Authors: Allyson Jeleyne
“I know she does,” Patrick said, turning in his chair to face him. “What time is it?”
He glanced at Patrick’s gold watch on the nightstand. “Quarter to eleven, my lord.”
Patrick stood up, still dressed in his black evening clothes from dinner. “Hand me my coat and hat. If I’m not back by one, you can retire for the night.”
Twenty minutes later, Patrick found himself standing on his sister’s doorstep.
“Is the Duchess awake?” he asked the footman who showed him in.
“Yes, my lord,” the young man replied. “Their Graces are entertaining in the blue drawing room.”
Patrick looked at his watch. “Entertaining? At this hour? Shouldn’t she be resting?”
He showed himself upstairs, sweeping through the large double doors of the drawing room. Georgiana reclined on a Louis XV chaise, a plate of puff pastries balanced on her bulging belly. Hereford sat cross-legged on the floor beside her, and five or six other guests were spread about the room.
“Patrick!” Georgiana smiled when she saw him at the door.
He smiled, feeling more than a little foolish for barging in. “I hope I’m not intruding.”
“Not at all, old boy!” Hereford said, picking a pastry from his wife’s lap.
Someone scooted over, giving Patrick a seat on a nearby sofa. He sat down and took a glass of brandy from the tray a servant offered. “I apologize for not ringing first. I dropped by on a whim.”
“Come over any time you like, Patrick,” his sister said. “I hardly ever leave the house these days, and I’m usually bored to tears.”
“It’s true,” Hereford added. “There’s only so much I can do to keep her company.”
One of the ladies in the room reached over and patted Georgiana’s hand. “Enjoy it while you can, darling. Once the baby comes, you will have your hands full.”
Inwardly, Patrick cringed thinking of his sister frazzled and exhausted, up all hours of the night rocking a screeching banshee of a baby, while Hereford—whom he knew almost all his life and was really rather fond of—stood by, utterly at a loss as to how to help her.
“You have secured the proper nurses and nannies, haven’t you?” Patrick asked.
“Oh, of course,” Georgiana said between bites of pastry. “But the baby is still weeks away, and everyone tells me I’m more than prepared.”
“I don’t think one can ever be too prepared when there is a baby on the way.”
Hereford snorted and raised his glass. “I said the same thing to Cameron Colthurst just the other day. His little one is due any minute, and they haven’t even finished the nursery.”
All this talk of babies made Patrick’s head spin. Why did the conversation always turn to children? Why couldn’t they have a normal conversation about Pancho Villa, or the Asquith-Stanley-Montague love triangle, or even Irish Home Rule, for Christ’s sake? If Patrick had to sit through one more discussion on wet-nurses, he would scream. And when they started in on nappies, he’d finally had enough.
“I only stopped by because I was in the area,” he said, setting his glass down on a giltwood side table. “If I don’t start for the club, my man will send for Scotland Yard.”
Georgiana frowned. “Oh, Patrick! So soon?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Hereford rose stiffly to his feet. “Let me walk you out.”
The two men slipped out of the drawing room and closed the doors behind them. The stair hall was deserted, but downstairs they could hear footsteps as the last of the servants hurried to finish their evening duties.
“Haven’t heard much of you these past few weeks, old boy,” Hereford said. “Should we be worried?”
“I don’t think so.”
Together, they descended the central staircase shoulder to shoulder, matching each other step for step.
“Been staying at the club?”
“That is probably for the best,” the duke explained. “It’s all babies and nannies around here. Nothing a carefree young bachelor would be interested in.”
“I am hardly carefree, Hereford.”
“But you are a bachelor, and that in itself is a freedom.” They stopped at the bottom of the stairs. “Not that married life doesn’t have its advantages, mind you. I’m merely saying that I understand why you would wish to keep your distance.”
A footman produced Patrick’s top hat and evening coat. Patrick fished through the pockets for his gloves, slipping them on as he and Hereford continued their conversation.
“I will be blunt,” the duke said. “Georgiana is concerned.”
“She has more important things to worry about than me.”
“But she is a woman. And when women have too much time on their hands, they tend to overthink things.”
