The Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh
An original Stephanie Laurens novel
Volume 1 in The Cavanaughs Series
Release date April 24, 2018
In E-book, print, and audio worldwide from MIRA Books
PRINT ISBN: 9780778368816
E-BOOK ISBN: 9781488082986
#1 New York Timesbestselling author Stephanie Laurens returns with a new series that captures the simmering desires and intrigues of early Victorians as only she can. Ryder Cavanaugh’s step-siblings are determined to make their own marks in London society. Seeking fortune and passion, THE CAVANAUGHS will delight readers with their bold exploits.
An independent nobleman
Lord Randolph Cavanaugh is loyal and devoted—but only to family. To the rest of the world he’s aloof and untouchable, a respected and driven entrepreneur. But Rand yearns for more in life, and when he travels to Buckinghamshire to review a recent investment, he discovers a passionate woman who will challenge his self-control…
A determined lady
Felicia Throgmorton intends to keep her family afloat. For decades, her father was consumed by his inventions and now, months after his death, with their finances in ruins, her brother insists on continuing their father’s tinkering. Felicia is desperate to hold together what’s left of the estate. Then she discovers she must help persuade their latest investor that her father’s follies are a risk worth taking…
Together—the perfect team
Rand arrives at Throgmorton Hall to discover the invention on which he’s staked his reputation has exploded, the inventor is not who he expected, and a fiercely intelligent woman now holds the key to his future success. But unflinching courage in the face of dismaying hurdles is a trait they share, and Rand and Felicia are forced to act together against ruthless foes to protect everything they hold dear.
“With its refreshingly different protagonists, masterfully plotted story line, and generous soupçon of scorching sensuality, this tale will have readers feeling as though they have hit the historical-romance jackpot as Laurens launches her new Cavanaughs series.” Booklist
“Set against the beautiful pastoral backdrop of Throgmorton Hall, THE DESIGNS OF LORD RANDOLPH CAVANAUGH is classic Stephanie Laurens -- a hero and heroine working together, matching their wits against shadowy villains and falling in love along the way.” Fresh Fiction
"Stephanie Laurens demonstrates why she is a superstar of historical romance with this delightful tale. Whenever I open a romance by this author I know I’m going to get a story well worth my time and "The Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh" was proof positive of that fact." Pauline Night Owl Reviews
Lord Randolph Cavanaugh—Rand to his family, friends, and associates—tooled his curricle down the leafy lanes and reveled in the fresh country air. After spending the past four months in London, he was more than ready for a change, and a long-scheduled visit to Raventhorne Abbey to catch up with his brother and sister-in-law and their children had provided the perfect excuse to leave the steadily escalating heat of the capital behind.
However, as matters had fallen out, the trip to the Abbey in Wiltshire had coincided with an unexpected need to check up on one of the projects Rand’s firm, Cavanaugh Investments, had underwritten. For the past five years, ever since he’d reached twenty-five and come into his full inheritance, Rand had worked steadily and diligently to carve out a place—a life and a purpose—for himself. He wasn’t content to simply be Raventhorne’s half brother. He’d wanted something more—some enterprise to call his own.
Through Ryder—Rand’s older half brother, now the Marquess of Raventhorne—and Ryder’s marchioness, Mary, Rand had come to know the Cynsters. Gabriel Cynster, one of Mary’s older cousins, had long been a renowned figure in investment circles. Rand had shamelessly apprenticed himself, albeit informally, to Gabriel. After several years of learning from the master, Rand had struck out on his own. He’d made managing investments in the latest inventions his particular area of expertise.
One of his syndicate’s current investments was an exclusive stake in the Throgmorton Steam-Powered Horseless Carriage. There’d been steam-powered horseless carriages before—Trevithick had demonstrated the principle in 1803—but none had solved the various issues that had kept such inventions from becoming widely adopted. William Throgmorton had made his name through a spate of steam-powered inventions that had refined the machines of earlier inventors, making the modified engines much more commercially attractive.
When it came to inventions, Throgmorton was a known and established name. Investing in his latest project, while still ranking as definitely speculative, had seemed a good wager, one with possibly very high returns.
