About the book
"Love is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls..."
Miss Imogen Bryton loathes the moment she steps on English soil.
Raised in Africa, she has nothing to look forward to when her brother announces that they are returning to their ancestral home in England. Α country that seems as foreign as the people that reside in it.
Elijah Keaton, Earl of Grimvale, couldn't have been in more dire straits. Left to manage his late father's mounting debts, there's only one way to keep his Earldom from collapsing: find and marry a rich heiress. That is until he sets eyes upon a breathtaking lady he has never seen before.
Thrown into a storm where nothing is dictated by them, Imogen and Elijah find solace in the one thing that seems to illuminate an otherwise bleak future: each other.
Mysterious nighttime visitors keep knocking on his door, and Elijah receives an ominous message: he's living on borrowed time. A mission has been bestowed upon Imogen; a mission that was placed on her shoulders before she was even born...
Elijah slammed the fat ledger on his father’s old mahogany desk shut with a loud bang.
No matter how many times I look at those numbers, they’re never going to add up to anything good. The Grimvale Earldom is in absolute disgrace.
It was humiliating. Elijah had been Earl of Grimvale for less than a year, following his father’s untimely demise. But Richard Keaton hadn’t left his son very much to work with. An Earldom, yes. But an Earldom in shambles.
If only he hadn’t spent so much of his time gambling. Richard Keaton had lost more money than he had ever made, thanks to his time in the shadier gambling halls of the town. And even the money he had managed to hold on to had been poorly tracked.
The end result of it all was that Elijah Keaton, Earl of Grimvale, lived in the most beautiful Manor many people had ever seen, or ever would, and he could barely afford to keep the place running.
Already, he had begun to have hard conversations with his staff. Just this morning, he’d had to let one of the scullery maids know that he could no longer employ her. He simply couldn’t afford it. He had tried to be kind, telling her that she was welcome to stay at the Manor until she found a new position for herself and that he could offer her a warm bed and three meals a day, if nothing else. But she had burst into tears and run from the Manor.
She might be living on the streets now. Elijah had no way of knowing.
What he did know was that if things didn’t improve, he would have to dismiss more members of his staff, depriving them of their livelihoods. It was a terrible thought, and it made him sick to think of doing it.
And then there was his reputation to consider.
The Keaton family had worked hard over the years, establishing themselves as one of the most respected families in all of England. In the space of a single generation, Richard Keaton had nearly undone it all. Now his son was left to pick up the pieces.
It’s not enough that I simply do my job as Earl, Elijah reminded himself. I must be exemplary. I must be a shining example to the rest of the ton, dispelling any doubts they might have about my family.
But in order to do that, he was going to need money. There was just no way around that fact.
He would need money to maintain the kind of social life that was expected of a man in his station. He needed to be seen about town and at parties, to show the other nobles that he wasn’t a recluse, as his father had been. He needed to be seen to be sane and normal.
I don’t know how I’m going to do it.
He put the ledger away on the shelf, left his office, and closed the door behind him. His butler, Pearson, was waiting in the hall.
“Good evening, My Lord,” Pearson said. “I thought you might soon be finished with your work, and I came to see if you would be interested in a late supper.”
“Thank you, Pearson.” Elijah wasn’t hungry, actually, but he knew he needed to eat or he would waste away to nothing. He hadn’t really enjoyed food since the funeral all those months ago.
His father’s death had robbed him of quite a lot.
Pearson led the way to the dining room. As he held the door open for Elijah, Mary, the housekeeper, came dashing in.
“Mr. Pearson. Lord Grimvale,” she gasped. “The kitchen staff are gone.”
Elijah frowned. “What do you mean, they’re gone?”
“I mean they’ve left, My Lord.” She wrung her hands in her apron. “I spoke to the cook on her way out. She told me the pay cuts were too much, and she’d found positions for the entire staff at an establishment in town. They’ve left us.”
“The nerve!” Pearson sputtered. “Now who’s going to make the supper? To leave Lord Grimvale without so much as a letter of notice!”
