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Amelia’s Rescuer by Chula Stone – Sample

Amelia's Rescuer by Chula StoneChapter One

London, 1815

The candles glowed. The knives glittered. The china was of the finest quality. Only the best for the Farenhops, or whatever their names were. Even their guests were perfectly dressed and coiffured. This specimen next to her, for example. Waistcoat and shirt tailored to perfection. Trousers cut to the latest style. And that cravat! It must have taken his valet an hour to tie that elaborate knot. It made Amelia yawn to think about it. “Yes, indeed. Of course. How true,” she intoned automatically.

“You really believe that the moon is made of Roquefort? I thought the traditional answer was cheddar.”

“What? Oh, I’m sorry.” Amelia could feel the color rushing to her face. Had the popinjay beside her actually been listening for an answer? Even testing her to see if she were paying attention? Could he care what she said now? What did it matter?

“I apologize, Mr. Claremont. All this talk of politics at the dinner table has quite got my head in a spin.”

“If that’s true, I’ll eat all the Roquefort showing in the sky tonight. You’re not confused. You’re bored.”

And with that, she no longer was. “If I am, so are you, or you’d be joining in.”

“Touché. I’m no man of affairs. In the city? Taking interest in politics? Not likely. And they call me a gambler. Those investors are the gamblers. As many men go broke from buying shares in ships as from buying gambling chips.”

She had to laugh at that, wondering what he would think if he knew that she would enjoy a lively conversation about the latest business gossip. Of course, she would never reveal such a fact to a total stranger, so she simply gave in to the mirth.

“A genuine laugh at last. I wondered if I could wring one out of you. When I first set eyes on that serious little mouth, I imagined it with a smile and knew I had to try. Ah, victory is indeed sweet.”

“Is that all a woman’s smile is to you? A trophy?”

“At least I want it. What your brothers seem to want is for the ladies to retire.”

“Brothers? No, only one of the gentlemen I came with is my brother.”

“Who is the other then? An uncle? Surely not your brother’s broker.”

Amelia lifted her chin and straightened her gloves. “He is my brother’s business partner, staying with us for a few days to attend a series of early morning business meetings. He also happens to be my fiancé, if you must know.”

“Fiancé? It’s not possible.”

“Do you find me that unattractive, that you cannot credit that I am betrothed?”

Upon his hitherto placid features, Amelia was surprised to see raised eyebrows and a slightly dropped jaw. Recovering himself quickly, he sipped his wine. “By no means. It is rather quite the opposite. How could an intelligent lady like yourself have gotten entangled in as obvious a misalliance as that?”

“It’s hardly a misalliance. My brother finds him quite acceptable.”

“Ah, but obviously his sister does not.”

“I am Cecil’s only sister.”

“My point exactly.”

“I’ll have you know that—”

“I believe Mrs. Fairhope is giving the signal, Miss Stockdale.”

“Fairhope. Yes, that is the name, isn’t it,” Amelia groaned. She had only met the woman tonight, this being one of the few social occasions in which her brother had bothered to include her.

The gentlemen rose, but as the man to her right helped her with her chair, he leaned a little too close for comfort. “And my name, in case you have forgotten it, is Hugh.”

“Good evening, then, Mr. Hugh.”

“No, it’s just Hugh. Not even Lord. Just Honorable Mister Claremont, truth be told, but I’d prefer you to call me Hugh. To atone for my earlier faux pas.”

More than one faux pas, in Amelia’s opinion. He was holding her up, delaying the process. She disengaged his arm from her chair and hastened from the room.

Being the last lady to enter the drawing room, Amelia had little choice of a place to sit. She didn’t want to set herself in the center of the chattering gossiping flock whose conversation was sure to be boring in the extreme, but neither did she intend to lose herself in the shadows. There might be someone in the room capable of making an interesting remark. If she wasn’t to have a true coming-out season, it was imperative that she find at least a few friends here in the city.

All her friends from Miss Cotty’s Seminary for Ladies lived in the country. Few of their fathers or husbands were in commerce so they rarely came to London at all. If she were to settle in the city with Mr. Maxwell, she would need some new acquaintances. Glancing around, Amelia finally chose a seat near the daughter of her hostess. “Margaret? If I may?”

Margaret jumped, snatching her hand from under a huge potted geranium. “Of course. Amelia, isn’t it?” The young woman turned awkwardly, then had to swing back and rearrange her skirts when the footman brought her teacup.

