Home>>read Three Weeks With Lady X free online

Three Weeks With Lady X(5)

By:Eloisa James

India nodded. "Then she writes, ‘I know how much you are in demand, but I  write with the faint hope that you are free. His Grace's eldest son,  Tobias Dautry, has recently acquired a country estate just outside  London called Starberry Court. It likely needs some refurbishing,  although Tobias bought it with its contents intact. He is courting Miss  Laetitia Rainsford and he wishes to ensure that the house is in suitable  condition before he invites her parents to the country. Naturally, I  told him that you were the only person I would trust in such an  endeavor.' "

"Eleanor is not happy about the match," Adelaide stated. "How  interesting! I suspect that means that the duke is equally displeased."

"What on earth gave you that impression?"

"If Eleanor were happy about Dautry's courtship, she would say so. And  you know how informal Eleanor is; she uses Laetitia's full name. She  doesn't like Lala."

"I only met her once, but I thought she was a very sweet girl."

"She's beautiful, but not very bright," Adelaide said with a touch of  asperity. "I suppose that explains why the duke and duchess are not in  favor. Her parents must have weighed her lack of wits against his  unfortunate birth. What did you say that estate he bought was called?"

"Starberry Court."

"The Earl of Jupp's country house!" Adelaide exclaimed. "Supposedly he  draped the walls in red damask and invited fourteen Italian women to  live with him. The naughty sort of Italians. He held very popular  parties, by all accounts. No one ever admitted to going to one, but  everyone seemed to know the details."

One quickly lost all naïveté when investigating the antics that could  disrupt a badly managed household, so India nodded, unsurprised.  "Starberry Court became a bawdy house?"

"Not precisely a brothel, since the services offered were gratis,"  Adelaide said. "Jupp died last November, I think it was, and everyone  said that he was brought low by the French disease. I expect the  furnishings are deplorable."

"We could strip the damask in a day or two." A little prickle of  excitement went down India's spine at the idea of tackling such a large  task. Of course, there was the issue of finding a husband, but surely  that could wait for a few more weeks. These days a small army of  craftsmen awaited her command. She could have a house painter, a master  wood carver, and a stonemason on the doorstep in a matter of days.

"You could likely make it acceptable," Adelaide conceded. "Still, I  don't know what Dautry was thinking, buying that particular estate.  Given the circumstances of his birth, why buy an estate with such a  sordid reputation?"

"It was probably an excellent bargain."

"I wonder if Lord Rainsford is feeling a pinch. His wife is both  spiteful and recklessly extravagant. Perhaps Lala is being sacrificed on  the altar of parental excess."                       


"Eleanor goes on to say that she and the duke will be in attendance when  Mr. Dautry entertains the Rainsfords in his new house," India said.  "She invites us to stay as well. I hardly think that accepting an offer  of marriage from a duke's Midas-like son, even if he was born on the  wrong side of the blanket, can be termed a sacrifice."

"You're wrong there. Lady Rainsford is one of the most arrogant women on  God's earth, obsessed by her connection to the Court. Mark my words:  she is mortified to think that one of her daughters is considering  marriage to a bastard. What's more, Eleanor wouldn't want any child of  her beloved Villiers being less than celebrated. She is ferociously  loyal and protective of her husband's motley brood."

India folded up the letter. "But if Villiers champions the  marriage-which he must be doing, given that Eleanor will host the house  party-it will take place." She was reasonably certain that the duke got  everything he wanted, whether that meant marrying his bastard son to a  lady or to a royal princess. He was that type of man.

"We should do it!" Adelaide exclaimed. "Lala's so witless that she might  spend her whole life dancing attendance on her mother. Eleanor needs  our help. That house needs our help. But heaven help her, that girl  needs our help too.

"What's more," she added gleefully, "the betrothal will take Lady  Rainsford down a peg or two. I can't tell you how many times she's  informed me that her family has attended royalty since the time of Henry  VIII."

"You make Lala sound addled," India objected. "I think her reputation for witlessness must be overstated."

"She can't read," Adelaide confided. "She told me herself."

"She needn't read once she's married to Midas; three secretaries can  read aloud to her. Though I do think her governess should have been more  persistent." India had fierce opinions about inadequate education.

"By all accounts, they tried. She still had a tutor as of last year, but  she just couldn't grasp it. That must be the real reason the Rainsfords  are considering this marriage. If she cannot read, she cannot run a  household." Adelaide hesitated. "I wonder if Dautry knows that?"

There was something about this proposed marriage that India didn't like. The mercantile nature of it was jarring.

On the other hand, her parents had married for love-disastrously. Even  though her father's estate desperately needed an influx of money in the  form of a dowry, he had decided that happiness would solve everything.  He had been wrong. Love was a terrible reason for marriage, in India's  estimation.

"Eleanor is requesting that we spend the next fortnight at Starberry  refurbishing the house, after which they would join us," India said.

Adelaide's expression cleared. "An excellent idea! And it would give you  time to do something with your hair before we return to London."

India's hair was thick and hard to handle, as well as being an unusual  color, more like silver than gold. One minute Adelaide thought she  should rinse it with rosemary extract, and the next with egg yolks. Or  better yet, dye it yellow.

India simply instructed her maid to pin it up as best she could. In her  experience, women were of the opinion that her hair could be "brightened  up," but men seemed to like it as it was. India just thought there was  too much of it.

As best she could tell, she had her paternal grandmother's bosom, and  there was too much of that too. Fashionable clothing was designed for  small breasts, which always caused problems with fitting gowns-but  luckily, she hadn't had reason to dress fashionably. In fact, it was the  opposite.

She had to wear gowns that promoted respect, but also trust. In order to  do her job, the people who hired her must feel she could be trusted  with their homes, and dressing in the very latest styles often  frightened them.

Consequently, she traveled with three trunks, because she never knew how  she might need to present herself. Sometimes the master of a household  responded best if she dressed like a duchess, with an emphasis on  diamonds. (They invariably assumed that her jewels were family  heirlooms, even though India had bought them herself.)

Other times she presented herself as a docile, modest young lady, who  valued every word that dropped from the man's lips. And then there were  times when the seventeen-year-old scion of the house was clearly going  to make a nuisance of himself. She would come to breakfast with braided  hair, wearing a dress of brown homespun reminiscent of a German  governess.

If she took on Starberry Court, she should probably wear something that  minimized her rank. A man who wished to rise in the world and overcome  his illegitimate birth would be looking for reassurance. She would have  to protect Dautry's sense of amour propre, while giving tactful  instruction about the manners and style of a great house.                       


"All right," she said, making up her mind. "We'll say farewell to Lady  Dibbleshire and inform Mr. Dautry that we will help him with the  renovation. And with catching the woman of his dreams."

"An excellent plan," Adelaide said, nodding. "But India darling, I must  remind you that time is passing. This house cannot be an excuse to put  off a decision about marriage."

India's good cheer wavered. She summoned a smile. "The house won't take long."

"You must decide between your various suitors, my dear." Adelaide patted her hand. "They won't wait forever."

"I will," India said, the words hollow even to her own ears. "I mean to  find a perfect husband, Adelaide. Just as soon as I have time."