Silent are the Bells Chapter Seventeen: Betrayal
written by Sugarberry

“Aiden, I’d like a word with you.” Dorian hesitated at the door of the lawyer’s office, but overcame whatever it was that prompted this unnatural anxiety. Walking to the desk as Aiden looked up at him with an occupied appearance, Dorian continued. “I just received a call from a client in Capital City, and he needs to speak with me personally as soon as possible. This will necessitate my leaving first thing in the morning and will take most of the day.”

Slowly, Aiden’s mind made the switch from the case he was examining to Dorian’s words; and comprehension put a frown on his face. “You have a full load scheduled for tomorrow- we all do; you can’t just pick up and leave your engagements behind.”

“I realize this will be an inconvenience, sir, but I really have no choice in the matter. My client has assured me that my presence is needed on the morrow.”

“We always have a choice, Dorian.”

“Consequences determine the course I have to follow; I can’t turn the other way in this instance.”

“What about the consequences to the rest of us here? Sloan will be at court all day, Brietta has a tight schedule of appointments here at the office, and Conrad is overseeing the details of an estate settlement that has already dragged out longer than it should have. Your duties cannot be ignored.”

“I’ve already called the ponies involved and have set up new appointments for next week for everyone except Granger; Brietta’s agreed to fit him into her schedule tomorrow.”

Aiden leaned back in his chair. “It sounds like you made your decision over my authority.”

“I had to. This is a matter of the gravest importance.”

The gaze that Aiden drilled into Dorian was enough to cause the strongest of wills to wilt, but Dorian held that gaze. It was a full minute before Aiden shrugged his shoulders. “If you’ve taken care to cover your bases here, I guess no harm will come of your abandoning us for one day. I wish you a safe journey.”

“Thank you, sir,” Dorian smiled, but his eyes remained sober. He quickly made his escape from the office, sighing a deep sigh as he closed the door. He then set his steps down the hall to Brietta’s office, finding her buried in a stack of files.

“It’s almost quitting time,” Dorian teased, striding across the office and planting a kiss on the mare’s forehead.

“So my father agreed to your hasty departure, did he?” Brietta asked, her eyes twinkling up at the stallion.

“Not happily; but yes, he did agree in the end.” Dorian slipped into the chair next to Brietta’s desk. “I really do appreciate you taking my lunchtime meeting with Granger; your schedule was overloaded as it was.”

“How could I refuse to help you out when you referred to the dire need of your friend in Capital City?” She leaned to pat his hoof which rested on her desk. “Just remember, you owe me one in the future.”

“I owe you a lot in the future, my love; and I intend to take the rest of my life in paying that debt.” The look in his eyes melted her heart.

“I’m going to miss you, even if it’s only for the day.”

“It’ll be late when I get back, but maybe we can have breakfast together Saturday morning?”

“It’s a date.”

* * *

The day had been as hectic as any Brietta had ever known, and even her love for Dorian could not prevent her from silently chiding the absent stallion for his decampment. The morning had gone fairly smoothly, but the added luncheon meeting with Granger had proved to be a disaster as his flirting manner had allowed Brietta no time to recoup her energy for the gauntlet of afternoon clients. In addition, the telephone had not ceased ringing; and Colly, who was swamped with her own work, was directing needless calls Brietta’s way.

Conrad’s disposition did not help matters, either. He was displeased that Dorian had reneged on his duties, and that displeasure spilled over to rile the already dispirited vibes rampaging throughout the offices. And- unfairly- Conrad took his indignation out on Brietta.

“Brietta!” boomed his voice now as Brietta passed his office door with a hoof full of files.

“Yes, Grandfather?” Brietta vowed that she would not lose her temper, but she knew she was near the breaking point. She stuck her head through the doorway and smiled sweetly at the crusty stallion.

“Walter Patridge is on the phone and needs some questions answered; as Dorian’s been handling his affairs, Dorian is the one who should be answering the questions; but he’s not here, is he?” Brietta said nothing as the answer was obvious. Conrad went on. “I checked in the main file but Patridge’s file is not there, so it must be in Dorian’s office. Find it for me!”

