“Magistrate,” David began, “my wife and I are interested in purchasing property in the area—” He glanced quickly at Sarah, urging her with his look to follow along. She responded with a barely perceptible nod. For all her odd ways, my wife is a clever thing, David thought proudly.
“—but we have heard of some vandalism recently.”
“Vandalism?” the magistrate echoed. “No, certainly not. Not here. We are a safe little hamlet, I assure you.”
“Oh,” David said, looking at the man dubiously. He turned to Sarah. “Dear, didn’t you say Lord Blackwood had mentioned some damage to his land?”
“Oh, yes, dearest,” Sarah gushed, fluttering her hands nervously. “He made it sound most concerning. He’s so fond of his gardens, you know, and to have them so grievously injured…shameful.”
Sarah appeared so concerned for Blackwood’s poor trees, David almost laughed, but he got himself together enough to look back at Fitzherbert with an eyebrow raised in question.
Magistrate Fitzherbert cleared his throat. “Blackwood, you say? Well, yes, there was a small incident with his lands. I had forgotten, but it was a singular incident. Nothing to be concerned with, I assure you.”
“Then you have the culprit in custody?” David asked. Last they knew, Potter was still evading capture, but things could have changed in the time it took for the letter to reach the Coles.
“Ah, no, not yet. But it is only a matter of time. And he is only one man. Nothing we cannot handle.”
“I will make that decision myself, thank you,” David said, with all the self-possession he could summon. He was not accustomed to throwing his aristocracy in the face of others. He admitted to many faults, but false pride, he was happy to say, was not usually one of them.
“O-of, course, sir,” Fitzherbert stammered. “What can I do to put your mind at ease?”
Smiling to himself, David thought, This is just the opening for which I was hoping.
“Actually, I would like to see the damage for myself. Blackwood was too horrified by the incident to show us himself.”
“Oh, I see. Well, naturally, you would like to see it,” the magistrate rushed to agree. “If you give me a moment, I will happily take you—”
“That won’t be necessary.”
David shot the stubby man a piercing look. “Are you going to imply I do not know my way around a plot of land?”
“Certainly not, sir!”
“Very good. Then just tell me where the incident occurred, and we will be on our way.”
Nodding almost spasmodically, the magistrate pulled out a map of the local lands. With a shaking finger, he pointed out the general area where the damage was said to occur.
Rolling up the map, David tucked it under his arm. He silently warned Fitzherbert against arguing and turned on his heel. Offering his elbow to Sarah, he led her swiftly to the egress. Once outside, he didn’t let his expression change in the slightest until they were both stowed safely in the carriage. After closing the curtains completely, he finally let go and released a deep laugh like he hadn’t done in years.
Soon Sarah was giggling along with him, and they could barely hold each other up in their mirth.
“That was so much fun!” Sarah said gaily.
“I concur completely,” David replied, trying unsuccessfully to adopt his previously serious mien.
“Wherever did you learn to be so commanding and arrogant?”
“I am an earl’s son, my dear,” David replied, puffing up his chest. “We learn such things from birth.”
“Oh, please.” Sarah laughed, poking David in the stomach. “Your father is the kindest man I have ever met.”
David collapsed into laughter again. “I know! He has failed me completely in the ways of the aristocracy.”
“And you are very glad of that, aren’t you?” Sarah said knowingly.
David’s smile became fond. “Yes, I am very grateful. I could do a lot worse than to become a man like my father.”
Sarah leaned her head on his shoulder. “I have always envied you your family.”
Settling his cheek against Sarah’s soft hair, he replied with the only thing he could think to say. “They are your family now, too, dear. And they love you as if you have always been their daughter.”