"Close your mouth, Elizabeth. You're beginning to resemble a fish."
"But you have told me," Elizabeth protested, "time and again, that the hallmark of civilization is routine."
Lady D shrugged and made a fussy little chirping sound. "A lady cannot take it upon herself to occasionally change her routine? All routines need periodic readjustment."
Elizabeth managed to shut her mouth, but she still couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"I may take a nap every day," Lady Danbury stated, crossing her arms. "I say, what the devil are you looking for?"
Elizabeth, who had been tossing bewildered glances around the room, replied, "A ventriloquist. These words couldn't possibly be coming from your mouth."
"I assure you they are. I'm finding afternoon naps to be prodigiously refreshing."
"But the one you took the other day—your single previous nap since childhood, I might add—was in the morning."
"Hmmph. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't."
"It would have been better in the afternoon."
Elizabeth had no idea how to argue against such illogic, so she just threw up her arms and said, "I'll leave you to your sleep, then."
"Yes. Do that. And shut the door behind you. I'm certain I'll need absolute silence."
"I can't imagine you'd require anything less."
"Sly girl. Where is all this cheek coming from?"
Elizabeth threw her employer a scolding look. "You know very well it comes from you, Lady Danbury."
"Yes, I'm doing a rather good job of molding you, aren't I?"
"God help me," Elizabeth muttered.
"I heard that!"
"I don't suppose there is any chance that your hearing will be the first of your senses to go."
Lady Danbury laughed out loud at that one. "You do know how to entertain an old lady, Elizabeth Hotchkiss. Don't think I don't appreciate that. I do care for you a great deal."
Elizabeth blinked in surprise at Lady D's uncharacteristic show of sentimentality. "Why, thank you."
"I'm not always a complete churl." Lady Danbury regarded the small watch she wore around her neck on a chain. "I believe I'd like to be roused in seventy minutes."
"Seventy minutes?" Where on earth did Lady D come up with these odd numbers?
"An hour really isn't enough, but I'm far too busy to waste an hour and a half. Besides," Lady Danbury added with a sly look, "I like to keep you on your toes."
"Of that," Elizabeth muttered, "I have no doubt."
"Seventy minutes, then. And not a moment sooner."
Elizabeth shook her head in amazement as she walked to the door. Before she exited, though, she turned around and asked, "Are you sure you're feeling well?"
“Every bit as well as a fifty-eight-year-old woman has a right to."
"Which is really quite a blessing," Elizabeth said wryly, "since you're sixty-six."
"Impertinent chit. Get out of here before I dock your wages."
Elizabeth arched her brows. "You wouldn't dare."
Lady Danbury smiled to herself as she watched her companion shut the door behind her. “I am doing a good job," she said to herself, her tone filled with tenderness— and perhaps just a hint of self-congratulation. "She's becoming more like me every day."
* * *
Elizabeth let out a long breath and plopped down on a cushioned bench in the hall. What was she supposed to do with herself now? If she'd known that Lady Danbury was going to take to napping on a regular basis, she would have brought along some mending, or perhaps the household accounts. The Lord knew the Hotchkiss finances could always use some shuffling.
Of course there was always HOW TO MARRY A MARQUIS. She'd sworn she wasn't going to look at the blasted book again, but maybe she should just peek in the library to make certain that James hadn't moved it, or turned it over, or ruffled the pages, or—or, well, done anything to it.
No, she told herself firmly, clutching the maroon velvet of the bench seat to keep herself from rising. She was not going to have anything more to do with Mrs. Seeton and her edicts. She was going to sit here, attached to this bench like glue, until she decided how to spend her seventy minutes.
Without entering the library. Whatever she did, she was not going to enter the library.
She looked up to see James—or rather, James's head, poking out of the doorway to the library.
“Could you join me for a moment?''
She stood. “Is there a problem?''
"No, no. Quite the opposite, actually."
"That sounds promising," she murmured. It had been a long time since someone had summoned her for good news. Could you join me for a moment? tended to be the polite way of saying, Your account is past due and if you don't pay immediately I shall have to notify the authorities.
He motioned to her with his hand. "I need to speak with you."
She joined him in the library. So much for her latest resolution. “What is it?''
He held up HOW TO MARRY A MARQUIS and frowned. "I've been reading this."
"It's really quite fascinating."
She groaned and clapped her hands over her ears. "I don't want to hear it."
"I'm convinced I can help you."
"I' m not listening.''
He grabbed her hands and pulled until she was stretched out like a starfish. "I can help you," he said again.
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