The minute James heard the word "sorry" again, he had to fight the urge to grab her by the shoulders and shake. "Yes, I believe we have already established that."

One of her delicate hands rose to her cheek in an expression of concern. “I know, but your face is scratched, and we really should treat it with salve, and—I say, why are you sniffing?"

Caught. "Was I?"

"Yes."

He gave her his most boyish smile. "You smell like roses."

"No," she said with an amused smile, "you smell like roses."

James started to laugh. His chin hurt where she'd smacked him twice, his foot throbbed where she'd stepped on it, and his entire body felt as if he'd swum through a rosebush, which wasn't as far off the truth as it sounded. Yet still he started to laugh.

He looked over at Miss Hotchkiss, who was chewing on her lower lip and eyeing him dubiously. "I'm not going mad, if that's what worries you," he said with a jaunty smile, "although I would like to accept your offer of medical treatment."

She nodded briskly. "We'd best get you inside, then. There is a small room not very far from the kitchen where Lady Danbury keeps her medicines. I'm sure there will be some sort of salve or lotion we can apply to your wounds."

"Will you ... ah ... be seeing to—"

"Your scrapes?" she finished for him, her lips twisting into a self-deprecating smile. "Don't worry, even I am nimble enough to tend to those scratches without causing mortal injury. I've cleaned up far more cuts and scrapes than I care to think about."

“Those siblings of yours are younger than you, then?''

She nodded. “And adventurous. Just yesterday Lucas and Jane informed me that they plan to build an underground fort." She let out an incredulous laugh. "They told me I need to chop down our only tree to provide them with wooden support beams. Where they get these ideas, I'll never know, but— Oh, I'm sorry. How rude of me to prattle on about my family."

"No," James said, more than a bit surprised by the quickness of his reply. “I enjoy hearing about your family. They sound delightful."

Her eyes softened, and he got the impression that

her mind had drifted to somewhere very far away— somewhere, to judge by her dreamy smile, that was very very nice. "They are," she replied. "Of course we bicker and argue like all families, but— Oh, look at me. I'm doing it again. All I meant to do was assure you that I have more than enough experience with minor injuries."

"In that case," he said with great flair, "I trust you completely. Anyone who has tended to small children is experienced enough to see to these paltry wounds."

"I'm glad to hear that I meet with your approval," she said wryly.

He held out his hand. "Shall we call a truce? I may call you friend?"

She nodded. "Truce."

"Good. Then back to the house with us."

They laughed and talked as they exited the rose garden, and it was only when James was halfway back to Danbury House that he remembered that he suspected her of blackmail.

*      *      *

Elizabeth dipped her handkerchief in the sharp-smelling salve. "This may sting a bit," she warned.

Mr. Siddons grinned. "I think I'm man enough to— Yow! What is in that?"

"I told you it might sting."

"Yes, but you didn't tell me it had teeth."

Elizabeth held the jar up to her nose and sniffed. “I think there might be some sort of alcohol in here. It smells a bit like brandy. Does that make sense? Would one put brandy in such a thing?"

"Not," he muttered, "if one didn't want to make any enemies."

She sniffed at it again and shrugged. "I can't tell. It could be brandy. Or perhaps some other spirit. I didn't mix it."

"Who did?" he asked, looking as if he very much dreaded the answer.

"Lady Danbury."

He groaned. "I feared as much."

Elizabeth looked at him curiously. "Why would you fear that? You hardly know her."

"True, but our families have been friends for many years. Believe me when I tell you that she is legend among my parents' generation."

"Oh, I believe you." Elizabeth laughed. "She's legend among my generation. She has all the village children quite terrified."

"That," Mr. Siddons said dryly, "I believe."

"I didn't realize you knew Lady Danbury prior to your employment," she said, dipping her handkerchief in the salve again.

"Yes, it's"—he winced as she applied a bit to his forehead—"why she hired me, I'm sure. She probably thought I'd be more trustworthy than someone referred by an agency."

"That's odd. Before you arrived, Lady Danbury dismissed me early so that she could go over the books and memorize the numbers so she could be certain you weren't robbing her blind."

James covered up a chuckle with a cough. "She said that?"

"Mmm-hmm." She leaned forward, her eyes narrowing with concentration as she scanned his face. "But I shouldn't take it personally. She'd say that about anyone, even her own son."

"Especially her own son."

Elizabeth laughed. "You do know her well, then. She is forever complaining about him."

"Did she tell you about the time he got his head stuck—''

"At WindsorCastle? Yes." She grinned, touching her fingers to her lips as she let out a little giggle. “I've never laughed so hard."

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