"I will ride out this morning for Livorno, Piero, and manage the problem with the warehouses before I make my way to England. You and your family have kept me longer than the fortnight I agreed, and my bride awaits." Toad stirred sugar into his coffee as Piero took up a plate at the sideboard. "If the gods are in my favour, my plan has fallen into Sally's hands and she will be waiting with a valise hidden in her closet. By the time we return, Blakeley will have turned up and made my new manor house liveable, and Lena will be happily betrothed to a nobleman your mother approves, and will no longer require a dance partner who isn't her brother."
"May the gods ever be in your favour, Harburn, but you cannot leave this morning," Piero said, adding a slice of crostata to his plate at the sideboard before taking his seat at the head of the table. "I can make your excuses with my mother and sisters, but Bey sent word by courier overnight. He will be here by midday, and if you are off to England, this might be the last chance for us to meet before we commence operations."
"Bey is coming? Excellent. He will have news of Sally. I can delay a few hours for that."
"He will have news of Linette, too," Piero said with a smirk, "as the word from Paris is he spent the week of Sutton's wedding in her bed."
Toad groaned. "Oh, say he didn't"
"The bloody idiot. God help him if he hasn't brought word of Sally." Gesturing with his fork, Toad said, "I will ride out this afternoon, mind, even if Blakeley finally returns or Zajac appears out of the mist."
Two hours later, Toad regretted every moment he had stayed in Italy instead of going home to England. "I should never have come here. I should have gone directly to Sally.
I'm sure. I never made it to Sutton's nuptials, but I popped over to London as soon as I could get free of the com" at Piero's rapid glare, Bey finished with, "—Paris. By the time I got there, guards were posted at every door and window of every house where Sally might visit, to keep her from another attack, and news of the incident was flying through the drawing rooms of London. I have the whole of it from Niko, who was there, but he didn't know where to find you, and of course, I didn't get to see her."
"Dear God. I have to go to her."
"You do, and right now. Niko promised to get a message to her, but I couldn't tell him when you would be back, which is what she needs to know. The last I saw you was before graduation, when you told me you were going to London. I thought I would find you there."
"We changed our plans suddenly."
"Clearly," Bey said dryly.
Toad glared at him. "I sent a letter."
"It does not sound as though she has received correspondence from you, but I cannot be privy to the lady's private life. All I know is her cousins are all in general agreement, Harburn. If you don't come home for a wedding without delay, they will draw lots again and force Lady Sarah's hand before she is rendered unmarriageable."
"They drew lots before? I should kill them all."
Bey waved his hand. "What else were they to do? Leave her to face her own folly? If you do not return to England immediately, the minute you do, they will, to a man, challenge you, and not all of them believe you will come for her. She is... she is utterly ruined, Harburn. Even marriage to a marquess may not be able to redeem her, and the longer you stay away, the worse the situation becomes."
"The dukes and duchesses truly consent to our union?"
"Your father, yes, and both duchesses. Haverford has not agreed to a betrothal, but he agreed you should be recalled to England, and surely, he can't hold out against them all? The Betting Book has odds on the date the announcement will be printed and the speed of your return to England."
"I hope you have laid your wager on less than a month from this moment."
"I've laid no wager at all, given the twists and turns that have already kept you two apart. I would suspect a gypsy curse, were I not such an enlightened thinker. You should know, though, Harburn... I was questioned while I was in London, by an enquiry agent. My grandfather said I had to talk to him. He wanted to know what I did for entertainment in Paris and in Marseilles. The rest of you, too—whether we had a supper club and where it might have met and which women we took as mistresses. He asked a great many questions about you and your lovers."
"An enquiry agent? Was his name Wakefield?"
"Yes. David Wakefield."
"It's Haverford, then. Wakefield is his brother. What is the old devil trying now? First, they send for me, then he sets spies on me? Is he hoping I will stop at my non-existent lover's house on my way to Sally? I have to get back to London. I'm taking her away with or without his blessing."
"Hold, Harburn. He may yet grant your betrothal. Do not make things worse when they are on the verge of being better."
Toad's nostrils flared. "Good God, I hate Haverford! At least there is now a chance he will give his consent, but did it have to happen at the expense of Sally's safety and dignity, and must he do everything in his power to infuriate me along the way? I could kill them all for placing her at such risk. She is safe now, though? She is out of danger?"
"As safe as she can be without the security of your name. Or someone else's."
"I will leave here before the day is out. Please tell me Haverford killed the man."
"Merry pressed him into the navy, so as to kill him slowly."
"Yes," Bey simply agreed. "Someone should have eliminated him."
"Who is he?"
"said he didn't know the man's name."
"I'll wager Toadstone Hall he's lying."
"He may be, but I do not know the man well enough to discern it, and there is only so far one pushes with a member of any royal family. There was no chance for me to speak to Lady Sarah, you understand, Harburn; I am not nearly close enough a cousin to presume upon Haverford's good nature, nor high ranking enough to be asked to draw lots. Her family had her hemmed in like a handkerchief, and mine had me stuck in Kopet Dag business meetings. , and Haverford House is locked down. The lights are on, but the shutters are closed, and the knocker has been pulled in. For all I could tell, they might have gone to the country."
"They might, indeed. Which complicates things considerably, given the sheer breadth of selection in country houses."
"Perhaps this will help." Bey took a small leather bag from the heap of his baggage. "I picked up a packet of letters for you, sent on from Paris and Marseilles, when I passed through Livorno. Rather more from England than one expects for a gentleman disowned."
Bey handed Toad the satchel. "I suggest you read your letters while I have a bath, and we can meet at luncheon to make a plan."
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...