Clearly ignoring his inability to intimidate Edward, the Duke picked up a piece of paper then reached across the desk and set it down before Edward, with a self-congratulating yet distrustful expression. “That,” Pembroke pointed to the paper, “is my final offer.”
Offer? What the hell? Refusing to even look at it, let alone touch the obnoxious article, Edward kept his eyes on Pembroke’s face.
“It is a banker’s draft, Marlow, for twenty thousand. Take it. I am giving you it to disappear, you understand. Use it to take your wife abroad, New England perhaps, where she will no longer be an embarrassment.”
“An embarrassment!” Anger pulsing into his blood, Edward pushed to standing. The man could not even bring himself to use his daughter’s name! God, how can he think I would let him pay me off? “This is not blackmail. All we want is the boy!”
Pembroke leaned back in his chair, visibly surprised by Edward’s anger.
God, Edward felt sick. Pembroke really thought Edward sought money.
Measuring his tone with care, holding back his true ire, Edward spelled out his response bluntly. “Neither myself, nor Ellen, will take it. We will not be bought off. This is not about money, Pembroke.” With that he picked up the single slip of paper and tore it in half, lay one sheet across the other then tore it in half again, before letting it flutter down upon Pembroke’s desk.
“There is one thing, and one thing only, we shall accept, and that is the return of Ellen’s son to her, and,” setting his fingers onto Pembroke’s desk he leaned across it, “to hear you apologize for what you have done to your daughter, Eleanor. And that, Your Grace, is my final and non-negotiable price.”
Saying nothing, Pembroke’s rock-hard gaze denied any response, as he reached for a small bell on his desk and rang it once.
Ellen gripped her reticule tightly, holding it before her at her waist as though it could act as a shield. Her heartbeat was thundering in a ridiculously fast rhythm. She lifted the lion-head knocker and dropped it, then gripped her reticule with both hands again and waited. Was she a fool to have come?
She’d told no-one about her decision, not even Edward. He’d be cross if he knew she was doing this alone—he’d be cross she was doing it at all. But she had spent the morning and luncheon with her sisters and nieces, and constantly she’d thought of Penny’s promise to take John. Ellen could not allow her sister to fall foul of her father’s fury.
Ellen had signed her son away. She should get him back.
She’d let Robert and Edward take over last night and Gainsborough was gone… but last night had persuaded her she must take control. Edward had given her the courage to do so, but she must stand up and fight this battle herself.
Oh but it was easier said than done.
But I want my son…
“Do you?” He stared at her.
“At least let me see him.”
“He is not here.”
She stepped forward several paces, frustrated by the staircase of steps separating them. “Pa—Your Grace?” There was a plea in her voice she did not like. She was not here to beg. She was here to make him regret what he had done to her. “May I speak with you, please?”…
He said nothing, and she pressed on, her voice firm and persuasive. “It was not a choice I had made when you found me abroad.” She stopped, hoping he might turn and comment. He did not. Her chin lifted and her back stiffened. “I am soiled, I know I am. I was when you came for John. But I had no money to feed us. What was I to do? Tell me that, Papa.” The pitch of her voice rose. “Tell me? You stand in judgement of me, but you had turned your back only because I married Paul. What was so wrong with that? We loved each other, Papa. I know you do not understand love, but I could not have married anyone but him. It broke my heart when he died and I wrote to you and pleaded for your help but you did not come. I was forced into the choice I made by you. What else was there? I could hardly have become a governess with a child and I was in the middle of the aftermath of war. Things were in chaos and poverty was rife. Tell me what else I could have done if you must hate me so much for choosing to survive rather than die? Tell me, Papa!”
He had not moved, he still said nothing.
“What could I have done differently!” She could not stop her words, they spilled out of her, anger and regret pouring into the space between her and this man who still turned his back.
“Very well then Judge me if you will. But do not continue to cast my sentence on my son. It was not his fault and I am respectable again now, you have no need to be ashamed of me. I am here, Papa, I am here and alive and you cannot pretend I am not. Edward shall not let you. I will not allow it. Face me! Face me and see who I am, Papa! I am your daughter! The mother of your heir! The woman whom you have treated ill. I am sinful. But you are guilty. Where is the compassion and forgiveness you preached of to us as children? …
“Will you let me have John?”
“Because—because it is not done.”
Her chin lifted once again, her fingers clasping her reticule even tighter if it were possible. “Say my name. Say it. Admit that I am here, admit you are wrong. You are wrong, Papa. John needs his mother—he needs me.”
“The boy has his grandmother.”
“Mama, is not me. He needs his mother. I love him and I want him back. You took him from me when I was beaten by life and too afraid to argue with you. I am not afraid of you now, Papa, I will argue with you. I will go on arguing with you and so will Edward until we have John back do you understand? I am never going to let you keep him willingly, not now.”
“And so Marlow said this morning.” His eyes shone brighter as if fluid and then he turned away and walked to the decanters which stood on a chest across the room.
He had been silent like this when he’d taken John. Her heart was still racing. Why would he not listen? She watched him fill a glass as she wondered what had happened with Edward.
He would have been angry if her father had tried to pay him to take her away. He would have done what she was doing now, refused to go and promised to fight…
“My son!” Ellen cried gripping the back of the chair with one hand while her other still held her reticule. “He is my son above anything.” …
His arm lifted to wipe it off, but as he did so, she recoiled. She had been hit too many times to prevent her instinctual reaction to a raised hand. He reached to catch her arm but she backed away. “I am not afraid of you and I shall never forgive you unless you give me back my son.”
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