The housekeeper paused before the door of the bookroom. Delia wondered at her hesitation. She experienced unease as the woman beckoned to Morag, who was supervising the disposal of the trunks.
"Your maid must come in with you, Miss, and I shall remain, rather than only announce you, if you do not object. The Earl may be a little ... irritated ... by your arrival."
Delia's slender frame tautened apprehensively.
"But why? What is amiss? His lordship's letters were welcoming," she faltered. The housekeeper would not meet her worried gaze.
Morag hurried across the passage, concern and protectiveness merged in her expression.
The housekeeper had already entered the book-lined chamber. It was but dimly lit by a single branch of candles. Across an expanse of fine India carpet, there was a gentleman seated at a massive walnut desk; a dark haired man who did not lift his head at the opening of the door.
"What is it, Inniskip?" He seemed to snarl rather than speak. A glittering decanter and an empty goblet stood at his elbow. He plied a quill determinedly.
"Guests, my lord." The housekeeper seemed to brace herself--for what reason Delia could not imagine.
She directed her anxious gaze from the housekeeper's tense, worsted-clad back to the gentleman at the desk. He appeared much younger than she had expected of the fourth Earl of Torgreave.
"Guests? The hell you say." He flung down his quill, and lifted his head.
Delia drew in a deep, shocked breath, as she stared at his fine-drawn, dissipated face. His features were as familiar to her as her own. She reached for Morag, who was immediately to hand and seemed as dazed as her mistress. They supported each other wordlessly.
"This is Miss Cordelia Tyninghame, my lord." The housekeeper hurried into explanations, apparently unaware of the distress of the visitors. "She wrote in November to the late Earl your father, believing him still to be alive. The late Viscount Tyninghame was a friend of the fourth Earl. Miss Tyninghame asked if she could prevail upon that friendship to visit London from Edinburgh for a few weeks, before the Season. Knowing you would not respond to the letter, I did."
Torgreave replied slowly, only his clenched hands revealing his immediate understanding, and his anger.
"And you believed I needed company; that this would waken me to the error of my ways and change my life," the fifth Earl's face was sardonic. "Damn you Inniskip; who do you think you are--my mother?" He corrected himself. "No, you care more for me than my mother ever did. But this is too much--you have overstepped yourself." He rose, displaying a richly brocaded banyan drawn carelessly over dark pantaloons and a fine lawn shirt. He was above an average height. Though lean to the point of emaciation, he exuded a latent strength.
"And have our guests no tongues?" he mocked, as he rounded the desk. Delia shrank away, imagining a threat in his proximity. "Do Scotswomen not speak in the presence of men--or has the discovery that your host is not some doddering fool unnerved you? It cannot be that my reputation has traveled to the Athens of the North."
"Miss Tyninghame deserves your respect, my lord," Morag snapped bravely.
"God preserve us, another interfering servant," jibed the fifth Earl.
Morag's words gave Delia strength. "My lord," she said, "I have suffered a severe shock. It goes beyond your discourtesy and the discovery that the fourth Earl had naught to do with my invitation to London. I beg Mrs. Inniskip will close the door, and that she and Mrs. Lochmaddy remain with us. Morag knows what I am about to reveal. Your astonishment will equal my own."
"What the devil can you mean?"
Delia lifted gloved hands to put back her veil.
"Good God!" he exclaimed. The housekeeper gasped as she saw Miss Tyninghame's face.