A shudder ran through him as he recalled the beating he had endured the last time he had appeared without full payment. Had Lord Irving had this plan in its entirety then? Or had it only come to him once it had become obvious just how foolish Grayson really was? Grayson had no doubt that there would be a good deal of punishment due to him should he refuse to hand Dinah over. Whether that would come in the breaking of his body as well as his reputation, he could not say, but he would endure it if he had to. He would endure it because he loved Dinah and would never subject her to such a torturous future. Lord Irving stated that he would struggle to find a bride, would struggle to produce an heir, and that might now very well be the case. He could not ask Dinah to marry him, not when he had an estate crumbling around his ears, having lost the money to Lord Irving. That would be no future for her.
Groaning aloud, he leaned forward and rested his head on the edge of the chair back, feeling his inner shame burst over him, rendering him weak and useless. Perhaps this was what he deserved. Perhaps this was the punishment that had always been coming towards him for his own foolish behavior and his lack of regard for others. Mayhap he should simply endure and beg his mother to forgive him. His head clouded with sorrow and distress, imagining him having to send Lady Whitehaven off to one of his sister’s houses so that she would not have to endure living alongside him. The mortification that would come upon the Whitehaven name would be more than shameful. He would not be able to lift his head up high in society again, and certainly no gentleman would even consider looking at him when it came to cards or the like. A gentleman did not hide his debts. A gentleman did not leave them unpaid, and a gentleman certainly did not refuse to pay when he was called upon to do so. The ton would not care about Lord Irving and what he had done. The focus would be solely upon himself.
“I shall never treat you as dispensable,” he said aloud, as though Dinah was in the room to hear him. “I shall never allow you to be treated with unkindness again. I am sorry, my dear. I have no other choice but to go to Elders View just as I am. I cannot be certain that I shall ever return again.”
The night was dark, and the evening somewhat chilled by the time Grayson had prepared himself. The thought of taking what money he had in order to pay some of the debt had crossed his mind on more than one occasion, but given what had occurred the last time, Grayson had chosen not to do so. Lord Irving would not accept it, no matter how much Grayson tried to protest that he had not been able to acquire the money required in such a short space of time. The man had done so deliberately, in order to try his utmost to get what he wanted – which was either Dinah or a great deal of money.
Lord Irving had been right to state that neither Grayson nor his mother had sought to learn much about Lord Irving’s character. Grayson had not done so because, initially, he had believed himself to be the worst gentleman in all of London and had presumed that Lord Irving would be a better gentleman than he had ever managed to be. His mother, at least, had been rather uncertain about Lord Irving at the first, thinking him to be overeager, but the thought that a particular gentleman was, in fact, interested in Dinah had seemed to make her forget herself. Lord Irving had been much too wily, much too determined in his own schemes for any of them to have been able to escape him.
“Are you going somewhere, Grayson?”
He turned to see none other than Dinah herself coming down the staircase towards him, her eyes a little concerned.
“I—I thought you were gone out this evening,” he stammered, a little uncertain. “A soiree or some such thing, was it not?”
Dinah gave him a small smile, although her eyes remained curious. “No, indeed not,” she answered. “That was your mother’s invitation only and not one that either myself or Titania were invited to. Titania and I have been in the library for the last few hours, although we did stop for dinner. We did not see you there. Why did you not join us, Whitehaven?”
The question in her eyes made him want to tell her everything, but Grayson stopped himself with an effort. “I have some matters that I must take care of,” he told her, seeing her smile fade away. “Grave matters, Dinah.”
She took another step forward and put one hand on his arm. “Matters that trouble you, I think.”
Closing his eyes at the tenderness in her voice, Grayson nodded. “You know of my debts, Dinah. Those debts must be paid one way or the other.”
“And you are going to do so now?”
“You are going to Elders View?”
He nodded again, remembering that she knew of that place from when she had come to collect him in his battered and bruised state.
“Would that I could help remove some of this burden from you,” she murmured, moving closer and putting her other hand at his heart. “What can I do, Whitehaven? Is there anything that you require of me that will ease your struggle?”
Grayson felt his heart aching with the sense that he did not deserve this angel that stood before him and yet eager to take hold of the comfort she offered. With a long breath, he wrapped his arms about her and hauled her close, his eyes closing and his breath settling as he felt the warmth and the security of her arms around his neck. He knew she loved him. It was still as wonderous to him as it had been when she had first come near to him, and yet, within his heart, there was a small stab of pain. Pain that she might now never be his, that she might have to return to her life without him. Perhaps that life in the country with the little cottage and her solitude would be all that she could have. He could not draw near to her again, not when the shame that would cover him would then reach out towards her and stick to her also, should he try to come close to her. Kissing her cheek, he let her go and stepped back, his hands running down her shoulders and catching her hands in his.
“You look as though you are leaving for good,” Dinah whispered, her face holding an expression of fear. “What is it, Whitehaven? Can you not tell me?”
“No,” he murmured, his whole body aching with despair. “I must go, Dinah. I–I want you to know that my heart is yours. I love you with such desperation that it is practically impossible to keep it within myself. If only I could be everything to you that you require. If only I could be a better gentleman, then…” He trailed off, shaking his head and letting go of her hands.
“You are everything to me, Whitehaven,” Dinah whispered, a tear slipping from her eye and dropping to her cheek. “You know that I love you in return.”
“And I shall keep that declaration with me, no matter where I go or what occurs hereafter,” he replied hoarsely. “It shall be my one and only comfort.” Turning away from her and without another backward glance, he turned from the only woman he had ever loved and walked out into the night.
Dinah nodded slowly, biting her lip and wiping her eyes as she returned to the library and to where Titania was waiting.
“You are quite certain about your next course of action?”
Again, Dinah nodded. “Yes, I am,” she replied, her determination running strongly through her. “I knew it from the moment I heard him refuse Lord Irving.”
Titania nodded slowly, looking up at her. “I must go with you.”