"Within a month of his death?" Nathaniel Winters whispered, glancing up from the letter in his hands. He wrinkled his brow, and turned towards the young man sitting in the window across from him. He was glancing out at the snow-covered lawn, an aloof expression pasted on his handsome face. His long legs hung off of the side of the cushioned seat and his torso slouched against the window frame. "Gabriel?"
"Yes?" Gabriel Winters caught a glimpse of his brother from out of the corner of his eye.
"How long has it been since Uncle William passed?" Nathaniel asked, and started towards the window slowly, his attention, again, on the sheet of paper in his hand.
Gabriel straightened his back and turned his body to face his brother fully. "At least three weeks," he replied. "You know that."
"Oh, right," said Nathaniel. He sighed heavily and ran a hand through the wavy mess of black hair atop his head.
His younger brother watched him curiously. "What's the matter?"
Nathaniel hesitantly lifted his eyes from the letter he'd been studying and met Gabriel's gaze with a deep sigh. "You're not going to like this," he said and then handed it to him.
Gabriel turned the piece of paper over in his hands, not recognizing the scratchy penmanship or the address in the heading. It was dated over a month ago. Slowly, his hazel eyes poured over the writing. His brother watched anxiously, chewing on his bottom lip, as the younger man's expression changed from recognition to joy to pure and utter shock.
"Surely, he was not serious!" Gabriel cried as he reached the end of the letter, nearly letting it fall to the floor. He then turned to his brother for confirmation. "When did you receive this?"
"The postman brought it to me today."
"But the date…"
"I know," Nathaniel said, joining his brother in the window seat. "He must've not sent it until he had grown certain of his pending death."
Gabriel leaned forward and buried his face in his hands. "I can't believe this is happening."
Nathaniel sighed. "In any case, look on the bright side, Gabe," he said. "You'll have an estate of your very own now, and twelve thousand pounds a year. You won't be dependent on me anymore, and I, for one, am very relieved of the fact." He grinned at the frown that'd formed from his brother's lips.
"Yes, I'll inherit Heathersfield, and yes, you'll be free of me," Gabriel said, "but are you forgetting the one condition entailed?" He jumped onto his feet and began pacing back and forth across the drawing room.
"Oh, that." He shrugged. "That can be taken care of. We've nearly three weeks until the anniversary. I'm sure we can find you a pretty, respectable woman by then."
Gabriel looked up quickly, a sharp glare aimed at his brother. "You know how I feel about marriage," he said darkly.
The older man rolled his eyes, waving his hand dismissively. "You're being ridiculous. Are you really going to let your silly fear of commitment get in the way of twelve thousand pounds a year?"
His brother paused in stride. "I do not fear commitment."
"Oh?" Nathaniel arched an incredulous eyebrow. "Right, I nearly forgot. You're still grieving over Victoria Leblanc." He sighed and stood up, reaching out to put a hand on the other man's shoulder. "How many times must I tell you, Gabriel? She left, she's not coming back."
Gabriel jerked away, lowering his eyes to the floor. "You don't know that," he whispered, though more to himself than to Nathaniel.
"Oh, yes I do," his brother replied. "So enough nonsense. Tomorrow we shall start on the hunt for your future bride." He patted Gabriel on the back and started for the door. "I'll be damned if I have to provide for you for the rest of my life," he added on his way out.