Rose stood, her color heightened. "This is all neither here nor there. We don't have room to accommodate you, Henrietta. If you wish to remain in Kurland St. Mary, then you can stay at the Queen's Head, or return to London and pay me a proper visit in a week or so when we will have more time together."
"I am aghast at your unfeeling nature, Mama. Living here with these people has changed you, and not for the better!" Henrietta produced a lace handkerchief and dabbed extravagantly at her eyes. "I cannot believe you are speaking to me in such a dismissive way after all I've done for you."
Robert raised his eyebrows and glanced at his aunt, who looked stricken. Henrietta had married an awful man and had merrily used her mother as a bank for her expenses and his debts for years.
He dropped Lucy's arm and stepped in between the mother and daughter.
"If you wish to stay the night at Kurland Hall, cousin, you are most welcome. Then we can send you on your way back to London in the morning, refreshed."
He didn't need to look at his wife to guess she was glaring at him. Lucy had no love for Henrietta and was very protective of Rose. But what else could he do? He couldn't allow his cousin to stay at the Queen's Head, which, although an excellent hostelry, was hardly fit for a female member of the peerage traveling alone.
"Well, thank you for that at least, Robert!" Henrietta appeared to have forgotten she was supposed to be weeping. "It's nice to know that the Kurland family has some standards, unlike my own mother."
"Please, stop..." Rose passed an unsteady hand over her face and crumpled to the floor in an apparent swoon.
Henrietta screamed as Lucy and Robert ran forward to help.
"Her smelling salts are in her work basket," Lucy told Robert as she propped her patient up against the chair. "Can you find them?"
Even as Robert delved beneath her embroidery, found the crystal container, and handed it to Lucy, Rose was already coming out of her swoon. She reached out an impulsive hand.
"My goodness! I do apologize. I must have risen too quickly."
"It's all right. Just stay still for a moment before we help you back onto your chair. Robert? Can you call for Rose's maid?" Lucy uncapped the bottle and waved it under Rose's nose until she shuddered. She shot a furious glance back toward Henrietta, who had not moved from the same spot. "Please don't worry, Rose. Sometimes people can say the most upsetting things."
"What's going on?" The rector came back into the parlor, his gaze immediately going to his wife. "Are you well, my dear?"
Robert's attention was diverted from his father-in-law to the man who strolled in behind him. Leaving his wife to deal with Rose and her father, he walked over to Basil, now Lord Northam, who had recently inherited his father's title. He was a dark-haired man with light hazel eyes and a charming smile that belied his truly avaricious nature.
"I didn't realize your husband had accompanied you, Henrietta,"
Robert said. "I'm sure he is perfectly capable of escorting you back to London without the necessity of you staying the night at Kurland Hall."
Northam smiled at him and murmured. "Kurland, how delightful. I understand you have a new daughter. No wonder you were seeking the charms of London earlier this year while your wife was busy with her home and increasing family."
Robert didn't deign to reply to that deliberately provocative comment. He already knew Northam was the kind of man who thought adultery was common to all men simply because he practiced it so frequently. He'd also been privy to the generous marriage settlement Rose had given Henrietta, which had all been spent. He had no love for those who leeched off people he cared about.
The rector conferred briefly with Rose, who was reestablished in her chair, before placing his hand on her shoulder as she faced the room.
"This is not quite how I envisioned sharing my news, but perhaps it is time," Rose began. "Ambrose and I are somewhat surprised, but delighted to announce that I am pregnant."
"What?" Henrietta shrieked loud enough to make Robert wince. "How can that be so? You're both old, and that's...disgusting, and wrong, and—"
She stopped speaking with a gasp as Northam grabbed her arm. Her husband regarded the rector, his expression icy.
"I do hope you don't expect us to congratulate you on your obvious attempt to control your wife's fortune."
"I, I beg your pardon?" the rector stuttered. "This is God's will, not mine, and we are both thrilled." He patted Rose's shoulder, and she looked up at him. "Aren't we, my dear?"
"Yes," Rose said clearly, her chin held high. "We are." With a blistering curse, Northam urged his wife toward the door and walked out.
This excerpt ends on page 13 of the hardcover edition.
Monday, January 25th, we begin the book Toward the Light by Bonnar Spring.