‘They denied it everywhere they could, of course. But my brother is a schoolboy, my father a martyr to gout. Neither of them is going to be taking up a rapier in my defence! Besides, my hostess threw me out the next morning, so the lie is widely believed. There is nothing to be done except take refuge where I am trusted—here with old friends of my parents.’
Giles paced down the length of the library to the other globe, the celestial one showing the heavens, and spun it viciously. ‘Something should be done.’ Hell’s teeth, he had called an innocent woman a foul name, he had accused her on hearsay evidence. He was having trouble getting past his own self-loathing for that, and for wanting to kiss her again. Kiss her...and more. That made him a rutting beast like Andrew White and he was not. Please God, he was not that.
‘Why is your old friend not calling out the man who betrayed his sister? Andrew White seems to be getting away scot-free,’ Isobel demanded. It was a reasonable question.
‘James is almost blind. He can see well enough to get around, but that is all. His sight was failing when we were at Harrow and it has deteriorated since.’
‘Poor man. I had no idea. I was aware that he did not come into society, of course,’ Isobel said, instantly compassionate. She was sweet when she was soft—pitying for James, tender with the child. He wanted that softness, but all she would give him was the fire.
‘He is a scholar, a great mind. When we were children at school he held the bullies at bay because they were frightened of his rapier intelligence and his sharp tongue. He protected me with his wits when I was new, terrified and a victim because of my parentage. As I grew in size and confidence I defended him with my fists. Fortunately he can afford to keep secretaries and assistants so his studies are not affected by his sight. He is working on a new translation of the Greek myths.’
‘A true friendship,’ Isobel murmured, her head bent over the spinning globe, her long index finger tracing a route across continents. Was she imagining an escape from all this? ‘Will you help me? Tell Lord James you believe me? If he can convince his parents and Penelope, then it might do some good.’ She sounded doubtful that he would support her, even now.
‘Of course.’ Of course. But that is not enough. You are mine. I saved your life so you are mine. The anger boiling inside him became focused. He would tell James, of course, and Penelope, whom he had known since she was six, but there must be justice for Isobel. White and the other two had got off from this almost unscathed.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Isobel put back her shoulders and straighten her back as if bracing herself to carry this burden of disgrace. Alone, she believed. But she was not alone any more. The fierce sense of possessiveness was unsettling, but he had never saved someone’s life before—perhaps that accounted for the way he felt about Isobel now.
‘You are very brave,’ he said and her chin came up with a defiance that tugged at his heart.
‘I refuse to go into hiding because I am the victim of an injustice, so what else can I do but carry on? Besides, if I was truly courageous I would be in London now, brazening it out, would I not?’ Isobel threw at him.
‘I think you are too much of a lady to be brazen about anything. And what well-bred virgin would not shy away from such behaviour?’ Now, what had he said to make her blush so? ‘It takes a wicked widow like my mother to carry off that kind of thing.’
She gave herself a little shake. ‘There is nothing to be done about the situation beyond you telling your friend the truth. Look, the sun is shining—I think I will ride after all.’
‘Then I hope the weather holds for you. I find I must go to London this morning.’ There was more he could do and it seemed that Isobel had no one else to do it for her. Besides, Giles thought, the fierce possessiveness burning hot inside him, this would be both his right and a pleasure. The experience of defending a lady was not new, but it was an ironic twist that this time he would be on the side of innocence instead of mitigating his mother’s latest outrages.
‘It is not a problem with your business that takes you there, I see,’ she said, watching him with narrowed eyes. ‘That was the smile of a man who positively relishes what is in front of him.’
‘Oh, yes,’ Giles agreed. ‘I am looking forward to it, although it is an unexpected development.’ It was easy to resist the temptation to tell her what he was intending to do. This could all be covered by his willingness to stand up for his friends the Albrights. Isobel’s name need not come into it.