by Margaret P.
With thanks to my beta, Terri Derr. Wordcount: 1,896
“That’s an ominous ending.” Leaning over her husband’s shoulder, Beth Eliot whipped the last page of his response to Scott Lancer’s letter off his desk so she could read the final paragraph again. “Don’t you approve of Katie’s choice?”
Robert looked up and gave the bottom of the page a gentle tug. She let go and he placed it behind its mate. “I approve well enough, and I know you couldn’t be happier.”
Beth smiled. He was right. She was overjoyed Katie and Scott had fallen in love. The only thing that could have made their romance more perfect was if she and Catherine had had the fun of planning it.
“But nothing. I’ve given my permission for them to make their engagement public.” He folded the letter and put it into its envelope as Beth played with his hair, tickling him into a smile before he brushed her hand away. Dipping his pen into the nearly-empty inkpot, he began to carefully write the address on the envelope. “Not that either of them would take any notice if I said no—too much like their mothers.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, but why so terse? What are these ‘things that need discussing before any vows can be exchanged’?” Beth removed a bottle of ink from the bottom drawer and began to refill the inkpot on the desk.
“Thank you.” Robert dipped his pen again and continued to write. “There are some financials to sort out, and a few other things.”
“Stop being so evasive. What other things?”
“You’re far too inquisitive, madam. I should have managed to cure you of that by now.” Blotting the finished envelope, he took the ink bottle from her and put it back in the drawer.
“You knew who you were marrying. What other things?”
Pushing his chair back, Robert shook his head in dismay. “Always the same rebuttal. Ah, how I have paid for the passion of my youth. I’m sure other men aren’t held to account for their every action as I am.” He stood up from the chair. Taking Beth’s hand he brought it to his lips. “All right, if you must know. It’s every father’s right to make his daughter’s suitor squirm. By courting Katie and asking her to marry him in California, Scott Lancer has robbed me of the opportunity to make him wriggle like a worm on a hook—or at least he thinks he has.”
“Oh, Robert, how can you say that after the misery your brothers put him through?”
“I am not my brothers, and our concerns are very different.” He checked his pocket watch and met Beth’s eye. “You may not like it, my dear, but Scott has learned a useful lesson. If he’s to hold his own with our respective families, it is one he would be wise not to forget.”
“Is that all you can say?”
“What else would you have me say? In this case, we are talking about my family, but it could have just as easily been yours.”
Beth raised an eyebrow and bit her tongue. True, the McIntyres investigated any matter of importance thoroughly, but Robert knew very well they were not in the same league as the Eliots when it came to malicious interference.
He looked away. “I don’t deny Franklin and his weasel son took self-interest too far, but I can’t do anything more about it than I’ve already done. Unfortunately, if they can benefit, they will almost certainly do something similar again.”
Beth squeezed his hand, knowing both statements were true. The Eliots weren’t just a family; they were a dynasty with all the power, wealth, double-dealing, in-fighting and loyalty that entailed. Her usually calm, kind husband was the best of four brothers. He had hit one of the others over this; he had punched Representative Franklin Eliot in a public park in full view of several neighbours—and he was still unapologetic more than a month later. But she knew him too well; the rift was beginning to eat at him. She was grateful family influence had prevented the scandal spreading beyond the one Boston newspaper that reported it; a small mercy but one that should make it easier to get the two men back on speaking terms. “You’ve decided to believe Martin and Nichol?”
“Yes.” Robert sighed and returned the squeeze. “Nichol’s the consummate businessman. My younger brother may not like Harlan Garrett, but the old villain offers him a lot more than a British politician. I’m told a marriage between Katie and Scott could result in some very lucrative business deals.”
“I’m sure they’ll be overjoyed to know they’ve been of service.” Beth made no attempt to hide her disgust. “And what of Senator Eliot? Has he convinced you of his innocence too?”
“Of the crimes that matter. Martin definitely preferred the idea of Sir Bertram Halford. He admits when they met here in Boston he helped exaggerate concerns about Scott to encourage the Englishman to try his suit. But that was all.”
“He must have known Laurence was in San Francisco.”
“To make further inquiries and report on progress, yes, but then Franklin went behind his back—instructed Laurence to do whatever was necessary to make a match between Katie and Halford. Martin would never have gone that far. Franklin knew it so he didn’t bother to consult him.”
“Well, I’m relieved Martin isn’t totally unscrupulous, but he’ll still be lucky to receive an invitation to the wedding. Katie must have been furious to say what she said to Laurence, and she’s unlikely to forgive anyone involved quickly.”
“Our eldest daughter has a way with words, and a temper like her mother.” Robert chortled and slipped the finished letter inside his jacket. “Dormant volcanoes: that’s another subject Scott and I should talk about.”
