An Excerpt from
Bonnie looked down at the blond boy walking next to her and pasted on a confident smile. “I am sure next time we will have more success.”
Henry glanced at her, but did not smile or share her enthusiasm. “It’s too late in the year, I think. It’s a poor time to fish.” He shifted the two poles he carried to the other shoulder. “And the worms are difficult to find. You said that they burrow deeper into the ground the colder it gets.”
“That is true,” Bonnie conceded. “But I do not think it is so cold that they will be hibernating just yet. They will be deeper, yes, but earthworms do not fully enter hibernation until it is almost freezing.”
“I remember,” Henry replied.
“Besides, it will simply mean that we have to dig a bit deeper,” Bonnie said with forced cheerfulness. “How about that, Arthur? Would you like to dig deeper holes in the garden?” She gave the three-year-old’s hand a squeeze. He just looked at her with solemn brown eyes.
“Mother does not like us ruining her garden,” Henry said quietly. “Father said it’s best to dig at night when she can’t see us. The deeper holes would not please my mother.”
Bonnie closed her eyes and bit back a sigh. “My lord, I do not think your mother would begrudge you worms for fishing.”
Henry said, “Still, I would rather not.”
The trio crested the hill and Darrowgate came into view. The house, granted with the viscountcy by King Henry VII, was in the tribute shape of an H. As they drew closer, the large red stone building imposed itself on the landscape, a testament to the legacy of the Darrows.
Bonnie led the boys through the garden; Henry kept his stoic eyes on the house and Arthur removed his thumb from his mouth long enough to trail his fingers on the flowers in late bloom. By the time they had climbed the four small steps to the terrace, the thumb was firmly back in place.
“Burdis,” Henry called the butler as they entered the main hall from the rear. “Please inform Mrs. Dabbs that there will be no fish complementing dinner tonight.” He handed the poles to the portly man.
“Of course, my lord. Better luck next time. Hodges,” Burdis turned his steady gaze to Bonnie. “There is a gentleman waiting in the drawing room. His name is Montgomery.”
Bonnie was curious. “For me?”
“He asked for the viscount.” Burdis lowered his voice. “He does not seem aware of the recent change. They were friends.”
“Oh.” Bonnie was startled. She took a deep breath and looked down at Henry. “Shall we greet this visitor, my lord?”
Henry regarded her with solemn eyes. “You don’t need to address me like that. I am still Henry.”
Bonnie knelt down to his level. “You know well enough that you are the viscount. It is proper. You had best get used to it.”
“As the viscount, I insist you address me as you always have, as Henry.” He looked at Burdis. “And for the other servants to call you Miss Hodges.”
The butler inclined his head in acknowledgment. Bonnie gave Henry a weak smile and smoothed his coat lapels. “Mr. Montgomery is waiting.” At Henry’s nod, they moved to the drawing room, Arthur’s hand in hers, his older brother with shoulders squared and chin raised.
Mr. Montgomery looked up at their entrance, his hands stretched toward the fire, warming his fingers. Seeing them, he turned and moved across the room, his eyes sharp as he looked them over. He stopped in front of Henry.
“Henry,” he said, his voice infused with a Scottish burr. “You have grown. Do you remember me?”
Henry didn’t answer. Glancing down at him, Bonnie could see his throat working as though he was trying to force a sound out of his mouth. She rested a hand on his shoulder and felt his paralysis.
The man looked to the other boy. “Arthur, is it?” The younger boy buried his head in Bonnie’s skirts.
It was Bonnie’s turn to fall under the man’s regard. His green eyes gazed at her unblinking. “You are?” he prompted.
Automatically, Bonnie cast her eyes down and dipped a small curtsey. “Hodges, sir, the governess.”
“Did the boys want to see me, then? They heard their uncle had arrived?”
Bonnie was confused. “I was unaware they had any uncles.”
He waved her off. “I will see them later. I am awaiting the viscount.”
Henry drew a deep breath as though he were about to speak, but nothing came out.
Bonnie kept her voice steady and quiet. “Henry is the viscount, sir.”
Mr. Montgomery furrowed his brow. “I know very well who the viscount is, Miss Hodges. I am friends with their father.”
Now Henry had moved to stand against her skirts, although he didn’t clutch her legs as Arthur did. “I regret to inform you that both the viscount and his wife recently perished in a coaching accident. Henry is the viscount.”
His eyes narrowed. “Impossible.”
“I assure you, I speak true.”