Men are untrustworthy, disloyal swine who
care for nothing save their own pleasures
and the perpetuation of their line.
No good ever came of a summons from a solicitor.
Gwendolyn Townsend stiffened her already ramrod straight
posture and ignored the urge to pick at the worn cuff of
her pelisse. She was the daughter of a viscount, and
regardless of her current circumstances, she would not be
intimidated by a mere solicitor. Furthermore, she was not
at all pleased to be kept waiting. She ignored as well the
fact that, in spite of her lineage, she was nothing more
than a governess at the moment and an unsuccessful one at
No good ever came of a summons from a solicitor.
It was harder to ignore the long-forgotten warning that
had surfaced in her mind with a vengeance and refused to
let her be. It had echoed in the back of her thoughts ever
since the letter from her late father's man of affairs,
Mr. Whiting, had at long last reached her in New York. And
why shouldn't it? She'd heard the servants at Madame
Chaussan's Academy for Young Ladies say it often enough
through most of the first sixteen years of her life, and
indeed, hadn't it always proved true?
The last time Gwen had had anything whatsoever to do with
a solicitor had been five years ago when Mr. Whiting's
nephew, taking up his uncle's business, had informed her
she was penniless. She still recalled that moment -- the
discomfort of the young man, a scant few years older than
she, at his announcement, and the sympathy in his brown
eyes. She remembered the look in his eyes as clearly as
she remembered his words.
"Miss Townsend, forgive me for keeping you waiting." A
gentleman of distinguished appearance stepped into the
room and crossed to her chair. Gwen knew his name, but
they'd never had occasion to meet before now. He extended
his hand, and she accepted it cautiously. "Your appearance
is something of a surprise. I did not expect you for
several days yet."
"I thought it best to return to England at once."
"Of course." He withdrew his hand and nodded toward the
door. "You remember my nephew, Albert?"
Only now did she note the younger man standing by the open
door, a decidedly apologetic expression on his face. There
was no sympathy in his eyes today but an odd look
"Of course." She smiled politely and waited. If there was
one thing, and indeed there might well be only one thing,
she had learned through seven positions of employment, it
was how to give the appearance of patience.
Mr. Whiting took his place behind his desk and nodded
dismissively at his nephew. Albert started toward the
door, then abruptly turned back. "Miss Townsend, please
accept my most heartfelt apologies."
At once she recognized the look in his eye as guilt.
He stepped closer. "This is entirely my fault, and I
cannot tell you how truly horrible I have felt since the
error was first discovered. I have been most concerned
about your -- "
"That's quite enough, Albert," Whiting said firmly.
Error? Gwen's gaze slid from Albert to his uncle and back.
"What error?" she said slowly.
"It was a mistake." Albert shook his head. "Quite
inexcusable, and I shall never forgive -- "
"Albert." Whiting's voice cut through the room.
Albert ignored him. "Miss Townsend, please understand I
consider myself at your service from this moment forward.
Should you need anything whatsoever, up to and including
the benefits that can only be derived from marriage, I
should be honored to offer my -- "
"Albert," Whiting snapped. "I will take care of this. I'm
certain you have other duties to attend to."
Albert hesitated, then nodded. "Of course, Uncle." He
squared his shoulders and met her gaze. "Again, Miss
Townsend, my apologies."
He left without another word. Gwen stared after him. A
hundred myriad thoughts swirled through her mind, but not
one made any sense.
Whiting cleared his throat. "Miss Townsend, I -- "
"What mistake?" Her gaze snapped to his.
Whiting paused as if considering his words. He was
distinctly ill-at-ease, and for the first time since her
father's death, a glimmer of what might have been hope
surfaced within her.
When she'd received Whiting's letter she'd been curious,
of course: it was accompanied by an already paid passage
back to England. But he'd said nothing more than that
there was a matter of importance regarding her family that
required her immediate return. She'd been only too glad to
bid her employers and their annoying offspring goodbye and
had sailed on the first ship home.
She'd assumed Whiting's summons had to do with the signing
of papers regarding her father's estate or the transfer of
ownership of his property, matters she'd assumed as well
had been settled long ago. Still, whatever it was, it was
significant enough, in Whiting's eyes, to provide her with
a way back to England, and that was all she really cared
Now, looking at the solicitor's obvious discomfort,
coupled with his nephew's abject apology and strange
proposal of marriage, Gwen realized the "matter of
importance" was far more significant than she'd imagined.
"Miss Townsend." Whiting folded his hands on the desk in
front of him. "My nephew should never have informed you of
the state of your finances in the manner in which he did.
Nor should he have said anything whatsoever so soon after
your father's demise."
Gwen's heart sank.
"It was most thoughtless of him and -- "
"Mr. Whiting, as much as I appreciate ..."