He started to fill his other pockets with oddments from his desk: his pipe and peppermints, Beth could understand, but why he was taking a tin whistle to the medical school was a mystery—why he even owned a tin whistle was a mystery.
Ignoring the joke at her expense, she straightened his tie. “Getting back to the point at issue, is it really necessary for you to make Scott ‘squirm’, as you put it? I admit such tactics have been useful for Julia, but Katie was never one to fall in and out of love easily. Isn’t it enough that she’s now finally made a choice and is happy? I’m sure my father didn’t make you squirm when you asked for my hand.”
Robert barked a laugh. “You know nothing about it, Beth. I put on a brave face at the time, but my interview with your father was worse than my first solo surgery. And believe me that was hair-raising.” He headed for the door; then paused with handle in hand. “Your father is a master in court, and he put his expertise to good use when dealing with me.”
“Indeed. How so, might I ask—or is that a secret between gentlemen?”
Robert let go of the door handle and stroked his chin, as if considering whether confidentiality could be breached after so many years. “He took great pleasure in making it clear that although the rest of Boston society might view our marriage as a step up for you, that in fact, in his opinion, the reverse was true. I was extremely lucky to be accepted. ‘Astounded’ was the word he used. ‘I am, Dr Eliot, astounded by my daughter’s decision, but I know I have little hope of dissuading her. You may breathe easy that I will not attempt it, but I warn you, sir, my eye will be constantly upon you to ensure her welfare’. As I recall, a long list of crimes committed by various members of my family were then recounted as well as a few misdemeanours of my own, exaggerated out of all proportion. I was left thoroughly bruised and shaken. I very nearly called off the engagement myself and begged your forgiveness for having the presumption to ask.”
“You did not.” Beth laughed at Robert’s solemn expression, the one he saved at home for errant children or at the hospital for students who had earned his displeasure; the one she knew very well had mirth lying just below the surface. “All right then, if you are determined to have your ‘rights as a father’ as you call them, send your letter. I will not spoil your fun, but really I think you’ll struggle to find much to complain about Scott as a prospective husband. He’s Murdoch’s son in more than just name.”
“You women have no imagination. There’s the distance and the uncivilised nature of Californian society. He was in the army and at college; I’ve had several months to make my own enquiries, and there’s plenty of ammunition of a more personal nature to torment the boy with. I’d be worried if there wasn’t. Katie would never be happy with a goody two-shoes sap or a pompous ass. And that’s before starting on his grandfather’s business ethics. Now there’s a pot of gold for my purposes.” Robert rubbed his hands together, eyes gleaming.
“After nearly thirty years of marriage it’s a revelation to learn I wed such an evil-minded man.”
“I’m not in the least bit evil. I’m just giving Scott what you’ve always wanted for him, a little normality. How is he to know how to deal with the young men who court my granddaughters, if he doesn’t experience ‘the interview’ himself? He has evaded my attention up until now; the least I can do is ensure he doesn’t miss out on that crucial lesson in a man’s education.” Robert stole a kiss and used Beth’s momentary surprise to escape into the hall. He unhooked his great coat from the stand and began pulling it on over his suit. “When you write to Katie, give her my love, but don’t give the game away. I’ll talk to Scott as soon as possible after we meet in September. Until then I want them both to feel the exquisite pain of suspense.”
Beth took over doing up his buttons. “If you upset Katie’s wedding plans, you’ll be sleeping on the sofa.”
“I don’t bow down to threats, woman. Come here.” Robert wrapped his arms around her, nuzzling into her hair, but at that precise moment the parlour maid came through the green-baize door. The girl gave a startled, “Oh” and backtracked rapidly, leaving Beth and Robert shaking against each other in the hallway.
Regaining her composure, Beth eased free and patted Robert’s chest to send him on his way. She could feel the letter in his pocket. “Be off with you.”
“Have no fear. If Lancer junior is worth the having, I’ll return him to Katie in one piece. There’ll be time enough for her to console him and forgive me.”
“The question is will I forgive you?” Beth smiled up at the infuriating man she married— still able to take her breathe away after six children and more family dramas than she cared to remember. God willing, Katie would be so lucky.
As if he was thinking the same thing, Robert grabbed her to him. Lifting her clear off the floor, he kissed her hard. “You always do, my love. You always do.”
1. This story is No.15 in the Eliot Series, which starts with Past Imperfect, 2015 and links back to From Highlands to Homecoming, 2014.
2. All my Lancer stories have their roots in the Lancer TV Series and owe a vote of thanks to its creator, Samuel A. Peeples, and others involved, particularly the wonderful actors who brought the characters and words to life.
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment. Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here. You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Margaret P. directly.