berwick and Miss Cashémere Aldridge for Baron Ashton.” He noticed how the butler stared intently at Cashé.

The man stammered, “Certainly...Sir. Please...please come in, Sir.” The butler took Marcus’s hat and gloves.

Marcus assisted Cashé with her cloak, but she turned to the butler and demanded, “Please ask my sister, Miss Satiné, to join us.”

With the security of an upper servant, the man replied evenly, “I will inquire if Miss Satiné is available.” He returned his attention to Marcus. “This way, Your Lordship.” The butler led them to a nearby drawing room. “Baron Ashton will be with you shortly, Sir.” He bowed from the room.

Marcus desperately wanted to leave the girl to her own selfish devices and to join his friends. His few private moments with Eleanor Kerrington told him Kimbolt and Fowler needed his expertise in dealing with Murhad Jamot. The faster he could dispense with Cashémere Aldridge, the better. He would share Lady Worthing’s concerns with Kimbolt and permit the viscount to address Miss Cashé’s shortcomings.

“Your Lordship,” Baron Ashton stepped through the open door, “how good of you to call upon us, Sir, and to bring our Cashémere with you.” He bowed to Marcus and opened his arms to his niece.

“Uncle Charles,” she cooed prettily. “It is so good to be at Chesterfield Manor.” The girl, evidently, ran hot and cold, and it discomposed Marcus to know that she had thought so little of him to show only her disdain.

“I am always amazed, my Dear, how much you and your sister resemble each other.” The baron sat Cashé away from him and took a closer look at her face. “Absolutely uncanny,” he murmured.

“Where is Satiné?” Marcus watched with some angst as the affable Cashémere reappeared. She acted as if this was simply a social call.

The baron shot a quick glance at Marcus. “Your sister will be down momentarily; she has been riding and must wash away the trail dust.” He motioned Cashé to a chair. “Meanwhile, perhaps Berwick might enlighten me as to why you two travel from Edinburgh together.”

“I can explain,” she began, but a raised hand from her uncle smothered her words.

“I would prefer to hear it from His Lordship, my Dear.”

Although he perfectly understood, Marcus did not appreciate the implication behind the baron’s words. “I am Marcus Wellston, and my estate is in Berwick. For many years, I have been a close associate of the Duke of Thornhill.”

The baron’s eyebrow rose in curiosity. “William Fowler?”

“No, Sir. Brantley Fowler. His Grace assumed the title several months ago.”

“I was unaware. My niece and I recently returned from a journey to Wales. I must have been out of the country when it happened.” The baron took a seat and motioned Marcus to one.

Marcus did not wish to discuss confidences. “As the late duke was ill for several years and not in Society, I assume it was not as well known as one might suspect.”

The baron inclined his head in affirmation. Marcus then continued, “Fowler and I served together on the Continent and have continued our association after returning to Britain.” He swallowed hard. “”Perhaps, Sir, I might make a very complicated story shorter. Viscount Averette recently spent time in London with the Fowlers. When he returned to Scotland, he thought it appropriate that Miss Aldridge change her residence to his. The lady has dwelled in the viscount’s home for some three months. Recently, the British governmental agency for which His Grace and I both served intercepted word of a possible kidnapping of your eldest niece. Because I was closer than Thornhill, I was dispatched to Edinburgh to thwart the attempt. Unfortunately, I was too late.

“Not understanding the situation’s true nature, Lord Averette assumed Miss Aldridge was a runaway and was on her way to meet Thornhill, as they have expressed an affection for each other. The viscount chases his niece toward London. Miss Cashémere thought we might overtake her uncle and set him to right, but when we reached Linton Park, Lady Worthing informed us that His Grace and Viscount Lexford rushed to Liverpool to seek word of Miss Aldridge.”

“Why did you travel to Linton Park, Cashémere?” Charles Morton asked, the unusual turn of events still not clear.

“Lady Eleanor married Viscount Worthing four months ago. When Uncle Samuel learned of the duke’s passing, he set an immediate course to Kent. He feared Fowler’s Cousin Leighton might assume the title as no one knew of Brantley’s whereabouts, and my uncle would not allow such a man to claim Velvet as his own.” The girl wrinkled her nose in disgust. “We were unaware of His Grace’s return to the title. As Fate would have it, our coach broke an axel outside of Linton Park, where we discovered Lady Eleanor in residence and awaiting her nuptials. As His Grace, Velvet, and the Dowager Duchess of Norfield made their way to Derby, we stayed for the wedding ceremony. When Velvet went missing, Uncle Samuel, naturally, came to the conclusion that my sister returned to Thornhill.”

“And Samuel in his righteous mind believed Linworth would look the other way while Fowler staged some sort of tryst with my niece. It amazes me the narrowness of the man’s opinions!” The baron leaned forward to press his point. “And never once did it cross Aldridge’s mind to keep me informed of these changes regarding Velvet! The gall of the man! He broke the dictates of his brother’s last testament.”

BOOK: Realm 03 - A Touch of Cashemere
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