“I won’t tell,” Amelia assured her in a conspiratorial tone. “About the book, I mean. The one you’re hiding under the geranium.”

Margaret visibly relaxed. “Thanks ever so much! I just couldn’t stand one more endless evening with Mother’s ‘finds.’ She does so love entertaining and since I hate to disappoint the old dear, I have to turn up.”

“But you don’t enjoy society?”

“Up to a point, of course I enjoy it, especially the way Mother does it. She invites the most appalling assortments of people, then never understands why things go awry. Her set know all about her ways and seem to love her in spite of her eccentricities, or perhaps because of them, but things so often do end in a muddle. Like tonight. A sure recipe for disaster. She’s got serious-minded businessmen like your brothers here with young lay-abouts like that Claremont.”

“So he’s a lay-about?”

“The very soul of indolence. I should know. Our families have been close since time out of mind.”

Trying to appear disinterested in the young lay-about, Amelia allowed her natural curiosity to show. “So if this book is more interesting than impending social disaster, it must be informative. May I be so bold as to ask what it is?”

“Something of which my governess would have thoroughly disapproved,” returned Margaret with a grin. “Confessions of a Lady Novelist. If you promise not to tell, I’ll let you borrow it.”

Amelia considered in a flash what it meant to put her confidence in a stranger like this. The girl had pluck, or ginger, as her late father would have put it. Her level of intelligence remained to be seen, but Amelia liked her style. “I’d love to. And never fear. I’m a past master at not getting caught.”

“Strict, are they? Your brothers, I mean.”

“One brother. The other is my fiancé.”

“Oh, really?” Margaret seemed suddenly interested.

“In fact, the wedding is only about a week away.”

“Isn’t that lovely!” Margaret exclaimed. Then, perhaps seeing something in Amelia’s eyes, she asked, “Or is it?”

“Of course it is,” Amelia replied in a flat tone. “I had thought to make a love match. When my father was alive, it seemed I would be able to do so, but when my brother became my guardian a year ago…”

“I’m so sorry for your loss. Please, speak no more of such an upsetting topic.”

“Thank you, but I must admit it helps to confide in a…”

“A friend. I think we’re going to be great friends. Go on.”

“My… my brother has made it clear that he feels no obligation to support me as my father did. He has no intention of providing me with the means to live a respectable life. Arranging for me to marry Mr. Maxwell is, to his mind, the fulfillment of his fraternal responsibilities. If I had refused, he would have dismissed me from the house.”

“Oh, Miss Stockdale. That is despicable!”

“Cecil isn’t an evil man, but he is very decided in his opinions. He feels duty-bound to make the most of the estate Father left him. Good stewardship, in Cecil’s opinion, does not include supporting a spinster sister.”

“Clearly, you are more generous than I. If my brother or any man treated me thus, I would take every opportunity to abuse him to anyone who would listen. If your brother is such a stingy, insensitive man, I wonder that he concerns himself with women’s affairs at all.”

“He is only interested in my marriage because it will help him avoid a certain degree of social disapproval. Further, I suspect Mr. Maxwell asked for the arrangement. Cecil saw an opportunity to put Mr. Maxwell in his debt.”

“So Mr. Maxwell desires the match?”

“Not in a romantic way. Mr. Maxwell is of a similar type to Cecil in that he is imminently practical. His only interest in me is as a hostess for the gatherings society expects and the mother for the progeny he hopes will carry on his family name.”

“How horribly unromantic!”

“Without a doubt. But I shall have food on the table, coal for the fireplace, and respectable literature to beguile the long winter evenings. There’s something in that.” She gave her new friend a secret grin. “And if I’m careful, I’ll be able to borrow unrespectable literature like that little volume you’ve got hidden away under that handkerchief.”

“Which will be made all the more delicious because it will be secret!” whispered Margaret.

Tired of contemplating her future, Amelia nodded furtively. “Secrets! Aren’t they lovely? What fun to have a secret.”

The entrance of the gentlemen caused the young ladies to look up. With a brash lack of discretion, Hugh Claremont left the milling throng and strode directly to the back of the room where Amelia and Margaret sat. “Secrets? What secrets? Gettie? Are you keeping secrets from your dearest chum?” Contravening all the rules of polite society, he plopped himself down next to Amelia on the settee.

