“Antigone has begun a regime of studying Greek verbs for three hours each day. See?” She turned the paper so that Thorn could see words in a script so small that only a mouse could read it.
“I see no point in learning Greek,” he told Rose. “What will she do with it?”
“Nothing. Ancient Greek is no longer spoken.”
He shrugged. “Why waste her time?”
She had settled Antigone’s paper into place and drawn out a small leather-bound volume for herself. “Neither of us are wasting our time. I would prefer to learn things, even useless things, than do nothing. Would you like me to teach you Greek? Mr. Pancras told me that all gentlemen know the language.”
“I am not a gentleman.”
She looked him up and down. “I can see that you are not,” she observed. “But perhaps if you knew Greek, you would be able to become a gentleman.”
“I don’t want to,” he told her.
Rose nodded and returned to her book.
And Thorn found himself staring down at the design for a rubber-stretching machine with the edges of his mouth curled up.
Near West Drayton, Middlesex
The carriage rounded the circular gravel drive and drew to a halt. Adelaide had fallen asleep somewhere along the way, so India touched her knee gently and said, “We’re here.”
Her godmother opened her eyes and burst directly into speech. “The den of iniquity! Did I tell you that Jupp asked me to dance once, when I debuted? My mother declined on my behalf, of course. He already had a reputation as a libertine.”
India gathered her reticule. “Let’s hope the house doesn’t show too much evidence of his debauchery.” She glanced from the window as she waited for their groom to open the door. They had been following Mr. Dautry’s carriage for some miles, and now he was stepping down from his carriage. She had forgotten how tall he was. Once again he wasn’t wearing a coat, and his waistcoat emphasized the absurd width of his shoulders. Dark hair tumbled over his collar, because he wore no hat. And he hadn’t a cravat either.
Hopefully he had summoned Monsieur Devoulier, because unless he began wearing a coat at the very least, it wouldn’t matter if she covered Starberry Court in gold leaf: Lady Rainsford would never marry her daughter to a man who dressed like a common laborer.
As she stepped from the carriage, she watched, astonished, as Dautry held out his hands and swung a little girl down to the ground.
“Was Mr. Dautry previously married?” India asked Adelaide, sotto voce.
“Not that I know of,” Adelaide said, clambering down from the carriage and adding, “Goodness!” once she looked in his direction.
Dautry’s bow wasn’t as dismissive as it had been when they’d first met. Still, it was the bow not of a courtier but of an assassin: a gesture with edge, with deadly grace.
“Lady Adelaide and Lady Xenobia, may I present my ward, Miss Rose Summers?”
The child dropped a quite respectable curtsy. Who in the world was the girl and, for that matter, where was her governess? It wasn’t as if Mr. Dautry couldn’t afford one.
“How do you do, Miss Rose?” Adelaide asked, stooping to smile at her.
“I am very well, thank you,” she replied, in a manner remarkably composed for one so young. “It is an honor to meet you, Lady Adelaide.” She turned slightly and curtsied again. “And Lady Xenobia.”
India met gray eyes as cool as pond water, and her heart sank. Those eyes were unmistakable. It seemed that Villiers’s bastard son was following his example and raising a child born out of wedlock under his own roof. Lady Rainsford would not approve.
Her mind was whirling, so she turned to survey the house. Starberry Court was a charming old mansion built of brick the color of clover honey, with six gabled roofs, numerous stone balconies, and mullioned glass windows. At one time, there had been elaborate gardens, but now high grass brushed the lowest windowsills. The drive still traced a gracious circle, but its gravel was punctuated by small white flowers growing here and there.
“Are there no servants at all?” she asked, her misgivings growing by the moment.
“It doesn’t look like it. The estate agent didn’t mention any retainers.” Dautry began walking toward the door, pulling a large iron key from his pocket, the child trotting beside him to keep up with his long stride.
“Mr. Dautry!” India said firmly.
He and Rose turned in unison, and she looked into two pairs of eyes staring at her with identical impatient expressions.
For a moment, India couldn’t even find words. Was he foolish enough to think that Lady Rainsford would accept the presence of a baseborn child in the household? No amount of money would quiet that scandal. None.
Even Villiers, the highest in the land, had been shunned by sticklers who felt his bastards should not have been thrust on society. And Mr. Dautry, needless to say, was no duke. Even if Lady Rainsford allowed the marriage, he and Lala would be rebuffed by all but close family.
“Mr. Dautry, I believe we should have another discussion about your expectations for the house party,” India said finally. It was unnerving to find that she was not able to read his eyes.
“Eleanor told me that you would take care of everything. If you can’t, I should like to know immediately.”
“Did you truly buy this house sight unseen?”
“Do you always need things repeated, Lady Xenobia?” The way he drawled her title made the comment even more irritating. “I am quite sure that I mentioned that two days ago.”
“But I had no idea that the estate was in such neglected condition,” she said, trying to decide how to address the larger problem.
“I suppose we need to hire a gardener. Or ten.”
“You have no staff whatsoever? I must hire everyone?”
Dautry raised his free hand and ran it through his thick hair. It sparked black, like the underside of a raven’s wing, and revealed the white streak identical to the duke’s. When he dropped his hand, his hair tumbled back into place and the streak disappeared. “If I had the staff, why would I need you?”
He didn’t need her. He needed an estate manager, a housekeeper, a butler. Servants. A wife. And he should have married that wife years ago, so that Rose had a proper family.
“We seem to have misunderstood each other,” India said, trying to stop her voice from rising. “I don’t build whole households. I assess the weak points in staff, dismiss some people and hire others. My people will refurbish walls and floors, but generally we do a room or two at most. I had no idea your house was completely abandoned, without any servants whatsoever.”
The impatience she’d seen in his eyes flared. “Unfortunately, my butler in London proved an arsehole, and I let him go. I can’t dispatch him to help you.”
India’s temper blazed up. “You should not swear in front of your daughter!” she snapped, the single, complicated word tumbling out before she could think better of it.
In the silence that followed, a bird trilled. India’s muscles tensed, her body instinctively preparing to run for the carriage in response to the murderous look in Dautry’s eyes.
“Daughter? He is not my father,” Rose said at the same moment that Dautry snarled, “Rose is my ward.”