Rich Man – Laura Landon

Blake Edison sat in the large leather wing chair angled before the crackling fire in his private office above Edison Textile Imports’ warehouse and breathed a heavy sigh. He took a sip of brandy and let his mind travel back to the beginning. To the day when he’d first met his mentor and savior, Silas Witherspoon, the former owner of the warehouse that was now Edison Imports. With a stabbing of remembrance of that day fourteen years ago when he’d come in search of a job, he reminded himself of how fortunate he’d been to take the chance that Witherspoon would employ him. He’d been a scrawny sixteen-year-old lad who hadn’t had a meal in nearly two days and was desperate enough that he would have begged for the opportunity to earn a crust of bread. Instead, he was given a gift more valuable than one meal. He was given the chance to climb out of the hellhole in which he’d been living and make something of himself. Silas Witherspoon had not only hired him, but had made it possible for Blake to become one of the wealthiest men in London. He couldn’t have known how his world would change that day. He remembered it well, stepping into that warehouse and a moment later being greeted by an earshattering pop that sounded as loud as if a gun had been fired. But it wasn’t a gun exploding. A shelf piled high with massive bolts of heavy material had snapped in two. The thick fabric bolts started to slide from the shelf and would have fallen to a spot where Silas Witherspoon stood directly below it. Blake reacted without thinking and pushed the man to safety before a quarter ton of fabric crushed him. That day was the beginning of a relationship that continued until the day Witherspoon took his final breath.

Silas took Blake under his wing and treated him as his son. He taught him everything there was to know about the fabric and textile business and gradually, as age overtook him, turned the running of his textile business over to Blake. He taught him where to buy the best materials and what fabrics would be most in demand each season. He schooled him on how to barter for the best prices. And most of all, which sellers to trust to provide materials of the highest quality. Blake had learned a great deal since that harrowing day thirteen years ago. And he’d put that knowledge to good use. Over the years, Edison Imports had become one of the best-known names in the textile import business, making Blake one of the wealthiest men in London. Wealthy enough to accomplish his only goal in life: to exact revenge upon the man who had abandoned him and his mother. To destroy the man who hadn’t cared enough for his own flesh and blood to give a damn whether his son had lived or died.

Indeed, the man who thought both Blake and his mother died long ago and rejoiced in that knowledge. So Blake spent each and every day doing everything in his power to see that the man paid dearly for his sins. Blake took a deep swallow of the brandy in his glass and waited until he heard the sound of Liam McGregor’s footsteps approaching. He knew it was Liam, the only person in Blake’s life he considered a friend. The only person who knew as much about Blake as Blake himself did. Liam was a cheerful lad and a good worker. But more importantly, he had a good head on his shoulders. He adapted to running the warehouse as if he’d been born to the position. Blake didn’t know what he’d do without Liam’s help. Nor did he know what he’d do without Liam’s friendship.

Hopefully, he’d never find out. Blake looked up at the knock on the door. It opened when Blake bade his friend to enter. “I knew I’d find you here,” Liam said when he closed the door behind him. “It would be impossible for you to go home for the evening before you found out if everything went well.” “Did the Mermaid dock?” Blake asked as he poured his friend a glass of whiskey. Liam had never developed a taste for brandy, convinced that it was what people high in the instep drank. “She did,” Liam said after he’d taken a swallow of whiskey, then folded his six-foot-three-inch frame into the wing chair next to Blake. “I ordered the men to leave the cargo aboard and not unload it until morning,” he said, stretching his legs out before him. He might not indulge in fine brandy, but good boot leather was quite another thing to Liam, and tonight his boots still held this morning’s high shine.

“There’s a heavy mist falling. There’s no need risking any of the material getting wet.” Blake nodded. “Did you get a look at any of the stock?” Liam smiled. “You’re going to be especially pleased with this shipment. There’s a wide variety of silks from Italy and Venice, and satins, brocades and damasks. And an assortment of the finest cottons I’ve ever seen.” Blake poured more brandy into his own glass and took a swallow. Sale of the material on the Mermaid would provide him a handsome profit. Just as the next cargo of fabrics would when the Wayfairer docked in a week.

