A Rogue's Secret - Stacy Reid

Chapter 1

“Farrant, where else can we look? I think we must have turned the house completely upside down,” Lord Rupert Rogers muttered, exasperated. “You’ve been with the family since you were a boy. Surely you must have some idea where Great-Uncle Frederick might have hidden it? Or at least a clue to where it might be?”

The butler shuffled over from the fireplace, a frown creasing his already wrinkled forehead. “I am sorry, my lord, but I thought there might be some indication in his papers, but I read every scrap of paper in his bureau, desk, and even in the locked deed box. We pulled all the books down in the library, and there was nothing in them or behind them. We’ve been through all of your late great-uncle’s possessions, but I am at a loss, Sir.”

The room had been thoroughly searched and yielded no result. A quick scan showed the library had been mostly returned to rights, except for the motes of dust that had been disturbed in their frenetic search. At least the books were now back on the shelves, if not in their correct order. Rupert’s great-uncle had become a recluse over his later years and had not wanted to be disturbed by the household staff, so he had let most of them go. The housekeeping had been somewhat neglected as a result.

Rupert straightened from crouching before the bottom drawer of the large oak desk in his library and rubbed the back of his neck. “It is not your fault, Farrant, but from the scrawled note he gave his lawyer with the will, I thought we would turn something up. Could not make head nor tail of it, some sort of riddle in verse form. If the poem did not scan so well, I would have assumed he had been senile…”

His butler, perhaps sensing a drink might calm his master, went over to the mantle, and poured brandy in a glass. He handed it to Rupert, who took it and swallowed down its content. The warmth spreading through his body did relax him some, and he padded over to a large armchair by the windows and sprawled negligently in the window seat.

A contemplative look entered Farrant’s rheumy blue eyes. “His lordship was totally in his right mind, right up to his last moments. Always was very canny was your uncle. There must be a hint to where it is in his letter. We have not searched the attic, and I don’t think anyone has been up there for years.”

Peering out the windows in the gardens, Rupert murmured, “That is an idea. We will search there tomorrow together. We must find it because I’d rather shoot myself than marry the Chisholm heiress my aunt keeps insisting I wed to save the family lands and fortune.”

Rupert’s close friends often teased him, for he had said more than once that he wanted to hold any lady he married in high esteem. He was not afraid to speak of the more tender emotions and boldly did so whenever he thought of a future wife. While he was willing to do many things to save the estate entrusted to him, it left a bitter taste in his mouth and a heavy weight against his heart at the thought of marrying someone solely for their money. To his mind, a healthy physical attraction, genuine affection, and respect were the foundation needed for a good marriage.

Rupert sighed. “I am sure I must be missing something in Uncle Frederick’s turgid verse, but truthfully I can’t figure it out…Why a sonnet? And Dash it, Uncle Frederick was never a pious canting hypocrite, I’ll read it again. He didn’t go Methody towards the end, did he?”

His butler grimaced. “No, my lord, gave old Parson Prestley a flea in his ear when he suggested hearing his confession so he could make his peace with the Lord above.”

“I ain’t no versifier, but this makes no sense to me…” Rupert declared, fishing the crumpled piece of paper out, then in his mellifluous tones recited,

“So, Daring Deeds of heroes gladly tell

Brave battling Neptune’s briny sway expound

My Rogue, I will always wish you well

Fabulous Beast ascending Mordant hound

Will ever lead you onwards to your goal

Ages old colours fade yet seek within

Beneath martial courage lies treasure whole

A prayer to atone from forlorn sin

A quest of import in heavenly land

Uncover riches select bonny bride

Then perhaps fortune will be close to hand

Giving you all I own, I depart with pride

To mouldering bones now I must travel