She turned around as she pulled on a dressing gown, and he saw faint puzzlement in her eyes. “A man rolls over in the morning and finds himself ready,” he explained. “He wakes up hungry, and if there’s a soft body next to him, he’ll make her a happy woman. Which he would want to do without a maid interrupting.”
Her face flushed pink. Thorn grinned and decided to leave with that thought. He got himself out of the bedroom and downstairs to alert Fleming to the existence of Rose—only to discover that India had informed him about everything, including the need to keep Rose’s presence in the dower house a secret for the time being.
He spent a half hour poking around the kitchens, butler’s pantry, silver closet. “Where the hell did she get all this stuff?” he asked Fleming, staring into a closet full of silver platters. Some had great domed lids; some, little feet.
“Lady Xenobia is acquainted with Messieurs Hannam & Crouch. She trusted me to visit their store on Monkwell Street and acquire the basics for a household of this size.”
Thorn picked up one of the platters, one without fussy little feet. Of course, he’d seen silver like this on his father’s table. The duke did not believe in hiding his silver under a barrel, as it were.
But he had never thought about owning any himself. The piece he had in hand was an oval with some decoration.
“This seems good enough,” Thorn said.
“The platter has a gadrooned border, and the field is engraved with a diaperwork pattern,” Fleming said. “A crest could be added at a later date, should you wish for it.”
“You might as well get to know me, Fleming. The answer to that is, when hell freezes over.”
“Quite right, sir,” the butler replied, without flicking an eyelash. He took the platter and handed it to the footman, who had been trotting after them like a puppy. “Put this in my pantry, Stevens.”
“We have handled it, and the platter must be polished before use.”
Thorn was losing interest in silver. “I don’t give a damn whether it’s polished or not, as long as it has food on it.”
“I gained that impression, sir, when you paid Hannam & Crouch, although they neglected to send you an inventory of the objects you had bought.” Fleming’s tone was wry; Thorn suspected they would get on very well.
He shrugged. “You realize I’m a bastard? It gave my butler in London indigestion, until at last he left for the good of his immortal soul.”
“I too am a chance-child, as we call it in the Highlands,” Fleming said.
Thorn broke into a crack of laughter. “How in hell did she find you?”
“I have served under the Marquess of Pestle, and most recently as head footman to the Duke of Villiers.”
“Ah, she stole you from my father.”
“Everyone in service knows of Lady Xenobia. If a man would like to move households, he hopes, if not prays, that she will pay the house a visit. I met her two years ago, when she spoke to every person in His Grace’s household. She did not forget my ambition to be a butler.”
“Does she always speak to every person in service?”
Fleming nodded. “From the butler to the scullery maid. You can imagine that she learns quite a bit about the household.”
She was brilliant, that woman.
As Thorn entered the library, the image of India in her bed came back into his head. He would have guessed that ladies wore white flannel to bed, perhaps with a bit of lace around the neck and the wrists. To cover up.
India had been wearing pale blue silk. And there had been a lot of lace, and it hadn’t been doing much to cover anything up.
A crunch of carriage wheels interrupted that interesting train of thought, so he went out to greet Rose. She climbed down, clutching Antigone and looking uncertain. He probably should have traveled with her, even though Twink and Clara were descending from the carriage as well.
Thorn stopped and held out his arms. “Rose!”
Her face was tight, and he waited while she thought about it. Finally, she trotted toward him, and he scooped her up. “How’s my girl?” he asked her.
“I am not your girl,” she said, with that awkward earnestness that characterized her.
“You most certainly are,” he said. “On loan from your papa.”
“Oh.” She looked unconvinced. Thorn had never had trouble persuading members of the female sex to like him. Until, that is, he met Rose. She held herself apart, no matter how much he tried to charm her.
“We’re off to the dower house,” he told her, hating that fact. He understood the necessity, but it didn’t suit him to hide Rose away, as if she were someone to be ashamed of. It made her seem like a by-blow, whereas she was the perfectly legitimate product of holy matrimony.
But when he had informed Laetitia about Rose and the dower house, she had nodded instantly. “My mother is . . . difficult,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. He knew what she was really saying: she needed him to rescue her, and he would.
“Where is Lady Xenobia?” Rose asked now.
“She’s in the house, I expect,” Thorn said. “Would you like to see her?”
Rose nodded vigorously. “I know that she will want to see the progress that Antigone has made.”
Thorn glanced at Fleming.
“Lady Xenobia will undoubtedly join you in the dower house, Miss Rose,” the butler said. “For a visit.”
Miss Laetitia Rainsford was supervising as her mother’s maid packed Lady Rainsford’s trunk for transport to Starberry Court. This was not because Abigail needed supervision but because her mother insisted, and Lala had learned long ago that it was easier to do as her mother willed than try to resist it.
“Take care with that gown,” Lady Rainsford said, from where she reclined on a day bed across the room. “That is Valenciennes lace on the sleeves.”
Abigail already knew that, and always took care. But Mama liked to catalogue the valuable things in her possession. Almost as much as Mama liked to catalogue her ailments. But not quite as much as Lala liked to make unkind comments in the back of her head, where no one could hear them.
It was a sin, and she knew it. She nodded, and said, “Yes, Mama,” and watched as Abigail painstakingly folded the gown between lengths of white silk to keep the lace from snagging or wrinkling.
“I’m still unsure about this visit,” her mother said fretfully. “A bastard, to call a spade a spade! My daughter marrying a child of shame. Who would have thought it? Not I, not when I was the most beautiful woman in the ton, and I chose your father to wed.”
“Mr. Dautry is the son of the Duke of Villiers,” Lala ventured to say, not for the first time, nor even for the tenth.
“Who is as scandalous as his offspring,” her mother said, raising a hand limply in the air and letting it fall. She had applied a paste of cucumber and fuller’s earth, guaranteed to eradicate all wrinkles, to her face that morning. It had dried solid, and now it had begun crackling like the bed of a dried-out pond.
“Your father should be appalled at the very idea of linking his blood with such an immoral man as Villiers, let alone a bastard slip from the tree.”
Abigail had finished the gown and was placing a last layer of silk on top before closing the trunk’s lid. “Papa is quite impressed with Mr. Dautry’s holdings,” Lala reminded her mother. She had been repeating two concepts over and over: “duke” and “wealth.”