Chapter Four, Part Two

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Haverford had located and pasted on his usual amused drawl, but Toad could hear the iron beneath. If his father did not kill him, Uncle Haverford still might. "I have found two intruders, Nick, and have not yet killed either, but the moment of truth approaches."

The Duke of Wellbridge appeared at the door, walking stick in hand, ready to do battle. Sally shifted to place herself between her friend and both fathers.

"Good God in heaven, what are you doing here, Abersham? You are supposed to be at Dalrymple House!" Taking in the two young peoples' state of dishabille, he sucked in a breath between his teeth. "And with Sal! Good God, man! Is this...? I cannot believe... Haverford?"

Haverford took a step toward Toad, crowding him, and bared his teeth in a growl until Toad stepped back. "I suppose you would prefer me not to disembowel your heir, Wellbridge?"

Sally had either decided the moment of imminent danger was over, or she was afraid her father was serious and could not be talked around, for she said nothing. Toad wished she would stick up for him again. He wished anyone would.

Wellbridge held out his walking stick between Haverford and Toad. "I had better hear the rest of the story before I decide how to answer that. Disemboweling might be just what he needs."

"Sarah assures me 'nothing happened.'" Haverford snorted. "You can see what sort of nothing for yourself."

"Indeed, I can. David George Northope, I am at the end of my rope with you!"

Toad fastened his cuff links, keeping his eyes on those, rather than his father's incisive stare.

"I will not marry him, Papa," Sally said, returning to the point that Wellbridge interrupted. She insinuated her hand into Toad's behind his back. He could tell by the trembling she was more frightened than she wished anyone to know. He rubbed his thumb against her palm.

Wellbridge pointed a finger at Sally. "You will marry him if we tell you to, young lady."

Toad gripped her hand tighter.

"I'll not ruin my best friend's life, Uncle Wellbridge. I will not."

"No, Wellbridge. I'll not force the issue," Haverford held up a hand, "nor allow the scandal free rein, if they agree to my terms."

"If?" Toad asked with an indignant sneer. "You would make on dits of your own daughter?"

"Shut up, Abersham," his father growled, "before I pin you down, so he can cut out your heart."

"If I agree not to force a marriage—" Haverford said, without the slightest acknowledgement Toad had spoken, "—and I can force a marriage. Do not doubt it. I can. If I have to take you to the altar gagged, Lady Sarah, you shall marry the pernicious weed, if I say so. If, instead, I agree to hush up your disgrace, there will be three conditions."

Sally paled, but her snarling query gave him no quarter. "What conditions?"

"Yes," Toad asked, "what conditions?" He rather hoped they would all be highly unacceptable and lead Sal to agree to marry him in the morning.

"First, your mother and your Aunt Bella need to know exactly what you have been up to, and they must agree a marriage is not needed. You know, Nick, they must have their say," he casually tossed over his shoulder to Wellbridge, "or we shall never hear the last of it."

Toad shrugged, attempting insouciance. He hadn't expected to be allowed to get by without his mother being told. But the smug look on his father's face told him he hadn't managed the required nonchalance. Sarah squeezed his hand in their age-old gesture of comfort. Both duchesses were going to give their errant offspring The Disappointed Look.

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