Major Frank Collyard stared out the carriage window as they made their way through England’s wintry wonderland. It was the Christmas Season and he was on his way to Cherrywood Manor.
He swiped his hand across his face. Bloody hell, but he hated this time of year. He usually devoted the week before and after Christmas to falling into a drunken stupor. It helped him forget.
“I believe we’re almost there,” the Earl of Beckett said from the seat opposite him. “I’ll be more than glad when we reach the end of these merciless icy roads.”
Frank made an obliging glance out the coach window before he replied. It was too open. The landscape was too beautiful, even as it sat waiting for the year’s first snow. No, it was entirely too pretty for his liking. Give him grimy London any day.
“The roads do appear to have become worse,” Frank said in a half-hearted voice that didn’t show an over-abundance of interest.
“I know Cherrywood Estate is quite out of the way. I can’t thank you enough for agreeing to accompany me, major,” Beckett said, bracing his arms on the sides of the carriage when it hit another deep rut. “Lady Dunstan is my sister and I must admit she’s always been special to me. When she wrote that she thought her husband was in danger, I knew I had to do something to help.”
“Did she say why?” At last here was something in which Frank could take interest.
“Not with any certainty,” Lord Beckett said. “But my guess is that it has something to do with a controversial bill that will come up when the House resumes after the holidays.”
Frank raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “What bill is that?”
“It’s a measure that will restrict the long hours miners are forced to work below ground. As you well know, coal is a staple of our society, but it’s bloody difficult to regulate the miners’ working conditions and pay.” Beckett made a derisive huff. “The most influential mine owners are members of the House of Lords and they keep too tight a tight fist on their profits to spare a ha’penny for creature comforts to the working class.”
Frank looked out onto the rolling meadows. “Why me?” he asked his father’s long-time friend. “Why did you ask me to see to this? I know little about mining. And you well know that I don’t travel over Christmas, Beckett.”
“Then maybe it’s time you altered your self-imposed Christmas exile and joined the rest of the world for the holidays.”
“Did my father put you up to this?”
“Heavens no,” he said on a laugh. “He learned a long time ago not to interfere in your self-flagellation. He knows as well as I do that nothing anyone says will convince you that you were not to blame for what happened.”
“Then who is, my lord?”
“Perhaps, no one. Perhaps—”
“Yes, I’ve heard it all before. We aren’t to question the tragedies in life, just accept them and know they happened for reasons only God knows.”
There was a bitterness in Frank’s voice and in his words that he couldn’t hide. That he didn’t want to hide. The anger he felt was still too raw.
“Perhaps, major,” Beckett said softly, “you can force yourself to pretend to enjoy the holiday festivities, and not ruin Christmas for my family.”
Frank didn’t answer Lord Beckett, but kept his eyes focused on the blinding brightness of the countryside. Every inch of him wished he would have refused Lord Beckett’s request for help. But how could he? If not for the Earl of Beckett, Frank wouldn’t be here today. He wouldn’t have been able to survive.
Not after the tragic fire that killed his wife and children.