Jenny nodded. “Please.”
After paying a reasonable price, Jenny set the wrapped hat upon the boots, and she and Louisa left the shop.
“There, you see? That was not so difficult, was it?”
Louisa sighed. “No, I suppose not. But what will you say when Mrs. Rutley sees what you’ve purchased?”
Jenny shrugged. “I’ll say they are gifts.”
A white carriage moved along the street and came to a stop along the footpath just ahead of them. The driver approached them, removed his hat, and bowed. “Miss Clifton?”
Jenny frowned. “Yes?”
“A friend wishes to speak to you,” the driver said. “I can hold your purchases if you’d like.”
“I don’t recognize the carriage, but it must be Lord Dowding,” Jenny whispered to Louisa. “Who else could it be?” She frowned. “Something must be wrong. I’ll not be long, I promise.”
The driver opened the door and accepted her packages. Yet it was not Lord Dowding who waited for her.
“Good afternoon, Miss Clifton,” the beautiful woman said. “Please, sit. I only need a few moments of your time.”
Jenny considered leaving. What could this woman possibly have to say to her? Yet her curiosity was piqued, so she took a seat on the bench across from Lady Ayles.
“Nicholas was right,” the lady said. “You are quite beautiful.”
“He spoke to you about me?” Jenny asked in surprise.
Lady Ayles nodded. “Quite often, actually. Today at luncheon, he spoke of little else. It’s clear he’s enamored with you, Miss Clifton.”
Jenny could not stop her hand from reaching for her braid. “You luncheoned with him?”
“Of course,” Lady Ayles replied as if the question were silly. “I was there to discuss his plans for my friend Lord Tulk.”
Pain shot through Jenny’s head from the harsh tug on her plait. Had he said that no one but she knew about what he had planned?
“At the risk of sounding rude, my lady, why do you wish to speak to me? And how did you know I was in the village?”
“I was on my way to the school when I caught sight of you and your friend entering the cobbler’s shop. I decided to wait for you. But that is not important. My warning to you, however, is.”
Jenny pursed her lips. “I know you and Lord Dowding were once… romantically involved. I also am aware you still have feelings for him.”
The lady’s brows rose. “He told you that?”
“No. I can see it myself.”
“I admire your passion, Miss Clifton,” Lady Ayles said with a light chuckle. “But I’ve no interest in Nicholas any longer. Not in the romantic sense. We were former loves, yes, but I no longer need him.”
Jenny shook her head. Why was this woman lying? “His Lordship has never been in love with anyone. He told me as much.”
Lady Ayles laughed outright. “Oh, my dear child. He lied to you. Nicholas did love me. So much so that after I left him, he spent months writing to me, begging for me to return.” She furrowed her brow. “I see you don’t believe me. Very well, I can prove it to you.”
Jenny’s heart raced. Had Lord Dowding lied about his feelings for this woman? “Is that all?” she said, forcing calm into her voice. “I must go. My friend is waiting.”
“Just one more thing,” Lady Ayles said. “Nicholas is prone to lying about his past relationships. I only wish to warn you. He’s not the man for an innocent young lady such as yourself. He may not be willing to admit it, but he still has feelings for me. Very strong feelings. But because he and my father conduct business together, I cannot seem to rid myself of him.”
Jenny straightened her back and jutted out her chin. “I’ve no doubt that he cares about me, so nothing you say can make me believe differently. Good day to you.”