"There's no harm in poking fun at a friend as long as you intend no malice," he said, his voice melting into a soft caress. "And I don't think you would know how to be malicious if someone offered you a dissertation on the subject."

"Then I suppose that makes us friends," she said, her voice catching slightly,

He smiled at her, and her heart stopped beating. “You really have no choice but to be friends with me," he said, leaning closer. “After all, I know all of your most embarrassing secrets."

A nervous giggle escaped her lips. "A friend who is going to find me a husband. How quaint."

"Well, I should think I could do a better job than Mrs. Seeton. If that is indeed—"

"Don't say it," she warned.

"Consider it not said. But if you want some help ..." He looked at her closely. "You do want help, don't you?"

"Er, yes." I think.

"We will need to begin right away."

Elizabeth glanced over at an ornate table clock Lady Danbury had had imported from Switzerland. "I'm due back in the drawing room in less than an hour."

He flipped through a few pages of HOW TO MARRY A MARQUIS, shaking his head as he scanned the words. "Hmm, that's not very much time, but—" He looked up sharply. “How did you manage to escape Lady Danbury at this time of day?"

"She's taking a nap."

"Again?" His face showed his surprise clearly.

She shrugged. “I found it just as unbelievable as you do, but she insisted. She demanded absolute silence and told me not to rouse her for seventy minutes."

"Seventy?"

Elizabeth grimaced. "That's to keep me on my toes. I'm quoting her on that, by the way."

"Somehow that does not surprise me." James drummed his fingers on the library's main table, then looked up. "We can start after you finish with her this afternoon. I'll need some time to devise a lesson plan, and—"

"A lesson plan?" she echoed.

"We need to be organized. Organization renders any goal reachable."

Her mouth fell open.

He frowned. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"You sound exactly like Lady Danbury. In fact, she says that very same phrase."

"Is that so?" James coughed, then cleared his throat. Damn, but he was slipping up. Something about Elizabeth and those angel-blue eyes of hers made him forget that he was working undercover. He should never have used one of Aunt Agatha's favorite maxims. They'd been drummed into his head so frequently as a child that they were now his maxims as well.

He'd forgotten that he was talking to the one person who knew every single one of Agatha's quirks as well as he did. "I'm certain it's just a coincidence," he said, keeping his tone firm. It was his experience that people tended to believe whatever he said as long as he sounded as if he knew what he was talking about.

But not, apparently, Elizabeth. "She says it at least once a week."

"Well, then, I'm sure I must have heard her at some point."

She seemed to accept that explanation, for she let the matter drop and instead said, "You were saying something about lesson plans..."

“Right. I will need the afternoon to plan, but perhaps we might meet when you are done with Lady Danbury. I will walk you home, and we can begin en route."

She smiled weakly. "Very well. I shall meet you at the front gate at thirty-five minutes past four. I am dismissed at half four," she explained, "but it will take me five minutes to walk to the gate."

"Can we not simply meet here?"

She shook her head. “Not unless you want every gossip at Danbury House talking about us."

"An excellent point. The front gate it is, then."

Elizabeth nodded and left the room, her wobbly legs just managing to make it back to the cushioned bench. Dear Lord, what on earth had she gotten herself into?

Meow.

She looked down. Malcolm the demon cat was sitting at her feet, staring at her as if she were a kitchen rat.

"What do you want?"

The cat shrugged. Elizabeth hadn't known that a cat could shrug, but then again, she hadn't thought she'd ever find herself sitting in Danbury House's great hall, talking to her feline nemesis.

"You think I'm ridiculous, don't you?"

Malcolm yawned.

"I've agreed to let Mr. Siddons train me to find a husband."

The cat's ears perked forward.

"Yes, I know you like him better than me. You like everyone better than me."

The cat shrugged again, clearly unwilling to contradict her statement.

"You think I can't do it, don't you?"

Malcolm made a rolling motion with his tail. Elizabeth was at a complete loss to translate this, but given the cat's well-documented distaste for her, she tended to believe it meant, “I have a better chance of finding a husband than you do."

"Elizabeth?"

She turned beet-red and jerked her head to the side. James had poked his head through the library door and was regarding her quizzically.

"Are you talking to the cat?"

"No."

"I could have sworn I heard you talking to the cat."

"Well, I'm not."

"Oh."

"Why would I talk to the cat? He hates me."

His lips twitched. "Yes. So you said."

She tried to pretend she didn't realize that her cheeks were burning. "Don't you have something to do?"

"Ah, yes, the lesson plans. I shall see you a bit after half four."

Elizabeth waited until she heard the library door click shut. "Dear God," she breathed. "I have gone insane. Completely insane."

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