Maidenly modesty, she assured her inner voice sanctimoniously, and was giggling as she let herself into Penny's bedchamber.

'You've been ages,' Penny remarked. She was sitting up in bed and looked considerably better. 'Have you been exploring?'

'I've been getting a backache trying to remove the mud from this.' Rowan hung the pelisse in the clothes press. 'And flirting with Lord Danescroft's valet.'

'What?' Penny hopped out of bed, gaping. 'Truly? The one who winked at you?'

'Well, not the one who was his wife's lover, that's for sure. I don't know what it is about that man-he appears to employ valets of a decidedly amorous disposition. This one-call me Mr Lucas, if you please-crept up behind me in the brushing room and then almost kissed me, after telling me I looked delightful.'

She perched on the end of the bed and Penny sank down beside her, wide eyed. 'But I got in some telling remarks. I told him that you were devoted to your stepmother, even though she was quite frightful, and pined because she was not here and would probably expect your future husband to allow her to live with you.'

'Brilliant,' Penny said admiringly. 'That should put him off.'

'And then I implied that you were on the catch for a rich husband because the family was much in need of funds, hinted at some scandalous reason why that was so and had a sudden attack of discretion. I stopped at the most intriguing point, trust me. He must think you a family of hardened gamesters at the very least.'

'Wonderful. Much more of that and I will not need to worry about convincing Papa of Lord Danescroft's unsuitability-he will not consider proposing to me for a minute.'

'I know.' Rowan permitted herself a moment's smugness, then caught sight of the clock. 'Goodness! Look at the time-and we both have to change.'

'Apparently she is devoted to her stepmother.' Lucas stood back and eyed Will critically, clothes brush in hand. 'What the devil have you done to that neckcloth?'

'It's a Waterfall.'

'It's a mess. Here, let me. Sit down again.' A minute passed, the silence broken only by the Earl protesting faintly that he was being strangled and Lucas's crushing remarks on the quality of the starch in the muslin. 'There.'

'Hmm. I'm not convinced, but I refuse to go through that again. Really? Devoted, you say?'

'By the sound of it she is as much a trial at home as she is in Society. Apparently Miss Penelope will want her to live with her once she is married.'

'Over my dead body. You've been very busy.'

'A pleasure, I assure you. Miss Maylin has a most superior Abigail, with a straight little nose, big hazel eyes and a crushing way with flirtation. I am, let me tell you, a libertine.'

The warmth that he had discerned in Will's eyes vanished. 'It is no doubt the general assumption that I employ such men.'

There was not a great deal to be said to that. Lucas lifted a waistcoat and held it out for Will to shrug into. 'She also let slip that her mistress is on the hunt for a wealthy match.'

'We knew that.' Will stuck a cravat pin into the folds of his neckcloth and pushed his watch into the fob pocket.

'But not why the family is in such straits-unless your grandmother dropped a hint.'

'Indeed not.' His friend paused, hairbrush in hand. 'I assumed they were simply a minor branch of the family without inherited wealth. What's the story?'

'I must confess I do not know. The charming Miss Daisy was seized with a fit of discretion at that point.'

'Daisy, eh?' Will had warmed up again. Lucas kicked himself mentally: the wounds must be raw indeed for him to take up every hint that might refer to his late wife. 'Seducing servants, are you?'

'Of course not.' Lucas shook out the midnight-blue swallowtail coat and helped Will ease into it. 'Merely getting on terms with our best source of information.' He regarded the Earl, elegant and immaculate. 'You'll do. In fact, you'll probably do only too well. I don't suppose you'd consider developing a revolting personal habit to put her off?'

'More revolting than murdering my wife?' Will lifted one eyebrow. 'I'm afraid my imagination won't stretch that far.'

Lucas stood looking at the back of the door after it closed behind his friend. The bitter words seemed to hang in the air. He gave vent to his feelings by kicking a discarded shirt across the floor, then stalked off to his own room to change. Upper servants were expected to dress for dinner and good manners would not allow him to be late-even if the lady he was to escort into dinner was the housekeeper and not a duchess. And he needed to take special care this evening: there was a certain prickly dresser to impress.


Rowan entered the Steward's Room feeling much as she had on her first visit to Almack's-convinced that she would break all kinds of rules, most of them incomprehensible. On the other hand she was now twenty-four, and she had entertained the Duke of Wellington and virtually every notable at the Congress as her father's hostess. She ought to be able to manage Pug's Parlour, as irreverent lower servants everywhere referred to the rooms of the upper staff.

The evening dress she was wearing had once been hers, and had been passed to Alice, her own dresser, the year before. Now she had borrowed it back, noting that the heavy lace at neck and hem had gone-doubtless sold on as one of the dresser's perks-and had been replaced with a more modest braid. Alice had maintained the heavy moss-green silk in good order and had let in long sleeves in a fine gauze.

Worn with plain kid slippers and a simple pearl cross at her throat, the gown presented the picture of modestly respectable elegance, suitable for her position. Dressing to be inconspicuous was a new skill-one she had never had to master before, Rowan realised with an inner grin.

The Steward's Room was crowded, the guests' valets and dressers chattering away, all apparently known to each other. A tall man in a black swallowtail coat approached her. 'Good evening. I am Mr Evesham, Steward here. You will be Miss Maylin's dresser. Miss…?'

'Lawrence, Mr Evesham.' A curtsey was obviously called for. Rowan produced one graded nicely between an archdeacon and a baroness. It appeared to pass muster.

'Please come in, Miss Lawrence. Would you care to take a glass of ratafia?'

She would much prefer to drink the sherry the men appeared to be consuming, but discretion was the safer path. Glass in hand, Rowan began to make her way around the room, looking for someone to talk to. It was obviously ineligible to approach one of the men, a formidable dame who must be the housekeeper was in earnest conversation with the Steward and all the dressers were split amongst three groups, apparently graded by rank.

It was considerably more hierarchical than any Society gathering, she concluded, edging into the group she judged closest to her in the pecking order. They broke off their conversation and regarded her warily.

'Good evening. I am Miss Maylin's dresser, Daisy Lawrence.' It was enough to break the ice. She discovered that she was speaking to the dressers of Miss Lincoln, the Honourable Miss Trent and Miss Harrington. Rowan knew none of the ladies concerned, guessing they must have come out after her departure to Vienna.

'I have not been with Miss Maylin long,' she confided. 'This is the most impressive house party she has been invited to since I have been with her.'

'Or ever, I imagine,' Miss Browne, attendant upon Miss Lavenham, remarked rather cattily. 'We have never met your predecessor, at any rate. My mistress says she's been invited for Lord Danescroft to have a look at. Is that true?'

'I believe he may be interested. It would be a very eligible connection for her, would it not?'

'Eligible?' Miss Trent's dresser enquired sharply. 'With that scandal so recent? I should shudder to think my young lady so much as spoke to such a man.'

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