"At once," Elizabeth said with a nod.
“He has brown hair and brown eyes and is quite tall.
Just so you know of whom I'm speaking."
“Oh, I met Mr. Siddons yesterday. I bumped into him while I was leaving for home."
"Did you?" Lady Danbury looked perplexed. "He didn't mention anything."
Elizabeth cocked her head in puzzlement. “Was there any reason he should have done? I'm not likely to have any effect upon his employment here."
"No. No, I suppose not." Lady Danbury wrinkled her mouth again, as if she were considering some great, unsolved philosophical problem. "Off with you, then. I shall require your company once I'm through with J—er, Mr. Siddons. Oh, and while I am consulting with him, you may bring me my embroidery."
Elizabeth fought back a groan. Lady Danbury's idea of embroidering consisted of watching Elizabeth embroider and giving her copious instruction and supervision as she did so. And Elizabeth hated to embroider. She did more than enough sewing at home, what with all the clothing that needed mending.
"The green pillowcase, I think, not the yellow one," Lady Danbury added.
Elizabeth nodded distractedly and backed out the door. "Be unique," she whispered to herself, "but not too unique." She gave her head a shake. The day she figured out what that meant would be the day a man walked on the moon.
In other words, never.
By the time she reached the stable area, she had repeated the rules to herself at least ten times each and was so bleary-headed with it all that she would have gladly pushed Mrs. Seeton off of a bridge had the lady in question been in the region.
Of course there were no bridges in the region, either, but Elizabeth preferred to overlook that point.
The estate manager's office was housed in a small building directly to the left of the stables. It was a three-room cottage with a heavy stone chimney and thatched roof. The front door opened to a small sitting room, with a bedroom and office to the back.
The building had a neat and tidy appearance to it, which Elizabeth supposed made sense, since estate managers tended to be concerned with good upkeep of buildings. She stood outside the door for about a minute, taking a few deep breaths and reminding herself that she was a reasonably attractive and personable young woman. There was no reason that this man—whom she really wasn't that interested in, when it came right down to it— should scorn her.
Funny, Elizabeth thought wryly, how she'd never been nervous about meeting new people before. It was all the fault of this blasted husband hunt and that double-blasted book.
"I could strangle Mrs. Seeton," she muttered to herself as she raised her hand to knock. "In fact, I could do so quite cheerfully."
The door wasn't properly latched, and it swung open a few inches as Elizabeth knocked. She called out, “Mr. Siddons? Are you present? Mr. Siddons?''
She pushed the door open a few more inches and stuck her head in. "Mr. Siddons?"
Now what was she to do? He clearly was not at home. She sighed, letting her left shoulder lean against the doorframe as her head slid forward into the room. She supposed she was going to have to go hunt him down, and heaven knew where he might be. It was a large estate, and she wasn't particularly excited about the prospect of hiking the length of it looking for the errant Mr. Siddons, even if she needed him desperately to practice Mrs. Seeton's edicts.
While she was standing there procrastinating, she let her eyes skim over the contents of the room. She'd been inside the small cottage before and knew which items belonged to the Lady Danbury. It didn't look as if Mr. Siddons had brought many belongings with him. Just a small bag in the corner, and—
She gasped. A little red book. Sitting right there on the end table. How on earth had Mr. Siddons obtained a copy of HOW TO MARRY A MARQUIS? She couldn't imagine that it was the sort of thing displayed in gentlemen's bookshops. Her mouth hung open in surprise as she strode across the room and snatched up the book.
ESSAYS by Francis Bacon?
Elizabeth shut her eyes and cursed herself. Dear Lord, she was growing obsessed. Thinking she saw that stupid little book around every corner. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," she muttered, swinging around to put the book back down on the table. "Mrs. Seeton does not know everything. You have to stop— Ow!"
She howled as her right hand connected with the brass lantern sitting on the table. Still clutching the book in her left hand, she shook her right from the wrist, trying to ward off the stinging pain. "Oh oh oh oh oh!" she grunted. This was worse than a stubbed toe, and the Lord knew she had more than enough experience with those.
She closed her eyes and sighed. “I am the clumsiest girl in all England, the biggest nodcock in all Britain—''
Her head snapped up. What was that? It sounded like a foot scraping against loose pebbles. And there were pebbles right outside the estate manager's cottage.
"Who's there?" she called out, her voice sounding rather strident to her ears.
Elizabeth shivered—a bad sign, considering that it had been unseasonably warm all month. She had never been much of a believer in intuition, but something was definitely wrong here.
And she feared that she was the one who would suffer the consequences.
James had spent the morning riding through the estate. He knew it from top to bottom, of course; as a child he'd spent more time here at Danbury House than he had at his own RiverdaleCastle. But if he was to keep up his charade as the new estate manager, he needed to inspect the grounds.
It was a hot day, however, and by the time he finished his three-hour ride, his brow was wet with perspiration and his linen shirt was sticking to his skin. A bath would have been perfect, but in his guise as estate manager he didn't have access to the Danbury House servants to fill a tub, and so he was looking forward to a cool washcloth dipped in the basin of water he'd left in his bedroom.
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