Thea linked her arm into her father’s as they walked along the draughty corridor towards the east drawing-room.
“Oh, Daddy!” She groaned. “That Florence is awful. I don’t think she’s ever laughed in her life except for those ridiculous giggles, which hardly count. I thought the evening would never end!”
“I’m glad to have some time with my girl.” Charlie laughed, his eyes glinting in his red face as he caught her up in a huge hug. “If you could hear them back in New York! Apparently Mrs Astor and her cronies got quite a shock when she saw that photograph of you with the King!”
His grin faded as he remembered the repeated snubs and exclusions he and Thea had suffered at the hands of the “Old Money” who ruled New York society. Why was it that people like him, who’d made their fortunes through hard work, were beneath those who had simply inherited their wealth? Why was new money not as good as “old”? None of it made any sense to him.
But now it seemed that his Thea would have the best of both worlds.
“Very soon I shall be the Countess of Witney!” Thea put her head against Charlie’s shoulder.
“You’ve done well, honey. They’re not a bad sort here. I had a talk with Reggie. Think I might be able to help him out. He’s not a rich man, you know – hasn’t got what it takes.”
“Daddy, you’re better than the lot of them put together!”
They sat together by the fire.
“It’s so cold! And I do miss the electric light.”
“We can see about that,” he said, patting her hand. “Now, tell me about this fellow of yours.” He looked at his daughter quizzically, wondering what she saw in this man who was to be his son-in-law.
“He’s sweet, Daddy. I’ll never forget my first sight of him. The poor man collapsed on the race through the city and I just happened to be there! I don’t know what he’d have done if I hadn’t rescued him. He’s awfully clever, really. Why, half the words he uses I don’t even understand! And he’ll do anything for me.” She hugged herself. “I know he’s not the handsomest man I’ve ever met, but he’s by far the sweetest, and I do love him.”
They talked on in the crackling firelight while, in his study, Reginald pored over the account books, his mind racing with the plan hatched by Charlie Allbright over the port and cigars.
“Invest in the railroad? Surely not!” Lord Farrington had dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand, remembering friends who had poured their money into the American railroads only to become disenchanted. “Your land may be cheap, but you and I both know your lines were cheaply built as well. So the operating costs are higher than for our more carefully constructed lines.”
Charlie shifted in his seat as the Marquess continued.
“Your North American winters add to the costs. And, of course, the railroads depend on carrying agricultural products. Everything fluctuates with crop yields.”
Charlie had to admit this Brit certainly knew his stuff. But he’d had another idea all along.
“Reggie, I’m not talking about the transcontinental railroad. It’s another little venture – in California. All very hush-hush at the moment. Why not come across the pond and have a look? Stay with me for a while, and afterwards, you can make your way west.”