“Well, damnation.” Andrew couldn’t help his scowl. William had managed to solve the first riddle. His chest swelled with irritation, straining the buttons on his waistcoat. “How did I not know there was something hidden in this library? I’ve spent hours in this very room during the summer. Not to mention this month,” he whispered to his wife as chatter and congratulations filled the air around him.
“It’s early in the game yet.” Sarah pushed her spectacles back into place. “Besides, there’s no sense worrying about it. The purpose of the treasure hunt is to forge a new bond between both sides of the Storme family.” She laid a hand on his arm. Immediately, a modicum of calm washed over him and worked to unravel the knots in his stomach. “You need to remember that goal, and above all, try to circumvent your anxiety.”
“I do tend to forget that when there’s something new and important in the offing, don’t I?” How grateful he was for having her in his life. She’d helped save him time and time again, offering a lifeline when he needed it the most.
“You do.” She grabbed one of his hands. “Come on. Your cousin Isobel will have an apoplexy if you don’t let her read the second clue.”
He snorted. “She’s got scandal and sin written all over her face, and she’ll be a huge problem if William doesn’t take her in hand.”
Sarah’s gay laughter chased away the lingering specter of worry—at least for a time. “Doesn’t every woman worth her salt lead the man of her choosing on a merry chase?”
“Bloody hell.” He followed as she tugged him toward the library ladder. “Perhaps I should demand she come live with us too,” he hissed into her ear as they came to a halt. “That way I can keep an eye on her as well as Caroline.”
She sent him a look that immediately quelled the urge. “You’ve already upset everyone enough in that quarter. Let the future proceed as it was meant to. If there’s a problem, then you can intervene.” As she leaned into him, she whispered, “Not all Stormes are meant to be contained.”
William cleared his throat. “If all the side conversations are concluded, shall we return to the matter at hand?”
“Stuff the pompous attitude, Cousin. There are other things on my mind beside the treasure hunt.” Why he let his cousin continue to irritate him, he had no idea, but it felt much like needling his brothers. There was nothing wrong with a good row every now and again.
“Ah, yes, the list of responsibilities of the earl is no doubt long and oppressive.” William’s lips twitched, but he didn’t allow himself a full grin. “Go ahead, Isobel. Let’s see if the incomparable Hadleigh can solve this next one.”
When Andrew would have spat out a retort, pressure on his hand from Sarah curbed his tongue.
Isobel beamed. She was a striking little thing; he only hoped she didn’t bury the Storme name in scandal. “Are we ready?” Because she was so short, she’d climbed up a few steps on the ladder William had vacated. “This is our second riddle: ‘Somewhere in the house is a place of leisure, you’ve enjoyed it before though it’s oft overlooked to be sure. Perhaps seen as a man’s domain, it serves a purpose for the estate, and is cozy when it rains. Tucked away from prying eyes to conduct business, you’ll find a tiny receptacle holding an item that is smokeless. Beneath the leaves is the next riddle on your quest, but you’d best hurry, for on your future this rests. Time is quite of the essence…’”
“What the deuce does that mean?” Andrew frowned.
Royce Marsden glanced around. “The note referenced leaves. As in leaves of a book, perhaps?”
The grin Isobel trained on the red-haired man’s brother brimmed with a hint of wickedness. “Let us have a go at it, eh, Doctor?”
Tamping down the urge to lecture her on proper deportment, Andrew looked at Finn. “Do you have any thoughts? Since you’re the author in the family, shouldn’t your brain be primed for things of this nature?”
Finn snorted. “I’m a wordsmith, not a poet.” He leaned forward in his Bath chair. “Can someone hand me the clue so that I might examine it?”
“Of course.” Isobel jumped from her perch. Like a cat, she landed on her feet and then crossed the room to Finn’s location while others in the room broke off into small pairings. “You’re the most intelligent Storme. Perhaps you can puzzle it out.” When she smiled and gave the scrap of paper to him, a sniff of indignation issued from Lady Jane.
Andrew leaned close to Sarah to whisper into her ear. “As much as it’s sickening to watch the love displays between my brother and his wife, it’s adorable she’s jealous when another female comes near him.” No one could ignore the positive influence the lady had on Finn’s outlook. If it weren’t for her, they would have lost the man to depression months ago.
“Are you listening to yourself?” she questioned in a barely audible whisper. “As if you don’t act the same regarding me.”
Heat crept up the back of his neck. “I decline to answer that.” He moved closer to Finn. “Have you gleaned anything from the clue?”
“Not from the words written per se.” He met Andrew’s gaze. “Do you ever remember Father saying that his study was often the coziest room in the house when it rained? Something about how the rain hit the windows and the way it drummed on the rooftop.”
Andrew’s eyebrows soared. “By Jove, now you mention it, I do.” His pulse accelerated. “I’ve often thought that before when I’ve had occasion to occupy the room.” He and his brother exchanged a grin. “I’ll ring for a footman.”
“Surely you don’t expect me to carry your arse upstairs? I would do many things for you, but that isn’t one of them.” When Finn glowered, Drew snickered. “I jest, brother.”
“Ah, I’m laughing on the inside.” Slowly, the annoyance faded from Finn’s expression. He grinned when Jane laid a hand on his shoulder. “Best hurry, Drew. William and his team have snuck out.”
“Bloody hell!” Drew stalked across the room and yanked on the velvet bell pull. “We have to win this round.”
“You go ahead. I’ll catch up when the footman arrives.”