The full extent of Hugh’s injuries would not become known for several months. His femur healed. Somewhat.
His muscle slowly knit back together. What was left of it.
On the bright side, all signs pointed toward his still being able to father a child.
Not that he wanted to. Or perhaps more to the point, not that he’d been presented with an opportunity.
But when his father inquired . . . or, rather, demanded . . . or, rather, yanked off the bedsheets in the presence of some German doctor Hugh would not have wanted to come across in a dark alley . . .
Hugh pulled the covers right back up, feigned mortal embarrassment, and let his father think he’d been irreparably damaged.
And the whole time, throughout the entire excruciating recuperation, Hugh was confined to his father’s house, trapped in bed, and forced to endure daily ministrations from a nurse whose special brand of care brought to mind Attila the Hun.
She looked like him, too. Or at least she had a face that Hugh imagined would be at home on Attila. The truth was, the comparison wasn’t very complimentary.
But Attila the nurse, however rough and crude she might be, was still preferable to Hugh’s father, who came by every day at four in the afternoon, brandy in hand (just one; none for Hugh), with the latest news on his hunt for Daniel Smythe-Smith.
And every day, at four-oh-one in the afternoon, Hugh asked his father to stop.
But of course he didn’t. Lord Ramsgate vowed to hunt Daniel until one of them was dead.
Eventually Hugh was well enough to leave Ramsgate House. He didn’t have much money—just his gambling winnings from back when he gambled—but he had enough to hire a valet and take a small apartment in The Albany, which was well known as the premier building in London for gentlemen of exceptional birth and unexceptional fortune.
He taught himself to walk again. He needed a cane for any real distance, but he could make it the length of a ballroom on his own two feet.
Not that he visited ballrooms.
He learned to live with pain, the constant ache of a badly set bone, the pulsing throb of a twisted muscle.
And he forced himself to visit his father, to try to reason with him, to tell him to stop hunting Daniel Smythe-Smith. But nothing worked. His father clung to his fury with pinched white fingers. He would never have a grandson now, he fumed, and it was all the fault of the Earl of Winstead.
It did not matter when Hugh pointed out that Freddie was healthy and could still surprise them and get married. Lots of men who would rather have remained unwed took wives. The marquess just spat. He literally spat on the floor and said that even if Freddie took a bride, he would never manage to sire a son. And if he did—if by some miracle he did—it wouldn’t be any child worthy of their name.
No, it was Winstead’s fault. Hugh was supposed to have provided the Ramsgate heir, and now look at him. He was a useless cripple. Who probably couldn’t sire a son, either.
Lord Ramsgate would never forgive Daniel Smythe-Smith, the once dashing and popular Earl of Winstead. Never.
And Hugh, whose one constant in life had been his ability to look at a problem from all angles and sort out the most logical solution, had no idea what to do. More than once he’d thought about getting married himself, but despite the fact that he seemed to be in working order, there was always the chance that the bullet had indeed done him some damage. Plus, he thought as he looked down at the ruin of his leg, what woman would have him?
And then one day, something sparked in his memory—a fleeting moment from that conversation with Freddie, right after the duel.
Freddie had said that he hadn’t tried to reason with the marquess, and Hugh had said, “Of course not,” and then he’d thought, Because who reasons with a madman?
He finally knew the answer.
Only another madman.
Lady Sarah Pleinsworth, veteran of three unsuccessful seasons in London, looked about her soon-to-be cousin’s drawing room and announced, “I am plagued by weddings.”
Her companions were her younger sisters, Harriet, Elizabeth, and Frances, who—at sixteen, fourteen, and eleven—were not of an age to worry about matrimonial prospects. Still, one might think they would offer a bit of sympathy.
One might, if one was not familiar with the Pleinsworth girls.
“You’re being melodramatic,” Harriet replied, sparing Sarah a fleeting glance before dipping her pen in ink and resuming her scribbles at the writing desk.
Sarah turned slowly in her direction. “You’re writing a play about Henry VIII and a unicorn and you’re calling me melodramatic?”
“It’s a satire,” Harriet replied.
“What’s a satire?” Frances cut in. “Is it the same as a satyr?”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened with wicked delight. “Yes!” she exclaimed.
“Elizabeth!” Harriet scolded.
Frances narrowed her eyes at Elizabeth. “It’s not, is it?”
“It ought to be,” Elizabeth retorted, “given that you’ve made her put a bloody unicorn in the story.”
“Elizabeth!” Sarah didn’t really care that her sister had cursed, but as the oldest in the family, she knew she ought to care. Or at the very least, make a pretense of caring.
“I wasn’t cursing,” Elizabeth protested. “It was wishful thinking.”
This was met with confused silence.
“If the unicorn is bleeding,” Elizabeth explained, “then the play has at least a chance of being interesting.”