The Dangerous Lord Darrington(8)

By: Sarah Mallory

‘There is not the least need for anyone to come,’ retorted Lady Arabella briskly. ‘Really, Elizabeth, you are behaving very oddly this evening. My lord, I assure you we have sufficient servants to deal with everything that is required. You catch us at a disadvantage today because I gave some of my people permission to go to the market, leaving only a couple of maids and one footman to attend us. I have no doubt the rest are all returned now, but by all means bring your friend’s manservant—and your own, for that matter, if you wish—we will find room for them all.’

‘Since you do not object, ma’am, I shall summon Peters, who is Mr Davies’s valet, and Holt, my groom. I shall not require my own man to attend me, although I will ask him to pack up my clothes and send them over.’

‘That will be perfectly acceptable, my lord,’ Lady Arabella responded regally, her frowning gaze fixed upon Beth. ‘As the daughter of a marquess,’ she said pointedly, ‘I think I may be expected to know how to entertain an earl.’

‘Yes, Grandmama.’ Beth looked down at her plate and acknowledged herself beaten. ‘I beg your pardon.’

Guy said little for the remainder of the meal; when Lady Arabella announced that the ladies would retire to the drawing room and leave him to enjoy a glass of brandy alone, he bent his mind once more to Beth Forrester’s outburst. She had been quite determined that he should not stay. It could only be that she was uneasy with his presence. They lived very isolated here, but perhaps she was aware of his dubious reputation. Perhaps he should not have teased her so. Certainly it had been wrong of him to keep her talking alone in the bedroom, but she was a married woman, or at least a widow, not an ingenuous schoolgirl. He sipped at his brandy. One thing was certain, he wanted to remain at Malpass Priory at least until he knew that Davey was recovering well. He would apologise to Mrs Forrester and assure her that he would in future be the model of propriety. That should ease her mind.

Having made his resolve, Guy drained his glass and made his way to the drawing room, where he was disappointed to find only Lady Arabella waiting for him, the younger ladies having retired. However, she assured him that his room had been prepared and beckoned to the hovering footman to show him the way. With an inward smile Guy bowed over the beringed hand held out to him and prepared to leave. He had been dismissed for the evening.

Chapter Three

Martin the footman showed Guy to his room, a comfortable chamber that bore all the signs of having been a gentleman’s bedroom.

‘Was this Mr Forrester’s room?’ he enquired, glancing around him.

‘No, my lord, this was Mr Simon’s room,’ offered the footman. ‘My lady wouldn’t have anything changed in here after she heard he was drowned and you will find the press still full of his clothes. But Mr Simon was much smaller than your lordship, so the mistress has searched out one o’ Mr Forrester’s nightgowns for you. And Mrs Forrester said to tell you that your own clothes will be brought to you in the morning.’

Nodding, Guy dismissed the servant. He removed his coat and draped it over the back of a chair, glad to be free of the restriction about his shoulders. He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was not yet midnight and, despite the excitement of the day, he did not feel sleepy. He prowled around the room, inspecting the sporting prints upon the walls and idly flicking through the few books that were stacked carelessly on the mantelshelf. The room had a cluttered, lived-in look, as if its master was expected to return at any time. The only exception to this was the dressing table, which was bare of the brushes and combs that one would expect to find in a gentleman’s room. He supposed that Simon Wakeford had taken these items with him when he went travelling and they would have been lost at sea. He felt a sudden sympathy for Beth Forrester. His own brother, Nick, was a sailor and Guy could well imagine the pain of losing him. How much worse must it be for a widow, left to shoulder the burdens of running this old house and at the same time looking after her grandmother and her younger sister?

‘Not that it is any of your business,’ he told himself, coming back to the fire and throwing himself down into the chair. ‘She has made it very plain that you are here on sufferance, so do not waste your sympathy where it is not wanted.’

He began to unbutton his waistcoat, but stopped when he heard a faint cry break the silence. Before he undressed he should look in on Davey and make sure he was comfortable. Picking up his bedroom candle, he let himself quietly out of the room. The borrowed shoes he had worn at supper were too loose to walk without tapping noisily on the polished boards of the corridor and he left them behind, padding silently through the darkened house until he came to the door at the top of the stairs.

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