The American Heir(The Billionaire Duke Series Book 4)(9)By: Gina Robinson
"I can't," she said sadly. "Not until the quarter's over at school. End of June, Hale. But we'll talk every night and bounce conspiracy theories off each other, evaluate suspects, and scheme. In the meantime, you have some investigative legwork to do."
"Yes," I agreed. "Where do I start?"
"Make a list of everyone who was at the estate the year I was born. Everyone who worked there, even as a contractor or deliveryman or newspaper boy.
"Talk to Mr. Thorne. He's been the Dead Duke's solicitor for years. It's possible he knows something that he doesn't know he knows. Go to the village. Chat up the longtime residents. Gain their confidence. Get them talking about old times. Listen with enthusiasm. Espouse your love of learning all of the village's past.
"Use your capacity as the duchess for good, sis! My good. Call on your subjects and get the scoop."
"Did anyone ever tell you you're brilliant?" I beamed with pride for her. Too bad she couldn't see it.
"I don't know about that. Someone definitely needs to inform my profs."
"Brilliant sis, font of all wisdom, I need one more piece of advice. In the meantime, how do I deal with Riggins?"
"You're asking me for advice on men?" She sounded amused and pleased.
"You have more experience than I do," I said, honestly.
"You have to ask?" Her tone was wry. "This is a no-brainer. You kill him with kindness. Adore him. Go on as if he wants this baby as much as you do. Make him fall in love with the baby. Get his paternal instincts to kick in. You act the part of happy duchess and get the staff and public opinion on your side. Make it impossible for him to stay mad."
"Easier said than done." I sighed.
"Catching a fly has never been easy."
Our conversation wound down. I yawned, suddenly tired. This pregnancy wore me out at the most inconvenient times. "It's late here. I should go." Not that I would be able to sleep peacefully.
"Before you do. Promise you'll text a picture of you wearing that diamond bra and tell me how it feels. I can't even imagine…"
Breakfast was laid out for us in the dining room like we were royalty. And expecting a large crowd. Warming trays of fat English sausages, bins of stewed tomatoes, toast racks full of toast that cooled too quickly. The excess. The waste. As I filled a plate, I made a note to talk to the staff and ask that it be scaled down when it was just Haley and me. A bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee were all I needed. Speaking of coffee, where the hell was it?
I poured myself a cup of the family blend of tea that Haley seemed to prefer and made a note to ask for coffee to be put out on the sideboard with breakfast.
The assistant chef who made breakfast came in with another warming pan of something. Eggs, I thought.
I caught her attention. "Do we have any coffee?"
"Sorry, sir." She looked properly apologetic and just a bit harried. "I'll get you some. I didn't know you'd be returning until I got in this morning. And then with the preparations for this afternoon…" She set the buffet pan over the warming flame. "The duchess prefers tea."
Yes, during my short absence the duchess had made herself completely at home and taken over the estate rather thoroughly. Tea! Traitor. And this was the buffet that was set out for one person? I didn't give a damn that she was eating for two; this was still too much food.
I held my temper. "Thank you. I should have brought some back with me from Seattle." I had connections and friends at Seattle's premier coffee company.
"I prefer a nice, dark Kenyan roast. Order some fresh. Overnight it if you have to." I rattled off a list of the coffees I wanted. "Whole bean, not ground." I shuddered at the thought. Ground coffee lost its flavor and went stale too quickly. "And if you don't mind, set up the grinder and pour-over gear in the buffet here, along with a pot of hot water or one of the coffee machines I bought.
"I'll make my own coffee fresh. I prefer it that way." I smiled at her. "Sorry to be such a coffee snob. I can't help it. Being from Seattle, I was raised on the stuff." I paused. "I suppose the Italians are worse."
She grinned, mollified—I hoped, anyway—and went about her business before bustling out of the room.
I frowned. Last night had been hell. I was bleary-eyed, tired, needed coffee full of caffeine, not tepid tea, and only slightly calmer than I'd been last night.
Haley strolled in just then looking lovely and irritatingly fresh. My heart flipped over, treacherously joyous at the sight of her. The pregnancy had only begun to show, and was only noticeable if you looked closely enough and knew the intimate curves of her body the way I did. Her slender waist had grown thicker and her breasts lusher. There were hints of circles beneath her eyes that she'd carefully covered with concealer.