Rand had known William Throgmorton for several years. Through his syndicated investment fund, Rand had supported several of Throgmorton’s earlier projects, all of which had delivered satisfactorily. Rand was entirely comfortable with his current investment in Throgmorton’s latest project.
What he wasn’t so comfortable with—what had necessitated this side trip into deepest Berkshire—was Throgmorton’s recent silence. The last report Rand had received had been over three months ago. Until March, Throgmorton had reported more or less every month.
Rand trusted Throgmorton. More, he knew that inventors sometimes became so caught up in the actual work that they lost track of time, and all other responsibilities faded from their minds. Yet over the years Rand had worked with him, Throgmorton hadn’t missed reporting before.
What was even more troubling was that Throgmorton had failed to respond to not one but two letters Rand had subsequently sent. That wasn’t like Throgmorton at any time, but now, with the Birmingham exhibition—at which the presentation and demonstration of the Throgmorton engine had already been widely touted—less than a month away, Rand needed reassurance that all was progressing smoothly with the invention, not just for himself but for all his syndicate’s investors.
The cream of British inventing would be at the exhibition. Prince Albert was scheduled to open it, and the Prince could be relied on to take a keen interest in the inventions on show. Success at the exhibition was crucial for the future of Throgmorton’s engine and also for Rand’s status in the investment community. If Throgmorton failed to deliver…
Rand pushed the thought from his mind. Throgmorton hadn’t failed him yet.
Nevertheless, Rand needed to know what was going on at Throgmorton Hall. He needed to hear of progress from Throgmorton himself, and as the man wasn’t answering his letters, Rand had decided to call in person.
He hadn’t visited Throgmorton Hall before; he’d always met William in the City. All he knew of the Hall was that it lay close to the village of Hampstead Norreys, buried in the depths of Berkshire. Aside from all else, Rand would admit he was curious to see Throgmorton’s workshop.
So instead of continuing west out of Reading and thus to Raventhorne Abbey, on reaching Reading, Rand had taken the Wantage road. He’d stopped at an inn in Pangbourne for lunch, and his groom, Shields, had consulted with the ostlers. Armed with the information Shields had gained, Rand had elected to drive on to Basildon before turning off the highway onto the narrower country lanes and steering his horses first to the west, then the southwest. He’d passed through Ashampstead some time ago. According to the signposts, the village of Hampstead Norreys lay just a mile or so on.
Rand held his bays to a steady trot. After calling on Throgmorton and reviewing his progress and receiving the assurances Rand and his investors required, Rand would have plenty of time to drive on to the Abbey. With any luck, he would arrive before his eldest nephew and his niece had been put to bed. His youngest nephew was just two years old; Rand wasn’t sure what time he would be tucked in.
Rand had discovered he enjoyed being an uncle; he and his two younger brothers, Christopher—Kit—and Godfrey, openly vied for the title of favorite uncle to Ryder and Mary’s three offspring. Rand grinned to himself; he was looking forward to spending the next few days—perhaps the next week—with Ryder, Mary, and their noisy brood.
An arched gray-stone bridge appeared along the lane; Rand slowed his horses and let them walk up and over. A small sign at the crest of the bridge informed him he was crossing the Pang, presumably the upper reaches of the same river he’d earlier crossed at Pangbourne.
“Looks like the village we want just ahead,” Shields said from his perch behind Rand. “Seems it stretches away to the right.”
Rand nodded and shook the reins. The horses picked up their pace, and the curricle bowled smoothly on.
To the left, the lane was bordered by trees, with more trees behind them—a thick forest of oaks and beeches, much like the old outliers of the Savernake that still lingered near Raventhorne.
The trees thinned to the right, where the village stretched parallel to the stream; Rand glimpsed roofs of thatch and lead through breaks in the canopies.
A sign by the road declared they’d reached the village of Hampstead Norreys. As Shields had predicted, the village street lay to the right, stretching northward, with shops and houses on either side. An inn—the Norreys Arms—squatted at the nearest corner.
Rand drew up in the lane opposite the inn. The lane led on, heading west through an avenue of trees before curving to the left—to the southwest.
Shields dropped to the lane. “I’ll go and ask.”
Rand merely nodded. He watched as Shields strode into the inn yard and spoke with the stable lad sweeping the cobbles by the inn’s side door.
