"And why is that?" Cam asked softly.
"You want social and financial gain. You wish to be recognized as a Cole."
Cam smiled without amusement. "Believe me, my lord, I wish for neither gain nor recognition. I merely wanted to know who I was." His eyes flashed with annoyance. "And I paid that bloody researcher to give the information to me, not to take it to you first. I'll take a strip out of his hide for that."
"Why do you want to see us?" Kev asked brusquely. "We want nothing from you, and you'll get nothing from us."
"First, it may interest you to learn that your father is dead. He expired a matter of weeks ago, as a result of a riding accident. He was always inept with horses. It eventually proved the death of him."
"Our condolences," Cam said flatly.
Kev merely shrugged.
"This is how you receive the death of your sire?" Ca-van demanded.
"I'm afraid we didn't know our sire well enough to display a more satisfying reaction," Kev said sardonically. "Pardon the lack of tears."
"I want something other than tears from you."
"Why am I alarmed?" Cam wondered aloud.
"My son left behind a wife and three daughters. No sons, except for you." The earl made a temple of his pale, knotty fingers. "The lands are entailed to male issue only, and there are none to be found in the Cole line, in any of its branches. As things stand at present, the Cavan title and all that is attached to it will become extinct upon my death." His jaw hardened. "I will not let the patrimony be lost forever merely because of your father's inability to reproduce."
Kevin arched a brow. "I'd hardly call two sons and three daughters an inability to reproduce."
"Daughters are of no consequence. And the two of you are half-breeds. One can hardly claim that your father succeeded in furthering the family's interests. But no matter. The situation must be tolerated. You are, after all, legitimate issue." An acrid pause. "You are my only heirs."
The vast cultural chasm between them was revealed in its entirety at that moment. Had Lord Cavan bestowed such bounty on any other kind of man, it would have been received with nothing short of ecstasy. But presenting a pair of Roma with the prospect of lofty social status and vast material riches did not get Cavan the reaction he had anticipated.
Instead, they both appeared singularly-rather maddeningly-unimpressed.
Cavan spoke irritably to Kev. "You are Viscount Mornington, inheritor of the Mornington estate in County Meath. Upon my death you will also receive Knotford Castle in Hillsborough, the Fairwall estate in County Down, and Watford Park in Hertfordshire. Does that mean anything to you?"
"You are the last in line," Cavan persisted, his voice sharpening, "to a family that traces its origins to a thane created by Athelstan in the year 936. Moreover, you are the heir to an earldom of more distinguished lineage than three-quarters of all the peerages of the Crown. Have you nothing to say? Do you even understand the remarkable good fortune that has befallen you?"
Kev understood all of that. He also understood that an imperious old bastard who had once wanted him dead now expected him to fall over himself because of an unasked-for inheritance. "Weren't you once searching for us with the intention of dispatching us like a pair of unwanted pups?"
Cavan scowled. "That question has no relevance to the matter at hand."
"That means yes," Cam told Kev.
"Circumstances have altered," Cavan said. "You have become more useful to me alive than dead. A fact for which you should be appreciative."
Kev was about to tell Cavan where he could shove his estates and titles when Cam shouldered Kev roughly aside.
"Excuse us," Cam said over his shoulder to Cavan, "while we have a brotherly chat."
"I don't want to chat." Kev muttered.
"For once would you listen to me?" Cam asked, his tone mild, his eyes narrowed. "Just once?"
Folding his arms over his chest, Kev inclined his head.
"Before you toss him out on his withered old arse," Cam said softly, "you may want to consider a few points. First, he's not going to live long. Second, the tenants on the Cavan lands are probably in desperate need of decent management and help. There is much you could do for them, even if you choose to reside in England and oversee the Irish portion of the entailment from afar. Third, think about Win. She would have wealth and position. No one would dare slight a countess. Fourth, we apparently have a stepmother and three half sisters with no one to care for them after the old man turns up his toes. Fifth-"
"There's no need for fifth," Kev said. "I'll do it."
"What?" Cam raised his brows. "You agree with me?"
All the points had been well-taken, but the mere mention of Win would have been enough. She would live better and be treated with far more respect as a countess than a Gypsy's wife.
The old man regarded Kev with a sour expression. "You seem to be under the misapprehension that I was giving you a choice. I wasn't asking you for anything. I was informing you of your good fortune and your duty. Furthermore-"
"Well, it's all settled," Cam interrupted hastily. "Lord Cavan, you now have an heir and a spare. I propose that we all take leave of each other to contemplate our new circumstances. If it pleases you, my lord, we will meet again on the morrow to discuss the particulars."