He’d signed the contract.
After that, Hugh hadn’t given the matter much thought. He might make the occasional inappropriate joke (he always did have a dark sense of humor), but as far as he was concerned, he and his father were at a stable impasse of mutually assured destruction.
In other words, there was nothing to worry about. And he did not understand why no one else seemed to realize that.
Of course the only ones who knew about the contract were Daniel and Sarah, but they were intelligent people, rarely illogical in their decisions.
“Why aren’t you answering me?” Sarah asked, her voice rising with panic. “Hugh? Tell me you didn’t mean it.”
Hugh stared at her. He’d been thinking, remembering, and it was almost as if a part of him had left the room, found some quiet corner in which to ponder the sad state of his world.
He was going to lose her. She was not going to understand. Hugh could see that now, in her frantic eyes and trembling hands. Why couldn’t she see that he had made a hero’s choice? He was sacrificing himself—or at least threatening to—for the sake of her beloved cousin. Shouldn’t that count for something?
He had brought Daniel back to England, he had ensured his safety; for this he would be punished?
“Say something, Hugh,” Sarah begged. She looked to Daniel, then back to Hugh, her head moving in awkward jerks. “I don’t understand why you won’t say something.”
“He signed a contract,” Daniel said quietly. “I have a copy.”
“You gave him a copy?”
Hugh wasn’t sure how that changed anything, but Sarah looked horrified. The color had drained from her skin, and her hands, which she was trying so hard to keep still at her sides, were shaking. “You have to tear it up,” she said to Daniel. “Right this moment. You have to tear it up.”
“Is it back in London?” she cut in. “Because if it is, I leave right now. I don’t care if I miss your wedding, it’s not a problem. I can just go back, and I’ll get it, and—”
“Sarah!” Daniel practically yelled. When he had her attention, he said, “It wouldn’t make a difference. It’s not the only copy. And if he’s right”—he motioned to Hugh—“it’s the only thing keeping me safe.”
“But it might kill him,” she cried.
Daniel crossed his arms. “That is entirely up to Lord Hugh.”
“Actually, my father,” Hugh said. Because really, that was where the chain of madness began.
Sarah’s body went still, but her head was shaking, almost as if she were trying to jog her brain into understanding. “Why would you do this?” she asked, even though Hugh felt he had made his reasons perfectly clear. “It’s wrong. I-i-it’s unnatural.”
“It’s logical,” Hugh said.
“Logical? Logical? Are you insane? It’s the most illogical, irresponsible, selfish—”
“Sarah, stop,” Daniel said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You’re overset.”
But she just shook him off. “Don’t patronize me,” she snapped. She turned back to Hugh. He wished he knew what to say. He’d thought he had said the right thing. It was what would have convinced him had their positions been reversed.
“Were you thinking of anyone but yourself?” she demanded.
“I was thinking of your cousin,” Hugh said quietly.
“But it is different now,” she cried out. “When you made that threat, it was just you. But now it’s—”
Hugh waited, but she did not finish the sentence. She did not say, It’s not. She didn’t say, It’s us.
“Well, you don’t have to do it,” she announced, as if she’d just solved all of their problems. “If something happened to Daniel, you wouldn’t have to actually go through with it. No one would hold you to such a contract, no one. Certainly not your father, and Daniel would be dead.”
The room went still until Sarah clapped a horrified hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she said, turning frantic eyes to her cousin. “I’m so sorry. Oh, my God, I’m sorry.”
“We’re done,” Daniel bit off, shooting a look of near hatred at Hugh. He put his arm around Sarah and murmured something in her ear. Hugh could not hear what he said, but it did nothing to stem the flow of tears that were now pouring down her face.
“I will pack my things,” Hugh said.
No one told him not to do so.
Sarah allowed Daniel to lead her from the room, protesting only when he offered to carry her up the stairs.
“Please, no,” she said in a choked voice. “I don’t want everyone to realize how upset I am.”
Upset. What a pathetic excuse for a word. She wasn’t upset, she was wrecked.
“Let me take you back to your room,” he said.
She nodded, then blurted, “No! Harriet might be there. I don’t want her asking questions, and you know she will.”
In the end, Daniel took her back to his own bedchamber, reasoning that it was one of the only rooms in the house in which she could be guaranteed privacy. He asked her one last time if she wanted her mother, or Honoria, or anyone, but Sarah shook her head and curled up in a ball atop his quilts. Daniel found a blanket and laid it over her, and then, once he was assured that she did indeed wish to be left alone, he exited the room and quietly closed his door behind him.
Ten minutes later Honoria arrived.