Dr. Walcott rose shortly before sunset. He was surprised he’d been able to slumber for so long with the girl in the state she was. The thought that she hadn’t made it through the day, and they’d chosen to let him sleep, disturbed him.
He washed at the basin quickly before rushing out. Nobody was about—not a good sign. He knocked gently and entered.
Her parents sat in the dim room in chairs at the end of the small bed. She was covered with so many linens that in her stillness they resembled a death shroud. He shuddered as he walked toward the bed, nodding to her parents as he passed. Her mother’s face was drawn and puffy, her father’s empty gaze on the small window.
Dr. Walcott grasped her wrist and, feeling the flutter of her heartbeat, he finally took a breath. He started looking over her bandages. They all seemed to be holding well, staying in place and not drying out. He stroked the hair back from her forehead, whispering, “Good girl, Lilly, we all know you are a strong, brave girl.”
He started once again with her face, checking each wound and adding salve, before replacing the linen. They propped her forward on pillows to relieve the pressure on her back for a while, then turned her to the other side. It was unnerving that she didn’t react to their handling of her, but he surmised that the laudanum they’d poured down her throat was helping to keep her insensate. He had no intention of stopping the medication just yet. He wasn’t sure if it was because he thought she couldn’t stand the pain, or because they wouldn’t be able to stand her cries that would surely follow.
He spent a second night by her side, taking breaks only for the necessaries.
Gideon made the long trip to London primarily by rail, but as the lines were under construction, he detoured through the country by carriage whenever necessary. He was not anxious to get to Roxleigh House on Grosvenor Square. Not because the house itself wasn’t appealing, but because it was in London, a social mecca amidst squalor.
The town house, though, was a small sanctuary surrounded by the bustle. While most of the houses on Grosvenor were five to seven bays in width and three stories with an attic, Roxleigh House held nine bays with four stories. It was the crown jewel on the square with its Georgian architecture and dramatic columns rising the full height of the façade.
Like Eildon Manor, the bedrooms and sitting rooms at the front rose with the sun, and the common rooms and ballroom gazed upon the sunset over a large, private garden between the rear terrace and Blackburne’s Mews, where his outriders and cattle were housed.
He bounded up the front steps and across the shallow portico into the house, exhaling the moment his foot crossed the threshold at the heavy door. Sanders attended him straightaway as Ferry assisted the footmen with Gideon’s accoutrements.
“A guest awaits you in the study, Your Grace,” Sanders said as Gideon handed off his greatcoat and hat.
He stopped cold, presenting Sanders with a severe gaze. “My outriders were sent ahead to direct that my arrival be held in confidence. Who would be here at this hour?”
“His lordship, Your Grace,” Sanders replied without wavering.
“Of course,” Gideon ground out.
His younger brother would have noticed Roxleigh House being lit and warmed, even in the dead of night, from his own town house across the square. His brother held to the hours of a rake, sleeping through the morning and into the waning light so he could attend society parties in the evenings and entertain women deep into the night.
“Shall I have Cook prepare a repast?” Sanders asked.
“No, Sanders, that will be all.” Gideon slapped his gloves on his thigh.
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Gideon handed off the gloves and Sanders withdrew. Steeling himself, he strode toward the study where a liveried footman swung the door wide. “And to what do we owe the honor?” his jaw tightened as he walked directly to the tantalus on the sideboard for a snifter of brandy. He was not prepared to face his brother just yet. He had assumed he would have at least the night to rest and consider. His brother was the Lord Peregrine Trumbull, Viscount of Roxleigh in name, but a rake of the worst order by action.
“Your Grace,” Perry said wryly. “I did not receive advance notice of your arrival, even though your household has. Surely an oversight.”
“Surely, my lord, a terrible oversight,” Gideon replied, shaking his head in mock confusion.
“Humph. So, to what do we owe the honor?” Perry asked.
Gideon sat in one of his plush wingback chairs next to the fireplace as Perry poured his own snifter and followed, dropping into the chair across from him.
“I have matters that need tending. As you are well aware.” Gideon examined the face that could have served as a younger mirror of his own. He studied Perry, attempting to determine a suitable tack to follow.
“Indeed, Your Grace, as I’ve been aware for months. Yet I did not expect you for some time, as you prefer to leave most of these things to gather for one visit,” he said while Gideon glared.
“Yes, of course,” Gideon said, shifting his gaze to the fire, then back as he swirled the brandy. “I— I had need to take my leave,” he said quietly, measuring his brother’s reaction. He wasn’t disappointed, as Perry’s jaw dropped.
“From Eildon? You cannot be serious. You cannot bear to leave that reclusive estate, regardless of the condition of your affairs. What on earth could possibly drive you away?” Perry rolled the brandy over a candle flame to warm it.
Gideon considered where to start and how much to reveal. He ultimately decided on full disclosure, because if anyone could help him with this conundrum, it was surely the one man in the world who knew him better than he knew himself.
Gideon leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he palmed the balloon of brandy. “Well,” he began, “her name is Francine, and she is a—a paradox.”