“Yes, Grandfather,” Brietta replied meekly and escaped any further wrath as quickly as possible.

Slipping into Dorian’s office, Brietta closed the door behind her with a sigh of relief. At least she had been ordered to leave her own work, so could not be faulted for shirking her own duties. The coolness of the empty office was a pleasant relief, and Brietta allowed herself to sink into Dorian’s padded chair, resting her head back to regain her composure. The lingering scent of Dorian’s spicy cologne engulfed her brittle senses, and she closed her eyes to breath in his essence- but only for a moment; Conrad was waiting.

Seeing the sloppy condition of his desk top, Brietta had to smile. Unbidden, she found herself once again comparing Dorian and Sloan. Sloan was neatness personified, and his office was never untidy; Dorian, on the other hoof, left his work in a random disarray that screamed for order. Searching through the papers and files that littered the desk, Brietta had to giggle as she uncovered a cache of candy wrappers; but the smile diminished as she finished her quest empty-hoofed. The needed file was not on the desk.

Tapping her left hoof of the desktop, Brietta stared at the drawers before her. She was faced with a dilemma of sorts. One of Dorian’s idiosyncrasies, she had learned, was that he had an overriding penchant for keeping his working files to himself. Her mind went back to the one day since she had met him that he had been upset enough to use a curt voice with her- “Brie! What do you think you’re doing?” he had barked at her as she idly flipped through some files in the righthoof desk drawer as they were taking a rather boring conference call. She shuddered just remembering the tone of his voice; she had felt the dread of a foal getting caught with his hoof in the cookie jar.

Stiffening her resolve, Brietta pulled open the drawers one by one, cowardly saving the most obvious file drawer for last. When she had no alternative left, she opened that drawer and quickly scanned the files that rested there. No Walter Patridge showed up, which was a comfort as she would not have to admit to Dorian that she had pilfered materials from his desk. Just as she was about to close the drawer, however, a piece of information sauntered into her brain- the last file was labeled simply W.P. Could that represent Walter Patridge?

Reaching out to take the file, Brietta could almost hear Dorian’s voice calling her name... “Brie!” The impression was so strong that she looked up, expecting to see him standing before her, his eyes smouldering with anger as they had been that day when he had reprimanded her... eyes that showed not only anger but also a taint of fear. The thought slipped into her consciousness like an unbidden virus, filling her with dread to view the contents of the file that now lay unopened on the desk.

“You’re acting like a superstitious dolt,” Brietta scolded herself out loud. Shaking herself of the uncanny feeling that had settled over her, she opened the manila file and stared in disbelief at its contents, leaning over the papers as if mesmerized.

W.P. did not stand for Walter Patridge; it stood for Whitehall Place. Scanning the papers that she had uncovered, Brietta found photos of the house and grounds; interior diagrams showing rooms and levels; drawings of a visualized Whitehall Place with a discreet sign out front that read, “Whitehall Place Acres” depicting remodeled rooms on the ground floor to meet the needs of the golf course projected for the land behind the mansion and updated guest rooms for the remaining two upper floors. The patio had been enlarged and extended to feed off what appeared to be a taproom, and the kitchen area had been modernized to serve a private dining facility. A spreadsheet showing the time frame and the costs was also included.

Brietta stared at the pages of information in shocked disbelief with no comprehension of what was going on around her.

* * *

Sloan, finishing with his court case earlier than expected, returned to the office to find more mayhem than he had ever faced before in these sedate and hallowed halls. He was beginning to think that it had been a mistake not to have simply gone home from the courthouse when Conrad caught sight of him. “Sloan! See what’s keeping that granddaughter of mine! She was supposed to bring me a file from Dorian’s office ten minutes ago, and now she’s disappeared!”

Looking at Colly for verification, Sloan grinned as that mare only rolled her eyes and nodded toward Dorian’s office. Sloan crossed to the door and gently knocked, but received no answer. Cautiously pushing the door forward, he stepped into the room and caught sight of Brietta sitting at the desk as if trapped in some hideous spell; he had seen that stricken look on her face only once before- on that bygone night he had introduced Finella to her at the high school dance. Closing the door quickly, he crossed to Brietta’s side. So engrossed in the information in front of her, the mare did not even realize he was there.

