When the family had finished dinner, his mother drew a deep breath. “Cameron, your father has something he wishes to discuss with you.”
Father’s brow furrowed. “I had planned to have that discussion privately.”
“Absolutely not.” Mother shook her head. “I do not intend to take sides, but I will not be left out of this.”
“Nor will I,” Grandmother said in a deceptively pleasant tone. Obviously she too knew what this was about.
“Very well.” Father’s tone was sharp. “The rest of you may leave.”
“I believe I prefer to stay,” Spencer said mildly.
Thad glanced at Grace and Simon and nodded. “As do we.”
“As you wish.” Father paused, then his hard gaze met his youngest son’s. Unease clenched Cam’s stomach. “I have not been happy at this rift between us. So, a few days ago, in the spirit of harmony or even perhaps compromise, I read an edition of the Daily Messenger for the first time.”
“For the first time?” Cam said slowly.
“Good Lord, Father!” Grace stared. “He’s been writing for the paper for over a year and you haven’t read it until now?”
“No,” Father snapped, and glared at his daughter. “I have not.”
“Don’t you think you should have?” Simon asked.
“The rest of us have,” Thad added.
Cam stared at his father, disappointment and something that might well have been hurt rising within him. “You haven’t read anything I’ve written?”
“I have.” Mother raised her chin. “I have read every single issue since Cam began his work there.”
“And I have read most of them as well,” Grandmother said.
“As have I.” Spencer gestured at his siblings. “We all have.”
“You needn’t look at me like that, any of you.” Father glared. “I said I haven’t read the Daily Messenger. In point of fact, I have read every word Cameron has written.” Father slanted Mother an annoyed look. She refused to meet his gaze. “Your mother has clipped every story, every article for me in what I now see as a most devious attempt to keep me in a state of innocent ignorance. However, three days ago I read the Messenger in its entirety and I now understand why she went to such great efforts to prevent that.” Father’s eyes narrowed. “I have never before read something as filled with slander and gossip and salacious skewing of facts and events. Something so scandalous and so . . . so liberal. It’s appalling and not worth the paper it’s written on.”
“I don’t think it’s any worse than any other paper, Father,”
“The Cadwallenders are an honorable family and I do not understand how they can publish this sort of rubbish.”
“Admittedly there is a great deal of emphasis on scandal and gossip and sensationalism, but unfortunately, Father”— Thad shrugged—“that is what sells papers. It’s what people want to read.”
“It’s not what I want to read,” Father said firmly. “It’s not what respectable members of society want to read.”
“Then perhaps you would do well not to read it again,” Cam said in as calm a manner as he could muster.
“Cam’s work is very good, Father.” Thad offered Cam a smile of support. “He is an excellent writer.”
“I know that,” Father snapped. “But he should put that talent to a better use.”
“What would that be, Father?” Cam’s voice hardened. “Should I occupy myself with the family’s business interests alongside Simon and Thad and write reports on investment strategies and import regulations? Should I work with Spencer and write about the newest agricultural methods for increasing profitability of the estates?”
“Don’t be absurd.” Father scoffed. “You know as well as I you aren’t suited for any of that. You could write books. That’s respectable enough.”
Cam’s jaw tightened. “One doesn’t just sit down and write a book. It’s not that easy.”
“Balderdash.” Father waved off the comment. “Your grandmother did it.”
“Thank you, dear,” the dowager said in a wry tone.
“I don’t have anything to write about.” Cam drew a deep calming breath. “I have led a life of privilege and wealth. I have been well educated and have been fortunate enough to have had the means to travel. All in the comfort we are accustomed to. I think one should know the world in its fullness, the good and the bad, before one attempts to create worlds of one’s own. But I know nothing of the real world and the real people in it. I know nothing of life.”
“I thought we were real people,” Grace murmured.
“Stuff and nonsense.” Father huffed. “Your grandmother knew nothing of life and yet she—”
“She,” Grandmother said sternly, “had a mother who died when she was quite young and a father who gambled and drank away the family fortune and honor. A father prepared to sell his daughters to the highest bidders to finance his vices. She and her orphaned sisters lived in a country house that was barely held together by little more than prayer and hope. She knows what it’s like to have little to eat, no dowry, no prospects for improvement, and no future. I should think that would give me some sense of life beyond the privileged world we now inhabit.”
“My apologies, Mother.” Father grimaced. “I had forgotten about all that.”
Cam stared in surprise. This was a story he had never heard before, and judging from the looks on the faces of his siblings, neither had they.
“It’s best forgotten, really.” Grandmother shrugged. “It was a very long time ago and most of my life has been quite lovely. But those early days taught me a great deal about life I never would have known otherwise.” She turned toward Cam. “Every experience, every new person you meet, every new situation you observe is all fuel, Cameron. Muses are notoriously hungry, but if you feed them they will shower you with inspiration.”
“Thank you, Grandmother.”
Father stared for a moment. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Why, I wrote as a young man. Certainly, I never had anything published—”
“They do say certain talents are known to skip a generation, dear,” Mother said pleasantly.
“Regardless, I had no need for a muse.” Father snorted.
“Which explains a great deal,” Grandmother said under her breath.
“Thank you, Mother.”
“Don’t take that tone with me, Jonathon. I am an old lady and I deserve respect if nothing else.” Grandmother pinned him with a firm gaze. “I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. Although I will say, your writing was better than your father’s poetry.” She shuddered. “Sentiment is not the same thing as good, although he did try, the dear man. And while you may have been a dreadful writer, you have been an excellent duke. The family is as sound as the Bank of England itself, thanks to your leadership, in terms of its finances and reputation. And I am extraordinarily proud of you.”
Father’s mouth dropped open and a stunned look crossed his face. “I don’t think I have ever heard you say that before.”
“Don’t be absurd, Jonathon.” She picked up her sherry. “I say it all the time.”
“Well, that’s that then,” Mother said brightly, and started to rise, her sons getting to their feet as well. “I think we should all retire to the—”
“Sit down all of you, I am not finished.” Father glared and they all sat back down. “I have yet to make my point.”
“I thought he made any number of points,” Grace said in an aside to Simon beside her.
“Exactly what I hoped to avoid.” Mother sighed. “Very well then, go on.”
“I intend to,” Father said sharply, then turned to Cam. “Regardless of the fact that you are writing under a different name, this reporting of yours for that disreputable rag of a newspaper is scandalous and embarrassing and puts this family in the poorest of lights.” Father’s tone hardened. “You will resign your position at once.” Mother groaned. “Jonathon!”