Then Shields passed the boy a coin and hurried back. The curricle tipped as he clambered up behind Rand. “We follow the lane on,” Shields reported. “Apparently, the drive to the Hall lies just around that curve ahead, and there’s no way we’ll miss it. There are stone gateposts with eagles atop, but no gate.”
Rand dipped his head in acknowledgment and gave his pair the office. They obediently stepped out, and he guided them on.
Sure enough, just yards around the curve to the southwest, a pair of stone gateposts marked the entrance to a well-tended drive. Rand slowed the horses and turned them onto the smooth, beaten earth. As the carriage bowled along, he glanced around, taking in the cool shade cast by the surrounding trees and the shafts of sunlight that filtered through, dispelling the gloom. The drive was bordered by woodland—primarily beech and oak, but with occasional poplars with their shimmering leaves randomly interspersed here and there. After the warmth of the summer day, the tree-lined drive formed a pleasant avenue; indeed, all he’d seen of the area suggested it was one of those pockets of quietly contented, lush and green, rural countryside that could still be found dotted about southern England.
No house or building had been visible from the lane. Eventually, the drive emerged from the woodland into a large clearing in which Throgmorton Hall stood front and center, dominating the space between the trees.
The Hall was a three-storied block clad in the local pale-gray stone. Rand suspected the house’s Palladian façade had been added to an older building, yet the remodeling had been well done; Throgmorton Hall projected the image of a comfortable gentleman’s residence. The house faced west, and the long-paned white-framed windows of the lower two stories and the dormer windows of the upper story overlooked a wide swath of lawn. More lawn ran away to the south, dotted with several large old trees and ultimately bordered by the woodlands which, as far as Rand could see, completely encircled the house.
He’d slowed the horses to a walk. As they drew nearer the house, to his left, he spotted a shrubbery backing into the woodland, with a decent-sized stable tucked tidily beyond it.
The drive ended in a large oval forecourt before the steps leading up to a semicircular porch shielding the large front door. A small, circular fountain stood in the center of the forecourt, directly opposite the door.
Rand drove his curricle into the forecourt and around the fountain and drew up beside the edge of the lawn opposite the front steps. He set the brake, then handed the reins to Shields and stepped down. “I don’t know how long I’ll be.” He spotted a lad coming from the stables. “Perhaps an hour—maybe two. Do what you think is best.”
Rand left him to deal with the horses and carriage and set off across the forecourt.
He’d taken only two paces when a muffled boom! fractured the slumbering silence.
The sound came from inside the house.
Rand checked, then his face set, and he ran toward the house.
Wisps of vapor seeped out from around the door, then the door was wrenched open, and people—maids, footmen, and others—came streaming out, along with billowing clouds of steam.
Even as he raced toward them, Rand registered that none of those coughing and waving aside the steamy clouds seemed the least bit panic-stricken. He slowed as he neared the steps. Those escaping from the house looked at him curiously—then an older lady came tottering out, one hand clutched to her impressive bosom.
Rand leapt up the steps. “Here—take my arm.”
The lady blinked at him, then smiled. “Thank you. No matter how often it happens, it’s always a shock.” The rest of those who had emerged from the house had gathered around the fountain and stood looking expectantly at the door. The matronly lady pointed down the steps to a bench set before the flowerbed along the front of the house. “I usually sit there and catch my breath.”
Swallowing the many questions leaping to his tongue, Rand assisted the lady down the steps and guided her to the bench.
She sat with a heartfelt sigh, then looked up at him. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced, but thank you.” She looked past him at his curricle, then raised her gaze—now openly curious—to his face. “I take it you’ve just arrived.”
“Indeed.” Before Rand could give his name, a commotion in the open doorway drew his and the lady’s attention.
Someone was attempting to propel a slender gentleman outside. He was clad in a long, gray inventor’s coat and sported a pair of goggles, now hanging about his neck. The coat was smudged in several places, the gentleman’s dark-brown hair was sticking out from his head in tufts, and he appeared rather dazed.
The person behind him prodded more violently, and staggering somewhat, the gentleman stumbled out of the steamy interior onto the front porch.
He was followed by a young lady. Scowling ferociously, she planted her hands on her hips and glared at the hapless gentleman.
