Home > Impeccable (The Phoenix Club #7)(6)

Impeccable (The Phoenix Club #7)(6)
Author: Darcy Burke

“I’m a patroness there,” Mrs. Renshaw said with a touch of ice. “I’m not surprised you aren’t familiar with it, since you are not a member.” Now she flashed a smile, but it was as cool as her tone.

“I wonder why that is?” Lady Witney asked. “He’s a marquess after all.”

Mrs. Renshaw lifted a shoulder, then looked to Gregory. “Shall we continue?”

“Yes. Pardon us, Clifford.” Gregory guided her around his brother, who finally stepped aside.

They remained silent until they walked outside. Once on the terrace, he felt her relax slightly. “They made you tense,” he observed.

“They are why I wanted to see you tonight.” She glanced over her shoulder toward the doorway. “I was hoping you might ensure they don’t attend the dinner at Threadbury Hall.”

“Won’t your hosts be disappointed?”

“Perhaps. However…” Her mouth tightened in consternation. “I overheard what Lady Witney said the other day on the other side of the hedgerow. I don’t want to subject the Creightons to her.”

Damn. He should have considered that she might have heard Susan’s nonsense. “My apologies for my brother and sister-in-law. They…” What could he say to excuse them? “I would like to offer a reasonable explanation for her behavior, but I fear I cannot. I can ask them not to come, but it may be best if I say nothing.” Susan didn’t even want to go, which he wouldn’t reveal to Mrs. Renshaw. In fact, it might be best if he didn’t go either—perhaps Clifford and Susan would forget all about it. Selfishly, Gregory didn’t want to do that. He wanted to go.

“I see.” She kept her gaze directed to the path in front of them, and he couldn’t tell from her profile what she might be thinking.

Gregory chose his words carefully. “I could try speaking to Clifford, but I’m afraid my brother does what he likes. In some instances, my preferences will only ensure he does the opposite.”

“He’s spiteful, then?”

“On occasion.” When they were children, Clifford had liked to laugh at others’ expense. He still did, but had finally matured enough to realize neither Gregory nor their father appreciated such humor. That didn’t stop him from laughing with his friends or perhaps even his wife, however.

“Then I suppose we must suffer their presence.” Her tone was one of resigned distaste.

“I can promise to intervene if they cause any upset. Would that help?”

“Have you had to do that before?” She arched an elegant brow at him, and the expression stirred him in ways he found almost shocking. They were having a conversation about his irritating brother, and Gregory was moved to passion?

“Not them, no, but they’ve been married less than two months. I’ve sometimes had to usher my brother out of a situation—for his own good, mostly.”

“You sound as if you should be the older brother.”

Her words hit him straight in the heart. His father had said something similar as he lay dying. He’d told Gregory that he wished he’d been the heir. And he’d asked Gregory to look after his brother, to try to ensure the marquessate didn’t suffer under his custody.

Gregory would try, but he doubted he’d be much help. Clifford had made it clear since their father’s death that he was glad to be free of his management, that he was eager to establish himself as the marquess.

“I am not the older brother, however,” he responded. “Do you have siblings?”

“Yes. A sister.”

He was reminded of how she and Mrs. Creighton looked as though they could be related. But if they were, Mrs. Renshaw surely would have said so. “I hope you are closer than my brother and me.”

“Based on what you’ve said, I would say so. I admire her very much. This garden is beautifully laid out,” she said, effectively changing the subject. He didn’t mind.

“My family has supported it for generations. It is far more stunning in the summer, as you can imagine.”

“I’m sure. What a wonderful thing for your family to do.”

Gregory only hoped it would continue. Alas, regardless of what his father wanted, Gregory couldn’t control what Clifford would do. In the end, if he wanted to cease the marquessate’s support of the garden, he could. Very soon, Gregory was going to have to get back to his own life and pursue a career. For the first time in months, he was eager to do so—and he credited meeting Mrs. Renshaw.

“I didn’t realize you were a patroness at the Phoenix Club,” he said, impressed. “That is where we met?”

“Yes.”

“I apologize for not remembering you. Indeed, I can’t understand how that is possible. I must have lost my wits just before making your acquaintance.”

She let out a soft, short laugh. “I am not offended to be found unremarkable. On the contrary, there is peace in anonymity, I think.”

“It is statements like that one that make you utterly remarkable.” Feeling inexplicably bold, he added, “I find myself captivated by you, and that has never happened before.”

Color flamed her cheeks, and he was sorry to have caused her any discomfort. He rushed to say, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“It isn’t that,” she said. “It’s just… You aren’t like any gentleman I’ve met. They don’t typically reveal what they are thinking in such a direct manner. It also seems as if you genuinely mean it, that you aren’t offering an empty platitude.”

“I do mean it. Flirtation and subtlety are somewhat beyond me.” He shook his head, smiling faintly.

“I should be equally frank. While I am flattered, I am quite happy in my widowhood, and I’ve no plans to change my status. Ever.” She spoke kindly but firmly, leaving no question as to her intentions.

Now he was embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to suggest anything. I like you. Perhaps we can be friends.” Unless she preferred not to have male friends. Except Creighton was obviously a friend. Or was his wife her friend, and he just came with the bargain? Did any of that matter?

“I would like that.” She gave him an arresting smile, and he began the disappointing process of telling himself not to react, either externally or internally. “Then I’ll be able to visit Ash.” She winked at him, and he nearly asked her not to do such things, that it wasn’t fair. Except, he feared everything she did drew him to her.

“Perhaps you’d like to take a ride with me tomorrow?” he asked.

“I don’t ride.”

“Oh.” Stupidly, he hesitated, as if he didn’t know how to respond to her statement. Plenty of ladies didn’t ride. “How about a drive, then? I’ll bring Ash.” That would actually be much better than a ride. He should have suggested it straightaway.

She stopped and turned toward him, her eyes narrowing slightly. “I’d planned to see you tonight and ask my favor regarding your brother and his wife. That was supposed to be the end of our association.”

“You just said you wanted to be friends.”

“I do, which is surprising and perhaps a little frustrating. After hearing Lady Witney the other day, I’d decided to avoid your family entirely.”

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