No Decent Gentleman
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by Patricia Grasso
Description: Sabrina Savage has been raised to be a perfect lady. When her father dies under mysterious circumstances, she is shocked and upset and at his funeral, she meets a stranger, Adam St. Aubyn, Marquess of Stonehurst, who helps her mourn and promises to help her uncover the truth about his untimely death. She can barely admit it to herself, though, how much a man she has never met before can stir her heart and her passions, can make her feel like she has known him all her life, can make her feel as if he is her savior. Then, at the reading of her father's will, she learns that she has been pledged to Adam since childhood and that he had come to collect his unknown bride.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1999
eBookwise Release Date: June 2010
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [389 KB]
Reading time: 241-338 min.
"Holy hemlock," eighteen-year-old Sabrina Savage muttered in a barely audible voice.
She brushed a few recalcitrant wisps of copper hair away from her face and lowered herself wearily onto the Grecian chaise in the corridor outside Abingdon Manor's second-floor drawing room. After folding her hands in her lap, she lifted her green-eyed gaze from the hallway's blue and gold carpet runner to stare at the closed drawing room door. Anger and sorrow warred within her at the thought of what Vicar Dingle and his six cohorts were doing over her late father's body as they chanted prayers to drive the devil from his soul.
"This is unnecessary," Sabrina complained, turning to her companion. "Burying my father in the dark at a crossroads defies logical reason."
The twenty-five-year-old baron, Edgar Briggs, shifted his gaze to her. "Vicar Dingle is merely performing one of his duties," he said, sitting down beside her. "The law demands a night burial for suicides."
"My father did not commit suicide," Sabrina insisted, her emerald gaze glittering with her anger. "The law is as stupid as Vicar Dingle."
"The law is the law," Edgar replied, but softened his words by taking her hand in an obvious attempt to offer solace.
"The law is an arse," Sabrina snapped, yanking her hand from his. Giving him a look filled with accusation, she added, "If you really cared about our friendship, you wouldn't allow the vicar to insult my father like this. Apparently, my father's judgment in refusing your marriage proposal was correct. I would never wish to marry a man who wasn't loyal to me."
"Sabrina, I cannot prevent the vicar from obeying the law," the baron said in a weary voice. "Besides, your father would have agreed to my suit if you had told him you loved me instead of harboring a fondness for me."
"Love has nothing to do with offers of marriage or dowries," Sabrina told him. With a badly shaking hand, she smoothed the skirt of her black bombazine mourning gown and added, "Or meaningless declarations of one's feelings."
"I do love you, but even I cannot change the law to suit you," Edgar said, a frustrated edge creeping into his voice.
Ignoring his profession of love, Sabrina stared at the closed door again, but tried to keep her mind a blank. Her father's untimely passing was difficult to endure, and she needed to remain strong for the sake of her sister and her aunt. Trying to retain control of her rioting emotions, she concentrated on the various portraits lining the walls of the hallway.
"As an earl, my father enjoyed friendships with great peers of the realm," Sabrina said, her gaze fixed on the portrait of Prince Adolphus, the seventh son of King George III. "Vicar Dingle will rue the day he insulted the Savage family with such barbaric actions."
"None of those illustrious peers have ridden to Abingdon to champion your father's cause," the baron reminded her.
Surprised by his harshness, Sabrina rounded on him, but the drawing room door opened unexpectedly and drew her attention. Vicar Dingle stood there; behind him six parishoners were preparing to act as pallbearers.
"We are ready," Vicar Dingle said.
Sabrina stared at him for a long moment and tried to find a small sign of sympathy in his solemn expression. There was none. Finally, she nodded and turned to walk down the stairs to the reception foyer, where her younger sister and aunt were waiting. The baron followed behind her.
"The vicar is ready," Sabrina told them, reaching for her black cloak.
Seventeen-year-old Courtney Savage burst into tears. Aunt Tess put her arm around her younger niece and drew her close in an effort to console her.
Sabrina turned her gaze away from her weeping sister lest she, too, begin weeping. She watched the vicar descending the stairs, followed by the six pallbearers carrying her father's coffin.
