Anna read the missive from the war office again.
We regret to inform you that your father, General Sinclair, has been listed as missing and presumed dead while performing duties in the Mississippi Valley of the United States of America. He played a gallant part in furthering the Crown’s interests on the North American Continent.
He was missing, not dead. An important designation to be sure.
She had been expecting to receive a letter such as this from the war office since she was twelve-years-old. The only real variable was where her father would die, which campaign, which battle, which enemy.
Mr. Grayson cleared his throat. “My humblest apologies, Miss Sinclair.”
She nodded and returned the missive to its envelope then slid them into her pocket.
“Oh, my dear.” Mrs. Bartley wrung her hands. “This must come as quite a shock to you. I insisted on coming with Mr. Grayson when I learned from my sister what had happened.” Having been Anna’s mother’s dearest friend, it was expected the older woman would feel some obligation to Anna as her compatriot’s only child.
Anna nodded again, her mind awhirl with the news. There would be her own letters to write, arrangements to be made. Perhaps no arrangements since her father’s body had not been found. What did one do when this happened? If her father had allowed her to stay with the regiment after her mother had died, perhaps she’d know the protocol when there was no body. Instead, he’d sent her away to live with his childhood friend’s family these last twelve years, and now she didn’t know what to do. One couldn’t bury one’s father if it was possible he was still alive.
“Miss Sinclair?” Mr. Grayson’s voice broke through her thoughts and she blinked herself back to the moment. “Are you all right? Should I call—”
“No.” Anna forced herself to smile and raised her hand to reassure him. “I’m quite all right.” It occurred to Anna that she should ring for tea for the guests. “I’ve been a terrible hostess.”
Mrs. Bartley clasped her hand before she could cross the room to the bell pull. “Oh dearest, you must be in shock. Sit here.” The older woman deposited Anna on the settee and pulled the bell herself.
Mr. Grayson fidgeted, clearly wanting to be anywhere else than in the Duke of Morewether’s front parlor giving such dire news to a young woman, when the duke wasn’t even at home to impress. The man from the War Office adjusted his cuffs.
“If the Office can be of any assistance to you…” Anna knew Mr. Grayson didn’t mean his offer. What could they possibly do for the spinster daughter of a missing general?
“Certainly.” Anna gave him the wan smile again. “If you hear any news, you’ll let me know straight away, won’t you?”
He nodded. “That goes without saying.”
Mrs. Bartley fussed over the tea service. “You poor, poor dear. All alone in the world now. Whatever will you do?”
“I’m going to America, of course.”
That stopped Mr. Grayson. “Miss?”
Chamomile sloshed over the rim of the china and pooled in the saucer when Mrs. Bartley froze in mid-delivery. “What?”
“I’m going to America.” She said the words with finality, sure of herself. “I’ve nothing to lose. Nothing at all.”
Mr. Grayson stared at her. “Yes, well… I’m not certain… I don’t think…” He cleared his throat.
Mrs. Bartley’s hands fluttered over the tea service. “That’s quite rash, don’t you think?”
Anna turned to Mr. Grayson. “What is the War Office doing to find my father? This letter seems awfully final. Are you doing anything at all?”
He stood marginally taller. Anna wasn’t sure what that was supposed to prove. Like most short people, she wasn’t intimidated by those of greater stature than herself. Everyone was taller than her. She raised her chin and narrowed her eyes.
“The War Office isn’t going to disclose top secret plans to you, regardless of who your father was. You’ll have to trust that the gentlemen in charge are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of their operatives.”
Ah. “They’re doing nothing.” Anna fisted her hands on her hips. “My father gave his entire life to this country and you gentlemen are just going to leave him in the wilds of America? Well, I’m going to go find him.”
“Why in the world would you think you can do that? You can’t go off to America, Miss Sinclair. Your father wouldn’t approve.” He must have interpreted the set of her mouth to mean he wasn’t convincing her.
Mrs. Bartley nodded, her lace cap fluttering with the movement. “Going off to America is very dangerous, dear.”
“I’m disappointed in you,” Anna told Mrs. Bartley. “You followed the drum with your husband across the Crimea. You were as dedicated and fearsome as any woman out there. Are you telling me you wouldn’t want to know what happened to your husband if you received this news? Would you want the War Office to give up on him?”
“No.” The old lady’s nervous hands settled on her lap.
“No, you wouldn’t,” Anna continued. “Not the Mrs. Bartley I know. The lady who stitched up soldiers and horses alike.” Mrs. Bartley was nodding in agreement, and Anna could see her recalling her high-spirited younger years with her husband.
“Miss Sinclair,” Mr. Grayson interjected, “what you describe is not a viable plan. It’s not even a plan in the barest sense. It’s lunacy. You may not go to the States. It’s absurd.”
“Mr. Grayson.” Anna made her words very distinct. “Are you forbidding me to go?”
The expression on the man from the War Office darkened, but Anna stood her ground. Mrs. Bartley squeaked and more chamomile sloshed onto the Turkish rug. The door to the parlor swung wide and the Duke and Duchess of Morewether entered.
Christian, the Duke of Morewether, who was as much a brother to her as any man could be not be while not being actually related, strode across the room with confidence. “The footman said you were with someone from the War Office.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Mr. Grayson ducked his head in a bow and then gave him his name.
Thea, his new duchess, tucked her arm through Anna’s in a gesture of support. “Did he bring news of your father?”
Anna withdrew the envelope and handed it to Thea. “He is missing.”
