The Handbook to Handling His Lordship

By: Suzanne Enoch

Lady Haybury eyed her for a moment with that unsettling way she had, that expression that left her seeming much older and wiser than her twenty-six years of life should have granted her. Would have granted her, under better circumstances. Emily might have been the same age as her employer, but there were times she felt decades younger—and more when she felt centuries older.

“That would be helpful,” the marchioness finally said, lowering her gaze to the schedule again. “Most of the peerage is supposedly at Tattersall’s today for the horse sales, so we’re evidently going to be a bit light on membership. Jenny will be supervising tonight, and I won’t be back until later.”

With a nod, attempting to hide her reluctance, Emily handed over a second sheet of paper. “According to Charity, she cannot continue purchasing peaches piecemeal if everyone is going to insist on recommending the peach tarts. This is a list of the three farms nearest London where we might make a contract for the fruits.”

“Ah, contracts for peaches. Another of the things I never foresaw when I began all this.” She looked at the paper. “Was this Miss Green’s idea?”

“Yes. I’ve never seen a cook—chef, rather—who has such a head for numbers.” Diane had hired Charity Green only a month ago, but the menu and meals had never been more praised, and the Tantalus was already nearly as famous for its food as it was for its employees. “Shall I give the task to Jenny? She does seem to have a talent for convincing merchants of the true definition of fair pricing.”

This time Diane laughed. “The penalty for attempting to overcharge a gaggle of females—a visit from Genevieve Martine. But actually I think Oliver and I will go. It will keep him from whatever deviousness he had planned for the afternoon, anyway.”

“Nothing can keep me from that.” The Marquis of Haybury walked up to the table and took the seat beside his wife. “And where are we going?” Diane might claim to speak for Oliver Warren, but there was nothing in his steely gray eyes or lean, hard frame that spoke of any kind of subservience. Whatever had passed between the two of them had been resolved to their mutual satisfaction, but the path there had been littered with everything from blackmail to pistols—and Emily was quite aware that she didn’t know the half of it.

“To negotiate for peaches, out in the country,” Diane answered.

“So this is what my life has become. Peach treaties.” He sent his wife a sardonic grin. “Could be worse, I suppose, though I had a thoroughly devious afternoon of naked swimming planned. Carriage, or horseback?”

“Horseback, definitely.”

The marquis stood again, putting his hands on his wife’s shoulders and leaning in to kiss her. The marquis and marchioness weren’t precisely known for avoiding public displays of affection, but Emily looked away, anyway. She’d had a handful of lovers over the past few years, but she didn’t kiss them—and that was why. A kiss wasn’t about sex; a kiss was about affection. And Lord and Lady Haybury fiercely adored each other.

“Emily, don’t forget that you’re to oversee luncheon today,” Diane continued, rising and lightly shoving her husband toward the door. “I apologize that we’ve been asking you to supervise so much lately.”

A responding chill swept down Emily’s spine at hearing her duties spoken aloud. “It’s no problem. I’m happy to do my share.” It wasn’t anything new; she went into the public areas of the Tantalus at least once a week. That didn’t mean, however, that she enjoyed it.

“Let’s be off, then. Negotiating peach treaties is a delicate matter, I’m certain,” Haybury said.

Diane made a face as they walked toward the door. “Are you going to say that all afternoon?”

“Very likely.”

As they left, Emily glanced at the clock. She needed to go downstairs. Thankfully the luncheon rush only lasted a few hours, and then Jenny would step in before the evening setting with its presoiree and posttheater rushes that would last until well after midnight.

Once she’d pinned the Thursday-through-Monday schedule onto the cork-covered wall in the common room, she descended the stairs to the main floor. A narrow, private corridor ran down the east side of the gaming and dining rooms, with doors leading into each of them. They allowed the female employees to come and go with an added air of mystery, and they also provided a swift escape should any of the myriad male members become … unpleasant. She lingered for a moment behind the door opening into Demeter, the largest dining room.

Emily shook herself. Over the past few years she’d learned just how little attention people paid to one another, and precisely how little she had to gain by worrying over what other people did or thought. She’d survived, managed to find employment at The Tantalus Club, because of no one but herself. And as for what had happened before then, and what happened outside these walls, she didn’t care. Not an ounce, not unless it concerned her; which it wouldn’t, because she never stepped through the front entryway.