Chapter Twenty-Six: Part 2

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"I would like to see the boy again, Nick, and my little girl misses him. Not that I'll leave her alone with the rogue for a minute, you understand."

Sally relaxed back against the window seat cushions. She could accept that condition. For now.

"Your Graces?" The new voice was Mr. Crowhurst senior. Sally disliked him only slightly less than she did his son, but the two dukes were surprisingly tolerant of his boot-licking and parvenu pretensions.

"I trust I am not disturbing Your Graces? I understand your wishing to escape the young people; they are having a good time, of course, but they are noisy, I cannot deny. But I would not disturb you for the world."

"Not at all, Crowhurst," Uncle Nick said, politely. "Come in. Come in. Brandy? Or perhaps we should break with tradition and have wine from your latest vintage? Bella has been so pleased with what you have done with the vineyard, Crowhurst. It was a wrench for her to let it go."

Sally could hear the man's oily smile in his voice. "Her Grace is very busy lady, Your Grace, and a vineyard needs the attention of an owner to thrive."

"Indeed," Uncle Nick said. "I thank you, one man to another, for giving me the chance to take my wife away to the Continent unencumbered by concern for the home she loved, and for allowing her the courtesy of visits to her former husband's gravesite. It means the world to her. Which of your blends shall I decant, Sir?"

The conversation was sure to be dull from here on, as Crowhurst would do nothing but try to ingratiate himself. But it would be too embarrassing to appear in front of the man. Sally would just have to wait for them to go away. She shifted closer to the curtains, and split them a chink so that she could look into the room.

Crowhurst bustled over to take a look at the row of bottles. "I propose we try this one, Your Grace. I am confident Your Graces will find it the equal of anything from France."

Uncle Nick opened the bottle. "I understand you have doubled your acreage?"

Crowhurst bowed. "I have, Your Grace. Our Crowhurst wines are enjoying some success, I am happy to say. But even more, our little home is a haven to my own dear wife and myself, a place where we can be ourselves."

"Indeed," Papa agreed, sounding bored.

Mr. Crowhurst coughed. "Did young Lord Abersham not wish to come home for the festive season, Your Grace? I would not like to face this time of year without my Cameron. I am very grateful to Your Grace's good lady for permitting him to come with me here."

"No trouble at all, Crowhurst. And of course, we would have liked to see Abersham, but my son needs to remain focused on his studies."

"Studies? But Cameron says... Well, never mind. Boys will be boys, will they not?"

Did Mr. Crowhurst not hear the frost in Uncle Nick's voice? "Cigar?"

"Thank you, Your Grace. May I say," Mr. Crowhurst turned to Haverford, "your daughter is lovely. Very lovely."

"Thank you." Papa's turn to sound like ice. "My wife and I think so."

"My son thinks so, I can assure you. He is quite taken with Lady Sarah." Sally shuddered as Mr. Crowhurst gestured to Wellbridge. "His son, too, or so I hear."

Uncle Nick looked down his long nose at the winemaker. "I think my son a long way from mature enough to marry anyone, and he would be a lucky young man indeed if it were Lady Sarah."

"Lord Abersham has an eye for a pretty girl. He would not be a normal young man, if he did not, would he?" Mr. Crowhurst shook his head. "And I am sure with maturity, he will leave behind some of the less—well, less savoury activities. Paris, you know."

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