Upon entering his home, Robert asked Edwards to find his wife and have her meet him in the library. Her knock came a few minutes later.
“Fiona,” Robert said, and stood from his chair. “How do you feel?” She looked weary.
“I am well, my lord,” she said. Her eyes were bloodshot as if she had been crying for days. “You wish to speak to me?”
“Yes.” He led her to the chairs in front of the windows.
“Good. I need to speak to you as well.” She took a deep breath and settled her skirts. “I wish to know if you have had the annulment papers drawn.”
Surprised at her question, he answered truthfully. “Yes, if you must know, Berkeley and Goss had them drawn since our return from
. Why?” Scotland
“I see,” she said. “And do you keep them here?”
“Fiona, what is all this about? Why do wish to know about the papers?”
“Please, my lord, pray answer the question. Are they here?” Desperation marked her tone.
“Yes, they are in my desk.”
“May I see them?”
“Fiona, what do want with the annulment papers? We have several months….”
She interrupted him. “My lord, if you would be so kind as to show me the papers.” Her voice now held steely determination.
Robert rose from the chair and Fiona followed him to his desk. She watched intently as he removed the ring of keys from his inner coat pocket and opened the locked drawer near the bottom of the desk. He pulled out the sheaf of papers and handed them to her. “I ask again, what is this all about?”
Fiona studied the paperwork and then looked at him. “I wish you to submit these to your solicitor. If my signature is required, I will sign where you indicate.”
“What?” She could not be serious.
“I wish you to seek the annulment now, my lord. I should not like to wait. And if that cannot be done, then I wish you to seek a divorce.”
Robert sank down in the chair behind his desk. “Absolutely not.”
“I beg your pardon?” The bravado she had shown earlier dissipated a fraction.
“I said no,” Robert stated vehemently. There was no way he would move ahead with the annulment now.
“And may I ask why not?”
She would never believe him if he told her the truth. He thought quickly. “You are still recovering from a very bad fright. You have not found a suitable husband to take my place. And it will do great harm to my career if you swan off now, before the dinner party and I introduce the legislation to the House floor.” Robert ticked off his points on three fingers.
“I see.” Fiona slumped down on the edge of the chair in front of his desk.
Robert gentled his voice. “Fiona, tell me what brought this on. Is it because of what happened the other night?”
“Yes, in a small way. My misfortune the other night, and the subsequent gossip in the papers have shown me what a blight I have been on your family. Everyone knows we do not suit and I feel it is in both our best interests if you would just let me go. I will forgo the settlement and the jewels, if you will allow me to keep the gowns and other clothing.”
Robert paused to think. “And how would you make your way in Society?”
“I have been thinking of opening a shop. I own a certain knack for wool and cloth and I could make my way very well indeed if given the opportunity. I would no longer be the Duke of Cantin’s wife, but I am still the Earl of Stewart’s daughter such as it is, and with the independence of a career I would not have to suffer through the indignities of life as much were I not born to it.”
“I see.” Robert leaned back in his chair. She had thought this through carefully. “I shall think about it,” he said.
“But, my lord, you must....”
“I said I shall think about it, Fiona.” He didn’t mean to sound harsh, however, the girl had just thrown him through a circus hoop. “Now is there anything else?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact there is.” She stood with her shoulders square. “After the annulment, I should like to take Merry with me. I have grown quite fond of her, almost like a sister, and it would cause Cantin House no great harm to lose one small insignificant parlour maid.” She took a step to go and then turned back. “Also, Penny’s ball is tonight at Caymore House and I will be attending with your mother, naturally. I do not expect you to escort us, but please do try to make an appearance. Penny will be quite put out if you do not.”
He could tell by the jut of her chin as she walked out, this discussion was far from over.
Bloody hell! Just when he found what he wanted from the chit, she now wanted the annulment! Robert ran his hands through his hair and gazed down at the papers on his desk. Well, she would not get it. He would be damned if he would let her run off to be some sort of modiste. What would that do to his reputation? He could see the headline now –
Duke of Cantin’s Former Wife Now a Dressmaker.
He’d stalled her for the nonce, but how long would it be before she took matters into her own hand to ask for an annulment from him? Damned unconventional wench! He knew she would hire her own solicitor and do it too.