Authors: Kate Dolan
“Sophie! I don’t believe I said goodnight to Sophie before we came up.” Lucia smiled. “Her room is down next to yours, is it not?”
“Yes.” Eugenie nodded, relief evident on her features. “Goodnight, Helen,” she called.
Helen’s only answer was an impatient scowl before she returned to her silent contemplation of the pillows.
Lucia offered an apologetic smile before she closed the door. Then she turned around to face her sister. “You showed very little consideration for our hostess’ feelings just now.”
“She’s not our hostess. Mrs. Bayles is our hostess.” Helen tucked under one corner of the pillow on the right side of the bed. “She’s just a younger daughter, the same as me. Why do I owe her any special courtesy?” She eyed the pillow critically.
“It is by her invitation that we stay in this house at all. And all I ask is the same courtesy you should show toward anyone. Why do you need a reason to behave decently toward someone?”
“I don’t think she showed much consideration for my feelings this evening.” She patted down a perceived lump just past the midpoint in the pillow.
“She did not know you would want to visit her room and so—”
“There is that as well,” Helen cut her off, “but I was thinking of earlier, at dinner. She did not invite me into the kitchen to collect a sample of the wash water.”
Lucia winced. Here was another of Helen’s habits gone out of control. “In London, ladies do not frequent the kitchen, and a guest would never be invited into such a working environment. She meant you no discourtesy—the opposite, in fact.”
“Well, she could have had a sample brought up from the kitchen.”
“I do not believe she is aware of your collection. Nor was I aware that you now routinely collect water samples from inside the house as well as out of doors.”
Helen looked at Lucia as if she had lost her mind. “How else can I possibly make comparisons?”
“Indeed. How else? And now how does your comparison of the pillows fare?”
“They are about as even as can be expected under the circumstances.” Helen sighed. “It is so hard to get the adjustment right by candlelight.”
“Well, tomorrow you may arrange the pillows right after breakfast, in full daylight, and then—”
“I can’t do it that early, silly. They sink during the day.”
“And I suppose they do not sink at the same rate?”
“Of course not.”
“Very well, you may come up to arrange the pillows in the last possible moments of daylight tomorrow.”
“I want you to leave now so I can undress.”
“I shall go say goodnight to Sophie, then.” Lucia stepped toward the door, hoping Helen would not suddenly change her mind.
“Do not come back in until I am under the covers!”
“I won’t,” Lucia promised, grateful at least that this was one promise she could keep with no difficulty whatsoever.
* * * * *
As Lucia knocked on the door to Eugenie’s room, she checked the passage behind her to see whether Helen, or, God forbid, Geoffrey had followed her.
“Is it you, Lucia?” Eugenie called out in a rather desperate whisper.
“Are you alone?”
The door sprang open. “Come in quickly!”
Lucia complied, taking a seat in a chair near the fire. “I believe Helen will stay put now. And Geoffrey has Nicholas to watch over him, so we should be set for the night. You have arranged for someone to keep an eye on Nicholas?”
Eugenie nodded as she joined Lucia by the hearth. “Allen has been ordered to offer him watered spirits only.”
“Good.” Lucia exhaled as she looked into the fire. “I could use some watered spirits myself.”
“Without the water,” Eugenie agreed. She paused for a moment. “I had no idea about Helen. She appeared the perfect angel at dinner.”
“Well, that’s because she did not say anything during dinner. She didn’t actually eat anything, either, but she usually will not on the first night in a strange place.”
“Do I want to know why?”
Lucia grinned. “In case the food’s poisoned, I believe. Geoffrey has offered to serve as official taster at past dinners.”
Eugenie began to laugh.
“Fortunately,” Lucia continued, fighting to keep her own laughter in check, “he did not repeat that performance again tonight. The other diners find it rather disconcerting to have him insist on taking a bite of all their food. And it slows down the meal considerably.”
“Yes, I imagine it does!” Eugenie burst into a new fit of laughter, then took a deep breath in an obvious effort to resume the conversation. “But Geoffrey, too, gave no sign of trouble at dinner.”
“Other than asking whether Mr. Smith would be joining us.”
“Oh.” Eugenie looked lost for a moment. “But as I said, the dinner went quite well. I really do think you should take the twins out in society more.”
“Well,” Lucia looked down her nose at Eugenie in jest, “that is where our opinions differ.”
Eugenie made a face. “I do think your stepfather would agree with me, though.”
Lucia sighed. “If he did, do you not think he would take them out himself?”
“I thought he was too ill.”
“Hmm.” Lucia tapped her cheek with her finger. “I should not speak unfavorably of my stepfather, but I must confess that I really do not believe there is anything wrong with the man’s health. He seems as fit as you or I.”
“Then why does he live like a hermit in Bath? I thought he was ordered to take the waters every day.”
“Oh, I am sure some doctor has ordered him to do just that.” Lucia smiled. “But I could get a doctor to order the same prescription for you, my dear, if I paid him enough.”
“That is terrible, then.” Eugenie leaned closer and lowered her voice. “Is he keeping all of your money down there?”
“No, not at all. He has placed the money in trust for the twins and myself, and we receive ample allowance.” Lucia picked at a loose thread hanging from the cushion on her chair. She was so grateful for that allowance, for the continuous supply of money ensured that she would not have to seek a husband for support. She would never find a man able to understand and tolerate the twins, let alone love them the way that she did. Even their own stepfather seemed not to care for them. When she thought of men or marriage, she always pictured herself protecting the twins from a dark, menacing male form. The husband she ought never to take.
