Chapter Two

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Nathaniel scrubbed his face with his hand as if he could chase away the tiredness caused by a sleepless night. After ten days on the road, he should have been exhausted, but his thoughts wouldn't let him rest.

He couldn't stop thinking about Anne Townsend. Every time he closed his eyes, she glared at him as her things were hauled off to pay her brother's debt. She cried. She accused.

He had enough guilt while awake. He didn't need it while he was sleeping.

He was now in hell, sitting where his father sat, behind the desk in the library, where his father put the gun to his head and started the nightmare that ended Nathaniel's childhood. Weak sunlight filtered through the windows where he dragged the curtains open. Anything to brighten the room up and remove the taint it had for him.

The household accounts for the Lodge lay open in front of him. He flipped through the pages, noting Miss Townsend's precise hand as she detailed each entry. Precise and controlled, much like the lady herself.

What was her place here at the Lodge? His grandmother had stated that Miss Townsend was her companion, yet the ledgers bore different proof. Grandmother had always insisted that the household wasn't large enough for a housekeeper. She enjoyed handling the household accounts as well as managing the servants. Was Miss Townsend now acting as housekeeper as well?

Nathaniel didn't know how he felt about a Townsend having access to the household accounts. Yes, he reviewed them quarterly, even from London, but it was easy to steal if one had the access and the opportunity.

He hated to admit it, but Miss Townsend prodigious care of his grandmother. She was modest and polite. No woman could be this perfect. There had to be a chink in her armor somewhere.

He rubbed at the pain in his stomach. He wasn't cut out for this revenge business. When he'd set out to ruin Sir John, he had no idea that Townsend had sisters. Nor did he expect to like any member of the Townsend family. He liked Anne Townsend a great deal.

A shadow fell in the doorway and a feminine voice said, "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know anyone would be in here."

As if his thoughts had caused her to materialize, Anne Townsend entered the room and stood before the desk with her hands folded serenely in front of her. The dark green of her dress accentuated the creaminess of her skin. Lace clung to the bodice and sleeves, and a tight bun attempted, with mixed success, to control her dark hair. She was the picture of innocent womanhood. She had even left the door open for propriety. God, he hoped looks were deceiving, or he was in trouble.

Nathaniel stood and cleared his throat. "Miss Townsend. Grandmother said you'd be expected this morning."

"I was just going over the ledgers," he said as she approached. He motioned to one of the big leather chairs in front of the desk.

She shook her head at his offer of a chair, instead choosing to lean over the desk to look at the ledger. "Is there a problem?"

The scent of lemon filled Nathaniel's head. He could see the fragile bones of her hand as it rested on the desk for support. He cleared his throat again. "I usually check the ledgers for Grandmother. Just want to make sure things are in order."

She stepped back as if he had slapped her. But then her expression grew more serene. It was irritating as hell. "The ledgers were sent to you just last month, sir. Did you not receive them?"

He fought the urge to squirm. "I had not had the time to review them before leaving for Beetham."

"I see."

He needed a different tack. "How long have you been handling the accounts, Miss Townsend?"

She stared down her nose at him, her green eyes hard and cold as stone. "Your grandmother asked me to record the receipts into the ledgers for her about a year ago. Her eyesight is failing, as you know."

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