Chapter 1

Captain John Watson, late of the 52nd Northumberland Fusilers, was in the upstairs sitting room when he heard his brother return from London. So much for the peaceful afternoon. John sighed and placed a marker in his book. He could sit here and wait for Harry to come to him, or he could confront Harry directly.

John's elder brother Harry had been recently in London for business, he'd said, though John knew that business was primarily wooing a young woman named Clara. What Harry hadn't mentioned before he left was that he'd taken the Gainesborough their Grandfather had bought with him. It wasn't the only thing missing.

The attics were empty of anything salable, though John hadn't thought to even look until he wandered into the Peacock Room, his mother's old bedroom, and realized it had been stripped clear. Several other unused rooms were stripped of furnishings and antiques, things that had been on the Watson's estate for three generations. John had found the silver cupboard nearly bare except for the things they used on a regular basis.

People had been missing, too, though not in a totally sinister way. When John was a child, the house was bustling with servants, guests, little entertainments. In the months he'd been home, there had been no guests, few visitors, and the staff had been cut back to those that were left behind when the family was not in residence. The stables were tended, though the horses kept were only the ones necessary to pull a coach. There were none left to simply ride, not that John could ride anyway, not with the stiffness in his leg, nor the fiery pains that occasionally erupted from hip to ankle.

Since John had not seen many of these things packed up and removed, he could only assume they'd been gone long before his return home. He'd been ill and confined to his room for two months with only the cook to nurse him, but he thought he would have noticed entire rooms being carried out the front door.

John had not expected this slow ruination after his interminable, miserable journey home from the Peninsula. He'd expected more of a welcome, more gratitude that he was alive, and a lot less heartbreak. Yes, Harry was glad his brother had not perished so soon after the death of their father, but John was a burden. John was doctor visits and medicine. John was questions about bare rooms and a mirror to the emptiness left behind.

John's injury, illness, and sudden return home from war and career had been just another straw for the camel's back, and clearly Harry was weakening. The man spent most of his time in his study, papers spread before him, draining a decanter.

But this, this last lie, was utterly abominable, so contemptible and dishonorable, John almost couldn't fathom it.

Harry Watson had barely removed his greatcoat in the entryway before his younger brother came limping down the stairs, gripping his cane in one hand and the railing in the other.

"Not now, John."

"How could you sell my house, Harry?" John's grip on the stair rail was tighter than it needed to be for his support.

"It wasn't yours. Father left it to me."

"Father meant for me to have it. You knew that."

"Father meant for me to allow you to live in it once you retired from the army. I had no knowledge that you would even make it back from the war. I needed the money. I sold it."

John gasped and stopped just a few stairs from the bottom. This is the first time Harry had ever outright admitted he needed the money. John had known, he was not stupid, and had long since offered up the pittance paid by the government to its injured soldiers, but Harry had never once told him how dire his straits were.

"You hoped I would never find out." I hate you, Harry Watson. How could you?

"No, John, I hoped you would never find out." But Harry looked much more tired than vindictive when he said this. "Come into my study, John. We must talk."