"I found some books," Elizabeth called out. "I don't think you'll find many 'begats' in these, although perhaps in the Shakespeare—"
"Not tragedies, I hope."
"No, I thought that in your current frame of mind, you'd find the comedies more entertaining."
"Good girl," Lady Danbury said approvingly. "Anything else?"
Elizabeth blinked and looked back down at the books in her arms. "A couple of novels, and some poetry."
"Burn the poetry."
"I beg your pardon?"
“Well, don't burn it; the books are certainly more valuable than firewood. But I certainly don't want to hear it. My late husband must have bought that. Such a dreamer."
"I see," Elizabeth said, mostly because she thought she was expected to say something.
With a sudden movement, Lady Danbury cleared her throat and waved her hand in the air. "Why don't you go home early today?"
Elizabeth's mouth dropped open. Lady Danbury never dismissed her early.
"I have to deal with that blasted estate manager, and I certainly don't need you here for that. Besides, if he's an eye for pretty young girls, I'll never get him to pay attention to me with you around."
"Lady Danbury, I hardly think—"
“Nonsense. You're quite an attractive thing. Men love blond hair. I should know. Mine used to be as fair as yours."
Elizabeth smiled. "It still is fair."
"It's white, is what it is," Lady Danbury said with a laugh. "You're a sweet thing. You shouldn't be here with me, you should be out finding a husband."
"I... ah ..." What to say to that?
"Very noble of you to devote yourself to your siblings, but you have to live as well."
Elizabeth just stared at her employer, horrified by the tears pooling in her eyes. She'd served Lady Danbury for five years, and never had they spoken of such matters. "I'll—I'll be off, then, since you say I might leave early."
Lady Danbury nodded, looking oddly disappointed. Had she been hoping Elizabeth would pursue the topic further? "Just put that book of poetry back before you go," she instructed. "I'm sure I won't look at it, and I can't trust the servants to keep my books in order."
"I will." Elizabeth set the rest of the books down on an end table, gathered her things, and said her farewells. As she was walking out of the room, Malcolm jumped off of Lady Danbury's lap and followed her.
"See?" Lady D crowed. "I told you he loved you."
Elizabeth eyed the cat suspiciously as she headed out into the hall. "What do you want, Malcolm?"
He flicked his tail, bared his teeth, and hissed.
"Oh!" Elizabeth exclaimed, dropping the poetry book. "You beast. Following me out here just to hiss—"
"Did you throw a book at my cat?" Lady D hollered.
Elizabeth decided to ignore the question, instead jabbing her finger in Malcolm's direction as she snatched up her book. "Go back to Lady Danbury, you awful creature."
Malcolm stuck his tail in the air and stalked away.
Elizabeth let out a long breath and walked into the library. She headed toward the poetry section, scrupulously keeping her back to that little red book. She didn't want to think about it, she didn't want to look at it—
Drat, but that thing was practically giving off heat. Never in her life had Elizabeth been so aware of an inanimate object.
She reshelved the volume of poetry and stomped to the door, starting to get really annoyed with herself. That silly little book shouldn't affect her one way or another. By avoiding it like the plague, she was actually giving it power it didn't deserve, and—
"Oh, for heavens sake!" she finally burst out.
"Did you say something?" Lady Danbury called out from the next room.
"No! I just—uh, I just tripped over the edge of the rug. That's all." Elizabeth muttered another "Good heavens” under her breath and tiptoed back over to the book. It was lying face-down, and much to Elizabeth's surprise, her hand shot out and flipped it over.
HOW TO MARRY A MARQUIS
There it was, same as before. Staring up at her, mocking her, sitting there as if to say she didn't have the gumption to read it.
"It is just a book," she muttered. "Just a stupid, garishly red little book."
Elizabeth needed money so desperately. Lucas had to be sent to Eton, and Jane had cried for a week when she'd used up the last of her watercolors. And both of them were growing faster than weeds on a summer day. Jane could make do with Susan's old frocks, but Lucas would need clothing befitting his station.
The only road to riches was marriage, and this brazen little book claimed to have all the answers. Elizabeth wasn't so foolish as to believe that she might capture the interest of a marquis, but maybe a little advice could help her snare a nice country gentleman—one with a nice comfortable income. She'd even marry a Cit. Her father would turn over in his grave at the thought of her making an alliance with someone in trade, but a girl had to be practical, and Elizabeth would wager that there were a number of wealthy merchants who'd like to marry the impoverished daughter of a baronet.
Besides, it was her father's fault that she was in this bind, anyway. If he hadn't...
Elizabeth gave her head a shake. Now wasn't the time to dwell on the past. She needed to concentrate on her present dilemma.
When it came right down to it, she didn't know much about men. She didn't know what she was supposed to say to them or how she was supposed to act to make them fall in love with her.
She stared at the book. Hard.
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