Elijah took his seat at the table, feeling numb. He had to admit, he wasn’t surprised. He had been half expecting something like this to happen for a while now, ever since he had cut the pay of everyone working in his household.
He glanced up at Pearson. “If you two are going to leave, now is the time to do it,” he said.
“No, My Lord,” Pearson said. “I know what loyalty is. I’m not going to abandon ship. Only a rat would do such a thing.”
“They had their own interests to consider,” Elijah said. “They need to earn money. I understand that.” He looked from Pearson to Mary. “Do either of you know how to cook?”
“I know how to make sandwiches, My Lord,” Mary said.
“Very well,” Elijah said. “Why don’t you go make us all some sandwiches.”
“Am I to serve as kitchen staff now?”
“It’s just for tonight,” Elijah assured her. “In the morning, I’ll figure something else out.”
“I’ll lend a hand,” Pearson said. He followed Mary out of the dining room, glancing over his shoulder at Elijah.
Once alone, Elijah rested his head in his hands and tried to think. What was he going to do now? It had pained him to get rid of any of his staff, but to see them openly mutiny like this…it was a wakeup call. Something had to change around here.
I need to get my hands on some money.
It felt crass to think about it in those terms, but really, that was where things stood. He needed to get some money if he was going to keep his household running. If he was going to keep himself from becoming the laughingstock of the ton.
But how was he going to do that?
Business investments were a respectable way to increase one’s coffers. But Elijah didn’t think he had the kind of time it would take to earn money that way. As much as he would have liked to try his hand at it, he needed something that could increase his personal wealth in a more immediate way.
He closed his eyes.
The idea had been at the back of his mind for days now, refusing to quiet, and Elijah was starting to realize that, distasteful as it might seem, it was the best possible solution to the problem he faced.
It was a solution as old as the noble class itself.
I’m going to have to marry for wealth.
Marriage wasn’t something Elijah had been thinking of. And nor would he have, he was fairly sure, at least not for a while yet. At nine-and-twenty years old, he was of an age to consider marriage, and he knew it. But he had never met a woman who had particularly captured his interest.
His good friend, Henry, would have told him that he was being silly. Henry would have said that it didn’t really matter whether or not a woman was interesting to him. The point was to have someone who looked good on his arm, someone who could comport herself well socially.
Henry would absolutely approve of Elijah’s idea to marry for wealth.
But Elijah had always hoped to marry for something more. To meet someone he truly cared for and build a life with her.
Perhaps that was just a pipe dream. It’s not very practical, he reminded himself. Especially given the state of things currently. It’s much more important to protect my family’s reputation and the Earldom than it is to get carried away in some flight of fancy about falling in love.
The Grimvale Earldom had once been a shining beacon. The Keaton family had been admired by all. As recently as twenty years ago, members of the ton had come to Grimvale Manor seeking the attention and approval of Elijah’s family. He remembered the splendid balls and parties, which he had sometimes been allowed to attend. He remembered the lords and ladies mingling and dancing, smiling down at him.
How many would smile at him now that his reputation was on the verge of falling apart?
I have one advantage, he reminded himself. Nobody knows just how bad things are yet. It was known that his father had been an irrepressible gambler, and irresponsible with his money. But nobody knew that Elijah was virtually bankrupt.
Which meant there was still time to salvage the situation. He could still turn this around before people discovered his family’s failures.
I need to meet a rich girl, and I need to marry.
But he couldn’t tell anyone what he was thinking. He couldn’t let anyone know that he was hunting for an heiress to bolster his own fortune. That was a disgraceful thing to do, and it would tip his hand. Everyone would know that the Keaton family had lost all the Earldom’s money, and that Lord Grimvale had had to rely on the aid of a woman to save him from ruin.
No, he would have to operate quietly, without letting anyone see what he was doing. It was the only way.
Mary and Pearson returned with a platter of sandwiches. Pearson placed the platter on the table before Elijah, and Mary uncorked a bottle of wine for him. Elijah picked up one of the sandwiches and examined it. Cold turkey and cheese. He took a bite, trying not to think of the delicious meals his kitchen staff had prepared before they had left.
