Until there was nothing left.
“The left side needs to be higher,” Daisy said.
Chase put down his hammer and stepped back. Damn it, she was right. The shelf still didn’t look straight.
He fished out a key and opened the locked drawer where he kept his tools—at least a few things had to be kept safe from Rosamund—but instead of a measuring stick, his hand fell on something that crinkled beneath his fingertips. A small, flat package wrapped with ivory tissue and tied off with a lavender ribbon.
He’d forgotten the thing entirely.
Chase couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. It had been meant as a surprise gift for Alexandra, but it had ended up being a gift to himself. A gift he’d given himself weeks in advance, without even realizing it.
An excuse to go to her.
“How long will you be?” Rosamund perched on the stepladder, holding one edge of the shelf in place. “My arms are growing tired.”
“Be glad your arms aren’t broken,” Daisy said smugly. “Lift up a bit. Your side is slipping.” The girl was enjoying her supervisory role a bit too much.
“You may let the shelf be,” Chase said. “I’m leaving directly.”
“Leaving for where?” Rosamund asked.
“To speak with Miss Mountbatten.”
“Can we come along?” Daisy asked.
“Not this time, darling.”
Chase had to do this alone, and he had to do it today, before he talked himself out of it somehow. The gift wasn’t much. Nowhere near what she deserved. But he wanted Alex to have it, even if she refused to accept him.
With a bit of luck and a barge-load of apologies, was it too much to hope she might take both? Probably, but he had to try.
He bounded up to the entrance hall, where Barrow was just putting on his hat.
“We’ll have to postpone our appointment at the bank. I’m going after Alexandra.”
Barrow replaced his hat on the hook. “Finally.”
“She won’t want to see me.” Chase wrestled into his topcoat. “How can I convince her to hear me out? What do I say?”
“You’re the one with the silver tongue. I’m not certain what you want from me here.”
“You’re right. I don’t know why I’m asking advice from a man who proposed to his wife in a haberdashery.”
“At least my proposal was accepted.”
“That’s cold, Barrow.”
Chase yanked the lapels of his topcoat straight. Whatever powers of persuasion he’d amassed in his lifetime, this was the day to use them. “Christ, this is pointless. I treated her so shamefully. You have no idea.”
His brother shrugged. “So you made a mistake.”
“Very well, multiple mistakes.”
“Never mind the number,” Barrow said. “If you love her—”
“What do you mean, ‘if’? You knew that before I did.”
“If you love her,” Barrow repeated with strained patience, “Alexandra just might forgive you. Think of how many of your flaws I overlook daily.”
“You don’t overlook my flaws. You like them. They make you feel superior, attached as you are to all those smug principles.”
“I’m attached to you, you idiot. You’re my best friend, and my brother by blood. No one who loves you expects you to be perfect. If by some miracle you managed it, we wouldn’t recognize you.”
Chase started to protest, but then he realized he didn’t really want to.
“All you need to promise her is yourself. That’s enough.” Barrow put his hand on Chase’s shoulder. “You’re enough.”
Over his adult life, Chase had built an unparalleled reputation for suave, spontaneous gestures of intimacy. Apparently, he’d fallen out of practice. The hug he gave his brother was the most awkward, embarrassing embrace he’d ever attempted in his life.
Barrow released him with a merciful thump on the back. “Now leave, so I can draw up some marriage contracts.”
“What about the embezzling? Don’t forget the embezzling.”
“Chase, stop stalling and go.”
For once, Chase took his brother’s suggestion. Without argument.
He headed to Lady Penelope Campion’s house first, but the housekeeper said she’d gone to Miss Teague’s. On to Miss Teague’s it was.
Miss Teague’s door was ajar, seemingly to clear out a haze of smoke from within. The house smelled of charred chocolate and cinnamon.
“Chase!” Penny waved him in. “Just in time for tea. Do sit down and have a biscuit.”
“He’s not getting biscuits,” Nicola said, incensed. She whipped the plate from the table, guarding it. “After what he did to Alex? Not even the burnt ones.”
“But he’s sorry now. He’s clearly here to make amends. The poor man looks wretched.”
Chase wasn’t certain how to feel about that. “I don’t have time for tea and biscuits, thank you. I’ve something for Alex. She’ll want to have it at once.”
“Leave it, then,” Nicola said. “We’ll give it to her.”
That was an entirely reasonable suggestion. One he didn’t have a ready excuse to work around. He decided to try the truth. “Please. I need to see her. Speak with her.”
“See, Nic?” Penny said. “He’s miserable.”