“Lord Irving is delighted to see you here this evening, Dinah,” Lady Whitehaven said, gesturing towards the gentleman whom, Dinah realized, she had been somewhat forced to dance with at the previous ball. She did not recall his face – most likely because she had been eager just to have the dance completed and thereafter had forgotten about the gentleman entirely. “As you can see, Lord Irving, Dinah has her dance card already prepared.”
Seeing that she was not about to be able to escape such a thing, Dinah reluctantly held out her dance card and saw the gentleman smile almost in triumph. A little anxious and certainly repelled by the gentleman’s demeanor, she stood stock still whilst he wrote his name down in two spaces. This was not going to be an enjoyable evening, no matter what Lady Whitehaven hoped for. Lord Irving might prove to be the most wonderful gentleman in all of England, but she felt nothing for him. There was no immediate spark, no flicker of interest that grew in her heart. Instead, the only person on her mind was none other than Lord Whitehaven, no matter how much she wanted to remove him.
“Shall we, Miss Shepherd?”
Seeing that Lord Irving had written his name on the very next dance, Dinah unwillingly accepted his arm and allowed him to lead her onto the dance floor. It was only by chance that she caught the gaze of Lord Whitehaven, who had risen from his chair and was now watching them both intently. Wondering at the look on his face and the set of his jaw, Dinah was soon forced to give her attention back to Lord Irving, who was busy talking with seemingly every expectation that she was listening to all that he said.
Quietly, Dinah wondered why she could not remove Lord Whitehaven from her thoughts when she knew him to be more unsuitable than any other gentleman of her acquaintance! Why did she torment herself with the memory of how she had felt when he had kissed her? Why did such a strange desire to do so again begin to grow in her when she knew him to be unwelcoming, angry, and altogether disagreeable? It was most confusing and rather upsetting, and even as she danced in another gentleman’s arms, Dinah found that he still lingered there, capturing her every thought as he had captured her lips only last evening.
“You are being quite ridiculous, Grayson.”
The words that he spoke to himself held none of the conviction that he had hoped, even though he was trying to convince himself that he was nothing more than a fool. In the last week, he had found himself thinking of nothing other than Dinah, as though he were drawn closer to her than ever before. Of course, this had sent him into a whirlwind of despair, knowing that she was much too good a character for someone such as he, who was lost in gambling and the like, and so he had done the only thing he could think to do and had attempted to drink himself into oblivion on more than one occasion.
But each time he awoke, she would be there, lingering in his thoughts.
Running his hands through his hair, Grayson sat back in his chair and groaned. He had been caught unawares by her request for forgiveness, making him flood with shame and mortification as she had asked him to forgive her foolish speech and insulting words. Not that he had thought she had insulted him in any way, for he quite understood why she would have preferred to have danced with a pig than with himself, given that he had, apparently, tried to kiss her. But to see the vulnerability in her eyes, to hear her pained voice and her sorrowful expression had quite torn his heart from his chest. If anything, she was the one who required an apology from him, but instead she had come to him, seeking forgiveness for what had been the smallest of slights.
His heart dropped to the floor yet again as he thought of her. She was much too pure for him to pursue. To ask her to align herself with him for the rest of her days was nothing more than a dream – a dream that would fade away in time. Once she was married and settled with a good man, then, Grayson told himself, he would be able to forget about her altogether. These feelings would go, and he would be himself again.
A rap on the door startled him. Putting his hands down on the desk and sitting upright so that he looked as though he had been busy with his papers and the like, he called for them to enter. The butler came at once, holding what appeared to be a very thick letter. Grayson took it with a frown. Who could have written him such a long letter and what was the meaning behind it?
“I thank you,” he murmured, telling the butler to leave before he turned his attention to the letter. The seal was unmarked, making Grayson’s brows burrow low. Breaking it open carefully, he unfolded it – only for a large sheaf of papers to fall out. A sheen of sweat broke out on his brow as he looked through each one, realizing with horror what they all were. They were copies of his vowels.
“Good heavens,” he whispered, rubbing at his forehead with a sweaty hand as he took in just how many of them there were. He knew he had been losing a good deal of money these last few days, but he did not rem
ember writing vowels to one gentleman only! So why did there appear to be so many from one person at one time? He had, of course, had every intention of paying what he owed, he just simply had not yet managed to do so. The reason being that his money was tied up in his estate, and if he required such a large sum as his vowels dictated, he would have to go to his solicitors. Even then, that would take some time.
