In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(50) by Lorraine Heath
“No, of course not.”
“Just be yourself. The old gent taught you that.”
Luke feared, when it came right down to it, that he was going to let the old gent down.
“Sometimes, I think I would be much happier moving back into Frannie’s world than having her move into mine. What if I do nothing more than make us both miserable?”
“You’ve loved her as long as I’ve known you. Everything you’ve ever done has been to secure her happiness. I can’t see you making her miserable.”
Luke wished he was as sure.
“Are you nervous about tonight?” Catherine asked as she and Frannie walked down the hallway to the kitchen. She was still trying to figure out Frannie’s strange reaction and suggestion.
“A bit, I suppose. It reminds me of when we lived with Feagan and had to learn to take a handkerchief or coins out of a pocket without being noticed. I don’t suppose any bell will ring to alert anyone to my mistakes.”
“I don’t understand,” Catherine said. “A bell—”
Smiling, Frannie stopped. “Feagan would hang jackets and bells on a rope. You had to reach carefully into the pocket of a jacket without causing a bell to ring. If the bell rang, you felt the sting of Feagan’s cane across your knuckles.” She blushed. “Well, I never did. Luke always put his hand over mine, so he took the blow. Oddly, it made me try harder to learn the task, because I hated to see him hurt.”
“It seems you two have always been close.”
Frannie nodded. “The first night Jack brought him to us, I can’t explain it, but something about him was different. He seemed to expect us to do things for him, but Feagan beat that attitude out of him quick enough.”
“Do you think it’s possible that he’s the rightful Earl of Claybourne?”
“Well, of course, he is. The old gent asked him questions, and he knew the answers. I know he doubts sometimes, and I don’t understand that. He knew the answers.”
No, Catherine thought, he’d somehow managed to give the right answers even though he didn’t know them. Was he really that good at deception? Then a rather odd thought came to her and a shiver raced down her spine. What if Claybourne hadn’t deceived the previous earl? What if he’d deceived himself?
Dinner was an absolute disaster.
Half an hour into it, they’d finished their fish and were to be served their beef when Catherine’s patience snapped. She’d been trying to start conversations about the weather, the theater, and the park. Frannie’s and Claybourne’s answers had all been succinct as though neither of them had a clue how to expand conversation into something
interesting. Dr. Graves had given it a halfhearted attempt, but it seemed his life was little more than dealing with the infirm, and they weren’t likely to engage in trite conversation. Claybourne was drinking wine as though it were the main course. He narrowed his eyes each time poor Dr. Graves spoke, and Catherine had little doubt that the doctor was aware of the scathing glances, and probably as confused by them as she.
Claybourne was obviously not happy. But then neither was she. She needed him to see that Frannie was learning, because Catherine was growing desperate for him to take care of the problem of Avendale. But Frannie wasn’t cooperating. She was acting as though she knew nothing. And Claybourne had his dratted elbow on the table. He looked as though he was going to slip out of his chair.
“We are hosting a proper dinner. One does not lounge during a proper dinner,” Catherine finally told him.
He sipped more wine. “It is Frannie who needs the lessons, not I.”
“That is hardly evident by observing your behavior now. We either do this properly or not at all.”
“I vote for not at all. I’m bored with this endeavor. I’m certain Frannie has grasped the gist of the occasion.”
Catherine had gone to the trouble of dressing properly for the occasion. For these people, she’d put aside the nightly reading to her father who was weaker and paler than ever. She’d spent the afternoon reassuring Winnie that Avendale wouldn’t kill her. She’d met with her father’s man of business only to discover that some of the investments he’d recommended were not going to pay off as well as he’d hoped—they weren’t going to pay off at all. She’d heard not a blasted word from her brother, and when he finally did return to England’s shores, he might do so only to discover that he no longer had a source of income, that the estates were in decline—because of ventures she’d approved.
And now Claybourne was bored! He was fortunate a length of table separated them or she’d reach out and slap the boredom right off his face. Since she couldn’t reach him, she threw words at him.
“You seem to have little understanding of the aristocracy. Do you believe everything we do is for our pleasure? I can assure you, sir, that it is not. We do it because it is required.
We do it because it is a duty. We do it because it is expected. How much more difficult it is to do things because they are right, proper, and required. How much easier life would be for all of us if we could go about and do things willy-nilly, however we pleased. It is the very fact that we understand responsibility and adhere to it that raises us above the common man. I am becoming quite weary of your mocking me.
“Do you think this is easy for me? These ridiculously late hours? Perhaps you can lounge about all morning, but not I. I have a household to oversee.”
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