Read Cecilia's Claim Online

Authors: Raven McAllan

Cecilia's Claim

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Evernight Publishing

 

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Copyright© 2013 Raven McAllan

 

 

 
ISBN: 978-1-77130-415-3

 

Cover
Artist: Sour Cherry Designs

 

Editor:
JS Cook

 

 

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

WARNING:
The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is
illegal.
 
No part of this book may be
used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission,
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

 

This is a
work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

 

DEDICATION

 

To Paul, my dust-bunny accepting husband,
Doris my friend and '
reditor
' and all at
Evernight
Publishing, especially my lovely editor
JoAnne
.

 

 

CECILIA'S CLAIM

 

Behind Closed Doors, 2

 

Raven McAllan

 

Copyright
© 2013

 

 

 

Prologue

 

The rumblings and
grumblings of his offspring were growing louder and Gerard knew he couldn't put
this moment off any longer.

Glancing over at
his secretary, Martin Nelson, he asked, "Are they all here?" The man
tilted his head to the side as though assessing the sounds outside the locked
study door. Cecilia's pert voice was easily discernible as she bantered with
her brothers.

"Miss Cecilia
is there, and if she's giggling it's a certainty that Mr. Randall is teasing
her. I saw Mr. Harold with his nose buried in a book in the library, so he's
present. Peregrine wouldn't miss a scheduled meeting if the Regent himself
tried to hold him up, and as for that youngest lad of yours, those are his dogs
and where he goes, they go. I'd say they're all present."

Steepling his
hands together, Gerard eyed the papers on his desk. Was he doing the right
thing? "You will stay on and assist Peregrine? Make sure the others have
all they need?"

"I am in your
employee My Lord, until such time as you terminate my employment, I will do my
utmost to follow your instructions."

Nodding, Gerard
sighed. It was time. "I did my duty. I married, I had children." Nelson's
chuckle interrupted him.
He quirked an inquiring brow in his
secretary's direction.
"You find my plight amusing?"

"No,
not at all.
It's your children, you say it so prosaically, as though they
were not... Well, you know your children as well as I do!"

Gerard regarded
the fond smile on his longtime friend and employee's face. Martin Nelson had
been with him since before his marriage to Penelope, since his father's death
when he'd realized just how disastrous the old man's spendthrift habits had
been to the family fortunes. Side by side they had worked to rebuild the
Brigstock family coffers, to pay off debts and to rebuild the family position
in society. "We've worked hard, we deserve our reward. When I have found
him, when you decide Perry can handle the situation on his own—"

"You mean
when he's learned not to act like such a lordly prick toward his brothers and
sister?"

Gerard nodded
again, hiding his smile at his oldest friend's assessment of his eldest son's
character.
"Even as you say.
When it's all sorted
out, you'll hire your successor and come join us?'

Nelson rose from
behind his smaller desk. "If things work out, I may join you. If...your
friend's situation is as it was when last you met him."

Gerard understood
Nelson's meaning clearly. The secretary had spent years putting his best effort
into furthering Gerard's causes, but he had his own interests to pursue as
well. At this point, neither of them could tell if their courses would continue
in the same traces. "Well, let them in then, we'll neither of us discover
our futures until
its
all set in play."

Nelson didn't
hesitate. The children's voices rose as he pulled the heavy door open,
then
fell into silence. Nelson slipped out as the tide of
Gretton children trooped into the room, five handsome children with dark hair
and piercing blue eyes, aristocratic noses, and the characteristic Gretton ear
lobes. Gerard sighed. He'd done his best to establish each of his progeny on a
path that suited his temperament, but the thought of leaving them to their own
devices for the indefinite future didn't quite rest easily. "Please, be
seated." He held up a hand to forestall the explosion of sound. "I
have a matter of grave importance to discuss with you. I regret summoning you
all in such a pompous manner, but it seemed prudent to speak to you all at
once."
 
He paused to look around the
circle of chairs.