Feeling a stab of fear, Sloan touched her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Brietta?” When no answer came, he swung the chair toward him, forcing Brietta to acknowledge his presence; but she remained entranced and speechless. Putting a hoof on both her shoulders now, Sloan shook the seemingly senseless mare. “Brietta! Talk to me!”

Dreamlike, Brietta lifted her head, her eyes blankly meeting his. She opened her mouth as if to speak but no words came. Suddenly, she dropped her head to her hooves and cried silent tears that convulsed her body in spasms of agonized suffering.

Wanting to pull the mare into his forelegs and kiss away her tears, Sloan had no time to as the office door opened to reveal Colly. Stepping in front of Brietta to block Colly’s view of the distressed pony, Sloan listened to Colly’s news with a stoic face. “I feel like a complete dunce, but I found the file Conrad wanted on my own desk; I’ve taken it...” Her voice trailed off as she realized that Sloan could care less about anything she had to say at this moment.

“Leave us.” Sloan’s curt dismissal did not set well with Colly, but she stepped out of the office and closed the door with an abrupt snap.

From his position immediately behind the desk, Sloan had only to look down to see what had thrown Brietta into such a state. He leafed through the pages in growing consternation, then turned back to confront Brietta. “This is Dorian’s work?” His voice was like a low growl.

“I... I found... the file... in his desk,” Brietta said in a rough voice between uncontrollable sobs. She dabbed uselessly at her wet cheeks with her hooves, and Sloan responded with several tissues that were soon saturated; he gave her the box, setting it on her lap, and pulled up a chair so that he could sit facing her. Waiting until the sniffling had diminished somewhat, Sloan finally spoke.

“If I had Dorian here right now, I’d pound him senseless.”

“Don’t say that,” Brietta breathed.

“And why not? This... this abomination he’s planning for Whitehall Place is unsufferable!”

“We don’t know for sure...”

“Even you have to see what this means! The scoundrel plans on getting control of Whitehall Place for himself and commercializing it!”

Tears began to flow again, and Brietta shook her head. “No!”

“You know it’s the truth or you wouldn’t have been in such sorry shape when I walked in here!” He took hold of her forelegs as if he would shake her again.

“M... maybe it’s not the whole truth, Sloan! Maybe there’s something we don’t know!”

“You can bet there are things we don’t know, Brietta. How does Dorian expect to pull this off?”

“There’s a paper...” She gestured toward the file on the desk, “that documents the fact that Whitehall Place was never officially recorded as the property of the Mannings.”

With a grunt of rage, Sloan dug through the papers until he found one that contained the information that Brietta was referring to. Scanning the legalities that appeared there, he lost some of his fight. “If this stands up in court, Whitehall Place would revert to public domain.”

“What are we going to do?” The eyes that focused on Sloan were so full of distress that he could not help himself; he pulled Brietta forward and hugged her to him as if that embrace would shield her from anything that Dorian intended to thwart her with.

“For starters, we have to get this information to Conrad and Aiden; they’ll be in a better position to know...”

“No, Sloan! Promise me you won’t mention this to them until I have a chance to talk to Dorian.” She pulled back, begging him with her eyes.

“At this point, would you believe anything he told you? I’ve known him longer than you have, and I’m ready to wash my hooves of him this instant.”

“I’ve got to talk to him, Sloan; I owe him that much.”

“You don’t owe him anything!”

“I’m wearing his ring, aren’t I?”

“Brietta! You can’t possibly consider marriage to that scoundrel knowing what you do now!”

Brietta bristled. “You are in no position to tell me who I can or cannot marry!” She stood up and moved around the desk from him.

“I don’t want to see you get hurt by him... any more than he’s already done.”

“Your concern is appreciated, Sloan, but you cut your ties with me long ago; I haven’t been your concern since Finella...”

“Brietta, stop it! You have no idea...”

