Marcus Turner had always believed betrayal equaled death.
Not for the betrayer of course, but for the one being deceived. And he was always thankful he would never get a chance to experience the cruelty of such treachery. The stories of it were terrifying, and worse, had led many to their early graves.
The best thing about having a friend who was also a business partner was heartily sharing glasses in a club, chatting about your achievements together. For most of the gentlemen in London, it was a kind of friendship that was quite rare to find. A friendship that one could only admire, uncommon within a society that tended to glorify show-offs.
But that was not the case for Robert Campbell and Marcus Turner. They had been friends for three-and-twenty long years. Many years before they had thought to start their fabric business together. They had learnt from each other, had shared secrets. In fact, they were the subject of envy in the society.
Some would say it was their friendship. Others would say they were just equally intelligent. But one thing was very certain to all, they both triumphed and were easily described as the richest gentlemen of the ton.
That very afternoon they had sealed a good business deal that would not only increase their wealth, but would make them the most renowned fabric dealers in London. They had worked relentlessly the weeks before to secure the deal and when they had succeeded, a quiet club and a good drink were the first steps to celebrating their wins.
“Surely, our business shall see great profit with this new deal we have gotten,” Marcus said. He gulped his glass half way down.
“It shall, my friend,” Robert replied. “And luck willing, there will be new opportunities for us.”
“We should have dinner at my home tomorrow evening to celebrate,” Marcus suggested. “My wife will be filled with delight when she hears of this great news.
“It would be a pleasure to have dinner at your home,” Robert responded. “I shall inform my wife of your invitation.”
“And I would like to suggest that we include our sons, as well. It is appropriate that they begin learning how to handle the business now, as it will benefit them greatly when they become gentlemen. And who knows?” Marcus asked with a smile. “They may even be greater than we are.”
“That is a magnificent idea.” Robert nodded. “Truly, I had not thought of something so brilliant.”
“My son, Jeremy,” Marcus began again, his heart gleeful and full of pride for his son, “has already taken mighty interest in fabrics. He will be a very quick learner.”
“Oh. Very little things interest George at the moment,” Robert admitted. “But he must learn as he is to take over from me someday.”
“Do not let that trouble you. He is only a boy.”
“I am well aware of that but he is my only son,” Robert stated firmly. “He cannot simply do as he wishes, and he will also one day become the viscount.”
Marcus was unwilling to argue with his friend. He was right to worry about his son’s lack of interest in the business. But then, his son was only a child and would someday come to understand. At least that was what he believed. He did not push further, changing the topic instead. “Do you remember when we were boys? We fought the very first time we met.”
Robert laughed. “Our fathers had disciplined us by making us spend the rest of the day in the drawing room.”
“And then we ended up fighting the very next day,” Marcus interjected. “We were so terribly foolish.”
“We were.” They both had a good laugh.
“They must be glad that we became friends then.” Marcus poured a drink into his glass. “I am also glad.”
“As am I.” Robert raised his glass. “To our friendship and our business.”
“To our friendship and business,” Marcus repeated with a raise of his own glass. As he lifted his glass closer to his lips, he could see the blurred reflection of his friend through it and he thought Robert Campbell would never betray him. No. They had been too close as friends and for too long for such a terrible thing to happen.
For it was betrayals in a friendship like their own that could kill a man.
“Surely, Mother, it will not be like last Season,” Charlotte Campbell said, calmly watching her mother Kathy who was softly nipping the bridge of her nose, a trait she came to possess whenever worry took over her thoughts.
“Oh, dear.” Lady Kathy Campbell dramatically held a palm over her forehead. “I hope it doesn’t. You must…”
“Find an eligible bachelor this year,” Charlotte interjected. She smiled and held Kathy’s hands. “You’ve said that more times than I can count today.” And in truth she had. Kathy believed a lady’s greatest possession was simply a husband.
Charlotte however, did not share that belief. And despite being the daughter of a viscount, she had always found more satisfaction in reading than she did in keeping up with society’s standards for a lady.
Kathy’s mouth fell open. “Have I?” she asked, peering around the modiste shop that had gowns hung on every corner of it. It was the best modiste shop in England, and so it was also the most expensive.