“Thank you,” he said, looking up at them. “I’ll put the word out tomorrow that we need to hire a new kitchen staff.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to keep one in the Manor, My Lord?” Mary asked. “Begging your pardon.”
“It’s all right,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to, yes. If we start them on lower pay, so that their expectations won’t be too high, we should be able to keep them happy. And I’ll hire a smaller staff as well, so resources won’t be spread quite so thin. After all, it’s only me they have to feed. It isn’t as if I’m planning any parties here.”
Not for a while, anyway.
But he was already thinking ahead. If he was to start courting a woman, if he was to persuade her to be his wife, he would need to be able to offer a finer meal than what he was eating right now. These cold sandwiches were serviceable while it was just him at the table, but no woman should be subjected to this. Particularly not an heiress!
He gestured to the platter of sandwiches. “Please, help yourselves,” he told Mary and Pearson. “You’ve got to eat.”
“Will you be requiring anything else, My Lord?” Pearson asked.
Elijah got to his feet, his sandwich in one hand and his goblet of wine in the other. “I’m going to retire to my office, I think,” he said. “I’d like to spend some more time going over the books.”
Pearson and Mary glanced at each other. Elijah could imagine what they were thinking. He had spent all afternoon looking at the books, and he was sure they were worried he would stay there all night as well.
“I know the numbers aren’t going to change,” he told them. “I just want to look at them one more time before I turn in for the night.”
Their concerns showed on their faces, but neither of them spoke, and Elijah turned and walked out of the dining room.
Back in his office, he placed the goblet and sandwich on his desk and pulled out the ledger. What he had told Pearson and Mary was true—he knew the numbers wouldn’t change. But it was possible that he had done the sums incorrectly, that things weren’t as dire as they seemed.
He would add them up again.
Just in case.
Imogen Bryton stepped out of the carriage and into the cold, damp English air.
She was instantly sorry they had come back.
Not that that was a surprise. From the moment her older brother, Nicholas, had told her of his plans to move them back to England, Imogen had been trying to think of a way to talk him out of it. She had been away for a considerable amount of time, it was true, but she hadn’t forgotten.
She hadn’t forgotten the way the weather here seemed to sit on your skin like wet clothing. She missed the hot, dry climate of Africa, where she and Nicholas had grown up and had spent the last several years after the death of their parents.
She hadn’t forgotten the way a young lady was expected to dress here, in layers and layers of fabric that all but prevented her from moving. In Africa, she would have been able to wear comfortable clothes that allowed her to take long walks across the savannah.
And she hadn’t forgotten the constraints of English society.
There would be endless balls and parties now. Social occasions at which Imogen would be obliged to present herself. Her time would no longer be her own, the way it had been in Africa.
Nicholas’s face told a different story. He gazed up at the home he had purchased for them, rapture written across his features. “Just look at it, Imogen!” he declared. “Isn’t England exactly the way you remember it?”
“I don’t remember it very well,” she admitted. “I was just a child when we left.” And she had been shocked at the time, saddened by the fact that they were leaving behind the only home she had ever known. She remembered thinking, back then, that going to Africa would be a chance to start over, if only she could manage to embrace the opportunity.
And indeed she had flourished there. Imogen thought of herself as similar to the baobab tree, which was strange and unmistakable for anything else. The baobab thrived in Africa. If it was transplanted here, it would probably die.
She wouldn’t die. She knew that. She just couldn’t imagine finding much happiness here.
Nicholas snapped his fingers at his manservant, Andrews, who began to unload the trunks from the carriage. “Come inside,” he suggested to Imogen. “You’re going to fall in love with this house, I’m absolutely sure of it.”
Imogen followed her brother up the stairs and into the foyer. The space was big, but it was dark and cold. It was ornately styled, and Imogen could see the mark of her family’s money everywhere she looked.
What she couldn’t see was her family.
The home in Africa had been theirs. Her mother’s paintings had hung on the walls. Her father had actually designed the building. And light had poured in through the windows, making it feel as if they were outside all the time.
In this house, Imogen felt buried alive.
