There was a highly satisfying lurch of silence.

Lord Ramsgate scoffed. “He will be your lord and master. You can’t bar him from anywhere.”

Hugh cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t dream of violating her wishes,” he murmured.

“You worthless excuse—”

“You’re making me unhappy, Lord Ramsgate,” Sarah warned.

Lord Ramsgate let out a furious breath, and Sarah knew she had bested him. “If any permanent harm should ever come to my cousin,” she warned, “I swear I will hunt you down and rip you apart with my bare hands.”

“I would take her at her word,” Daniel said, still gently palpating the skin around his eye.

Sarah crossed her arms. “Do we all understand these terms?”

“I certainly do,” Daniel mumbled.

Sarah ignored him, instead stepping closer to Lord Ramsgate. “I am certain you will see that it is a most beneficial solution for all involved parties. You will get what you want—an eventual heir for Ramsgate—and I will get what I want: peace for my family. And Hugh—” Her words came to an abrupt halt as she forced down the bile that threatened her throat. “Well, Hugh doesn’t have to kill himself.”

Lord Ramsgate held himself preternaturally still. Finally, he said, “If you agree to marry my son and you do not bar him from your bed—and I hope you will trust me when I tell you that I will have spies in your household and I will know if you are not fulfilling your end of the bargain—then I will leave your cousin alone.”

“Forever,” Sarah added.

Lord Ramsgate gave a quick, bitter nod.

“And you will not attempt to contact my children.”

“I cannot agree to that.”

“Very well,” she acquiesced, since she never expected to win on that point, “I will allow you to see them, but only in my or their father’s presence, and at a time and place of our choosing.”

Lord Ramsgate shook with rage, but he said, “You have my word.”

Sarah turned and looked to Hugh for confirmation.

“On this you can trust him,” Hugh said quietly. “For all his cruelty, he does not break his promises.”

Then Daniel said, “I have not known him to lie.”

Sarah gaped at him.

“He said he was going to try to kill me and he did,” Daniel said. “Try, that is.”

Sarah’s mouth fell open. “This is your endorsement?”

Daniel shrugged. “Then he said he wouldn’t try to kill me, and as far as I know, he didn’t.”

“How hard did you hit him?” Hugh asked.

Sarah looked down at her hand. Her knuckles were turning purple. Good Lord, and his wedding was in two days. Anne would never forgive her.

“It was worth it,” Daniel said, one of his hands making a loopy wave near his face. His head tilted drunkenly to the side as he quirked a brow toward Hugh. “She did it,” he said. “What you and I were never able to manage.”

“And all she had to do was sacrifice herself,” Lord Ramsgate said with an oily smile.

“I’m going to kill you,” Hugh growled, and Sarah had to step in front of him and forcibly hold him back.

“Go back to London,” Sarah ordered the marquess. “I will see you at the christening of our first child, and not a moment before.”

Lord Ramsgate just chuckled.

“Are we clear?” she demanded.

“As water, my dear lady.” Lord Ramsgate walked to the door, then turned around. “If you had been born sooner,” he said with an intense stare, “I would have married you.”

“You bastard!”

Sarah was pushed to the side as Hugh launched himself toward his father. Fist met flesh with a horrible crack. “You are not fit to speak her name,” Hugh hissed, looming menacingly over his father, who had fallen to the floor, his nose bloodied and almost certainly broken.

“And you’re the better of the two,” Lord Ramsgate said with a little shiver of revulsion. “God above, I do not know what I did to deserve such sons.”

“Nor do I,” Hugh bit off.

“Hugh,” Sarah said, laying her hand on his upper arm. “Get off. He’s not worth it.”

But Hugh was not himself. He did not pull his arm away, nor did he give any indication that he’d heard her. He leaned down and retrieved his cane, which had clattered to the floor in the fracas, never once taking his eyes from his father’s face.

“If you touch her,” Hugh said, his voice terrifyingly clipped and even, “I will kill you. If you speak one untoward word, I will kill you. If you so much as breathe in the wrong direction, I—”

“Will kill me,” his father said scornfully. He jerked his head toward Hugh’s bad leg. “You just go on thinking you’re able, you stupid little cr—”

Hugh moved like lightning, his cane arcing before him like a sword. He was beautiful in motion, Sarah thought. Was this what he had been like . . . before?

“Would you care to repeat that?” Hugh said, pressing the tip of his cane against his father’s throat.

Sarah stopped breathing.

“Please,” Hugh said, in a tone that was all the more devastating for its calm. “Say more.” He moved the cane along Lord Ramsgate’s windpipe, easing the pressure without breaking contact. “Anything?” he murmured.

Sarah wet her lips, watching him warily. She could not tell if he was the epitome of control or whether he was one breath away from snapping. She watched his chest rise and fall with his heartbeat, and she was mesmerized. Hugh Prentice was more than a man in that moment; he was a force of nature.