The Aristocrat by Penelope Ward


Turning to him, I raised my brow. “What’s so funny?”

“He thinks me needing time off from work is hilarious, since that’s not really a consideration for me,” Leo answered.

“Why is that? You don’t work?”

“He comes from old money,” Sig said. “Whether he works on a daily basis or not is inconsequential, although there are responsibilities.”

Leo looked annoyed. “My father is grooming me to take over the family business,” he clarified. “He owns a number of properties in the countryside where we live in England.”

After taking a moment to process that, I said, “So this grooming includes a six-month jaunt around the US?”

“That might not seem to make sense, but yes, this trip was part of an agreement I have with my father. Being an only child, I’ve always had tremendous expectations placed upon me. Before I can begin to take things seriously, I needed a break from the pressure. I know what’s expected of me, and I plan to fulfill his wishes. But I needed this time away first.”

“Okay, so you made a deal with your dad…”

He nodded. “He gave me six months off from any and all familial obligations. And in return, I’ll take things more seriously when I return.”

“You don’t want to take over the family business?”

His expression turned a bit serious. “What I want has never really mattered.”

“With all due respect, why can’t you just tell your father you aren’t interested?”

Sig laughed under his breath.

I looked over at him and back toward Leo. “I’m sorry to pry.”

Sig chuckled. “Believe me, he’s thrilled you’re asking these questions, because it means you have absolutely no idea who he is, and that’s exactly what he prefers.”

Leo’s face turned a bit red.

“What is he talking about?” I asked. “Who are you?”

“Here? No one.” He sighed. “But back home in the bubble? People think I’m a big deal because of the family I was born into. I’m the subject of much unwanted attention.”

“Boo-hoo.” Sig rolled his eyes. “I’d gladly bear some of that so-called burden, if I could.”

Leo glared at him. “Anyway, enough about that for now. Can I pour you another?” He seemed eager to move this conversation elsewhere.

I held my palm out. “I’d better not. I can already feel this one going to my head.”

“How about some actual tea, then?”

“That might be good.”

Sig stood up. “I volunteer to make it. I can tell you’ve been waiting for me to get out of your hair for a second so you can talk to Freckles in peace.”

“I believe she told you not to call her that,” Leo scolded.

“That’s right.” He placed his hand over his heart and feigned regret. “Forgive me, Mary.”

Such a dick.

“I apologize for him. Really, if we weren’t related, I would’ve cut him off a long time ago. But he’s quite a fun travel companion when he’s not being an arse.”

“It’s all right.”

He tilted his head. “Tell me more about you, Felicity.”

“Well, I graduated from college a couple of years ago, and for the last two years I’ve worked for a nonprofit in Boston.”

“Whereabouts did you go to school?”

“Harvard.”

His eyes widened. “No big deal, then.” He coughed. “Wow. Seriously, congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

“What’s next?”

“Headed to Pennsylvania for law school this fall.”

“Brilliant.”

“Yeah. I’m trying to enjoy the summer before I have to buckle down again.”

“I know you live with a roommate. Whereabouts is your family?”

Here we go. I came out with it. “I don’t have one, actually.”

Concern filled his eyes. “You have no family?”

“Nope. I grew up in the foster system, so I’ve lived with people who weren’t my actual parents for a good portion of my life. Mrs. Angelini is the last such person. She took me in when I was fifteen, and that house across the bay has been my home base ever since.”

He nodded, taking in my revelation. “I hope you don’t mind my saying, but I find you even more remarkable now—all that you’ve accomplished. It couldn’t have been easy for you growing up.”