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A Dangerous Love
Money speaks sense in a language all nations understand.
Aphra Behn, English playwright
The Rover, Pt. 2, Act 3
"I′ll be gone two weeks or more."
Marsden Griffith Knighton watched from the head of the large table as predictable excitement rippled through his staff. The last time Griff had left Knighton Trading helmless for so long, he′d established an office in Calcutta that tripled the firm′s profits′ and destroyed two of his competitors.
Even Daniel Brennan, his generally unimpressed man of affairs, straightened in his chair. Daniel rarely attended such meetings now that he managed Griff′s substantial private interests, but Griff had a compelling reason to require his presence today."Are you leaving Mr. Brennan in charge as usual, sir?" a young trader asked.
"No. He′s going with me." When Daniel gaped at him, Griff bit back a smile. Daniel was hard to shock, having been with Knighton Trading since the days when it gained its primary revenue from smuggled goods. "Mr. Harrison will be in charge."
The senior trader beamed at this evidence of preference. "So where are you off to now, Mr. Knighton? France? India?" Greed brightened his eyes. "China perhaps?"
Griff chuckled. "Warwickshire. This isn′t a business trip. I have family there."
"F-Family?" Harrison stammered.
Griff could guess his thoughts. But he′s a bastard. Except for his poor mother, how could he have any family that would acknowledge him?
"Yes. Family," Griff repeated with fierce satisfaction. "It′s a personal matter of some importance." He paused, then continued in that firm tone his staff knew never to question. "One more thing′none of you is to mention this to anyone, not even my mother. As far as you′re concerned, I have sailed to France or China, understand?"
A low chorus of reassurances followed.
"Good. You′re dismissed. Daniel, I need a word with you."
His staff left without lingering, for they well knew he didn′t waste time with frivolous chatter. Besides, Griff thought wryly, they probably couldn′t wait to speculate upon the shocking news that he had "family." Years ago it would have angered him, but he′d worn the stigma of bastardy so long it hardly chafed his skin anymore. What it chafed was his purse, but he now intended to remedy that.
As soon as the office cleared, Daniel arched one blond eyebrow and lowered his massive frame onto the expensive chair before Griff′s desk. "A personal matter?""It really is personal this time, believe it or not."
Gone were the days when he and Daniel engaged in whatever machinations, illegal or no, were necessary to make Knighton Trading succeed. The future of the company lay in respectability. And ironically enough, respectability lay buried in Griff′s past.
Griff took his own seat behind the desk. "I′ve been invited to visit my distant cousin′the Earl of Swanlea. He′s dying, and his estate, Swan Park, is entailed on me."
Daniel looked perplexed. "But how could it be entailed on you if you′re′"
"A bastard? I′m not. Not in the legal sense, anyway."
Daniel scowled, his disappointment evident. Their bastardy was the one thing they had in common, since they were opposites in looks, manner, and education. The fair-haired Daniel had been brought up in the workhouse and then in a smuggler′s gang. Griff, dark-haired and lean, had been raised and educated as a gentleman.
Griff forced a smile, and added, "Although my legitimacy isn′t yet established."
"Either you′re a bastard or you ain′t," Daniel grumbled.
"Aren′t," Griff corrected. "I′m not a bastard, though I can′t prove it. That′s why I accepted Swanlea′s invitation."
Daniel′s eyes narrowed. "Isn′t Swanlea the chap you had me investigate? The widower whose three daughters are called the Swanlea Spinsters?"
"That′s him." Griff handed Daniel a letter over the desk. "I received this last week, which is what prompted the investigation. You may find it interesting."
As Daniel scanned the clumsy script, Griff surveyed his office. Summer sunlight crept in through high windows that cost him a fortune in taxes. It danced across marble sills and an Aubusson carpet before disappearing beneath mahogany chairs. This was his third office in ten years, each better situated and more richly furnished. It lay in the heart of the City near the Bank of England, loudly proclaiming his success.
Yet it wasn′t enough. He wanted Knighton Trading to rival even the East India Company. Thanks to his distant cousin′s timely offer, it might soon do just that.
Daniel finished the letter and regarded Griff with surprise. "So if you meet your cousin′s terms, you′ll be the next Earl of Swanlea?"
"Yes. He′ll give me the proof of my legitimacy that I need to inherit his title and lands, which I assume is my parents′ missing marriage certificate. In exchange, I′m to marry one of his daughters so they may remain at Swan Park."
Daniel′s eyes narrowed. "Don′t you find it a mite suspicious that the earl should ′stumble across the proof in his family papers′ after so many years?"
Griff snorted. "Of course I do." Indeed, he suspected the fifth earl of far worse crimes against his family. But only a fool acted on past resentments. And his purpose transcended any idle dreams of revenge. "I don′t care how he found the proof′ I want it.
Once I establish my legitimacy, I can gain a position on that trade delegation to China."
"So you actually intend to marry one of these spinsters?"
"Give in to his blackmail? Never! That′s why I need you to come with me. I intend to get the proof′ there. And while I′m searching Swan Park for it, I want you to distract the daughters. Entertain them, court them, do whatever you must. Just keep them out of my way."A Dangerous Love. Copyright © by Sabrina Jeffries. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.