“I was planning on it until a thought occurred to me,” he said, sounding amused and instantly putting her on guard.

She was almost too afraid to ask, “What are you talking about?”

“Since your father is probably still in bed, you’ll have to wait until later for that spanking that you desperately need,” he said, walking down what appeared to be the back hallway. “Since we can’t have you running around and catching your death, I’m afraid that I have no choice but to lock you up for your own good,” he said on a longsuffering sigh that didn’t exactly match his tone.

“Don’t. You. Dare,” she bit out, trying not to panic and failing miserably.

“I wish that I had a choice, Beth. Truly I do, but I’m afraid that you’ve left me with no choice,” he said, chuckling as her ears registered the sounds of the click of a lock and a door opening.

“I’m not kidding, Robert!”

“Now, you just sit in here for a while and I’m sure that someone will eventually let you out,” he said as he quickly placed her on her unsteady legs.

Before she could push past him or demand her release, he leaned down and pressed a kiss against her stunned lips. It took her a few seconds before she realized that he’d shut the door, leaving her standing there looking foolish. The click of the lock brought her to her senses. She grabbed for the doorknob and tried to turn it, but it was good and locked.

A moment later, she realized that he’d locked her in the old music room. It was located in the back of the house and hadn’t been used in years since no one in the house played an instrument. It was also far enough away from the rest of the house that no one would be able to hear her cries for help, she realized with a growl.

“You bastard!” she yelled, uncaring that the declaration was unladylike as she kicked the door. “You’ll pay for this!”

Chapter 12

“Any idea how the fire started?” Lord Norwood asked as he poured four glasses of port.

The three Bradford men were clean and wearing freshly tailored clothes thanks to Edmondson’s, their family’s tailor, two days later. When Edmondson heard of the fire, he took it upon himself to start on all the men’s new wardrobes. He already had their sizes on file so it hadn’t taken him long. No Bradford man went anywhere else for his clothes, not since their great-great-grandfather.

“My man thinks it started on the second floor in the hallway. They believe a candle toppled over or was put down too close to the wall and set the silk on fire,” Harold explained.

The men took their port and sipped. Robert adjusted himself on the uncomfortable chair. Lord Norwood’s study was too damn feminine. The chairs were too small and dainty. Everything from the silk on the walls to the upholstery and rugs was designed with images of flowers. It was obvious who ruled the roost here, or at least made all the household decisions. His old study at the estate he’d sold in Fairford had been without question his domain.

It was easily the opposite of this room. A large mahogany desk with a large comfortable chair had taken up one end of the room. The walls had been plain. The furniture had been large, solid and comfortable and there had been books lining every shelf. Unlike this room where there were only a few books scattered about the room. He had a feeling that the books in this room were for decoration only.

Lord Norwood sat down on a rather ridiculous looking chair covered in roses and lace and sipped his drink. “I realize that you’re planning on finding a place to rent so that you can remain in town while you rebuild, but I think it would be best for you and your family to remain here.”

“That’s very generous of you, Richard. We don’t want to be a bother,” Harold said.

Richard waved it off. “Please, Harold, we’re as close as brothers. It makes absolutely no sense to do otherwise. Besides, Danielle and Margaret would enjoy each other’s company. You’d be doing us a favor really. Heather is leaving very shortly to go provide companionship for a great aunt and your wife’s company would help Margaret get over the loss.”

Harold cleared his throat. “She decided not to marry? Poor lass.”

“I know. I had such high hopes for her. Thank God I won’t have to worry about Elizabeth.”

James leaned forward as did their father. Robert couldn’t move. “She’s found someone then?” Harold asked.

Lord Norwood waved it off. “No, I have no worries about that. She’ll marry soon I’m sure. She’s never been short of courters. No, her godmother left her a….a small estate.” His eyes shifted to the left as he spoke. Robert knew then and there that he was hiding something, but what? “So, even if she doesn’t marry, she’ll have a home and income of her own.”

“Doesn’t she need a man to handle her estate? Are you handling it for her?” James asked, not bothering to hide his interest.

Richard and Harold laughed. “No, my dear boy. I don’t even handle my own affairs. I have a man for that. No, she handles her estate affairs from her study.”

“She has a study?” Robert heard himself asking. It was probably more feminine than this one if that was even physically possible.

“Yes, the library is hers. No one ever goes in there but her so it just made sense to let her have it. I offered to hire a secretary to help her, but she refuses help. I want nothing to do with it, but it would be nice to see the reins of her estate go to a man though. I’d feel more comfortable knowing that she was well taken care of.” His eyes drifted to James as he spoke. He didn’t even glance Robert’s way. Interesting. Not unexpected though after his past history with Elizabeth and all.

“We may need to be in London for the rest of the season, Richard. Are you sure we won't be in the way?” Harold asked, bringing the conversation back to the matter of their stay.

He smiled. “Of course I’m sure. It will be good for the women and help you relax. You have enough to handle without the addition of another house to manage. No, you will all stay here and that’s final.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” Robert and James said in unison.

He nodded and continued to sip his port, happy that was done. A scratch at the door before it opened let them know they had company. Alexander stepped inside the office.

“A Mr. Jenkins for Mr. Bradford, my Lord,” the butler said with a respectful bow.

Robert stood. “That would be my secretary. Is there a room I could use? I’m afraid that I have a few things to go over with him since I’m going to have to stay in London longer than I had originally planned.”

Richard waved it off. “Of course, use Elizabeth’s study while you’re here. She won’t mind.” Robert wouldn’t bet on that. He was sure that it would irritate Elizabeth to no end to share a study with him. A slow smiled spread over his face at the thought of annoying the little pain in the ass.

“Thank you, my Lord. That is very generous. If you’re sure it won’t bother her?” he asked congenially although he hoped it would bother the hell out of her.

Her father chuckled. “Go on. It’s still my house after all.” The other men laughed as well, knowing Elizabeth wouldn’t like it one bit.

After the other night when Elizabeth had finally managed to escape the old music room, and he was still curious about that, she’d marched into the dinning room where he’d been eating with the rest of their family. He’d been minding his own business when she’d snatched a glass of red wine from her mother as she stormed past her and proceeded to pour it over his head. That hadn’t bothered him as much as when the little brat reached over and snatched up his plate filled with apple tarts and turned around to storm off with his precious treats.