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Even the finest butler may blunder when announcing asurprise guest, but he should use the occasion to learn thecorrect styling. One never knows when a surprise guestmay become important in his employer's household.
Suggestions for the Stoic Servant,
by the Butler to a Very Important Gentleman
April 15, 1822
The bride-to-be was here. The groom-to-be was twohours late. As betrothal dinners went, this one qualifiedfor fiasco of the season.Spencer, reluctant host of the fiasco, surveyed the immaculatelyappointed dining table in his London town house andsighed. How soon could he call an end to this painful ordealand retreat to his study and his cognac? Probably not for atleast another hour. Anything less would rouse suspicionamong his twenty-six guests.
Thanks to his quick thinking and talent for lying, theydidn't even know the dinner was a fiasco. And until he foundout why Nat had disappeared, he had no intention of lettingthem in on the secret.
He glanced over at Lady Evelina, the bride-to-be. ThankGod she'd apparently accepted his far-fetched tale. Like achina doll, she perched on her chair in cultivated perfection, blond ringlets framing her flawless brow, her cheeks pink butnot rouged, and her gown the ideal hue for her porcelain skin.Only her sparkling eyes hinted at the sweet-natured girl Natand Spencer had teased while she was growing up.
Catching his eye, Evelina dabbed daintily at her cupid-bowlips with a damask napkin. "I do hope they don't detainpoor Nathaniel at the police offices all night. Did his note sayhow long it might be?"
That damned fictitious note. "No, but they'll probablykeep him awhile," Spencer lied with all the practiced ease ofa former spymaster. "He'll have to give testimony against theruffian he caught snatching that woman's reticule."
"It was so brave of him to run off after the villain allalone," she said. "And then to insist on carrying that man tothe police himself -- how noble of him!"
"Yes, Nat is nothing if not noble." That lie came harder inthe face of young Evelina's starry-eyed loyalty.
Not that Spencer had any other choice. Engaging in amanly pursuit of justice was an acceptable excuse for not attendingone's betrothal dinner; abandoning one's bride-to-bewas not. Until Spencer knew the reason for Nat's apparentdefection, he had to keep lying. Otherwise, Evelina and herwidowed mother, Lady Tyndale, would suffer public humiliation.Which Spencer refused to allow.
Where the hell was he? When Spencer had last seen Nat anhour before dinner, his brother hadn't mentioned any plans todash out. And although Spencer's butler McFee had seen Natreceive a message shortly after that, no one had seen the manleave. But no one could find him, either, not in the house or atany of his favorite London haunts.
Nat had simply vanished, and it looked deliberate. Afterall, how much trouble could one man get into in only a fewhours?
Spencer sighed. Nat had acted strangely ever since his returnfrom America a month ago -- he was inordinately interested in the mail, came and went at all hours, had mysteriousmeetings, and in general acted like a man still sowing wildoats instead of preparing to marry.
Now this. For God's sake, where was he?
"Well, I for one am surprised Nathaniel even had the presenceof mind to send a note at all," Evelina's mother commented."But the man is always so considerate."
"And noble, too," the woman sitting next to her added witha hint of sarcasm. "Let's not forget 'noble.'"
Wonderful. Now Lady Brumley was putting her nose in it.Why in hell had Evelina's mother invited a woman popularlyknown as the Galleon of Gossip? He should have paid closerattention to the guest list.
But with England's chaotic political situation occupyinghim, he'd had no time to plan the betrothal dinner LadyTyndale had expected him to host. So he'd unwisely giventhat to her, his designated hostess for the evening. Somehowthe intimate little affair he'd suggested had explodedinto this assembly of London society's most prestigious -- and chattymembers. That's what he got for trusting awoman with the intelligence of a pea.
And there was still a betrothal ball to get through twonights from now. Fortunately, Lady Tyndale was hostingthat at her home. Spencer shuddered to think what sort ofproduction it would be. She'd probably invited half the tonto her ball.
If there was a ball. Given Nat's disappearance tonight, thatwas no longer certain.
He scowled. He wanted to see Nat settled, damn it.Twenty-nine was a good age for marrying, and twenty-year-oldEvelina was perfect for him. Insane as it seemed, she'dapparently been in love with the idiot from girlhood, whichwas all a man could ask for.
"That note from your brother," Lady Brumley commented. "Might we see it for ourselves, Ravenswood? I shall have towrite about the event for the paper, and I want all the details ofMr. Law's noble act."
What the nosy woman wanted was to uncover scandal.Clearly she hadn't believed his tale. Just what he needed -- the shrewd Lady Brumley voicing her suspicions in that infamouscolumn of hers.
"I thought you had your own sources." Spencer sipped hisclaret with a carefully cultivated air of boredom. "Or haveyou grown tired of checking your facts?"
The woman answered his sarcasm in kind. "I suspect thatif I wait until tomorrow for that, I'll hear only the officialstory. Since the London magistrates report directly to you atthe Home Office ...Married to the Viscount. Copyright © by Sabrina Jeffries. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Married to the Viscount by Sabrina Jeffries
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