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By Austin Osman Spare

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Of course, the fire was not of importance now, as it was the middle of August, but it was still the room she chose whenever she was alone. Since the Season was over and many of the ton had returned to their country seats, she had few visitors these days, only her closest friends. As a consequence, the formal withdrawing room was kept closed, and Francesca spent her time here. She was seated at the small secretary beside the windows, her accounts ledger open before her. She had been poring over the figures, but the pencil now lay in the trough between the pages, and she was gazing out at the small side garden, where the roses were putting up a last colorful show before autumn arrived.

Don't be difficult, Sinclair," Lady Odelia admonished. " Rochford's mouth tightened, and he flashed a hot glance at Francesca, but he bowed his head in polite acquiescence and said, "Of course. Forgive me, Lady Haughston. " "Do not worry," Francesca murmured in a silky tone. " She was rewarded by a sardonic look from beneath his brows, but the duke said nothing more. "It isn't that I dislike the boy," Lady Odelia went on, ignoring their exchange. "He is my great-nephew, after all, and I hope it never will be said that I denigrated any of my own blood—although God knows, Bertrand has tested my limits often enough.

In their childhood, it had been she who had shielded him from their father's curses and blows. Humphrey had set about settling his father's debts and rebuilding the estate, leaving it to his sister to run the household, as she long had done for her mother. Life had moved along smoothly enough as they emerged from the period of mourning into a resumption of social activities. The debts had been largely repaid, and though there was a heavy mortgage on the entailed land that had passed to Humphrey, the money situation had loosened enough to allow for new dresses and the giving and attending of parties.

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