Today's Reading

This was not a man of leisure but one who exercised frequently. His belly was flat, his abdomen tight and his arms well-defined by muscles. As far as she could tell, he was broader than Florian, but this was not the only thing that set the brothers apart. While Florian's hair was vibrant with varying shades of copper, Lowell's was raven black. His jaw was also more angular and his lower lip slightly fuller. Staring down at him, Viola fleetingly wondered about the color of his eyes, now hidden from view beneath a pair of lids that were fringed with thick, dark lashes.

"It's surprising no one ever suspected us of being only half brothers," Florian murmured, startling Viola from her quiet perusal.

"People often believe what they're told as long as the story's convincing enough. In your case there was no reason for anyone to think you weren't Armswell's son."

Not even Florian's brother had known until Florian had told him last year that their fathers weren't one and the same. While Mr. Lowell shared Armswell's blood, Florian had been sired by Bartholomew, one of England's most infamous criminals. The scandal when the news had broken had almost destroyed Florian's career.

"I suppose so," Florian said. He touched his knuckles briefly to his brother's arm before saying, "We should get him upstairs so this room can be cleaned."

"Of course." Viola turned for the door with the intention of calling a couple of orderlies to assist. She paused and glanced back at Florian. "How come you're here, by the way, and not on your way to Paris with Juliette?"

Florian shrugged. "Henry came to see me last night, told me about the duel and asked if I might be able to delay my trip." He glanced at his brother. "I'm glad I did."

"Of course. It was the right decision to make." She considered his weary expression for a second before saying, "He'll be all right now and there's a team of well-trained staff to help with his recuperation. So if you want to catch the next ship, I see no reason why you shouldn't. You and Juliette deserve your adventure. Once the baby arrives, there'll be no time."

Wincing, Florian removed his surgical apron, tossed it in a basket for laundering and rolled down his shirtsleeves. "There's not enough time as it is. My work is demanding, Viola, which is why we weren't able to get away sooner."

"Then for heaven's sake go on your trip with Juliette while you still can and entrust me with your brother's care."

"You're taking on a lot of tasks, Viola. Between running the hospital, readying the rejuvenation center for its grand opening and now this...I really ought to be staying."

"We've discussed this, Florian. Running the hospital is second nature to me now and the rejuvenation center is coming along splendidly." Intended to offer the rich a spa-like experience without going to Bath, the center would provide the hospital with additional funds. For although St. Agatha's still ran smoothly thanks to donations, it could not continue to do so for long. Due to the free care it provided to the poor, its popularity continued to increase, which meant it would soon require expanding. For this to be possible, Viola would need to ensure a steady income, and her plan was to use the center's profits to do so. "Last I checked, the artists were about to get started on the murals, and that was already a few days ago. Besides, we both know I'm more likely to draw a crowd for the grand opening than you are. It won't matter what Society thinks of me, Florian. People will come for the sole purpose of sating their curiosity if I send out the invitations. They'll want to catch a glimpse of the woman who snagged a duke one day and inherited his fortune the next."

Because of her brief marriage and her lack of interest in mingling with a social class to which she did not feel she belonged, she'd kept a low profile by moving into a modest house after her husband's death, focusing on her work and maintaining what would probably be described as an unremarkable appearance.

"As for your brother," she added, "he'll undoubtedly sleep most of the time, I should think."

Florian hesitated. "He will wake up eventually, and when he does, he'll want to be entertained. He doesn't like being bored."

"I don't think anyone does. Do they?"

Florian watched her with his typically inscrutable expression. But Viola knew him well enough by now to know he was carefully weighing the options she'd laid out before him. "My servants can help with the grand opening. You'll need someone there to welcome the guests and to offer them drinks and some sort of food."

"I'll meet with your manservant and cook to make the necessary arrangements."

He hesitated briefly, then grabbed his jacket from a hook on the wall and shoved his arms into the sleeves. "Very well. I shall agree to think about it."

Happy with that assurance, Viola smiled to hide her concerns and continued out into the hallway. Because although Florian deserved a reprieve and she'd pushed for it, his absence would mean she'd somehow have to deal with Robert's arrival alone, not to mention Florian's handsome rake of a brother. And the truth of the matter was she had no idea how to handle either.
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