As usual, his staff was fast and efficient. Quincy, the elderly valet he had hired away from Devon Ravenel only a few months ago, brought a fresh shirt, waistcoat, a can of hot water, and a tray of grooming supplies. Upon witnessing Rhys’s condition, the concerned valet clucked and murmured in dismay as he washed, brushed, combed, dabbed, and smoothed until Rhys was presentable. The worst part was donning the fresh shirt and waistcoat; as Dr. Gibson had predicted, the injured shoulder was becoming more painful.
After Mrs. Fernsby had brought a dose of tonic from the apothecary, and a tray with both coffee and brandy, Rhys was ready for the solicitor.
“Winterborne,” Charles Burgess said as he entered the office, glancing over him with a mixture of amusement and concern. “You remind me of a rough and tumble lad I once knew on High Street.”
Rhys smiled at the stocky, gray-haired solicitor, who had once worked for his father on small legal matters. Eventually he had become one of Rhys’s advisors as the grocer’s shop expanded into a vast mercantile business. Now Burgess was on the private company’s board of directors. Meticulous, insightful, and creative, he was able to pick his way through legal obstacles like a North Wales sheep through upland heath.
“Mrs. Fernsby says that you were caught in a construction mishap,” Burgess commented, sitting on the other side of the desk. He extracted a notebook and pencil from the inside of his coat.
“Aye. Which brought to my attention the need to revise my will without delay.” He proceeded to explain about his engagement to Helen, giving Burgess a carefully expurgated version of recent events.
After listening closely and writing a few notes, Burgess said, “You wish to secure Lady Helen’s future contingent upon a legal and consummated marriage, I assume.”
“No, starting now. If something should happen to me before the wedding, I want her to be taken care of.”
“You have no obligation to make any provision for Lady Helen until she becomes your wife.”
“I want to put five million pounds in trust for her without delay.” At the solicitor’s stunned expression, Rhys said bluntly, “There may be a child.”
“I see.” Burgess’s pencil moved rapidly across the page. “If a child is born within nine months after your demise, would you wish to make a provision for him?”
“Aye. He—or she—will inherit the company. If there is no child, everything goes to Lady Helen.”
The pencil stopped moving. “It’s not my place to say anything,” Burgess said. “But you’ve only known this woman for a matter of months.”
“It’s what I want,” Rhys said flatly.
Helen had risked everything for him. She had given herself to him without conditions. He would do no less for her.
He certainly didn’t plan on meeting his maker any time soon—he was a healthy man with the greater part of his life still ahead of him. However, the accident today—not to mention the train collision a month ago—had demonstrated that no one was exempt from the vagaries of fate. If something did happen to him, he wanted Helen to have everything that was his. Everything, including Winterborne’s.
KATHLEEN AND DEVON arrived at Ravenel House just in time for afternoon tea, which had been set out on a long, low table in front of the settee.
Striding into the room, Kathleen went to Helen first, embracing her as heartily as if they’d been apart for two months instead of two days. Helen returned the hug with equal strength. Kathleen had become like an older sister to her, at times even a bit maternal. They had confided in each other and grieved together over Theo. In Kathleen, Helen had found a generous and understanding friend.
When Theo had married Kathleen, everyone had hoped it would help to settle him down. Generations of Ravenels had been cursed with the volatile temperament that had distinguished them in battle as they fought alongside the Norman conquerors in 1066. Unfortunately it had been repeatedly proven in the following centuries that the Ravenels’ warlike nature wasn’t suited for any place other than the battlefield.
By the time Theo had inherited the earldom, the estate of Eversby Priory had nearly fallen to ruins. The manor house was decaying, the tenants starving, and the land had gone without improvements or decent drainage for decades. No one would ever know what Theo might have accomplished as the earl of Trenear. Only three days after his wedding, he had lost his temper and gone out to ride an unbroken horse. He had been thrown, and died of a snapped neck.
Kathleen, Helen, and the twins had expected that they would have to leave the estate as soon as Devon, a distant Ravenel cousin, took possession. To their surprise, he had allowed all of them to stay, and he had devoted himself to saving Eversby Priory. Along with his younger brother West, Devon was making the estate viable again, learning everything he could about farming, land improvement, agricultural machinery, and estate management.
Kathleen turned from Helen to embrace the twins. In the gray winter light from the windows, Kathleen’s auburn hair was a lively shock of color. She was a little slip of a thing with distinctive feline beauty, her brown eyes tip-tilted and her cheekbones prominent.
“My dears,” she exclaimed, “I’ve missed you—everything is glorious—I have so much to tell you!”
“So do I,” Helen said with an uneasy smile.
“To begin with,” Kathleen said, “we brought some company from Eversby Priory.”
“Has Cousin West come to visit?” Helen asked.
At that exact moment, the sound of high-pitched barking echoed from the entrance hall.
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