"Only a page? I shall have to work harder to— Miss Hotchkiss?"

Her entire body had gone stiff and she was glaring at the door. “Get out,'' she hissed.

James stood so that he could see over the counter. Aunt Agatha's cat was sitting in the doorway, resting on his furry haunches. "Is there a problem?" James queried.

She never once took her eyes off of the animal. “That cat is a menace."

"Malcolm?" He grinned and walked over to the cat. "He wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Don't touch him," Elizabeth warned. "He's vicious."

But James just scooped him up. Malcolm let out a loud purr and buried his face into James's neck with one long, lazy rub.

Elizabeth's mouth fell open. "That little traitor. I tried to befriend him for three years!"

"I thought you've worked here for five."

“I have. But I gave up after three. A woman can only be hissed at so many times."

Malcolm looked at her, stuck his nose in the air, and went back to showering James's neck with kitty love.

James chuckled and walked back to his chair. "I'm sure he views me as a challenge. I hate cats."

Elizabeth's head fell forward in the most sarcastic of gestures. "Odd, but you don't look like you hate cats."

"Well, I don't hate this one any longer."

"How fitting," she muttered. "A man who hates all cats save one, and a cat who hates all people save one."

"Two, if you count Lady Danbury." James grinned and sat back, suddenly feeling very satisfied with his life. He was out of London, away from the simpering debutantes and their grasping mamas, and he'd somehow found himself in the company of this delightful young woman, who probably wasn't blackmailing his aunt, and even if she was—well, his heart hadn't raced so much in years as when she'd touched her finger to his lips.

Considering that he hadn't managed to muster up even an ounce of interest in any of the matrimonial prospects parading about in London, that had to count for something.

And maybe, he thought with a wistful hopefulness he hadn't felt in years, if she was blackmailing his aunt— well, maybe she had a really good reason for it. Maybe she had an ailing relative, or was being threatened with eviction. Maybe she needed the money for an important, worthy reason, and never really intended to actually shame Agatha by spreading rumors.

He smiled at her, deciding that he'd have her in his arms by the end of the week, and if she felt as good as he thought she would, he'd start thinking about pursuing her further. "With the proper inducements," he teased, “I might put in a good word for you with our furry friend here."

"I'm no longer interested in— Oh, my heavens!"


"What time is it?"

He pulled out his pocket watch, and much to his surprise she actually rushed over and snatched it from his fingers. "Oh, dear!" she exclaimed. "I was meant to meet Lady Danbury in her drawing room twenty minutes ago. I read to her every morning, and—"

"I'm certain she won't mind. After all"—James waved at the scratches on his face—"you have ample proof that you were attending the sick and needy."

"Yes, but you don't understand. I'm not supposed to— That is, I'm supposed to be practicing—" Her eyes filled with horrified embarrassment, and she clamped her hand over her mouth.

He stood, rising to his full height and looming over her with the sole intention of intimidation. “What were you about to say?''

"Nothing," she squeaked. "I swore I wasn't going to do that any longer."

"Swore you weren't going to do what any longer?"

"It's nothing. I swear. I'm sure I'll see you later."

And then, before he could grab hold of her, she scooted out of the room.

*      *      *

James stared at the doorway through which she'd disappeared for a full minute before finally springing to action. Miss Elizabeth Hotchkiss was the oddest thing. Just when she'd finally started acting like herself—and he was convinced that the gentle, kind woman with the wry and razor-sharp wit was the true Elizabeth—she'd started acting skittish and stammering and spouting off all sorts of nonsense.

What was it she'd said she had to do? Read to his aunt? She'd said something about practicing something as well, and then swearing that she wasn't going to do it any longer—what the devil had that meant?

He poked his head out into the hall and looked around. All looked quiet. Elizabeth—when had he started thinking of her as Elizabeth and not the proper Miss Hotchkiss?—was nowhere in sight, probably tucked away in the library selecting reading material for Aunt—

That was it! The book. When he'd seen her in his cottage she had been hunched over his copy of Bacon's ESSAYS.

A flash of memory, and he saw himself trying to pick up her little red book the day he'd met her. She had panicked—practically leaped in front of him to get her hands on the little tome first. She must have thought that he'd somehow managed to get his hands on her book.

But what the hell was in the book?

Chapter 6

He watched her all day. He knew just how to trail a person, slipping around corners and hiding in empty rooms. Elizabeth, who had no reason to think that anyone might be following her, was never the wiser. He listened as she read aloud, watched as she marched back and forth across the hall, fetching unnecessary objects for his aunt.

She treated Agatha with respect and affection. James kept listening for signs of impatience or anger, but whenever his aunt acted in an unreasonable manner, Elizabeth reacted with an amused indulgence that James found enchanting.


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