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.“I would not have kept Simmons on for fourteen years if I did not have the utmost assurance in his ability to carry out every order and request to perfect completion.”Eliza nodded, finally convinced.Of course, the marquess would expect only the best in his servants.“All right then,” she said with a jaunty smile as she stepped around him and took long strides toward the door.“I will leave you to your toilette.This little encounter never happened.” With her hand on the doorknob, she turned to look over her shoulder.He stood near the bed, his large hands working at the buttons of his shirt.“I never saw you,” he agreed without glancing her way.It was on the tip of her tongue to warn him that her mother was likely already plotting another opportunity to throw the two of them together.If history with her older sisters was any indication, her mother would be relentless in trying to secure a proposal from the illustrious Marquess of Rutherford.Especially since Eliza, as the youngest and final daughter, was her last chance at snagging the top prize.But then again, the marquess had likely thought of all that already and to date he had proven to be uncatchable, as he had stated himself.He obviously needed no help from her.As she slipped through the door and out into the hall, she still half-expected to see her mother sweeping down on her.Of course, she didn’t.Eliza hurried down the hall and around the corner toward the opposite wing where her own room was located.Eliza would have to track down Simmons to ask him what magic he had employed to get her mother to do what he wanted.Her father would likely pay dearly for the trick.Chapter TwoMichael Ellison Gerard, the Marquess of Rutherford, entered the Earl of Blackbourne’s study without knocking and immediately spotted his friend standing by the liquor service.Blackbourne raised his head as the door opened.He wore an expression much like a fox caught in the dovecote but relaxed when he saw it was only Rutherford.“Come on then,” the earl said with a casual wave of welcome.“Just in time for a drink.”Rutherford closed the door behind him and came forward to take the brandy Blackbourne held out to him.“You are not hiding from your wife, are you?” Rutherford asked in a wry tone.“I am not certain I wish to be an accomplice against that lady.”The earl grinned and raised his glass.“No worries, my man.She agreed to allow me a couple of uninterrupted hours each day as long as I give her the same.”“A marriage of equality, I see,” Rutherford commented dryly as he went to take his place in one of the overstuffed leather chairs placed before the unlit fireplace.“Trust me,” the earl replied with an easy grin, “it is the only way.The benefits of keeping one’s wife happy far outweigh whatever may be lost in compromise.”“Though it pains me to acknowledge your superiority, even in this single instance, I will allow you to remain the expert on that score,” Rutherford readily conceded.Even after six years, he still hadn’t gotten used to how comfortable his old friend had gotten in the role of husband and father.He lifted his snifter in a subtle salute and tasted the fine amber liquid.Not as good as his own stash, but good enough.Blackbourne’s smile slipped a little as he took the other chair.“On that point, I apologize for not giving you fair warning.I knew the Terriburys had been invited, but I had no idea there was another daughter making her come-out this season, or that she would be in attendance with her parents this weekend.”The image of the young Miss Elizabeth Terribury flashed through Rutherford’s mind and he frowned.It annoyed him that a mental image of the girl formed so readily and that the vision was not altogether unpleasant.He would prefer not to recall her curvaceous little figure or the way her full cleavage pressed against the bodice of her gown.Or the fact that her eyes were a muddled mix of green and brown and held an impertinent combination of intelligence and humor.And he really wished he hadn’t noticed the gleam of sexual interest in her gaze when she had boldly examined his nude body.Of course, at that point he hadn’t known who she was and he had reacted to her perusal as any man would, feeling her gaze as if it were her fingertips traveling over his skin.It had been an unexpectedly sensual experience.One that had been recalled to his memory multiple times throughout the day since.Her innocence had been painfully obvious, and that alone should have been enough to turn him off.Innocent girls tended to think in terms of matrimony, and he had trained himself into steering clear of any woman, young or old, who might have that goal in mind.Not that he intended to never marry.He just intended to do it in his own time and on his own terms.It was something Lady Terribury had not been able to accept even after nearly a decade of hunting him through ballrooms and dining rooms, soirées and weekend parties.“At least this is the last of them,” Rutherford commented, less to put his friend at ease than to remind himself that once he made it through this season he would be free of the tenacious Lady Terribury once and for all.“Elizabeth, I believe her name is,” Blackbourne went on conversationally.“I met her only briefly, but she seemed a pleasant young woman.Witty humor, sensible.Not the dramatic sort like her mother, and a much better conversationalist than Lord Terribury.”He eyed the earl suspiciously.“Are you trying to sell the girl?”Rather than deny it, Blackbourne shrugged and lifted his brandy for a drink.“It wouldn’t kill you to start considering your options, you know.”Rutherford scoffed.“You sound like Grandmother.She has been singing that song for years.I assure you, I have plenty of time before I must shackle myself to a wife.And when I do, the Terribury pond is the last one I’ll be fishing from.”He was saved from having to hear the earl’s response as the door opened and two men staggered in.The Lords Grimm and Whitely rounded out the set of friends that had formed during their shared years at school.In their youth, the four men had been inseparable as they caroused about town in search of amusement.Though each of them had very different personalities, they shared a loyalty to each other forged over years of willful indiscretions.Regardless of how wild their antics had been or how hazardous their scrapes, no word of their exploits ever made it to the scandal pages.Even Lord Whitely, who’d managed to grace the lips of the gossips a thousand times over for his personal behavior and even seemed to delight in his notoriety, would never consider betraying the confidence of his friends.The strength of their friendship held firm today though so much had changed since the wilder times of their youth.Blackbourne had been gone for years touring the world before returning to England and reuniting with the bride he had abandoned [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]