A bead of sweat ran down his back.
His hand was shaking slightly as he reached for the letter itself, pulling it free of the vowels and holding it carefully in front of his eyes. Aware that his breathing was a little quickened, Grayson tried to get a grip of his sudden anxiety and set himself to reading the letter.
“‘You may be wondering why I have copies of so many of your vowels, Lord Whitehaven,’” he read aloud. “‘This is because I have purchased them from those you gave them to. Therefore, it is now to me that you owe these funds. I would have them from you by the end of the day. You will take the funds to the Elder View House and deposit them there. Someone will be waiting for you.’”
Grayson swallowed hard, knowing full well that Elder View House was one of the establishments he had frequented over the last week. He was well known there. Turning the letter over, he looked for a sign to see which gentleman had done such a thing – only to discover that there was no name. The letter was unsigned. Screwing up his eyes, Grayson let out a long breath and tried to steady his nerves. This was all rather unusual, but that did not mean he had to panic. There was enough coffers within the house to pay the debts that he owed here in London, surely.
And then, something slammed into his memory. Opening his eyes, he began to search through each and every vowel, setting them aside once he had read the details. Somewhere in the middle of the pile, he found what he had been looking for.
It was one of the debts he owed to a gentleman in Bath. Setting it to the left of the pile, Grayson continued to sort out the papers, realizing with a growing horror, that all of his debts from last year in Bath were also a part of the debts he now owed this unknown gentleman. He had very little idea as to why someone would wish to do such a thing but, nevertheless, someone had done so.
Closing his eyes, Grayson set down the last vowel and covered his face with his hands. He had behaved recklessly, and now he was to pay the price. There could be no easy way to bring all the money that he owed to Elder View today. The solicitors would need to release some more funds and that would take a few days. So what was he do to?
Throwing his chair back, Grayson got to his feet and strode to the window that overlooked the gardens. Leaning heavily on the sill, he let out long breaths, trying to calm his frantic mind. He could take what he had with him, could he not? He could go to Elder View with some of the money so that the person responsible for the demand would know that he had every intention of delivering the rest. Surely that would be enough to satisfy them for a few days. Grimacing, Edward tried not to think about what the money he owed would have done for the estate. The tenants houses badly needed to be repaired and that had been the intention for this coming summer, but now he would have to write to his steward and ask for such a thing to be delayed. If only the estate had done well the last few years! Then, Grayson was certain, he would have been able to throw about as much money as he wished without worrying about the consequences.
“You cannot blame anyone but yourself for this,” he said aloud, looking at his pale reflection in the glass. “This was all your choice. Your doing. Your responsibility.”
The weight of that settled on his heart, making him wince. That was the truth of it, there was no doubt. He had done this to himself. He had been the one to go in search of gambling hells when he knew he ought not to do so. He had been the one who had drunk himself into a stupor, only to keep playing as best he could. This was all his own fault, and he had no one to blame other than himself.
Sighing again, he caught sight of someone walking through the small gardens. Her face was upturned to the sky, her fair head looking like strands of gold in the sunlight. He could not see her blue eyes, for she kept them closed, standing quietly for a moment or two. Most likely, she was praying. Praying for his dark soul, perhaps. A mirthless smile crossed Grayson’s face, reminding himself once more about how he and Dinah could never become anything more than what they were. She was almost angelic, and he so far down into a dark pit that it might never allow him to fully escape.
What would she think if she heard of his debts? What would she do or say? Most likely, she would close her eyes and shake her head in both sorrow and resignation, perhaps having expected as much from him. She would pray for him, mayhap, but make sure to keep out of his company as much as possible. That was something he did not think he could bear, for even though there was only a small flicker of understanding between them, he could not imagine that disappearing forever. It would quite break him.
Why can I not forget you?
His attempts at pushing her away had lost a good deal of their strength, Grayson knew. His affections were growing instead of fading, and it brought him a sense of pain to see her so hurt by his harshness. Instead, he had chosen simply to avoid her, to remain out of her company and out of her life as much as he could this last week. It had not been easy, for his eyes still sought to find her in amongst the crowd when they were at a ball or soiree, and he often found her looking back at him for a moment before turning her head away again.