Page 36 of Earl of Deception

“Not in the least,” Louisa replied firmly. “In fact, I hope I’m never forced to share the same street with him. I’d prefer never to hear his name again. Allow him to kiss me?” She sniffed derisively. “Don’t be so silly. I’ll have nothing to do with him, no matter how handsome he is. After all, handsome does not equate to civility. He may have saved the Princess, but so would any other countryman. That does not make him better than anyone else.”

Despite the severity of her words, it was quite clear Louisa wanted nothing more than to have the knight kiss her.

This, of course, brought to mind the two times Lord Dowding nearly kissed Jenny. Would she find herself as lovestruck as Louisa obviously was? The more she considered the notion, the more Jenny supposed she was already infatuated with the earl.

Oh, who was she fooling? If he acquired a special license today, she would pack her belongings for their honeymoon this very evening!

Of course, that did not mean she was falling in love with Lord Dowding. She barely knew him, after all. Yet that did not stop him from invading her thoughts at all hours of the day and night. Or her dreams. Why, just last night, he had come to her bedroom…

Stop that!Proper ladies didnotentertain such thoughts. Let her relegate them to her dreams.

She had taken extra care readying herself for today’s luncheon. Her pale green dress flattered her lithe frame, and she had pinned her braid on top of her head to keep herself from pulling on it. As nervous as she felt now, giving her braid a good tug would have been a likely occurrence. Especially given how her heart fluttered whenever he spoke. Or combed a hand through those dark waves. Or offered a strong arm. Or looked at her…

Something was changing inside Jenny, and she was growing more excited every day to see what that something was. And what it would become.

The carriage rolled to a stop, and Jenny and Louisa alighted. A gentle breeze ruffled the green feathers on her hat and swirled the light falling of snow around them.

“Watch your steps, misses,” the driver said with a bow. “It can be a bit slippery at times.”

Jenny smiled. “Thank you.” She followed Louisa to the portico, taking the driver’s advice and testing each step. When they arrived at the front door, it opened, and the butler invited them inside.

“Good afternoon, Osborne,” Jenny said as he took her coat.

“Good afternoon, Miss Clifton,” he replied.

“Is your day going well, thus far?” she asked.

He gaped at her before schooling his features. “It is, miss. And thank you for asking.”

He seemed surprised that she would consider making polite conversation with him. Well, Jenny may come from the gentry, but that did not mean she should treat servants with the same disdain as others might. Some rules, societal or otherwise, were meant to be broken, and seeing the working class as less than human was one that should not exist at all.

“His Lordship is in the ballroom, miss,” Osborne said. “If you’ll follow me?”

They walked down a corridor, passing several doors until they reached a set of French doors that led to the ballroom. It was a lovely room with light blue walls trimmed with white panels and was long enough to stand a hundred men side by side. A line of four chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and beneath them, in the middle of the polished floor, stood Lord Dowding, his hands clasped behind his back.

“Miss Clifton and Miss Dunston,” the butler announced.

Lord Dowding turned quickly and smiled. “Welcome! I trust your journey was safe?”

“It was, thank you.” Jenny frowned. He had dark circles under his eyes. “You appear as if you did not sleep well, my lord. I pray you’re not unwell.” Did he appear nervous?

“I must admit I lay awake thinking about business. Yes, numbers and such.” His laugh was definitely uneasy. “Did you sleep well?”

Was he somehow aware of her dreams? That was impossible! Yet Jenny found herself unable to speak. Certainly, she could not admit to the images that, if she had not been asleep, would have left her with reddened cheeks.

“I did sleep well,” she managed to croak, forcing the words from where they seemed stuck in her throat. “I dreamt of rabbits!” Granted, it made little sense, but it was the first thing that came to mind. And was a much safer topic of discussion.

Lord Dowding’s brows rose. “Rabbits?” he repeated.

“Yes, my lord. Fluffy white rabbits.”

Both stood in silence, looking at one another. Would he not say something? Anything?

Except for asking further questions about creatures that leap through my dreams!

Finally, Lord Dowding said, “Would you like to sit?”

Jenny shook her head and turned to Louisa, who said, “I believe I will, my lord. I brought a book to entertain myself.”

Tags: Jennifer Monroe Historical
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