Perry sat stiffly,
lips compressed in a thin line. Next to him sat Randall, perfectly at his ease
in his scarlet uniform, knees crossed, tasseled Hessians gleaming, eyes
twinkling. Harold sat next to his brother, and from the dreamy expression in
his eyes, he was either contemplating some scholarly inanity, or dreaming up
some bit of mischief. Cecilia was perched on the very edge of her chair, toe
tapping impatiently as she twisted a handkerchief to shreds in her lap.
Cecilia. He had somehow failed in his duty with her. Girls her age should have
been long since married and providing heirs for their husbands, but Cecilia
hadn't taken, as it were, and though she was quite popular, had inexplicably
not received any acceptable proposals.

You did your best,
he reminded himself. Seven seasons, a tour of the continent, visits to Brighton
and Bath and house parties innumerable. In another year the girl would be
twenty-five and she could take up residence in the house her mother had left
her in Tunbridge Wells. He'd provided the same allowance for Cecilia as he had
his sons in order to cover just such an eventuality.

His attention was
drawn from his musings about Cecilia's fate as a spinster when a minor scuffle
ensued between his youngest son, Nash and Cecilia that apparently involved some
kicking and flying elbows.
"Children!"
He
scolded. Nash was such a scamp, always getting into mischief of one kind or
another. "This is serious business. Save your bickering for later."

"Perhaps,
Father, if you would..." Perry paused meaningfully.

"Yes.
Of course.
I'm leaving." He announced baldly and waited
for responses. They exchanged bewildered glances. Again, it was Peregrine who
broke the silence.

"Would you
like us to accompany you to the country, father? It isn't exactly convenient
right now."

Gerard waved him
impatiently to silence. "No. I'm leaving the country. I've some old friends
I want to look up, and many places I've never been. I sent each of you on a
Grand Tour, but when I was of the age for it, my family hadn't the funds to
send me. Now, everything here is in order, and you all, well. You don't need
me. Each of you is independent, and none of you wants me interfering in your
lives. So, I'm going to travel, look for my friend, and enjoy myself." He
cast a glance over each stunned face in turn. "Cat got your tongues, eh?
I've done my duty by this family since I was nineteen. I'm turning fifty soon,
and I think it's my turn to enjoy life. Perry, I'm leaving you power of
attorney to run the estates."

He forestalled
Perry's moment of triumph by continuing.
"Under the
direction of Nelson.
He has my authority to naysay anything too outrageous.
The rest of you, I've set up your allowances to be paid quarterly. If there is
a problem, you may direct correspondence to me through Nelson, but I advise you
to do your best to live within your means, because neither he nor Perry will be
able to bail you out if you take a swim in River Tick. That's all. You may go
now." He held his breath as they rose, and pretended to study the papers
on his desk. It was too much to hope that the lot of them would just troop on
out and let him get on with finding Jonathon."

When?"

"Pardon?"
He glanced up at
Nash, his youngest child, the jack-a-napes who courted scandal assiduously in
the tradition of younger sons everywhere.

"When are you
going?"

Was that regret or
sorrow in the boy's eyes?
"In the morning."
Good boy, that Nash. High spirited as hell, but a heart of gold.

"And when
will you return?" Harold piped in, focusing his gaze on his father for the
first time since entering the room. Gerard hadn't been at all certain that his
dreamer son had even understood that he was leaving.

"I’m not
certain. It depends on whether I find my friend, and once I find him, whether I
can convince him to return with me." He caught Randall's startled look of
cognition. "Yes." He knew Randall understood the significance of his
words.
"Yes, exactly, Randall.
I had no choice
you understand, as I had no brothers to take my place. You're fortunate in that
Perry and Nash are so eager to propagate the family name."

"I wish you
every success on your journey then, father." Randall bowed deeply and
followed his younger brother from the room. Cecilia crossed the room and
pressed a kiss to his cheek. He patted her head briefly.
"Now
then, my girl.
No need for you to be concerned. I've set things up for
you. You'll have your pin money as always, and the use of any of the houses.
Perry will look after you. I don't suppose you've found a husband yet?" He
teased his only daughter.

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