“You have, and even more times yesterday.” Charlotte held her smile as she said it. She did not want her mother to notice how tired she had grown from hearing the words ‘eligible bachelor’. Her mother in particular had been giving her more doses of it than she could possibly hear in a lifetime.
The modiste came out from one of the inner sections of the shop. “Welcome, my ladies.” She smiled, her white teeth flashing immaculately. “I believe you are here for your fittings.”
“Indeed, we are,” Kathy replied.
“Please.” The modiste gestured towards the fitting room that Charlotte was all too familiar with. She’d been coming to this shop—and using that fitting room—for as long as she could remember. “Come this way.”
Both Kathy and Charlotte followed the modiste to the fitting room. It still had the shade of blue walls and faint pink curtains as it did last Season. There was a large mirror placed at the center of it.
“I will bring your dresses,” the modiste announced before vanishing from the fitting room.
“I must make sure your grandmother’s needs are well tended to this time,” Kathy muttered. “I certainly hope this Season goes very well.”
She had also said that several times since last Season. After turning ten-and-eight, Kathy had decided that it was time for Charlotte to debut and so she’d commissioned the modiste to make the most fashionable gowns with her father’s best linens. She had believed no bachelor would be able to take their eyes off Charlotte in such exquisite gowns and that it would be the perfect opportunity to promote her father’s business.
It all went to waste, of course. The ball had started rather well with a number of gentlemen, young and old, swarming Charlotte like bees over a honeycomb. It did not last, though. The moment Charlotte decided she had met someone who seemed a better match for her than the others, terrible news came.
Her grandmother was sick and bedridden. Filled with worry, the Campbell family had traveled to Bath to be with her.
“Perhaps, she can come to the ball with us,” Charlotte blurted out before noticing the glare in her mother’s eyes. “Do not look at me like that, Mother. I thought perhaps Grandmother had fallen ill due to loneliness. She must miss going to balls, as well.”
“The same way you must be missing that old poetry book you always kept at your side,” Kathy retorted. To others, she was the lovely, elegant Viscountess Campbell, but only her children knew how good she was at throwing jabs. She would sometimes let her true nature show to other ladies of society, but her glib remarks were always too subtle to be noticed.
“Charlotte, there are better things that should concern a lady,” Kathy continued. “You should be more focused on the Season.”
“Oh, believe me, Mother, I am quite concerned about the Season,” Charlotte said sarcastically.
“Charlotte Campbell.” Kathy was trying to hide a smile beneath her serious expression. “You must not joke about such a matter.”
“I am not joking, Viscountess Campbell,” Charlotte drawled. She always responded like that when her mother called her by her full name. She walked to another part of the fitting room where fabrics were rolled and displayed on a stand. “Is this one of Father’s fabrics?” she asked, feeling its texture.
Kathy joined her. “It is.” She narrowed her eyes at Charlotte. “Even after a hundred years, you still would not know anything about your father’s business, would you?”
“You cannot blame me, Mother.” She breathed. “Ladies must dream only of marriage and not business, as you’ve always reminded me.”
Kathy was silent. Charlotte hid her smile, happy that she’d managed to make her mother speechless.
An odd thought crossed Charlotte’s mind. “Mother, do you think Grandmother lied about being ill last Season?”
Kathy shrugged. “No. Why would she do such a thing? Though, her recovery was quite remarkable.”
“So remarkable that it left us all baffled. The physicians were no exception.”
“Well…” Kathy trailed off. “You do have a point but I would rather not assume your grandmother would want to ruin your opportunity of finding a husband.”
Ruined was not the right term for it. Charlotte had been glad when it happened. Definitely not because her grandmother had fallen ill but because she could escape having to find a husband for that Season. She was not prepared for marriage at all, preferring to use her time reading all she could instead. Many ladies of the ton were usually too occupied with being good wives and mothers after marriage that doing anything for fun was no longer an option.
“Perhaps Grandmother knows what I truly want.”
“And what is it you truly want, my dear?” Kathy gestured curiously with her hands.
Charlotte bit back a smile. She was about to make her mother roll in bed for nights trying to discover the answer to her own question. “Nothing, Mother.” She saw doubt in Kathy’s eyes. “Truly, it is nothing.”
Kathy let out a soft breath of frustration, opening her mouth to say something in response.