"Please, don't hurt him," Sabrina said in an aching voice.
"Don't hurt him?" Vicar Dingle echoed in an indignant tone of voice. "For his suicide, the Earl of Abingdon's soul faces eternal damnation."
"May consumption catch you," Sabrina cursed the clergyman.
"Sabrina is grief-stricken," Edgar intervened, stepping between her and the vicar. "She doesn't know what she's saying."
Vicar Dingle nodded, then said, "I understand her sorrow, but breeding does tell."
Sabrina stepped back a pace as if she'd been struck. Would she and her sister never be able to escape the fact that they were the illegitimate issue of-- Of whom, she had no idea.
"Sabrina is a well-bred young lady and does not deserve your insults," Sabrina heard her aunt Tess saying. "Apologize at once, Vicar Dingle."
"Lady Burke, lest you forget, I was here when--"
"My father legally adopted Sabrina and me," Courtney Savage interrupted with uncharacteristic assertiveness. "Now, get on with the funeral."
Turning to her younger sister, Sabrina smiled for the first time since their father's death the preceding day. "Are we going to bury my father tonight?" she asked the vicar. "Or shall we stand here and debate the possibilities of who my natural parents were?"
"Extreme grief rules your tongue," Vicar Dingle stated disapprovingly and then marched out of the mansion. Lifting the casket again, the six pallbearers followed him outside.
"Your rudeness to a man of the cloth surprises me," the baron said in a loud whisper. "And you, Courtney. I never would have--"
"Oh, Edgar, do be quiet," Sabrina cut his words off. At times, her lifelong neighbor and friend annoyed her more than a toothache.
Pulling the hood of her black cloak up to cover her head, Sabrina followed the pallbearers outside. Behind her walked Courtney, Aunt Tess, and Edgar Briggs.
Sabrina stepped into an unusually warm mid-December night and breathed deeply. The air was hushed as if nature itself mourned the loss of her father. No moon shone overhead. The sky was a black velvet blanket dotted with tiny stars.
In silence, the pallbearers set the late earl's coffin on a cart pulled by one horse. Each of them held a lantern to light his way.
The funeral procession walked down the estate's private lane, which led to the public road, and then turned right. The nearest crossroads lay a half-mile away where the road branched into two, one road leading to the village of Abingdon and the other to the neighboring Briggs estate.
Their small entourage had just reached this traditional burial site for suicides when the unmistakable sound of galloping horses drew their attention. Everyone whirled toward the village road to see four men on horseback advancing on them. The riders reined their mounts to an abrupt halt when they reached the funeral party.
"Who are you?" Edgar Briggs demanded. "State your business."
"We are friends of the late Earl of Abingdon," one of the strangers answered as he dismounted.
Sabrina stared at the tall, dark-haired man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties. She'd never seen him before, but men she and her sister hadn't traveled to London since they were children. She hoped these men were the illustrious peers of the realm who would champion her father's cause.
"Charles, thank God you're here," Aunt Tess cried suddenly. "Vicar Dingle is giving poor Henry a suicide's burial."
Much to everyone's surprise, an older gentleman stepped forward. First he lifted her aunt's hand to his lips, and men he placed a comforting arm around her shoulder. Turning to the others, he introduced himself, saying, "I am Charles St. Aubyn, the Duke of Kingston. This is my nephew, Adam St. Aubyn, the Marquess of Stonehurst, and the others are my nephew's retainers."
Sabrina looked at each of the newcomers in turn. The Duke of Kingston seemed a kindly gentleman, but his nephew appeared darkly dangerous. The marquess's retainers were two of the biggest men she'd ever seen.
"Though the circumstances are sad," Sabrina said, stepping forward to greet the duke, "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Your Grace. How did you learn of my father's death?"
"Several days ago I received a message from your father, asking me to come to Abingdon," the duke told her. "Then, last night, Tess's message that your father had died arrived. We left London this morning and rode as fast as we could. You are which daughter?"
"I am Sabrina, the elder," she said with a wan smile. "This is my sister, Courtney."
"May we complete the burial?" Vicar Dingle asked in an irritated voice. "The law requires we bury suicides between nine and midnight. At this rate--"
"My father did not commit suicide," Sabrina interrupted, rounding on the vicar.
"No one hangs himself by accident," one of the pallbearers muttered.
Sabrina gave the man a murderous glare but refrained from speaking. Nobody would ever convince her that her wonderful father had taken his own life, and she intended to prove he hadn't. She'd make the lot of them eat their words, especially the vicar.
"Lower the casket," Vicar Dingle instructed the pallbearers.
"What about the prayers?" Sabrina cried.
"Praying for suicides is forbidden," the vicar told her.
"A plague take you," Sabrina said, cursing him for the second time that night.
Everyone stared at her in shock. She heard her aunt gasp, and one of the newcomers chuckled.
"Sabrina, how dare you speak disrespectfully to the vicar," Edgar exclaimed, placing his hand on her shoulder. "Apologize at once."
Ignoring him, Sabrina shrugged his hand off and asked the vicar, "Where is the death knell I purchased?"
"Tolling a death knell for suicides is forbidden," Vicar Dingle told her.
"My father will have a death knell even if I must ring it myself," Sabrina insisted. She turned away abruptly and bumped into the marquess, who grabbed her upper arms to keep her from falling. Looking up at him in surprise, she had the sudden wish that she could see his eyes in the darkness.
"Mistress Savage, I will escort you into the village lest someone try to stop you," the marquess said.
Sabrina nodded and gave him a grateful smile.
"Stop them," she heard the vicar order the pallbearers.
With a flick of his hand, the marquess gestured to his gigantic retainers, who blocked the path. The vicar and his pallbearers remained rooted where they stood while the marquess lifted her onto one of the horses.
The Marquess of Stonehurst scooped up one of the lanterns and then mounted his own horse. "Uncle, escort the other ladies to Abingdon Manor," he said. "Mistress Savage and I will meet you there later."
"Very good," the duke said.
"Sabrina, think of what you are doing," the baron called after her.
"Edgar, think of what you are not doing," she replied.
Sabrina turned her horse and started down the village road. Beside her galloped the marquess's horse. They rode in silence into Abingdon and halted their horses in front of the church.
Still holding the lantern in one hand, the marquess opened the church's door. Sabrina stepped inside and the door clicked shut behind them.
"This way, my lord," she said.
Turning to the right, Sabrina crossed the nave and climbed the narrow spiral staircase until she reached the top, the bell cote. She grabbed the bell clapper and tugged on it nine times, the customary way of signaling the passing of a man. Summoning her strength, she reached for the bell clapper again.
The Marquess of Stonehurst touched her arm and asked, "How old was the earl?"
"Take this," he said, passing her the lantern.
Sabrina knew what he was offering to do. "Thank you, my lord," she said, lifting the lantern out of his hand.
With both hands, the Marquess of Stonehurst rang the death knell forty-one times, once for each year of her father's life as was the custom. Sabrina closed her eyes and prayed for her father's departed soul.
Finished with his task, the marquess took the lantern from her and led the way down the narrow staircase again. Outside, he set the lantern down and helped Sabrina onto her horse.
Sabrina watched him retrieve the lantern and mount his own horse. Apparently, her father did have great friends who were willing to champion his cause. How would she ever be able to thank this man for what he'd done for her this night? What he had given her could never be repaid.
Turning their horses in unison, they retraced their path down the village road toward Abingdon Manor. Without saying a word to each other, they stopped when they reached the crossroads. The two burly bodyguards still kept the vicar and his pallbearers at bay.
"Let them leave," the marquess called to his men, who stepped aside instantly.
"I forgive you," the vicar said, his gaze fixed on Sabrina. "In a few days you will regret your actions tonight."
"No, Vicar Dingle, you will regret your actions," Sabrina replied. "Your church will never again receive one shilling from the Savage family."
Vicar Dingle shook his head sadly as if he couldn't credit what he was hearing. "Because of your father's suicide, the Savage estates are forfeit to the Crown." With those parting words, the vicar and his six pallbearers started walking down the road to the village.