But Brietta interrupted him. “I don’t want to hear it. I just want some time to think.” She grabbed the file and stalked out of Dorian’s office without a backward glance.

Sloan groaned, sat down in the chair Brietta had so recently vacated, and- bracing his forelegs on the desk- dropped his head onto his hooves in utter contempt for the stallion whom he had called friend since the day they had met those long years ago at Pembroke.

* * *

Assuring her father and grandfather that she would rather work late than face the mess on her desk Monday morning, Brietta bid the two stallions goodnight, warning them that it would be late when she returned home as she was going to eat a leisurely supper in town. Sloan, she noted, had already left, for which she was grateful; he would have no opportunity to disclose today’s awful revelation to Conrad and Aiden over the course of the weekend. Colly, too, was soon ready to leave and reminded Brietta to lock up the office. Brietta was finally left alone with her none-too-pleasant thoughts.

How could Dorian do such a thing? Was his only reason for proposing to her part of his plan to gain free access to the property of Whitehall Place? But why bother if, as the papers said, Whitehall Place was not even the legal property of Conrad and had never been the land of any of the Mannings down through the years since it had been occupied? She turned once more to the sheaf of papers in the W.P. file confiscated from Dorian’s desk and attempted to make some sense of the tangled mess.

One thing was sure- to purchase Whitehall Place and the acreage around it now with the speculation for land burgeoning the price would cost more than Conrad and Aiden and Brietta together could manage. According to the file before her, however, there was a conglomerate of investors who were ready and waiting to swing the deal.

It was beginning to get dark when Brietta finally lifted her head from her study of the myriad words and pictures and rubbed her hoof across her eyes. Noting the passage of time startled her, for the hour was later than she thought. Standing and shuffling the papers into some semblance of order, she slipped the file into her attache case; and after locking up the offices, she headed for a little restaurant that would give her a clear view of Dorian’s apartment.

Feeling like a spy, Brietta took up a seat next to the window; as she saw it, Dorian would have left town at daybreak to arrive in Capital City by mid-morning; assuming his business would run into the afternoon hours, he could be nearing Whitehall any time now. From where she sat picking at her food as if she suspected poisoning, she would see Dorian as he made his way down the street and could follow him to his apartment for a confrontation. She patted the attache case at her side, took a sip of bitter coffee, and sat back to wait.

* * *

Darkness had descended completely, and Brietta had stared out onto the street for so long that her vision was beginning to blur, the light of the street lamps against the blackness of the sky giving her a headache. She was just about to request a refill on her coffee when an approaching pony caught her full attention. A dapper grey stallion with violet hair came down the street, passing directly under a street light for easy identification. Brietta immediately vacated her chair, plopped a hoof full of jangles on the counter, and exited the shop; so quick was she with her movements that she fell into pace behind Dorian well ahead of the gruff stallion that had been following Dorian since his departure from Capital City.

The temperature had dropped since Brietta had gone into the diner, and the cooler air had a bracing effect on the mare that made her hoof steps lighter than she would have thought possible as she followed her fiancé as if he were some kind of criminal that needed apprehension. She touched the engagement ring on her left foreleg for reassurance; he was still the same stallion she had committed her life to, and she would not believe less of him until... until she found out explicitly what he planned to do with the information he had accumulated.

In no time at all, Dorian had entered his apartment, and Brietta stopped for a few moments before she too approached the door. She found that her hoof was shaking as she raised it to push the doorbell. She had barely enough time to gather her composure before the door opened.

It was obvious by the look on Dorian’s face that he had not expected his visitor to be Brietta; he had felt that someone was following him on his return journey although he had been unsuccessful in catching a glimpse of anyone. He shivered, having expected to find a red stallion with black hair and a ragged scar on his face rather than his beautiful fiancee; he recovered his equanimity immediately, however, and reached out to draw the mare into the room.

“I didn’t expect a visit tonight, my love, but I’m more than happy to see you.” He leaned toward her to capture her lips with his, but Brietta escaped him.