“I apologise for I must have kept you waiting for long,” the modiste said, breezing into the room before Kathy could say anything. She carried a heap of linen and trimmings. Charlotte suspected they were her father’s, since the modiste was one of his biggest customers.
Charlotte’s eyes followed the modiste as she dropped the linen and trimmings on a table. “I will help you get dressed, my lady,” the modiste said, her eyes fixed on Charlotte.
Moments later, Charlotte found herself inside an exquisite gown with matching gloves. The modiste smiled proudly as she tightened the ribbons on the back of the gown. Kathy admired the gown with wide blue eyes. “You look…perfect!” she exclaimed.
It was no exaggeration; the gown was a lovely cerulean blue, with a constricted bodice had glittering stones fixed on it. Fine linen rose that were shades of lighter and darker blue lined the bodice and the extravagant bouffant skirt was decorated all over with the same glittering stones as the bodice.
“You will most certainly find a husband this Season,” Kathy said with a giggle.
Charlotte did not return her mother’s smile. She could not. Her heart raced and stomach rumbled silently in nervousness. She did want to get married someday but was certain she did not want to be subjected to that life at the tender age of ten-and-nine.
Kathy must have noticed Charlotte’s mood because she cupped Charlotte’s cheeks and tilted her face. “You do not look delighted, dear. Are you all right?”
“I am,” Charlotte responded with a nod. She was not but she did not want to worry her mother. She resolved to shift her focus to something else “You should try yours.”
Several gowns and gloves later, Charlotte and Kathy finished with their fittings, much to Charlotte’s relief. She hated fitting dresses almost as much as she despised the thought of finding an eligible bachelor to marry. It was simply exhausting.
The afternoon was slowly drifting to evening, the sky a somber grey. It had been about three hours before Charlotte and her mother were done with their fitting and were heading to Gunter’s tea shop. A day shopping always ended with tea from Gunter’s; Kathy’s love for it would not allow for otherwise. Charlotte could not understand her mother’s love for it. She’d never developed a liking for tea, as they all tasted the same to her.
As their carriage pulled to the front, Charlotte let out a soft sigh at how full it appeared. People were teeming in and out of the small establishment—ladies interlocking arms and their chaperons following closely behind. Kathy seemed to thrum with excitement as the footman opened the door for them and held out a hand. Charlotte alighted first, her mother right behind her.
“Lady Campbell, Miss Charlotte,” a voice called, pulling their attention to its direction. They swiveled around to find that it was Lady Basset, one of the more prominent ladies in the ton. Beside her was her daughter, Miss Hannah, who was a splitting image of her mother.
“Lady Basset.” Kathy’s lips eased into a charming smile. “It is such a delight to see you here.” She shifted her gaze to Miss Hannah who curtsied in respect. “Your daughter, she is a beauty to behold.”
“So is yours,” Lady Basset cooed in return. “Are you here for tea?”
“We are,” Kathy answered. “We have just come from the modiste shop and decided to rest our feet here.”
Lady Basset clasped her hands. “Wonderful.” She turned to her daughter. “We came here for tea too.” Then she faced Kathy again. “Would you mind if we share a table?”
“Not at all, my lady,” Kathy responded with a grin, which was wide enough to be considered lady-like. Kathy believed a smile that was too small or too wide could be misread by others. She always maintained a composure that was too bland, even for a viscountess, in Charlotte’s opinion. An opinion she kept to herself.
They went inside Gunter’s tea shop and made their orders. Charlotte and Miss Hannah quietly sipped their teas while their mother’s chatted away.
Lady Basset held her cup to her lips and took a sip out of her tea. “Have you heard, Lady Campbell?” She dropped her cup back to the table. “The Turners fabric has such very low quality that the ladies don’t patronise them as much and I am no exception to it.”
“What is the matter with their fabrics that has vexed the ladies into not wanting to buy from them?” Lady Campbell asked. She blinked and her ears shot up attentively.
“I had a gown made for my darling daughter.” Lady Basset’s voice was unusually low. “It shredded merely two weeks later and she had worn it just one time.”
“Oh!” Lady Campbell took a sip of her own tea. “That must have been terrible.”