Rand blinked, then looked again.
Slender, of middling height, with a pale complexion and fine features, clad in a sky-blue gown and all but vibrating with reined emotion, courtesy of her stance, the young lady looked every inch a virago with rose-gold hair.
Rand had never seen a more fascinating creature.
“That’s it!” the virago declared. Her voice was pleasingly low, yet presently carried the razor-sharp edge of frustrated ire. “Enough!” she continued, still addressing the gentleman, who was shaking his head as if to clear smothering clouds from his brain. “You have to stop! You can’t keep blowing the wretched contraption up!”
The gentleman frowned into the distance. “I think I know what went wrong.” He turned toward the virago, clearly intending to argue her point. “It was the feed—”
As the gentleman swung to face the young lady, his gaze landed on Rand, and his words died.
The virago followed the gentleman’s gaze. She saw Rand and stiffened. Her expression blanked, and she lowered her arms to her sides. Along with the apparently dumbfounded gentleman, she stared at Rand.
The gentleman faintly frowned. “Good afternoon. Can we help you?” His gaze flicked across the forecourt, and he took in Rand’s curricle—an expensive equipage drawn by top-of-the-line horseflesh. The gentleman’s eyes widened, and he looked back at Rand.
With a murmur of “Excuse me” to the older lady, Rand left her on the bench and climbed the steps to the porch. He halted a yard from the younger lady and the gentleman. Now he was on the same level, he realized the gentleman was nearly as tall as he was, although of slighter build. By the cast of the gentleman’s features and his bright hazel eyes, he was plainly William Throgmorton’s son. As for the young lady…despite her eyes being more green than hazel and her wonderful hair a tumbling mass of rose-gold curls, judging by the set of her lips and chin, Rand rather thought she must be William’s daughter. He inclined his head to her, then focused on the gentleman. “My name is Lord Randolph Cavanaugh. I’m here to see Mr. William Throgmorton.” He paused, then added, “I assume he’s your father.”
Silence greeted his announcement.
The gentleman continued to stare even as he paled; Rand had little doubt he’d recognized Rand’s name.
Rand glanced at the virago. Her eyes had widened in what had to be shock; as Rand looked, she paled, too.
Then her green eyes narrowed, her lips and chin firmed, and she looked at the young gentleman. “William John…?” Her tone was both questioning and demanding.
Judging by William John’s expression, all sorts of unwelcome thoughts were tumbling through his brain; they left him looking faintly terrified. He glanced at his sister, and guilt was added to the mix.
What was going on here?
Rand laid a firm hand on the reins of his own temper. He glanced past the pair into the house; the steamy haze was evaporating. Evenly, he asked, “Is Mr. William Throgmorton at home?”
He looked back at the younger man, apparently William John Throgmorton.
Finally, William John focused on Rand’s face and somewhat sheepishly said, “Ah. As to that…”
When, apparently lost for words, William John fell silent again, Rand looked to the virago.
Briefly, she raised her eyes to his, then dipped in a curtsy. “Lord Cavanaugh. I’m Miss Throgmorton, and, as you’ve no doubt guessed, this is my brother, William John Throgmorton.” She paused, then clasped her hands before her, tipped up her chin and met Rand’s eyes. “As for our father, I regret to inform you that he passed away in January.”
It was Rand’s turn to stare. In his case, unseeing, while his thoughts turned cartwheels in his head. Eventually, his accents clipped and curt, he stated, as much for himself as anyone else, “William Throgmorton is dead.”
It wasn’t a question, and no one replied.
Rand blinked and refocused on William John. “In January?” Despite his hold on his temper, incensed incredulity underscored his words.
Helplessly, William John stared back.
From the corner of his eye, Rand saw Miss Throgmorton, her gaze fixed on her brother, her expression close to an open accusation, confirm that telling detail with a decisive nod.
Rand returned his attention to the pale and blinking William John. If William Throgmorton was dead, then presumably William John was his heir—legally and financially. The question burning in Rand’s brain was whether William John was his father’s successor intellectually as well.
If he was, then…
There might—just possibly—be a way out of the fire William Throgmorton’s death, his son’s failure to tell Rand of it, and the rapidly approaching exhibition in Birmingham had landed Rand in.
