Lord Portman's Troublesome Wife

Had he changed his mind about the bargain they had made?

It was surely a little late to have second thoughts? Did she mind? Rosamund was shocked to discover she minded very much indeed. She felt hurt and betrayed and very, very lonely. Had she expected him to be a conventional husband? But she had known from the beginning he would not be that, so why was she disappointed? Was it because he had not referred to their agreement at all since the wedding, and she had hoped they might come to a deeper understanding of each other—especially as he was so courteous and careful of her? It hurt to think such niceties were simply his natural good manners and meant nothing.

He had bought her.

He could do with her as he wished, and if it amused him to keep her on tenterhooks then she would have to endure it…

Lord Portman’s Troublesome Wife

Mary Nichols

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Born in Singapore,
MARY NICHOLS
came to England when she was three, and has spent most of her life in different parts of East Anglia. She has been a radiographer, school secretary, information officer and industrial editor, as well as a writer. She has three grown-up children, and four grandchildren.

Recent novels by the same author:

RAGS-TO-RICHES BRIDE

THE EARL AND THE HOYDEN

CLAIMING THE ASHBROOKE HEIR (part of
The Secret Baby Bargain
)

HONOURABLE DOCTOR, IMPROPER ARRANGEMENT

THE CAPTAIN’S MYSTERIOUS LADY*

THE VISCOUNT’S UNCONVENTIONAL BRIDE*

*Part of
The Piccadilly Gentlemen’s Club
mini-series

Chapter One

Summer 1761

R
osamund looked about her at the mourners, standing with glass in hand, or slowly perambulating the drawing room of her Holles Street home, and wondered why they had all come. They could surely not expect a bequest for everyone knew Sir Joshua had frittered away a fortune. Perhaps they hoped to pick up a little gossip, something to pass on over the teacups when they next met their friends. Her father’s death had been sudden and violent and surely there was more to learn about that?

He had been found in Tyburn Lane in the early hours of the morning, evidently on his way home after a night out. Everything pointed to him having been run down by a vehicle, which had not stopped. ‘Rolling drunk,’ everyone said. ‘Not looking where he was going.’

Maximilian, her brother, had been closeted with the family lawyer in the library for the best part of an hour, leaving Rosamund to attend to their guests alone. There were some cousins she hardly knew, fancy people who
looked down on her, whispering amongst themselves, calling her an ape leader and plain to boot and hoping they wouldn’t be expected to give her house room. A few of her father’s acquaintances had turned up to offer condolences and no doubt to find out their chances of being paid what was owed to them. No one truly mourned the passing of the irascible man, except his daughter. Rosamund had kept house for him ever since her mother died seven years before and, believing he needed her, had never married. At twenty-six, she considered herself well and truly on the shelf.

‘What are you going to do now, Rosamund?’ Aunt Jessica interrupted her reverie. Mrs Jessica Bullivant was her father’s sister. She was dressed in a black silk mourning gown; its caged hips made her look broader than she was tall.

‘I expect I shall stay here, at least for a time.’

‘Here, child? You cannot live alone.’

‘I will not be alone. I shall keep Cook and Janet.’

‘They are servants. No, Rosamund, it is not to be thought of. I know someone who might offer you the post of companion. Of course it will not pay much, but you will have bed and board and little enough to do. After looking after Joshua, it will be child’s play.’

‘Companion!’ Rosamund shuddered at the thought. She was outspoken and used to her independence and there was no one less independent than a paid companion at the beck and call of her employer twenty-four hours a day. ‘No, thank you, Aunt. I am sure Papa will have made provision for me. There will be enough for me to live frugally without having to resort to paid employment.’

‘I doubt that. Everyone knows my brother was a profligate. Did he ever give you anything more than pin money?’

‘I did not need anything.’

Her aunt snorted at this loyalty. ‘Being companion to a lady is better than unpaid employment, which is what you have been doing for the past seven years.’

‘I did what any daughter worth her salt would do.’

‘And now you are long past marriageable age.’

‘I know that, Aunt. I have no expectations in that direction. I shall do good works.’

Her aunt laughed at that, causing everyone else in the room to stop talking and turn to look at them. She immediately became serious and put on a mournful expression. ‘If I did not have my dear Miss Davies to look after me, I would take you in myself, but I would not, for the world, hurt her feelings. And truly my little house in Chandos Street is not large enough to accommodate us all.’

‘I know that, Aunt, but I thank you all the same. I shall manage.’ The last thing she wanted was to move in with her domineering relative.

