Chapter Forty, Part 1

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Haverford stared at the documents on the desk in his hotel suite without seeing them. He had always loved Paris, but today, he was brooding in the hotel room over the mess Wellbridge and Abersham had made of what should have been a celebration. Each was as bad as the other, though Wellbridge should have had more sense and Abersham more respect.

"Your Grace? Is something not to your liking? I can make any changes you require, Your Grace." The secretary foisted on him by the Colonial Office was an enormous pain in the posterior, but according to Lord Stanley, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, an imperative imposition, even on this family trip.

Haverford chaired the committee in the House of Lords that had suggested Lord Bortham as governor of the Victoria and Albert Islands, the newest of Her Majesty's colonies, and Penchley had been assigned as Bortham's personal secretary. It was Penchley's job to understand and remember everything that His Lordship needed to know about the contentious situation between disgruntled natives, would-be British colonists, a polyglot ragtag of whalers, and the remnants of the original Portuguese settlers.

Only a matter of weeks remained before Bortham must leave, but the man had developed some kind of illness that, he insisted, would soon pass. Meanwhile, decisions had to be made on his behalf, so Haverford was forced to bring the paperwork—and Penchley—to Paris with him. Haverford hadn't spoken to Bortham since they'd first discussed the appointment, but Penchley had begun shadowing Haverford so closely, he half suspected the man of attempted buggery.

Bella and Cherry had sent Almyra off with her father and the Firthleys to see the sights of Paris, but Haverford had elected to stay behind to catch up with some of the paperwork Penchley was itching to put in front of him. So, he was there to overhear their murmured plot to bring about a reconciliation.

"Cherry, my love, what are you planning?" he asked, coming up behind her and kissing the back of her neck. "Will Nick wish to flay us all when you are finished?"

"What Nick wishes is not relevant," Bella snapped. "I have had enough of this ridiculous behaviour by two grown men who both profess to be intelligent, reasonable people in every other respect."

"We have to try, Anthony. Do you not see that? He is our godson, after all."

With another kiss to her forehead, he agreed, "Of course I see you have to try, but I'm afraid I also see it as a fool's errand. Abersham and Wellbridge will not suddenly choose to think rationally at your command. But, of course, I would not try to stop either of you, once you've decided on a mission."

"Good," Bella said as she pulled on her gloves. "Because the last thing we need in this situation is the opinion of another blasted duke."

Cherry giggled, but stood on tiptoes and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Do not be too unkind to poor Mr. Penchley while we are gone, my dear. He is trying very hard to impress you." They had elicited his promise of silence, then left for Abersham's apartment.

Penchley brought Haverford's thoughts back to the present by putting out his hand as if to remove the report Haverford was meant to be reading, but he waved the man off.

"Give me a minute, would you?"

Cherry had declared Nick and his son were two stubborn mules, which was true, but Haverford hadn't a notion how she and Bella planned to breach the younger donkey's defences. Abersham was Wellbridge to his fingertips, and both of them proud as sin, with tempers to match.

The ducal temperament. Haverford had it himself, though he prayed he controlled it better than the Northope men. But then, he had grown up a witness to his parents' marriage, and by the time he was twenty had sworn not to emulate the worst aspects of his father's character. Haverford's mother had been married at seventeen to a man with no control over his pride, his temper, or his appetites.

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