The American Heir(The Billionaire Duke Series Book 4)(4)

By: Gina Robinson

I pulled the bra from the box and held it to the light, where it sparkled like the crown jewels. It was heavy, and covered in what were either real gemstones and diamonds, or very good-quality crystals. I wasn't a trained eye, but I voted for real. Short of the Neiman Marcus catalog or the annual Victoria's Secret diamond fantasy bra, I had never seen anything like them. Certainly not in person.

"Oh, Riggins," I whispered with tears in my eyes. "What does this mean?"

My heart was breaking, yet filled with hope. These had to be worth millions. Even the bra straps were covered with diamonds. Damn Rose. I wouldn't let her win.

I would wear these beautiful things for Riggins and win his heart. I carried the jeweled lingerie to the bed, where I should have been wearing them and making love with Riggins. I set them gently on the bed next to me. I was overwhelmed with emotion and new discoveries.

To my relief, the letter from Clara Wares White, the woman who was supposedly my great-grandmother, to Rans, the Duke of Witham, was still on the bed. I hadn't thought Riggins had time to grab it. But I had a moment of panic that he had. That he'd been angry enough to grab and destroy it. Believe it or not, it was as precious to me as the glittering underwear in the box next to me.

I grabbed my cell phone and snapped a picture of the letter and emailed it to myself. Just in case I ever needed proof. Then I saved a copy to my online cloud storage. That's how determined I was not to lose it.

I took a deep breath, gently smoothed the letter out, and read it again. Slowly this time. Trying to understand. Letting myself be transported back in time to another era. To a time when an unwed mother was shamed and the baby punished for the sins of its parents.

Dearest Brother-in-law, dear Rans,

It appears you're going to outlive us all after all. It must be your steady English blood and stiff upper lip that keeps you going. God knows you've endured enough heartache to kill several men of less hearty constitution.

I'm dying, Rans. Quickly, I hope. I have an aggressive form of cancer that we caught late. I will be dead by the time you read this letter, per my wishes. My lawyer has instructions to mail it only after I'm gone. Very dramatic, isn't it? Like something out of a novel.

But I rather enjoy being dramatic at my age. There isn't much more to live for or much fun to be derived from anything except what's in my mind. Anyway, there is a point to this letter. A reason I'm writing you on my deathbed. I made a promise to my sister, your beloved Helen, many years ago. The time has come to make good on it. I thank God my mind is still clear and sound enough to remember the promises I made in my youth.

Maybe this will give you some comfort. In any case, I hope you won't blame Helen. That this won't sully your memory of her or diminish your epic love. I can't think of any way to tell you this but straight out and then explain.

My daughter Gloria is adopted. She's your daughter. Yours and Helen's. Congratulations, you have a girl, old bean!

And now you have a new baby great-granddaughter, too. Just born. Has the Wares good looks, fortunately.

What you do with this information is up to you, of course. I'll be gone and unable to interfere with whatever you choose to do. I would ask that you respect them. My granddaughter is happily married, happily middle class, happily American. Please don't upset her life.

Now that I've dumped this on you in my final hours, I owe you the particulars. You always were one for details.

You broke Helen's heart all those years ago when she went to England the first time. It's still hard for me to believe Papa sent her to England to catch a member of the aristocracy. He was hoping for as much as an earl, I'm sure. That she landed a duke, or so it seemed, was beyond his wildest expectations.

My sister was always a romantic, a follower of her heart, a lover of passion, a giver. Easily seduced, as you well know. Easily hurt. But headstrong and just plain strong, period. You made love to her. Made her fall in love with you. When she realized you wanted her only for her money, not herself, she came home broken. You never saw that part. The hurt little girl, her rosy view of the world and romantic love shattered.

She hadn't been home long when she became listless. She looked pale. Wouldn't eat. Lost weight. Slept all the time. Papa and Mama thought she was depressed and spent their hours trying to cheer her up. Only I saw through it. Maybe trying so desperately to get pregnant all those years made me keen to recognize the symptoms of pregnancy when everyone else was blind.

Helen knew, though. And was terrified. What was she going to do? She'd disgraced the family. Papa would be devastated. Ruined. His health had already begun to fail. I, on the other hand, had come to terms with being barren. Now I saw my opportunity. I wanted the baby. I made my case to Helen. We both agreed it was for the best, the perfect solution for everyone.

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