Elizabeth blinked in confusion. "Had you asked me a question?''

"Where were you? Why did you not attend?"

"I... I..." Elizabeth floundered for words. She certainly couldn't tell the truth—that she'd been out being seduced by her nephew.


Knock knock knock.

Elizabeth shot out of the room like a bullet. "Must answer the door," she called out over her shoulder.

"You'll not escape me, Lizzie Hotchkiss!" she heard Lady Danbury yell. She also thought she heard Caroline mutter the word "traitor" under her breath, but by then Elizabeth was already consumed with worry that it might be James standing on the other side of the heavy oak door.

She took a deep breath. If he was there, there was nothing she could do about it. She swung open the door.

"Oh, good day, Mr. Ravenscroft." Now, why did she feel so disappointed?

"Miss Hotchkiss." He nodded. "Is my wife here?"

"Yes, in the sitting room with Lady Danbury."

Blake winced. "Perhaps I'll come back later...."

"Blake?" they heard Caroline call out—in a rather desperate sort of a voice. “Is that you?''

Elizabeth nudged Blake in the arm. "Too late."

Blake shuffled into the sitting room, the expression on his face precisely that of an eight-year-old boy about to be scolded for a prank involving a frog and a pillowcase.

"Blake." Caroline's voice practically sang with relief.

"Lady Danbury," he murmured.

"Blake Ravenscroft!" Lady Danbury exclaimed. "I haven't seen you since you were eight years old."

"I've been hiding."

"Hmmph. All of you are growing far too cheeky in my old age."

"And how are you faring these days?" Blake inquired.

"Don't try to change the subject," Lady D warned.

Caroline turned to Elizabeth and whispered, "Is there a subject?"

Lady Danbury narrowed her eyes and shook her finger at Blake. "I still haven't finished talking to you about the time you put that frog in poor Miss Bowater's pillowcase."

"She was a terrible governess," Blake replied, "and besides, it was all James's idea."

"I'm sure it was, but you should have had the moral rectitude to—'' Lady Danbury cut herself off rather suddenly, and shot an uncharacteristically panicked glance at Elizabeth, who then remembered that her employer didn't know that she had discovered James's true identity.

Elizabeth, not wanting to touch that as a potential source of conversation, turned and studied her fingernails assiduously. After a moment, she looked up, blinked, feigned surprise, and asked, "Were you speaking to me?"

"No," Lady D replied in a puzzled voice. "I didn't even mention your name."

"Oh," Elizabeth said, thinking she might have overdone the not-paying-attention act. "I saw you looking at me, and—"

"No matter," Lady Danbury said quickly. She turned back to Blake and opened her mouth, presumably to scold him, but nothing came out.

Elizabeth bit her lip to keep from laughing. Poor Lady Danbury wanted so desperately to scold Blake for some two-decades-old schoolboy prank, but she couldn't, because that would lead to a mention of James, about whom she thought Elizabeth didn't know the truth, and—

' Tea, anyone?'' Susan staggered into the room under the weight of an overloaded tea service.

"Just the thing!" Lady Danbury looked ready to vault out of her chair in her haste to have the subject changed.

This time Elizabeth did laugh. Dear God, when had she managed to develop a sense of humor about this fiasco?

"Elizabeth?" Caroline whispered. "Are you laughing?"

"No." Cough. "I'm coughing."

Caroline muttered something under her breath that Elizabeth did not interpret as a compliment.

Susan set the tea service down on a table with a loud clatter, then was cut off by Lady Danbury, who yanked her chair closer in and announced, "I will pour."

Susan stepped back, bumping into Blake, who then sidled up to his wife and whispered, "All this charming tableau needs is James."

"Bite your tongue," Elizabeth muttered, making no apologies for eavesdropping.

"Lady Danbury doesn't know that Elizabeth knows," Caroline whispered.

"What are you three whispering about?" Lady D barked.

"Nothing!" It would have been difficult to discern which of the threesome yelled the word the loudest.

Silence reigned as Lady Danbury handed a cup of tea to Susan, then Blake leaned over and whispered, “Did I hear a knock?"

"Stop your teasing," Caroline scolded.

"It was the cat," Elizabeth said firmly.

"You have a cat?" Blake asked.

"It's Lady Danbury's cat."

"Where is my cat?" Lady D asked.

"She hears everything," Elizabeth muttered.

"I heard that!"

Elizabeth rolled her eyes.

"You seem in rather good spirits today," Blake commented.

"It is far too exhausting to be distraught. I have decided to return to my previous custom of making the best of the worst."

"I'm glad to hear that," Blake murmured, "because I just saw James ride up."

"What?" Elizabeth whipped around to look out the window. "I don't see him."

"He already rode past."

“What are you three talking about?'' demanded Lady Danbury.

"I thought you said she heard everything," Caroline mentioned.

Lady Danbury turned to Susan and said, "Your sister looks as if she's about to suffer an apoplectic fit."


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