He noticed that Helen was staring in perplexity at the fountain pen on his desk.
“There’s an ink reservoir inside the pen casing,” he said, walking around the desk to her. “Apply light pressure to the tip as you write.”
Picking up the pen cautiously, she made a mark with it, and paused in surprise as the pen created a smooth line across the paper.
“Haven’t you seen one of those before?” he asked.
Helen shook her head. “Lord Trenear prefers an ordinary pen and inkwell. He says this kind is prone to leak.”
“They often do,” he said. “But this is a new design, with a needle to regulate the flow.”
He watched as she experimented with the pen, writing her name in careful script. When she finished, she studied it for a moment, and crossed out the surname. Rhys leaned over her from behind, his hands braced on either side of her as she wrote again. Together they stared down at the paper.
Lady Helen Winterborne
“It’s a lovely name,” he heard Helen murmur.
“Not quite so exalted as Ravenel.”
Helen twisted in the chair to look up at him. “I’ll be honored to take it as mine.”
Rhys was accustomed to being flattered all the time, by a multitude of people who wanted things from him. Usually he could read their motives as easily as if they’d been written in the air above their heads. But Helen’s eyes were clear and guileless, as if she meant it. She knew nothing of the world, or what kind of man she should marry, and she would only realize her mistake when it was too late to rectify it. If he had any decency, he would send her away this very moment.
But his gaze fell to the name she had written . . . Lady Helen Winterborne . . . and that sealed her fate.
“We’ll have a grand wedding,” he said. “So that all of London will know.”
Helen didn’t seem especially taken with the idea, but she offered no objection.
Still staring at the name, he absently stroked her cheek with a gentle fingertip. “Think of our children, cariad. Sturdy Welsh stock with a Ravenel strain. They’ll conquer the world.”
“I rather think you’ll conquer it before they have a chance,” Helen said, reaching for a fresh sheet of paper.
After she had written and sealed two notes, Rhys took them to the threshold of the office and called for Mrs. Fernsby.
The secretary answered the summons with unusual haste. Although her manner was professional as usual, the hazel eyes behind her round spectacles were bright with curiosity. Her gaze flickered to the room behind him, but his shoulders blocked her view.
“Yes, Mr. Winterborne?”
He gave her the notes. “Have these taken to the mews and delivered to the driver of the Ravenel carriage. I want them placed directly into his hands.”
The name earned a quick double-blink. “So it is Lady Helen.”
His eyes narrowed. “Not a word to anyone.”
“Certainly not, sir. Will there be anything else?”
“Take this to the jeweler.” He dropped the diamond ring into her extended hand.
Mrs. Fernsby gasped at the rich glittering weight in her palm. “Sweet heaven above. I assume you mean the master jeweler, Mr. Sauveterre?”
“Aye, tell him to bring up a tray of rings, in this size, that are suitable for betrothal. I’ll expect him within the half hour.”
“If he isn’t immediately available, shall I ask one of the other—”
“I want Sauveterre,” he repeated, “in my office, within the half hour.”
Mrs. Fernsby responded with a distracted nod, and he could almost see the gears of her sensible brain spinning as she tried to piece together what was happening.
“Also,” Rhys continued, “clear my schedule for the rest of the day.”
The secretary stared at him fixedly. He had never made such a request before, for any reason. “The entire day? How shall I explain it?”
Rhys shrugged impatiently. “Invent something. And tell the household servants that I intend to spend a quiet afternoon at home with a guest. I don’t want a soul in sight unless I ring.” He paused, giving her a hard glance. “Make it clear to the office staff that if I hear so much as a whisper about this, from any quarter, I’ll fire the lot of them without asking a single question.”
“I would dismiss them myself,” she assured him. Having personally supervised the interviewing and hiring of most of the office staff, Mrs. Fernsby took pride in their excellence. “However, their discretion is beyond question.” Closing her fingers over the ring, she regarded him speculatively. “Might I suggest a tea tray? Lady Helen appears rather delicate. Refreshments might be just the thing while she awaits the jeweler.”
Rhys’s brows drew together. “I should have thought of that.”
She couldn’t quite repress a self-satisfied smile. “Not at all, Mr. Winterborne. That is what you employ me for.”
As he watched her depart, Rhys reflected that Mrs. Fernsby could easily be forgiven for a touch of smugness: She was easily the best private secretary in London, performing her job with an efficiency that surpassed any of her male peers.
More than one person had suggested at the time that a male secretary would have been far more suitable for a man of Rhys’s position. But he trusted his instincts in such matters. He could detect the same qualities in others: appetite, determination, vigor, which had driven him on the long, laborious climb from shop-boy to business magnate. It mattered not a whit to him about an employee’s origins, beliefs, culture, or gender. All he cared about was excellence.