Walking to the sofa, Brietta pushed a stack of unopened mail to the side of the coffee table and placed her briefcase on it, snapping it open with an abrupt efficiency. “This isn’t a social call, Dorian.” She straightened, and her gaze drilled into the stallion, trying to uncover his innermost thoughts. “We have to talk.”

Taking several steps toward Brietta, Dorian chuckled. “Don’t tell me that Granger...” His words and his laughter trailed off as the mare’s countenance retained its closed, cold look. What had happened in his absence to put up this wall between them, the stallion wondered, feeling a churning sensation in the pit of his stomach.

“Granger’s not the problem.” She reached into the attache case and withdrew a manila folder, tossing in down in front of Dorian. “This is.”

Dorian did not have to look down to read the label on the file; he knew there was only one packet of information that would have turned his warm and loving sweetheart into this cold and distant professional. He did, however, reach down to pick the file up for he could not bear that icy stare any longer. He flipped through the papers while his mind wildly searched for the words to alleviate the horror that must have engulfed Brietta when she had first realized the scope of the proposal it documented. He came up empty.

“Why, Dorian?”

The words were spoken so softly that Dorian would not have been sure that they had been spoken at all if he had not seen the accompanying pain in Brietta’s eyes. “Please don’t think the worst of me, Brie.”

“I am trying hard not to.” She unconsciously slipped her hoof over the engagement ring causing Dorian’s heart to instantly tighten. He held his breath as he waited for her to slip the sparkling gold band off her foreleg, but her hoof only settled there as if gleaning strength from the symbol. “That’s why I came... to hear your explanation.”

Releasing his breath and running a hoof through his mane to steady himself, Dorian allowed himself to flash a lop-sided grin at Brietta; but it did nothing to soften the stiff demeanor of the mare. With a resigned wave of his hoof, Dorian indicated the couch. “We may as well sit down, Brie; this may take awhile.” He waited for her to be seated, but she chose a chair a good distance away from the couch; so Dorian sat alone.

“Was this your reason for coming to Whitehall?” Brietta asked in an emotionless voice, her gaze now fixed on the file folder that was still clutched in Dorian’s hoof.

Tossing the folder down on the table between them as if it suddenly burned him, Dorian looked intently at Brietta. “No! Is that what you think... that I came here solely to seduce you so that I could get my hooves on Whitehall Place?”

“What else am I to think?”

“You could give me the benefit of the doubt and realize that there must be extenuating circumstances that you are yet unaware of.”

“I’ve already told you that the reason I’m here is to find out what’s behind all this... betrayal.”

“I have not betrayed you, Brie, nor any of your family. When I approached Sloan about working here, it was because of an honest desire to work with one of the most respected firms in Ponyland; and working with a friend who had seen me through some tough years at law school was an added advantage. The chance to come to Whitehall and be part of such a reputable business was a dream come true- as you can well imagine- for a stallion who had started out as a loner and a hooligan.”

“Then why this file to turn my family home into some business venture?”

“Before I even left Denton to come to Whitehall, one of my acquaintances from the good-old-days- I’d met him when I was a colt during my brief sojourn in Capital City- came to call and ask a favor of me. He reminded my none too subtly of an occasion when he had saved my young hide, and that he expected me to come through for him in a project he was working on. He had obviously kept an eye on me over the years for he knew about my schooling at Pembroke; now he needed a lawyer to do his bidding... and in Whitehall, of all places.” The stallion ran a shaking hoof through his violet mane.

“To take Whitehall Place away from us?”

“No. Not at that time. Back then, he was only interested in doing some speculating on Whitehall property in general; he wanted to get in on the ground floor of the expansion and make some quick jangles. All he wanted from me was my assurance that I would back him up with any legalities that might get in his way. At that point in time, I could see no real problem with acting as his lawyer; so I said I’d do what I could; that seemed to satisfy him.”

“How could you tolerate such a situation? This guy sounds like nothing less than a criminal.”

“I can’t deny that, but I don’t think you understand the circumstances. I learned to make my own way early in life, Brie, and that threw me into some shady dealings with disreputable ponies.”

“That’s no excuse for your behavior now!”

