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Daniel declined Sam’s offer of a ride back to Belgravia. He was staying with his friend, in his newly purchased house in Eaton Square, but he needed time to think. And a stiffer drink than the glorified wine that Sam foisted upon him at every opportunity.
His walk naturally took him along the Strand, home to many a cheap tavern, and he soon found a suitably down-at-heel establishment to fit his mood. The bar was bruised and battered after many a drunken fight. The glasses were coated with who knew what, the edges sharp with chips, but the gin was potent and that was all that mattered.
‘I will have whatever my friend has.’
Daniel turned as he recognised the accent of the man to his right. ‘Jean?’
‘Apologies, Daniel, I followed you.’ Jean took a sip of his drink, pulling a face as the liquid burned his mouth. ‘My goodness, how do you drink this?’
Despite his foul mood Daniel chuckled dryly. ‘By thinking of the end result. Oblivion.’
‘You are upset by my news,’ Jean noted. ‘That is good.’
‘Good? What kind of man are you? To upset Celine so, leave us facing such hopelessness?’
‘Calm down, Daniel.’ Jean held up a placating hand. ‘It is good for me to see that you truly care for Celine. Because you have a hard decision to make, both of you. If you do not love her then you must break her heart now, before you destroy her life.’
‘Mr Mouret, I thank you for your advice but I am not sure that you know me well enough to determine how I feel, or what I may do in the future.’ Daniel waved to the barman and two more gins were poured.
‘Perhaps not, but I do know Celine. We grew up together. My mother died when I was six months old, and my father remarried. My stepmother is Celine’s aunt, her mother’s younger sister. I spent most summers with Celine and Emilie at their family’s country estate.’
‘Their estate?’ Daniel began to realise for the first time just how wealthy Celine’s family really were.
‘My uncle is a cold man. He cares only for wealth and his position in society. Appearances are everything. He will never agree to Celine marrying you, as I said earlier. You must decide if you can afford to support Celine, because if she marries you he will consider her dead.’
‘Why do you care so much? If you are family to Celine then do you not prefer for her to go home and marry as she should? Do you not prefer to keep her in the family?’ Daniel regarded the Frenchman suspiciously.
Jean smiled. ‘Yes, I have an ulterior motive. I am in love with her sister Emilie. I want to marry her but even I am not good enough for my uncle. Emilie thinks that if Celine marries the man her father wants then he will not care so much about us, he will think it as well to have Emilie out of his house. Myself, I believe that he will never bend, but if Celine can stand up to him then maybe Emilie will have the courage to do the same.’
‘So you are asking for my help? For Celine and I to risk her future to help yours?’ Daniel shook his head in disbelief.
‘I know, it is the most selfish task I beg of you,’ Jean admitted. ‘But really is there another solution? Already it is July. Celine will be called back to Paris in a matter of weeks, perhaps earlier if her father has his way. Her studies are over and there is no reason for her to stay in London. Only you.’
Daniel thought for a moment, ordered another drink and knocked it back. ‘How do we proceed?’
‘You will propose to her?’ Jean was thrilled. ‘I am sure that she will say yes. I saw how she looked at you.’
Daniel held up his hand and Jean fell obediently silent. ‘We must at least attempt to do this in the proper manner. While Celine is in London she is under the protection of the Harpers. I must speak with them first and see if there is a less painful solution. And Celine must be fully aware of what faces her.’
Jean nodded. ‘Of course. I will call on Celine in the morning. If I were to bring her to Mr McCarthy’s house would that be a suitable venue for us to have our discussion.’
Daniel nodded and gave the address, hoping beyond hope that his misgivings about Jean Mouret were false. The new day and a clear head would help him, he decided, and he set off into the warm summer night.