Page 30 of Earl of Deception

“Wait, Miss Clifton,” he said as he grasped her arm to keep her from storming from the room. “Please, don’t go. You must hear me out.”

She eyed him warily for a moment. Would he be truthful with her this time, or was this an attempt to add more lies to the midden heap? Yet there was no mistaking the sadness in his eyes. Either he truly needed a friend, or he could put on a performance worthy of the stage.

A glance at Louisa was of no help, for her friend gave a vigorous shake to her head.

No matter how attractive Jenny found him, she had to make a stand. After today, she would offer him no more opportunities to bring them together.

And although the thought of walking away did not sit well with her, she would do so if that was what she needed to do.

“Very well, my lord,” she said. “I’m willing to listen.”

Jenny returned to her seat, and Lord Dowding sat beside her on the couch.

“I’ll be as honest as I’m able,” the earl said. “There are certain details I cannot share, for they may not only put you in danger,” when she went to interrupt, he placed a hand on her arm once more. “When I say there is a great deal of danger, I’m not being glib. What I need is your word that what I say remains in this room.” He then turned to Louisa. “Miss Dunston, for the sake of privacy, would you give us a moment alone? I’m not saying you must leave the room—I would not make such a request—but perhaps you can sit in the window seat while Miss Clifton and I talk?”

Louisa nodded and walked over to the bench he had indicated, and Jenny followed Lord Dowding to a far corner.

“What you tell me will be in the strictest of confidence, I promise.”

Lord Dowding whispered a quick thank you, took a deep breath, and said, “For several years, I’ve been engaging in various trade agreements with a certain group of men from all over the country. I’ll not bore you with the details, but let’s just say they are evil men with hearts as black as deep pits. I’ve financially ruined four out of the five who have… wronged a particular group of people.”

“Is that why you’re known as the Earl of Deception?” Jenny asked. “Because you’ve deceived these evildoers?”

“Indeed. And other related reasons I cannot mention. Not just yet. This last man, however, is proving to be… more challenging than the others.”

Jenny furrowed her brow. His story seemed logical. Odd, yes, but reasonable, nonetheless. At least that was how she interpreted it thus far. Whether it remained so by the time he left, remained to be seen.

“I came here today intending to tell you the truth. When I admitted my initial reason for coming to see you was to call in the favor you offered me, I failed to mention what that favor is.” He shifted in his seat. “You see, I need a fiancée.”

Jenny’s eyes went wide. “A fiancée? You wish to marry me?”

Nicholas smiled. “Not exactly. What I need is a young lady willing to play the part of my fiancée to convince the man I mentioned before, Lord Tulk, that I’m engaged. You see, I’ve put myself in a precarious position. If I don’t produce a fiancée, I may lose the opportunity to exact revenge on him. Finding a woman willing to play that part on such short notice has not been easy. Too many would expect me to marry them after the farce ended, and I would prefer not to have that happen. Not yet, anyway. And that is the truth, and why I’ve come to ask for your help.”

Jenny tugged at her plait. His story was grander than any tale Ruth could have concocted, yet she was certain he was telling her the truth. No, her heart was certain. Her mind, however, objected.

This is why you’ll always be seen as a schoolgirl!it said.Only a naive girl would believe such a tale! And he wants to use you.Even he had admitted that fact!

A knot formed in Jenny’s chest. “Is this truly the reason for your first call?” she asked. “To ask me to play the part of your fiancée?”

He heaved a heavy sigh. “I’m ashamed to admit it, but yes, that was the reason. But my conscience would not allow me to follow through. That is why I attempted to push you away.”

“Because I’m young.”

“Not at all,” he said, taken aback. “Because no woman should be put into such a precarious position. If anyone learned that we were engaged, real or not, and we broke it off, what would that do to your prospects? I could not see that happen to you.”

Jenny considered all he had told her. “I can see you’re an honorable man, my lord. Forgive me for speaking so harshly to you earlier.”

Lord Dowding smiled. “But one must speak the truth when she knows a friend is lying to her.”

A pleasant shiver traveled down Jenny’s spine. She was his friend, and friends helped one another.

“So, you wish for my help?” she asked. “To be your fiancée.”

A warm feeling coursed through her body at the thought of having such a handsome man as her husband-to-be.

He nodded. “I do,” he said. “Though if you choose not to do this, I’ll understand. I know it’s a great deal to request of someone I’ve only known for a short time.”

Jenny pursed her lips in thought. This was the perfect opportunity to prove her worth. To show him and everyone she knew that she was more than just a schoolgirl.

Tags: Jennifer Monroe Historical
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