"My lords?" A spotlessly dressed manservant interrupted their discussion as carefully and quietly as possible.
"Yes?" Piero asked.
"Your guests have arrived. Shall I show them in?" Neither Bey nor Zajac had been offered a place at this club, but Toad and Piero had not been close enough friends with them at the time to object. In recompense, they offered up the amenities whenever they were there.
"Of course you should show them in. I told you so when we sat down to supper. And bring more drinks, please. We have almost finished the port."
A few minutes later, Bey and Zajac came in, sporting the typical grins they wore when they won at the tables or enjoyed a brothel more than usual. Once they had been provided drinks and comfortable chairs, and supper was on its way, Toad broached the reason for his invitation.
"Your uncle wants you to work for him?" Bey asked.
"He hopes I will manage the operation, and will give me forty percent and the chance to buy more if he wins his bet." After a long sip of his drink, he added, "I wish to split my percentage equally among us and take you all with me. I will need a team and prefer men I know."
Bey sat back and wrinkled his brow. "That would put me in direct competition with my family and Kopet Dag. My uncle James has asked me to join the family business, and now that he has ascended to Winshire, he is even more formidable. My uncle Matthew concurs... and he is the Kagan. One does not defy the wishes of the Kagan or the Duke of Winshire, no matter how insufferable they might be. They will be livid if I take up another offer."
For a long while, no one said anything until finally, Bey broke the silence.
"So, I can make my own money," Bey asked, "and also annoy my illustrious and intolerable uncles?"
"Yes," Piero said, "and that seems to be a theme among us. My brother, Abersham's parents... now your uncles."
"Two birds, one stone," Toad offered again.
"Not I," Zajac said. "My father is not my adversary," Zajac said. "He hopes I will take a position as a supercargo with his shipping partner and assist in buying and selling textiles, but he has not insisted. Still, I am inclined to accept. Would you be amenable to such a cargo, and a route into Russia?"
Toad considered. "I do not see why not. I've no other cargos committed yet, and it would be a good start. And I know my mother's routes into the interiors on every continent."
Bey gave him a sharp look. "How in Hades did you find that?"
"I got Hawley drunk and asked him."
Piero broke out on laughter once more. "You have iron bollocks, my friend, which I am surprised he left attached to your body. Will he not tell your mother?"
"He doesn't remember me borrowing the maps. I copied and returned them before he woke the next morning. I am not an artist, but the reproductions are clear enough."
Zajac's mouth fell open, but he stuck his hand out. "I will join you."
"You needn't think about it, or ask your father? It will be more difficult than a position on a ship's crew."
"Is this not what we have trained for? What is there to consider?" Toad shook on the deal. "Bey will join us, too, once he has convinced himself."
Bey opened his mouth to speak, but stopped. Eventually, with all three of the others staring and waiting, he said, "I will have to ponder; I am not as free as Zajac to choose my course. I have always thought I would join Kopet Dag."
The servant came back with Bey's and Zajac's dinner, then, and it took another five minutes to set up folding tables and ensure they had wine and everything else they needed. Once they had been served, Zajac began attempting to convince Bey, as their friendship had evolved much like Toad and Piero's.
"Taking on your own venture will mean more experience for you to offer your family, eventually. And you can work with them on the Silk Road, as I will with my father."
"You assume Winshire does not have a similar wager to Lord Firthley with Abersham's mother. They trade top position annually the past ten years, at the cost of a full cargo. Not only would I be in competition, I would be helping to undercut my own income. My allowance all this time has been a stipend from the same shares as every child of my father's house, on the assumption I will contribute my new-found knowledge. My tuition, too, was undertaken by the company. It would be a slap in the face to my entire family."
Toad drew on his cigar for some time, everyone alone with their own thoughts once again, Bey and Zajac with their meals. This was one thing he appreciated about these men. They could all enjoy a comfortable silence, and none felt the need to fill the quiet with inanities. Finally, he said, "Would it not be in our interest to partner with Kopet Dag, to help your grandfather win his bet, and my uncle, too? Could you sell such a plan to the Duke of Winshire, if I can enlist the dowager duchess?"
Fork halfway to his mouth, Bey dropped his hand. "Perhaps. It would be simpler than attempting competition, which is a ludicrous idea anyway. My grandfather destroyed your uncle's chances twenty years ago, along with every other small concern."
"True. My mother, too. Shall we give it a go? The four of us, managing my uncle's operation? No... our operation... with Firthley's investment."
Finally, Bey nodded, "On the condition my family will agree."
"I am amenable," Zajac granted. "And I am certain my father will be."
"Arturo will be furious if we cut him out of the profits. So, of course I will join you."
"Then it is settled." Toad shook on the deal with each man in turn. "I will start a plan for my uncle this evening based on what I learned in Greece and solicit your opinions once I have a draft."
YOU ARE READING
Never Kiss a ToadRomance
[A Victorian romance continuing family stories begun in the various Regency books of Jude Knight and Mariana Gabrielle.] David "Toad" Northope, heir to the Duke of Wellbridge and rogue in the mold of his infamous father, knows Lady Sarah "Sal" Grenf...