She turned to Nicholas. “Are you sure about this?” she asked. It wasn’t the first time she had asked him, but she had to try again. “Couldn’t we just talk about returning to Africa? We were happy there, weren’t we? We had such a beautiful life.”
Nicholas frowned. “We’ve discussed this, Imogen.”
“I know, but—”
“You know perfectly well why we had to come back.”
“But we left behind the place we lived with Mother and Father.”
“Father would have wanted us to do this,” Nicholas said. “You know he would have. He spoke of it often enough.”
That was certainly true. Imogen couldn’t count how many times her father had said when we go back to England or when we finally return home. It had never been his plan for them to live in Africa forever.
Still, she had to admit that she had hoped he would change his mind. And after his death, she had hoped that Nicholas would change his mind.
There had never been any question of Imogen choosing to remain in Africa without her brother. It simply hadn’t been an option. Imogen hadn’t even thought about it. Between the two of them, it was Nicholas who called the shots, Nicholas who made the decisions.
He had always taken care of her. Ever since the loss of their parents, he had looked out for her, ensuring that she had everything she needed. And Imogen knew that she owed him her gratitude and her loyalty.
She wouldn’t abandon him now, when he was crossing the world to do what their father had always hoped he would do. Not even if it meant her own unhappiness.
It’s my turn to take care of him. He’s spent years looking after me, sacrificing for me, putting my interests ahead of his own. Now it’s time for me to pay him back in kind.
She was determined to be the sister her older brother deserved.
So she followed him deeper into the house, nodding and making affirming noises as he pointed out various features to her. Here was a ballroom—their old house in Africa hadn’t had a ballroom. And here was the kitchen, where their very own cook would prepare meals for them every day.
I forgot about English food. Imogen felt her heart sink. She had grown used to the flavors of Africa. The thought of an English supper did not appeal.
“Perhaps I could retire to my chambers and begin unpacking?” she suggested.
Nicholas raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you want to see the rest of the house?”
“I’m tired from the journey,” Imogen lied. In truth, she thought she might cry if she had to feign enthusiasm for this place for even another moment, and she didn’t want Nicholas to see her emotion.
“Very well,” he said. “Your chambers are this way.”
He led her up a stone staircase to the third floor of the house. She was surprised to be so near the top. “Where are your rooms?” she asked.
“I’ll be on the second floor,” he said.
In the past, they had been closer to each other than that. She had been comforted by knowing that he was just a few doors away, should she need anything. It was mildly distressing to think that he would be a whole flight of stairs away from her now.
And yet, at the same time, there was something freeing about it. It was more privacy than she had ever had before in her life, that was for sure.
Nicholas opened a door and ushered Imogen inside. “These are your rooms,” he said. “As you can see, your trunk has already been brought up, and the rest of your things should be here before long. If you’d like to take a few hours to rest and then come and join me for supper, that would be fine.”
“I’ll do that,” Imogen agreed, moving toward the four poster bed in the middle of the room. “Thank you, Nicholas.”
“Of course.” He squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry about a thing, Imogen. I know this is unfamiliar to you, but it won’t be long at all before you begin to feel at home here. England is a wonderful place. You’ll be glad we came back, I promise you.”
“All right,” she said, even though she didn’t quite believe him.
“And remember that Father would be proud of us,” Nicholas said. “This was all he wanted from us. He would rest happily knowing that we were fulfilling what he wanted us to do.”
She nodded. “I know you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right,” he said. “Now, settle in, and I’ll see you in a few hours for supper.”
Once she was alone, Imogen allowed herself a few minutes to explore her surroundings. The room she was in was as unpleasant as those downstairs had been. In Africa, her bedroom had had double doors that had opened onto a patio, allowing her to take in the air at night. Here, the only exposure to the outdoors was a high window on one wall.
She felt as if she were in a cell.
I shouldn’t be thinking like this. Nicholas went to a lot of trouble to find a good home for us, and all I can do is find things not to like about it.
So she turned her attention to the positive instead. There must be something about her new home that was nice, something she could focus on enjoying.
