A Daring Liaison(6)

Now? Well, he was Lady Sarah’s brother, and she would likely be encountering him on occasion. But she was seven years older and wiser. She could hold her own with a man like Mr. Hunter. His subtle challenge and the ever-so-slight insult this afternoon aside, she could be as polite as he. Yes, warm and polite on the surface, cool and distant beneath—that was the way to deal with a man of his mettle. Surely ignoring his little barbs would be easy for her now that she had some measure of sophistication and experience.

The mantel clock struck the hour of eleven just as a knock sounded on her door. Sanders, her footman, entered carrying a small silver tray bearing two letters. “Mr. Hathaway said these came for you a bit ago, madam. I think one is from that solicitor fellow.”

Her solicitor? Oh, pray he had found time for her in his schedule. “Why did he not bring it to me when it arrived?”

“Mr. Hathaway was on his way out to fetch blacking for the stove and andirons, madam. He left them in the foyer and Clara told me to bring them up.” Sanders placed the little tray on her night table.

Blacking? Where would her butler find blacking so late at night? Georgiana sighed as she realized her household had become used to functioning by itself during her mourning. It might take her a while to get matters back in hand.

Sanders added wood to the fireplace and turned to Georgiana. “Will that be all for tonight, madam?”

“Yes, thank you. Please send Clara up.”

He gave a crisp bow before leaving her alone in her room. She looked around and sighed. In London three days, and they’d just managed to settle in. She hadn’t thought to send servants ahead to prepare for her arrival. Aunt Caroline had always tended to such matters. The house had needed airing, the linens washing, the furniture dusting and the floors polishing. But now she was ready for her stay, no matter how long. The only room they hadn’t opened was Aunt Caroline’s. She was not quite ready for that yet.

How odd, she thought as she turned to the four-poster bed and removed her apron. She and Aunt Caroline had talked endlessly about everything in the world, but they’d never talked about this—about the small details of her aunt’s final wishes.

The threat of tears burned the backs of her eyes and she blinked rapidly to hold them at bay—she had promised herself that she was done with them. She’d cried oceans of tears in the past seven years, but her deepest sorrow was for Aunt Caroline.

She removed her lace cap, tossed it on her dressing table and pulled the pins from her tidy bun. The weight of her hair tumbled down her back and she ran her fingers through it to remove any remaining hairpins as her maid bustled in.

“Ready for bed, madam?”

“Yes, Clara. I think we are all exhausted. Please tell everyone to sleep late.”

The plump woman smiled. “Aye, madam. Won’t have to tell them twice, I vow.”

Georgiana laughed. Sleeping late was a treat Aunt Caroline had always offered after an unusually long day of work. “If you will just help me with my stays, I shall do the rest myself.” She undid her tapes, lifted her work dress over her head and turned her back to the maid.

Clara went to work loosening the laces of her corset until it fell away, leaving Georgiana only in her chemise. “Aye, madam. I think we’re all settled in, like. Everyone is excited to be back in town. Why, even Mr. Hathaway has a spring in his step.”

Her staid butler? Imagining Hathaway excited about anything was nearly impossible.

“Cook and me think he has a sweetheart.” Clara giggled. “He was sad to leave last fall and he perked up the minute we got here.”

And now he was going out at night to buy blacking. Georgiana smiled. She wondered if she’d have to hire a new upstairs maid soon. She hoped Hathaway’s sweetheart was not a cook, because Mrs. Brady was truly gifted in the kitchen.

Clara picked up the brush but Georgiana took it from her and sat at the dressing table. “Go on to bed, Clara. I’ll finish up. And mind you, lie abed in the morning.”

Clara bobbed a curtsy and practically ran for the door before Georgiana could retract the offer. She began to pull her brush through her hair and then set it aside to open her little jewelry case.

Silly to look again, she knew. It hadn’t been there yesterday and wouldn’t have magically appeared today. But she’d have sworn she’d left the little opal ring here last fall. Aunt Caroline had given it to her on her sixteenth birthday and it was precious to her. Even more precious now that Auntie was gone.

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