The Handbook to Handling His Lordship

By: Suzanne Enoch

“So Rycott simply told you I worked for Wellington?” Nate said, setting down the pencil and using every bit of willpower he owned to keep from dropping the marquis and permanently silencing the man before he could go about wagging his tongue to anyone else. “I doubt that.”

“Very well, he didn’t say it directly. In fact, he said he’d heard that the new Earl of Westfall liked to find lost cats. And then he said, ‘Why a man would go from lions to cats I have no idea, but there you have it. He’ll do you for the job. And then some.’ When I deduced the rest, he didn’t deny it.”

Now that sounded like Jack Rycott. “I won’t deny it either, then,” Nate said aloud, “though I will clarify that I consulted with Wellington during the war. There’s a large difference between tracking down a lion and going into a cage with one.” It sounded believable, anyway. “Cats—and females—are in my experience much more manageable.”

And given what the Marquis of Ebberling thought he knew, the sooner Nate could find this particular female and be done with it, the better. Then he could drive himself to Brighton and have a little chat with his former comrade and remind Colonel Rycott just how little he appreciated being gossiped about. Or mentioned at all, for that matter. He’d found and trapped and killed his share of lions. More than his share, according to the French. And now cats and females and the occasional piece of lost jewelry suited him just fine, thank you very much.

Once Ebberling was satisfied that the drawing accurately depicted Miss Rachel Newbury—or her image as of three years previously, anyway—the marquis handed over a hefty stack of blunt along with his address both in London and in Shropshire’s Ebberling Manor. Nate sat back and studied the pencil sketch. She was pretty, with that lifted-chin haughtiness Ebberling had described. In truth she could be anyone, residing anywhere in England. Given the supposition that she wouldn’t want to be found, however, he’d never encountered a better place to lose oneself than in the crowded streets of London.

A stranger in a small village would be noticed. People would ask questions. Rachel Newbury wouldn’t want to answer questions, and she wouldn’t want to be remembered. She would likely be employed in some quiet, nondescript occupation where she was unlikely to encounter anyone from her prior life—as a seamstress or a baker’s helper, a shopkeeper’s assistant or even an old lady’s companion.

Yellow-blond hair, brown eyes, haughty, and highly intelligent. Not much to begin with. But he’d found people in Europe in the middle of a war. That had been a matter of life and death, of security for England. This would be fun.

The moment Lord Ebberling left the house, Nathaniel summoned his valet. “Franks, retrieve my saddlebag from the attic, will you? I’ve a bit of traveling to do.”

The valet wrinkled his long nose. “My lord? How long will you be gone? I can’t possibly pack such a small bag with adequate garb and your toiletries. Allow me to fetch you a proper valise.”

“A valise won’t fit on my saddle,” