Anna was glad she was seated as her brother’s friend, Sir Peregrine Travers, shuffled his feet and stared at the empty fireplace.
“He lost.” Peregrine ducked his head. “Everything, the lands, the house, even your dowry Miss Greenleigh.”
Across from her, Anna’s mother fell back against the sofa cushions and began to wail.
Anna closed her eyes for a moment and took several deep breaths. “And where is he now?”
Almost at the same moment, her younger brother, Christopher, (oh would that he were the elder, he was wiser at thirteen than Sebastian would ever be) asked. “Who won?”
Peregrine mumbled something inaudible. Anna met Christopher’s eye roll with a small brow-raise and turned back to the uncomfortable young gentleman.
“I’m afraid I didn’t catch that. Could you repeat it?”
Peregrine sighed. “Lord Danbury. Lord Danbury won and took Seb with him when he left to ensure he didn’t get up to mischief of any sort.”
Anna felt the blood drain from her face. Marcus Danbury. Not a person anyone sane would cross. She’d only encountered him once, directly. Indirectly? He was everywhere. Including in her thoughts, constantly. And now he owned her.
She roused at the feel of Christopher’s hand covering hers. “Is he very bad? You’ve gone so pale.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Not bad, no. But he has a reputation for not suffering fools and for driving hard bargains.”
Christopher snorted. “Seb’s in trouble then.”
Mrs Greenleigh continued to weep and Anna rose to her feet. “Thank you, Sir Peregrine, for telling us. Better to know than not, and am grateful for having it broken to us more gently than might otherwise be the case.”
Sir Peregrine bowed, pressed her hand with an awkward sort of kindness and scurried out of the room.
Anna called for the maid. Mother would be far more comfortable in bed while she worked her way through this.
The maid was coaxing Mrs Greenleigh across the room when someone knocked on the front door.
The family looked at each other and Anna sighed again. “You’d better stay here if you can, Mother. Perhaps Sarah can bring us some tea.”
As Mrs Greenleigh re-took her seat, a man was shown into the room.
Tall, broad-shouldered and stern, Marcus Danbury commanded any space he entered, and Anna felt the room shrink as he strode across it.
She curtseyed. “Lord Danbury.”
Christopher came to stand at her shoulder, their mother pressed a handkerchief to her lips.
Lord Danbury’s eyes scanned across each of them, then returned to Anna. “Miss Greenleigh.”
He scanned the room a second time. “I take it you’ve not yet seen your idiot brother?”
Anna and Christopher exchanged startled glances and Christopher answered. “Not since last night, Sir. Although we have just been visited by Sir Peregrine, who led us to believe he was in your company.”
The answer was forestalled by the headlong entry of Sebastian into the room. “We should move to Italy, I’ve heard it’s … oh damn.”
Lord Danbury raised a brow. “Quite.”
Mrs Greenleigh rallied. She stood and walked towards her eldest son, shaking her head, tears coursing down her cheeks. “Oh my darling, what have you done?”
Anna mentally applauded her mother, this was taking emotional blackmail to a whole new level.
Sebastian attempted a smile, it slid downwards before it made it past halfway. “What do you mean, Mother? I haven’t done anything.”
Christopher replied. “Sir Peregrine was kind enough to stop by earlier. He told of your antics last night and that all our possessions, plus Anna, are now owned by Lord Danbury.”
Lord Danbury’s lips quirked into a hint of a smile. Not granite then, for all his eyes were that exact shade of grey.
He nodded at Christopher. “Just so. And I’m sure your brother would never think of running from his obligations.”
All three of Sebastian’s relatives remained expressionless. Lord Danbury smirked. “Just so.”
He waved Mrs Greenleigh back to her seat on the sofa. “And I suggest you join her, Mr Greenleigh. We have matters of business to discuss, and I don’t want to be distracted by you climbing through windows again.”
Christopher and Anna looked at each other, and sat on the facing sofa.
Lord Danbury prowled between them. “And so, thanks to your ineptitude at cards, despite my best efforts, I now hold everything belonging to the Greenleigh family. An unwanted burden and one I intend to disperse as quickly as possible.”
He turned to Christopher. “You’re easy enough. The income from the Greenleigh estate, once under competent stewardship, will fund your attendance at Eton, then Oxford. After that, you will make your choice of career – clergy, government or private service.”
Christopher’s eyes rounded and Anna squeezed his hand. Lord Danbury had made it sound like a burden. In reality, he’d just handed Christopher his dearest dreams on a platter.
He turned to Mrs Greenleigh. “My grandmother is in need of a companion. You will pack what you need and be ready for my carriage to convey you to Essington House tomorrow morning.”
Anna frowned as Mrs Greenleigh held her handkerchief to her mouth and nodded. That particular gesture of her mother’s meant she was delighted beyond words. First Christopher, now this, what was the man up to and what did it mean for her?
He sensed her impatience, she just knew it. That was why he turned next to Sebastian. “You will start earning your keep. The steward of my secondary seat will be here momentarily. He will accompany you upstairs to pack. You will then leave to start work as his assistant.”
Sebastian opened his mouth to complain, but Lord Danbury had turned his back on him. Anna was now the absolute focus of those cool grey eyes.
“And Miss Greenleigh. Your dowry is quite impressive given your station in life.”
He held out a hand, she lay her fingers across his palm and stood, saying nothing.
The smile that peeked out was a little larger this time. Nice to know she amused him.
He kept hold of her fingers, but stepped back, looking her up and down. “Presentable enough, acceptable lineage, and given your situation, I’m sure you’ll be suitably accommodating and obedient. We will marry on Saturday.”
Her jaw dropped, she tried to find words but her voice failed her. Her mother was twittering something about Lord Danbury’s generosity and a wonderful match, Anna sought strength in Christopher’s equally dumbfounded gaze.
Lord Danbury rolled over all of them. “The two of you will move to my town house immediately. My mother is in residence, so all niceties will be attended to. Your clothing and other oddments will follow you across as this house is put up for sale. I will wait in the hall for you to say your goodbyes.”