The Truth About Cads and Dukes(7)

By: Elisa Braden



“Are you intending to join the clergy, then?”

He reeled back and clutched his chest as if she had struck him. “Good God, no! What an appalling notion.”

She gave him a mischievous grin. “Well, all this talk of darkness and redemption. What else am I to surmise?”

Slowly, he laughed and wagged a finger at her. “You are a cheeky one, aren’t you? No, I only meant that, henceforth, I have resolved to behave as a gentleman, as I have not done in some time.”

“So, you are being kind to me as a gesture of good manners.”

“I am helping you because you deserve to be treated with kindness, and any gentleman worthy of the title should do the same.”

Her heart gave a little flutter. Apart from her brother and her father, no man even looked at her, much less thought she merited such generous courtesy. It felt like summer had come a month early—warm and unexpected.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “Colin.”

He smiled gently and nodded. “It is my pleasure.”

By the time they located the two remaining volumes—inexplicably scattered on the bottom row of the rear shelf—they were chatting and laughing together as though they had been friends for ages. In some ways, he reminded her of Victoria, except he was a man, and a rather attractive one, at that.

“My lady, it appears our partnership in this endeavor has been a success,” he said, handing her the final volume. He glanced over her shoulder toward the front of the shop. “I fear I must take my leave. But perhaps we shall have occasion to talk again soon.”

“I would like that.”

He smiled, his eyes crinkling and twinkling. Giving her a tip of his nonexistent hat, he bowed gallantly and strode away.

She was sighing, watching the door close behind him, when Genie poked her head around one of the shelves. “Your time is up, Jane,” she hissed. “I can feel the dust of this dreadful place settling into my very soul.”

“A tad overdramatic, don’t you think?”

“No. I do not think.”

Jane sniffed and raised her chin. “Note that I am letting that pass without mockery. It is entirely too easy, and beneath my dignity.”

Genie refused to be distracted from her central complaint. “I am surrounded by boredom. Tedious, dusty, wordy boredom. We must go now, Jane. Now.” She stamped her foot on the last word, the whine in her voice reminding Jane that her sister was still quite young, indeed.

And thank goodness for that, she thought as they made their way to the counter where Mr. Higginbotham was sorting his stacks. Apparently, Genie had not noticed Jane’s long and chummy conversation with Lord Lacey. Jane would prefer not to answer questions about it, especially since she had few answers, herself. Better to keep this from her sisters. And her mother. Oh, dear, yes. Her mother would surely get the wrong idea.

“Sooo, Jane …” Genie’s voice was a casual inquiry.

“Mmm?”

Jane’s sister blinked at her innocently. “That gentleman you were speaking to. Is he your suitor, then?”

Jane froze.

“No. That’s silly. If you, of all people, had a suitor, surely Mama would know. She would have an apoplexy if she were not informed, considering she has despaired of you becoming a spinster.”

Jane’s eyes narrowed behind her spectacles. “What do you want?”

“A new hat; an expensive one. And your promise never to bring me to this wretched place again.”

“Done.” Thank goodness Genie was still young enough to be so easily bribed. Jane could not bear to hear her four sisters and her mother volleying this about like a lively game of cricket. It was too uncertain, too new. Too precious and fragile.

“Oh, that is just the beginning. Did you think to purchase my discretion so cheaply?”

For the third time that day, a vile curse entered Jane’s mind.

Bloody hell.



*~*~*





CHAPTER THREE

“Never wager that which you can ill afford to lose. Unless, of course, your opponent is too deep in his cups to recall the stakes. Then, by all means, wager the moon.” —The Dowager Marchioness of Wallingham to Lady Reedham while partnered for a rousing game of whist.



It was very late and Colin Lacey was very drunk. Normally, being in such a state was jolly good fun. But not tonight.

“I presume the wager is going well?” a dry voice inquired from across the table.

Colin lifted his head from where it had dropped onto his forearm. When had Chatham sauntered in? And when had he begun that strange, weaving dance he was performing? Colin shook his head. The world moved sickeningly. Ah, yes. It was the brandy that made his friend sway and ripple in his chair. A dreadful lot of brandy.

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