“You’re not my dearest chum, you young wastrel.” Margaret smiled at him in a way that gave Amelia to understand that while they had grown up together and Margaret was immensely fond of Hugh, she felt no romantic interest in him.

“But I’ll wager you are enjoying the novel I brought you. That should go a long way toward boosting me in your good graces.”

“Of course it does. And if you dance with my new friend Amelia here, it will make up for the fact that you never turned up to take me riding yesterday.”

“I was… otherwise and unexpectedly occupied, but I would love nothing better than to partner Miss Stockdale in the first dance.”

“Dance?” asked Amelia. “You haven’t had any tea.”

“Mother never lets the gentlemen drink their tea. She says the port and cigars should be enough for any man. She hates to wait and loves to dance. Oh, but perhaps Mr. Maxwell will not approve of your dancing with Hugh, Miss Stockdale.”

“Please, call me Amelia.”

“And you must call me Gettie.”

The strains of a string quartet warming up filtered through the crowded room. Hugh stood with a gallant bow. “Shall we, Miss Stockdale? Assuming your affianced husband will not object.”

“Object? He’ll likely not even notice. I’d love to dance, Mr. Claremont.” As Amelia placed her hand on Hugh’s proffered arm, she noticed her brother, her fiancé, and another gentleman deep in conversation in an isolated corner of the room. They had obviously not bothered to look for her when they had come in, nor did they notice when she quit the room to join the dancing in the music salon.

* * *

Lying back on her bed in their home several hours later, Amelia, still flushed with excitement, recalled every detail of her evening. The instant camaraderie and affection she had felt for Gettie. The slightly daring feeling of waltzing with Hugh. The titters of the gossiping old ladies when she accepted Hugh’s arm for a fourth waltz. His compliments and admiring glances. Gettie’s insightful comments and sympathetic expressions. All had combined to make an enchanting evening, one she would never forget. It reminded her of the last meal ordered by a condemned man. A single frisson of dread and fear of the future shook her before her native optimism asserted itself once more and she drifted toward sleep, twisting the lace ties on her night bonnet.

* * *

Hugh Claremont eyed the vine askance. Would it hold his weight? Was it worth the risk? He usually didn’t target such young innocent girls. His style ran more to the discontented matron with a husband either too stupid to see, like his assignation of yesterday afternoon or too old to care, such as his consistently available inamorata, Lady Balanave. He would make an exception, however, in this particular instance. The girl was just too intriguing to miss.

From the moment she had laughed at his joke, he had decided she would be his challenge for the evening, so he had laid that clever trap, pretending to make that gaffe about it being surprising that she was betrothed. Perhaps it was an overused ploy, but it was so easy and effective. It had worked wonderfully in her case, giving him endless opportunities during the evening to compliment her without seeming to.

So up the vine he would go, thanking his lucky stars and many opportunities to practice that he had taken after his father’s side of the family, rather than his mother’s. From looking at his brother, he knew what he could have turned out like, but instead he had inherited a great head for heights and a lithe athletic figure. Onto the balcony and through the open French windows. Really, didn’t people realize that the second floor was not high enough off the ground to make such openings acceptable? Anyone could climb up and slip in.

“Who’s there?” It was Amelia’s voice and she sounded frightened. Can’t have that.

“Whom are you expecting, my dear?” He leaned casually on the closed door, savoring the moment. On the hunt.

A shocked gasp. Not good. Never good. The gasping was supposed to come later. “No one! You can’t be here.”

The quarry spotted and alerted. The thing to do now was circle round as if there were no hurry. “Oh, but that’s all right. Your Maxwell will never find out. I was careful not to be seen.”

“I’m-I’m not only worried about him! You have no business here! Leave at once!”

“I could do that, I suppose, but there was a constable just down on the street there. If I leave now, he’ll likely see me.”

“I can’t help that.”

“You want me to get pinched?” It wouldn’t be the first constable he’d had to pay off, but never for leaving a house by unconventional means. He’d never yet been caught by husband, brother, or even so much as a footman. Public drunkenness, causing a disturbance, yes. The guardians of the law were always glad of an extra coin for looking the other way on those offenses, but he had no intention of trying their integrity when it came to the honor of a lady.

“No, of course not, but—”

Got her off the topic very nicely. The worm was on the hook. Now to cast it into the water and see if she’d take the bait. “It’s just that you left so early. I wanted another dance with you.” He moved to sit on the edge of the bed, then leaned back on one elbow. Not threatening. Not close. His head was practically where her feet should have been had she not drawn her knees up to her chin under the coverlet.

