Someone to Care (Westcott #4)(6)

Marcel got to his feet, strolled out into the hallway, turned the register to observe that yes, she had indeed signed it for a one-night stay as Miss Kingsley, and then strolled to the outside door to glance out. He crossed to the dining room and entered it by the hallway door. She looked up as he closed the door behind him and then set her cup down carefully in its saucer, her eyes on what she was doing. Her hair, swept back and upward into an elegant chignon, was still the color of honey. Unless his advanced age had dimmed his excellent eyesight, there was not a single strand of gray there yet. Or any lines on her face or sagging of chin. Or of bosom.

“You told me to go away,” he said. “But that was fifteen years or so ago. Was there a time limit?”


The hired carriage in which Viola Kingsley had been traveling just a short while before the Marquess of Dorchester spoke to her at the country inn not only had been uncomfortable with its hard seats and surely nonexistent springs and its drafty windows and door and its innumerable squeaks and groans and pervading smell of oldness and staleness. It had also developed a severe limp and was proceeding at less than half its former speed and was listing somewhat to one side. Try as she would to sit upright, she had kept finding her left shoulder pressed up against the hard wood panel beside the seat. At any moment she had expected that the carriage would stop altogether and she would be stranded in the middle of nowhere.

And it was all her fault. She would have no one to blame but herself.

Two years before, something truly catastrophic had happened to Viola. She had been Viola Westcott, Countess of Riverdale, at the time and had recently suffered the loss of the earl, her husband of twenty-three years. Her son, Harry, had succeeded to the title. He had been only twenty years old at the time and had therefore been placed under the guardianship of Avery Archer, Duke of Netherby, and of Viola herself. Her elder daughter, Camille, had already made her debut into society and was respectably betrothed to Viscount Uxbury. Her younger daughter, Abigail, was looking forward to her own come-out Season the following spring. Viola had been satisfied with her life despite the necessity of wearing deep mourning. She had not been fond of her husband and felt no great grief at his passing.

There had been just one loose end to be tied up, and she had made an attempt to tie it. There was a girl, a young woman by then, whom her husband had kept and secretly supported—he had thought it was a secret, anyway—at an orphanage in Bath for as long as Viola had known him. She had made the understandable assumption that the female was his natural daughter by a mistress, and had done what she had considered the right thing after his death by sending her solicitor to Bath to find the woman, inform her of her father’s death, and make a final settlement upon her.

That was when the catastrophe had hit.

For it had been discovered that the young woman concerned, Anna Snow, then twenty-five years old and a teacher at the orphanage, was in fact the late earl’s legitimate daughter by a previous wife. By his only wife as it happened. He had married Viola a few months before Anna Snow’s mother died of consumption. Viola’s marriage had been a bigamous one. Worse, her son and her daughters were illegitimate. Harry was stripped of his title and fortune—the title had passed to his second cousin, Alexander Westcott, and the fortune to Anna. All of it. The earl had made only one will, and that had been drawn up while he was still with his first wife. Everything that was not entailed went to his daughter by that marriage. Camille and Abigail lost their titles and their portions. Camille was cast off by Lord Uxbury. Abigail would have no come-out Season or any prospect of making the sort of marriage she had been brought up to expect. They had been left destitute, though Anna had tried to insist that her fortune be divided equally among her half siblings and herself. But at the time, she was a stranger to them. In their pride and hurt and bewilderment, they had all refused. Viola had resumed her maiden name.

To say that the bottom had fallen out of her world would be severely to understate the case. The enormity of what had happened to her and her children had been too much for her mind to bear. She had lived on. How could she not, short of putting an end to her own existence? And in the two years since then her life had settled into a new order that was really more bearable than she could have expected. Harry was serving as a captain with a rifle regiment in the Peninsula and was forever cheerful in his insistence that it was just the life for him. Camille was married to a much better man than her former betrothed and they had three children—two adopted and one their own. Abigail lived with Viola at Hinsford Manor in Hampshire, where Viola had spent most of her marriage. What had truly been unexpected after the whole mess was that Anna Snow would end up marrying Harry’s guardian, Avery, Duke of Netherby. But she had, and was a duchess now herself. She had insisted she would never live at Hinsford Manor herself and had begged Viola not to let it sit empty. She had even written into her will that the house would pass to Harry and his descendants after her time if he would not accept it before then. The large dowry Viola’s father had given when she married Humphrey had been returned, with all the interest it would have accrued since then. Anna had insisted upon it and taken care of it even before Viola could think of it for herself.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Westcott family, far from shunning Viola and her children after the truth became known, had made every effort to draw them back into the fold. As one, they had made it clear to Viola and her children that they were no less loved and valued now than they ever had been, and no less a part of the family. Two of Viola’s sisters-in-law, the earl’s sisters, were still fond of saying that they dearly wished Humphrey were still alive so that they could have the pleasure of killing him themselves.

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