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Three Weeks With Lady X(9)

By:Eloisa James

Iffley cleared his throat again. "It is indeed addressed to ‘Juby,' and  signed ‘William Summers.' The handwriting is unclear, and it has  apparently been exposed to water. It begins, ‘If you're reading this,  I've lost . . .' but the latter half of the sentence is indecipherable.  Something about the child follows. Her mother is apparently dead, then  something about the Americas." He tipped the letter sideways and  squinted. "It seems her mother died during her birth."

After Thorn, Will was the best educated: he had won a place at King's,  and thereafter had gone into the militia. Which made it only more  surprising that his daughter was alarmingly thin and distinctly unclean.  She had an odd smell about her, like the inside of a tobacco pouch.

"What is her name?" Thorn asked.                       


"It notes without reference to a proper name that his wife's sister lives in Virginia, in America. At least-" He caught himself.

Thorn gave him a grim smile. "The child is orphaned but not  illegitimate, for which we must all offer hosannas. I was at the  wedding, Iffley. It took place at St. Andrew's, with a lashing of  ceremonial rigmarole. But I was asking for her name, not her aunt's."

The girl's thin back hunched, like a bird putting its head under a wing.  She was listening, though she chose not to enter the conversation.

The butler squinted at the letter again. "I don't see a name. From what I  see here, you are the guardian and may choose to send the child to  America if you wish. There's a bit in here about a silver teapot. Or the  top to a silver teapot, which doesn't make any sense, followed by the  name of his solicitor. I regret to say that the missive is abusive in  nature. Summers addresses Juby as a ‘fusty nut.' I believe he also says  that he himself is ‘ignorant as dirt,' but it could be that Juby is the  object of that invective as well. And that's the entirety of the note."

Thorn nodded. "Send a message to my solicitor asking him to find out  what happened to Will Summers, member of the militia located in Meryton.  And ask Mrs. Stella to attend me." He tightened his arms around Will's  daughter and said gently, into her ear, "Will you please tell me your  name?"

The child burst into tears. Thorn sighed and stood up, scooping her into  his arms. He hitched her a bit higher and followed Iffley into the  entry. Frederick stood against the wall. "I gather you accepted this  special delivery, Fred?"

"Yes, sir."

"Was a trunk delivered at the same time?"

"No, sir. And the driver took off so quickly that I scarcely had a look at him."

Mrs. Stella burst through the servants' door, ribbons streaming from her  cap. His housekeeper had gravity about her, a quality of being bound to  the earth by more than the weight of her sturdy form. "Well, who's  this?" she asked. "Could it be I see a wee one in need of a bath?"

There was one more sob, and the girl's head shook in violent refusal.

"How about a bowl of porridge?"

Another shake.

"I've always found that cake is very cheering," Thorn remarked.

Mrs. Stella sighed in an exaggerated way. "Well, if you say so, sir. Cake it shall be." And she held out her arms.

No movement.

"Cake," Thorn repeated. "Mrs. Stella is a very nice woman, and the cake can only be found in her part of the house."

It took a moment, but the girl raised her head. "I can walk."

"You may have cake only if you tell me your name."

"My papa named me Rose," she said, her voice wavering for a moment.

Thorn put her down and she went to Mrs. Stella, stopping to look up at  her. "I don't, in the general course of things, like to be carried," she  said, her voice piping but quite clear.

Mrs. Stella smiled and said, "You will have no argument from me. I  shouldn't like to be carried myself." They set off through the servants'  door, Thorn frowning after them. Will's daughter had a most peculiar  manner. As if she were ninety years old and a dowager duchess to boot.

He'd be damned if he'd ship Rose off to America. His father had  misplaced all his illegitimate children after consigning them to the  care of an unscrupulous solicitor. No, if the aunt wanted Rose, she  would have to come to England and fetch her.

But what the devil was he to do with the girl until her aunt arrived,  even supposing they could find the woman? Rose couldn't live in his  house, no matter how birdlike and-


Thorn went back to his desk and sat down before the design for his  rubber band. Even as he worked, though, he couldn't stop thinking about  Rose. At length he realized that the easiest solution was to give her to  his stepmother, Eleanor. It would hardly matter if the ton believed  that the Duke of Villiers had spawned yet another bastard.

In fact, he could ask her directly; he had just time enough to stop by  his father's town house before meeting Vander for supper. He'd gone  straight to his study from a vigorous ride and he smelled like the  stables, so he went upstairs to his bedchamber and rang for his valet.

An hour later, he was bathed and had shrugged on a coat as elegant as  any the Duke of Villiers had worn. The choice had nothing to do with the  way Lady Xenobia's lip had curled when she'd looked him over.

The mere thought of her brought on another irrational flare of desire.  Damn it, the woman was the daughter of a marquess. When he'd reached  manhood, his father had told him not to look at women in the highest  ranks. A cat couldn't look at a king, after all, nor a bastard at a  marquess's daughter.                       


Not that he'd been looking at Xenobia.

Though she had looked at him.

Chapter Six

Thorn returned downstairs after bathing, thinking that he'd better see  how Mrs. Stella was faring and tell Iffley to send for a Bow Street  Runner. He needed someone to investigate what had happened to Will, not  to mention what had happened to his daughter's clothing.

It turned out that his new ward had been bathed and fed, and put down to nap in the nursery, a room he had heretofore ignored.

"I was able to find her a little black gown that fit with just a tuck or  two," Mrs. Stella reported. "I have her measurements, and I've ordered a  proper wardrobe, which should be delivered in a week. You'll have to  hire a governess as soon as you can, Mr. Dautry. And a nursemaid, of  course."

"Would you see to the nursemaid, Mrs. Stella? And tell the agency that  I'd like to interview governesses. Not tomorrow, as I'll take Rose with  me to Starberry Court, but the following morning. Where's Iffley?"

Mrs. Stella's mouth tightened. "Mr. Iffley was quite perturbed by the child's arrival. I could not speak to his whereabouts."

Bloody hell. Thorn had the feeling that the agency would have to look  for butlers as well. "Ask Fred to send him to me in the library."

Sure enough, Iffley had been packing his bags. "I have compromised my  standards enough," he stated, his tone so sour it could have curdled  milk. "After giving it some thought, Mr. Dautry, I realized that it  matters little whether that child upstairs is yours or another's. The  scandal will envelop you both, and the disgrace will extend far beyond  the walls of this house."

Thorn resisted the impulse to take the supercilious jackass out with a blow to the jaw.

Iffley required no response. "I am one, sir, who prefers to have the  distinctions of rank preserved. I compromised my own standards by taking  this post; it is with no small amount of shame that I have confessed  the same to myself. My eyes are opened to my own ignominy." He clasped  his hands, looking to the heavens with an expression of utmost anguish.

Thorn stopped being irritated and started grinning. It wasn't often that  one had a private farce performed at no cost in such intimate  surroundings.

He sent Iffley away and ran back upstairs to see Rose. When he looked in  the door of the nursery, she opened her eyes, which were large and  framed by curling eyelashes. Not that they made her pretty, not with the  grayish cast to her skin and the way her eyebrows cut across her eyes  as straight as the flight of an arrow. She sat up as he walked into the  room.

"I must go out this evening," he said.

Rose's lower lip trembled, but she said nothing and laid her head on her knees.

"For goodness' sake," he said, feeling a twinge of guilt. "One cannot take a child to a gentleman's club."

A tear caught the light as it slid over the curve of her cheek.

"Bloody hell," he said, abandoning his intention not to swear in her  presence. He sat down on her bed. "Why haven't you got a doll? When I  was growing up, my sisters dragged dolls with them wherever they went."