A Rose for Laura

A tug of war over a house they each want. One will win, but will they both lose their hearts?

Keniel Singh is a bi-racial by-blow of the former Earl of Huntington, unknown to his three brothers, owners of the well-known Rose Room gaming house in London. Raised in Jamaica, Keniel learns of his British heritage on his mother's death bed and sets out to find his family.

Miss Laura Benson is an almost spinster who champions children on the London streets. She’s in need of a new home to lease for an orphanage she manages. She finds the perfect house, but Mr. Singh is also viewing the property and he plans to purchase it. When he ends up the owner, he offers to help Laura find a property for her orphans.

As the attraction grows between the two while they spend time together searching for a suitable home, Keniel holds back, concerned his heritage would cause problems for Laura among her peers. Raised in a more tolerant home, Laura dismisses his issue and is more troubled by Keniel's tie to the sort of business that is patronized by the very men who create the orphans she loves.

 

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Chapter One

 

September 1892

The Earl of Huntington accepted the missive from his butler and placed it on his desk. His eyes continued to return to the letter, not recognizing the seal, but noticing it came from Jamaica. With a shrug, he picked it up, opened it and began to read.

He frowned, then read it again.

Four times he read it, and the words did not change.

The paper informed him that he had another—previously unknown—brother. Not only was this an amazing discovery, but it seemed this newly discovered brother had been working at the Rose Room, the gaming club Hunt and his two brothers owned, for well over a year.

Club Manager, Keniel Singh, was their half-brother.

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He leaned back in his chair as the information made him light-headed. Unbeknownst to him and his two brothers, Driscoll and Dante, their father had not sired three sons, two legitimate, one not, but four sons. Two legitimate and two not.

He grinned and shook his head and read the words for a fifth time. He liked Keniel. The half-Jamaican, half-British man was a hard worker, dependable, charming, and intelligent. The question was, in all the time he'd been employed at the Rose Room, why hadn't he told his employers he was a Rose brother?

Hunt tucked the letter into his pocket, shrugged into his jacket and left the house. It was time for a visit to the Rose Room.

Newly married, Lydia and Dante Rose sat together in the club's dining room on the office floor, holding hands.

"And how is it the two of you eat your meals with hanging onto each other's hands all the time?" Keniel entered the room and shook his head. "Watching all you Rose brothers panting after your wives is making me itchy." He moved to the sideboard, filling his plate with eggs, sausages and toast.

"Ah, afraid you will succumb to the Rose brothers spell?"

Keniel whipped his head around. "What does that mean?"

Dante was surprised at how unnerved the man seemed. He shrugged. "Nothing in particular. It just appears the Rose men are falling like dominoes."

Keniel turned back to the sideboard. "I am not a Rose man," he mumbled.

Driscoll entered, carrying one of his ledgers. "Ah! When did Keniel decide to join us in the dining room? I thought he felt it beneath him?" Driscoll laughed.

"I believe he finally realized he belonged here with us."

The manager sat down after placing his plate on the table in front of him. "You do all know I speak English quite well—albeit with an accent—and also have well-functioning ears. I can hear everything you're saying."

"Oh, I apologize," Dante said with a chuckle. "I didn't realize you were here since this is the exclusive dining room that you’ve said repeatedly was not the place for you to eat since you are merely a lowly employee."

Keniel dug into his food and ignored the jab. He had said more than once he didn't belong here, even though he was the club manager, because he wasn't one of them.

Except he was.

And the time was growing near when he had to tell them. In fact, he felt quite dishonest holding back that information since he walked into the club the year before and asked for a job.

'Twas on his mother's deathbed in Jamaica that Keniel learned his father's identity. She had never spoken of him, and Keniel had never pushed her. He only knew his father was a white man.

Mary Singh held her son's hand and told him the Earl of Huntington, who had owned the banana plantation Keniel had worked at since he'd been a lad of sixteen years, was his father. "I never told him about you because I feared he would take you from me. He would raise you in England, and I would never see you again."

Truth be known, the information didn't do much for him. To him the earl was merely a man who'd had an affair with his beautiful half-Jamaican and half-Indian mother while he'd been visiting Jamaica, overseeing the switch from sugar to bananas for his plantation.

The earl had visited his plantation a few times over the years, not aware of his son. The earl's family later sold the plantation when the man died, but Keniel continued to work for the new owner.

All the information she revealed that day would have remained in his mind, except Mary begged him to find his family in England. She knew there were other sons because the earl had spoken of them.

"Your father is dead, but you must make yourself known to your brothers, Keniel. When I am gone, you will have no one. Please swear to me you will do this one thing for me."

He'd held her hand, calloused from years of work. Not domestic work, but artistry. His mother was an artist of many forms--painting, quilting, pottery, tatting, and more--which had caused her fingers to stiffen over the years.

"Muma, I have been twenty and four years without anyone except you. I don't need to travel to England to find a family who will no doubt not be happy to find they have a connection to a mixed-blood brother."

She squeezed his hand. "Your father was an honorable man. I am sure his sons are the same. Please promise you will honor my request."

