Masquerading the Marquess(50)

By: Anne Mallory




He opened the door and stepped inside. His coat was on the table. The staff was still in an uproar and things were scattered to and fro.



James snatched his coat. He wasn’t going to look in the study.



The door was partially opened.



He looked.



"Oh, Stephen, thank you. I can’t tell you how much this means to me."



Calliope was hugging Stephen hard. James could see tears running down her face.



Something broke in his chest.



He didn’t belong here.



James blindly found his way out of the townhouse and into his carriage. He needed a scotch--a big glass of it.





"Oh, Stephen, thank you. I can’t tell you how much this means to me." Love and sadness coursed inside her. The first paragraph of the first letter was all she had needed to turn into a watering pot.



"Well, you can thank Robert too. It was a joint effort. Poor boy braved the stews of London to get these for you."



"Can’t say it was a pleasant experience," Robert said.



Calliope looked at him quizzically. "Why did you have to go to the stews for my father’s letters?"



"Our plans went awry when everything else went awry. " Stephen shook his head. "Poor Robert was convinced Pamela, Lady Salisbury, was a fire-breathing dragon with a forked tail. And I was gone. He believed you when you said I’d left. I have always been one to up and disappear."



Robert snorted. "We’ll see next time."



Stephen smiled and ignored him. "And as it turns out, Pamela volunteered the letters."



A carriage clicked familiarly down the street. James had left. He hadn’t said goodbye. Calliope’s heart constricted and she looked at Robert. "I’m not sure there will be a next time. I have some thinking to do."



The three of them looked at her as one.



"Oh, don’t look at me like that. I’m fine. It’s just I’m not sure my heart is in the caricature business any longer."



"Never say that, my dear, you are too talented. Perhaps you just need a different subject." Robert cast her a knowing glance. Calliope just shook her head, unable to respond.



Deirdre jumped up. "I think we should be going. I’ll be back to help you pack in a few hours."



Deirdre had always been able to read Calliope’s moods. She had probably heard the carriage leaving and correctly assessed the situation.

.

"Thanks, Dee. Tell everyone I’m fine and I’ll see them tonight."



Deirdre gave her a big hug. "Come, Robert, let’s be off."



Robert sent Calliope a concerned look, but she waved him off and he followed Deirdre out the door Calliope turned to Stephen. "What’s going to happen to Lady Flanders? She was the one we overheard in the Pettigrews’ rose garden, arguing with Curdle."



Stephen brushed a hand through his hair.



"Roth is taking care of her. We don’t know how deep a hand she had in the whole affair. Depending on the outcome, prison, maybe being shipped across the Atlantic. She may have targeted only you, or she may have been aware of all of Flanders’s schemes. Roth will find out."



"Stephen, I have to ask. Why didn’t you tell me you knew my father?"



Stephen hesitated. "I thought I had plenty of time to broach the subject. Robert told me you believed your father abandoned you."



"Yes." .



"Robert approached me with your masquerade plans. He was privy to just enough information to know I’d been involved with your father. When he presented the idea of helping you out, I immediately accepted." Stephen smiled. "Had I known earlier that you were alive, I would have figured some way to approach you before."



Calliope squeezed his hand.



"After learning that you thought Salisbury had abandoned you, I convinced Robert you were mistaken. We devised a plan to share some of his letters with you. Something to convince you of his love."



"Why didn’t you just tell me?"



"You had spent years convincing yourself otherwise. Again, I thought I had time. Time to make it easier for you." Stephen shook his head. "As to the other, the only way to get his letters was to approach his mother. We had to tiptoe around Lady Salisbury, so as to not give away our plans. Pamela isn’t a bad person, but she was always too protective and possessive when it came to her only child. She was frightened of you and your mother, and your relationship with her son."



Calliope nodded. "I finally figured that out."



Stephen looked at her cautiously. "She gave the letters freely. And she wrote one of her own. I don’t know what it says, but it’s at the bottom of the pile."



"What a mess."



Stephen looked cheerful. "Yes, relationships often are."



"How would you know?"



Stephen squeezed her hand. "So I’ve heard." He paused. "By the way, do you know who brought me here?"



"No. The footmen were unable to question her. She slipped away too quickly."



"Hmmmm."



"You were lucky she found you."



"And I’d like to thank her. But first I have to find her."



"What are you going to do?"



"I suppose I can take the footmen around London and see if they spot her, but that doesn’t seem very efficient."



Calliope patted his hand. "I’m sure you will figure it out. I could try to put a sketch together from their descriptions."



He nodded. "Speaking of drawings, what are you going to do about James?"



Calliope looked down at her feet. They were swinging guiltily. "I don’t know what you mean."



"Sure you do."



"I don’t know. "



Stephen shook his head in a mocking fashion. "Such indecisiveness from the girl who always has a battle plan."



"Leave me be, Stephen."



He nudged her in the side. "You’re perfect for each other. You need each other to chase the shadows away. "



She didn’t answer and he finally gave in. "I will take my leave too. It strikes me that there are a few things I need to do."



The look of anticipation on Stephen’s face didn’t bode well. "I’ll see you tonight," he said. He gave her one last squeeze and left.



What would she do? Calliope had no idea.



She stared at the pile of letters. She picked the pile up and went to the desk.



Calliope sifted through the letters and then smoothed the one from Lady Salisbury.



It was short but to the point.



Miss Minton,



Please understand that I tried to do all I could for my son. In hindsight I probably smothered him. But then, I was never what you would call a good mother. I wanted him all to myself The night I turned you away has haunted me. My son mourned your death, and died without knowing his daughter was still alive. It is the worst thing I have ever done.



I have followed your progress for these long years since my son’s death. Watching you, wondering if I should approach you. Maybe someday I shall discover the nerve.



Until then, I give you my most sincere apologies, for whatever they are worth. Please accept these letters with my blessing.



Sincerely,

Pamela Salisbury





Calliope had forgiven her father and Lady Salisbury. She had forgiven them before she had been presented with proof of her father’s love and her grandmother’s remorse. She felt light-hearted for the first time in a very long while.



Calliope stared at the pile of unread letters. Later, when she was alone, she would read each of them and cry for what might have been. Right now she just wanted to savor the precious feeling of being loved.



She opened her writing desk and carefully placed the letters inside.



Years ago she had thought she had plenty of time to speak with her father. And Stephen had thought he had plenty of time to speak with her about her father. Time wasn’t something to trifle with.



An eagerness to see James coursed through her. She wanted to share her good news; she wanted to share her feelings and to explain her drawings.



Stephen was right. She needed to decide what to do about James and take action. She couldn’t wait, she couldn’t count on time. .



Some of her unfinished sketches and practice papers were lying in the drawer. Stuffed there out of James’s sight during their searches.



Calliope picked up the top one and smiled.



She would take over some of her sketches. Call a truce between Thomas Landes and the marquess. Maybe get him to understand why she had acted the way she had. It was very important to make him understand.



Calliope bundled the papers and grabbed her pelisse.





James stared broodingly at the fireplace.



Damn, he should have known better than to become emotionally involved.



He had only himself to blame. He had witnessed his father consumed by love, despair and finally death. James just hadn’t been wise enough to keep his own heart out of the fire.



And now that fire would blaze on someone else’s hearth.



"Hullo, James. Thought I’d let myself in."



"And you can let yourself back out, Stephen," James growled.



"What has you so crotchety?"



"None of your concern."

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