Page 55 of The Husband Season

 ‘He didn’t mean to frighten me. It was just that I was less than sympathetic and I am sorry for it now.’

 ‘Are you sure he would not go home to Hadlea?’

 ‘I am not sure of anything anymore. But I cannot think he would leave me in London by myself. How am I to get home?’

 ‘Do you want to go home? It will be my pleasure to take you, if you do.’

 She raised tear-filled eyes to look up at him. ‘My lord, I could not ask it of you. There is Cassie’s come-out ball and...’

 ‘Damn Cassie’s ball.’

 ‘My lord!’

 ‘I beg your pardon. I should not have used such language.’ He paused. ‘Have you told anyone your brother is missing?’

 ‘No. Aunt Emmeline thought it best not to say anything, but we cannot keep it a secret forever. You know how gossip gets about. And I don’t suppose Captain Moore will hold his tongue.’

 ‘Leave Captain Moore to me.’

 ‘My lord, you have put yourself to a great deal of trouble on my behalf and I cannot let you continue.’

 He smiled. ‘Who else will, if I do not?’

 ‘I shall have to look for him myself.’

 ‘Don’t be ridiculous. How can you?’

 ‘I am not ridiculous.’ She had enough spirit left to flare up at him.

 ‘I apologise. Of course you are not ridiculous, but you are under a strain and not your usual sensible self.’ He said it with a faint smile. ‘But you know very well you cannot go combing London on your own. Besides, he might have left town.’

 ‘Yes, I know. Perhaps I should send for Mark.’

 ‘What can Mark do that I cannot?’

 ‘I don’t know.’ She was in despair.

 ‘Sophie, it will take days for a letter to reach him and for him to arrange to come to town. I am here already and at your disposal.’

 She was crying in earnest now; the tears were rolling down her cheeks. He could not bear to see her like that. He left his seat to kneel beside her chair and put his arms about her. ‘Don’t cry, my dear. We will find him and all will be well. And Toby Moore will not trouble him again.’

 She sniffed. ‘How do you know that?’

 ‘I spoke to him.’

 ‘What did he say?’ She ought to pull away from him, stand up and move away, but she couldn’t. He held her too tightly and, besides, she did not want to.

 ‘He only wanted what he was owed. I undertook to cover it on condition he never played with your brother again.’

 ‘You! But why?’

 ‘I wanted to help.’ He paused. ‘The trouble is it will not cure your brother and he may, at this very moment, be gaming with someone else.’

 ‘He gave me his promise he would not.’ Whatever else she did, she would have to find some way to repay him. But a few thousand! How could she obtain that sort of money?

 ‘No doubt he did.’

 ‘You think he will not keep it?’

 ‘I have no doubt he meant it at the time.’ Gently he put her from him and resumed his seat beside her. ‘Sophie, I will continue to search for him, but I think the time has come to ask for help.’

 Lady Cartrose bustled in at that point. ‘Good heavens, Kimberley, you here? And so early, too.’

 ‘I came to acquaint you both with the result of my search for Edward.’

 ‘And?’ She felt the outside of the chocolate pot, but it had gone cold. Tutting, she rang the bell for a servant.

 ‘I am afraid I was unsuccessful.’

 ‘Well, young men can be thoughtless sometimes. It is too soon to be alarmed.’ To the maid who had just entered, ‘More hot chocolate, Lilly, and more bread and butter. Conserve, too, if you please.’

 Sophie waited until the maid had left and then said, ‘Aunt, it’s been three days.’

 ‘He’s doubtless gone into the country on a repairing lease. Isn’t that what young men do who have gone in over their heads?’

 ‘How do you know he has gone in over his head?’ Sophie asked.

 Her aunt shrugged. ‘It is the obvious conclusion. I have seen him at the gaming tables. He can sometimes be rash in his bids.’

 ‘My lady,’ Adam said, ‘I have enquired at all the coaching inns hereabouts and as far as I can tell, he has not left on the stage or the mail.’

 ‘He could have asked someone to take him.’

 ‘True,’ Adam conceded.

 ‘Then we are at a stand,’ Sophie said.