"In light of recent events, this seems a bit like shutting the door after the house is robbed. And I should add that I have no proof of anything. But the accusations the Lanhams have made against Harrow are sufficiently serious to merit consideration."
"What accusations?" Kev growled.
"Before Harrow built the clinic in France, he married the Lanhams' eldest daughter, Louise. She was said to be an unusually beautiful girl, a bit spoiled and willful, but on the whole an advantageous match for Harrow. She came with a large dowry and a well-connected family."
Reaching into his coat, Hunt extracted a slender silver cigar case. "Care for one?" he asked. Kev shook his head. Hunt pulled out a cigar, deftly bit off the tip, and lit it. The end of the cigar glowed as Hunt drew on it.
"According to the Lanhams," Hunt continued, exhaling a stream of aromatic smoke, "a year into the marriage, Louise changed. She became quite docile and distant, and seemed to have lost interest in her former pursuits. When the Lanhams approached Harrow with their concerns, he claimed the changes in her were simply evidence of maturity and marital contentment."
"But they didn't believe that?"
"No. When they questioned Louise, however, she claimed to be happy and she asked them not to interfere." Hunt raised the cigar to his lips again and stared thoughtfully at the lights of London winking through the night haze. "Sometime during the second year, Louise went into a decline."
Kev felt a discomforting chill at the word "decline," commonly used for any illness a doctor couldn't diagnose or comprehend. The inexorable physical failing that no treatment could prevent.
"She became weak and dispirited and bedridden. No one could do anything for her. The Lanhams insisted on bringing their own doctor to attend her, but he couldn't find any cause for illness. Louise's condition deteriorated over a month or so, and then she died. The family blamed Harrow for her demise. Before the marriage, Louise had been a healthy, high-spirited girl, and not quite two years later, she was gone."
"Sometimes declines happen," Kev remarked, feeling the need to play devil's advocate. "It wasn't necessarily Harrow 's doing."
"No. But it was Harrow 's reaction that convinced the family that he was responsible in some way for Louise's death. He was too composed. Dispassionate. A few crocodile tears for appearance's sake, and that was it."
"And after that he went to France with the dowry money?"
"Yes." Hunt's broad shoulders lifted in a shrug. "I despise gossip, Merripen. I rarely choose to pass it along. But the Lanhams are respectable people and not given to dramatics." Frowning, he tapped the ash from his cigar over the edge of the balustrade. "And despite all the good Harrow has reportedly done for his patients… I can't help but feel there is something amiss with him. It's nothing I can put into words."
Kev felt an ineffable relief to have his own thoughts echoed by a man like Hunt. "I've had the same feeling about Harrow, ever since I first met him," he said. "But everyone else seems to revere him."
There was a wry glint in Hunt's black eyes. "Yes, well… this wouldn't be the first time I didn't agree with popular opinion. But I think anyone who cares for Miss Hathaway should be concerned for her sake."
Merripen was gone by morning. He had checked out of the Rutledge and had left word that he would be traveling alone to the Ramsay estate.
Win had awoken with memories rising to the forefront of her bewildered mind. She felt heavy and weary and sullen. Merripen had been a part of her for too long. She had carried him in her heart, had absorbed him into the marrow of her bones. To let go of him now would feel like amputating part of herself. And yet it had to be done. Merripen himself had made it impossible for her to choose otherwise.
She washed and dressed with the help of a maid, and arranged her hair in a plaited chignon. There would be no meaningful talks with anyone in her family, she decided numbly. There would be no weeping or regrets. She was going to marry Dr. Julian Harrow and live far away from Hampshire. And she would try to find a measure of peace in that great, necessary distance.
"I want to be married as quickly as possible," she told Julian later that morning, as they had tea in the family suite. "I miss France. I want to return there without delay. As your wife."
Julian smiled and touched the curve of her cheek with smooth, tapered fingertips. "Very well, my dear." He took her hand in his, brushing across her knuckles with his thumb. "I have some business in London to take care of, and I'll join you in Hampshire in a few days. We'll make our plans there. We can marry at the estate chapel, if you like."
The chapel that Merripen had rebuilt. "Perfect," Win said evenly.
"I'll buy a ring for you today," Julian said. "What kind of stone would you like? A sapphire to match your eyes?"
"Anything you choose will be lovely." Win let her hand remain in his as they both fell silent. "Julian," she murmured, "you haven't yet asked what… what transpired between Merripen and me last night."
"There is no need," Julian replied. "I'm far too pleased by the result."
"I… I want you to understand that I will be a good wife to you," Win said earnestly. "I… My former attachment to Merripen…"
"That will fade in time," Julian said gently.