"Is that true, my lord?" Sabrina asked, beginning to panic, turning to the marquess. How would Courtney and she live if they lost everything? How could she prove that her father's death had been an accident?
"Please, call me Adam," the marquess said.
"Then you must call me Sabrina."
"Very well, Sabrina."
"You haven't answered my question," she said.
"By law a suicide's assets are forfeit to the Crown, but we may be able to get around that," the marquess told her. "My uncle has friends at court who have the power to certify your father's death an accident."
"My father's death was no suicide," Sabrina said. "How should I go about proving that?"
For a moment Adam was silent. Then he replied, "Do you believe your father was murdered?"
"My father had no enemies."
"Every man has enemies," the marquess said grimly. "We will discover who your father's are." Then he called to his men, "Sagi and Abdul, remain here on guard until the dawn."
"Why should they guard my father's grave?" Sabrina asked, surprised by his command.
Now it was the marquess's turn to look surprised. "Sabrina, have you never heard of Resurrection men?" he asked.
"You don't think someone would steal my father's body?" she asked, shocked. "He was an earl."
"Most Resurrection men prefer to work near London where there are more donors," he replied. "We'll be certain that no one disturbs your father's grave if my men stand guard for a week."
"I'll send my servants with blankets, food, and a lantern," Sabrina called to the two men.
Both men nodded, acknowledging her words, but said nothing.
"What strange names your servants have," Sabrina remarked as they started down the road toward Abingdon Manor. "Are they foreigners?"
The marquess nodded.
Sabrina glanced sidelong at him but couldn't see his face very clearly in the darkness in spite of the lantern he carried. "Where do they come from?"
"The East," he said simply.
The Marquess of Stonehurst turned his head to look at her. "No, Princess, you do not see, but you will understand one day soon."
Sabrina remained silent. She had no idea what he meant and wasn't certain she wanted to know.
Sabrina and Adam passed through the open gate onto the Savage estate and rode at a more leisurely pace toward Abingdon Manor. In the distance, beeswax candles and paraffin lamps glowed like fireflies from the mansion's windows and grew brighter as they neared the house.
Sabrina halted her horse in the circular drive in front of the mansion and dismounted without waiting for assistance. Two stableboys appeared to take charge of their horses.
The front door opened just as they reached it. The Savage majordomo stepped aside to allow them entrance.
"The others are waiting in the drawing room." He reached to help Sabrina remove her cloak.
"Don't bother with me, Forbes," she said. "Send a footman with food, blankets, and lanterns to the crossroads. Then prepare the dining room for our guests."
The majordomo looked surprised. "You want to send a footman to the crossroads with--?"
"The Marquess of Stonehurst was kind enough to leave his men guarding Papa's grave," Sabrina explained.
"Very good, my lady," Forbes replied. He started to turn away to do his mistress's bidding, but paused and said, "Lady Sabrina, I heard the death knell. My compliments on a job well done."
"I never did like Vicar Dingle," Forbes muttered as he walked away. "Self-righteous men are the devil's spawn."
The majordomo's sentiment matched hers. Sabrina laughed, a sweetly melodious sound, so at odds with her behavior that night. Flicking the hood of her cloak off her head, she turned to properly greet the man who'd saved her father from a final indignity.
Surprised by his dark handsomeness, Sabrina could only stare at him. She suffered the absurd notion that seeing him by lantern light did him no justice.
A couple of inches over six feet, Adam St. Aubyn stood a good foot taller than herself, and Sabrina had to tilt her head back to look up at his face. Marring his handsome features, a thin scar ran from the corner of his mouth to his right cheekbone. He wore his midnight-black hair long on his neck as if he hadn't the time to cut it properly. Its ebony color contrasted sharply with blue eyes so distinctively piercing that Sabrina felt he could see to the very depths of her soul. His smile on her was warm and--
Sabrina realized the marquess was watching her study his appearance. Embarrassment flushed her cheeks a rosy hue, which made his smile widen into a grin.
"Let me help you with that," he said in a husky voice, reaching for her cloak.
