Chapter Twenty-two: Splendid Mallory

"Lady Helena is not a liar!" Old Sir Edgar banged his hand on the table, making the empty dishes clatter. The noise echoed in the dark and stuffy old restaurant, which was nearly empty in the sleepy hour before closing time.

"But father, Rebecca and her environmental group showed me the plans. They hacked into the corporate database. All the local wetlands are to be covered over with concrete and steel!"

"Helena would never do such a thing," the old man grumbled. "Would she, Mallory?"

"Huh?" Mallory James put down her wine glass. She had been hoping that Sir Edgar and his son Edmund would forget their differences. That was the whole reason she had come out to dinner with them in the first place. But all through the meal, the two hard-headed males kept clashing over and over. And all she could do was smile and sip her wine and try to play peacemaker!

"Mallory doesn't know anything about Lady Helena's business," Edmund rudely interrupted, giving Mallory no chance to reply. "The only reason Lady Helena keeps her on staff is to show the world how progressive she is. Hiring a beautiful, penniless girl from an orphanage is a great public relations move!"

"You don't know anything about her!" Mallory was tired of playing peacemaker. Her cheeks were flushed, and her blue eyes sparkled with anger. "Lady Helena has trained me, educated me, and cared for me like a daughter since the day I left the orphanage. I'd do anything for her just like she would for me. Lady Helena Norwich sees what a person is like inside, not just their clothes or their money or whatever. That's why she noticed me in the first place. Would a woman like that destroy the wetlands?"

"She would if the money was right," Edmund said cynically.

"She has money," Mallory shot back. "Have you ever been to Norwich Manor? It's a palace! I've lived there for weeks now and I know for a fact that Lady Helena has loads of money to invest. And not just her own money, but all the billions of pounds she's getting from Prince Rashid of Khubar! He believes in Lady Helena and he's not threatened by her success. He's even toured our properties in London, looking for a new base of operations."

"And just how do you know so much about Prince Rashid?" Edmund's dark brown eyes were suddenly very intense.

"It's my job to know." Mallory gave Edmund a look, her blue eyes challenging his. "My role in Lady Helena's organization gives me total access. Sorry if that makes you jealous."

"I'm not jealous of that rich brat . . . that spoiled playboy!"

"Children, children, let's not get off the point." Old Sir Edgar had been watching the two passionate young people closely, noting how they shot off sparks together. "Mallory, you have worked hard to earn Lady Helena's trust. Please let her know she has my support, but that I would appreciate a more detailed report on the wetlands project. Edmund, you have worked hard to bring the concerns of your environmental friends into the public eye."

"By starting a riot and getting people hurt," Mallory grumbled.

"Now you must take on a leadership role," Sir Edgar told his son. He patted Mallory's hand while she sat there, still steaming mad. "You will see to it that the radical element does not return."

"They're still locked up in jail." Edmund couldn't meet his father's gaze, Mallory noted. Clearly he was ashamed of his foolish behavior, and getting mixed up with that awful Rebecca person.

"I will see to their release, and provide funds for their legal defense. You will guarantee their good behavior in the future."

"I'll do what you say, father," Edmund said. "Because it's my fault Mallory got that nasty bump in the head. I'm sorry about that."

"You'd better be." Mallory wanted more than an apology. She wanted Edmund to admit he had been wrong from the beginning. She wanted him to choose her over Rebecca. Instead he jumped to his feet, making the dishes rattle just like his father.

"All right, I'll play nice. But get this straight both of you. There's something funny about Lady Helena. There's something funny about Norwich Manor. Both of you have been taken in by her, but I haven't. I'm going to uncover the truth about that witch!"

The restaurant was very quiet after he was gone.

"I'm worried about him," Mallory said, blinking back tears. "Edmund must be crazy to think Lady Helena would ever hurt me, or you, or . . . or anyone! Maybe if I'd told him the demonstration was dangerous, and refused to go along, none of this would have happened. It's all because of that awful Rebecca. She still has a hold on him!"

"Nonsense," said old Sir Edgar. "You were splendid, Mallory dear. Splendid! My boy will come to his senses, never fear. Lady Helena and I are going to make a lot of money together." Edmund's father seemed very confident as he leaned back in his chair and lit a cigar. But for Mallory it had been an exhausting day. Her first loyalty was to Lady Helena, now and always. How could she stand by Helena and still have feelings for Edmund?

All at once Mallory didn't feel so splendid.