It had to be Lady Faversham behind this, for surely Giles would not do anything to hurt her, however angry she made him. It was only as she climbed into the chaise and waved goodbye that she realised she had no idea what she could do when she reached Hereford. But she could not sit in London while her child was in peril and leave Jane to face whatever this was alone.
* * *
‘You were right—Geraldine’s up to something and she’s planning to go to Hereford of all places.’
‘Are you certain?’ Hereford. Giles put down his knife and fork and stared at Jack Carstairs over his half-eaten breakfast. His mother’s lover had arrived at his Albany chambers without warning and seemed decidedly put out.
Since the confrontation at the Leamingtons’ ball Giles had been at pains to avoid Isobel. It would do her reputation no good to be seen with him and it seemed he could not trust himself to keep his hands off her. There were two things he could do to protect her: stay out of her way and make certain his mother did her no harm.
Before Jack’s arrival, it had occurred to him after a night of tossing and turning that the best way to circumvent Geraldine was to discover where Isobel was vulnerable. He was certain there was something, something more to her past than the simple loss of her virginity to her fiancé.
Unable to sleep, his remedies had been either a cold bath or distraction. Shrugging into his robe he had taken a candle and pulled the Peerage off the shelves. He might as well start by getting the family straight: Isobel’s family, the Jervises—no, after ten minutes he could see nothing out of the ordinary there.
Then, on impulse, he looked under Needham. The current viscount was a half-brother of Lucas who had drowned in January 1797. He looked at the other entries for the same name. The Hon. Ralph Needham decd. Lucas’s other half-brother, he worked out. And he had died on the same day as Lucas, Giles realised, flicking back to check. Married Miss Jane Barrymore, by whom issue Nathaniel and Annabelle. Twins born posthumously in September 1797. Longmere Manor, Gaston, Hereford.
Hereford rang a bell. Isobel had mentioned it with a note of longing in her voice and then, when he would have questioned her about it, for the area was unknown to him, she had abruptly changed the subject.
Giles had stared at the entry, working out the relationships. Ralph was Lucas’s younger half-brother. That was a close connection to Isobel, but what did it signify and how could it harm her? Lucas and I were lovers, she had confessed. But what of it? She had been betrothed to the man. He ran a finger over the close-packed black lines of type, half-formed ideas worrying at the edges of his mind.
* * *
Giles dragged himself back to the present and the other man. He had taken Carstairs into his confidence to a degree, putting it to him that it was in Geraldine’s interests if they could stop her embarking on a destructive feud with Lady Isobel.
‘I’m certain. But I’ve no idea why, she won’t tell me. Threw the coffee pot at my head when I wouldn’t go with her. Damn it, Harker,’ Carstairs said, pulling out a chair and sitting down, ‘I’m not trailing half across the country in support of one of her vendettas and I told her so. Told her you wouldn’t like it, either. Is there any fresh coffee?’
‘Hicks! Coffee for Mr Carstairs.’ Giles picked up his own cup and frowned into the dregs. They held no answers. ‘Any more letters?’
The other man nodded. ‘She’s been getting letters daily that have been pleasing her inordinately, as I told you, and then this one arrived and she said, Hah! I’ve got the little hussy now and ordered her woman to pack and sent her footman out to hire a chaise.
‘Thought you ought to know, because I’m pretty certain it has some connection with Lady Isobel. Or, at least, something to do with you. When she got these letters she’d stare at that portrait of you over the fireplace with such a look in her eyes. Brrr.’ He shuddered theatrically and peered at Giles more closely.
‘How’s the face? Looks as though it is healing well. Thought they’d carved half of it off, the way Geraldine was carrying on at first.’
Giles shrugged. ‘Healing. There will always be scars. Geraldine attaches too much importance to looks.’ What the devil had the woman discovered about Isobel?
He was prepared to go to any lengths to protect her, he realised, even though he was not willing to put a name to his feelings. Her hints at the ball that she might take a lover had made him jealous, furiously jealous, even while he knew she was deliberately provoking him and would no more do such a thing than fly. With disastrous honesty she had told him she loved him and she had meant it. His attempts to reject her for her own good had made her angry, but it had not changed her love for him, he sensed that.