“A wife, my kingdom for a wife!” Andrew Blair muttered from under his work table as a wrench floated past his nose. Drew shoved out to glare at his cousin’s six-year-old son. What in thunderation was the brat doing in here?
A wife would keep the blasted weans where they belonged, right?
Snatching the wrench from the air, Andrew Blair applied it to the undercarriage of his frustratingly useless pterotype. “My cousin should have blown up the mine,” he said crossly, focusing on his newest mechanical contraption and not his partner’s business discussion.
“Blowing up the mine would have put Simon’s miners out of work, an effect I thought our consortium is attempting to prevent.” Hugh Morgan nudged Drew’s shoulder with his boot. “You need to come out and sign this contract.”
“Simon would rather the dastards blow him up? He’s been hunting for evidence for almost a year now! If he’d give up on the mine, he wouldn’t have to be living in fear of cowards—”
A floating screwdriver slammed into the table leg and toppled to the floor. Drew shut up about the child’s father.
“You won’t have a kingdom if you don’t sign these contracts,” Hugh informed him. “And if we don’t start work soon, we’ll go broke, and you’ll never find a wife.”
Hugh had a mathematical mind in the muscular body of a blacksmith. He didn’t socialize well, but he spoke fluent business. Any form of social commentary indicated rebellion on the horizon.
The tool-shifting brat slipped into a corner of the workroom and closed his eyes, as if that made him invisible. Generally, the children didn’t exist to Drew, but they were easier than contracts. “Enoch, get back to the nursery where you belong! Where’s your damned nanny?”
“Nanny says damned is a very bad word, and you will go to perdition,” the boy said, eyes closed and forehead furrowed in concentration. As if drawn by imperceptible strings, a screwdriver rose unsteadily from Drew’s neatly organized toolbox.
Not making any progress on the pterotype, Drew caught the inexplicably floating screwdriver, pushed from under the table, and stood. “Be damned to nanny. You’re too young to be in here. Where are your sisters?”
Holding a stack of papers, Hugh blocked his access to the brat. Where Drew was long and lean, Hugh Morgan was barrel-chested and shorter. They’d fought with fists as boys, neither of them coming out the winner. Now, they tangled over stacks of legal documents. Being an adult didn’t have a lot to recommend it.
“Nanny has a megrim. The twins are in the attic,” Enoch announced, scampering out of the workroom before Drew could haul him out.
“What’s a megrim?” Drew asked idly as he scrubbed his oily hands on a rag.
“Something nannies get, apparently. I’ll never understand why your family thought you should take care of the three-headed monsters.” With more assurance now that they were back to business, Hugh showed him where to sign.
“My family believed I was getting married,” Drew said with a shrug.
Hugh snorted. “And they wanted to scare her off? Brilliant.”
His partner knew Drew’s cousin, knew his circumstances, and that Simon had gone mad crazed with drink and vengeance after his wife’s death. There were times when Drew had wondered if the children had driven his cousin to madness first.
Drew couldn’t really blame his ex-fiancée for not wanting to set up housekeeping with an instant family. Now that he considered it, Rose probably would have had megrims and retired to her room too.
He didn’t need a wife. He needed an army sergeant—at least until such time as Simon regained his senses and took the weans back, which might be never.
“You’ll not find a wife willing to put up with them,” Hugh said darkly. “We need to start this project so you can someday afford a dozen nannies. Right now, the tenants don’t pay enough to cover the enormous maintenance of those tenements. We’re losing buckets of money. And you have a meeting with the consortium in an hour.”
“That entire medieval cesspool of derelicts and rats should be razed to the ground,” Drew complained, shrugging into his cutaway tweed jacket. “I fail to perceive how sinking all my funds rebuilding will earn me enough to buy food.” Although he had ideas of mechanical improvements. . . That had been one of the reasons he’d agreed to investing in the project—a mechanical lift.
Hugh was his investment manager. Without him, Drew would be living in a garret. Tinkering with ideas was not a sound financial policy, he’d learned. Some of his inventions paid off well, some not at all. He had to eat in between. He had to listen when Hugh spoke. He didn’t always understand. He simply went to business meetings and hoped to learn.
“Because you’ll be involved in restoring a historical city. They’re demolishing the old wynds and money is pouring into High Street. We’ll start in Canongate, where the investment is lower. Imagine rows of new terrace houses winding up the hill. You’ll earn more than on that tatty machine you’re working on.” Disgruntled, Hugh shoved the contract back into its folder.
Aye, right, that’s what he’d been thinking—refilling his coffers for his ever-needy family.
“My pterotype has universal applications more important than money. Just imagine how much faster your fancy contracts could be prepared if they could be written by my machine.” Drew looked around for his cravat, and not finding it, stalked toward the parlor door.
A man with his plebian background couldn’t step outside his house without a cravat and polished boots, looking like the gentleman he wasn’t. He’d have to go upstairs and straighten his attire before he went anywhere. He should probably check on the nanny and the children while he was there. By the time he attended the meeting, he’d have to forget lunch, again. He didn’t want to have to hire another cook, but this one had a schedule that never suited his.
He reached the foyer just as the maid let in his neighbor— Blood and thunder! Aware of his non-existent cravat, Drew felt like a half-naked barbarian. A pale young thing peered out from behind his broad-beamed neighbor, and his stomach cramped.
“Mr. Blair, I’m so glad I caught you.” Mrs. Dalrymple rustled across the parquet. “I’d like you to meet my niece—”
A scream reverberated down the stairwell, rattling the excellent foundation. Almost relieved at the excuse to ignore the little mouse and her aunt, Drew dashed for the stairs, leaving his visitors gaping in the foyer.