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Three Weeks With Lady X(10)

By:Eloisa James

Rose didn't lift her head, and her voice was muffled by her knees. "Mr.  Pancras says that there is no useful purpose to a doll. They grow dusty  very quickly. He believes that acquiring accomplishments such as Greek  is a better use of one's time."

"Mr. Pancras, whoever he is, sounds like an ass," Thorn said. He glanced  at the clock on the mantelpiece. "Come on. We've just time to find you a  doll before the shops close."

Rose sat up directly. "But the ribbon broke on my right slipper and Mrs. Stella said I can't go outside until I have new shoes."

Sure enough, there was a very tired-looking pair of slippers next to the  bed, one of which had only half a ribbon. Thorn helped her from the  bed, slipped them on her feet, and tied a knot instead of a bow around  Rose's thin ankle, which she viewed with evident disfavor.

He stood, and she looked up at him. She did not hold out her arms, but it seemed he was expected to pick her up.

"Didn't you announce that you don't like to be carried?"

"I make exceptions when I am ill shod."

The child stared back at Thorn as if there was nothing odd about her  speech. He gathered her up into his arms and remarked, "At least you  smell better now."

He glanced down in time to see cool gray eyes narrow.

"So do you," she said.

Thorn stared down at her. Had she? Yes, she had. "That was not a polite comment," he told her.

She looked off, into the corner of the bedchamber, but her implication  was obvious: he had been impolite to point out her former odor.                       


"I apologize for mentioning your condition. How old are you?" he asked, with real curiosity.

Another silence ensued, as if she was debating whether to answer. At last she said, "I shall be six very soon."

"Almost six! I thought you were three. Or four at most."

She regarded him again. Silently.

"My father will like you," he said, grinning.

Her nose tilted slightly in the air, and she did not deign to answer.

"You are a mystery," Thorn said, now striding toward the stairs. "You  sound as if you've had a governess. But you're deplorably thin, and you  have no clothing. Generally speaking, those things are difficult to  reconcile with the having of a governess. Of course, there are always  exceptions."

"I never had a governess," Rose announced with a crushing air of condescension. "Mr. Pancras was my tutor."

They had reached the entryway. Thorn took his coat and Rose's shabby  pelisse from Fred (Iffley having taken himself off for good), carried  Rose outside, and deposited her in his carriage.

"Have you ever met your aunt?" he asked, once they were underway.

"No. As Papa informed you in his letter, she lives in America."

"By all accounts, that's a marvelous place, full of bison."

"What is that?"

"An animal larger than an ox, and much shaggier."

"I am uninterested in bisons," Rose observed. "And I shouldn't like to  live in America. Papa said that the ocean was perilous, and that my  mother's sister was a whittie-whattie twaddle-head."

At that moment Thorn was struck by the conviction that he was never  going to let Rose anywhere near the land of bison. Nor was he going to  hand her to Eleanor, as if she were a piece of unwanted china. He was  thinking about what that meant for his life when she asked, "Have you  traveled to America?"

"I have not. You are very fluent for a nearly six-year-old."

"Papa said I have an old soul."

"Nonsense. You have a very young soul, to go with that lisp of yours."

At this, her eyes narrowed and a little bit of pink stole into her cheeks. "I do not lisp."

"Yes, you do." It was very slight-but rather enchanting.

She turned her sharp little nose into the air. "If I lisped, Mr. Pancras would have taught me otherwise."

"Why the hell didn't you have a governess?" Will had always been  peculiar, but it sounded as if marriage, or being widowed, had made him  even more so.

"Papa believed that women added unnecessary complications to a household."

"No nursemaid?"

She shook her head. "The kitchen maid helped me dress."

"Where is Pancras? Or, to ask the same question another way, why did you  arrive by special delivery, and why were you dirty and thin?"

"My father said that in the event of tribulation or strife, I was to be sent to you." She stopped again.

" ‘Tribulation'?" Thorn leaned back against the carriage seat. He was  used to clever children. Hell, all six of his siblings could talk  circles around most Oxford graduates. But it could be that Rose took the  cake. "Do you know how to read?"

"Of course. I've been reading ever since I was born."

He raised an eyebrow, and she stiffened.

"Where is Pancras?" he repeated. "Why did he not bring you himself, and why have you no belongings?"

"He couldn't bring me. He had to take the first appointment that was  offered to him, in Yorkshire. There was a delivery going from the  brewery to London, and it cost much less for my fare than it would have  on the mail coach. Plus my trunk went at no cost. I'm afraid that Papa  had very little money when he died; Mr. Pancras said that he was a  spendthrift."

"Your father didn't make enough money in the militia to permit  extravagance," Thorn told her, making a mental note to send another Bow  Street Runner after Pancras and, when he'd been turned up, to send him  on a boat to China, special delivery. "So you were sent along with the  beer."

Rose nodded. "The journey look longer than Mr. Pancras had thought it would."

"What happened to your clothing?"

"When we reached your house, the driver left quickly, and he forgot  about my trunk. It was strapped under the barrels. He was quite unkind  and wouldn't bring it down at night. I had to sleep in my dress."

A second Runner to find Rose's trunk. "How long was the journey?"

"Three days."

Thorn felt fury smoldering in his gut. "Three days? Where did you sleep?"                       


"The driver allowed me to sleep in the wagon," she explained. "It wasn't  entirely proper, but I thought that Papa would tell me not to fuss. Did  you know that when he was little, Papa occasionally slept outside,  under the stars?"

Occasionally? He and Will had spent a couple of years sleeping in a  church graveyard because their bloody-minded master wouldn't let them  inside except in the dead of winter. "I did."

"He did not fuss, and neither did I," said Rose, and up went that little  nose again. "I don't like to be unclean, and I didn't care for the  insects living in the straw. But I did not complain."

Thorn nodded.

"Or cry. At least," she added, "until I reached your house, when I succumbed to exhaustion."

"You succumbed?" Thorn took a deep breath. "When you first arrived this  morning, you didn't say a word. Do you know that I considered the idea  that you might be unable to speak altogether?"

That won the very first smile he'd seen on her face.

"I talk too much," she informed him. "That's what Papa always  says-said." Her face crumpled, and smoothed over so quickly that he  almost missed it.

"You might feel better if you cry."

"I shall not, because it would make him feel sad, even in heaven."

Thorn frowned, not at all sure how to untangle that.

"Besides, I needn't cry. I am not alone and I don't have to sleep under  the stars. I have you in case of tribulation. I'm lucky," she said  stoutly. But a tear ran down her cheek.

"You'd better come over here," he said, holding out an arm.


"Because this is a time of tribulation."

They drove the rest of the way to a store called Noah's Ark, Rose  nestled under his arm. After a while, Thorn handed over his  handkerchief.

The shop turned out to be a wonderful place, crammed with not only dolls  but also toy boats, toy carriages with real wheels, and whole regiments  of tin soldiers.

The owner, Mr. Hamley, surveyed the two of them and apparently  recognized instantly that while Rose looked like a tattered little crow,  Thorn planned to buy her whatever she wished. Consequently, he began  treating Rose like one of the royal princesses.

As Hamley introduced Rose to the very best dolls to be found in all  England (according to him), Thorn wandered away and discovered the  wooden balls meant for playing croquet. He picked one up, tested its  weight, tossed it from hand to hand. It would be interesting to try to  make a rubber ball. It might even be possible to make it bounce. . . .