The three of them remained staring at each other, weighing each other up in various ways. Then Rand drew in a long, deep breath and looked past the open door. “Perhaps,” he said, his tone crisp and rigidly even, “assuming it’s safe, we might take the discussion of our dilemma—the business arrangement my investment syndicate had with your father—inside.”
The virago glanced into the hall, then looked out at the staff and called, “All’s clear.” Then she glanced at Rand; he was perfectly certain he saw wariness in her eyes. “If you will follow me, my lord.”
She led the way inside.
With an awkward wave, William John gestured for Rand to precede him.
As Rand crossed the threshold into the well-appointed front hall and the telltale scent of overheated metal reached him, he counseled himself that his first step in sorting out this mess had to be to learn all he could about the true situation at Throgmorton Hall.
“The boiler exploded, you see.” Trailing behind Rand, William John apparently thought that part of his explanation was the most critical.
Following Miss Throgmorton across the hall tiles toward the door of what Rand assumed would be the drawing room, he glanced back to see William John deviating toward a plain wooden door—the sort usually found at the bottom of tower steps—that was set into the wall to the right of the front door and presently stood ajar.
Rand halted. Beyond the door, he glimpsed stone steps spiraling down. The metallic scent was emanating from there.
“Oh no.” Miss Throgmorton brushed past him. “You are not disappearing down there.” She clamped her hands about her brother’s arm and forcibly dragged him away from the partially-open door. “The drawing room, William John.” Her tone was stern. She didn’t look at Rand as she towed her brother past him. “You need to explain what’s happened to Lord Cavanaugh.” She uttered a small humph. “I’d like to hear your version of that as well.”
Rand felt his brows rise. He fell in behind the Throgmorton siblings, inwardly reflecting that the next hour was bidding fair to being significantly more fraught than he’d anticipated.
The drawing room possessed a similar ambiance to the front hall—well lit, comfortable, and unostentatious. Unfussy, yet feminine—or at least bearing the imprint of some female hand. The armchairs and long sofa were well stuffed and covered in flowery chintz. The walls were a very pale green, and the white painted woodwork gleamed. Long windows opened onto a flagstone terrace that overlooked the long south lawn and allowed slanting summer sunlight to illuminate the room.
Miss Throgmorton all but pushed her brother down to sit on the sofa, then moved to claim one of the chintz-covered armchairs—the one that faced the door. With a wave significantly more graceful than her brother’s, she invited Rand to take the armchair that faced the sofa across a low table.
Rand sat, strangely aware that he was dressed informally, wearing breeches, riding jacket, and top boots, rather than his customary trousers and well-cut coat. Why the thought popped into his mind, he had no idea. As matters stood, he had far more to worry about than the figure he cut in the Throgmortons’ eyes, and he seriously doubted William John would notice.
He focused on the younger man. He judged William John to be in his mid-twenties. Having siblings of his own, after watching the interaction between brother and sister, he would wager Miss Throgmorton was about a year younger than her transparently exasperating brother.
At present, William John was sitting upright, with his hands clasped between his knees and a slight frown on his face. His gaze was fixed on his hands.
After taking in that sight, Miss Throgmorton cleared her throat and glanced at Rand. “I apprehend you had business dealings with my father, my lord. If you would explain what those were, perhaps we might”—she gestured vaguely and rather weakly concluded—“be able to assist you.”
Rand studied her for a moment, then looked at William John. “I suspect your brother knows very well what my dealings with your father were, Miss Throgmorton. William John—it might be easier for us all if I use that name—certainly recognized my name.”
William John raised his eyes, met Rand’s, then grimaced. He looked at Miss Throgmorton. “Lord Cavanaugh is the principal investor in the syndicate that funded Papa’s steam engine.”
Felicia Throgmorton stared at her brother. “The one you just blew up? Yet again.” A sensation of coldness was welling inside her.
Gloomily, William John nodded.
The cold was dread, and it continued to spread. Felicia glanced at Lord Cavanaugh, then looked again at William John. “What, exactly, do you mean by ‘funded?’”
William John shifted on the sofa in a way that only chilled Felicia more. “Lord Randolph”—William John glanced at the lord sitting unmovingly and projecting all the menace of a crouching tiger—“or more accurately, he and the investors who band together with him in his investing syndicate, advanced Papa the funds to finish the engine and present it at the exhibition in return for a two-thirds share of the rights in the invention.”
