The Truth About Cads and Dukes(10)

By: Elisa Braden

Behaving in a loathsome manner, necessary though it might be, made him long for the comforts of oblivion. Right now, he would gladly forsake certain body parts—the smallest finger on his left hand, for example—for one blessed bottle of brandy. Lady Reedham did not offer his chosen beverage, so he downed a cup of orgeat punch and propped his shoulder on the wall near the room’s entrance. Then, he waited for his shy wren to gather her courage.

As expected, she did not rise until well into the second set. He watched as she tiptoed past the row of her sisters and moved to the double doors near where he stood. A footman bowed as she passed into the corridor, bowed again as Colin followed a minute later.

Frowning, he searched the dark hall, lit only by two tapers. Where had she gone? He had told her to meet him here, had he not? He scratched his head. Yes, he distinctly recalled saying—

“Psssst. Lord Lacey.” The loud whisper came from his left. A white glove appeared from an alcove behind the stairway. It waved him closer.

He grinned. This was going to be easier than he’d thought.

Approaching her slowly, he grasped her hand in his and gave it a tender kiss, as a knight might do for his lady. Or, at least, that was how a typical female might imagine it, he supposed.

But Lady Jane was not the typical sort. She immediately jerked her hand away, leaving him kissing air, and hissed, “Are you foxed again? I have no use for drunkards.”

Perhaps the wooing was not going quite as well as he’d imagined.

He let his arm fall back to his side and adopted a sheepish expression. “I humbly apologize, my lady. I do not fault you in the slightest for believing the worst of me. My only intention was to demonstrate my sincere regard.”

She was quiet for a long minute before sighing. The darkness of the alcove made it difficult to gauge her expression. He couldn’t see much more than the occasional reflection of light off of her spectacles. When at last she spoke, her voice was hushed and restrained, as if she only half believed him. “What did you wish to speak to me about?”

Suddenly, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Sweat sprang forth on his palms. He pressed them against the inside of his gloves and cleared his throat. “Right, well. Yes. That is … you—you know I have a great many regrets.”

She did not reply.

“And that I have recently made it my ambition to reform—er, rectify matters. To set things back in order, so to say.”

Still, nothing from Jane. Well, perhaps a bit of honesty would tug on her heartstrings. Or at least her vocal cords.

“The truth is, Lady Jane, my sister has not spoken to me in some time. She was most dismayed by my prior behavior. I cannot blame her.”

A soft snort of what sounded like agreement came from Jane’s general vicinity.

“I had lost hope of regaining her affection until last week, when you and I encountered one another in the bookshop.” Somewhat blindly, he reached out toward the white of her gloves. “You are her dearest friend, are you not?”

A sniff, then one of the gloves rose to fuss with the rim of her spectacles. “One may say so, as she is mine.”

“I hesitate to ask, for it is no small request, but for the sake of restoring the familial bond between Victoria and me, would you consider speaking to her on my behalf?”

“Me? What would you have me tell her?”

“Simply that I am attempting to deserve her regard once again. Perhaps that you have seen my efforts with your own eyes.”

White-gloved arms folded across a darker bodice. He couldn’t remember what color dress she wore—a dull brown, perhaps—but he knew it was dark because her gloves looked like they floated in the deep shadows. “You and I have spoken twice, Lord Lacey. And while those conversations have been … pleasant, I would hesitate to give an endorsement on such paltry evidence.”

And just like that, his shy little bird took the bait. “That is why I have sought you out, my lady. For, I believe, were you to spend more time in my company, you would be convinced of the sincerity of my efforts.”

She stood for a while, thinking. He could practically hear her thinking.

“Entirely proper, you understand. I have the greatest respect—”

“Why me?” Jane interrupted.

“Victoria trusts you.”

“No, I mean, why do you not simply speak to her yourself? Or, for that matter, why do you not attempt to make amends with the duke? I have heard he is in town.”

Blast. This wager was going to kill him before it was over. His family was not a subject he relished discussing, the duke in particular. “My brother is not the forgiving sort,” he said quietly. And that was the bloody damned truth of it.