Seventy-Two: Part 2

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Far too quickly, another knock at the door, another odd twinge at saying, "Enter, please," trying on a different phrase than his father, to try to alleviate the unpleasant sensation.

The opening door revealed his sister's face, paler and thinner and far more grown-up than it had been the last time he had been in England. Her worried countenance slipped around the door, her black dress following behind her. She took a seat in the second armchair before the hearth.

"Have you sat in his chair yet?" she asked gently.

"I am currently sitting in his chair," he said, his words clipped. Glancing at hers, she said, "That one is Mother's."

"You know what I mean," she replied, eyes tracking to the desk, behind which Toad had not sat. "And mother will tell you anything that was hers will be Sally's."

"Have you come to torment your embattled brother, or do you, like everyone else in the blessed county, have ducal business to transact?" Toad sipped his father's best brandy, which is to say, the only brandy he ever drank.

"A bit of both, in fact, but I will at least decline to call you Your Grace or Wellbridge for the moment, despite mother's general order, as it is at least as odd for me as you."

"Thank the ghost of Poseidon for that. Draw the line at Toad, too, please. David will be fine. I am your guardian now, and a duke, and will not be gainsaid."

Almyra rolled her eyes, but she said, with a bit more deference than Toad liked, "It is in your capacity as my guardian I need to speak to you, David."

Toad stiffened slightly and finished his brandy and poured another. "Go on."

Almyra twisted her hands in her skirt exactly the way their mother did when she was made nervous in a social situation. As he sat beside her, he grasped one of her hands. "Calm yourself. I am not an ogre, and I have no plans to impose my will upon you."

She nodded, but her fists kept twisting the fabric.

"Tell me what is so concerning you, Almyra. I cannot help if you do not ask it."

"It is..." She spoke quickly as though willing the words to leave her mouth before they could be stopped by her teeth. "I do not believe you know I have been keeping up a correspondence with Lord Piero d'Alvieri the past year, and he has visited thrice during his travels." At his thunderous look, she hastened to add, "Papa knew and so does Mama."

So that was why his mother so pointedly included Piero in the future plans for Seventh Sea. He would vote Almyra's shares. Or he would if Toad allowed it in the marriage settlements.

"There is nothing untoward in it; I swear. We've never spent a minute alone. We only wanted to make certain of our feelings before we placed your company at risk of a rift between you. We wanted to build the case that it need not, which was Mama's idea, and I think we have, if you will hear us out."

With another gulp of brandy, Toad asked, "And you are certain of your feelings now? You are certain of his?"

"He... he writes that he wants to come to England now that you have ascended to the title. He knows I am in mourning, and he wants to be here to support me in my grief, which requires he make his intentions known to you and the rest of the family."

At this, Toad stood and paced to this father's desk, sitting on the edge.

"That is an admirable sentiment, but it is inappropriate for you to entertain gentleman callers while you are still in black. And if Lord Piero d'Alvieri wishes to make his intentions known to your guardian, he could have done so while we were living in each other's pockets in Italy, and should have done so before making them known to you."

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