Read Nicola Cornick Online

Authors: True Colours

Nicola Cornick (9 page)

‘Indeed, my dear, you wrong my colleague,’ Broseley murmured, with a smile Alicia neither liked nor understood. ‘You are fair and far out in thinking that he would have taken Annabella—it was always you he meant to marry!’

‘My money, you mean!’ Alicia snapped, refusing to fall for this appeal to her feminine vanity. ‘How fortunate that you broached the subject with me first, Father—I have a dislike of being rude to complete strangers!’

‘But no compunction over showing your father a most unfilial ingratitude!’ Bertram Broseley was now letting his anger get the better of him. ‘Your duty as my daughter should at least prompt you—’ He broke off as Alicia made a noise indicative of her contempt.

‘Come now, sir, that is taking it too far, even for you! You lost the right to ask for such filial respect seven years ago!’

Broseley’s nature had always been choleric, especially when crossed.
He had been keeping a hold on his temper for a long time, but now his face suffused with blood and he brought his fist down on the arm of his chair with a force which made the dust rise in a choking cloud.

‘I see that you are still the same ungrateful chit you were those seven years ago, miss! To whom do you owe your pretty little title and your fine fortune? Had I not exerted myself for your benefit you would have thrown yourself away on that wastrel who was wild to a fault and spent all his money at his tailor’s or in the gambling clubs! Who was it who arranged the wedding settlements so that you would inherit all George Carberry’s wealth and property? And how did you repay me?’ He did not wait for an answer. ‘By running to your grandmother when my back was turned and destroying all that I had worked for! And now that you have the opportunity to redeem yourself you throw my generosity back in my face!’

Alicia stood up. The heat, the sticky sweetness of the wine and her own anger had combined to give her a blinding pain behind the eyes. She could barely tolerate being in the same room with him, but there was something she had to do before she left. She locked her hands together to prevent them from shaking.

‘How you delude yourself, Father! No—’ as he made a move towards the bell-pull ‘—you will hear me out! That may be your interpretation of events seven years ago. Let me tell you mine!’

She gripped the back of her chair to steady herself, her fingers digging into the faded brocade, and cut across his bluster incisively.

‘You refused to allow my betrothal to the man of my choice and told a farrago of lies as to how I preferred George Carberry. You made my name a byword for scandal in the clubs and finally you forced me into marriage with that…that disgusting old man! Throughout it all you were motivated by nothing but commercial gain! Oh, no,’ she corrected herself angrily, ‘I mistake! You had another purpose—to make my grandmother look a fool because you had never forgiven her for refusing to accept you as her son-in-law!’

‘You always were a sentimental fool!’ Broseley was on his feet, vicious in his anger, his rage matching her own. ‘All that happened was that I arranged a good match for you and you were headstrong enough to think of opposing me! If Carberry had not died, he would have knocked this ingratitude out of you—’

Alicia rounded on him, her eyes blazing. ‘You tried that when I refused to marry him—do you remember? How could you forget? Beating your own daughter into submission and starving her, and worse—’
Her voice broke. ‘But Carberry
die and you were too drunk at the time to stop me from going, and I thank God that I will never be drawn into your wicked designs again!’

The hot tears filled her eyes and overflowed down her cheeks. She dashed them away with an impatient hand. Broseley’s expression had changed suddenly and miraculously from a convulsion of fury to a rather calculated and sickening look of concern. He came to her side, taking her arm in a proprietorial grip.

‘My dear, you are distraught.’ His sympathy was far more objectionable than his anger. ‘I will send for Mrs Rivers at once to take you to a room. You cannot possibly travel in this condition—’

‘You mistake, Father.’ Alicia shook him off abruptly. ‘I intend to leave directly.’

True to her word, she marched to the door and wrenched it open and Castle practically fell into the room, demonstrating all too clearly that he had been listening at the keyhole.

Alicia glared at him. ‘Castle, summon my maid and my carriage. I am leaving.’

There was a moment of silence and indecision as Castle looked to his master for guidance. Broseley himself was looking at Alicia’s barely touched glass of wine and frowning heavily. Alicia could read his mind all too easily.

