“Then I’d rather walk the ten miles than spend another moment with you,” she said flatly.
He deserved that. Not only had he failed to wed an heiress and save his family from financial ruin, Harry had also hurt one of his sister’s best friends in the most roguish way possible.
“I’ll see if Mr. Somers will take you home.”
The solicitor, who had watched the dramatic proceedings unfold with obvious discomfort, stood a safe distance from Harry and Tina whilst awaiting his carriage from the nearby mews.
Tina shot Harry a suspicious look. “Aren’t you going to summon a hackney for yourself?”
He shook his head. “I didn’t get to finish my proposal.”
“Don’t you need to find Lady Regina for that?” His sister scoffed. “Bianca’s not an heiress anymore, remember?”
“Bianca’s money isn’t why I want to marry her,” he said quietly.
Tina tilted her head. “You’re really going to ask for her hand despite everything?”
“Do you wish I would not?”
“I adore Bianca,” Tina answered hotly.
“As do I. However, there are practical concerns that directly affect you. Such as, failing to secure a large dowry means we shan’t be able to afford any more seasons in London. We won’t be able to afford much of anything, as a matter of fact. The items currently in your armoire will have to last forever. And you’ll have to marry for love as well, because there’s no blunt to give you a dowry, or even a—”
“You wish to marry for love?” his sister repeated, her voice soft. “If that is the case, I will happily patch every moth hole in my increasingly unfashionable wardrobe until I, too, am lucky enough to marry a manIchoose, rather than one who chooses my dowry.”
“She hasn’t accepted me yet,” he pointed out wryly. “Or even allowed me to ask the question.”
Tina made a pained face. “I don’t think today’s your day. Bianca needs an opportunity to come to grips with her current situation before she can be expected to—”
A loud scream rent the air.
“Help!” shouted a panicked female voice from the other side of the Gladwells’ closed front door. “Help! Come quick!”
Harry, Tina, and Mr. Somers all raced back up the walkway. Harry was the first to the front step. He turned the handle and wrenched open the door.
Bianca lay just inside the threshold, her limbs crumpled and lifeless.
A half-eaten apple rolled from her limp fingers and bounced against the toe of Harry’s boot. He dropped to his knees at once, moving white-faced Goose aside so that he could place his cheek near Bianca’s nose and mouth, to feel for breath. He pressed his ear to her bosom in hopes of hearing her heart beat.
“What happened?” he asked hoarsely.
“I don’t know!” Goose babbled in obvious panic. “I came back from delivering the apples to the kitchen, and found Bianca just like this!”
“Apples? What are you talking about?”
“The sack of apples Lady Quinseley brought. She found them in our front garden—”
“Goose, you don’t have apple trees!”
Harry snatched up the half-eaten apple and gave it a careful sniff. Something was off. He peered carefully at the fruit’s scab-colored exterior. His eyes widened to discover several puncture marks in its juicy flesh.
“It’s poisoned,” he growled. “Tina, go with Goose to the kitchen and throw out all the apples. Mr. Somers, I see your carriage has arrived. Go at once to the closest surgeon and bring him back here posthaste.”
“And you?” Tina asked softly.
“I’m not leaving Bianca’s side.” Harry stared at them all. “What are you waiting for? Go!”
The others scattered at once.