An excerpt wherein Greer finds herself stuck without funds or family on the border of Wales…
The solicitor, Mr. Davies, was an elderly man, whose office was in a very old building with sagging wood floors. After Mr. Percy had gallantly used his kerchief to dust off a chair for her, Greer explained her situation to the diminutive man: that she suspected she was her father’s only heir, but wasn’t certain, given her estrangement from her father at an early age.
Mr. Davies said nothing as she spoke. When she finished, he donned a pair of spectacles, ran his hands through a shock of stiff gray hair, then searched through a stack of papers and binders. He finally found a large leather binder, from which he pulled a sheath of papers. He laid them out on his crowded desk and proceeded to study them, muttering to himself while Greer sat impatiently across the desk from him, Mr. Percy standing attentively behind her.
After a time, Mr. Davies removed his spectacles and peered closely at Greer. “Indeed, you are your father’s only living heir,” he said flatly.
Greer gasped with surprise and elation; Mr. Percy put a steadying hand on her shoulder.
“Unfortunately, as no provision was made to find you, and your whereabouts were unknown, what was left of your father, Mr. Yorath Vaughan’s estate, passed to his brother, Mr. Randolph Vaughan, who is your late uncle. Mr. Randolph Vaughan likewise had no surviving heirs, and upon his death, the whole of his estate—which included your father’s portion, naturally—was passed to the husband of his deceased wife’s deceased sister, his lordship Rhodrick Glendower.”
Greer blinked, trying to follow. Mr. Davies returned his spectacles to his face and folded his hands on top of his desk. “He is known in England, indeed in Bredwardine, as the Earl of Radnor. But not three miles from here, in Wales, he is known by another name.”
Mr. Percy’s hand tightened on Greer’s shoulder. “I beg your pardon, but you can hardly mean—”
“I do indeed, Mr. Percy!” the solicitor said grandly, obviously quite pleased with himself. “Miss Fairchild’s inheritance—if indeed it does exist—has passed along with your uncle’s estate to none other than the Prince of Powys!”
“Who?” Greer asked as Mr. Percy’s hand slid away from her shoulder.
“The Prince of Powys,” Mr. Davies articulated carefully. “A hereditary title in the eyes of the English, perhaps, but in Wales, madam, he is known simply as the prince. He is not a man to be trifled with.”
Honestly, she didn’t care if he was the bloody King of England—he had her inheritance. “How do I find him?”
Mr. Davies slammed shut the leather binder, from which a cloud of dust so thick arose that Greer had to wave it from her face. “At Llanmair, of course, where all the princes of Powys have resided before him and shall continue to reside long after he is gone.”
“And where, precisely, is Llanmair?” she pressed.
The solicitor chuckled low, pointed at the small, dingy window. “West. At the base of the Cambrians, in a wood thick with game.”
Greer squinted at the old man. He held her gaze, daring her to challenge his poetic, yet impractical, directions. As he seemed the intractable sort, Greer stood, fished in her reticule for a crown and held it out to Mr. Davies. “Thank you, sir. You’ve been very helpful.”
Mr. Davies extended his bony hand and snatched the coin from her hand. “Good luck, Miss Fairchild,” he’d said, and had chuckled in a manner that sent a shiver down Greer’s spine.
Naturally, Mr. Percy persuaded her to continue on and to hire a private coach. Greer was rather reluctant to do so, given her dwindling funds, but Mr. Percy thought it absolutely necessary for traveling so deeply into Wales, which naturally, he convinced her she must do. “There was something left of your father’s estate, Miss Fairchild, just as you’ve hoped! Of course you must go on! But it is a hard journey, and in the privacy of a hired coach, I should think there would be less speculation as to who you are.”
That was his very polite way of reminding her there was a way to avoid scandal. Still, she debated it—she had just enough money to go back to London—or, with a little luck, to claim her inheritance. At the time, she believed it Mr. Percy was right. She had come quite a long way and she might as well finish her journey. So against her better judgment, her sense of propriety, and every blessed thing she had learned at Aunt Cassandra’s knee, Greer and Mr. Percy set out in the direction of Llanmair.
In a private coach.
That she had hired.
It wasn’t until they were far from any village or sign of civilization that Mr. Percy confessed the Prince of Powys was none other than his wretched uncle, the man who had ruined him.
“You can’t mean it!” Greer had cried, shocked.
“You shouldn’t be surprised, really,” he’d said cavalierly. “The man wields considerable influence in these parts. How else could he have…?” His voice trailed off, and with a sidelong glance at Greer, he clenched his jaw and shifted his gaze out the window.
“I beg your pardon, how could he have what?”
“I cannot say, Miss Fairchild. You are too…too pure to hear of the vile nature of that man.”
Greer had snorted at that. As she was traveling into Wales with a man who was not her husband or otherwise related to her, she rather thought goodness was no longer a consideration. “I have made my decision and I am quite determined, sir. You must tell me what you know of this man, for now he has my inheritance as well as yours.”
“Yes, of course, you must stand up for what is rightfully yours,” he’d agreed instantly. “You are to be commended for your bravery, Miss Fairchild.”