‘I may be a foolishly sentimental chit, Father, but I am not so green a girl as to be caught by the same trick twice. So you see I did learn something from the experience of my first marriage! Now, will you let me go, or are you intending to restrain me by force?’

She knew quite well that he was capable of doing so, but would he dare? Even now, she could hear the spattering of the wheels on the gravel outside as Jack, following her earlier instructions, brought the coach round. Broseley heard it too and made his decision.

‘Really, my dear, I would have expected more courtesy of you! Such a breach of manners!’

‘It’s the company I keep,’ Alicia snapped. She turned to find Mrs Henley’s maid hurrying to her side, drawn like half the other servants by all the noise in the hall. ‘Come, Joan, we are leaving!’

The carriage drove off moments later at a spanking pace and the door of Greyrigg slammed shut behind them. Broseley and Castle were left standing silently in the hall as the sound of its wheels died away down the drive.

‘Your daughter has turned into a formidable lady, sir,’ observed the butler to his master after a moment, with his habitual smirk.

Broseley glared at him. ‘I’ll bring her down,’ he ground out, his West Country accent thickening as it always did under stress. ‘Aye, and her grandmother with her, that old troublemaker!’

He retired to the privacy of the drawing-room where he smashed the offending glass of Madeira in the fireplace. He had had no interest in mending the breach with his daughter for the sake of it, but he had devised an opportunity to regain control of both her and her fortune and to use both to further his own ends. He stared furiously into the pier glass. So he had misread her. He had hoped—believed—that inheriting such a huge fortune would have made her more materialistic. How many people in such a situation would not see the benefit of increasing their wealth? Not many that he knew! Unfortunately, Alicia had proved to be one such and the prospect of augmenting her fortune held no interest for her. The nineteen-year-old girl whom he had forced into marriage had been replaced by a woman of considerable character who could not be either persuaded or threatened.

For the umpteenth time Broseley reflected bitterly on the malign fate which had caused George Carberry to die on his wedding night. He could hardly have anticipated such bad luck. To have worked so hard, only to lose it all! He allowed himself a moment to dream of the ventures he and Carberry had planned together. What he could have done with such money! Carberry had been as rich as Croesus.

Broseley turned to stare unseeingly out of the window. It gave him a bitter satisfaction that he had managed to sabotage Alicia’s relationship with the Marquis of Mullineaux so thoroughly. Alicia had never known that Mullineaux had come round to Bruton Street day after day, demanding to see her. Impetuous hothead! Broseley’s mouth twisted with cynical disdain. Mullineaux had represented everything he had grown to hate about the privileged classes.

Broseley’s train of thought turned back to his commercial dealings. His business associate would not be pleased with the day’s outcome. Mr Wood, as Broseley liked to think of him, had never been interested in Annabella and had only ever wanted to marry Alicia. She had divined the reason correctly—her money—but she had never thought to ask his name. This had saved Bertram Broseley the trouble of inventing another lie, for his associate was actually known to Alicia and was very anxious that his connection with her father remain a secret, at least until the marriage contract was signed.

Broseley sighed. He hated to be proved wrong. His associate had warned him that his approach was misguided. He had correctly predicted that Alicia would reject both an invitation to a business partnership and a marriage of convenience. Further, he had pressed Broseley to allow him to try his fortune under his own colours. Broseley had been dismissive. Now it seemed that he would have to allow it. He moved over to the fireplace and rang the bell vigorously for Castle. There were matters to attend to.


Alicia, exhausted by the scene with her father, had quickly resolved that she could not bear to return to Ottery Manor and the malicious whisperings of Mrs Henley’s guests. Instead, she decided to throw herself on the mercy of one of her grandmother’s oldest friends, the Reverend Theophilus March, who held a country living which included the parish of Ottery as well as several others. An elderly bachelor with a fearsomely respectable housekeeper, he inhabited a spacious and well-appointed vicarage in the village of Ashlyn, some five miles from Ottery.

The vicarage was warm and quiet, a haven after Greyrigg. The Reverend Theo was delighted to see her. Stooping slightly, he came forward to greet her warmly and kiss her on both cheeks.

