But for the first time that evening, Lord Davenport appeared to be pleased with her. “You know them well, then?” he asked.

“Er, somewhat,” Lucy hedged. “Lady Joanna was a bit older, but it’s not a large school. One can’t really not know the other students.”

“Good.” Lord Davenport nodded approvingly, his jowls quivering with the movement.

Lucy tried not to look.

“These are the people you will need to know,” he went on. “Connections that you must cultivate.”

Lucy nodded dutifully, all the while making a mental list of all the places she would rather be. Paris, Venice, Greece, although weren’t they at war? No matter. She would still rather be in Greece.

“…responsibility to the name…certain standards of behavior…”

Was it very hot in the Orient? She’d always admired Chinese vases.

“…will not tolerate any deviation from…”

What was the name of that dreadful section of town? St. Giles? Yes, she’d rather be there as well.

“…obligations. Obligations!”

This last was accompanied by a fist on the table, causing the silver to rattle and Lucy to jerk in her seat. Even Aunt Harriet looked up from her food.

Lucy snapped to attention, and because all eyes were on her, she said, “Yes?”

Lord Davenport leaned in, almost menacingly. “Someday you will be Lady Davenport. You will have obligations. Many obligations.”

Lucy managed to stretch her lips just enough to count as a response. Dear God, when would this evening end?

Lord Davenport leaned in, and even though the table was wide and laden with food, Lucy instinctively backed away. “You cannot take lightly your responsibilities,” he continued, his voice rising scarily in volume. “Do you understand me, gel?”

Lucy wondered what would happen if she clasped her hands to her head and shouted it out.

God in heaven, put an end to this torture!!!

Yes, she thought, almost analytically, that might very well put him off. Maybe he would judge her unsound of mind and-

“Of course, Lord Davenport,” she heard herself say.

She was a coward. A miserable coward.

And then, as if he were some sort of wind-up toy that someone had twisted off, Lord Davenport sat back in his seat, perfectly composed. “I am glad to hear of it,” he said dabbing at the corner of his mouth with his serviette. “I am reassured to see that they still teach deference and respect at Miss Moss’s. I do not regret my choice in having sent you there.”

Lucy’s fork halted halfway to her mouth. “I did not realize you had made the arrangements.”

“I had to do something,” he grunted, looking at her as if she were of feeble mind. “You haven’t a mother to make sure you are properly schooled for your role in life. There are things you will need to know to be a countess. Skills you must possess.”

“Of course,” she said deferentially, having decided that a show of absolute meekness and obedience would be the quickest way to put an end to the torture. “Er, and thank you.”

“For what?” Haselby asked.

Lucy turned to her fiancé. He appeared to be genuinely curious.

“Why, for having me sent to Miss Moss’s,” she explained, carefully directing her answer at Haselby. Maybe if she didn’t look at Lord Davenport, he would forget she was there.

“Did you enjoy it, then?” Haselby asked.

“Yes, very much,” she replied, somewhat surprised at how very nice it felt to be asked a polite question. “It was lovely. I was extremely happy there.”

Haselby opened his mouth to reply, but to Lucy’s horror, the voice that emerged was that of his father.

“It’s not about what makes one happy!” came Lord Davenport’s blustery roar.

Lucy could not take her eyes off the sight of Haselby’s still-open mouth. Really, she thought, in a strange moment of absolute calm, that had been almost frightening.

Haselby shut his mouth and turned to his father with a tight smile. “What is about, then?” he inquired, and Lucy could not help but be impressed at the absolute lack of displeasure in his voice.

“It is about what one learns,” his father answered, letting one of his fists bang down on the table in a most unseemly manner. “And who one befriends.”

“Well, I did master the multiplication tables,” Lucy put in mildly, not that anyone was listening to her.

“She will be a countess,” Davenport boomed. “A countess!”

Haselby regarded his father equably. “She will only be a countess when you die,” he murmured.

Lucy’s mouth fell open.

“So really,” Haselby continued, casually popping a minuscule bite of fish into his mouth, “it won’t matter much to you, will it?”

Lucy turned to Lord Davenport, her eyes very very wide.

The earl’s skin flushed. It was a horrible color-angry, dusky, and deep, made worse by the vein that was positively jumping in his left temple. He was staring at Haselby, his eyes narrowed with rage. There was no malice there, no wish to do ill or harm, but although it made absolutely no sense, Lucy would have sworn in that moment that Davenport hated his son.

And Haselby just said, “Fine weather we’re having.” And he smiled.

Smiled!

Lucy gaped at him. It was pouring and had been for days. But more to the point, didn’t he realize that his father was one cheeky comment away from an apoplectic fit? Lord Davenport looked ready to spit, and Lucy was quite certain she could hear his teeth grinding from across the table.

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