"Mac," Isabella said. He saw her struggle to retain her composure, not wanting to break down. "I'm afraid something rather dreadful has happened."
"I know." Mac went swiftly to her and took her ice-cold hands. "Whatever I can do, I will do. I promise you that."
"I'll leave you then," Ainsley said. "I am so very sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, Isabella."
Isabella turned to Ainsley, her eyes red with unshed tears. "I'm glad it came from you, my old friend. Thank you."
The two women hugged, and Ainsley kissed Isabella's cheek, tears in her own eyes.
As she moved to leave, Cameron stepped through the open door, and Ainsley stopped. The two froze in place for a tense moment, Cameron staring at her with narrowed eyes, Ainsley not quite meeting his gaze. Finally, Cameron gave Ainsley a cool nod. Ainsley flushed bright red, gave him a slight nod in return, and dodged past him out the door.
At any other time Mac would have been more curious about the encounter, but just then Isabella sank into him, her tears spilling from her eyes.
Cameron sat on the sofa in the very place Ainsley had occupied and pulled out his whiskey flask. "I was on my way to you with the news, Isabella, when I met Mac," he said. "I can poke around the City if you'd like and find out what happened. Hart has friends in moneyed places who can find out how up against it your father truly is."
Isabella shook her head. "It doesn't matter. I only want to make certain my mother is all right. She's never very good at managing in a crisis. And Louisa will be heartbroken. This will mean she'll have no debut ball."
"Not necessarily," Mac said. "Your father is lucky that his son-in-law is so rich and well connected. Hart knows the best financial wizards in the City-in all of England and Scotland, for that matter. I'll see what can be done to save your father from destitution, and your sister can go on with her plans for her coming-out."
"He'll not let you," she said sadly. "He'll never take a penny from a Mackenzie."
"We'll fix it so that he never knows. It sounds like an entertaining endeavor. I'll save him and keep his pride intact."
The small smile she gave him made Mac feel better. The expression Isabella had worn when he'd entered the room had reminded him strongly of the one he'd seen on her face the night he'd come home after her miscarriage. Mac hadn't been able to fix that tragedy, but he might be able to fix this one.
He got Isabella to agree to go upstairs and let Evans look after her, and then he and Cameron departed for the City to find out what they could.
Unfortunately, when Mac and Cameron met with Hart's man at the Exchange, he confirmed that Lord Scranton's situation was dire indeed. He'd not only been involved in bad investment schemes, but he'd borrowed heavily from banks and friends in order to do so
. Now, those banks and friends were demanding to be repaid. In addition, it looked as though Lord Scranton had also been dipping his hands into funds from a syndicate he'd formed with some old school friends, and now he couldn't replace their money. He'd certainly dug himself in deep.
Mac did not want to report this awfulness to Isabella. He stayed away until late that night, trying to come up with ways to mitigate the damage. If he worked hard enough perhaps he wouldn't have to explain until things were slightly less awful.
He arrived home after Isabella had gone to bed, but he found her awake in the bed in his room, waiting for him. Mac held her, neither of them speaking, both of them worrying, until they fell asleep in exhaustion.
The next day, still more dire news reached Isabella. Inspector Fellows sent Mac a note to tell him that Earl Scranton was dead, having died of apoplexy in the night.
The Season opened as usual with a grand ball of the Lady formerly of Mount Street. Her North Audley Street residence was resplendent, her three brothers-in-law, including the duke, helping her to host the festivities. Rumor had it that her estranged Lord had holed up in Paris with a Lady Paramour, but that rumor is happily false. He spends his days brooding in Mount Street, or wandering alone about the Continent, or sequestering himself in the ducal castle in Scotland, while his wife remains a glittering and popular hostess.
"Mama." Isabella rushed across her mother's drawing room to the woman standing still as marble near the window. Lady Scranton turned at her footsteps, then with a sob, caught Isabella in her arms.
Mother and daughter held each other for a long moment, rocking and crying. Isabella sensed rather than heard Mac enter behind her, his presence filling the room like the sun after a long cold snap.
Lady Scranton disengaged from the hug and seized Isabella's hands. She was dressed from head to foot in black, her eyes swollen and red behind her veil. "Oh, my child, I thought I would never see you again."
"How could you not? Of course I would come to you, Mama. Of course you would see me again."
"I thought . . ." She trailed off on another sob. "I thought you would hate me."
"Never. Come and sit down, Mama. You need to rest."
Lady Scranton allowed herself to be led to a sofa. She glanced up as she sat, saw Mac, and gave a start. "Oh. Lord Roland. I didn't realize."
"Call me Mac." He seated himself on a chair, folding his arms on his knees. "I place myself at your service, madam. Anything you need or want done, you tell me, and I shall make it happen. Command me."