Today's Reading

Drew caught his gaze and held it. "You'd better tell me what this is all about. Don't forget that I've been financing your gambling sprees, buying your mistresses diamonds, paying off all of those jealous lovers. Who sent this?"

"None of your concern." Rafe handed him back the note. "This is my problem, not yours. Beatrice is quite safe. Go back to Cornwall, we don't want you here." Rafe didn't meet his eyes. He was hiding something.

"How do you know that Beatrice is safe?" Drew asked. "Do you know who sent this?"

"I don't," his brother replied quickly—too quickly. "But I'll find out and I'll take care of everything."

"Can you promise me that?"

"Absolutely."

"There's something you're not telling me."

Rafe glowered at him. "Not your problem. I'll see that it ends here. Go and visit Beatrice. You'll have enough problems once Mother catches wind of your arrival. The prodigal son returns, and all that. She'll have every debutante in London nipping at your heels within hours."

Which was another item on the long list of duties Drew had been delaying for far too long: taking a wife. It was high time he produced an heir. "Have to marry someday, don't I?"

"Can't have a wastrel like me inherit," said Rafe.

"Precisely." Rafe would undo all of the hard-earned progress that Drew had made on improving the living conditions and livelihood of the tenants who worked his holdings.

Drew wished he knew the right words to say to make his brother see that the path he was on would lead to an early grave. "Have you forgotten that I used to be you? I know the low places you frequent. I know the emptiness, the self-loathing. The evil waiting to swallow you whole."

"Spare me your sermons, parson."

"I have a duty to this family. There must be a stouthearted lady so desperate to become a duchess that she's willing to wed an uncivilized duke and live in the wilds of Cornwall in a crumbling old house."

"Crumbling old haunted house," amended Rafe.

"You know as well as I do that Thornhill House is just a house, not some gathering ground for ghosts and devil worship."

"There was a double murder there."

"In fifteen seventy."

"England has a long memory."

"Especially when you keep feeding it fresh details. I know you've been spreading rumors about me and Thornhill House. A malevolent headless horseman...a young mother with a dead baby inhabiting a mirror...really? Does it all have to be so very gothic?"

"Well, you're not here to counter the rumors. I'll tell whatever stories I please."

"I'm here now. And I'm not amused."

"I don't know how you can stand living like that. Only sheep and fields as far as the eye can see. I'd go mad."

"That's what they say about me, I hear."

"Mother will be overcome with joy to see you. She's gone marriage-mad. Won't stop hounding me. And poor Beatrice, Mother's hosting a ball in her honor tonight. Not that she'll receive any proposals."

Drew couldn't believe that Beatrice was old enough to marry. When he'd left London she'd been a scrawny, bookish young girl with her hair in plaits. He'd been gone too long.

Guilt pricked his heart like stinging nettles.

"I'm sure she's grown into a lovely girl. She's always been fiercely clever. If the bachelors of London can't see her charms, then they're blind fools."

Rafe gave him an incredulous look. "Not exactly a beauty, now is she? My friends call her Beastly Beatrice." He caught sight of the look on Drew's face. "'Course I always defend her."

"Case in point. Your friends are idiots. One of them could have written this letter. Someone wrote it." Drew prayed that it was only a prank.

He would never allow history to repeat itself.
...

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