She ran her hands over the thick quilt on her bed. That would be pleasant to sleep under. In Africa, they had always slept under very light blankets because of the heat. Imogen might not have liked the weather here, but the prospect of bundling up on a cold night was a pleasant one.
So that’s one thing. What else?
There was a fireplace on one wall of her room, complete with a stack of wood. Imogen didn’t know how to start a fire for herself, but she knew that one of her household servants would be along shortly, and she would be able to ask for help with the task. A warm, crackling fire would make this room more pleasant.
She went to her trunk and opened it. Whoever had packed for her had had the sense to put her garments that were most appropriate for England in this trunk. Cotton dresses in a variety of bright colors and modern styles, some of which she had never even seen before.
She allowed herself a moment of longing for her lightweight linen clothing, but that would have been packed away somewhere else. Maybe, if she showed Nicholas that she was cooperating, investing herself in their new life here, he would allow her to have some of those things back. Even if there was no appropriate occasion on which to wear them, she knew she would feel comforted just by having them in her possession.
Best to unpack. If Nicholas sees that I’m settling into my room, he’ll know he can trust me to support him while we’re here.
Imogen knew she could have waited for a servant to unpack for her, but she wanted to make a demonstration to Nicholas that she was embracing their father’s wishes. She wanted him to see that she wanted to be here.
Even though I don’t.
She pushed the thought away. It was the kind of thing she couldn’t allow herself to think anymore if she wanted to experience any peace of mind.
Imogen had always had the ability to find happiness in any situation. She prided herself on the fact that she could see a silver lining to any cloud.
So they had had to leave Africa behind. Was it really the end of the world?
It’s the end of one world. It’s the end of the life I knew in Africa. Even if they were able to go back again after having lived here, nothing would ever be the same. She would always be afraid, always looking over her shoulder for the day Nicholas would decide they had to leave again.
“Don’t worry, little sister,” he had told her as they’d stood on the boat, watching the African coast disappear into the distance. “We don’t have to leave it behind forever. Perhaps we’ll come back someday.”
She had believed him then. She had believed him because she had needed to believe, because she had needed to cling to the hope that she wasn’t saying goodbye to her home permanently.
But now Africa seemed a lifetime away. Like a fantasy, or something she had dreamed once.
This was real. England was real.
This unpleasant weather. These cold walls. And this house that was too big for the small family it now contained.
We’re never going home, she thought hopelessly. And just like that, her silver lining dissolved around her.
Henry Wonderwell, the Earl of Dastanshire’s birthday ball was the first event of the season every year.
Elijah knew that his friend conspired to make it so. The fact that his birthday was so fortuitously timed was a fact that Henry would never fail to capitalize on as long as he lived. By the end of the season, fatigue would set in, and some members of the ton would be sitting out the less prestigious parties.
But Henry’s ball was, every year, a sort of coming out event for everyone else.
And Elijah had no choice but to attend.
He would have much preferred to take his friend out for a few drinks in celebration of his thirtieth year. But if he missed the party—a party everyone would be attending—there would be talk. There would be questions asked. And people would jump to conclusions, both about Elijah and about his family.
Still, climbing out of the carriage and looking up at Dastanshire Manor, lit up for the occasion, a big part of Elijah wanted to slink away into the shadows.
Pull yourself together. There will be plenty of women here. And after all, you’re supposed to be looking for someone to court. Perhaps you’ll meet her tonight.
Who knew? Maybe he would meet someone he could really like. Maybe it wouldn’t have to be simply a marriage of convenience.
He was getting ahead of himself. Who knew whether he would meet any eligible women at all?
Elijah crossed the cobblestones and ascended the steps to the Manor’s front door. Henry’s doorman stood there, his face devoid of all expression. He gave Elijah a brief nod and extended his hand toward the foyer.
Henry’s servants are so creepy. Elijah had noticed before that Henry preferred his staff not to ever show emotion. It was a preference that disturbed him. He wouldn’t have liked to be surrounded by such stiff, blank people all the time.
“Elijah!” Henry came hurrying over. “I was worried you weren’t going to make it.”