God shield me, Sabrina thought. Even the man's tone of voice suggested intimacy. She hadn't noticed it earlier.
Sabrina wanted to say something wonderfully witty, but her mind went blank. Thinking of something witty to say would take her an hour, and wonderfully witty would waste several days.
Instead of speaking, Sabrina smiled shyly and offered him her hand. "Your arrival tonight was a miracle," she said when he accepted it. "I don't know what I would have done without your assistance."
"I commend your loyalty to your father," Adam replied.
Both Adam and Sabrina turned toward the voice and saw Edgar Briggs walking across the foyer. As if by mutual consent, they released each other's hands.
The baron nodded once at the marquess and then rounded on Sabrina, beginning his lecture with "Your behavior tonight was unpardonable."
"Oh, Edgar," she said in a weary voice. "Please, let's not go into it now and certainly not in front of the marquess."
"I cannot hold my tongue until the morning," he said, and then turned to the marquess. "If you will excuse us, my lord, I wish to speak privately--"
"I have no intention of being rude to my guests," Sabrina interrupted him. "Whatever you want to say will wait until tomorrow." She grasped Adam's forearm and escorted him toward the stairs, saying, "The drawing room is this way, my lord."
Though the whole chamber had been draped in dreary black, ease and comfort had replaced formality in the drawing room. Sofas and chairs had been positioned closer to the warmth of the fire, and a variety of tables had been scattered about for convenience and utility. In the far corner of the chamber stood a pianoforte and a harp, both instruments also draped in black.
At their entrance, the Duke of Kingston rose from the sofa and crossed the chamber to greet Sabrina properly. "Henry and I were great friends," he said, taking her hands in his. "I grieve for your father's passing."
"Thank you, Your Grace."
"Let's not stand on formality, my dear child," the duke said, escorting her to the sofa near the hearth. "Please call me Uncle Charles."
"Oh, but I couldn't," she protested.
"Yes, you can," he disagreed in a gentle voice. "Courtney has already agreed to do so.
Sabrina smiled. "Very well, Uncle Charles."
"I don't know what we would have done if Adam and you hadn't arrived when you did," Sabrina told him.
"Adam, is it?"
Sabrina blushed and flicked a glance at the marquess, who stood beside the hearth. "Adam has given me permission to use his given name."
"Sabrina, I really must speak with you," Lord Briggs said.
"Your lecture can wait until morning," Sabrina replied, irritation lacing her voice.
"Lecture?" the duke echoed.
"Apparently, Edgar feels the need to lecture me about my treatment of the vicar," Sabrina explained.
"Vicar Dingle has more hair than wit," Aunt Tess said. "I never liked him."
"Neither did I," Courtney agreed.
Sabrina said nothing. Though Adam St. Aubyn remained silent, she was acutely aware of him. His dark, commanding presence attracted her, and she had a difficult time keeping herself from staring at him.
"As I told you earlier, I received a message from your father to come to Abingdon as soon as possible. He said it was an important matter," the duke was saying. "And then Tess's message arrived."
"I wonder what the problem was," Sabrina interjected, speaking her thoughts aloud. She looked at the duke, saying, "Vicar Dingle told me the Savage estates are now forfeit to the Crown."
"The land will be auctioned," Edgar informed her. "You need not fear losing Abingdon Manor, for I plan to purchase the estate for you."
"The Savage lands will not be auctioned," Adam disagreed, speaking up for the first time since entering the drawing room.
"Adam is wealthy, and I enjoy friendships in the most exclusive circles," the duke explained, looking at the baron. "A few words spoken into a royal ear and a healthy bribe will give my nephew the right to oversee the Savage assets until we can straighten out this whole sorry affair. I can almost guarantee that your father's death will be ruled accidental."
Sabrina felt the fear rush out of her. For the moment she need not worry about how to care for her sister and her aunt. Nor would she need to feel obligated to Edgar in any way.
And then the Duke of Kingston surprised her by saying, "As you may know, I am the executor of your father's will."
"I didn't know that," Sabrina said, surprised. "How long had you known my father?"
