Authors: Raven McAllan
Cover Artist: Sour Cherry Designs
WARNING: The unauthorized
reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.
No part of this book may be used or
reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the
case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All
names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events,
locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
to Doris, Paul, and
With a special mention to JoAnne
my lovely editor for her continued help and enthusiasm.
Behind Closed Doors
The rumblings and grumblings of his
offspring were growing louder and Gerard knew he couldn't put this moment off
Glancing over at his secretary, Martin Nelson, he asked,
"Are they all here?"
The man tilted his
head to the side as though assessing the sounds outside the locked study door.
Cecilia's pert voice was easily discernable as she bantered with her brothers.
"Miss Cecilia is there, and if she's giggling it's a
certainty that Mr. Randall is teasing her. I saw Mr. Harold with his nose buried
in a book in the library, so he's present. Peregrine wouldn't miss a scheduled
meeting if the Regent himself tried to hold him up, and as for that youngest
lad of yours, those are his dogs and where he goes, they go. I'd say they're
Steepling his hands together, Gerard eyed the papers on his
desk. Was he doing the right thing? "You will stay on and assist
Peregrine? Make sure the others have all they need?"
"I am in your employ, My Lord, until such time as you
terminate my employment. I will do my utmost to follow your instructions."
Gerard sighed and nodded. It was time. "I did my duty. I
married, I sired children."
chuckle interrupted him. He quirked an inquiring brow in his secretary's
direction. "You find my plight amusing?"
"No, not at all. It's your children; you say it so
prosaically, as though they were not... Well, you know your children as well as
Gerard regarded the fond smile on his long time friend and
employee's face. Martin Nelson had been with him since before his marriage to
Penelope, since his father's death when he'd realized just how disastrous the
old man's spendthrift habits had been to the family fortunes. Side by side they
worked to rebuild the Brigstock family coffers, to pay off debts, and to
rebuild the family position in society. "We've worked hard. We deserve our
reward. When I have found him, when you decide Perry can handle the situation
on his own—"
"You mean when he's learned not to act like such a lordly
prick toward his brothers and sister?"
Gerard nodded again, hiding his smile at his oldest friend's
assessment of his eldest son's character. "Even as you say. When it's all
sorted out, you'll hire your successor, and come join us?'
Nelson rose from behind his smaller desk. "If things work
out, I may join you. If ... your friend's situation is as it appeared when last
you met him."
Gerard understood Nelson's meaning clearly. The secretary spent years
putting his best effort into furthering Gerard's causes, but he had his own
interests to pursue as well. At this point, neither of them could tell if their
courses would continue in the same traces. "Well, let them in then. We'll
neither of us discover our futures until it's all set in play."
Nelson didn't hesitate. The children's voices rose as he pulled
the heavy door open, and then fell into silence. Nelson slipped out as the tide
of Gretton children trooped into the room. Five handsome children with dark
hair and piercing blue eyes, aristocratic noses, and the characteristic Gretton
ear lobes. Gerard sighed. He'd done his best to establish each of his progeny
on a path that suited his temperament, but the thought of leaving them to their
own devices for the indefinite future didn't quite rest easily. "Please,
be seated." He held up a hand to forestall the explosion of sound. "I
have a matter of grave importance to discuss with you. I regret summoning you
all in such a pompous manner, but it seemed prudent to speak to you all at
He paused to look around the circle of
Perry sat stiffly, lips compressed in a thin line. Next to him
sat Randall, perfectly at his ease in his scarlet uniform, knees crossed,
tasseled Hessians gleaming, eyes twinkling. Harold sat next to his brother,
and from the dreamy expression in his eyes, he either contemplated some
scholarly inanity, or dreamed up some bit of mischief. Cecilia perched on the
very edge of her chair, toe tapping impatiently as she twisted a handkerchief
to shreds in her lap. Cecilia. He had somehow failed in his duty with her.
Girls her age should have been long since married and providing heirs for their
husbands, but Cecilia hadn't taken, as it were, and though she appeared quite
popular, had inexplicably not received any acceptable proposals.
You did your best, he reminded himself. Seven seasons, a tour of
the continent, visits to Brighton and Bath, and house parties innumerable. In
another year the girl would be twenty-five and she could take up residence in
the house her mother left to her on her death. To Cecilia's disgust the
residence was in Tunbridge Wells. He'd provided the same allowance for Cecilia
as for his sons in order to cover just such an eventuality.
His attention was drawn from his musings about Cecilia's fate as
a spinster when a minor scuffle ensued between his youngest son, Nash, and
Cecilia that apparently involved some kicking and flying elbows.
"Children!" He scolded. Nash was such a scamp, always getting into
mischief of one kind or another. "This is serious business. Save your
bickering for later."
"Perhaps, Father, if you would..." Perry paused
"Yes. Of course. I'm leaving." He announced boldly and
waited for responses.
bewildered glances. Again, it was Peregrine who broke the silence.
"Would you like us to accompany you to the country, father?
It isn't exactly convenient right now."
Gerard waved him impatiently to silence. "No. I'm leaving
the country. I've some old friends I want to look up, and many places I've
never been. I sent each of you on a Grand Tour, but when I was of the age for
it, my family hadn't the funds to send me. Now, everything here is in order,
and you are all well. You don't need me. Each of you is independent, and none
of you wants me interfering in your lives. So, I'm going to travel, look for my
friend, and enjoy myself."
He cast a glance
over each stunned face in turn. "Cat got your tongues, eh? I've done my
duty by this family since I was nineteen. I'm turning fifty soon, and I think
it's my turn to enjoy life. Perry, I'm leaving you power of attorney to run the
He forestalled Perry's moment of triumph by continuing.
"Under the direction of Nelson. He has my authority to naysay anything too
outrageous. The rest of you, I've set up your allowances to be paid quarterly.
If there is a problem, you may direct correspondence to me through Nelson. I
advise you to do your best to live within your means, because neither he nor
Perry will be able to bail you out if you take a swim in River Tick. That's
all. You may go now."
He held his breath
as they rose, and pretended to study the papers on his desk. It was too much to
hope that the lot of them would just troop on out and let him get on with
"Pardon?" He glanced up at
Nash, his youngest child, the jack-a-napes who courted scandal assiduously in
the tradition of younger sons everywhere.
"When are you going?"
Was that regret or sorrow in the boy's eyes?
Good boy, that Nash. High-spirited as hell, but a
heart of gold.
"And when will you return?" Harold piped in, focusing
his gaze on his father for the first time since entering the room. Gerard
hadn't been at all certain that his dreamer son even understood that he was
"I’m not certain. It depends on whether I find my friend,
and once I find him, whether I can convince him to return with me." He
caught Randall's startled look of cognition. "Yes." He knew Randall
understood the significance of his words. "Yes, exactly, Randall. I had no
choice, you understand, as I had no brothers to take my place. You're fortunate
in that Perry and Nash are so eager to propagate the family name."