“Believe me, Lady Campbell, terrible does not do any justice to how bad it was.” Lady Basset let out a dramatic breath. “I am most grateful to Viscount Campbell.” She adjusted in her seat. “Save for him there would have been no good fabrics to be found.”
“Your words flatters me and my family, my lady.”
“It is not just flatterer, my lady,” Lady Basset argued. “It is the honest truth.”
Kathy gave a nod and took yet another sip of tea.
Lady Basset was visibly waiting for another response from Kathy, but Charlotte knew one was not forthcoming. Her mother only sipped her tea to stop herself from saying anything she shouldn’t. She always said it was the proper for a lady to reserve her true thoughts on a matter.
Lady Basset sighed. Charlotte couldn’t tell if it was because of her disappointment in the Turner’s fabric or her displeasure in Kathy’s lack of words. “So, Miss Charlotte, how are the preparations for this year’s Season coming along? I expect you will be in attendance.”
“I will, Lady Basset,” Charlotte responded.
“Hannah will, as well,” She held her daughter’s hand and squeezed it. “I do hope she finds a husband this Season. It has been four Seasons since her first.”
Charlotte’s tried not to grit her teeth. One more time hearing the words “husband” and “this Season” would make her lose her sanity. She was certain of it.
Miss Hannah fidgeted on her seat. Charlotte could see her discomfort. It was clear that she was embarrassed to have her mother tell anyone who cared to listen about her personal matters. Though, Charlotte suspected it did not matter if one was listening or not, Lady Basset would still speak.
“Speaking of Seasons, Lady Basset started the conversation again. Who do you think will be the talk of this Season?”
“One cannot simply take a guess in such matters.”
“Oh, Lady Campbell, one certainly can.” Lady Basset leaned in closer to the table. “I have heard gossips that more people will be focused on fabrics than matchmaking.”
London had not changed much and that alone brewed hope in Jeremy Turner. As the eldest son of Marcus Turner, he had spent the last year living in India. He had missed his family dearly and he was even more anxious to tell his father about his experience in India and how it could bring better success to his father’s textile company.
He peered around the drawing room, reliving memories of his childhood as he was waiting for his father. The walls were as ocean blue and soothing to eyes as he remembered, though a lavender-leaf wallpaper had been plastered onto the wall adjacent to the hearth. Jeremy walked towards the hearth and sat on a chaise longue made of rosewood, adorned with plush mint-green cushioning. It was good to finally be home after a full year away. He hadn’t minded India much, but as the saying always went, there was no place like home.
“Son.” It was his father’s deep voice. Even a year was not enough to fade the memory of his own father’s voice. Marcus Turner was more slender than he had been before Jeremy left for his travel a year before, a sight that Jeremy found a bit jarring.
Jeremy stood at his father’s entrance into the drawing room. Beside his father was his younger brother, Adam Turner who was the age of three-and-twenty, Jeremy’s junior by only two years. Jeremy and Adam did not have the best relationship but Jeremy was delighted to see him. To his surprise, he had begun to miss him a few months into his year in India.
“Son.” Marcus pulled Jeremy into a tight hug. The baron was affectionate, especially towards his sons, and did not care how it made him appear to society. “I have missed you, my boy.”
“Father.” Jeremy returned his father’s hug briefly before pulling away. “I have missed you just as much.” He shifted his gaze to his brother. “And you as well.”
In response, Adam amiably slapped his brother’s back. “I see you have.”
Marcus sat on a mahogany sabre leg elbow chair while Jeremy and Adam settled on the chaise longue that was big enough for two.
“How have you been, Father?” Jeremy began. “You look like you have not aged a day since I left for India.” As an afterthought, Jeremy added, “And how about you, Adam?” He glanced around the room. “Where is Mother?” Then he realized he was not allowing much time for his questions to be answered.
Marcus smiled. “I’m not surprised you are so curious after being away for so long.”
“He was not away for that long,” Adam cut in. “He could have remained in India for five more years and I barely would have noticed.”
Adam and Jeremy were far from being best friends but Jeremy could see through his brother’s sarcasm. He cared for his brother and he knew his brother cared for him just as much. “You must have noticed my absence so little that you wrote to me every other week, brother.” He crossed his arms over Adam’s shoulder to taunt him even further. “You would have come running to India if I had not responded quickly enough.”