How could a man deny his mother one last request before she died? It was true, they always only had each other. She was the only child of an only child, so there were no aunts, uncles or cousins. He couldn't deny her, so he bent and kissed her cheek. "Yes, Muma, I will find them. I promise."

She sighed and closed her eyes.  Less than a week later, he stood next to the gaping hole in the ground where his precious mother was to be buried. Her funeral had been well attended since she'd had many friends.

Within days--still numb from her death and revelation about his family--he resigned from his job as plantation manager, packed his personal belongings and arranged for the rest to be shipped once he was settled. He took the money he'd saved over the years and, instead of spending it on transport, obtained a job on a merchant ship headed to Liverpool.

It was a long, arduous crossing, the work hard and the sea rough, but he felt a sense of rightness once he stepped onto English soil. Although he'd been born and raised in Jamaica, he felt a connection to this country as well.

He pulled himself back from his wandering thoughts as Dante and Driscoll continued to banter back and forth while Keniel finished his breakfast, which the meal was called, even though it was afternoon. The club would open in a couple of hours, but there was much to be done before that time.

Keniel looked up as Hunt, the oldest of the Rose brothers, entered the dining room. He'd always admired Hunt. As Keniel's mother had suggested, Hunt, as well as his two brothers, Driscoll and Dante, were honorable men. They'd treated him well and he already felt a brotherly bond between them.

Keniel glanced at Hunt and sucked in a breath at the way the man stared at him. No one else seemed to notice, so Keniel laid his napkin at his place and stood. "I will leave you now, gentlemen, and Mrs. Rose." He nodded at Lydia. "I have work to do."

Hunt stepped forward and placed his hand on Keniel's shoulder. "Sit back down, if you please." Hunt crossed his arms over his chest and continued to stare at Keniel. Finally, he said in a soft voice. "Is there something you want to tell us, Mr. Singh?"

 

* * *

 

Miss Laura Benson glanced between the advert in the newspaper she'd diligently circled with a pen and the building matching the address, and her heart sank. This house would never do, either.

As head of the committee to find new lodgings for nearly a dozen orphans, she'd not been very successful. The place the little ones lived in now was about to be torn down. The committee had managed to raise enough money to lease a new house, with hopes that continued fundraising would keep the babies safe and secure.

It frustrated her that the City had no regard for these poor children, most of whom were cast-offs of members of the nobility who were happy to indulge in debauchery, but then showed no regard for the results. Some of the women tried to keep their children, but when one's job was servicing men, children did not fit into the lifestyle. They were pushed off onto willing relatives, but most times merely left on the steps of foundling homes.

Their home held infants. It was more expensive than having older children since little ones were time consuming. Each of the four women who sponsored the home contributed what they could, but outside funding sources were a necessity.

Laura sighed and crumpled up the newspaper. The building looked as though it would collapse at any time. Also, the neighborhood was worse than the one the orphanage currently occupied, and that was not a good area to begin with.

She turned and signaled to the same hackney in which she'd just arrived. "Please take me back to Mayfair."

The man tugged on the brim of his hat, and she climbed into the vehicle. Another disappointment. She would have to report to the other ladies in the morning at their weekly meeting.

She leaned against the back of the seat and looked out the window. They passed the Rose Room, an elite gaming club. She snorted. Members in those types of clubs were the very men who turned their backs on their own children born on the wrong side of the blanket. It was the patrons of places like that who should be contributing to their cause. She made a mental note to investigate that club as well as others and demand they step up and do the right thing. After all, they were making a fine living off the men who behaved in such a despicable manner.

Tomorrow she would make a note of several men's clubs and gaming hells and begin her campaign to secure additional funds from those who created the problem. If they could spend money to drink and gamble, they could spend money for nappies and food.

 

* * *

 

Although Keniel knew precisely what Hunt was talking about, he shrugged. "I have no idea what you think I need to tell you."

Hunt dragged out a chair, turned it around and straddled it, still studying Keniel, but not in an angry way. More confused. Keniel took a deep breath and cursed himself once again for not having a conversation with these men before now.

After he arrived, he'd spent the first couple of weeks touring London, seeing for himself things he'd learned in school about the place. He asked around and found where the Earl of Huntington's house was.

That had been a shock. It was apparent the Huntington title was a wealthy one. Or so it appeared. He'd also learned that many of the old families held onto their possessions while owing everyone in town. A few well-placed questions told him his brothers were not of that ilk. Their bills were paid on time, and they were admired and thought to be honorable. Dante Rose, however, did have a reputation with the ladies.

Once he'd gained enough nerve to approach the club, he first visited as a potential member and spent the time studying the business and how Driscoll and Dante ran the club. He'd learned that Hunt was a partner but didn't spend as much time there as the other two since he was considered a silent partner, having financed the initial purchase of the club.

Now he looked his oldest brother in the eye. "All right. It appears you know precisely what you expect me to say, so there is no point in playing games. Just be aware that I had every intention of eventually speaking of this, and I apologize for not doing so before now."

Driscoll frowned and looked between him and Hunt. "What the devil is going on, Hunt?"

Hunt nodded in Keniel's direction. "Why don't you tell them, brother?”

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