"We shared chambers at school," the duke answered. He smiled, adding, "Our accommodations became rather cramped when Adolphus and his dog moved in with us."
"Adolphus?" Courtney exclaimed. "King George's son?"
"The son of a king is always given the title of prince," Aunt Tess corrected her younger niece.
Sabrina smiled at her aunt's ridiculous statement. "How did you manage to keep up your friendship?" she asked the duke.
"I'll answer all of your questions tomorrow," the duke said, patting her hand. "Recently, your father sent me a codicil to the will."
"A codicil?" the baron echoed. "Concerning what?"
"Are you a member of the Savage family to be privy to the late earl's business affairs?" Adam asked, a challenging tone in his voice.
Recognizing the angry glint in Edgar's hazel eyes, Sabrina prevented an argument by saying, "Uncle Charles, I hope that you and Adam will consent to be our guests at Abingdon Manor."
"We would love to accept your invitation," the duke answered. "Tonight, however, we must return to the inn. We left my sister at High Wycombe for the night. She will arrive in Abingdon tomorrow morning."
"Adam's mother?" Sabrina asked.
"No, Adam's mother is another sister of mine," the duke told her. "This one is Lady Belladonna DeFaye."
"Well, I'll be," Aunt Tess exclaimed. "I haven't seen Belladonna in years." She looked at her niece, adding, "Belladonna and I were great friends during our first season out. We lost touch with each other after we met our husbands. I suppose marriage has a way of separating friends."
"Lady DeFaye will also be a welcome addition to our household," Sabrina said, rising from her chair. "For now, come to the dining room and refresh yourselves with a light supper."
Adam stepped forward before Sabrina could offer to escort the duke. "Allow me to walk with you downstairs," he said, taking her hand.
His words and his touch surprised Sabrina, but she didn't draw back. Instead, she dropped her gaze to their hands. His touch was firm yet gentle, and he stood so close that his clean, spicy bay scent assailed her senses.
Sabrina suddenly wondered what it would feel like to kiss this handsome man. Lifting her gaze, she blushed with embarrassment. His piercing blue eyes seemed to say that he was aware of his effect on her.
Recovering her composure, Sabrina acquiesced with a silent nod. The Duke of Kingston escorted Aunt Tess, leaving Edgar to walk with Courtney.
Entering the dining room on the first floor, Sabrina was pleased to see the table set with their finest Wedgwood china. Covered dishes had been placed on the table, and their Worcester tea and coffee service sat on the sideboard.
"Uncle Charles, please do us the honor of sitting at the head of the table," Sabrina said.
The duke obliged her. Aunt Tess, Courtney, and Edgar sat on his left side while Sabrina and Adam sat on his right side.
Forbes lifted the covers off the platters to reveal deviled eggs, potted mushrooms on toast, and pork balls in tomato sauce. They served themselves in the family style.
"Simply delicious," the duke said after tasting the potted mushrooms. "My compliments to the cook."
"The cook is sitting on your right," Courtney told him.
The duke turned to Sabrina, asking, "You prepared the mushrooms?"
She nodded. "I prepared everything."
"Sabrina cooks herself into a frenzy when she's upset," Courtney said. A mischievous gleam entered her eyes when she added, "There have been times when I purposely drew her into an argument."
"You are exaggerating," Sabrina said with a smile.
"Do you remember becoming aggravated with me a few months ago because I'd borrowed your blue shawl without asking your permission first?" Courtney asked her.
"I never wore it," her sister admitted. "I took it from your chamber and folded it across my bed so that you would believe I'd worn it. As I recall, supper was heavenly that night."
"Why didn't you simply ask me to prepare supper for you?"
"What makes your cooking special is the secret ingredient of anger," Courtney informed her. The seventeen-year-old dropped her gaze to the potted mushrooms and added forlornly, "Or sadness."
A glum silence descended over the table. Sabrina felt a lump of raw emotion forming in her throat. Fearing she would embarrass herself by weeping at the table, she shifted her gaze to the duke and said, "Uncle Charles, tell me about your friendship with my father."
