Home > Impeccable (The Phoenix Club #7)(4)

Impeccable (The Phoenix Club #7)(4)
Author: Darcy Burke

“I’ll just keep my eyes open for who is in attendance. It’s unlikely any of the gentlemen who might recognize me from my Cyprian days will be at a rural assembly in Oxfordshire.” Most of those men were either her friends, or they wouldn’t want to reveal her past for fear of implicating their own scandalous behavior. Evie smiled at her sister to ease her concern.

Heloise nodded. “I’m sure you’re right about that.”

Evie had preferred when her sister and Alfred had lived farther north, in Nottinghamshire. There’d been little chance of running into anyone from London there. But they’d wanted a larger house, more land, and to be closer to Evie in London.

“I’m going to take a warm bath,” Evie said, crossing the drawing room.

“Wonderful,” Heloise murmured.

Evie paused at the doorway and looked back at her sister. Her head was bent over her needlework. She looked the consummate country squire’s wife—exactly what she should be. No, she should be a countess or a duchess. That had been their station. Before war and chance had torn it away.

Stiffening, Evie turned and pushed the bitterness from her mind.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Gregory Blakemore hadn’t been terribly enthused about attending the assembly in Witney until he’d met Mrs. Renshaw. He only hoped she actually came, for she hadn’t responded to his query on the matter.

He’d sent a note the afternoon before, letting her know he’d found the tenant whose dog had birthed Ash and several other puppies. They’d been happy to let Gregory keep him. He’d also asked if she would be at the assembly. Her response had only said she was delighted he would get to keep Ash.

“You coming?” Clifford Blakemore, Marquess of Witney and Gregory’s older brother by eighteen months, peered up into the coach.

“Yes.” Gregory stepped down outside the small assembly rooms. They were rustic compared to what they were used to in London, but Gregory liked their simplicity. They also reminded him of his youth, of dancing with young ladies when he was home from Oxford. And of preventing and saving Clifford from bad behavior ranging from drinking too much brandy and falling unconscious next to the reflecting pool in the garden to nearly being caught kissing the innkeeper’s wife near the retiring room.

Susan, Gregory’s sister-in-law, pursed her lips, her thin, sharp brows drawing together over her deep brown eyes. “It’s so…lacking.”

“You haven’t even been inside yet,” Gregory said, trying not to let her agitate him. He found her arrogance most tiresome. It was also a shame, because when he’d first met her last spring before their father had died, she’d seemed rather pleasant. Her demeanor had changed entirely after she’d become betrothed to Clifford.

“They aren’t so bad,” Clifford said. “They’re no Almack’s, of course.”

Thank goodness, Gregory thought.

“The gardens in the rear are quite lovely,” Clifford continued. A faint, somewhat lascivious smile passed over his features, and Gregory wondered which misbehavior he was recalling. Perhaps it was one about which Gregory wasn’t even aware, though hopefully there were few of those. Gregory had taken care to keep his older brother from causing trouble or embarrassment given their family’s position in the community. “My father funded their maintenance. I suppose that’s my responsibility now.”

“Shouldn’t everyone in the area contribute?” Susan asked. “It isn’t just for our enjoyment.”

“That’s not very charitable of you,” Gregory noted, working to keep the irritation from his tone. “The town of Witney has been our family’s seat for generations. It is the marquessate’s duty, indeed its honor, to provide such support.” He turned toward the doors. “Now, let us join the festivities.” Where he would do everything possible to avoid her for the rest of the evening. He was glad Witney Court was so large. With the exception of dinner, he was able to mostly keep himself from her path.

Before Clifford offered his arm to his wife, he leaned toward Gregory and whispered, “Please be kind to Susan.”

Gregory gritted his teeth, summoned a bland smile, and followed them inside. Immediately, he looked for Mrs. Renshaw. It was possible, if not probable, that she wasn’t present, but Gregory would hope. She would stand out, for she was a stunning beauty. Indeed, he couldn’t understand why he didn’t recall meeting her last Season, especially since she remembered him.

Ah well, he’d set out—rather nervously and at his father’s behest—to find a bride last Season. He’d thought Miss Wingate, now Lady Overton, might be the one, but she’d apparently been falling for her guardian, who was now her husband. In any case, the sudden death of his father from apoplexy had cut the Season short.

There she was. Standing near the rear doors dressed in a vibrant, coral-hued gown, Mrs. Renshaw exuded confidence and grace. Gregory made his way toward her, purposely keeping his gaze from connecting with anyone else’s. First and foremost, he wanted to greet Mrs. Renshaw.

He slowed his gait as his brain took charge for a moment. Why Mrs. Renshaw? He’d never paid particular attention to any woman, the former Miss Wingate notwithstanding. She had been a recommended means to an end, and while he’d liked her, he hadn’t been drawn to her. Not like he was to Mrs. Renshaw. Why her?

He wasn’t shallow enough to credit her beauty alone. She’d heard the puppy in distress and stopped to investigate. Not every woman would have done so. He was fairly certain his new sister-in-law wouldn’t have. Perhaps it was the way Mrs. Renshaw had looked at Ash, as if she’d already fallen in love, but didn’t dare succumb to the emotion. He found that reaction intriguing. He found everything about her intriguing. He was eager, almost desperate, to know more.

Quickening his pace, he made his way to her. Her enchanting blue eyes, round and turned up at the corners, sparked as she saw him. She was white, but her skin wasn’t ivory like so many women in Society. Her complexion glowed with a rich color that looked as if she’d been kissed by the sun. Her brown hair possessed the same quality, as occasional golden strands seemed to shimmer in the candlelight. Her full lips pursed slightly as he stopped before her.

He bowed. “Good evening, Mrs. Renshaw. I am delighted to see you decided to come.”

“Good evening, Lord Gregory.”

Gregory realized the woman standing next to her was watching them. Mrs. Renshaw turned slightly toward her. “Heloise, this is Lord Gregory Blakemore, one of your neighbors at Witney Court.”

The white woman’s blue eyes were remarkably like Mrs. Renshaw’s. Indeed, Gregory might have thought they were related. She smiled at Gregory and the white man beside her also gave his attention.

Mrs. Renshaw continued. “Lord Gregory, allow me to present my dear friends Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Creighton of Threadbury Hall.”

Gregory bowed to Mrs. Creighton and offered his hand to her husband. “It’s my pleasure to make your acquaintance. I do apologize for not calling on you. You will likely know we have been in mourning.”

“Yes, of course,” Creighton said, inclining his head. His thinning brown hair was compensated by rather long sideburns. It reminded Gregory of something his father said, that if a gentleman found the hair on his head to be lacking, he could be assured of it growing excessively well somewhere else. “My condolences on the loss of your father.”

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