Petra took a bite of her scone, slowly licking a speck of cream from her lips as she met the baron's gaze. "How wonderful that our paths have crossed again, Lord Ashton. Perhaps we can dispense with such formality, though. After all, we were once so very well acquainted." She picked up the platter of sandwiches, the smile of an attentive hostess on her lips. "Do you care for one, Guy? The smoked salmon are particularly good."
She caught the flicker of surprise in his eyes, the instant of quick calculation as he took in her smile and tone, then he reached out an elegant white hand to take a sandwich and she remembered with a jolt those long slender fingers, the beautifully manicured nails.
"Thank you, Petra," he said, his smile neutral although his eyes were sharply assessing as she held his gaze, a faint smile on her own lips and her head tilted at an angle that was distinctly challenging. Little Petra Rutherford had most definitely grown up, Guy thought. Meeting that challenge from those clear hazel eyes could be very interesting. He inclined his head as if confirming something and turned to her brother.
"So, Rutherford, you have something you wish to discuss with me?" He sipped his tea.
"Yes, yes, I do. Thank you so much for coming, Lord Ashton," Joth began, then stopped as the baron raised an arresting hand.
"Let's dispense with the formalities, Rutherford. Just Granville will do."
Jonathan nodded and caught his sister's eye. She gave him a reassuring smile. "I'm guessing that my brother has parliamentary business that concerns his Somersetshire constituents. You do, after all, represent the county in the Lords."
"That's certainly true, to a certain extent. But I'm not dependent on the voters of Somerset for my seat in the House of Lords."
"Of course you're not," Petra returned sharply. "But you have an ethical and moral obligation to work on their behalf."
Jonathan was beginning to wish he'd left his sister out of this meeting. She was supposed to be flattering Lord Ashton, not putting his back up. "To get back to the point," he said firmly, a little louder than he'd intended.
"Yes, please do." His lordship waved an inviting hand.
Jonathan took a breath. "I want to present a bill to the Commons that will set up a unified authority to develop a pumping system for draining all the Somerset Levels. There are so many different areas of the moors, all with different systems, most of which have failed miserably and the soil in most cases is no longer fit for arable use. It can't be planted for cattle to graze because it's too soft and waterlogged, a cow would sink..."
"Some farmers have planted clover though and sheep have managed to graze, they're too light to sink," Petra put in, helping herself to a cucumber sandwich.
"True, but that doesn't deal with the problem of winter flooding. It's so bad sometimes that people have to evacuate their houses and farms and head for the hills," her brother stated. "It's not safe to live in some of the areas along the rivers, King's Sedgemoor is particularly vulnerable. An efficient, unified drainage system across the whole area would have tremendous benefits. And I was hoping, Granville, that I could count on your support in the House of Lords."
Guy leaned back in his chair, casually crossing his legs, letting the afternoon sun fall on his upturned face. "Somerset folk don't respond too well to government authorities," he observed. "I can hear the objections now to the idea of some amorphous single authority with the power to mess with their lands, even if it is for their own benefit."
Jonathan flushed. "I have traveled around the county seeking the opinion of eligible voters. There's some resistance, I agree, but when it's explained carefully exactly what will be the result of decent drainage most of them seem willing to accept the idea."
Guy sat up straight. "In that case, dear boy, I suggest you go ahead and see how your parliamentary colleagues react. I won't say anything against your bill in the Lords." He stood up. "Thank you for the tea." He turned slightly toward Petra. "Miss Rutherford, Petra, it was delightful to renew our acquaintance. I trust I may call upon you in Brook Street sometime." He lifted a questioning brow but the accompanying smile showed that he was in no doubt as to her answer.
"How delightful," she returned with a responding smile, extending her hand in farewell....