Adam threw Jeremy’s arm off his shoulder. “You are such a dreamer, brother.” Then he smiled. “I wrote to you every other week because I did not want Father to die of worry.”
“I am sure that was the reason.” Jeremy smirked at his brother. “By the way, no one has told me where Mother is.”
“The Season is fast approaching.” Marcus threaded his fingers together. “Your mother must be somewhere with the other ladies fitting gowns in preparation. She would be so delighted to see you when she returns.”
“Mother surely loves afternoon tea with the other ladies of the ton.”
“And gossiping about which of her sons would become a groom this Season,” Adam interjected. “Seeing as Jeremy is the firstborn, I assure you she would tie him with an invisible leash while playing the matchmaker.” He shook his head sympathetically. “Something tells me you would end up chained to a lady by the end of this Season, Brother.”
“That is a possibility but I do also believe she would want both her sons fully groomed and wedded rather than one.”
The trio laughed heartily. He had missed this, partaking in easy conversation with his father and younger brother. Their company was far more satisfactory than that of a million friends. “On to more serious matters.” Jeremy straightened, facing his father directly. “How is business, Father?”
Marcus heaved a distressing sigh, but it was Adam who responded. “It has not been too good since you left, Jeremy,” he said grimly. “The market had become highly competitive, in truth. We have also lost lots of customers due to a rumour spreading around. It has not been easy since you left.”
“A rumour?” Jeremy echoed, bemused. His mind raced with the possibilities and he willed himself not to overthink. “What is the rumour about?”
Marcus sighed again. “Our competitor, Viscount Campbell.” He relaxed his shoulder on the backrest of the chair. “He has vast connections that draws prominent clients to him. Which has caused great loss in our own business.”
A frown appeared between Adam’s brows. “And we believed that the viscount has been spreading rumours about us selling inferior quality fabrics.”
“That couldn’t be, Father!” Jeremy exclaimed in disbelief. “The viscount has no reason to do something that despicable.”
“If only that were the case,” Adam responded. “He is our biggest competitor in the business. No one has a better reason to spread such rumours. He is the only one who has more to benefit from our losses.”
It was true. Jeremy knew it was but he just couldn’t bring himself to believe Viscount Campbell would be cruel enough to spread such an atrocious rumor about them. Considering the viscount and his father had once been good friends, it would be rather very callous of him to be that spiteful. He heaved a sigh. “Adam, is there any proof of what the viscount has done to our business’s reputation?”
Adam shook his head. “Only a fool would display his sins for society to use it against him. Surely, he has to be discrete to achieve his dreadful ambition of becoming the best—and perhaps only—fabric merchant in London.”
Jeremy mulled over his brother’s words for a brief moment before vocalizing his thoughts, willing himself to be calm. To keep his anger from getting the best of him. “It is indeed unfortunate but we cannot do anything without any concrete evidence against the viscount. It would not work in our favour if we did.”
“I have thought of every possible solution to this misfortune,” Marcus said. “It frightens me so that our business may crumble seeing how quickly this terrible rumour is spreading.”
“We will sort it out, Father,” Jeremy assured. “I have brought back very good fabrics from India. It might be the just solution to our troubles.” He looked towards the white door that leads away from the living area. “I believe it will be completely unpacked very shortly.
Just then, a footman walked through the door and into the living room. He lowered his head in respect to the Baron. “My lord.” Then he raised his head and fixed his attention on Jeremy. “Mr. Turner,” the footman called. “The silks have all been unpacked into your study as you demanded.”
Jeremy nodded. “Thank you, you may leave” ,he replied to the footman.
“We should go see the linens; I believe it would be beneficial to the business in some way,” Jeremy announced. He got to his feet and Adam was quick to follow.
“We should,” Marcus and Adam replied in unison. Marcus was the last to stand. Old age did come with its own disadvantages but Marcus was only one-and-fifty years, hardly at an age that would mark him as elderly. Perhaps it was the pressure of trying to keep his business from collapsing that was weighing him down.
Jeremy’s chest constricted at the sight. It pained him to see his father’s struggle, to see the worry and fear in his father’s eyes when he talked. It even lingered there when he smiled. That alone spurred the need to save his father’s business, no matter what.