“My brother and fiancé are not much on late nights.”

“No need to apologize. I can ask your advice here as well as there. Better perhaps.”

“Advice?” As she sat forward, the coverlet fell, giving him a tantalizing glimpse of her feminine charms covered by nothing but a thin nightdress.

“Of course. I only wanted your opinion. You seem like such a sensible girl, and Gettie seemed so fond of you. She doesn’t usually make friends so easily.” Ah, the beauty of distraction. He was able to move a foot closer and she didn’t so much as blink.

“I liked her, too. She’s a lovely person.”

“Wonderful. But for some reason, she doesn’t seem to like me very much.”

The sympathetic look in her eyes warmed his heart. “Oh, but she does. She seemed very fond of you.”

“Not fond in the way I would wish.” Close enough to touch the ties of that ridiculous night bonnet. A strand of her luxuriant hair had escaped its confines. To reach out and almost touch it, then let his hand fall away as if he were shy was with him a practiced maneuver. Quite effective. As usual, the woman drew in her breath, probably hoping he wouldn’t take such a liberty, then sighed when he withdrew his hand. The dread became the hope. Classic but effective.

“How would you wish?”

“What does it matter? No woman will ever want me. I don’t know why, but they all seem to be frightened. Are all girls your age silly ninnies?”

“I should say not!”

“I hate to think it true, but in my experience… well, for example, tonight. All I wanted to do was dance one more dance with you and you ran away from me, leaving me all alone.”

“I told you, that wasn’t my fault. I had to—”

He stood up, backing toward the window. “So you say, but the result is the same. Me, alone, with no one to dance with.” He held out a hand to her, as if a sudden thought had struck him. “Unless… No, it’s too much to ask.”

“What?” Breathless. Enchanted. The fish had taken the bait.

Now, to reel her in. “Dance with me. Just one little dance. Right here. Then I shall be able to retire, to rest, to sleep, my dreams fed on pleasant memories.”

She stood and walked into his arms as she had all evening. Welcome to my parlor… He hummed the last waltz they had heard as they spun slowly around the little bedroom. With only moonlight streaming in, he kept bumping into tables, lamps, and the standing mirror. After the third time, he chuckled and took that excuse to stop the absurd charade of the dance. He had her and he knew it. Why wait longer? “Ah, Amelia,” he cooed as he brought his lips down on hers.

She pulled back. “Hugh, no! What are you—?”

“Just one little kiss. One little spark to light my way home. You’re not a silly young thing, are you?” He felt her relax in his arms. Again, he leaned in. Carefully now. The fish could still bolt. She hadn’t swallowed the hook quite yet. He pressed his lips to hers. Feeling her relax, he took the kiss deeper. She was quite an armful and the curves that had apparently been hidden behind voluminous and constricting undergarments were now liberated and accessible. He made use of the access.

Suddenly, the night was split with a screech and a jerk. His arms were full of alarmed air when Amelia stepped away from him. He hung his head in real chagrin and feigned surrender, hoping to regain her trust by berating himself as he had done often enough before. The words of apology and self-deprecation were hovering on his lips when his foot struck the leg of the full-length, free-standing mirror. Overbalancing, he fell backward into one of those annoying bits of furniture that had seemed so helpful to his plan just moments earlier. Another scream and a hideous crack, followed by an abrupt descent to the hardwood floor. The wreckage of the mirror, frame and all, landed on top of him a moment later.

The next thing he remembered was the room flooded with light and the form of Cecil Stockdale, rigid and quivering with indignation in the doorway. Hugh could just make out the little Maxwell hovering fearfully behind him, but the curses and yelling of the brother caught most of his attention.

“How dare you invade my house? Besmirch my honor! Insult my family name!”

Amelia, bless her, tried to protest. “He didn’t… I’m all right.”

“Nonsense! He’s here, isn’t he? In the middle of the night!”

Sitting up, Hugh brushed scraps of wood and glass off his arms and rubbed the back of his head. “Now, now, there’s a simple explanation.” He’d had this story ready for years, just in case he ever had to face an irate male relative. Grateful he’d never had to use it until now, he tried to stand, thinking it would be more convincing if the offended party wasn’t towering over him.

