April 1816 – London
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Nathaniel Carrick, the 1st Viscount Healeyfield, sat behind his rented desk, staring at a pile of bills and cursing the day he was granted entrance into the peerage. He had neither asked for nor wished for a Royal Commendation. And he certainly hadn’t lobbied for a leaky abbey in County Durham to go along with his new viscountcy. None of that was neither here nor there at this point, however, but Nathaniel had no idea how he was to keep Healeyfield Abbey afloat. He certainly couldn’t do so with what was left of his officer’s commission.
He scratched his brow, wondering what he could possibly sell, just to stay solvent. If he had a lucky bone in his body, he might try his fortunes at a Hazard table. But Nathaniel had never been terribly lucky in games of chance, and he couldn’t imagine squandering away what little he did have on the roll of a pair of dice. Not for the first time over the last sennight, he was plagued with the unfortunate truth that managing a battlefield was immeasurably easier than managing an estate. Life had been much simpler in the army. Things had made some modicum of sense. But this—
“Nate, ye’re not going to make me call ye Lord Holy-whatever-ye-are-now, are ye?” his old friend Captain Griffin Reid asked from the threshold.
Nathaniel glanced from his desk to the tall Scot who was leaning quite casually against the doorjamb. “Healeyfield,” he grumbled. “But from now on you can just refer to me as ‘Oh Great One’.”
“Very well, Oh Great One,” Griff chuckled, “Ye’re looking rather glum this afternoon. Did ye just get word ol’ Boney is back in control of the French army?”
Would that he was. At that unpatriotic thought, Nathaniel snorted. “At least if that were true I wouldn’t have to waste my time on this stack of rubbish.” He gestured dismissively towards the mound of bills on his desk.
Griff pushed away from the door and sauntered further into the study. “That ol’ pile of stones again, huh?”
Healeyfield Abbey. He’d never forget the moment he rode up to his new estate. The sun had settled on the old place just right, casting it in a warm glow and instilling more than a bit of pride in Nathaniel’s heart. Healeyfield Abbey was his. A legacy. Something of merit to be passed from one generation of his line of Carricks to the next. But the sun had settled behind the clouds, and the extent of the abbey’s dilapidated state hit Nathaniel like a ball in his chest. “Easy for you to be dismissive. You won’t lose every farthing you ever earned.”
Griff shrugged. “So ye marry Throssell’s daughter. Ye promised to do so anyway.”
Nathaniel glared at his friend. Marrying a girl he’d never met was not high on his list of wants. At the time of the agreement, he’d simply wanted to ease the old Colonel’s mind before the man passed. He hadn’t imagined his commanding officer would have survived his wounds and actually wanted to see his only daughter become the 1st Viscountess Healeyfield. Though to be fair, Colonel Throssell had only wanted to see his only daughter become Mrs. Carrick at the time. “I don’t see you rushing off to marry your intended.”
The Scotsman heaved a sigh. “I went straight to Scotland upon our return, only to discover the MacLarens were in London.”
“You’re in London now.”
“True.” Griff dropped into a chair in front of Nathaniel’s desk. “But I could wait another decade before having to deal with Ericht. Besides, Ellie’s a child, Nate. A bairn, really. There’s no hurry.”
Nathaniel, however, was in a hurry. Not to marry some girl he’d never met, but to figure out a solution to his Healeyfield Abbey situation. The sooner, the better.
Besides, he hadn’t given much thought at all to his own intended as he had every intention of allowing Miss Throssell the opportunity to cry off. The girl shouldn’t be forced into a marriage she hadn’t sought, one she probably didn’t even want with some fellow she didn’t even know. “I suppose I should make an appointment to see Throssell and get this over with.”
Griff nodded in agreement. “I suppose ye should. Seems to me he’s anxious to see his daughter settled and—”
“—I’m not going to hold her to this betrothal, Griff.” Nathaniel leveled his friend with a glare that said the matter wasn’t up for debate.
Bewilderment flashed across the Scot’s face. “The girl is the answer to yer problems, Nate. Throssell is in possession of a fortune and ye’re in need of one.”
That was neither here nor there. Nathaniel raked a hand through his hair. “It’s hardly fair to her.”
“Fair?” Griff snorted. “She’ll become Lady Holy-whatever-ye-are-now.”
“Healeyfield,” Nathaniel growled, not that the sound dissuaded Griff from continuing.
“Besides, isn’t that what yer class does?” the Scot asked pointedly. “Marry for money and land in exchange for a title or to right some wrong?”
His class, indeed. Though Nathaniel’s grandfather was an earl, his own father had been but a lowly vicar, the youngest of seven brothers who had instilled a strong work ethic in his own sons. His grandfather might have purchased Nathaniel’s commission, but it was the only thing the old man had ever bestowed upon his youngest grandson, which was perfectly fine with Nathaniel. Taking charity from his grandfather or anyone else for that matter pricked at his pride. He was perfectly capable of taking care of himself…Or rather he had been until the albatross that was Healeyfield Abbey was strung about his neck.
If Griff hadn’t once saved Nathaniel’s life from a French sword about to pierce his lung, he would have happily crushed his fist into the Scot’s nose. As it was, Griff had saved his life, so Nathaniel only narrowed his eyes once more on his friend. “Go bugger off.”
As was his nature, Griff leaned back in his chair and chuckled heartily. Damn him. “Ye’ve never been the sentimental sort. Marry the girl. Get it over with. Then go about repairing the ol’ pile of stones Prinny decided to bestow ye with for yer bravery.”
The very idea gnawed at his soul. It seemed so ignoble, so sycophantic, so disingenuous.
“What if ye like the lass? What if she wants to marry ye?” Griff pressed.
That seemed too easy, too convenient. Nathaniel sent his friend a look that suggested such an idea was not terribly probable.
Griff shrugged in response. “Just seems to me, ye might want to find out if ye’d rub along well before ye dissolve yer betrothal. She could very well be the answer to yer prayers.”
The Scot did have a point. What if he and Miss Throssell could rub along well? His problems would be solved rather easily, if that was the case. Besides, there were few men Nathaniel admired as much as he did Colonel Throssell. It only stood to reason that man’s daughter must be estimable in her own right. The true question was whether or not they were compatible, whether or not they could build a future together, whether or not she would think him a fortune hunter. Nathaniel didn’t think he could live with the latter. “I suppose I should meet her first,” he finally conceded.
A grin spread across Griff’s face. “I knew ye’d come to yer senses. The Throssells’ll be at the Ridgemont ball this evening.”
A ball. Nathaniel managed not to groan.
“Or we could stumble upon her before then.”
Nathaniel narrowed his eyes once more on the Scot. “Before then?”
Griff shrugged. “She’s currently on a walk in Hyde Park. If we go now, Throssell won’t even be around to try and influence either of ye.”
“How the devil do you know where she is right now?” Had Griff taken to spying on the poor girl? That hardly seemed like him.
Again, his friend chuckled. “I just came from Throssell’s. Heard the butler inform the colonel that his daughter had just left for the park.”
“You would have made a fine scout.”
Griff dusted the appellate on his shoulder. “I think I make a perfectly fine captain, thank ye very much.”