Thanks to her, Robert was forced to support two extra people on a limited income. If her father had given her a dowry, things wouldn’t be so bad, but he hadn’t. They were left completely dependent on the money Robert had raised from selling all of his investments before they’d left London and the money he had left over after buying this house and fixing it.
For a moment she thought about writing her father for help, but then she remembered the morning when they’d left. He’d pleaded with her not to leave, begged her, offered her anything and everything that she could ever want and when none of that had worked, he’d yelled at her. He told her that if she left that she was on her own. He wouldn’t help her.
Robert’s parents had pretty much said the same thing as they’d tried to talk him out of leaving. He tried to explain things to them, but they wouldn’t listen. They didn’t seem to realize how unhappy Robert was living in England, something that she had understood since that night in the orangery. All they saw was their youngest son leaving everything behind and taking a woman with him that they believed would destroy his life.
Everyone in their family was terrified that this marriage was going to ruin their lives and, no matter what they said or did, they couldn’t convince them otherwise. So Robert and Elizabeth had stopped trying and instead made the best of their goodbyes. She’d squeezed her father tightly, kissed her mother’s pale cheek, hugged the life out of Mary and Anthony and chased down her nephews for enough kisses to last a lifetime. She’d even had a chance to say to goodbye to Heather.
Just as they’d been preparing to leave, Heather arrived home in an extravagant coach, the first of many purchases that Heather had made with her newfound inheritance. When she’d stepped out of her coach, covered from head to toe in silk and jewels with James by her side, Elizabeth realized that her sister had made another major change in her life.
She’d married James.
Apparently the will had been more lenient for Heather. As long as she married a respectable man, the inheritance was hers. There was no request for a title, for Heather to remain chaste before the wedding, or a proper wedding. James apparently had discovered that the morning that he’d waited in her father’s office for her marriage to Robert to be annulled. Once he realized that he would only get the inheritance if he married Heather, he did everything he could to make that happen.
Not that she suspected Heather had put up much of a fight. James was handsome and titled. They were married by special license and after a very short honeymoon, they decided to come home and announce their good news, which coincided with her and Robert’s goodbyes. Even though it had turned her stomach to see Heather enjoying the inheritance that should have done some good in this world, she was happy that Robert had a chance to say goodbye to his brother.
Unfortunately, James hadn’t felt the same way. He’d walked right past Robert as though he hadn’t seen or heard him. He did stop to give her a brief hug and wish her luck, but then he was back by his wife’s side and that was it. Seeing the hurt expression on Robert’s face had nearly destroyed her. She tried to call James back, but Robert simply shook his head and helped her into the carriage that took them to the ship.
“Yes, minx,” he said, pressing a kiss to the tip of her nose as he turned to survey the rest of the room, “we can afford a live-in maid.”
“And the baby?” she asked, voicing the fears that had taken root as soon as Robert had told her the wonderful news.
“Will no doubt be spoiled,” he said with a smile as he carried her towards what appeared to be the kitchen door, but a loud knock from the front door had him pausing mid-step.
With a frown, he carefully placed her on her feet, took her hand in his and led her towards the front entrance where a formidable looking woman in her fifties stood waiting, looking around the foyer with a look of determination that actually frightened her a little. She reminded Elizabeth of her old nanny, Mrs. Mathers, who had run the nursery like a general.
“Can I help you?” Robert asked as they stepped into the small foyer.
“Are you Mr. Bradford?” the woman asked as she looked them both over.
“Yes, and you are?”
“Mrs. Brown, your new maid,” she announced with a nod as she reached down and picked up the bag that Elizabeth hadn’t noticed until now. “I assume my room is off the kitchen?” she asked, already heading that way.
“May I ask who sent you?” Robert asked as they moved to follow after the woman, who’d apparently decided that the job was hers.
“My son-in-law, Mr. Higgings. The pay is less than I would have liked, but I suppose it will have to do,” she said, pausing to look at the tattered curtains in the dining room and with a shake of her head, she continued on to the kitchen. “Now, I don’t have any references, but you don’t really need them.”
“We don’t?” Robert said dryly, sounding amused.
Mrs. Brown simply shook her head as she paused just inside the kitchen so that she could survey the room. “No, you don’t. The only thing that you need to know is that I’m a hard worker, raised ten children, five of them my sister’s. I know how to cook, clean, run a household, and I’d wager my skills with children will come in handy soon enough. As long as you pay me my wages on time, respect my privacy, allow me to have every other Sunday and Wednesday off and remember to keep your hands to yourself, Mr. Bradford, I think we’ll get along just fine” she announced, testing a door to the right and when it opened she peered inside the room, nodded and walked inside, shutting the door behind her and leaving Elizabeth shaking with uncontrollable laughter.
“Did…did she just imply what I think she just did?” Robert asked, looking torn between amusement and horror.
Unable to answer, she was forced to reach out and grip the table or take the chance of falling flat on her bottom.
“Why are you laughing, minx? You should be going in there and defending my honor!” he said with mock outrage as he swept her up into his arms and headed for the door.
“Where are we going?” she asked when she could manage to talk again.
“To find a bedroom so that you can make up for your lack of loyalty to me,” he said, smiling that carefree smile that had started to appear since they’d left London.
“Because I wouldn’t attack an old woman for you?” she asked, trying not to smile.
“Yes,” he said without pause as he opened the first door that they came across and walked inside, kicking the door closed behind them as he set her on her feet. Biting back a smile, she moved away from him, loving the playful grin that tugged at his lips.
“Now,” he said, stalking after her as he reached down and undid his pants, “let’s see if we can’t find a way for you make this betrayal up to me, shall we?”
* * *
“Out,” Mrs. Brown simply said, ignoring his glare as she continued to point towards the door.
She stubbornly shook her head. “You were warned, Mr. Bradford,” she said while his minx stuck her tongue at him from across the room and away from Mrs. Brown’s stern gaze.
“But, she-” he said, starting to point at his wife, but Mrs. Brown wasn’t listening.