A thunderous knock came at the door just then. “Th-that’ll be the constable, don’t you think?” asked Maxwell tremulously.

“The constable?” Hugh tried to laugh when he said it, but his insides had turned to porridge. “Here now, that’s not the thing, you know. Our sort don’t call the law on our sort. It’s just not done.”

Cecil looked down his nose at Hugh. “I don’t know what your sort is, but my sort is not in the habit of accepting insult without redress. You have broken into my home and dishonored it. For this, I will have satisfaction in the courts!”

“No, no, old chap. Nothing could be further from the truth. I saw this burglar, you see, coming in through the window. I chased him up here, but he must have—”

Maxwell reappeared with the constable in tow. “He came, you s-see? I shouted out the window when I heard the commotion and he c-came running. Here he is. We’ll be all right now.”

Hugh had forgotten about the fact that the fiancé was staying in the house to facilitate some sort of early morning business meetings. Amelia had mentioned something like that at the dinner table but Hugh had paid scant attention to anything but her lovely eyes and intoxicating smile. “You were never in any danger,” Hugh tried to laugh again, but it came out a sort of strangled cough. “I had the situation well in hand at all times. Tell him, Amelia.”

“This blackguard is in the bedroom of a lady?” the constable repeated in a shocked tone. “Can’t have none of that now, can we? Assaulting a lady! For shame!”

Hugh heard Amelia cry out again, looking confused but determined. “Please, don’t! He never tried to—”

“But officer, if you would just—” Hugh began again. Trying to rise, his foot wouldn’t hold his weight and he fell forward into the three men.

Maxwell screamed and clutched at a lamp, holding it high above his head as if to strike. Hugh wouldn’t have thought he had it in him, but there was the evidence in front of him, threatening to. “He’s attacking! Don’t let him get away!”

Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw Amelia suddenly leaning down as if to examine something on the floor. At first, when he noticed Maxwell moving forward with the lamp, he thought the man had finally developed a shred of decency and was going to help her, but the look on his face said otherwise. It was as if Maxwell were screwing up his courage to strike someone with that lamp. Surely not Amelia. That would make no sense. When the constable leaned forward to give him a hand up, he drew his attention to her. “The young lady is about to faint, I fear. Somebody really ought to—” But he never finished the sentence because suddenly the lights exploded and the world disappeared.

* * *

Amelia lay in her bed, coverlet pulled up to her chin, tears streaming down her face. “I fainted because it was just so awful. There was that terrible constable grabbing at Hugh. He was none better, confusing me, talking about some burglar whom I never saw. Then there was my brother accusing him of such terrible things and Maxwell bleating in the background.”

“But Hugh never…” Margaret hesitated to finish the sentence.

“He wouldn’t! Of course not! He never even tried.”

“My dear Amelia, this is Hugh we’re talking about. Of course he tried. It’s what he does. I suppose I should have warned you, but he’s never targeted a… an innocent maiden before. At least not to my knowledge. His taste and inclinations run to discontented married ladies and widows. I was shocked when I heard the charges. That’s why I came. I had to ask you for myself. I mean, he’s capable of quite a bit, but not that.”

“Well, you can rest assured, he was a perfect… well, all right, he wasn’t strictly speaking any kind of gentleman. How could I be such a ninny? I should have screamed the house down the moment I laid eyes on him. He could have run a mile before my brother even answered my call.”

“And he wouldn’t be in this predicament now,” Margaret agreed. “But this is all his fault, you know. I don’t want you to go and blame yourself.”

“The part that is my fault is that these false charges are still being pressed. After the doctor came, and he determined that no actual harm had been done, they reduced the charge from… that, to attempted that, but it’s still all nonsense. I can’t make them believe me, no matter what I do. They just think I’m a hysterical woman every time I try.” She wiped more tears off her face.

“Probably because you burst into tears every time you talk about it!” Margaret indicated Amelia’s handkerchief. “You need to sound sensible if you want to be taken seriously.”

Amelia cried harder. “I know. It’s such foolishness. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I blubber at the drop of a hat. Always have. I don’t feel upset, really. Not for myself and certainly not for the wedding being postponed.”

“It’s still on then? I had thought that perhaps…”

“But nothing happened. You know that.”

“That wouldn’t matter to some men.”

Amelia’s face fell. “I cannot argue with you there.”

“Would it be such a tragedy? I haven’t seen many signs of you being so very attached to Mr. Maxwell.”

