The Lost Chapters
Chapter Three - The Deal is Struck
From his years of service in His Majesty’s Army on some of continental Europe’s bloodiest battlefields, James Cavanaugh, 8th Marquess of Huntley, had learned there were no guarantees in life. He regarded luck as a fickle mistress who might protect a man from danger in one instant and leave him twisting at the end of a bayonet in the next.
He also believed there were ways for a man to improve his odds of remaining in fortune’s good favor and that paying close attention to the details could often mean the difference between life and death.
As the youngest of three healthy sons born to the Fifth Marquess, he had been raised with the expectation of a career in the military. His only formal training after leaving Eton was as a soldier—a military officer and a leader of men into combat. Beyond casually observing his father, and his brothers George and Henry, take on the role of Marquess with the confidence born of men raised to the duty, James had no experience in managing estates, investing money or taking care of the vast empire that came along with his title.
He was acutely aware of this lack and the fact that hundreds of people, including two sisters-in-law, four nieces, and scores of house servants and other staff were relying on him not to muck it up. And he was haunted by the fear that he might do something, through inexperience or ignorance, which would jeopardize the future happiness and financial security of his family.
So while it was true that he had never aspired to be the Marquess, once the role was his, he was utterly determined to ensure that the family’s fortunes remained secure.
To that end, unbeknownst to anyone, he had spent the better part of the past two years teaching himself how to become the Marquess.
His first step was to immerse himself in the inner workings of his family’s complex financial operations. He was relentless in his efforts to understand exactly how every shilling entered and exited his coffers.
This driving need to master every facet of the family finances came as an enormous surprise to the Cavanaugh’s long-time business manager Matthew Kingston, who was unused to working for a member of the nobility with such a keen interest in financial details. In Kingston’s experience, the aristocracy didn’t want to be bothered with how the money was made as long as it was always available to be spent.
But the new Marquess was quite different in this regard. Once Kingston understood that Lord Huntley’s interest was genuine, he took the younger man under his wing, teaching him everything there was to know about managing the Huntley holdings, which included three estates of varying sizes, a farm of no less than 50,000 acres, a mansion in London, a townhouse in Edinburgh, and myriad investments in shipping, land and mining.
“You have a good head for business, my lord,” Kingston said approvingly to his noble protégé and it was true.
Once Huntley had mastered the basics, he found to his surprise that he was quite good with money. He also learned that he was owed quite a lot of it by his cousin Charles Corvedale, the recently deceased Earl of Bewleton.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true was it? The money was now owed by his cousin’s heirs.
The plain white envelope, which Huntley now held in his hand, had just been delivered by a messenger, who was wearing the black armbands which signified that a household was in mourning. The message, written in black ink in an elegant scrawl he hadn’t seen for nearly 15 years, was simple and to the point.
There is a matter of great urgency that I need to discuss with you as soon as possible. Would a private meeting tomorrow at noon suit? I beg of you to keep this request in the strictest confidence.
Catherine, Lady Bewleton.”
He could imagine the state of anxiety she must have found herself in while penning the note and it was not an unpleasant thought. She would not have been happy to learn that she was going to having to come and beg for mercy from him of all people.
Taking a swig from the glass of brandy in his hand, he closed his eyes and conjured up a mental image of Catherine on her knees before him.
From the first moment he had seen her at his cousin’s coming out ball, he had wanted her madly. She was Catherine Lindsay. Beautiful and wealthy, she was the eldest child of a minor Viscount and his socially ambitious wife. She had her pick of men. As the third son, he was not her only option by any means.
He could still recall the frothy pink of her gown which set off creamy white skin and a face framed by curling tendrils of golden hair. Even from across the room, she was gorgeous and delicious and he had been seized with the mad desire to taste her to find out if she was as sweet and creamy as she looked.
She might be a conniving, lying bitch, but he had never stopped lusting for her.
The faintest scent of lavender pierced his thoughts, and he resisted the temptation to lift the white card up to his nose. Swearing under his breath, he tossed it into the fire that had been lit to ward off the chill of the evening.
He had known he would hear from her eventually. He hadn’t expected it to be quite so soon. Charles had been buried just that morning. He knew what she wanted. It wasn’t him. It never had been, despite all her promises.
“My goodness, what a grim face you are wearing. No more bad news I hope?” came a voice, and he swung around, startled to find his sister-in-law Penelope standing in the doorway.
“Old news. Nothing important,” he said, briskly stirring the fire until the crumpled white paper had been completely incinerated.
