Chapter Sixty Nine: Part 3

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"So Abersham is completely exonerated," Haverford told Cherry that night.

The Seven Seas man had brought a report from Wakefield and Wakefield, as well as letters from Bella for Cherry and Sally, and the letter from Abersham that Sally had read a dozen times in the evening, and undoubtedly now slept with. Yes. Abersham again. Young Toad was reconciled with his father, who had sent Haverford a note demanding an apology for believing his son to be a degenerate. Hah! As if Wellbridge had not been the first to have doubts!

"Harburn," Cherry corrected. "Bella says he was offered his old title but respectfully—respectfully, mind you—declined. He told his father that he wishes to take up his seat in the house, do his duty as a baron and stand on his own in business."

Haverford nodded approvingly. "That speaks well of the boy, does it not?"

"You must be relieved, Anthony." Cherry turned her back and he began to unbutton the myriad of tiny fasteners. This precious time together at the end of the day was too important to share with maids.

"My brother is convinced the whole tarradiddle of lies was started by that swine Crowhurst and stirred by the lad's cousins and various lovers. Or would-be lovers, in recent years, because he has been living like a monk, Wakefield says. They took his youthful starts and built an entire myth on it."

He pressed a kiss on the curve where his wife's neck met her shoulder, still beautiful after all these years. "I know what you are thinking, my love," he said. "I was responsible for most of those early peccadillos."

She dropped the gown and stepped out of it, then offered him her back again for the laces of her corset. "You and Nick share that responsibility, to be fair," she mused. "And I dare say he would have been a little wild even without your encouragement. But Bella writes that he has grown into a man we can all be proud of, and that our Sally is the only woman in his life and in his heart."

"And he in hers, as we can see from how she ignored us all tonight in favour of his letter. Poor Maddox. He took it well, though, carrying Penchley off to play billiards so she could enjoy her dreams without interruption."

"He knows he never had a chance with her, Anthony. Nor did Mr Penchley, though he didn't seem to realise it until tonight."

Haverford raised his eyebrows. "So that's what that sour face was about. As if she would ever consider the likes of Penchley, even if Abersham was out of the running. No, surely my secretary would not be that foolish."

Cherry bent to pick up her gown and the scattered petticoats, putting them over the back of a chair with the corset for the maid to deal with in the morning. Haverford followed her with his eyes as, dressed only in a light chemise, she stepped behind the screen that shielded the wash stand. She was much improved in health since starting the mix of roots and herbs prepared for her by the island's healer. His most unruly part twitched hopefully, but he ignored it. Last time he'd allowed her to know how much he missed physical intimacy, she had assured him she was well enough. Then she could not conceal from him how it hurt. He would rather go the rest of his life without intimate congress than hurt her again.

He smiled, thinking of his godson. Celibacy was not so hard when only one woman in the world would do, and she was not available.

"So Crowhurst was at the bottom of it all?" Cherry asked. "A pity he escaped."

"Indeed."

Cherry came out from behind the screen dressed in a diaphanous piece of nonsense that he'd brought her long ago in Paris, before she was sick, and every thought in his head scattered, so he had to struggle to listen to her words. His voice seemed to come from a long way away as he struggled to keep still. Let her make the first move. Dear God, he prayed, please let her make a move. Now.

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