Page 66 of Earl of Deception

Taking a sip of her chocolate, Jenny racked her brain for any sort of solution, but nothing came to mind.

“We should get you back to the school,” Lord Dowding said. “I wouldn’t want your headmistress worrying. And if the snow becomes any heavier, the roads may become impassable.”

Jenny glanced out the window. The snow had stopped, but she would not argue. Instead, she smiled and said, “I’ll help you.”

Lord Dowding frowned. “Excuse me?”

“I’ll devise another plan to help you with Lord Tulk,” Jenny said. “Is that not what friends do? Help out one another?”

“You’ve done enough for me, Miss Jenny. I’m afraid this problem has no solution.”

To this, Jenny laughed. “Every problem has a solution, my lord. You’ll see. I’ll help you, and at the same time, you’ll avenge your sister.”

The earl set his mug on the mantel. “You misunderstand me, Miss Jenny. This isn’t a request. I’m ordering you not to do so. What I’m involved in has no place for a woman, least of all you. This could end horribly for all involved. I’ll not allow the chance for you to ruin your name when mine becomes soiled. Do I make myself clear?”

Stunned, Jenny nodded. “I understand,” she said.

“Good,” Lord Dowding replied. “Now, let’s get you and Miss Dunston back to the school.”

Lord Dowding joined them on the journey back to the school, and they engaged in light conversation. Although he would laugh, Jenny could hear the frustration he was attempting to hide.

Later, as Jenny lay in bed, she considered all that had taken place. He only meant to protect her. Yet, there were more important things at stake. His reputation, for one, and his need to seek revenge against the cruel man who had hurt his sister, for another.

Jenny considered the oath she and her closest friends had made around the oak tree. They all had shared a secret, creating a bond none was willing to break.

Yet a bond had also formed between her and Lord Dowding. Each had made an oath in his or her own way. The earl would always seek to protect her, that much was certain, which was why he preferred she was no longer involved.

But Jenny had made an oath, as well—to always love and cherish the man she would wed. Although her vows at the altar had not yet been spoken aloud, they had been sealed in her heart.

This was about her future as much as his, and she would not stop until she devised a solution.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

The past four days had been miserable for Jenny. Although the temperature had warmed enough to melt the snow, giving a promise of spring, a sense of helplessness clung to her. Lord Dowding was a man who had taken on a noble quest only to face failure, and there was nothing she could do to help. Try as she might, no viable ideas came to mind. And it was not like her to be without ideas!

Having finished supper, Jenny ascended the stairs but stopped at the top. She narrowed her eyes upon seeing one of the new students, a young blonde by the name of Amy Felton, trembling in fear in the shadows at the end of the corridor. Glaring down at her was one Abigail Swanson.

Even without her cohorts, Margaret Tranter and Lydia Gilstrap—both of whom had not returned after Twelfth Night for reasons unknown—Abigail could be fierce as her bright-red hair. She always chose one or two students to terrorize, and no one understood why. Most assumed she harbored a demon, but none were willing to ask her outright.

For years, she had teased Emma Hunter for her short stature. But Emma had enjoyed the final victory, for she was now a baroness. And Abigail was still just a student without prospects. After all, who would want a shrew for a wife?

“I don’t care a brass farthing if you’ve got plans to go into the village tomorrow,” Abigail was snarling as Jenny approached. “You’ll remain here and clean my room. That includes organizing my vanity table and sweeping the floor.”

“But why me?” Amy asked, her blue eyes wide with fear. “Can’t a maid do it?”

Abigail gave a nasty laugh. “But you’re no more than a maid. Who’s your father? Some unknown merchant? You would be lucky if I allowed you to shine my shoes!”

“That’s enough, Abigail,” Jenny said. “Leave her be.”

Several heads peeked out of nearby doors.

Abigail snorted. “Don’t interfere, Jenny, or you’ll face my wrath as well.”

Before Jenny could respond with a sharp retort, a hand gripped Abigail by the shoulder. “Leave them both alone, or you’ll facemywrath.”

With a nervous laugh, Abigail said, “I was only teasing.” No one, not even Abigail Swanson, risked an encounter with Ruth.

“You may be, but I’m not,” Ruth said, her cheeks white with anger.

Tags: Jennifer Monroe Historical
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