But for some reason, she now thought of Lord Rutherford, remembering the moment he handed her reticule to her. A gesture of kindness, and not menacing at all. There, now, was a man who would understand Geoffrey and Helen.
And it was indeed frightening that she would find such a man attractive. He was just as detached from reason as they.
“I think you should talk to him about it.”
“What? Who?” For a moment, Lucia had forgotten she was still in Eugenie’s room. Was it obvious that she was thinking of Lord Rutherford?
“Oh.” It took her a moment to turn her consideration from a gentleman handsome and young to one prone to baldness, age spots and melancholy. She sighed. “I do wish my stepfather would come to see us, or ask us to visit on occasion. But he seems rather anxious to avoid our company altogether.”
“Well, perhaps you should surprise him with a visit without waiting for an invitation. Perhaps the waters might prove beneficial for Helen’s constitution.”
“I do not think surprise is a good thing for anyone in my family.”
“But if he will not visit on his own…”
“Promise me, Eugenie.” Lucia looked up into her friend’s eyes. “No more surprises.”
“Oh, very well.” Eugenie folded her hands in her lap. “I promise I will not undertake any more surprises.”
For some reason, the promise did not provide the sense of relief Lucia would have liked.
Edmund felt the tension drain from his limbs as he climbed the familiar steps to 18 Hanover Square. His home. His mother would be napping, more likely than not, at this time of day. He would have to speak with no one other than Franklin, unless he so chose. After this morning’s ordeal, where family and staff alike stared at him in apprehensive silence, an afternoon of merely
silence would be most welcome.
But it was not to be. He realized that as soon as he opened the door—and should have thought of it long before, so that he could have detoured to the club instead. Some clue would surely have given it away, had he only paid more attention. Footprints in the thin layer of dust on the marble steps, the hint of perfume in the air or merely the sensation that the door had been opened too many times that morning.
were here. The Samaritan’s Club. A weekly gathering of ladies from the neighborhood who met to drink tea, eat sweets and plot to save the world from the excesses of its own evil desires. After just one more cup of tea, of course.
And they were all here, right now. For all he knew, they were at this moment planning to undertake his restoration as their next project. The sound of many women talking at once, generously peppered with laughter, streamed down the stairs from the drawing room. He expected the door of the room to fling wide open and the women to cascade down right behind their voices, all eager for a glimpse of the man who ruined the Adrington soirée.
But the drawing room door remained very much closed.
“Good morning, sir.” Franklin materialized to take Edmund’s cloak and hat. “I am sorry I did not see you approach.”
“Not to worry, old man. You know I prefer to open the door for myself.”
“Yes, sir.” The butler nodded with a frown. “But Lady Rutherford, sir, has expressed a distinctly different preference.”
“On numerous occasions. Yes, I am well aware.” Edmund glanced up the stairs. “But I am sure she did not see the violation this time.”
“No, sir, I believe not.”
“I suppose you had better tell her of my arrival.” Edmund sighed, dreading the interview ahead.
“I suppose so, sir.” Franklin echoed the sigh as much as his sense of propriety would allow. “Will you wait here, or shall I tell her you’ve removed to your study?”
Edmund paused, at first tempted by the thought of taking the escape Franklin offered. Then he envisioned his mother descending the stairs in haste to see him while the “Samaritans” trailed behind her and proceeded
to invade his sanctum. “I’ll follow you up,” he decided.
“Very good, sir.” Franklin disappeared for a moment before returning
hat and cloak. His absence at such times was of such a brief duration that Edmund often wondered whether the butler simply dropped the garments on the floor in the next room. They always reappeared in exemplary condition when needed, however, so he saw no reason to worry the point excessively.
Edmund followed Franklin up the stairs, several paces behind, of course, heartily wishing he could simply keep going up the next flight and disappear into a bedroom. His head had started to hurt again. He probably should rest, or he would never be able to think clearly. And he needed to think clearly because he still had not chosen a confidant.
Franklin rasped on a door with his knuckles so softly it sounded as if a tiny lapdog was unsuccessfully scratching against the door to gain admittance.
“Surely you do not actually expect them to hear that, do you? The volume of inane chatter within would drown the sound of a highland brigade’s entrance. Go on, give it a real knock,” Edmund urged.
Franklin scraped his knuckles against the door once more, then grasped the handle and turned it slowly. He bowed to Mrs. Rutherford. “Your son, madam, wishes to inform you of his return.”
Edmund reached the doorway a few seconds later and offered a bland smile of greeting.
“Oh, look, Miss Newman.” His mother turned to a tall young lady who chatted with two older matrons near the fire. “Edmund has arrived. Will you not come in and pay your respects to the club, my dear? Many of our friends have not seen you in some time.”
Edmund could hear a certain amount of whispering as he made his way around the room with his mother, but he met no more than a few incredulous or disapproving stares. Impossible as it seemed, many of these older ladies, who never stirred from the house past sunset, had either not heard the tales of his behavior two nights ago or had not believed them.
The ones who did obviously had enough manners, or at least enough sense, to keep quiet in the presence of his mother. Had anyone said anything outright, his mother would probably have no qualms about asking the offender to choose a weapon and name her second.
Jeanne, of course, was another matter entirely.
And why was she here? She stood out like a thistle among violets, a head taller and a generation younger than any other lady in the room. And she alone among his mother’s guests showed no compunction against staring at him outright. Every time he glanced in her direction, she was staring. Somehow, she managed to move about so that, as he and his mother circled the room, she remained on the opposite side.