The Hidden Heart

The Hidden Heart by Candace Camp Read Free Book Online

Book: The Hidden Heart by Candace Camp Read Free Book Online
Authors: Candace Camp
out, handing them over to the duke. “Here is the General’s will, as well as a letter that he wrote to you, explaining the circumstances. I do not have a copy of his death certificate with me, however, if you doubt whether he has actually died.”
    Cleybourne’s mouth tightened, and he snatched the papers from her. His eyes ran down the will until they reached the clause naming him guardian of General Streathern’s great-niece, Gabriela Carstairs, the daughter of Roderick and Mary Carstairs. He sighed, folding the will back up. Poor Roddy. He remembered well when his friend and his wife had died, both felled by a vicious fever that had swept through the south of England that year. Their young daughter had survived only because the doctor had insisted that she and her nurse be quarantined in her nursery, never visiting her parents.
    He opened the letter and read it, squinting to make out the scratchings of an ill old man. At one point, he exclaimed, “Vesey is her only living relative! Good God!”
    “Precisely.” Jessica was relieved at his reaction to Vesey’s name. From the way the man had been acting, she had been afraid that he might decide to hand Gabriela over to Lord Vesey rather than trouble with her himself. “The General was afraid that Lord Vesey might try to wrest the guardianship away from you—I’m not sure how, exactly. That is why he insisted that we leave immediately after the reading of the will and drive straight here. It has been a long and exhausting journey. Gabriela is very tired.”
    “Yes, of course.” His eyes flickered to her, and he noticed for the first time the pale blue half circles of weariness and worry beneath her eyes. “You, too, I should imagine.” He sighed and laid the documents on his desk. “Well, there is nothing for it but for you to stay here, of course.” He paused, then added stiffly, “My apologies for your reception when you arrived. I had no idea who you were. I—everyone will tell you that I am not a sociable man.”
    Jessica felt like retorting that this was scarcely news to her, but she held her tongue. The man might be a snob and a boor, but she did not want to offend him so much that he took Gabriela out of her care. She swallowed her pride and said, “Thank you, Your Grace. We are in your debt.”
    “I will direct Baxter to set you up for the night.”
    “Thank you.” Jessica started for the door, then paused and swung back to him. “I—I suppose that you would like to meet your ward. Shall I bring her here?”
    “No!” His answer was swift and adamant, and his face, which had relaxed its lines somewhat, was suddenly as set as stone. He apparently realized the rudeness of his response, for he added, “That is, I think it would be better not at this time. I am sure that Miss Carstairs is quite done in by her journey. Meeting me would only be an unnecessary burden to her.”
    Jessica met his eyes unflinchingly for a long moment. “Very well,” she said quietly. “Until tomorrow, then.”
    “Yes.”
    She turned and went out the door, passing Baxter, who was worriedly hanging about in the hall. She heard the duke call to his butler as she marched back to the entryway, seething as she went. One would think the man could have had the courtesy at least to meet his new ward! Simple politeness would have compelled most people to greet her, even if they had not expected or wanted to have such a burden placed upon them.
    She saw Gabriela waiting for her, sitting alone on a marble bench near the front door. The footman stood a few feet away from her, almost as if he were standing guard. Gabriela was swinging her feet, scuffing them against the marble in a way that under normal circumstances Jessica would have reprimanded her for. But as it was, all she could think was how thin and young and lost Gabriela looked, and her chest tightened with sympathy.
    “Gabriela.”
    The girl whirled around, rising to her feet apprehensively. Jessica smiled at

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