Felicia compressed her lips into a tight line, holding back any too-aggressive response. As the daughter of a long-time inventor, she understood enough about rights and funding to comprehend the situation. But in the circumstances… Without looking at Lord Cavanaugh, she nodded crisply. “I see. So where are these funds as of this moment? How does the account stand?”
“Well, we’re only three weeks from the exhibition, you know.” William John cast an apologetic look at Lord Cavanaugh. “Most of the money’s been spent.”
She frowned. “Spent on what? Other than two replacement boilers and a few valves, you haven’t bought much since Papa died.” She glanced at Lord Cavanaugh; he was watching their exchange with an entirely unreadable—but by no means encouraging—expression on his handsome autocratic face. Her nerves twitched, and she hurried to say, “I’m sure we can repay his lordship whatever sum was left at the time Papa died—”
Frantic gestures from William John had her looking back at him.
The cold inside coalesced into an icy knot and sank to the pit of her stomach. “What?” She heard her voice rise. “We can’t?”
William John stared at her, then warily said, “The money you’ve been using to pay the bills…”
“What?” Even to her own ears, her voice sounded shrill. “But…” She stared at her brother. “You—and Papa—told me that money was royalties from his earlier inventions.”
“Yes, well.” William John squirmed more definitely. “We knew you wouldn’t understand, so…”
“So you lied to me.” She felt as if the bottom had dropped out of her world. More quietly, she added, “Both of you.”
When William John grimaced and looked down at his clasped hands, she forced herself to draw in a shuddering breath and, seizing the reins of her temper in an iron grip and banishing the pain of what felt perilously like betrayal from her mind, with rigid calm, she stated, “You encouraged me to use investors’ funds for the household.”
William John blinked, then frowned and met her eyes. “We had to live.”
The presence in the armchair opposite the sofa uncrossed his long, well-muscled legs.
The graceful and controlled movement immediately drew her eyes.
Rand had been waiting; he caught Miss Throgmorton’s gaze. “To clarify, Miss Throgmorton, the terms of our investment in your father’s work included a stipend for living expenses for your father and his assistant.” With a dip of his head, Rand indicated William John. “The arrangement also included funds for the upkeep of the laboratory-workshop and so on. Consequently, that the funds were used for household expenses isn’t an issue. I assure you neither I nor the investors I represent will be in any way concerned about that.”
It was, however, telling that she had known enough to be concerned. In this particular case, it didn’t matter; in many cases, it would have.
“However”—he transferred his gaze to her brother—“as William John has pointed out, the exhibition at which it was agreed that your father would demonstrate the success of his improved steam engine is now a mere three weeks away.” He met William John’s hazel eyes. “At this point, my principal concern—mine and that of the investors I represent—is whether the Throgmorton steam engine will be operational and fit to be unveiled at the exhibition as planned.”
So much was riding on that outcome; until now, he hadn’t realized how much—inside, he was still grappling with the full scope of the impending threat.
He kept his gaze steady on William John’s face—refusing to give in to the impulse to glance at Miss Throgmorton to see how she was coping with what had clearly been a painful revelation—and suggested, “Why don’t you outline for me where the invention stands at present?”
To any inventor, such a request was an invitation to be seized, and William John proved he was as single-minded as his father; he eagerly complied and rattled on. Several times, when his descriptions became too technical, Rand halted the flow and asked for clarification. Nevertheless, within a few minutes, any doubts that William John was his father’s son invention-wise had been laid to rest.
Whether he could accomplish what his father had not managed to achieve prior to his death was another matter.
While William John related all he had done since their father’s death, Miss Throgmorton, Rand noticed, sat back in her chair and listened intently. Her mind did not wander; judging by the steady focus of her gaze, she was able to understand William John’s explanation, possibly as well as Rand could.
Eventually, William John reached the present. “So, you see, now that we’ve finally got the flow adjusted and the mechanisms properly aligned, it’s purely a matter of getting the controls correctly reset to allow for the increased power.” He grimaced. “That’s why the boiler blew. I still haven’t got the settings right.”
