Cut to the Quick
the Fontclairs must owe him money. A lot of people do, and some of them get into quite desperate straits. So I looked through his ledgers once, when he wasn't there. I know I oughtn’t to have done that without telling him, but I had to know what hold he has over the Fontclairs. But there wasn’t any sign that he’d lent them money.”
    “What other means of— persuasion— might he have used?”
    “I think he’s holding something terrible over the Fontclairs' heads. He must be—otherwise they'd never have agreed to accept me as Mr. Fontclair’s wife.” She added in a low voice, “I suppose you know Papa was a servant here, years ago.”
    “I had heard that, yes.”
    She looked at him very directly for the first time. “I want you to
    know, I’m not ashamed of Papa’s birth, or mine. Everything Papa has in the world he won for himself, by hard work and discipline and a firm will. I’m proud of him for that. But the Fontclairs couldn’t be expected to look at him or me that way. They value different things—birth and rank and having ancestors who came over with William the Conqueror. It’s wrong of Papa to try to force himself and me into their world. I told him that. I told him I would much rather marry a self-made man like him than a highborn gentleman who didn’t want me. But he wouldn’t listen—he still won’t. He has his heart set on this marriage. I’ve never seen him want anything so badly.”
    “Have you any idea why?”
    “I thought at first it was just because the Fontclairs seemed powerful and grand to him when he was a boy. I thought perhaps my marrying Mr. Fontclair was a kind of symbol to him of everything he’d achieved. Now I’m not so sure. Since I’ve been at Bellegarde, I’ve begun to think he has some grudge against the Fontclairs, and they against him. Lady Tarleton hates him. Of course, that might just be because she’s angry about the marriage—but I don’t think so. I have a feeling she’s hated him for years. And I think he hates all the Fontclairs and wants revenge on them. I’m the revenge, Mr. Kestrel.”
    Julian hardly knew what to say. “I imagine you’ve thought carefully about whether you can marry Hugh Fontclair, believing what you do?”
    “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Mr. Fontclair told me when he offered for me that the honour and safety of his family depended on my marrying him. He was very honest about it. He couldn’t say he— he loved me. We’d never even met before. He was right to be straightforward and not pay compliments he didn’t mean. I asked him what Papa would do to his family if he didn’t offer for me, or if I didn’t accept. He said he was sorry, but I would have to ask Papa. I’m sure Papa’s given orders to the Fontclairs not to tell me. I think, deep down, he must be very ashamed of himself. He’s not a bad man, truly, though you may find that hard to believe.”
    “Judging him by his daughter, I should say he must be the finest fellow alive.”
    Her mouth dropped open in a little moue of surprise. She smiled shyly. “That was a nice thing to say. Thank you. M
    It dawned on him, all in a moment, that Miss Craddock was adorable. He could think of far worse penances than having to take her to wife His eyes must have expressed his appreciation, but all he said was, “You haven’t yet told me how I can help you.'*
    “I just need advice. I’m very confused. Is it worse to marry Mr. Fontclair when he doesn’t want me, or refuse to marry him and ler his family be hurt in some way I don’t understand?”
    “What about your own happiness? Does that count for so little?” She blushed again and hung her head, letting her sidecurls veil her face. “I only want to do what’s best for him."
    Ah, he thought, so that’s how it is. “Does he have any idea how lucky he really is?”
    “What do you mean?”
    “I mean, does he know how you feel about him?”
    “No. I don’t think so. I wish I could say I kept it

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