Lucas!" he called out. "We must go fishing someday!"
Lucas squealed with glee and ran into the hall after them. "Oh, thank you, Mr. Siddons. Thank you!"
Elizabeth had James practically to the front steps when he ground to a halt and said, “There is one more thing I have to do."
“What more could you possibly have to do?'' she demanded. But he'd already wrenched free of her grip and strode back to the kitchen door. When she thought he was out of earshot, she mumbled, "It seems to me we've already done everything today."
He threw a wicked grin over his shoulder. “Not everything."
She sputtered and spluttered, trying to come up with an appropriately scathing retort, when he completely ruined the moment by melting her heart.
"Oh, Jane," he called out, leaning against the doorframe.
Elizabeth couldn't see into the kitchen, but she could picture the scene perfectly as her baby sister lifted her head, her dark blue eyes wide and wondrous.
James blew a kiss into the kitchen. "Goodbye, sweet Jane. I do wish you were a little more grown up."
Elizabeth let out a beatific sigh and sank into a chair. Her sister would be dreaming on that kiss for the rest of her girlhood.
* * *
The speech was overrehearsed, but the sentiment was certainly sincere. Elizabeth knew that she would have to confront James about their scandalous behavior, and she'd played out conversations in her head all night and into the following morning. She was still reciting her words as she tramped her way through the mud—it had rained the previous night—to Danbury House.
This plan—this strange, bizarre, incomprehensible plan which was supposed to deposit her on the altar of marriage—it needed rules. Dictums of behavior, guidelines, that sort of thing. Because if she didn't have some idea what she was supposed to expect in James Siddons's company, she was liable to go mad.
For example, her behavior the previous afternoon was clearly the mark of a highly distracted mind. She had flung water all over herself in a fit of panic. Not to mention her wanton reaction to James's kiss.
She was going to have to assume a certain modicum of control. She refused to be some sort of charity case for his entertainment. She was going to insist upon repaying him for his services, and that was that.
Furthermore, he couldn't grab her and sweep her into his embrace when she wasn't expecting it. As silly as it sounded, his kisses were going to have to remain purely academic. It was simply the only way she was going to emerge from this episode with her soul intact.
As for her heart—well, that was probably already a lost cause.
But no matter how many times she tried to rehearse the little speech she'd prepared, it sounded wrong. First too bossy, then too weak. Too strident, and then too cajoling. Where on earth was a woman supposed to look for advice?
Maybe she should take just one more peek into HOW TO MARRY A MARQUIS. If it was rules and edicts she wanted, she'd certainly find them there. Perhaps Mrs. Seeton had included something about how to convince a man that he was wrong without mortally insulting him. Or how to get a man to do what you wanted while making him think it had all been his idea from the very beginning. Elizabeth was certain she'd seen something to that effect in her readings.
And if there wasn't, there sure as heaven ought to be.
Elizabeth couldn't imagine a more useful skill. It had been one of the few pieces of feminine advice her mother had passed on to her before she died. "Never take the credit," Claire Hotchkiss had told her. "You'll accomplish far more if you let him think he is the smartest, bravest, most powerful man in creation."
And from what Elizabeth had observed, it had worked. Her father had been utterly besotted with her mother. Anthony Hotchkiss hadn't been able to see anything else— including his children—when his wife walked in the room.
Unfortunately for Elizabeth, however, when her mother had been dispensing advice about what to do with a man, she had never seen fit to explain how to carry out that advice.
Maybe these things were intuitive to some women, but certainly not to Elizabeth. Good heavens, if she had been forced to consult a guidebook just to tell her what to say to a man, she certainly wouldn't know how to make him believe that her ideas were actually his.
She was still trying to master the most basic lessons of courtship. That seemed an advanced technique indeed.
Elizabeth stamped the mud from her feet on the outer steps to Danbury House, then let herself in the front door and scurried down the hall to the library. Lady D was still at breakfast, this area of the house was quiet, and that blasted little book was waiting....
She kept her feet on the elegant runner carpet that extended much of the length of the hall. Something about the silence struck her as sacred—of course that may have had something to do with the endless bickering she suffered through during breakfast when Lucas and Jane had fought over whose turn it was to clean up. The second her feet touched the floor, there was a horrible clatter,
echoing through the hall, and jangling her already frayed nerves.
She dashed into the library, inhaling the scent of the polished wood and old books. How she savored these brief moments of privacy. With a careful and quiet motion, she shut the door behind her and scanned the shelves. There it was, sitting sideways on the shelf where she'd found it days earlier.
Just one peek couldn't hurt. She knew it was a silly book, and that most of it was stuff and nonsense, but if she could find just one little scrap of advice that would help with her current dilemma...
She picked up the book and leafed through it, her fingers nimbly flipping the pages as she skimmed Mrs. Seeton's words. She bypassed the bit about wardrobes, and the nonsense about practicing. Maybe there was something toward the end—
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