Read an Excerpt
Bankers and body snatchers, Phadra Abbott decided grimly, they were one and the same.
Standing in the office's window alcove, she turned her head and looked at Sir Cecil Evans, a member of the Bank of England's Court of Directors, letting all of her anger flow from her eyes.
Sir Cecil reacted as if her glance scalded him. His fingers fumbled and dropped the letter opener he'd been playing with onto his desk. He'd been nervously toying with the dratted thing for the past ten minutes while they waited. His bushy brows came together in a frown, and he huddled down deeper over his desk as if he could shut out her presence. "It wasn't all my fault," he muttered. "Your father had a hand in the matter."
Phadra snorted but said nothing, not trusting herself to speak. Ignoring her companion Henny's look of concern, she gave them all her back and stared with unseeing eyes out the window.
Two hours. That was all the time that had elapsed since Sir Cecil had delivered the news of her financial ruin and her carefully constructed world had come crashing down around her. She took a deep breath, steadying herself. She wouldn't give up. Not yet.
When the banker had finished his confession, he'd added that he held hopes that there was a way out of "this tangled web your father and I wove for you" -- as if he wouldn't also go to debtor's prison with her.
He probably wouldn't. He had money, whereas she was bankrupt and would be held responsible for her father's debts as well as her own.
Dear God, she had no desire to see the inside of a prison.
A sharp knock broke the silence of the room. "Come in," Sir Cecil said, his voice squeaking on the first word. He cleared his throat and repeated his command in a firmer tone.
He's more nervous than I am, Phadra thought, and realized that she'd been holding out some hope, some prayer, that this was all an elaborate hoax and she'd return home to find her life intact. I must be strong. I must be brave. She repeated the litany to herself and then turned to face the one man Sir Cecil felt could contrive a way out of these dire circumstances. He'd even gone so far as to describe Grant Morgan as the sharpest mind in England.
She wondered what Morgan was doing involved with Sir Cecil if he was so intelligent, but wisely held her tongue.
The door opened and a respectful young secretary announced, "Mr. Morgan, sir."
"Good!" The word exploded out of Sir Cecil as he rose and walked around the desk to greet his visitor, who was without question one of the most handsome men Phadra had ever laid eyes on. "Morgan, thank you for coming."
Grant Morgan had a profile -- and a body -- like those Michelangelo had loved to sculpt. He met Sir Cecil halfway into the room and took his hand. "I'm sorry I couldn't answer your summons sooner, sir. I had to finish some accounts on the Scottish question for Deveril."
His low, deep voice was pleasing to Phadra's ear. A good voice for an actor.
But it wasn't just the looks or the voice that captured her attention so completely. The man had presence. Why would anyone so young -- he must have been in his early thirties -- and so devilishly goodlooking lock himself up in a stuffy bank?
Ignoring Henny's whispered "Oh, my" of admiration, Phadra closed her own gaping mouth and let her artist's eye for detail take over. Physically attractive he might be, but he had banker's eyes, steel-gray and direct, as if they could see right through a person. Nor did she admire the short, conservative style of his thick, dark hair or the fact that his welltailored dark blue coat and buff trousers allowed no personal flair. He wore his clothes almost as if they were a uniform.
Sir Cecil turned to her. "Let me introduce you to Miss Phadra Abbott. She is the daughter of Sir Julius Abbott."
"The explorer?" Mr. Morgan asked.
Phadra was impressed. "You've heard of my father?"
"I read his book. Of course, that was several years ago."
"At least twelve. It was published the last time he was in England ... that I know of." She struggled to keep the bitterness out of her voice.
"Sir Julius has an account with the bank," Sir Cecil said.
"He does?" The news apparently surprised the younger man.
Sir Cecil looked away, as if embarrassed. "It is one I handle personally."
Mr. Morgan's silvery eyes narrowed as if he sensed the unspoken in Sir Cecil's statement. He looked at Phadra and then back to his colleague. "I see."
He did see, Phadra realized, and that only made her angrier. If he knew Sir Cecil for the bumbling, incompetent fool she now knew him to be, why hadn't he done something sooner? Before she'd been ruined?
As if wanting to cover the moment of realization, Sir Cecil hurried to introduce Henny, who sat in a chair to his right. "And this is Mrs. Henrietta Shaunessy, Miss Abbott's companion."
The banker dutifully took her offered hand and bowed over it while Henny cooed in her throaty voice, "Please call me Henny."
Phadra shot her a cross look. There were times when Henny's heyday as an opera dancer was a little too apparent, but this was the first time it had embarrassed Phadra. Henny smiled back, unrepentant, and tucked a dyed red curl back under her bonnet.
Her flirtation seemed to have no impact on Mr. Morgan. He released her hand with a tight, pleasant smile and turned his attention to his colleague ...Treasured Vows. Copyright © by Cathy Maxwell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.