Patrick sighed. “You know me, Hereford. I’ve never been much of a social chap. Always kept to myself when I could,” he explained. “I have a few friends—of which I am thankful to call you one—and prefer to live as uncomplicated a life as possible.”
“We are not asking you to complicate your life.”
“Then what is it you want from me?”
Hereford braced his hands on Patrick’s shoulders. “We want you to be part of this family.” He gave him a firm shake. “It is not good to lock yourself away in that house all alone or to sulk in some corner of the club. Promise me you’ll come ‘round more often, even if it is just for tea.”
Patrick nodded. “All right. I promise.”
“I’ll hold you to it, then.” Hereford released Patrick’s shoulders and motioned for the footman to open the front door.
When Patrick stepped off the front steps and into the foggy London air, he breathed a sigh of relief. It was good to know that someone cared, even if it was only Hereford. And even though Patrick hated to admit it, the duke was right—like it or not, Georgiana’s family was his family too.
He walked along Curzon Street, which was busy with both foot and street traffic. Partygoers in evening finery loitered on the stoops of private mansions, waiting for their motors to take them from one ball to another, or home after a late supper. Some faces he knew, and many stopped him to chat along the way. They asked about Georgiana’s health, how Hereford was holding up, and where Patrick was headed. A few offered him a ride back to his club, but he declined, preferring to walk a bit farther.
London was beautiful on nights like this. Town life certainly had its merits, when one stopped to appreciate it. And that night, with his spirits bolstered from his talk with Hereford, he was inclined to appreciate even the fog.
Really, when he thought about it, Patrick had no reason to be melancholy. No reason to be so contrary toward his sister. Clearly, Georgiana loved him very much. And she was healthy and happy, and he’d done his job by seeing her married off to such a fine man as Hereford.
And then there was Linley Talbot-Martin, who was a welcome addition to the season. She and Patrick had shared a pleasant afternoon together, even helping him see the dusty British Museum in a new and exciting light. He meant it when he told her she’d done him a good turn, and there was no doubt in his mind she would do him a great many more.
For the first time in a long time, Patrick’s life seemed to be looking up.
“My, my,” a voice called from somewhere beside him. “If it isn’t the man who scandalized half the British Museum!”
Patrick grinded to a stop, knowing without looking just whose voice could cut him to the quick. “What do you want, Gaynor?”
She smiled, stepping out of the doorway of a large corner mansion. “An escort,” she said, clutching her beaded evening coat to her chest. “Even Mayfair is dangerous these days.”
He resisted the urge to turn and keep walking, even as she advanced upon him.
“Where is your motor?” she asked, glancing up and down the street.
Gaynor laughed. “Good heavens! How pedestrian!”
“I was enjoying myself.”
“No doubt you were,” she said, looping her arm through his. “But you cannot walk all the way back to Pall Mall. Let me give you lift.”
“Where are you parked?”
Gaynor led him up the street. “I told my driver to pick me up at the Pryce’s,” she explained. “I didn’t want Mama to know I’d slipped a few houses down for a ripping good party. You won’t give me away, will you?”
“I didn’t give your little champagne affair away the other night, did I?”
“Ah, but you see, I didn’t give you away, either.”
“If you are referring to Miss Talbot-Martin and myself,” Patrick said. “You and I both know nothing would have happened.”
“Somehow, I believe you.” Gaynor squeezed his arm, hugging herself very close to him. “You are far too good and noble to take advantage of your inferiors.”
“You were the one who invited her.”
“I thought she was a nice girl.”
“She is a nice girl,” he argued.
Gaynor stopped in front of the Pryce family’s house and dropped Patrick’s arm just as her motorcar pulled into sight. “A nice girl would not have found herself alone in a dark room, sharing a sofa with a man she’d just met.”
“She didn’t know any better.”
The automobile stopped at the kerb, and Gaynor held out her gloved hand for Patrick. As he helped her climb into the back seat, she turned and whispered in his ear,
“My point exactly.”
Other than her trip with Archie to view the Petrie collection, the week was a very unproductive one for Linley. She moped around the house, sometimes went for walks around the garden, and helped her father write letters to potential investors. Every afternoon, Berenice expected callers—specifically Gaynor and her brothers—but they never came.
