Her Secondhand Groom(7)

By: Rose Gordon

A thin smile took his lips. At least his girls enjoyed Cruxley’s awful driving. They always seemed to smile and squeal when they’d go over an exceptionally large object that would make them bounce out of their seats. Shaking his head, he pulled back the edges of the curtains and saw a quaint, but in dire need of repair, cottage. He sighed and closed the curtains before leaning his head back against the squabs. Leave it to Mr. Hughes to make his gigantic family live in such a meager place. The man was in a terrible financial state to say the least.

Almost ten years ago, Ian Hughes approached him about a loan. A loan which was never repaid, if Patrick remembered right. At the time, Patrick had just married Abigail and when Mr. Hughes explained to Abigail and him why he wanted the money, Abigail agreed before Patrick could refuse. Not that he still couldn’t have refused the man, of course. The money was his to lend or spend as he saw fit, but if lending money to a man so one of his countless daughters could go to a girls’ school in London for whatever reason was what Abigail wanted, he was happy to oblige. The fact that the money hadn’t been paid back only further convinced Patrick of the Hughes’ meager means.

The carriage came to an abrupt stop and Patrick held onto his seat so he wouldn’t be thrown to the floor. Climbing out of the carriage, he heard so much noise coming from inside the cottage; he was rather shocked the bricks didn’t crumble on the spot.

Patrick ran his hand through his already unkempt hair. There was no need to bang on the door, nobody would hear him, and so he let himself in and walked in the direction of the racket. Blinking to let his eyes get adjusted to the room, Patrick stood stock-still just inside the door as two wild boys came running straight at him. Instinctively, he moved out of their way at the last minute and tripped over a small animal. Putting his hand on the wall next to him to keep from falling over, Patrick’s eyes landed on Kate who was sitting on Miss Hughes’ lap while Miss Hughes read to her from a book.

A chorus of high pitched giggles caught his attention, and he turned to see Celia and Helena playing with the other Hughes girls. Unable to stop himself, he smiled. For all the chaos that was going on in this house―and nobody could deny the only word to describe it was chaos―there was also a lot of fun being had, too. And fun was something his daughters were sorely lacking.

Stepping carefully so not to trod on anything or anyone, Patrick made his way over to the settee where Kate was sitting on Miss Hughes’ lap and sat down.

Miss Hughes looked at him with a thin, brittle smile, and he could have sworn she muttered something about it being about time.

He chuckled. “Are you ready to go, Kate?” he asked, ignoring Miss Hughes altogether. She might not be a looker who demanded the attention of men everywhere she went, but he was nearly certain she could level a set down on a man that would make him think twice about ever crossing her again. Of course, he was the lord and it was in his right to throw out bothersome tenants, but he couldn’t blame her for being irritated with him. He’d said an hour, maybe two, and it had only been a fraction past that. He almost snorted. If he were honest, he’d have to admit that it hadn’t been a fraction past that. Instead, it had been more than double that. He glanced at her and felt a sliver of remorse for her. He was getting a headache after spending four minutes in this madhouse; she must be ready to start gulping laudanum after four hours.

“I like it here, Papa,” Kate said, wiggling on Miss Hughes’ lap.

Miss Hughes looked down at Kate and gave her a light squeeze. “It looks like it’s time for you to go home.”

“Do I have to?”

Nodding, Miss Hughes pushed a lock of brownish-blonde hair that had escaped her coiffure behind her ear. “Yes. But maybe you could come another day.”

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