The bed was empty.
Harry stood there blinking while apprehension swept over him. He heard himself whisper her name.
In seconds he had reached the bellpull, but there was no need to call for anyone. As if by magic, Valentine was at the apartment door, his brown eyes alert in his lean face.
“Valentine,” Harry began hoarsely, “where is—”
“Mrs. Rutledge is with Lord Ramsay. I believe they are traveling to Hampshire as we speak.”
Harry grew very, very calm, as he always did when a situation was dire. “When did she leave?”
“Last night, while you were out.”
Resisting the urge to kill his valet where he stood, Harry asked softly, “And you didn’t tell me?”
“No, sir. She asked me not to.” Valentine paused, looking momentarily bemused, as if he, too, couldn’t believe that Harry hadn’t already killed him. “I have a carriage and team ready, if you intend to—”
“Yes, I intend to.” Harry’s tone was as crisp as the strike of a chisel through granite. “Pack my clothes. I’m leaving within the half hour.”
Rage hovered nearby, so powerful that Harry could scarcely own it as his. But he shoved the feeling aside. Giving in to it would accomplish nothing. The undertaking for now was to wash and shave, change his clothes, and deal with the situation.
Any hint of concern or contrition burned to ashes. Any hope of being kind or gentlemanly had gone. He would keep Poppy no matter how he had to do it. He would lay out the law, and when he was through, she would never dare leave him again.
Poppy awakened from a jolting sleep and sat up, rubbing her eyes. Leo was dozing in the seat opposite hers, his broad shoulders hunched and one arm curled behind his head as he leaned against a paneled wall.
Nudging aside the little curtain over one of the windows, Poppy saw her beloved Hampshire . . . sun crossed, green, peaceful. She had been in London too long—she had forgotten how beautiful the world could be. The carriage passed flushes of poppies and oxeye daisies and vibrant stands of lavender. The landscape was rich with wet meadows and chalk streams. Brilliant blue kingfishers and swifts darted through the sky, while green woodpeckers rattled the trees.
“Almost there,” she whispered.
Leo awakened, yawning and stretching. His eyes narrowed in a protesting squint as he lifted a cloth panel for a glimpse of the passing countryside.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Poppy asked, smiling. “Have you ever seen such views?”
Her brother dropped the panel. “Sheep. Grass. Thrilling.”
Before long the carriage reached the Ramsay lands and passed the gatekeeper’s house, which had been constructed of blue gray brick and cream stone. Owing to recent and extensive renovations, the landscape and manor were new looking, although the house had retained its haphazard charm. The estate was not a large one, certainly nothing compared to the massive neighboring estate owned by Lord Westcliff. But it was a jewel, the land fertile and varied, with fields irrigated by channels that had been dug from a nearby stream to the upper fields.
Before Leo had inherited the title, the estate had fallen into decay and disrepair, abandoned by many of the tenants. Now, however, it had been turned into a thriving and progressive enterprise, mostly due to the efforts of Kev Merripen. And Leo, though he was almost embarrassed to admit it, had come to care about the estate and was doing his best to acquire the vast amounts of knowledge necessary to make it run efficiently.
Ramsay House was a cheerful combination of architectural styles. Originally an Elizabethan manor house, it had been altered as successive generations had grafted on additions and wings. The result was an asymmetrical building with bristling chimney stacks, rows of leaded-glass windows, and a gray slate roof with h*ps and bays. Inside, there were interesting niches and nooks, odd-shaped rooms, hidden doors and staircases, all adding to an eccentric charm that perfectly suited the Hathaway family.
Roses in bloom hugged the exterior of the house. Behind the manor, white-graveled walking paths led to gardens and fruit orchards. Stables and a livestock yard were set to one side of the manor, while at a farther distance there was a timber yard in full production.
The carriage stopped on the front drive before a set of timbered doors with glass insets. By the time the footmen had gone to alert the household of their arrival and Leo had assisted Poppy from the vehicle, Win had come running from the house. She flung herself at Leo. He grinned and caught her easily, swinging her around.
“Dear Poppy,” Win exclaimed. “I missed you dreadfully!”
“What about me?” Leo asked, still holding her. “Haven’t you missed me?”
“Perhaps a little,” Win said with a grin, and kissed his cheek. She went to Poppy and embraced her. “How long will you stay?”
“I’m not sure,” Poppy said.
“Where is everyone?” Leo asked.
Win kept her slender arm around Poppy’s back as she turned to reply. “Cam is visiting Lord Westcliff at Stony Cross Park, Amelia is inside with the baby, Beatrix is roaming the woods, and Merripen is with some of the tenants, lecturing them on new techniques of hoeing.”
The word caught Leo’s attention. “I know all about that. If you don’t want to go to a brothel, there are certain districts of London—”
“Hoeing, Leo,” Win said. “Breaking ground with farm implements.”
“Oh. Well, I know nothing about that.”
“You’ll find out a great deal about it once Merripen learns you’re here.” Win tried to look severe, although her eyes were twinkling. “I do hope you’ll behave, Leo.”