Chapter Forty-Five: Part 1

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The muckworm dared speak? Did Crowhurst's misbegotten pup not know how Haverford longed to squeeze his fat neck until both pompous eyes popped from his presumptuous skull?

Haverford's voice was almost a whisper, forced from a throat stiff with rage. "Be silent or die now." The disgusting creature was wise enough to shrink back, his mouth hanging open, but his bile contained. Good. Sally did not need to see her father lose all control, and he had never been so close to the edge.

How could this happen? People would answer for this insult to his daughter and to his family, and not just Crowhurst. Why had Sally been left on her own?

Cherry hurried in, followed by Bella Wellbridge and Coventon's rakish brother. Sally's friend, or so she claimed. But that one was not a 'friend' to any other innocent in London.

The two women crossed straight to Sally. Sally fell into her mother's arms when Cherry took Henry's place, and Bella sat on Sally's other side, patting her shoulder. Henry took her stand behind the sofa, glaring at the would-be rapist.

Haverford squatted on his haunches in front of the sofa, before his wife and daughter. He gave Sally's head a gentle kiss where it lay on her mother's breast before rocking back on his heels, calmer for Cherry's presence.

"What is your will, my ladies?"

Bella answered., her voice tight and furious. "Death is too good for him, and for the first time in some years, I am half-tempted to carry out sentence myself."

Startled, Sally lifted her head, looking first at her godmother and then at Cherry, whose mahogany eyes, flamed with outrage as she glared at Crowhurst and pronounced her decree. "Unman him, Haverford."

Crowhurst whimpered.

Cherry helped Sally to her feet. "Come, my darling. Bella, you will stay?" The two friends exchanged an unspoken request and promise over Sally's bowed head. Don't let my husband kill the man? Or the opposite? Haverford could not read his wife's intention, though obviously Bella could, because she nodded.

Ignoring the others in the room, Haverford embraced his ladies, pressing another kiss to Sally's hair, before Cherry and Henry took her from the room. Bella resumed her seat, only the contempt in her eyes showing the depth of her feelings.

Time to let the lobcock condemn himself out of his own mouth. Haverford flexed the fingers that wanted to turn into claws and said, in as normal a tone as he can manage. "What in Heaven's name were you thinking, Crowhurst? Trying to force the hand of a duke's daughter?"

Crowhurst opened his mouth and then shut it again. Then, unwisely, opened it. "I say. My intentions are honourable, Your Grace. I wish to marry the girl." Of course, the hog grubber wanted to marry Sarah. With her connections and her dowry? Lechery and avarice and no honour intended.

"Uncle..." Niko started, but fell silent at a sharp gesture.

Crowhurst nervously fiddled with his cravat, shifted his shoulders, pulled at his sleeves. Haverford waited, silencing Merry, then Sutton with a lift of his ducal finger.

"Sir. Your Grace." Crowhurst's eyes shifted from side to side, then fixed on the picture rail on the other side of the room. "Your Grace, I owe my lady an apology for allowing my ardour to overcome me. But I will make it right, Your Grace. I am willing to marry her to save her name. Indeed, I had already proposed before..." He trailed off.

Haverford waited a moment more, while Crowhurst sweated. "I will make her a good husband, Your Grace," he burst out. "And it is not as if she is untou—" Another low growl from Niko stopped whatever else he was going to say.

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