Please see the last blog to start at the beginning.
“They are now. My inheritance.” He flashed her a cheeky grin and went to inspect the, well, troops seemed appropriate. The smallest girl, about three years old, he swung up in his arms, to her great delight and loud giggles.
Charles and a footman entered with trays of hot chocolate and biscuits. Angelica perceived that this ritual took place regularly. In moments the children, who looked to range from age fifteen down to the three-year-old, were seated happily on the rug near the fire.
“Grandfather Harrington collected waifs and orphans, Angie.” Jeremy handed her a cup of chocolate and led her to one of two wing chairs framing the huge fireplace. “His will says that he missed the laughter of children once we grew up and left. Some of his earliest acquisitions have also grown up and moved on to productive lives. These are the ones left to me.”
“Eight children!” Angelica drew back from the small boy who sought to touch her fur-trimmed hat. “I had no idea!’
Jeremy scooped up the boy and stood over her. His gaze, when Angelica looked up at him, had turned hard. She stared back, unsure if she could explain. A minuscule crack of pain wrenched through her deadened heart.
“Children, Nathan will read your story tonight. Mrs. Finch and I must discuss a business matter.”
The children let him know they were not happy, but Jeremy soothed them and pulled Angelica to her feet. She barely set the cup of chocolate down before he strode out of the room and down the hall, pulling her like a toy behind him. By the time they reached the library, she could not catch her breath.
“What is the problem?” he snapped, shutting the door.
No fire had been laid in this room, and Angelica shivered. “I didn’t know! If you had explained in your note about the children, I could have told you.”
“Told me what, for God’s sake?” Jeremy’s expression told her he thought her insane. “You were a mother, you should know how to deal with children!”
The crack widened. She bit her lip, refusing the release of tears. “I lost my child,” she whispered. “The pain almost destroyed me. How can I risk that again? And eight times!”
“Ten,” he told her, his voice gentling. “There are two infants upstairs.”
“Oh, Jeremy!” She placed a hand over her heart, trying to stop the emotions that sought to break free. A sob caught in her throat.
“I am sorry, Angie.” Jeremy placed his arms around her and drew her into the security of his embrace. “I never should have let you go.”
She pulled away, hitting his broad chest. “Let me go? You sent me away! You didn’t care– “
“Is that what you think? Well, you’re wrong. I had to send you away before you drove me mad! I cared too much.”
“Cared too much for your m-mistress, and your yacht!” She went to the desk and picked up a pen. Anything to keep her hands busy. “Stephen told me you paid him to marry me. I hated you then.”
Jeremy sighed, surprising her. He had moved close behind her. “Angelica, I wagered with Stephen that he could not get up the courage to ask for your hand. I knew I could goad him into doing so. I thought he would make you a good, gentle husband. I had so little prospects. I wanted to see you happy.”
She frowned, unable to look up at him. “But you were the heir. The next Earl of Harrington.”
“Yes, but Grandfather had told me how badly dipped our coffers were. I’ve worked since then to rebuild the fortune, and now I’ve succeeded.”
“Worked?” She turned and took his hand. Yes, she had felt a callus when he touched her cheek. She looked up, startled.
He gazed at her for a long moment before continuing. “Shipbuilding. I’ve just started my own yard in Bristol. I named the business `The Eastern Star.’ After that first yacht.”
n“I see.” She let go of his hand, and walked around him, walked around the room. “You need to go back to Bristol, and you hoped I would stay here as a nanny.”
Join me on Christmas Eve for the conclusion. Thanks for reading.