She gave him a speculative look, but held her tongue for once. “Well Cook has outdone herself yet again and there is tribe of your mother’s relatives anxiously waiting for you to join them in the dining room. If we don’t feed them soon, I’m fearful they will start gnawing on the furniture.”
“Depending on which piece, I might be all right with that. The sideboard is a god-awful monstrosity.” He finished the last of his brandy in a single shot and set down the glass.
She laughed. “Yes, but it was a gift to one of your more illustrious ancestors from someone rather important. Queen Anne, as I recall.”
“Then let us make haste to save our family treasures from the shame of bite marks,” he said lightly, taking her arm and escorting her from the room, as the last tiny curl of white paper disintegrated into ash.
He sat alone on the back terrace later that evening, enjoying the solitude after hours of strained conversation with relatives he hadn’t seen for years. He had fully intended to go to his club tonight, but he was too tired now. The full moon was shining brightly, and the ever-present sounds of the city were slowly fading. Warming the snifter of brandy between the palms of his hands, he sat back in his chair and let his thoughts begin to drift.
For a woman who had produced, with relative ease, six babies in eight years, his sister-in-law was still remarkably petite, despite her frequent complaints about being rounder about the hips than when she had married a decade earlier. Her heart-shaped face was punctuated by cheerful brown eyes and an adorable mouth drawn up almost in the shape of a bow and her chestnut locks were in ringlets that framed her delicate features.
As a young bride, Penelope had blown in to Huntley House like a warm tropical breeze, helping to transform the chilly house, which his feuding parents had maintained primarily as a marital warzone for decades, into a home suitable for raising a family. It was a cruel irony that Pen’s triumph in bringing warmth and civility to the Cavanaugh household had just taken root, when her beloved husband had been struck down by a fatal bout of influenza just days before his 38th birthday. Henry had left a bereft widow, four young daughters, a highly venerated title, a large country estate and a ridiculous amount of money into his younger brother’s keeping.
Huntley had a lot of time for Penelope Cavanaugh. She was pretty, sweet, kind, and demonstrably fertile. She had made his brother Henry extremely happy during the 10 years of their marriage. Sooner or later, he was going to need an heir. Why the hell didn’t he just marry her?
He tried to imagine himself kissing Pen, fondling her body, touching her intimately. She certainly had large breasts for someone so petite, and usually he liked that in a woman. He shut his eyes and concentrated, trying to picture himself taking off her clothes, sucking her tits, sticking his tongue in her pussy, having her put that little bow-tied mouth around his erect penis.
He groaned inwardly. With every image, his cock was deflating, retreating even.
He exhaled with a weary sigh. It simply wasn’t going to happen with Pen no matter how convenient it might be. It wasn’t her fault, it was him.
It had been far too long since he had been with a woman. But he would have to be celibate for at least a thousand years before he was going to be able to get it up with Penelope. So who?
For the first time in a very, very long time, he allowed his thoughts to drift back to Catherine and immediately he felt his cock begin to unfurl.
Their courtship had been relatively brief. He had been set to assume his commission and deploy to France with his regiment just six weeks after they first met, but he had pushed the deadline back as long as he could because he was mad for her.
Despite their short time together, there were so many memories. Moments that he thought he had buried long ago that her note had unexpectedly unearthed. How could he ever forget her expression of pleasure when he had first asked her to dance.
“I would be honored Mr. Cavanaugh.”
The smell of her skin and the taste of her lips as they exchanged passionate kissed in the garden of her parent’s country home.
“James, please, oh yes…”
And then came the night when he got down on one knee, pledged to love her forever, and begged her to be his wife.
“Oh James. Truly? Yes, a thousand times yes!”
Promises made, vows exchanged. He was set to leave the following day and she had been overwhelmed with grief at the thought of his leaving. Or so he had thought at the time.
“Sir, will there be anything you require this evening?”
The butler’s voice startled him from his reverie.
“No. Thank you Soames. That will be all this evening.”
“Very good sir. Goodnight my lord.”
And he was alone again. With the exception of a cock that was rock hard from remembering what it had been like 15 years ago to take Catherine Lindsay and make her his.
He tilted the glass back and savored the feel of the brandy as it burned down the back of his throat.
After years of living through the hell of his parent’s marriage, he had sworn he would never marry, but those vows were forgotten when Catherine had entered his world. Within days of their first meeting, he had been ready to offer for her. But it was her first season, he had at least a year of military service ahead of him and her parents were not impressed with his youngest son status. They wanted a bigger title for their daughter, and as it turned out, so did she.
Now she was about to step back into his life through circumstances that were not of their making. He knew damned well what she wanted from him. Just one thing was reverberating through his mind right now. What exactly would he take from her in return?