“Isn’t it? You never blinked an eye when I told you my early life was unsavory. You could blot it out, forget it, put it behind you. But I couldn’t. There were loyalties that went too far back.”

“Honor among thieves? That’s no excuse either.”

“It’s not an excuse; it’s a reason!”

Dorian’s voice had risen so that his words hung in the air between them, and Brietta realized that they had gotten off track. She took a deep breath to calm her frazzled nerves before this exchange became a shouting match. “This pony... were his dealings on the up and up?”

“At first, Hazard’s business was nothing out of the ordinary... buying and selling property, simple things. But then he wanted me to close my eyes to certain irregularities in some of the deals he was making; he wasn’t too pleased when I refused to do his bidding.”

“You didn’t cooperate with him then?” Brietta asked with a bit of hope echoing through her words.

“How could I? I was dating you by then, Brie, and he knew it. That’s what gave him the idea for this... this abomination!” An angry hoof sent the folder flying off the table onto the floor, spilling papers in disarray. “He wanted me to find a way to get Whitehall Place.”

“You helped him?”

“Of course not! I told him that I wouldn’t lift a hoof to advance his project.”

“And what did this... Hazard... say to that?”

Dorian laughed a harsh, humorless laugh. “He said nothing, and he left me alone. I should have expected the worst, but I was too caught up in loving you, Brie. My street-wise instincts were obliterated by the happiness I shared with you and your family.” He sent a look across the space between them that went a long way in soothing Brietta’s outraged sensibilities; she returned a gentle smile, then suddenly remembered what had prompted this conversation in the first place.

“Where did this data come from?” Brietta asked, indicating the papers on the floor.

Leaning back in the sofa, Dorian dropped his head against the cushion, draped a foreleg across his forehead, and closed his eyes. “Early yesterday morning, Colly came to my office saying there was a stallion in the waiting room who wished to see me about an urgent and highly personal matter; he hadn’t given her his name, but his description could only be one pony. I told Colly to show him in.”

The stallion was silent, reliving some private hell. Brietta could no longer stand the distance between them; she stood and moved to take her place beside him, her heart going out to him as he suffered the painful situation his past had pulled him into, a situation that could have serious consequences for her and her family as well. Her hoof tentatively touched the side of his face to offer what comfort she could; his eyes flashed open, and he stared at her as if she was an unexpected phantom. Then, just as quickly, he captured her hoof in his and drew it to his lips, pressing a gentle kiss upon it. “I love you so much, Brie,” he said softly.

“I should hope so,” Brietta said lightly, withdrawing her hoof from his possession; there were still some facts that she needed to know. “Your client was Hazard, I presume.”

“Yes, smug as he could be. After I’d declined to help him, he had gone ahead and hired some disreputable bloke to ferret out the information he needed to get his hooves on Whitehall Place. He set that file down,” he looked with disgust at the folder on the floor, “and said that everything was there for him to not only get the property but to become as wealthy as he’d always dreamed. He said all he needed now was a reputable lawyer to handle some things for him.”

“What did you tell him?”

“To find someone else.”

“And his reaction?”

“He reminded me of one of my early escapades that the police never found out about; he said he’d take it to the local paper if I didn’t help him- and ruin not only my career but also the reputation of your father’s law firm by association.” Dorian looked at Brietta’s stricken face and flinched. “I told him I’d think about it.”

“So that was the purpose for your trip to Capital City?”

“Yes. After he’d left and I’d had a chance to look through the stuff he’d accumulated concerning Whitehall Place, I did some thinking and realized that I had just as much information to blackmail him with as he had on me. There were some things he had done back in our shared days in Capital City that wouldn’t look too good in the light of day for his record either. So I made the trip today to tell him to forget about Whitehall Place, that there was nothing he could do that would force me to help him or even to close my eyes to what he was trying to do if he chose to bring in someone else to do his dirty work. He wasn’t too happy about it, but he finally saw things my way.”

“So what happens now?”

