He was playing a dangerous masquerade...Griff Knighton′s found the perfect way to avoid being trapped into marriage with one of the Earl of Swanlea′s daughters: he′ll swap identities with his man of affairs during their next visit to Swan Park, and be free to pursue his own desires! After all, he′s not about to marry some homely spinster just to claim his rightful title. But Griff didn′t reckon on the brazen, voluptuous Rosalind, who could tempt even a saint into sinning, and Griff is no saint. She was determined to unmask him...
Money speaks sense in a language all nations understand.
Aphra Behn, English playwright
The Rover, Pt. 2, Act 3
"I'll be gone two weeks or more."
Marsden Griffith Knighton watched from the head of the large table as predictable excitement rippled through his staff. The last time Griff had left Knighton Trading helmless for so long, he'd established an office in Calcutta that tripled the firm's profits' and destroyed two of his competitors.
Even Daniel Brennan, his generally unimpressed man of affairs, straightened in his chair. Daniel rarely attended such meetings now that he managed Griff's substantial private interests, but Griff had a compelling reason to require his presence today."Are you leaving Mr. Brennan in charge as usual, sir?" a young trader asked.
"No. He's going with me." When Daniel gaped at him, Griff bit back a smile. Daniel was hard to shock, having been with Knighton Trading since the days when it gained its primary revenue from smuggled goods. "Mr. Harrison will be in charge."
The senior trader beamed at this evidence of preference. "So where are you off to now, Mr. Knighton? France? India?" Greed brightened his eyes. "China perhaps?"
Griff chuckled. "Warwickshire. This isn't a business trip. I have family there."
"F-Family?" Harrison stammered.
Griff could guess his thoughts. But he's a bastard. Except for his poor mother, how could he have any family that would acknowledge him?
"Yes. Family," Griff repeated with fierce satisfaction. "It's a personal matter of some importance." He paused, then continued in that firm tone his staff knew never to question. "One more thing'none of you is to mention this to anyone, not even my mother. As far as you're concerned, I have sailed to France or China, understand?"
A low chorus of reassurances followed.
"Good. You're dismissed. Daniel, I need a word with you."
His staff left without lingering, for they well knew he didn't waste time with frivolous chatter. Besides, Griff thought wryly, they probably couldn't wait to speculate upon the shocking news that he had "family." Years ago it would have angered him, but he'd worn the stigma of bastardy so long it hardly chafed his skin anymore. What it chafed was his purse, but he now intended to remedy that.
As soon as the office cleared, Daniel arched one blond eyebrow and lowered his massive frame onto the expensive chair before Griff's desk. "A personal matter?""It really is personal this time, believe it or not."
Gone were the days when he and Daniel engaged in whatever machinations, illegal or no, were necessary to make Knighton Trading succeed. The future of the company lay in respectability. And ironically enough, respectability lay buried in Griff's past.
Griff took his own seat behind the desk. "I've been invited to visit my distant cousin'the Earl of Swanlea. He's dying, and his estate, Swan Park, is entailed on me."
Daniel looked perplexed. "But how could it be entailed on you if you're'"
"A bastard? I'm not. Not in the legal sense, anyway."
Daniel scowled, his disappointment evident. Their bastardy was the one thing they had in common, since they were opposites in looks, manner, and education. The fair-haired Daniel had been brought up in the workhouse and then in a smuggler's gang. Griff, dark-haired and lean, had been raised and educated as a gentleman.
Griff forced a smile, and added, "Although my legitimacy isn't yet established."
"Either you're a bastard or you ain't," Daniel grumbled.
"Aren't," Griff corrected. "I'm not a bastard, though I can't prove it. That's why I accepted Swanlea's invitation."
Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Isn't Swanlea the chap you had me investigate?