Having grown up wealthy, Jeremy had never wanted for anything. His father had run the family business with great success in its early days. Jeremy never thought they would face such hardships, especially at the hands of a man his father had once called his closest friend.
The walk to his father’s study was a silent one, heavy with the weight of all that had been said. Just as he had ordered, strips of the silks had been laid out onto the desk, the bulk of them draped over racks in the corner of the room. The sight of them filled Jeremy with hope. After months of searching, or research, he had finally found a merchant who dealt with rare and exquisite silks, a man who traded locally and was eager to dip his toe in the international market. Jeremy had made promises to that man, just as he was about to do with his father.
“Feel it, Father.” Jeremy picked up a strip of shimmering lemon silk and handed it to Marcus. “Feel how soft it is, the quality between your fingers. It is very soft yet of very high quality. These are not commonly found on the market, you know.”
Marcus brushed his palm against the silk. Then he paused, frowned, squinted his eyes, and felt the silk again. “Ah, yes. After years in the industry, I can tell good and rare silk from what is not. This is exactly the way you say it is. Marcus momentarily felt a sting of hope in his heart after feeling the unique and smooth fabric.
“It certainly is,” Adam chimed in, picking up a strip himself. “With the right marketing, society’s most prominent lords and ladies would be fighting over these fabrics.”
“I guess travelling to India was a blessing.” Jeremy grinned. “You should see the other silks I brought back.” He picked one that was fuzzy and white. “This, I bought specially for Mother. Do you think she will like it?”
“You know how much your mother adores anything that is white,” Marcus told him. Jeremy dropped the white fabric aside, turning to a trunk by the desk. He searched through the heap of silks inside until he found the one he was looking for. “I happened to have stumbled on the colours that were the hardest to find here in London.”
“I suppose this is what they call Persian blue.” Adam held up a rare shade of blue fabric, his eyes were caressing the fabric. His gaze was unwavering as he observed it.
Jeremy reached out and plucked it from Adam’s hand. He unrolled a bit of it and spread it out. “Oh, yes. This is what I was looking for, father. This is Persian blue, one that is naturally rare and mostly reserved for those related to the royal family.”
“It is quite eye catching, I must say.” Marcus scanned the fabric, eyes filled with amazement at the dazzling blue. As a purveyor of fabrics, Jeremy knew he understood the quality he beheld and how difficult it was to capture such a brilliant color that stood the test of time. “Do you think that is enough to draw customers to our business?”
With everything Adam and Marcus had already told Jeremy, he could only hope that all these fabrics were enough to make their business the center of attraction. “I do not think,” he replied enthusiastically. “I know so.”
He dropped the blue fabric and picked up another that was the color of an unripe lemon. “Asides the colour, these fabrics are of great quality. The very best in the Indian market as I came to learn after a few months there.”
Marcus’ shoulder sagged and his wrinkles triumphed on his pale face. “The quality of these fabrics is without doubt, very enchanting but we’ve lost too many customers already.” His voice was lacking the enthusiasm that Jeremy’s heart had when he returned to London. “I believe it will be a lot of hassle convincing the customers to try our fabrics with the doubts already planted in their minds.”
Jeremy took a long, weary breath. His father had always been a very positive man. Jeremy hated that he was being negative at this time. “Convincing the customers.” He nodded his head in agreement with his father. “It will be a hassle convincing the customers to try our fabrics again but we shall try our very best till we succeed.”
His father nodded and said, “I must see to some business. Please excuse me.”
The two brothers watched him leave. Jeremy felt a twinge of sadness as he saw the droop of his father’s shoulders.
“Walk with me,” said Adam, a knowing look in his eyes. Jeremy nodded and together they went to the drawing room. They took a seat.
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Adam sagely.
Jeremy nodded. “Yes, you are right.”
The butler bustled in with a freshly filled toast rack, poured coffee in their tea cups and left.
Jeremy leaned forward and locked eyes with his brother as soon as the door closed. “Are you telling me we are facing ruin? Is that why the servants have dwindled and our textile merchandise is going to seed? You’ve never mentioned it before in your letters.”
His brother reared back.’ Just think Jeremy.Open your mind to reality.You were in India’.
