“I’m responsible for my cousin’s death. I refuse to replace Anthony’s legacy with my own sorry bloodline. The title should have been his.” He hesitated, then decided to have out with it. “And if it couldn’t be his, it might as well have been yours. You’re the elder between us. We both have Reynaud blood.”
Barrow sat back in his chair, crossing his legs. “So. We’re going to talk about that now, are we?”
“We may as well.” Chase gestured at all the paperwork around them, and the immense wealth and lands it represented. “You’d make a much better duke than I will. Are you certain I can’t give this to you? At least half of it?”
“I’m afraid not. It’s all entailed.”
“Well, at least start embezzling or something.”
Barrow chuckled. “I’ll take that under advisement.”
“Chase, you’re going to make a better nobleman than half the peers in England. At least you look after your dependents. You know, it hasn’t escaped my attention that since we took over all this, you’ve asked me to establish no fewer than six trusts and legacies for ‘devoted servants.’ I’ve seen your servants. They’re not devoted.”
Chase sighed. Difficult to argue that point.
“So I’m guessing I’m not the only bastard your father sired.” After a moment, Barrow asked quietly, “What about the girls?”
“I don’t know.” Chase covered his eyes. “It’s possible they’re his, but I can’t be certain. Doesn’t make a difference, though. I intend to provide for them. School, dowries, trusts.”
“So you can care for all your father’s bastards, but not a family of your own?”
“Bloody hell, Barrow. I don’t ‘care’ for all his bastards. It’s just money.”
Barrow’s face went hard. “Oh, really.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Chase cursed his thoughtlessness. “But this is a perfect illustration of the point. I am shite at caring. Friendship, maybe I can manage. But guardianship? Family? Absolutely not. After Anthony was killed, I took his body home to Belvoir. I’d sent an express in advance with the news, but somehow it hadn’t yet arrived. My uncle only learned of it upon seeing the body. Do you know what it looks like when a person’s heart breaks right in front of you?”
Barrow shook his head.
“Well, I do. And I never want to see it again.”
They were silent for a minute.
“Chase, when you love someone there’s always a chance you’ll hurt them. But if you let them go, hurting them isn’t a possibility—it’s a certainty. I watched that woman spend day and night by your bedside while you lingered near death.” He arched an eyebrow. “You pissed yourself, you know. Twice.”
“Yes, I heard that,” he said irritably. “Thank you for bringing it up. Again.”
“Alexandra’s in love with you. If you can’t find it within yourself to love her back, then you’d better make that very clear. Sooner rather than later.”
Chase nodded. As always, his annoyingly smug brother had the right of it. “I’ve promised them an outing to the British Museum tomorrow. I’ll speak with Alexandra at the first opportunity.”
After a mere two minutes in the Egyptian Room, Alexandra knew this outing was the most brilliant idea she’d had all summer.
“Look at them.” She nudged Chase’s arm. “Have you ever seen those girls so happy?”
“Of course they’re happy,” he replied, sounding markedly less enthusiastic about it. “Daisy is surrounded by death, mummies stacked three to a case, and even Rosamund couldn’t dream of this much plundered gold.”
“Just think of the educational benefits.”
Daisy pushed up her spectacles and bent over a label on the glass case of an intricately carved stone coffin. She sounded out the word, syllable by syllable. “Sar-co-pha-gus.”
“Come look at this.” Rosamund waved her sister over. “Before they wrapped the mummy, they took the organs out and stored them in golden jars.” She pointed. “This one’s for the brain. It says here they pulled it out through the mummy’s nose.”
Alex turned to Chase. “You can’t deny that they’re learning.”
He only shook his head in response.
Secretly, Alex agreed with him somewhat. She, too, hoped the girls would develop other interests with time—or if not other interests, at least less morbid and criminal applications of them.
“May we go on to the South Seas curiosities?” Rosamund asked. “I want to see the maps and things from Captain James Cook.”
“You may go ahead of us,” Alex told her, “if you mind Daisy. We’ll join you in a moment. And no running.”
Once the girls had left the Egyptian Room, Alex maneuvered toward a quieter corner between galleries. “We should talk.”
“I’ve been thinking the same.”
“The summer’s drawing to an end.”
He nodded. “And so is our arrangement.”
“Yes.” She lowered her voice. “Promise me one thing, if you will. Wherever you send them to school, don’t make them stay there over school holidays. If you won’t have them at your house, send them to me. I stayed at school every holiday for years, and it was misery.”