Chapter Five

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Nathaniel swirled the brandy in his glass in the gloom of the library. The humiliation he'd seen in Anne Townsend's face as she pushed past him on her way home this morning haunted him still. Whatever was going on, it wasn't something she wanted, but she had reacted with grace and dignity. He had acted like an ass.

His plans for Sir John were not going as he expected. Now Townsend was a burden to Anne. The brandy burned the back of his throat. If Townsend was so deep in dun territory that he needed to stay with Anne, things were truly bad. Unscrupulous creditors would stop at nothing to collect their money. He had brought even more trouble to Anne's door.

Lady Danford breezed into the room and took a seat across from the desk. "You remind me of my husband, sitting like that behind that great desk. It is too cumbersome for me, yet I can't seem to get rid of it."

He wished she had. He swirled the brandy and tossed back a healthy swallow. "The room could use a smaller desk."

Nathaniel ignored the pity in his grandmother's eyes.

"Heavens, I don't know what got into Cecil Worth this morning. To read such a text in service is unpardonable." She pulled her shawl around her. "Mrs. Worth was furious."

Nathaniel swirled the brandy in his glass. "Miss Townsend is the one who should be furious."

"You saw her before she left. How was she?"

Nathaniel felt a pang of guilt at his treatment of Anne. He shifted uncomfortably. "She was visibly upset."

"Poor girl. I regret inviting the Worths to dinner tomorrow night[ Why did Lady Danford invite the Worths to dinner, when she and Mrs. Worth despise one another? It's never explained.]. Mrs. Worth is tiresome on a good day, but this will make her unbearable."

"Why did you invite them? It is clear the woman irritates you."

"Because we are the highest ranked family in the county. It would not set a good example for the village if we snubbed the vicar and his witch of a mother. Still given the events today, I've a mind to cancel supper all together."

He couldn't quite meet his grandmother's eyes. "I'm afraid I might have made things worse."

"Oh, Nathaniel, what did you do?"

He didn't like the censure in her expression. "You have to admit that the situation was humorous."

"You didn't laugh at her, surely," she chastised.

Nathaniel looked away. The pain in Anne's eyes when he had laughed still haunted him. The disappointment on his grandmother's face just made him feel lower than dirt.

"I thought I raised you with more sensibility than that, young man." Her voice was hard. "First this revenge scheme of yours, and now you laugh at Anne? How could you?"

Nathaniel swallowed the rest of his brandy. He'd been wondering the same thing. "I don't know. There's just something about her."

"Anne?"

He squirmed under her sharp eyes. "Yes. For one, why do Tony and now Cecil Worth act ridiculous in her presence, but not when she's away?"

She raised one thin eyebrow. "Except for Worth's behavior today, I hadn't noticed."

"Grandmother, Tony wrote poetry about Anne Townsend and wanted to read it to her yesterday."

"Oh, I had forgotten that." She watched him carefully. "Why your own sudden interest in Anne?"

"Just curious. Don't give me that look."

"What look? It's high time for you to find yourself a wife, Son, and frankly, you couldn't do better than Anne Townsend." She sat back in her chair, a smug expression on her face.

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