Chapter Seventy-Six, Part 2

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Not one minute after he walked from his dining room to the library, Blakeley followed behind. "Brandy, Your Grace?"

"It is half-past seven o'clock in the morning, Blakeley, so no, I do not want brandy. I want to be alone and undisturbed. Tell Cook I may eat later. Perhaps not. And send my excuses to my office. I am not, at this moment, sure what might or might not yet happen this day. We shall see how things go. First, I must be alone for a time, before I decide upon anything."

"Your Grace, I feel quite nervous about your disposition."

"You, too?" Toad turned to Blakeley and asked, "Am I not the duke?"

"Yes, Your Grace."

"Does the title not come with the right to be left alone upon request?"

"It does, Your Grace."

"Excellent. You may consider I am exercising that privilege."

Blakeley backed out of the room.

That had been a bit more than three hours ago, according to the ormolu clock on the library mantelpiece, Toad saw when he was awakened by shouting in the hall outside.

"Wellbridge!"

Toad woke on the chaise longue, where he had shamefully wept himself to sleep, staring at the ceiling. He had planned to spend the day brooding after breakfast—once he found the announcement, in any case—and the headache forming behind his eyes bore out that thesis, though he had wasted a goodly amount of self-pity on his ill-timed nap. He hadn't even had a drink yet; he should not feel so muddled. So, now he knew how to while away the remaining hours of this grey, rainy afternoon. Well, afternoon soon enough. No one would be hurt if he started drinking early.

"What is it, Etcetera? I am in the study," he called out as he pulled himself up to a seat on the chaise.

Etcetera burst through the study door. "Wellbridge!"

"How did you get past Blakeley when I am Not at Home? Am I not a duke?" Toad sat up and scrubbed a hand across his face, stretched his shoulders, then rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "I am entirely certain I told my butler I was Not at Home."

"The Haverfords have docked at Margate, and the duke has sent his man to London with instructions to set up a meeting with the Colonial Office, so he, at least, will surely be here soon. I expect Sally will insist on coming with him to look for you."

Tossing the ball of newspaper at Etcetera, Toad snarled, "Yes, I've heard. I expect Sally in London momentarily, to collect her trousseau and book St. George's. Perhaps you missed the betrothal announcements this morning?"

"Betrothal?" Etcetera asked, bewildered, picking apart the crumpled, balled up newspaper Toad had rolled to near-rocklike consistency. He pried it apart and straightened it on the desk and scanned the torn and endlessly wrinkled page. His face turned white and he dropped the newspaper at his feet.

"Maddox. That is..."

"That is perfect; yes, I know. There is not a better intellectual match in the world for Sally Grenford. If she's accepted Maddox, I have not a prayer of stopping it."

"Sally cannot have agreed to marry Maddox. Not without talking to you first. Longford and Stocke, for two, would not have allowed it. No one in either of your families would allow it. Chirbury cannot be allowing his son to marry Sally without speaking to you first."

"If Longford and Stocke had thought of him at the height of her scandal, they'd have called him home. He was born to marry Sally Grenford. She was made for him. I'm sure he whispered math problems in her ears under the stars and traced geometric patterns across the freckles on her... The only chance I ever had against Maddox was him flying away in his balloon and ceding the field, which he did, thank everything that is holy. Until the eleventh hour." Clearing his throat and taking a breath, he admitted: "He was her first crush, Niko. Or the first she ever confided to me. Uncle Haverford asked him to help her with her arithmetic when she was... I don't know how old. Seven? Eight? Before I fell in love with her when she was nine, in any case."

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