Miss Throgmorton made a disapproving sound. “That was the third boiler in as many weeks.”
William John shrugged. “The adjustments to the controls are…complicated. If they’re not correct, then the pressure in the boiler continues to increase, and if we can’t release it or shut down the engine quickly enough….” He raised his hands in a helpless gesture.
Miss Throgmorton sniffed.
Rand studied the younger man. “I have a question.” The point was puzzling. “Your father died in January, yet I continued to receive reports on his—your—progress until the end of March. From what you’ve told me, those reports were accurate, yet they were in your father’s hand…” He realized. “But they weren’t, were they?”
William John shook his head. “I’ve been writing the reports for Papa for years. I just…continued.”
Rand nodded. “Very well. My last question. When your father died, why didn’t you inform me and the syndicate of his death?”
William John compressed his lips and stared levelly back at Rand.
Rand waited. He was grateful that Miss Throgmorton also remained silent.
Eventually, without shifting his gaze from Rand’s face, William John said, “I worked alongside Papa on this invention from its inception. From an inventor’s perspective, I have just as much invested in it as he. It was and still is my hope—my very real ambition—to complete the engine and take it to the exhibition. I knew that I would meet you and perhaps some of the other investors there. I thought I could explain what had happened then and, in so doing, establish myself as an inventor in my own right.” He glanced briefly at his sister, then looked back at Rand. “As my father’s heir invention-wise, so to speak.”
Rand knew that answer was the unvarnished truth. William John was like many inventors—incapable of guile, at least when it came to inventions and inventing. In that field, they spent so much time focused unrelentingly on facts that dissembling did not come easily; indeed, most saw any form of lie as a waste of time.
Moreover, Rand could understand William John’s position. The son would need to prove himself to move out of the shadow of an established personality. Indeed, Rand’s own quest for recognition separate from the large presence of Ryder and the marquessate was what had led him to the Throgmortons’ drawing room. As much as William John, Rand needed this invention to work. He’d staked a great deal more than mere money on it; his reputation as a leader of investment syndicates was riding on this project. If he failed…his chances of attracting investors to any future syndicate would dim considerably.
While not strictly correct, William John’s approach to the situation was entirely understandable, at least to Rand.
Slowly, he nodded. “Very well. We now know where we stand.” His personal strength lay in evaluating options and finding the best way out of any difficulty. He straightened in his chair. “What we need to do next is to define the problems facing us.”
Still reeling from the impact of successive revelations, Felicia felt that defining their problems was a very good idea. That both her father and her brother had been so duplicitous, at least in her eyes, deeply troubled her; the scope of what had been going on under her nose while she’d remained entirely unaware had shaken her to her foundations. She’d always believed she had been the one steering the ship of their household, while in reality, she hadn’t even known in which direction they’d been headed.
She focused on Lord Cavanaugh as, with a slight frown—one of concentration—drawing down his dark brows, he stated, “With only three weeks to go before the exhibition, we cannot withdraw from the event—not without sustaining considerable damage to all our reputations. A withdrawal at this stage would signal to everyone that the invention had failed. That, of course, is the one result we would all prefer to avoid.”
His lordship’s gaze rested on William John. Felicia had already noticed that Cavanaugh had eyes of the warmest mid brown she’d ever seen—like heated caramel or melted toffee.
“I believe,” he continued, “that in the circumstances, we must hold to our goal of getting the steam engine working per your father’s plans and successfully unveil the Throgmorton Steam-Powered Horseless Carriage at the exhibition. If we fail to do so”—he shot Felicia a glance, then returned his gaze to William John—“William John’s future as an inventor will be ruined before he truly starts. You will become an investment pariah”—again, Cavanaugh glanced Felicia’s way—“and as I understand it, you don’t have the capital to undertake further inventing of this nature on your own.”
William John grimaced. “All you say is true. That’s why I’ve forged on so doggedly—I have to get the engine working perfectly and present it at the exhibition.”
Cavanaugh inclined his head. “But there’s more at stake than just your future.”
Felicia nearly laughed—humorlessly—at the surprise that showed in William John’s face. As she well knew, inventors never thought beyond the invention. Beyond their work.