‘Alicia, my dear child! What a splendid surprise! No, do not apologise for intruding; I could not be more delighted! Mrs Morland will see your luggage taken up. I must apologise, but the green room is already taken—I have another guest, you see…’ He was ushering her into the library as he spoke. ‘The grandson of an old friend…called this afternoon, after a considerable time abroad…I persuaded him to stay for dinner…’

Alicia had a presentiment of disaster a second before the library door swung wide to reveal the Marquis of Mullineaux, a tattered copy of
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
in his hand. He was smiling as he looked up from the book, and for a heartbreaking moment he looked exactly like the boyish young man she had known all those years before. Then he saw her and an expression of complete astonishment was followed swiftly by incredulous disbelief, before he assumed a carefully cultivated indifference.

Alicia, horrified to find herself confronted with such an unexpected problem, was already backing out of the door and bumping into Theo, who was trying to follow her into the room.

‘Oh, no! Dear Theo, I did not realise…’ She took a grip on herself
as she saw the faintest hint of amusement touch Mullineaux’s mouth at her discomfort. ‘I would not dream of intruding on your reunion! It is of no consequence…I can easily stay elsewhere…’

The Reverend Theo, a scholarly and spiritual man, was rather unworldly and seemed completely unaware of her very real reluctance, and of Mullineaux’s sudden withdrawal.

‘My dear Alicia, do not think of it! I could not be more delighted by your unexpected arrival, and I am sure James shares my sentiments! James, dear boy, may I introduce Alicia, Lady Carberry? Alicia, this is the Marquis of Mullineaux, whose grandfather was up at Oxford at the same time as I. I used to coach James on his Sophocles during his school holidays!’ He smiled reminiscently.

Mullineaux took Alicia’s reluctantly proffered hand with an equal lack of enthusiasm. This was, she knew, the moment to reveal to the Reverend Theo that they knew each other already, but she felt a curious reluctance to do so, aware that the attendant explanations could be difficult. Mullineaux seemed equally reticent. He dropped her hand with a murmured word of greeting, and went to return the copy of
The Meditations
to the bookshelf. Alicia remembered, at least ten minutes too late, that Lady Stansfield had once mentioned that Theo was a mutual friend of herself and the Duke of Cardace, James’s grandfather. Alicia mentally conjured up as many unladylike epithets as she could muster.

‘We are dining early,’ the Reverend Theo was continuing, in blissful ignorance of the turmoil affecting Alicia, ‘for James could do with a good square meal and a proper night’s sleep! Do you know, my dear, he had the misfortune to be involved in a tiresome carriage accident yesterday with some careless fellow traveller?’ He tutted loudly. ‘Too many people drive with a total lack of consideration these days!’

Alicia’s eyes met James’s for a long, silent moment. He was looking studiously blank.

‘I always say exactly the same thing myself,’ Alicia said sweetly. ‘Do you know, Lord Mullineaux, by an extraordinary coincidence, I too was involved in an accident on the road yesterday and I believe the other party was very much to blame?’

A muscle twitched in Mullineaux’s cheek. ‘Indeed, ma’am,’ he said colourlessly. The Reverend Theo beamed to see his guests in such harmony.

As she dressed for dinner in the blue bedroom, Alicia took stock of her situation. It was the most confounded nuisance to meet Mullineaux
again so soon and unexpectedly, but she had to manage as best she could. Her preferred strategy of avoiding him was obviously impractical, so she had a choice between languishing over her feelings like the heroine of a bad melodrama, or taking her courage in both hands and the battle to his camp. She knew which she preferred. She raised her chin defiantly at her reflection in the mirror and went down to dinner.


Mrs Morland, privy to the servants’ gossip, might have been able to enlighten her employer as to the relationship between his two guests, but she never offered an unsolicited comment. Wrapped up in his world of parish matters, the Reverend Theo had never paid much attention to events in the outside world, and since neither Lady Stansfield nor the Duke of Cardace had mentioned the broken engagement between their grandchildren at the time he remained in happy ignorance.

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