Rosamund, seeing the lawyer emerge from the library and hurry out to his waiting carriage, slipped into the room where her brother sat with his head in his hands, his full brown wig pushed to the back of his head. Hearing her enter, he looked up. He was not mourning, he was dry-eyed and furious. ‘That…that…stupid old man…’

‘You mean Mr Tetley?’

‘No, our father. He has left nothing, Rosie, nothing but a heap of debts. How could a man be so gullible? He let people persuade him into worthless investments,
refused to listen to wise counsel and lost everything.’ He gave a cracked laugh and picked up a canvas bag which chinked as it moved. He threw it down at her feet. ‘Except this.’

‘What is it?’ She bent to untie the cord that closed it to reveal a heap of gold coins. ‘But there’s a fortune here!’

‘No, there isn’t. They’re counterfeit, every one. Tetley says they must be surrendered to the judiciary.’

‘Oh, dear. But how does Mr Tetley know they are counterfeit?’ She picked up a guinea to examine it. ‘This looks perfectly good to me.’

‘It is clipped.’ He delved in his coat pocket and produced a genuine coin. ‘See? Put them together and you can see the clipped coin is smaller and the milling is fresh with sharper edges.’

‘I do not understand.’

‘Neither did I, but Tetley explained it to me. The coiners snip or file off the edges of real coins and mill a new edge on to them. Then they are passed into circulation again and the spare gold melted down and used to make new coins, often by just covering base metal with a layer of gold, then stamping the head and tail on them and milling them. Like this one.’ He delved into the bag and produced another coin. ‘It is apparently a very profitable undertaking.’ His grunt of a laugh was humourless. ‘So long as you don’t get caught, of course.’

‘But how did Papa come by them?’

‘Your guess is as good as mine. I would like to think he sold something and was unknowingly paid in counterfeit coin, but he might have been aware of what they really were and intended to pass them off…’

‘No, he would never do that,’ she insisted. ‘He was gullible and difficult to deal with and sometimes mean, but I will not believe he was dishonest.’

‘We shall never know, shall we? The point is what we decide to do now.’

‘Take them to a magistrate as Mr Tetley said.’

‘And be asked a lot of questions about how we came by them? No one will believe in our innocence. Counterfeiting coin and distributing it is treason; we could hang for it. I’ll take charge of them until I can decide the best thing to do with them.’ He took the coin she still held, popped it back into the bag and tied the neck tightly. ‘One thing is certain: we cannot use them to pay Father’s debts.’

‘No, of course not.’

‘In the meantime, you have a fortnight to quit the house…’

‘Quit the house?’ she repeated, shocked to the core.

‘Yes, Father mortgaged it and the mortgagors are foreclosing. We can make enough selling the furniture to pay the immediate debts and that is all.’

‘You mean I am destitute?’ She could not believe the father she had loved had left her penniless, but then he had not expected to die as he did and no doubt hoped to come about.

‘As good as.’

She was silent a moment, trying to digest the information. ‘I suppose that means I shall have to come and live with you?’ The prospect was not pleasing. Max had a demanding wife and six children, none of whom were well behaved. She could see herself becoming an unpaid nursery nurse. Even the lot of companion was
preferable to that. Suddenly her secure world was collapsing about her.

‘You could find yourself a husband.’

‘Max, who would marry me? I am twenty-six and have neither looks not fortune. You are not being realistic.’

‘Someone must be willing to take you on. A widower, perhaps, someone needing a mother for his children? There are plenty of those about.’

‘What about love?’

‘Love, Rosie? Can you afford love?’

The question was a brutal one, but Max had never spared her feelings, and he was right. ‘No, but finding a husband in a fortnight when I have nothing to offer is surely outside the bounds of possibility.’

‘I could perhaps rake up a small dowry so you don’t go empty-handed.’

‘If you can find money for a dowry, then give it to me. I can use it to set up a little business.’

‘Now who is not being realistic! What do you know of business? All you are capable of is keeping house.’ He stood up and went to the mirror to straighten his wig and tweak his black silk cravat. ‘The trouble is that time is not on your side. But leave it to me, I may yet come up with something.’ He strode out of the room and back to the mourners, followed by a very dejected Rosamund.

She was too numbed by Max’s revelations to attend to their guests as she should, but Max made up for her deficiency, exhorting them to take refreshments, and conversing amiably about the deceased, telling stories about his life, listening to them recount theirs. At last,
realising there was nothing more to be learned, the guests departed, leaving Rosamund to sit down, surrounded by the debris of plates, cups and glasses, half-empty bottles of wine, stewed tea and crumbs. Max, clutching the canvas bag, was last to leave, together with his wife and noisy children who would not have normally been allowed to come, but they were thoroughly spoiled and their demands acceded to if they were loud enough. Rosamund hardly noticed them go. Janet came in to clear away and tidy the room, a task Rosamund would normally have helped her with, but she could not raise a finger.

