She returned to her e-mail, reading a message from a teacher who had visited recently and was thanking Rebecca for bringing their Victorian heritage to life for the two dozen children she’d guided that day. These were Rebecca’s favorite notes—ones that proved her work made a difference. If the Featherby were awarded, she could spend more effort in attracting such groups. They didn’t pay as well as business banquets or weddings, but to Rebecca, educating children was far more important.

“Good afternoon, Rebecca.”

Quentin Hollinworth looked tall and strong even with a massive doorway behind him. His broad shoulders filled out a casual, somewhat crumpled, beige linen suit, a stark contrast to his dark hair.

“Welcome home.” She quickly averted her gaze and shifted the chair closer to her desk. Her battlement, safe behind the mahogany. It had been nearly three months since she had spoken to him. He trusted her so thoroughly with the running of the Hall that he almost never checked in. If she was to have her way, though, that must change. She alone couldn’t prove the value of the Hall in its current public state. She would need his help.

“I see you’ve single-handedly held down the roof.”

“Hardly single-handedly.” Rebecca thought of William and Helen, who lived in the estate home on the grounds and supervised most household needs. And the education staff members who came on tour days to create an authentic Victorian atmosphere. Not to forget the many maids and repairmen going in and out, the land agent who oversaw the crops, nor the head gardener, who lived in the village but spent most of his waking moments making sure Hollinworth Hall lived up to its reputation as one of the finest garden spots in the United Kingdom.

“Without you,” Quentin said as he neared the desk, “I’m sure the place would fall to ruin, no matter how big a staff.”

“And how is your mother, Quentin?” Rebecca didn’t really want to know, unless Lady Elise Hollinworth had something to do with his visit. To close the Hall to the public? “She’s well, I hope?”

“Yes, she is well,” he replied. “At the cottage for the summer.”

Rebecca nodded. Despite the cozy term for the Hollinworth estate inherited from his mother’s aristocratic side of the family, the so-called cottage was anything but quaint. Less than fifteen kilometers away, the sprawling mansion surrounded by fifteen hundred acres of meadow, lakes and woods was the center of Hollinworth country social life.

“The tour season is off to a healthy start,” Rebecca said. “We’ve received several calls for visits here before the next holiday.”

“The schedule is in your hands, Rebecca. I plan to be here rather than at the cottage most of the summer.”

Here? For the summer? To assess whether or not to keep the Hall open? “I’ll be sure no one gets in your way.” How calm her voice sounded despite the blood pumping madly through her veins. “Guests still have access only to the usual spots, of course, depending on the event.” Myriad thoughts clashed with her effort to keep the conversation going. If he were here to evaluate the merit of keeping the Hall open, she must convince him—the sooner, the better. If he closed the Hall to the public, it wasn’t just a matter of losing a job she loved. Failing a dream came at a much higher price.

Taking a seat opposite her, Quentin appeared at complete ease. “I’ve no doubt you’ll keep me well protected.”

She caught his eye, then looked away. Protecting him from the general public was part of her job. “Yes, between me and a good security system, Quentin, that should be manageable.”

He said nothing, and Rebecca wasn’t sure what he was thinking. She might have known of Quentin Hollinworth since she was a child, but in reality he was no more than an acquaintance. Her grandfather had been the last in a long line of valets to Quentin’s male forebears, most of whom had been Hamiltons and members of the peerage. By the time Rebecca’s father was of an age to take up the position, valets had long since fallen out of vogue. So her father had taken on the role of houseman and resided in the very estate home William and Helen now occupied. Her father had stayed only long enough to finish his graduate work in Victorian studies. When he decided to leave employment of the Hamilton/Hollinworth family—a Seabrooke tradition for no less than twelve generations—Quentin’s father might have been put out. Yet he’d revealed neither disappointment nor frustration over having to hire someone entirely new to the family to oversee household workings. Quite like the fine English gentlemen he’d been. Setbacks were to be expected; it was how one handled them that proved the true character of a man.