The Luck of the Bride by Janna MacGregor
“Do you know what these documents are?” McCalpin asked. By the absolute defeated expression on Miss Lawson’s face, he had his answer.
She cleared her throat. “Yes.”
“Did you forge my signature?”
She nodded gently, and a thick wave of dark brown—almost black— hair escaped from her simple chignon.
He regarded her carefully. Their earlier conversation had grown quite heated. What type of woman would dare impersonate him? One who must have spent hours practicing his signature. She had used his identity and his standing in society for her own purposes. Impersonating a noble was a high crime, and she’d done it anyway.
She wasn’t a classic English beauty by any means. She was more exotic in her looks. Her brown eyes sparkled with intelligence. Before he’d shown her the forged withdrawals, he’d found her stalwart confidence intriguing. He’d even found her earlier awkwardness over their second greeting charming.
Through it all, his title or wealth didn’t faze her. She only saw him as a stumbling block. Truth be told, he enjoyed going toe-to-toe with her. The rapier rapier-quick retorts and bold challenges were refreshing.
“How did you get my seal?” he gently asked.
“My father kept all of your uncle’s letters. I found an intact wax seal of the Marquess of McCalpin and took it to a family friend who’s a retired engraver, and he made it for me.” She stared at her clasped hands and refused to look at him. “I kept your first letter of introduction as our new trustee. I used it to practice your signature.”
Her face had turned scarlet red. She was mortified. Instead of pleased that he’d received her confession, McCalpin hated that he made her feel such embarrassment.
However, it was his responsibility to protect the family’s funds.
“Have you used it for anything besides withdrawals from your trust?” he asked.
She stiffened at the question, but managed to stare into his eyes. She shook her head. “Never. I would never harm you or my family. I only did it for my . . .”
What could his little embezzler possibly say to justify her behavior?
“We needed new shears, or I couldn’t finish shearing the sheep. I need to sell that wool to cover our household expenses.” His lips trembled for a moment before she continued. “The estate isn’t profitable.”
He gazed at her in disbelief. “You shear the sheep on the estate?”
“Yes. Hart helps if he’s at Lawson Court, but he travels frequently. Besides, I’m faster than he is and can shear two sheep to his one.” When sShe swallowed, and the movement emphasized her long neck.
He collapsed in his chair and stared at the woman. It was inconceivable what she was claiming. She was the daughter of a well-respected member of the nobility.
“I understand how trite this must sound, but I’m truly sorry I used your identity.” Her eyes dipped to her lap. Whatever she studied must have given her courage since she soon met his gaze. “Lord Burns had control over Lawson Court and was never generous.” She drew a deep breath. “For the past several years, he didn’t see fit to give us much money. When I learned he’d passed, I wrote to you as the successor—”
Buxton entered the room. “I beg your pardon, my lord. Lord and Lady Pembrooke have arrived.”
After a slight nod to the butler, McCalpin’s attention returned to the woman seated in front of him. “Miss Lawson, the hour grows late, and I have other duties that demand my attention. I’ll visit Lawson Court as soon as possible. I trust we’re in agreement that you’re not to write any more requests using my seal.”
He wouldn’t let her have a word edgewise. “Immediately, I think it best that you have someone deliver your copy of my seal to me. You’ll find I’m generous to a fault, but I won’t tolerate foolishness or any more of your shenanigans. If you or your family needs something, I invite you to come and seek my advice. I won’t turn down any reasonable requests.”
“Is it possible I could have some money now?” She exhaled as if the weight of the world had been set on her shoulders. “You see I need—”
“From what I’ve learned today, I think it best if any disbursements wait until I have the opportunity to review the estate and learn more about you and your family.” He lowered his voice. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
Her eyes glistened with tears.
Oh God, he’d done it. He’d made her cry.
“Miss Lawson, there’s no harm done,” he said quietly. “The amounts you took were miniscule. When I visit, I’ll see what repairs are required. That’s all I can offer at this point. You shouldn’t spend your money on the estate. Your father wanted you or your husband to have it.”
She nodded once, then stood. Without any farewell, she turned and left the room.
In his twenty-nine years, he’d accumulated his fair share of experiences with women of all ages and personalities. Never once did he ever remember bringing one to tears.
It was something he hoped never to experience again.
He felt lower than the mud in a carriage rut.