She mourned the passing of her father, but she was also angry with him for being such a gullible fool, and even more angry with those so-called business associates who had sold him useless shares and ruined him. And who had given him that bag of counterfeit coins? Why had her father kept it instead of bringing the criminals to justice and obtaining some restitution? He must have realised they were counterfeit or he would have used them to pay his debts and buy them a little extra comfort. But supposing he had, supposing he had already spent some of them? Would she have angry tradesmen on the doorstep, demanding proper payment? Or worse, a constable or a Bow Street Runner with a warrant for her arrest? Would pleading ignorance save her? She needed to know, but she would have to be careful in case she uncovered something not to her father’s credit. She prayed that was not so and he was entirely innocent.

Max was disinclined to do anything about it.

The only other person who might be able to help her was Mr Tetley, so she set out next day to ask him.

‘My dear Miss Chalmers,’ he said, when she was shown into his office and offered a seat. ‘May I offer my condolences on your loss? I am sorry I did not have the opportunity to do so yesterday, but business had to prevail and you were engaged with your relations. And no doubt your brother explained matters to you.’

‘He did, but I should like to hear it from you.’

Mr Tetley sighed, but patiently went over everything, exactly as Max had explained it. ‘I am unconscionably sorry that you cannot be given more time to order your affairs, ma’am, but my best endeavours failed to allow you more than two weeks to quit. No doubt Sir Maximilian will look after you.’

Hearing her brother spoken of as Sir Maximilian brought her loss home to her more effectively than anything else and she had to force herself not to cry. There were things more important than tears. ‘Thank you, Mr Tetley.’ She paused to gather herself. ‘I am mystified by that bag of gold coins my brother showed me. How did my father come by it?’

‘I have no idea. I knew nothing of it. It was your brother who found it locked in a cupboard in Sir Joshua’s library. I am afraid he was angrily disappointed when I told him they were all counterfeit.’

‘So you cannot throw any light on it?’

‘No. I can only suppose your late father sold something, a picture or jewels or something of that sort, and that was the payment he received.’

‘Then those responsible should be brought to book and forced to pay good money for whatever it was.’

‘But we have no idea who they might be. And such men are dangerous. I would not like to confront them.
No, my dear Miss Chalmers, I advise you to leave well alone. Take the bag to a magistrate, say you found it, wash your hands of it.’

‘My brother has it and he will do what is necessary. But can you tell me anything about the shares Papa bought that were worthless?’

‘There is nothing you can do about those either if they were sold and bought in good faith. Playing the ’Change is a gamble at the best of times.’

‘Could the two things be connected? The buying of shares and the mutilated coins, I mean.’

‘I doubt it.’

‘But you must know the names of those who sold my father the shares. You were, after all, his legal adviser.’

He grunted a laugh. ‘When he decided to take my advice, but very often he ignored it, as he did in this case.’ He opened a drawer in his desk and took out a folder tied with red ribbon. He untied it and laid the folder open. ‘The name of the organisation is the Barnstaple Mining Company.’

Rosamund gave a brittle laugh. ‘Mining gold, I suppose. What is the name of the signatory on that document?’

He consulted the paper. ‘Michael O’Keefe.’

‘That sounds Irish. Do you know anything about him?’

‘Nothing at all, Miss Chalmers. It might not even be his real name.’

‘And where is the office of this company?’

He looked at the papers again. ‘The only address I have is the Nag’s Head, Covent Garden. It is unlikely to be a bona fide address. I advised Sir Joshua against investing, but he would not listen.’

‘I cannot believe my father would be so gullible. The whole thing is decidedly smoky.’

‘So I told him.’ He paused. ‘Miss Chalmers, what are you intending to do?’

‘I do not know yet.’

‘Do nothing, I beg you. You surely have enough to occupy you, ordering your affairs before moving out of Holles Street.’

The meeting of the Piccadilly Gentlemen’s Club at Lord Trentham’s London mansion was drawing to a close. It was no ordinary drinking and gaming club, but one dedicated exclusively to the tracking down of criminals and bringing them to justice. Officially designated the ‘Society for the Discovery and Apprehending of Criminals’, its members were all high enough in the instep not to require paying for their services. Not for them the taking of bribes as other thieftakers were known to do; they did it for the love of adventure and to make the country a safer place for its inhabitants.

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