Home > Impeccable (The Phoenix Club #7)(2)

Impeccable (The Phoenix Club #7)(2)
Author: Darcy Burke

Evie released him. Somewhat reluctantly, which she refused to credit. “Last Season. You were nearly courting a friend of mine—she is now Lady Overton.”

“Ah. Forgive me for not recalling you, Miss…”

“Mrs. Renshaw,” she said. “I am widowed.” Why had she felt the need to add that detail?

“So young,” he murmured. Not terribly young. Evie was twenty-five. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” She always felt a small sting of discomfort when people said this. Because she wasn’t actually a widow. Evangeline Renshaw was a fabrication. Or, more accurately, a reinvention. “I’m sorry for yours—your father, I mean.”

“Thank you.”

She saw the flash of sorrow in his warm brown eyes. “Were you close?”

He nodded. “I miss him a great deal.”

Evie wondered if he still had a mother—she’d lost her parents long ago. It was just her and her older sister, Heloise. “At least you have your brother,” she said kindly.

This time a shadow passed over his features. “I do.”

There was an undeniable tension in his response, but Evie wasn’t going to pry. “What are we going to do about the dog?” He—that was no longer in question now that he was free and fully visible—was happily snuggled in Lord Gregory’s embrace. Evie fancied that was a rather nice place to be. She wondered what he smelled like.

No, she did not. Would not.

“You should take him home. And feed him immediately. He feels rather skinny.” He scratched the pup’s head. “Aren’t you, boy?”

“Didn’t you hear me?” Evie tried not to sound aghast. “I can’t have a pet.”

Lord Gregory appeared bemused. “Why not?”

“Because…I’ve never had one, and I don’t know how. Please, you must keep him.”

He looked down at the dog. “I suppose we should try to see if he has an owner. Perhaps one of the tenants had a litter in recent months. I’d say he’s a few months old at least.”

“I will tell Alfred—that is, Mr. Creighton—about it.” Alfred was Evie’s brother-in-law, but since she’d reinvented herself two years ago as Mrs. Renshaw, she couldn’t claim Heloise as her sister. Not without exposing herself and her disreputable past.

Lord Gregory’s eyes lit. “How is it you are associated with our new neighbors?”

“The Creightons are dear friends of mine.” She sought to quickly change the subject to avoid further questions. “Does this hedgerow divide your estate from theirs?”

“It does. Though, it isn’t my estate. It’s my brother’s.”

“Then I suppose you’ll have to ask his tenants as well. There’s no telling which side he came from.”

“You make a good point,” Lord Gregory said. “I will keep him while we search for a potential owner.”

Evie looked at the sweet puppy and stroked his head. “You will be well looked after.”

“He will indeed, and if we are unable to find whoever owns him, I shall endeavor to change your mind about taking him. Everyone needs a pet at least once.”

She kept her mouth closed, not wishing to debate him. “I’ll walk with you back to wherever you came through.” Why? She should take her leave immediately. She didn’t need or want a pet or a gentleman friend. She had plenty of gentlemen friends in London. None of whom made her heart pick up speed or her flesh tingle.

“I squeezed between the shrubbery and that ash tree.” He nodded in the direction from which he’d come.

“Ash,” Evie murmured, looking at the pup. Perhaps she could try having a pet. And what if it didn’t work or she was terrible at it? She couldn’t abandon the poor thing. She would never do that. “We should call him Ash,” she suggested.

“It goes with his coloring for certain,” Lord Gregory said with a faint smile. “Ash it is. Remember, I am only keeping him for you until you’re ready to claim ownership.”

“I won’t, but I would appreciate the opportunity to visit.”

No, you would not. You should run away from both these creatures.

They started toward the tree.

“I’ll see about having my brother invite you and the Creightons to Witney Court. I should like to meet them.”

Evie wondered if that would actually happen. Not Lord Gregory speaking with them—she believed he would do what he said. She just didn’t think the invitation would be forthcoming. Alfred had purchased Threadbury Hall six months ago, and they’d moved into the house in July. At no point had their neighbors at Witney Court made any invitation or overture of any kind, which Alfred and Heloise attributed to the fact that the household was in mourning. However, the marquess had married nearly two months ago, so Evie supposed it was possible an invitation or visit might occur.

Or not.

Cynicism about members of Society was something Evie doubted she’d ever be able to shed. It was ironic since she had so many friends who moved in that upper echelon. But those people were different. They were the members of Society who didn’t feel as though they entirely belonged or who had been ignored or disdained for one reason or another. These were the people whom her close friend Lord Lucien Westbrook invited to join the Phoenix Club, a membership club for men—and women—that Evie managed. She was also one of four patronesses of the club, which was as close to that most revered sector of Society as she ever wanted to get.

That Society had refused to welcome Heloise after her marriage to Alfred was perhaps the primary reason Evie couldn’t ever embrace it fully. Heloise had been Alfred’s mistress, and though they’d fallen in love, the ton couldn’t forgive or forget Heloise’s past. What would they think if they knew the truth—that she and Evie were the daughters of a French chevalier who’d been killed during the Terror? Evie wasn’t naïve enough to think that would matter. Many in Society liked to think they were better than others. It was the basis of their self-worth.

“Did I lose you?” Lord Gregory asked as they approached the tree.

Evie shook her head gently. “Not at all. I’m certain the Creightons would be delighted to meet their neighbors.” Heloise, in the interest of being friendly, might even try to invite them to Threadbury Hall.

Lord Gregory turned to face her, his lips turning up slightly. “This is where we leave you, I’m afraid. What will I do if Ash despairs in your absence?”

Evie knew that was nonsense. Was Lord Gregory flirting with her? It didn’t seem like it—he was refreshingly genuine. “He won’t.”

“I suppose not. You did say you wished to visit, and I shall ensure your parting is short, if not temporary.”

“Your persistence is unwavering. Anyway, I suspect you’ll find where he belongs. A child is perhaps missing him even now.” That pulled at Evie’s heartstrings, both because she hated to think of a child saddened by the loss of their pet and because she didn’t want Ash to belong to anyone.

Except perhaps to her.

No! She didn’t have time for a dog.

“That may be true,” Lord Gregory said. “I’ll keep you informed.” He started to turn toward the opening between the hedge and tree, but Evie stopped him.

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