“Circumstances do not allow me such luxury, I’m afraid. Attachment or no, my only hope for security lies in marriage to Mr. Maxwell.”

“How can that be? Your father left your brother a prosperous enterprise, did he not? He seems to be doing well enough.”

Amelia inclined her head and closed her eyes with a patient sigh. “Again, your observations are correct. My father left it to my brother, not to both of us. I doubt it ever occurred to Father to provide for me directly. He assumed that Cecil would always look after me if I chose not to marry. Cecil apparently interprets his fraternal duty differently. He gave me to understand that, since I had a reasonable offer from Maxwell, if I refused that offer, I would be on my own.”

Margaret’s transparent and futile attempt to control her anger warmed Amelia’s heart. “Of all the cold-hearted, unfeeling brutes! He’s your brother and I’m sorry to abuse him so, but really!”

“Thank you for your sympathy.”

“And you’ve no means of your own? Nothing on which you could live?”

“Not a penny. I might be able to get references from my friends from the ladies’ seminary to help me find work as a governess or companion, but otherwise I would be on the street.”

“Surely, he wouldn’t dare! The scandal alone would ruin him. Even the hint of scandal should be enough to deter him.”

“Well, perhaps on the street is a bit of an exaggeration. He would probably pay some nominal amount to keep me from the poorhouse.”

“Strange how this topic has served to dry your tears. Most girls would be helpless with fear at the very thought.”

“I don’t tend to cry from fear. There’s very little I can’t face, head high and shoulders back. It’s the frustration that lays me low. I’ve tried and tried to get justice for Hugh. He may be a bounder, but he doesn’t deserve the fate that awaits him.”

“We’ll go together, shall we? Perhaps your brother will listen to me.”

“It’s possible,” Amelia replied doubtfully. “No harm in trying. It could take a while, though. Tillie who helps me dress is also needed in the kitchen most of the time.”

“I’ll play lady’s maid, shall I? It’ll be fun.”

Between the two of them, they managed to get Amelia into one of her old-fashioned but serviceable day dresses, then made their way down the stairs together. At this hour, Amelia was sure they would find him in the study working on his accounts. When the footman opened the door and announced Margaret, Cecil barely lifted himself off the chair before sitting down again.

“Ladies?”

“Cecil, this is my new friend, Margaret—”

He cut her off without letting her finish the name, much less the thought. “I know who she is. The footman announced her. What are you doing out of bed?”

“I’m fine.”

“The doctor said you were to rest. Go, do it. I’ve work to do.”

“But Cecil—”

This time, it was Margaret who interrupted. “And so has my cousin Hugh, but he cannot accomplish such work while he’s in prison, can he?”

Cecil glanced up, obviously nonplussed. “Young lady, I am unused to be spoken to in such a manner.”

“And I am unused to speaking to gentlemen with anything less than perfect courtesy, I assure you, but when a man stands falsely accused of a crime, courtesy must take second place to justice.”

“A girl? Talking to me of justice? Oh, now, really!” He turned around and gave the bell-pull a yank.

“Yes, indeed. Is it not the right of any subject of the kingdom to—”

“If your father has something to say in the matter, let him write to my solicitor. Good day.” Just then, the footman appeared in the door. “Escort the young lady out, then see that my sister is taken to her room and secured there.” He looked back at his papers and gave no more sign that he had heard them.

Margaret stuck her nose in the air and headed for the door like a grand clipper ship under full sail. At the door, she turned to Amelia sympathetically. “I am sorry, my dear. I thought I could talk some sense into him. He won’t hurt you, will he?”

“No. He’ll just lock me in my room. Tillie will make sure I’m fed.”

“Cecil will pay for this, you know. In court!”

“Court! I’ll have to appear, won’t I! Oh, Margaret, how will I ever bear the shame?”

“What shame? Think of it! You’ll have the power to bring that pompous idiot to his knees. I can’t wait to see it.”

Amelia considered for a moment, then grinned. “I shall, at that!”

Giving Amelia a grave look, Margaret added, “Though we must be realistic. Maxwell might not go through with the wedding after you take the stand.”

“It will be worth it. To see my brother humbled in public? I’d miss any number of weddings to be the cause of that. And anyway, it must be so. I can’t let an innocent man go to prison.”

“Hugh, innocent? I wouldn’t go that far, but I do see what you mean. It’s decided. I’ll see you in court.”

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