“It didn’t matter, Adam.” Jeremy insisted heatedly. “I deserved to know as your brother.”
“And you were going to. We just wanted you to come home first. It’s those Campbells who are ruining everything for us.”
Struck with remorse at his brother’s obvious distress, Jeremy softened his voice. “I didn’t mean to criticise. You’ve worked harder than anyone for the business. I truly know how much this means to you and I can’t possibly imagine what I would do if I were in your shoes.”
Jeremy watched the unpleasant look on his brother’s face. It disappeared as quickly as it came, replaced by a brooding look. Jeremy knew what it meant and he did not usually like it. Nor did he like the way his brother’s determined chin came up in challenge. “You know what?” Adam said.
“I have a plan.”
“I’ll take advantage of whatever opportunity is offered,” Jeremy said dryly.
Adam curled his lip. “An excellent plan.” He turned his head to gaze out of the window.
He huffed out a breath. “Well, let’s hear it then.”
His brother sat silently for a moment, his expression pained, thoughts Jeremy couldn’t read racing over his usually bland face. Then a fraction of a small smile flitted across his face. He leaned back, his lips pursed. “I have a proposition for you. And I do not know if you will do exactly as I ask—which is against my better judgement, I might add—but I will be glad if you did.”
“What is that, Adam?”
“You must find a woman.”
Jeremy’s head recoiled. “What?”
“Not just any woman. A lady. A woman with an astute business line. Something tangible, that could hold water.”
“All right? And?”
Adam stared at him as though he was stupid. “And you court her and marry her, of course. Our business is failing and so it would be in our best interests to make stronger connections, even to those who may not be in the industry. The more allies we have, the better off we shall be.”
“You want me to marry a woman with a rich background so that her family will invest in us?”
“Yes.” Adam’s voice was completely honest. “That is exactly what you need to do.”
“What?” His brother’s voice was breathless with disbelief.
“I am not doing it.”
“And why is that?”
“I am not going to marry someone I am not interested in and I am certainly not going to do it for the sake of a business transaction.”
“The future of this family depends on this business transaction, brother,” Adam snapped. Then remembering where he was, he brought down his voice to a reasonable degree and said to his brother, imploringly, “I understand how this must sound to you—”
“—and I am glad you do—”
Adam cut Jeremy off in a flash “—but this is important. Listen, brother, it is not as difficult as you think it is. All it takes is a bit of understanding. Devote yourself. Dally with the young woman, if you must, but get yourself married and make that difference for the sake of this family’s future.”
“We will find a way. We can manage. We don’t need further affiliations.”
Adam raked his hands through his hair, looking obviously frustrated. “Have you forgotten that you are our father’s heir? Things aren’t the same anymore. You can’t remain a one-man army. You need to be surrounded by good connections. You need the affiliations. What good is a business if it can’t thrive on partnership?”
“You’re asking me to put aside my feelings and marry someone because her father is an established person in society, Adam. That is what you are asking me to do.”
“Everyone does it.”
“Hardly does it suit me, then.”
“You can’t run away from this. You have duties, responsibilities. This is one of them.”
“Are you trying to make me feel guilty?”
“No. I am making you see reason.”
Jeremy snorted. He suddenly felt the room grow thick and stifling, like the walls were closing in on him. “I hadn’t planned to marry for years.” If at all.
“Jeremy, be reasonable. I must see you settled before father relinquishes control of the estate. It will ease my mind to know he did his duty, left everything properly ordered. It is what our father would wish.”
He fought the guilt his brother’s words invoked. “It isn’t what I want.”To be honest, he didn’t know half of the things he truly wanted but he knew courting and wedding a woman simply to establish financial security was not on the list.
Adam’s eyes had a suspiciously dark glint. “You are a Turner. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the family name.”
Again, Jeremy struggled with himself. How could he fight such devotion? “I will think about it.”
“When shall I have an answer?”
“I can’t say for certain but I assure you, you will.”
Adam looked unconvinced but he didn’t say anything else. Nodding, he left the room and closed the door after him.
Jeremy sighed. Things in India were less complicated than this. Much less complicated.
What he knew, though, was that he would give the last of his strength to see that he did save his father’s business from destruction. To restore his family back to what it once was. He did not know how but he was certain he would.