Christian turned his attention to her, his brow creased with concern. “Missing?” Then he turned his focus to Mr. Grayson whose height seemed to deflate some under the scrutiny of the duke. “What is being done?”
Anna gestured wildly. “Nothing. Nothing at all. After all my father’s done…”
Thea took a seat on the settee with Mrs. Bartley who promptly handed over a cup of tea. “Oh Anna, I’m so sorry.”
She nodded and pursed her lips. She could settle into maudlin sentimentality later. Right now, there wasn’t time. The list began to form in her head of all that she’d need to pack for the journey ahead.
“Your Grace,” Mr. Grayson said. “I’m just trying to explain to Miss Sinclair that she may not go to America. She seems to think she can find him on her own.”
“I don’t believe you’re in a position to command me, sir.” Anna knew how childish she sounded, but it was damned irritating.
Mr. Grayson pointed to Christian. “The duke here is, and he’s certainly not going to permit it.”
“Permit it?” Anna narrowed her eyes at the infuriating man. Thea and Mrs. Bartley stared over the rim of their cups with wide eyes, watching their exchange like they would a lawn tennis match in the garden.
“I’ll take things from here,” Christian interrupted. “Johnson will show you out.”
As soon as the man was gone, Anna shook her finger at Christian. “You can’t stop me. I have my majority. I’m a grown woman, and I can go on a trip if I want to.”
Christian held up his hands in a calming gesture, which only riled her up more.
“Dearest,” Thea began in a sensible tone. “I know you must be very upset, entirely devastated, and rightly so. Of course you want to help, but I don’t see how you can even consider what you’re suggesting.”
“How can I not?” Anna looked up to the ceiling as if the words she needed to explain how she felt were printed there. “I don’t have anyone else but him. If he’s really gone, then I’m well and truly alone.”
Christian took her hands in his. “How can you say that? We’re your family—Thea and I, and her brothers, and Francesca and Thomas, and their children. And Mother. We’ve been your family for longer than we weren’t. You couldn’t be any more important to us if you were our actual sister.”
Anna swallowed hard. “I know, and you’re all very important to me, too. But you see, you’ve all moved forward with your lives and I’m, well, I’m still just me. Alone.”
Thea stood and pulled her into a tight embrace. “You’re going to make me cry. You mustn’t say things like this.”
She squeezed her friend and pulled away. “I’m not trying to sound maudlin.” Even though she realized her whole story needed only the tiniest nudge to fall deep into pathetic territory. “I love you all, but I don’t have much to stay here for. My father needs me. I feel like I can do something to help him. I keep imagining him hurt and alone with no one to bring him aid.”
“Except that we love you.” Christian said, his voice gruff.
Anna smiled at them both. The clink of china reminded her that Mrs. Bartley was still in the room. The older lady watched the conversation, concern etched on her face.
“I love you, too. Are you going to try to stop me?”
Christian scowled in consternation. “I think that I must. Do you have any idea how dangerous what you’re proposing is? The treaty with America was just signed for God’s sake. You can’t go off with nary a care in the world. You’re not using your head.”
“I am using my head. I always use my head. Can you name one time in all our adventures when I wasn’t the prudent one? I always follow the rules, behave myself, act with decorum. Look where that’s gotten me.” She paused and looked for a way to explain herself that Christian would accept. “He’s my father, Christian. No one else is going to look for him or take care of him. If there’s one thing living with your family for all these years has taught me, it’s that family is everything. ”
“You’re one tiny woman. What could you possibly do?”
She cocked her head. “I’m going to let that pass.” When he didn’t apologize, she continued. “I have no idea, but I’m not going to sit around London and drink tea and dress for balls and worry about what house party to attend while my father is missing. Would you have been able to do so had your father been missing?”
“Of course not, but—”
“But I’m a tiny woman.”
A tsk and a sigh came from the sofa where Thea and Mrs. Bartley watched the proceedings.
Christian looked to the ceiling. He didn’t have any better luck up there than she’d had. “There is truth to it. You are a tiny woman.”
She put her hands on her hips. “I’m going. Are you going to aid me or hinder me?”
“I can’t go with you,” he told her, looking to his wife.
“Of course not.” Anna shook her head. “In fact, I forbid it. You have babies and a wife. What would Thea do if anything happened to you?”
Thea cleared her throat. “You surely can’t be expecting to go alone, with no chaperone?”
Anna laughed. “Look at you, all full of propriety all of a sudden.” The irony was precious. Thea had come to London from Greece with only a maid and had flouted every rule of propriety once she’d arrived. “Make the lady a duchess…”
Thea rolled her eyes. “You’re the one who made me act properly. You have no one to blame but yourself. Still, you must see my point. You can hardly jump on a ship by yourself.”
“I’ll go with her.” Mrs. Bartley set her cup down with a clatter.
All eyes turned to the older women.
“Why not?” the woman asked. “I don’t do anything since my husband died, and I’m certainly used to the campaign life. I don’t see how a sea voyage will be much different than wagons in the mud. It certainly couldn’t be worse.”
Anna inventoried the former captain’s wife. She was well past her prime, quite portly, and had a tendency to complain about gout. “I’d be happy to have you along.”
“Grand!” Mrs. Bartley said with a grin. “I’ll prepare for an adventure then. I’ll admit; I’m very excited.”
Once it was just the three of them left in the parlor, Anna turned back to Christian. “So, are you going to help me or not?”