Jenny leaned against a nearby bookcase. How wonderful it was to stand however she wished. Men had no idea how lucky they were. “Shall we begin?” She took a sip of the brandy and nearly gagged. How did men drink such awful stuff? “Dowding has assured me that you’ve been made aware of all the details of my offer and that the funds are ready?”
“Indeed,” Lord Tulk replied as he rubbed his hands together.
“Gentlemen,” Nicholas began, “before we sign the documents I had drawn up, I would like to thank you both for joining me in this venture. May we all prosper in the days and months ahead!”
He raised his glass, and Jenny and Lord Tulk followed suit. Jenny took another drink of her brandy. To her relief, it did not burn her throat as it had before.
“Now, regarding the first order of business,” Nicholas said. “These are the documents for the fleet of ships we are to acquire.”
As the earl explained the contents of the agreement, Jenny feigned interest. Most of what he said made little sense to her, but she could not help but admire him. Much like the role of Patrick Thompson that she had taken on, he had accepted his moniker as the Earl of Deception. All to avenge a sister he had never met. Could a man be nobler? Jenny thought not. For that and other reasons, she loved him all the more.
“Mr. Thompson,” Nicholas said, breaking her from her thoughts. “Your signature, please.”
With a nod, Jenny scribbled the name of Patrick Thompson. She had burned several pages of scrap parchment used to practice that signature. The last thing they needed was for her to sign one of the documents ‘Jenny Clifton’!
He then offered her a second and soon after a third.
“Another drink!” Lord Tulk said as he rose from his seat to refill their glasses.
Jenny stared into the amber liquid. Her head was beginning to swim, but if she stopped drinking now, the marquess might become suspicious.
By the time they signed the last document, her words were slurring. She was lucky to be sitting, for she doubted her legs would hold her.
“That was the last one,” Nicholas said as he gathered up all the papers and tapped the edges on the desk. “I’ll submit these to my solicitor, and once I’ve received your funds, copies will be issued to each of you.”
Jenny withheld her grin. Nicholas had explained in great detail what to expect in the coming weeks. Businesses would fail, ships would not arrive, and the money invested would be lost.
But it was more than that. Nicholas had created a web of mines, hotels, and other enterprises that simply did not exist. He had likened it to a ripple on a lake from a stone. It began with a small splash before the waves spread across the water.
Lord Tulk poured a shaky measure of brandy into Jenny’s glass. “These foreign girls will make us a great deal of money,” he said with a grin. “Getting on a ship to head to a new life.” He shook his head in wonderment. “The poor bastards will never suspect a thing.” He chuckled at his own joke, threw his head back, and downed his drink. “I might even take a few for myself.”
Fearing her own inebriation would betray her, Jenny gave an approving grunt before stealing a glance at Nicholas. The meeting had gone on for nearly two hours, and she was expected back at the school within another.
But he’s so handsome with that square jaw. I wonder what it would be like to comb my hands through his hair. To touch his bare chest. To—
She shook the thoughts from her mind. Now was not the time to allow her mind to wander! Patrick Thompson was not in love with Nicholas, Lord Dowding.
But Miss Jenny Clifton is.
And you are not she right now!
As if hearing her thoughts, Nicholas stood. “Thompson, I know you said you must be back on the road soon, and I’m afraid I have a meeting I cannot miss in an hour. May I walk you gentlemen to the door?”
“A businessman’s work is never done,” Lord Tulk said with a light laugh as he stood. “Oh, I nearly forgot. I happened to meet Lady Ayles at the inn this morning. She asked me to request that you meet her for dinner this evening. Unless she is your next meeting.”
Jenny’s heart leapt to her throat. Would he accept the invitation?
“I’m afraid I must decline,” Nicholas replied to Jenny’s relief. “Perhaps another time.”
Jenny could not help but wonder why the lady had returned to Chatsworth. But she made no inquiry as she followed behind the other two men.
Osborne helped Lord Tulk with his coat.
“Gentlemen, I’m very pleased with what we’ve accomplished today,” Lord Tulk said. “I look forward to seeing you both very soon. Perhaps even on a dock in Dover.” He grinned at this before turning and exiting the house.
Once the door was closed, Jenny fell against a nearby side table with a gasp. “We did it!” she said as Nicholas hurried to her side and led her to the parlor. “I can’t believe we were successful! I thought for sure he would see through my disguise.”
She let out a laugh as Nicholas took hold of her waist and lifted her in the air. “Oh, Jenny, you were marvelous!” He lowered her to the floor and smiled down at her. “How can I resist kissing you?” he whispered.