Chapter Eighty

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When he saw the crested Haverford travelling carriage with a driver in Haverford livery coming down the carriage way as Toad's carriage approached the house, Toad brushed off his coat as best he could, ran a hand through his hair, thankful the style was meant to look windswept, then shook Franks awake on the facing seat to straighten his cravat.

That coach would have been sent from Margate to provide the Haverfords with transport. The question was, was it heading for Bristol station, and if so, who was it going to collect?

Haverford, probably. He had been in no state to travel from London when Toad saw him, and besides, both dukes often stayed in London longer than their families at the holidays, flogging for votes for their preferred legislation when the Houses of Parliament returned in the new year.

If history held true, Aunt Cherry and Sally; Jonny, too, most likely, would be here already. Sally might even be in the carriage coming towards him!

His mother was recreating the most beloved Christmas tradition of the two families—sharing Christmas wherever they were—at Margate or Brixton Hall, or the palace in Erzherzog, the Wellbridges' Paris apartments or Venetian palazzo. Or Wellstone. Bless the duchess for being a meddling baggage. He had been surprised she had decided to open the house while still in mourning, even for family. But he hadn't guessed at this reason.

The only one missing would be Toad's father. The duke would not be missing, of course; Wellbridge would be at Wellstone, as he always was. The man who had been the duke for thirty years would be the huge, gaping hole in everyone's Christmas, and his successor would be forced to try to fill his place inadequately—with naught but the title, an elusive duchess, and still-raw grief.

He flagged the approaching driver to a stop, and leaned forward eagerly to see inside the carriage. Jonny opened the door and poked his head out. "Wellbridge! How famous! You're here!"

"Hello, Aldridge." Toad craned to see behind him.

Jonny grinned. "She isn't here. In the carriage, I mean. I am off to Bristol to collect Papa, and Sally and Mama had things they wanted to do."

Toad forced himself to politeness, wishing his young friend a pleasant trip, when what he wanted was to set the team to take the rest of a drive at a gallop and search Wellstone for his love. "You'll be back later this afternoon, then, I expect."

"Certainly. Go on, Wellbridge. You know you want to." Jonny grinned, and called to his driver, "Bristol, Sam. We do not wish to keep the duke waiting." He winked at Toad. "Either duke," he said, as he shut the carriage door.

A pair of grooms came from the stables to take the horses, but no one appeared at the front door, so Toad let himself in, leaving Franks to manage the luggage. As soon as he shut the door behind him, he stilled. The slightest trace of lavender and lilac overlaid pine and applewood and cinnamon and ginger. It smelled like Christmas at Wellstone—with Sally Grenford in attendance.

She is here. Sally is here. Toad had to stop, close his eyes, and breathe deeply before he could go on.

"Hello! Is anyone about?"

The elder Blakeley came from one side of the foyer.

"Have you not accepted the late duke's pension yet, Blakeley?"

No judgement showed on Blakeley's face, but Toad heard it in his words and in the too-familiar hand to Toad's shoulder. "There must be someone about to take care of Her Grace properly, m'boy. Without a duke in residence to see to her needs, I feel it my duty to stay."

"I see. The duchess is quite a young woman, comparatively speaking." Toad removed his coat and muffler.

"I take your meaning, Your Grace."

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