She felt Cavanaugh’s gaze touch her face again, then he said, “Forgive me if I mistook the implications of your earlier exchange, but it seemed to me that absent the funds advanced to support this latest invention, this household would not be solvent.”
Felicia met Cavanaugh’s eyes and grimly nodded. “No need to apologize—you’re quite correct.” For an instant, she allowed herself to hold to the steady warmth in his gaze while she rapidly reviewed the household accounts. “Put simply”—she looked at William John—“if this latest invention isn’t a success, the family will be financially ruined. We do not have sufficient income from other sources to continue the upkeep of the Hall.” She allowed her gaze to weigh on her brother. “We would be forced to sell up.”
William John flinched. “Really?” He met her eyes as if willing her to say she was joking.
“Yes.” It was past time he faced the truth of the dire straits to which inventing and inventions had driven them.
After a second, Cavanaugh went on, “And, sadly, the repercussions do not end there.”
Felicia looked at him, puzzled as to what else might be at stake, but his gaze seemed to have turned inward.
“While this project is not my first as the head of a syndicate, it is the most prominent of my investment projects to date. It’s the project my coterie of investors are most interested in seeing succeed. If we”—he refocused on William John, then included Felicia with his gaze—“do not deliver on the promise of that investment, do not live up to the assurances of success I gave, then my carefully-nurtured reputation as an investment syndicate leader will be…severely compromised.”
Only now that he’d considered the possibility—if not likelihood—of the Throgmorton steam engine failing had Rand realized just how much he’d staked on its success. “Of course, on top of that, my own funds will take a sizeable hit.” But that was the least of his worries.
Silence fell—a moment of staring into the abyss as they all dwelled on the consequences of failure.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was William John who first stirred and said, “Well, we’ll just have to make sure the engine works as advertised.”
Rand took in the young inventor’s unwavering determination and had to wonder…
Regardless, there seemed no other way forward, yet long acquaintance with the species had taught Rand that where time was a factor, even when deadlines loomed, inventors could not be trusted to keep their focus.
He felt as if the circumstances were forming up around him and all-but-physically herding him into taking on a role he never had before. Into taking a large step beyond the comfort of the arenas in which he was knowledgeable and embarking down a path of unknown risks and unforeseeable challenges.
He glanced again at Miss Throgmorton, then looked at William John. “I agree. At this point, I can’t see any alternative way forward—not for any of us—other than to persevere, get the engine working, and present it successfully at the exhibition.”
William John nodded, his expression resolved and sure.
Rand glanced at Miss Throgmorton. If they were to have any hope of succeeding in time, they would need her support as well.
Felicia met and returned Cavanaugh’s gaze. Only when he faintly arched his brows did she realize he was waiting for—asking for—her agreement. She blinked, then cleared her throat and said, “I agree. There seems no other viable way to proceed.” Until the last moments, she hadn’t realized just how dire—how absolute and inevitable—the consequences of failure would be.
Only now did she fully comprehend what was hanging over their heads.
Yet another revelation she would need time to fully assimilate.
Cavanaugh nodded. “So we three are resolved.”
Rand shifted his gaze to William John. “Given how much is riding on the outcome, I’ll remain and assist you as required, at least until you get the engine going. I can’t work on the mechanics as you do, but I am very good at managing time and resources, and we’ll need everything running smoothly if we’re to succeed in attaining our mutual goal.”
Far from being put out by the thought of having someone looking over his shoulder, William John’s face lit with eagerness. “I’ll be delighted to explain the engine to you.” He paused, his mind clearly going to the invention, then he grimaced and refocused on Rand. “The boiler will be too hot for us to dismantle it today, but I can show you the workshop and explain what does what and where our current problems lie—if you’d like that?”
Rand nodded and pushed out of the armchair. “That sounds an excellent place to start.”
He glanced at Miss Throgmorton. A faint frown on her face, she was sitting with her hands clasped in her lap, staring at the low table. As if feeling his gaze, she looked up, and he caught her green eyes. He inclined his head. “Until later, Miss Throgmorton.”
She dipped her head in reply. “Lord Cavanaugh. I’ll have a room prepared for you.” To her brother, she added, “I’ll see you both at dinner.”
William John waved vaguely and headed for the door.
Rand followed and wondered just what he’d let himself in for.
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