‘I have no money—only enough to afford some cheap lodgings until I can find a position. It wouldn’t be fair to Daisy.’
‘You can’t go off to London by yourself. Look what happened before. We’ll come with you—we can go to the lodgings you had with Mrs Semple—and we will find something we can do.’
‘I won’t leave you.’ Dorcas sat down on the end of the bed. ‘You saved us. I’ll get the bags.’
Oh, bless her. She was too grateful for the support to argue anymore. ‘Knock when you come back. I am locking the door.’ Not that there seemed to be any need. Alex was hardly rushing after her. He had probably realised all too clearly what a mistake he had made in bringing her grand—in bringing Lord Sethcombe and his family here.
She began to move about the room, opening drawers, piling her few possessions on the bed. She hesitated over the gifts from the Tempest family, then put them in the pile to pack. It would be ungracious to discard them.
Patricia sat stiffly on the bedside cupboard, blue skirts smooth, painted eyes beady. ‘Oh, Alex. Of all the things to give me. I will talk to her, try to pretend I am back in an innocent childhood—and all the time I’ll see you, look into your eyes, want to run my fingers through your hair.’ She trailed her hand over the shiny painted scalp. ‘I’ll want to hear your voice and there will only be silence.’
‘Tess!’ There was a sharp knock on the door panels. ‘Dorcas is standing here with your luggage. What the devil do you think you are doing?’
She found herself at the door, her hands pressed against the panels, as close to him as she would ever be again. ‘I am leaving, as I said I would. Alex, how could you do that? How could you cause such embarrassment for your parents? You told me your father and Lord Sethcombe were not on good terms, and this can only make it far worse.’
‘I thought it best to surprise you so you could not refuse to see them.’ He sounded tense, but patient. ‘He is an old man, Tess, and we are asking him to admit he blundered badly with two of his daughters and let blind prejudice estrange him from his granddaughter.’
‘I am not asking him anything.’
‘You will not forgive him, then? Not even for—’
Silence. ‘For what?’ Tess prompted. But it seemed Alex had gone. For what—or for whom?
* * *
It was the longest Christmas evening that Alex could remember. The Sethcombe ladies, distressed at losing Tess almost as soon as they had found her, were driven home by Lord Withrend. Lord Sethcombe stayed, apparently a fixture in the best chair in the study, drinking brandy with Lord Moreland, the two men exchanging occasional observations on matters that had no bearing on the problem whatsoever, so far as Alex could tell from his silent vigil by the window, hoping against hope that Tess would relent and come down.
At seven Annie presented herself, bobbed a curtsy that was one inch from insolent and announced that where Miss Ellery, Mrs White and Daisy went, she went and she hoped his lordship would take that as her notice because she didn’t care whether he gave her a reference or not, she wasn’t staying, not no how. At which point she burst into tears and fled the room.
‘Excellent staff management, Weybourn,’ his father observed.
‘Annie’s loyal,’ Alex snapped. ‘I’ll not fault anyone for that.’
‘That matters to you, does it not, Weybourn?’ Lord Sethcombe said.
‘Yes.’ He shut his lips tight on the observation that if the older man had been loyal to his daughters this would not have happened.
‘Do you love my granddaughter?’
‘Of course I love your granddaughter!’ Alex slammed the brandy glass down on the table beside him, sending liquid splashing across the polished surface. ‘Do you think I’d have dragged my ailing father out on a bitter winter’s day to try to make peace with you if I didn’t? Tess made me see the importance of family, the importance of forgiveness, but she didn’t teach me well enough to forgive you for this, I fear.’
‘You’ve a temper on you, Weybourn.’ Sethcombe observed. ‘Didn’t expect that. They told me you were a languid, elegant, care-for-nothing fellow. You gave me a shock, I’ll not deny it. I’m not an easy man to shift in my opinions.’
Lord Moreland snorted. ‘You may say that again, Sethcombe.’
The marquess glowered at him. ‘Your son wants to marry my granddaughter. I’ve no objection to that—’