The Handbook to Handling His Lordship

By: Suzanne Enoch

Pocketing the blunt, he stowed his cane and swung back up on Blue. Whether the dowager viscountess believed his talk of the brooch’s travels or not, he’d said what she wanted to hear. Sometimes that seemed to be of more import to his clients than the recovery of the missing item. It meant more lies heaped upon his head, but after the life he’d lived and some of the tales he’d told as a consequence, some of the truths he’d told that cost men’s lives, improving the character of someone’s son or cousin or uncle hardly made a dent.

The front door of Teryl House opened as he climbed the top step. “Welcome home, my lord,” Garvey said with a nod, stepping aside to allow him entry. “You have a letter on the hall table, and a caller in the morning room.”

Nate retrieved the missive and broke the wax seal. “Who’s here?” he asked the butler as he unfolded the note to read through it. Evidently his younger brother had earned an enforced holiday from Oxford, the idiot. He barely glanced at the details; it wouldn’t be the truth, anyway. That, he would have to learn from Laurie face-to-face.

“He didn’t say, my lord.”

Ah, another one of those. Nodding, Nate shoved the letter into a pocket. “Send in some tea, will you? And we’ll need a guest room made ready. Laurence is coming down early for the Season.”

“Very good, my lord. It will be splendid to have Master Laurence about again. He’s quite … lively.”

Nate wasn’t certain that he would have used the same adjectives, but he had no intention of bantering with Garvey over whether lively and splendid or bothersome and complicated were the more appropriate terms. “Yes, it will,” he said aloud, and finished removing his gloves and hat to hand them over to the waiting butler.

Generally he preferred to know with whom he was conversing in advance of a meeting, but in all practicality such a thing was a luxury. And he did enjoy the process of discovery, after all. With that in mind he resettled his spectacles, tapped his cane on the floor, and pushed open the morning room door.

His caller stood before the front window, his gaze on the street beyond. With a swiftness bred from equal parts practice and necessity, Nate tallied him up—highly polished Hessian boots, a dark green coat of superfine and not a wrinkle or crease across the square shoulders, a large signet ring on his right hand, the stance of folded arms and braced feet. Neatly cut blond hair and the closest shave a face could have. A man accustomed to people looking at him, and one with money enough to appear in the manner he wished.

“Good afternoon,” Nate said aloud, pulling the door closed behind him.

The figure turned around, lidded dark eyes regarding him with the same thoroughness he’d just used on his visitor. “I’ve heard some things about you, Westfall,” the fellow finally said, in an accent that bespoke southwestern England. “Are they true?”

“That’s a rather broad canvas,” Nate returned in his best tone of cool, slightly distracted indifference. “Would you care to elaborate?”

“Certainly. Who am I?”

Ah, a test. At best he had only a passing acquaintance with his new peers. Given his visitor’s age, attire, and speech patterns, though, he would put the man as either Viscount Delshire or, taking into account his visitor’s obvious arrogance, the Marquis of Ebberling. Considering the way the fellow had arrived at the house without giving a name, however, coupled with the suspicion with which most of his clients regarded his powers of deduction, Nate only squinted one eye and adjusted his spectacles. “Have you lost your memory then, sir? I’m acquainted with several competent physicians. I have a penchant for finding things, but a person’s memories … Hm. That would be an interesting endeavor. Fascinating, even.”

“Never mind that. I’m Ebberling—the Marquis of—and I wish to engage your … services.”

On occasion, Nate thought in passing as the tea arrived and he gestured Lord Ebberling to a chair, it would be pleasant to be surprised. The nice sort of surprise, though; not the firing-of-a-pistol-in-his-direction kind. Once the footman left, he poured himself a cup and dumped two sugars into the mix. “What is it you’ve lost, then, Ebberling?” he asked, noting that the marquis sat squarely in the center of the comfortable chair, his weight balanced and not an ounce of slouch in his posture.

Considering that he’d once avoided being shot because he’d noticed that his dinner companion kept one leg around the side of his chair rather than on the floor in front of him, Nate took account of everything. And from what he could tell, the marquis had lost something valuable. Vital, even. And he wasn’t happy about going anywhere for assistance in locating it.

“What assurances do I have of your discretion, Westfall?” Lord Ebberling asked, ignoring the tea.

“I like finding things. The what and why of the task don’t actually concern me. And since I wish to continue in my hobby of finding things, I have no intention of betraying the confidence of anyone who hires me. Does that suffice?”