"Prince Adolphus, your father, and I became close friends while at Eton," the duke began. "Prince Adolphus disliked having his own chamber so he moved his belongings into ours. The prince once brought his dog to school with him after holiday and was ordered to send the dog home. Dogs were strictly forbidden in the dormitory." Here the duke chuckled at the memory.
"What is so funny?" Sabrina asked.
"Adolphus brought his dog home, but returned with his pet bear," the duke told her, making them smile. "So the school administrators gave him permission to keep his dog instead of the bear. I swear, that dog weighed more than the Regent and absolutely adored your father. Tiny--that was the dog's name--insisted on sleeping with your father every night."
"I never heard that story," Sabrina said with a smile.
"Papa never mentioned that he and the prince were friends," Courtney added.
"Tell us another," Sabrina said.
"I'll mink about it tonight and come up with a story suitable for young maidens' ears," the duke told her.
"Sabrina, I must leave," the baron said, rising from his chair. "Will you walk with me to the foyer?"
"Excuse me," Sabrina said to the duke. "I'll return in a moment."
They walked in silence until they reached the foyer. It was then that Edgar Briggs grasped her forearm and warned, "Do not place your faith in the duke. You never met the man until today, and I fear he does not have your best interests at heart."
"And you do?" Sabrina asked.
"Do you doubt it?" he asked.
"The proof lies in a man's actions not in his words," Sabrina answered. "Tonight you sided with the vicar."
The baron tightened his lips in anger, but said nothing. When he moved to plant a kiss on her cheek, Sabrina stepped back and said, "I buried my father just a few hours ago. Please leave now."
"Grief rules your actions and words," Edgar said, walking out the door. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Sabrina watched him leave and then turned to retrace her steps to the dining room. She stopped short when she spied the marquess standing in the shadow of the stairs, watching her.
"How long have you been there?" Sabrina asked. "Were you eavesdropping on me?" In the next instant she realized how rude she sounded and amended herself. "I'm sorry. Today has been terribly difficult, and Edgar has been no help."
"Are you and the baron betrothed?" Adam asked.
"Edgar and I have been friends forever," Sabrina told him.
"But there is something more than friendship between you," the marquess said.
"Edgar did offer for me," she said. "I am thankful my father refused his suit."
"Your father's disapproval did not disappoint you?" Adam asked.
Sabrina shook her head. "I would have felt as though I'd married a brother or a cousin, but I hadn't the heart to refuse Edgar's offer. My father saved me the trouble by refusing for me. I suppose that makes me a coward."
The marquess's blue eyes gleamed with amusement. "And what if your father had approved the match?"
"I knew there was no chance of that," Sabrina admitted. "In spite of the fact that my sister and I are adopted, my father planned to give us a season in London so that all of the realm's most important men could fall in love with us. That way we'd have our choice of whom we wished to many."
"Important men?" Adam echoed, giving her a boyish, thoroughly devastating grin. "You mean, a prince?"
Sabrina nodded. "Or a duke."
"How about a marquess?" Adam suggested, the intimate tone of his voice caressing her senses.
Precluding further conversation, the Duke of Kingston walked into the foyer with Aunt Tess and Courtney. "My nephew and I must also leave," he said, taking her hands in his, "but we will return with my sister tomorrow."
"There is a question I must ask you," Sabrina said, lowering her voice.
The duke gave her an expectant smile.
"My father adopted Courtney and me," she said. "Do you know where we came from?"
"Child, let us save this conversation for tomorrow," the duke replied.
Sabrina nodded. She'd waited eighteen years to learn the truth surrounding her birth. Waiting a few more hours certainly wouldn't kill her.
Aunt Tess and Courtney went directly upstairs after the duke and the marquess had taken their leave, but Sabrina knew sleep would elude her for some time that night. She stepped outside the front door and gazed up at the stars in the moonless sky. They appeared as lonely as she felt. She'd always longed to know who her natural parents were, but now there was something in her life more important than that knowledge.
"Papa, I will prove you innocent of suicide and see you buried in hallowed ground," Sabrina whispered. "Even if I must dance with the devil to do it."