She wasn’t the least bit brave, she was desperate. “Then please do tell me what I must know.”
With a sigh, he’d looked at the broad palms of his hand. “In addition to seizing my lands, the details of which you are well aware, the blackguard also compromised the daughter of a solicitor in Rhayader, and then steadfastly refused to do the honorable thing by her.”
Greer blinked; Mr. Percy suddenly surged forward, put his hand on her knee and said low, “But that was not the worst of it. Soon after his refusal, the young woman went missing. The entire county looked for her high and low… but she was nowhere to be found.”
“Oh dear God,” Greer exclaimed, her mind racing with all the horrible things that could befall a woman in a land as remote as Wales.
“But then, by some miracle, in the middle of a vast forest comprising thousands of acres, he found her.” He leaned back, removed his hand from her knee. “She was dead, of course. Broken neck.”
“Oh God, no!”
“He alone led the authorities to her body, miles from Llanmair.”
But Mr. Percy narrowed his gaze and suddenly surged forward again. “I think you do not fully take my meaning, Miss Fairchild. Twenty-five thousand acres of virgin land and forest surround Llanmair. It is impossible to traverse them all. Yet somehow, he managed to find her in a very remote ravine.”
His implication sank in, and Greer blinked. “You mean…murder?” she whispered.
Mr. Percy shrugged and sat back again. “There are many who believe it is so. There is no end to the man’s depravity.”
Now, as Greer looked out the coach’s window at that huge, foreboding castle, a shiver ran down her spine. Suddenly, she needed to be near Mr. Percy and opened the coach door stepped out just as she caught sight of the rider coming toward them. Mr. Percy saw him, too, for he instantly turned and held up a hand. “Stay in the coach, Miss Fairchild!”
But Greer did not move—she was transfixed by the approaching rider.
He was thundering toward them at a dangerous speed. His greatcoat billowed out behind him like the wings of an enormous bird and he leaned tightly over the neck of a large black steed that sent up thick clods of earth from his hooves. It seemed almost as if the man didn’t see them gathered there, as if he intended to ride right through them. Greer cried out, darting behind Mr. Percy just as the rider reined to a hard stop, causing the horse to rear. His enormous legs churned the air as he came down, and the man reined the horse again, hard to the right, away from the other horses.
With a tight hold on the agitated horse, he glared down at them all, and as Greer stepped out from behind Mr. Percy, he turned his glacial green eyes to her.
She’d never felt such a shiver in all her life.
The rider was older than she, perhaps by ten years or more. A scar traversed one side of his face, from the corner of his eye to the middle of his cheek, disappearing into the shadow of his beard. His jaw was clenched tightly shut, and beneath his hat, she glimpsed the distinctive black hair of the Welsh with a bit of gray at the temples. He was not a handsome man and not even the least bit agreeable—in fact, he looked quite fierce.
Mr. Percy instantly stepped in front of Greer and spoke in Welsh. Whatever he said, the man spurred his horse forward a few steps so that he could look at Greer again with those frightfully cold green eyes.
At the same moment, a fat rain drop hit the top of Greer’s bonnet, startling her. It was followed by another, and then several more, and she impulsively said to the man, from whom she had not been able to take her gaze, “If you please, we should like to pass. We mean to reach—”
Mr. Percy clamped down on her forearm and spoke in Welsh, and again, the man did not respond, but looked at Greer.
“I beg your pardon,” she whispered to Mr. Percy, “but I think we should explain who we are.”
“What do you think I have been attempting to do this last quarter of an hour?” he responded curtly under his breath. “If you will just allow me—”
“But it is beginning to rain,” Greer said, noting the hint of despair in her own voice, and looked at the man in black again. “I don’t mean to be untoward, sir, but I fear we shall be caught in the rain.”
The man said nothing. Greer was getting wetter by the moment and stepped forward. “We have important business with the Earl of Radnor…the, ah…the prince, so please do kindly allow us to pass.”
Once again, her plea was met with cold silence. Greer glanced anxiously at Mr. Percy. “Do you think he understands me?” she whispered.
“Oh…I am quite certain that he does,” Mr. Percy said assuredly.
If the man did or did not, he refused to make any indication and her fear began to melt into anger at his rudeness. She lifted her chin as she stared at his rugged face, her eyes steady on his.
He surprised her by saying something in Welsh to the three men who stood between them. He then reined his horse about and rode off just as quickly as he’d arrived.
“What did he say?” Greer asked, surprised by his abrupt departure.
Mr. Percy sighed and gestured for her to step into the carriage. “He gave us leave to pass,” he muttered, and taking her hand firmly, handed her up to the coach. He glanced up at the driver. “Carry on,” he barked, and followed Greer inside.
When the coach began to move, Greer wearily brushed rain water from her cloak and said, “His lordship may very well be a murderer, but I intend to let him know how unbearably rude his man is.”
Mr. Percy sighed irritably. “Miss Fairchild, that unbearably rude man was the Prince of Powys!”
Oh dear God.