Home > Someone to Cherish (Westcott #8)(2)

Someone to Cherish (Westcott #8)(2)
Author: Mary Balogh

But what they needed to discover first, Mildred, Lady Molenor, Matilda’s youngest sister, pointed out, was whether Harry could be lured to London for the Season or even a small part of it. If he could be, they would be able to plan a grand party there for him. It would be relatively easy to accomplish once they had decided upon a time and place, for they would have no trouble whatsoever persuading guests to come. Harry, though illegitimate, had after all been brought up in the earl’s household as his son and educated accordingly. Besides, almost all his relatives on the Westcott side were both titled and influential. And, besides again, he was a handsome young man and personable when he chose to be.

“But he always is, Aunt Mildred,” Jessica, Countess of Lyndale, protested. She was the daughter of Louise, Dowager Duchess of Netherby, Mildred’s elder sister. “Harry may be a near recluse, but he is never morose or bad-tempered. He is always quite jolly, in fact.”

“Such a party would, of course, be held at our house,” Anna, Avery’s wife and the Duchess of Netherby, said. “Harry is my brother—my half brother, anyway—and Avery was once his guardian.”

No one was about to argue.

“There could be no better setting than Archer House to make a firm statement to the ton,” Louise, Avery’s stepmother and Dowager Duchess of Netherby, agreed. “Everyone will come. And among us all we can surely compile a list of eligible young ladies for Harry to consider. He will, in fact, be spoiled for choices. Perhaps we ought to pick out three or four to bring particularly to his attention.”

“But for this option to work, Louise, Harry must come up to town,” Elizabeth, Lady Hodges, Alexander’s sister, pointed out. “That is by no means assured.”

“Far from it,” Jessica agreed. “He will never consent to come, especially if he gets a whiff of a birthday party.”

“We will have to see to it that he does not suspect, then,” Althea Westcott, Alexander and Elizabeth’s mother, said. “But what can we say to lure him?”

“I fear there is nothing,” Anna said with a sigh, breaking a short silence. “I believe my dream of hosting a party for him at Archer House will be dashed after all. If anyone knows any other man as stubborn as Harry, I would be surprised.” For ten years Anna had been trying to persuade her half brother to accept his share of the vast fortune she, as the lone legitimate child of the late Earl of Riverdale, had inherited from their father. For the past four of those years she had also been trying to persuade him to take ownership of Hinsford Manor, which was legally hers, though he had lived there most of his life and lived there now. It was his home, for goodness’ sake.

“I agree with you, Anna, much as I wish I did not,” said the Dowager Countess of Riverdale, her grandmother and matriarch of the family. “Harry is very like his grandfather in that way. It is pride more than stubbornness in his case, however.”

“I do know that, Grandmama,” Anna said. “Unfortunately, pride and stubbornness have the same symptoms. Sometimes I could cheerfully shake him.”

“What we need, then,” Matilda said briskly as the committee showed signs of sinking into despondency, “is a plan B to fall back upon if plan A cannot be made to work. What are we going to do if Harry cannot be persuaded to come to London? The answer is obvious in one sense, of course. We will have to go to him. But it would all need very careful organizing. We are going to have to make two complete sets of plans, in fact, since we will not have the luxury of sitting together like this after we all return home next week.”

“Viola will surely wish to be involved,” Wren, Alexander’s wife and the Countess of Riverdale, said. “She is worried about Harry too. She is his mother, after all. So are Camille and Abigail, I expect. And Viola is more familiar with Mrs. Sullivan than we are.”

“The housekeeper at Hinsford Manor?” Mildred said. “Yes, she will certainly need to know our plan B. We do not want to give the poor woman an apoplexy by turning up on Harry’s doorstep en masse and unannounced.”

“But Harry must not know,” Jessica said. “If he even suspects what may be in store for him, we will arrive to find that he has already left on a six-month walking tour of the Scottish highlands.”

“Poor Harry,” Elizabeth said, laughing.

“Right,” Matilda said, drawing paper and ink toward her and testing the nib of a quill pen. “Plan A first. London. Grand party. Archer House.” She wrote the words down and looked up, pen poised, for details to add.

Harry Westcott, all unbeknownst to him, was about to fall victim to the loving determination of his female relatives to see to it that he enjoyed his thirtieth birthday as he had never enjoyed any birthday before it, and that during those happy celebrations he met enough eligible females that he could not help but fall in love with one of them and proceed to make his offer and set his wedding date. He was going to find his happily-ever-after whether he knew he wanted it or not.

The only faint ray of hope for him, Colin, Elizabeth’s husband, observed to a group of men who had retreated to the billiard room one afternoon, was that the Westcott women did not actually have a stellar record as matchmakers.

“Most of us have ended up in marriages of our own choosing via weddings of our own fashioning despite rather than because of their efforts,” he said fondly.

“Quite so,” Avery agreed as he chalked the end of his cue and surveyed the mess of balls on the table with a keen eye. “But our women can be formidable when they grab hold of a cause. On the whole it is wiser—and ultimately quite harmless—to hold one’s peace while they scheme and plan and think they have the world and its turning under their control.”

Harry meanwhile spent Christmas at the big house in the hills above Bath where his elder sister, Camille, lived with Joel Cunningham, her husband, and their large family. He enjoyed their company and that of all the rest of his family on his mother’s side—it included Mrs. Kingsley, his maternal grandmother, and the Reverend Michael Kingsley, his mother’s brother, with his wife, Mary.

Truth to tell, Harry was glad of an excuse not to spend any part of Christmas at Brambledean with the Westcott side of the family. It was not that he was not fond of them all. He was. It was more that their obvious concern for him always made him decidedly uncomfortable. The guilt of what his father had done was something they had taken upon their own shoulders, especially his grandmother and the aunts, his father’s sisters—Matilda, Louise, and Mildred. They felt somehow responsible for seeing to it that all turned out well for Harry, their brother’s only son. They worried about him. He always felt compelled to be openly jolly in their company. But he could not live happily ever after just to please them. Contentedly ever after was not good enough for them, it seemed.

It was quite good enough for him.

He had lived alone at Hinsford Manor for four years now, at first recovering his health and strength—a frustratingly slow process—and then settling in to a life of quiet contentment as a country gentleman with a large home and farms to oversee and neighbors with whom to socialize. He really was quite contented there even though there were people, most notably his family, who could not believe it of a man who was still in his twenties. If restlessness crept in under his guard now and then, he simply ignored it until it went away, for he could think of no other way of life that would suit him better or even as well.

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