With the demand for fashionable gowns increasing each year, the linen-drapers of London couldn’t get enough fine fabrics to supply the modistes and seamstresses they served. Edison’s Textiles had earned a reputation as one of the premier suppliers of the finest fabrics, and it sounded as if this shipment would certainly confirm their status among London’s best purveyors of cloth. The bolts of fabric that had arrived tonight would no doubt be nearly gone in a few days’ time. And Blake’s bank account would be fatter by far. “I want you to hire extra dock workers to unload the cargo in the morning. When all the bolts are safely in the warehouse, I’ll send word to Madame Boulereau. She will have first choice of the materials, as usual. When she’s selected what she wants from the new fabrics, we’ll send word to the linen-drapers that our new shipment has arrived.” Liam looked at Blake over the rim of his glass. “Don’t you consider your debt to Madame Boulereau paid by now?” Blake turned his glass in his hands and watched the amber liquid swish back and forth.

“My debt to Madame Boulereau will never be paid. If not for Georgette, I would have lost Edison Textiles the year after Silas died and I was left to run his import business on my own. If Georgette hadn’t purchased the stock I had on hand, I would have been bankrupt.” “You know she considers your debt paid,” Liam answered. “Perhaps,” Blake said, knowing Liam was right. “But you never know when I might need another favor. And there’s no one I trust more than Georgette. Plus, her clients include the cream of London Society. She’s the most sought-after dressmaker in London. Her designs can’t be equaled and the knowledge that she acquires her material from Edison Textiles is beyond price.

” “Then she’s going to be very pleased when she sees the fabrics you have for her this trip.” Blake sat back in his chair and finished his brandy while he and Liam discussed what needed to be done with the shipment that had just arrived. After an hour or so passed, Liam rose from his chair and made to leave. “Oh, by the way,” he said when he reached the door. “You might be interested to know that your decision not to invest in Lord Shandling’s venture was a wise one. The venture went bankrupt and the men who invested lost their money.” “All of them?” “Yes. All of them.” Liam hesitated at the open doorway. Blake knew there was something more he wanted to say and Blake was sure he knew what it was.

He might as well confront the subject head on. “Yes? Is there something else?” “Don’t you think you’ve done him enough harm?” A fiery shard of anger stabbed through Blake’s chest. “He will never have endured enough,” Blake ground through clenched teeth. “He’ll never have paid enough.” “But don’t you see what your hatred for him is doing to you? It’s turning your heart harsh and brittle.” “Then I will live with a heart that’s brittle. It’s not as if I’ll need my heart for anything else.” “Perhaps not now, Blake. But perhaps some da—” “Good night, Liam. I’ll see you in the morning.

” His friend nodded farewell, then closed the office door behind him. Blake sat without moving for several minutes after he’d heard Liam’s footsteps on the stair treads, then heard the warehouse door close behind him. A myriad of emotions crashed about inside him, and yet Blake couldn’t put a name to any one of them. If he had to describe what he felt knowing that the venture the Duke of Somerset had invested in had gone bankrupt, it could best be described as satisfaction. Or perhaps pleasure that one more nail had been driven into the coffin of the man Blake despised more than anyone on the face of the earth. Blake lived for the day when he would hear that the Duke of Somerset had invested too recklessly, or had gambled too heavily, and was so deeply in debt he had to sell everything that wasn’t entailed. Then Blake would buy what his father was forced to sell. Blake walked to the liquor cabinet that stood against the wall and refilled his glass with more of his fine brandy. He would enjoy watching the Duke of Somerset sell his possessions. And he would see to it that he himself would become the owner of everything the duke was forced to lose.

When the Duke of Somerset had nothing to his name but a mountain of debt and a future in debtor’s prison, Blake would ask him how it felt to be without a coin in his pocket, or a crust of bread to eat. Blake hoped the duke would beg to be taken in—so Blake could turn him away. Blake lived for the day when the Duke of Somerset realized he’d lost everything he’d once owned. Lost it to his bastard son. The bastard son he refused to claim.

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