Dorian grinned with a touch of his usual good humor. “I’m afraid our casual breakfast date for tomorrow morning will become a legal council, my darling. Aiden and Conrad need to be made aware of the contents of that folder so that they- we- will be prepared to thwart any attempts by Hazard to make his plan come true.” He reached out to draw Brietta into his embrace and buried his face in her mane. “I’m so sorry that my past sins have come back to haunt me now when our wedding plans should be foremost in both our minds.”

Nestling against the strength and safety that Dorian represented for Brietta, the mare smiled. “After the way I felt earlier when I thought that you had somehow become the enemy, I think I could confront anything now- as long as we face it together.”

Pulling back so that he could see her countenance, Dorian returned her smile. Her positive attitude went a long way to shore-up his sagging confidence to come out of this mess with nothing less than superficial wounds. Hazard or no Hazard, his and Brietta’s future together was assured. Giving her a light kiss, he asked, “Do you think Anna might have some leftovers in the fridge? I’m starved!”

“If this is your way of volunteering to walk me home, I accept. When I was waiting for you to get back, I was fearful that I might have to get Sloan to take me home- I was so afraid of what you might tell me, Dorian.”

Dorian’s smile faded. “Sloan knows about this?”

“Yes. He walked in on me just after I found the file, and he knew something serious had upset me.”

“And just why did you make free use of my office anyway?”

“Because Grandfather was very displeased with you and asked- no, ordered- me to look for a file on Walter Patridge. Colly hadn’t been able to find it, so Grandfather set me to the task; and I found nothing but a manila folder with W.P. on it, which I took to represent Walter Patridge.” Brietta grimaced. “Meanwhile, Colly came across the wanted file later on her own desk.”

“So I have her to thank for your stumbling onto something I wish you would never have had to see; you must have been ready to throw me out.”

Brietta grinned. “Sloan was. But I knew you must have had a reason, and you did. My faith in you remains unshaken.”

“Then tell me your mother will let me sleep in the guest room once I get you home.”

“Oh, sweetie, you’re tired; and I’m standing here chattering like a magpie. Let’s get...”

A knock on the door stopped Brietta; she looked curiously at Dorian whose gaze was on the door as if he was leery of the pony on the other side. Then, picking up the folder and papers that were still reposing on the floor, he thrust it all into a drawer and then went to see who was waiting.

The sight of the visitor seemed to alleviate some worry that the stallion had. “Sloan! What has you out prowling at this time of night?”

“It’s not that late,” Sloan said, stepping into the room. “Brietta,” he acknowledged. “I was concerned about you.”

“Dorian has explained the situation, Sloan. This affair was none of his doing...”

Interrupting, Dorian clarified the facts. “It was my tainted past that brought about this mess, Sloan. I never would have gotten involved if I had a choice in the matter.”

“Come,” Brietta said, setting a hoof on Dorian’s foreleg. “You two make yourselves comfortable while I fix some coffee and a snack.” She smiled at Dorian and Sloan in turn, then left the two to discuss matters stallion to stallion.

* * *

By the time Sloan was satisfied with Dorian’s story, the hour had grown very late indeed, and Brietta made a suggestion she would come to regret. “Sloan could walk me home; and you, Dorian, could get some rest.”

Dorian looked at Sloan, then back at Brietta. “If that’s okay with both of you, I accept the offer. This day has been trying, to say the least.”

“I’ll be happy to see you home, Brietta,” Sloan agreed, remembering any number of times he had been her escort of choice.

“But you’ll come for breakfast, both of you?” Brietta asked. “You’ll have to be involved with our battle plans for Whitehall Place.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Dorian said, pulling Brietta to him and delivering a searing kiss. Conscious of Sloan’s disapproving scrutiny, Brietta blushed as Dorian looked askance at her and winked. “Your heart wasn’t in it, my love. We’ll just have to try that again.”

His lips found hers once more, and Brietta allowed herself to be swept away with it momentarily; but her sense of propriety prevailed, and she eased herself away from the stallion. “Goodnight, Dorian, “she smiled. “I love you,” she whispered for his ears only, then slipped out the door with Sloan.

If she had only had a premonition of the events fast closing in on them, she would have lingered over that kiss indefinitely.

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