did not want to think about how he felt. He did not want to think at all.
As he passed down the row of stalls, water dripping from the brim of his ruined hat, the chestnut Hannah Chandler had threatened to buy poked forth his head and whickered. Good-tempered, this entire bloodline. âI found your son today, Nottingham.â
The old horse should have been stabled at the familyâs stud farm. But the other stallions had been sold, the broodmares sold, the buildings closed up.
So quickly, it had all been dismantled. It would be the work of years to rebuild.
Indifferent to these concerns, the chestnut nuzzled Bartâs coat.
âNo apples with me this time.â By way of apology, Bart scratched behind the horseâs ears until the old fellowâs head drooped with contentment.
There was no itch someone could scratch for Bart, nothing that could make him forget. Hannah, crushing her jaunty plumes into the dirt. Hannahâs voice, accusing him of betrayal after it had so recently cried out in pleasure.
A week ago, he had not known the sound of her voice. Now he had come to crave its every incisive word. He longed for the sight of her. The touch of her.
Once he let himself start wanting things, he wanted far too much. It was not wise. He needed to pay attention to what he had instead of what he wanted.
Or what he had lost.
This colt was meant to carry us both away , she had once said. But only one person could ride Golden Barb. Only one of them could take him home.
And he belonged to Bart, for Godâs sake. If someone gave a personâor a relativeâmoney to buy his home, unsolicited, that did not make it theirs. A thing could not be bought if it was not for sale. The Chandlers, with all their money, had forgotten this simple fact.
No, someone had wrongly taken his colt, had dyed it to deceive bettors and owners and jockeys. When theft married deceit, how could it be wrong to undo both at once?
He thought he and Hannah could close the rift between their families, but any attempt they made could only be temporary. One never knew when it would yawn open again beneath their feet.
There was someone, he knew, who had far more to do with this new rift than she had admitted. Rarely did she give a helpful answer to a question. By now, though, Bart thought he had enough answers to ensure she was honest with him about the missing pieces of this puzzle.
âCarry on with your work,â he told the stable boys. âIf the horseâs behavior shows any change, let me know at once. I shall be in the house, speaking with Lady Crosby.â
* * *
As usual, the first thing Bart did upon entering his motherâs bedchamber was cross to the window and raise the sash.
He had paused only long enough to exchange his wet coat and boots for dry ones, and the rain that had dogged his journey home still fell. Droplets spattered the sash, bringing in a damp breeze and the faint scent of wet earth.
Propped with pillows against the head of her bed, Lady Crosby looked up from the book in her lap. âBartlett.â She set aside the quizzing glass she now used to assist her reading.
He dove right in. âHow much of Hannah Chandlerâs money did you give Northrup?â
The left side of her face sagged and stilled like the right.
âWho injured Bridgetâs Brown, Lady Crosby?â
âNo one,â she croaked. âBartlett, I am illââ
âYou are only ill when you choose to be. When you handle businessâwhether or not itâs legal for you to do soâyou seem healthy and resourceful enough.â
For a long moment, mother and son stared at each other. She was the first to look away. âI need my vinaigrette.â
Striding to her bedside, he found the silver case and flipped it open for her. She took a brief, sharp breath, then nodded. Done .
Snapping the case closed again, Bart hesitated, then sat upon the edge of the bed. âI know some of the