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Three Weeks With Lady X(6)

By:Eloisa James

Chapter Four

June 17

40, Hanover Square


India was happy to see that the Duke of Villiers's eldest son lived in a  spacious town house built of white marble, its pillars the perfect size  and shape to support its portico. There was nothing she liked more than  to be given carte blanche in her renovations, and from all appearances,  her client had the funds to do so.

But the moment she and Adelaide entered his library and Dautry rose from  behind his desk to greet them, she realized she had made a grave  miscalculation.

He walked toward them with the effortless confidence of a man who is  formidable in every respect, even though he wore no coat or cravat, just  a white linen shirt and breeches that stretched over his thigh muscles.  Stubble darkened his jaw, and his hair was neither pulled back in a  neat queue nor covered by a wig.

He looked like a farm laborer.

Or a king.

India would guess that he dominated any group of men in which he found  himself. Birth hierarchy would be displaced by a more primal hierarchy  of maleness. He breathed a power brewed from masculinity and  intelligence, not from an accident of inheritance.

Still, his bones were knit together with a fineness that spoke of his  father, of the Duke of Villiers. In fact, she could see the duke in Mr.  Dautry's every lineament: in his high cheekbones, in the brutal turn of  his jaw, even in the white streak that punctuated his black hair.

To her horror, India realized that all that maleness had kindled a  sultry warmth in her stomach, and her pulse was thumping to a  disgracefully erotic beat. She was both shocked and surprised by her  body's reaction. She was decidedly not a woman who turned weak-kneed  over a man.

The feeling, however, was decidedly not mutual. Indifferent eyes flicked  over her, and he turned to her godmother. "Lady Xenobia," he said to  Adelaide, bowing, "it is a pleasure to meet you."

Adelaide giggled, a girlish sound that India had heard only once or  twice. "Mr. Dautry, I fear you are quite mistaken. I am Lady Adelaide  Swift. May I introduce you to my goddaughter, Lady Xenobia?"

No sooner had surprise flashed across his face than it was gone. "I am  honored, Lady Adelaide," he said smoothly. He turned to India. "My  apologies, Lady Xenobia. I assumed you were Lady Adelaide's companion,  judging you far too young to have accomplished the miracles that the  Duchess of Villiers credits you with."

His reference to her youth-welcome though it might have been-did not  make up for his assumption about her status. The only thing that made  her feel better was that she was almost certain that proper grammar  would require "with which the duchess credits you."

Mr. Dautry bowed to her, though with none of the flourishes that men  generally produced when introduced to the daughter of a marquess. Even  those who knew something about her father-that is, that he had been as  daft as a chicken in the rain-paid obeisance to her title. Yet this man  didn't even bother to brush his lips over her glove.

"It is a pleasure, Mr. Dautry," she murmured, wishing that she was  wearing a gown that would bring a man to his knees. Irritatingly, that  image just sent another streak of heat down her legs.

Of course, her godmother tumbled back into speech. "I could never  accomplish any of darling India's miracles, I assure you! Why, when we  were at your father's home . . ." Still talking, Adelaide trotted over  to a sofa and happily accepted an offer of refreshment. India followed,  watching as Mr. Dautry jerked his head at the butler, sending him off to  fetch tea.

As Adelaide talked on and on, scarcely pausing for breath, Mr. Dautry's  face took on a faint air of boredom. India adored her godmother,  although she sometimes found herself dazed by Adelaide's prattle. But  that was for her to feel, and no one else was allowed to exhibit the  slightest hint of ennui in her godmother's company. She gave Mr. Dautry a  narrow-eyed glance that said without words that his expression was an  impertinence.                       


He just raised a brow, not a bit abashed.

Once the butler returned with a tray, Adelaide engaged herself pouring  tea-a ceremony that she took extremely seriously-and there was finally a  moment of silence in the room.

"So, Lady Xenobia," Dautry said, "my stepmother assures me that you are quite proficient at renovating houses."

Proficient? Eleanor would never have damned her with such faint praise.  Clearly, this man was not going to be as easily managed as most of her  clients.

Temper was ever her failing, and sure enough a spark of it kindled at  his insult. "She has informed me that you are desperate to refurbish a  country house," she replied.

Next to her, Adelaide's brows drew together. There was nothing that  Adelaide disliked more than rudeness, and India's tone had been slightly  impolite-as had Mr. Dautry's.

He settled back in his chair and gave India the smile with which a tiger  greets a gazelle. "Yes, that's accurate. I hate to wait, you see. I am  easily bored."

He probably never waited-not for a carriage, nor for a woman, nor for anything.

"I was very pleased to hear that you are planning to marry," Adelaide  said, jumping into the charged silence. "Darling Eleanor confided that  you have met an irresistible young lady."

India was watching Dautry carefully, and she saw a flash of irony in his eyes. This man found no woman irresistible.

"I have indeed been lucky enough to meet a lady whom I hope to make  mine," he agreed. "But, of course, I must first ensure that my house  provides a suitable setting for such a treasure."

The man was impossibly arrogant. He deserved to be taken down a peg or  two, if only for his condescending reference to Lala as a "treasure."

But that was not her responsibility, India reminded herself. She merely  had to be civil long enough to fulfill her promise to Eleanor. She  leaned forward and gave him her "approval smile," the one that promised  she liked him, that said she thought he was marvelous. Men loved that  smile.

Dautry's mouth tightened and his gray eyes became distinctly cold. She sat back abruptly.

All right. That didn't work.

"What would you like to have done to Starberry Court, Mr. Dautry?" she asked, pitching her voice toward crisp authority.

"I should like it to be habitable in a fortnight."

"I assume the house is in excellent condition? A fortnight is an exceedingly short period of time."

"I have no idea," Mr. Dautry said, draining his teacup in one swallow.

She frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I sent a man around to ensure that it was structurally sound before I bought it."

She and Adelaide stared at him.

The irritated look crossed his face again. "It's a house," he stated.  "In the right location, with a quite large estate attached to it. I was  assured that this house is just what a young lady would desire-or  perhaps the better word is require. That is where you come in, Lady  Xenobia." He put down the cup. "By the way, is that truly your name?  ‘Xenobia'?"

India knew perfectly well that people often thought her name extremely  odd, but they rarely said so. For one thing, the name was recorded in  Debrett's. And for another, anyone who had met her father was  unsurprised by her name. She considered herself fortunate that she had  not been christened "Moonflower."

"Yes, it is," she said evenly, and immediately returned to the topic at  hand. "Do you truly mean to tell me that you have no idea of the house's  condition?"

He answered her with a look. Apparently, he was not a man who chose to repeat himself.

"My dear sir," Adelaide cried, "you can't possibly think to have the  house habitable in a fortnight. From what I've heard, it served as a  veritable brothel in the last years of its occupancy."

"I fail to see why Jupp's activities, no matter how unsavory, should  affect the condition of Starberry Court. There are brothels that are as  elegantly appointed as ducal mansions."

India had no doubt that the man had seen the inside of many a brothel.  "Lady Rainsford is an extremely fastidious woman," she said. "She judges  her behavior above reproach and insists the same of others."

Dautry raised an eyebrow. "I see. Are you well acquainted with her?"

"Her virtues are widely known," India said, leaving it at that. "If you  wish to marry her daughter, not a hint of ill repute can be attached to  your estate. Even if the walls and furnishings are in decent repair, it  will be well-nigh impossible to achieve the correct tenor in a mere  fortnight."