He stared at me. “Of Claudie?”
I nodded, not trusting my voice.
“You don’t need to be scared,” he said gruffly. “I’m here with you now.” Reaching out, he took the baby carrier from my trembling hands. “Come on.”
Alejandro carried our sleeping baby up the stone steps and knocked on the imposing front door.
Mr. Corgan, the longtime butler, opened the door. His jowly face was dignified as he greeted Alejandro.
“Good morning, Your Excellency.” Then he glanced at me and his eyes went wide. “Miss Lena!” He saw the sleeping baby in the carrier, and the usually unflappable Mr. Corgan’s jaw fell open. “It’s true?” He breathed, then glanced at Alejandro, and the mask slipped back into place. Holding open the door, he said sonorously, “Won’t you both please come in?”
He led us into the elegant front salon, with high ceilings and gilded furniture. Everything looked just as I remembered—vintage, French and expensive. I’d been allowed in this room only a handful of times, the last being when I’d begged Claudie for money to fly to Spain. The day my life had fallen apart.
Mr. Corgan said, “I regret that Miss Carlisle is...out...at the moment, but she has a standing order to welcome you at any time, Your Excellency, if you care to wait.”
“Sí,” Alejandro said coldly. “We will wait.”
“Of course. She will be so pleased to see you when she returns. May I offer refreshments? Tea?”
Alejandro shook his head. He sat down on the pink striped couch near the window. He seemed incongruous there, this dark, masculine Spaniard with severely tailored black clothes, in a salon that looked like a giant powder puff, with the powder made of diamond dust.
He set down the baby carrier on the white polished marble floor beside the sofa. I swiftly scooped it up, and exhaled in relief now that my sleeping baby was safely back in my possession. I followed Mr. Corgan out of the salon and into the hallway.
Once we were alone, the butler’s mask dropped and he turned to face me with a happy exclamation.
“We missed you, girl.” He hugged me warmly. I closed my eyes, smelling pipe smoke and brass polish. Then I heard a crash and pulled back to see Mrs. Morris, the housekeeper, had just broken a china plate in the hallway. But she left it there, coming forward with a cry.
A minute later, both of them, along with Hildy, the maid, were hugging me and crying and exclaiming over Miguel’s beauty, his dark hair, his fat cheeks.
“And such a good sleeper, too,” Mrs. Morris said approvingly. Then they all looked at each other. I saw the delicate pause.
Then Hildy blurted out, “Who’s his father, then?”
I glanced back at the salon, biting my lip. “Um...”
Hildy’s eyes got huge when she saw who was in the salon. Then she turned to Mr. Corgan. “You were right. I owe you a fiver.”
His cheeks went faintly pink as he cleared his throat with a harrumph. “I might have heard some of your conversation with Miss Carlisle the day you left, Miss Lena.” He shook his jowly head with a glare. “It wasn’t right what she did. Driving you from the house a year before you would have got your grandmother’s inheritance.”
I was surprised for only a second. Then I gave a wry smile. Of course they knew. Household staff knew everything, sometimes even before their employers did. “It doesn’t matter.”
“But it does,” Mrs. Morris said indignantly. “Miss Carlisle wanted your inheritance and the moment she convinced you to move out of the house, she got it by default. Just a year before it would have finally been yours!”
I pressed my hand against my temple as emotions I had spent the past year trying to forget churned up in me.
When I turned eighteen, I could have left for college, or gotten a real job. Instead, I’d remained living in this house, working as a sort of house manager/personal assistant for my cousin beneath her unrelenting criticism as she tried her best to drive me away. I’d had a small salary at first, but even that had disappeared when she’d lazily announced one day that she was cutting the salaries of the staff by twenty percent. “They don’t need it,” she sniffed. “They are lucky, working all day in my beautiful house. They should be paying me!”