“Your first ball was not altogether unsuccessful,” she said, staring out the drawing room window onto Bedford Square. “I cannot understand why no one has come to call.”
Linley sighed, closing the book she’d been reading. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m not exactly fashionable. I can’t talk about clothes, or hats, or even shoes. I don’t know any of the latest dances. I’ve never seen a film,” she sighed again, for emphasis. “There is absolutely no reason anyone here should even think twice about being my friend.”
“Don’t you think that’s being rather hard on yourself?”
“I’m aware of my weaknesses just as much as I’m aware of my strengths. I may not be London material, but that doesn’t make me any less valuable as a person. Why, I’d like to see any of these society girls try to tramp through the Congo in their silk ball gowns. They wouldn’t last one whole day doing what I do.”
Berenice shook her head, “I had no idea I was in for a diatribe...”
“Diatribe, my eye!” Linley huffed. “I had managed to make one friend in this entire city, but between you, Archie, Reginald, and Schoville, I’m quite sure he won’t be bothering with me anymore.”
“Oh! Do you mean Lord Kyre? If he were a man worth his salt, he wouldn’t let three overprotective chaps and one tired old woman run him off!” Berenice rounded on Linley, wagging a finger in her direction. “I must admit I was pleased when he showed interest in you, but from what I’ve heard lately, plenty of girls a great deal more qualified than you have thrown their hat in the ring. You could catch yourself a baronet. A viscount, even. But I’m afraid with your unremarkable looks and lack of fortune, hoping for a marquess is simply aiming too high.”
“Berenice! That is hurtful!”
“Come now, let’s be reasonable. You said yourself that you were aware of your strengths and weaknesses. A lack of fortune can be overlooked for a particular beauty, and a lack of beauty can be overlooked for a substantial fortune, but you, my dear, have neither.”
“I happen to like the way I look,” Linley said.
“There is nothing wrong with your looks. Any man would be lucky to have a girl like you, but Kyre is not a normal man. He has his pick of the wealthiest, most beautiful women in the world. All I am saying is you shouldn’t set your hopes on him.”
“I’m not getting my hopes set on him. You are the one insisting I find a husband, not me. All I want to do is leave this stupid town and never come back.”
“You really intend to spend your life digging holes and getting sunburned?”
“Then why not find a man who’s willing to come along?”
Patrick meant to stop by sooner. He had every intention of calling on Linley, but between meetings with his solicitors and visits to Hereford House, he never found the time.
The butler showed him into the drawing room. At the announcement of his name, both Linley and Mrs. Hastings nearly jumped out of their stockings.
Patrick saw the tension coiled in Linley’s body. She looked to be wound tighter than a bowstring. “I am interrupting,” he said. “I should come back.”
“No,” Berenice said. “You’ve come at just the right time.”
He could see tears burning behind Linley’s eyes. She looked like a girl desperately in need of a friend. “Would you like to go for a walk?” he asked. “We could take a turn around the garden.”
Linley nodded, brushing past Berenice without so much as a word.
At the pavement, they waited for a motorcar to pass, and then crossed the street.
“Were you quarreling with Mrs. Hastings?” Patrick asked.
“Cousin Berenice and I do not get along,” Linley used her key to open iron gate that led to the private garden in Bedford Square. “She makes me glad I never had a mother.”
“That’s taking it a bit far.”
“I don’t care!” She kicked at a pigeon pecking the grass in front of her. “You should hear the things she says to me.”
Patrick led her to a bench in the shade. “Here, let’s sit down before you trample any more wildlife.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Linley said, sitting down beside him. “And you have to be completely honest.”
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
Without batting an eye, he answered. “Of course I do.”
“You don’t mean it,” Linley said, turning away from him.
Patrick took her chin in his hand and turned her face to meet his. “I do,” he said. “All this pretty brown hair, and your big brown eyes, and that cute little nose. I think you are a very pretty girl.”
She shook her head. “I saw the way you ogled those sculptures the other day—Venus and Clytie with their big breasts and hips. How can you possibly think I’m pretty? I have spotty skin and a flat chest!”