“Don’t I always?” A footman passed bearing a tray of drinks, and Elijah took one and sipped it. “I feel as though we have this conversation every year. It’s practically become a birthday tradition for you.”
“That’s because you’re always late,” Henry said. “If you were to arrive on time—”
“I’m fashionably late, my friend,” Elijah said with a smile. “Don’t be put out because I’m more fashionable than you are.”
“One can be too fashionable, you know,” Henry said.
Little risk of that. Elijah knew he blended in well enough at this party. He had managed to piece together an outfit that wouldn’t stand out from the crowd. But he was wearing last season’s clothes. He couldn’t afford to have anything new made for him. Not until the rest of his financial problems were resolved, at any rate.
It’s taking all the money I have just to maintain the skeleton of a functioning staff up at the Manor.
He had replaced the kitchen staff two days ago, but he had only managed to hire a cook and an assistant, and neither of them had much experience to speak of. The food so far had been fine, but meals took a lot longer to be prepared than they had with a full staff at work.
Henry waved at a gaggle of people who were just making their way in the door. “I’ve got to go pay my respects to Lady Mountbanc,” he said. “Why don’t you go and be social for a while? I’ll catch up with you later.”
Left to his own devices, Elijah made his way into the crowd. The faces around him were all familiar. He had grown up attending parties with these people, first alongside his parents and later on his own.
There was Lord Honeyfield, with whom Elijah had played when they were young boys together. Tonight he was accompanied by his new wife, Lady Honeyfield. Elijah had never met her. He had been invited to the wedding, but it had been held just a few weeks after his father’s funeral, and he hadn’t felt up to attending, so he had sent his regrets.
This had been before he had fully understood the legacy his father had left behind, the damage that had already been done to his family’s reputation. If he had known then the situation he was in, he wouldn’t have dared to skip a single social event.
Perhaps if I had attended the wedding, they would be coming over to speak to me now, he thought. It looked like Elijah was going to have to make the first move if he wanted to engage in conversation.
He made his way over to the couple. “Lord Honeyfield,” he said.
“Lord Grimvale,” Lord Honeyfield said. “A pleasure, as always. How long has it been?”
“Too long,” Elijah said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to attend your wedding. Lord Dastanshire tells me it was a lovely affair.”
“Oh, it was,” Lord Honeyfield agreed. “And you haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting my beautiful wife.” He took her hand and pulled her forward. “The new Lady Honeyfield. Darling, this is Lord Grimvale, a childhood friend of mine.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Lady Honeyfield said.
“The pleasure’s all mine.” Elijah had seen her around, of course. She had been present at many of these parties. He could remember watching her dance as a teenager. She had never particularly caught his eye, but she seemed very happy to be on Lord Honeyfield’s arm, and he seemed happy with her as well.
“So, is all the usual crowd here tonight?” he asked, looking around the room.”
“Of course,” Lord Honeyfield said. “No one would dare miss the first party of the season. It’s all anyone will be talking about for weeks.”
“Indeed,” Elijah murmured, surveying the room.
And suddenly, his eyes latched onto an unfamiliar face.
She was lovely. Her bronze skin seemed to shine like gold in the candlelight, and her blond hair was pinned into an elaborate style at the back of her head. She wore a soft pink gown that stood out in the room—Elijah thought she was the only one wearing that color.
And he had never seen her before.
“Who is she?” he asked, leaning in toward Lord Honeyfield to be heard over the music and the conversation.
“Who is who?”
“The lady in pink.” He nodded toward her. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her before. She didn’t attend this party last year, did she?”
“I don’t recognize her,” Lord Honeyfield said. “Maybe she’s someone’s guest?”
“No, that’s one of the Bryton siblings,” Lady Honeyfield said. “The younger one, if I’m not mistaken. I believe the brother is older.”
“She does look young,” Elijah said.
“She’s only just one-and-twenty, I believe,” Lady Honeyfield said.
“Well, who is she? Why haven’t I seen her before?”
“I don’t know much,” Lady Honeyfield said. “All I know is what I learned from Lady St. John.”
