The Countess:Madison Sisters 01(5)

By: Lynsay Sands

Christiana grimaced at the thought of the naïve idiot she’d been, and now saw that she should have questioned his motives and insisted on more time to make her decision. But her father only had two weeks to pay off his gambling debts, and she’d foolishly believed every word Dicky had said to her.

She’d been sure he must love her and that there could be no other purpose for his rapturous courting. After al , what other reason could there be? It was not as if he knew about the outrageously huge dower that her mother’s father, Baron Sefton, had bestowed on herself and her two sisters in his wil . That was a family secret.

Of course, once they’d married and his behavior had changed so dramatical y Christiana had begun to suspect he’d known about the dower after al and that gaining it had been the true target of his courting. She just didn’t know how he could have learned about it.

“Father said he didn’t mean to,” Suzette said unhappily, drawing Christiana’s mind back to this new problem. “He feels horrible about what’s happened and has been scrambling to try to figure out a way to pay off his debts, but can think of nothing.”

Christiana grimaced. He’d felt horrible the last time too. “When did it happen? And how? He has not even been to London and there is nowhere near Madison for him to—”

“He has been in London this last month,” Lisa corrected quietly. “Didn’t you know?”

“No,” Christiana admitted with dismay. “Why didn’t he come to see me?”

“He did,” Suzette assured her. “In fact it was his original reason for traveling to London. He was worried because Dicky hadn’t brought you home to visit, and we weren’t getting responses to the letters we were sending.”

“I haven’t received any letters, and I have been writing faithful y every week,” Christiana said quietly, anger beginning a slow burn in her stomach. Not getting responses to her own letters had left her feeling even more lonely and depressed. Now it seemed Dicky had somehow been ensuring none of her letters went out and that she didn’t receive any in return. What else had the man been doing? She wondered grimly.

“The bastard,” Suzette snapped, looking ready to smack someone.

“You say father came here?” Christiana asked, returning them to the topic at hand.

“Aye,” Lisa murmured, her worried gaze on a stil furious Suzette. “Dicky said you were out at the dressmaker’s.”

“He didn’t tel me,” Christiana said unhappily.

“Apparently Dicky welcomed him and took him to the club for a drink . . . and then on to a gaming hel ,” Lisa said.

Christiana sat back with dismay.

“Father was supposed to return home two weeks ago,” Suzette continued the explanations in a quiet voice. “When he did not arrive and we heard no word we began to worry. I sent messages to the townhouse but got no response, and then final y decided Lisa and I had best come to London and find out what had happened.”

When she fel silent, Lisa picked up the tale again. “We arrived in London at dawn and went straight to the townhouse. We found father there in the library. He was in his cups and sobbing.”

Christiana let her breath out on a sigh and asked with resignation, “How bad is it?”

“Worse than last time,” Suzette said tightly.

“Worse?” Christiana could feel the blood rush out of her face.

“He owes less than last time,” Lisa said quickly. “But the estate is stil recovering from his first misstep and there is no ready cash or even much to sel .

If father cannot come up with the money, he may be forced to sel the family estate to pay off the debt.”

Christiana sucked in a horrified breath. This was worse than last time.

“We shal be ruined once this gets out,” Lisa pointed out solemnly.

Christiana bit her lip, knowing that was true. “How long does he have to find the money?”

“Two weeks,” Suzette answered.

“Two weeks,” Christiana breathed with dismay. Her mind raced around like a rat in a larder for a moment and then she straightened her shoulders determinedly. “I shal talk to Dicky. We wil have to take some money from my dower and—”

“No. You paid last time. It’s not fair that you should pay again,” Suzette argued, and then added grimly, “Besides, it appears that you are stil paying for father’s last misstep.”

Christiana waved that away, knowing Suzette was referring to how Dicky treated her. Not wishing to discuss it, she instead addressed her suggestion,

“Suzette, you cannot pay. You cannot claim your dower without first marrying.”

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