“Have you been gossiping again?” Lord Honeyfield scolded his wife.
“If I hadn’t been, I wouldn’t be able to answer Lord Grimvale’s questions now,” she pointed out. “Perhaps gossiping is something you should try every now and again.”
“Well, don’t tease the man,” Lord Honeyfield said. “Tell us what you know.”
“It isn’t much,” she said. “I know the brother’s wealthy. He’s a diamond dealer, apparently. He works internationally. Maybe that’s how the lady acquired that beautiful pendant.” She eyed it enviously as the lady in pink went whirling by in the arms of a dance partner.
“Lord Grimvale doesn’t care where she got her jewelry,” Lord Honeyfield scoffed. “What else do you know?”
“I know they were living in Africa for a time,” Lady Honeyfield said. “Lady St. John tells me that they’ve just returned and bought a home here, so it seems as if they intend to stay.”
“What were they doing in Africa?” Elijah asked.
“The family emigrated when they were just children,” Lady Honeyfield said. “They’ve been there for years. The father has been building up his business, lining his accounts.”
“Is he also a diamond trader?” Elijah asked.
“I think so. Well, he was. He’s dead now.”
“Is that why they came back to England?”
“I don’t think so,” Lady Honeyfield said. “Lady St. John seems to think the parents died a considerable amount of time ago.”
“I wonder what brought them back, then?” Elijah asked.
“Nobody knows,” Lady Honeyfield said.
“Somebody must know,” Elijah pressed.
She shrugged. “Nobody I’ve talked to. It seems like they’re keeping their business to themselves, for the most part.”
“I’m going to go ask around,” Elijah decided.
Lady Honeyfield turned to her husband. “You see?” she said. “Your friend appreciates gossip.”
“My friend appreciates a good-looking lady,” Lord Honeyfield corrected. “Come along, darling, and we’ll see if we can find something to drink.”
Elijah made his way around the dance floor, stopping occasionally to talk to people he knew. With each conversation, he turned the subject to the girl in the pink dress. Who was she? What did people know about her? Did anyone know her name, or what had brought her back to England after so many years away?
The answers were positively maddening.
No one was able to say for sure why she had come back. Some hypothesized that the brother—Lord Wycliff pointed him out—had brought the two of them back to expand his diamond dealership.
That makes sense. If his business is as successful in Africa as people are saying it is, he probably had the means to leave it in the hands of a subordinate. It only makes sense that he would want to expand his holdings.
The more troubling thing was that no one seemed to know the girl’s name.
He felt as if he had made inquiries of everyone in the room. Everyone had heard something about the Bryton siblings. Everyone was able to add a little detail to the picture Elijah was struggling to fill in. Someone told him the brother was thirty years old, considerably older than his sister. Another lady said that they were both eligible. She giggled as she said it, and Elijah thought she had her eye on the brother.
Probably just because he’s rich. The brother did not have his sister’s stunning good looks. Though he shared her blonde hair and bronzed skin, his hair was too thin and his features were too small to be conventionally attractive.
I bet every eligible lady in this room has an interest in him, though, Elijah thought. Because he’s wealthy.
The lady in the pink dress whirled by him again.
And something connected in Elijah’s brain.
The brother was wealthy. No doubt that meant the sister would be coming into money as well. Probably when she married.
I can’t believe I didn’t think of it right away.
Here was a girl he hadn’t already thought about and dismissed a dozen times as a potential wife. Here was a girl who was beautiful, clearly catching the eye of everyone in the room. And she was connected to wealth.
She had everything he needed.
Did he dare go over to her? She was clearly enjoying the party, meeting people, having a good time.
Without meaning to, he shifted his gaze to her brother.
He was staring at her with a look that bordered on fury.
Was he angry at the man she was dancing with for daring to approach her? A protective brother would be a significant obstacle to overcome, Elijah knew.
But he had to restore his family’s honor. He had to try.
And besides, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from her. She truly was lovely. Even if he hadn’t needed a wealthy wife, he would have wanted a dance with the prettiest girl in the room.
Squaring his shoulders, he walked over to introduce himself.
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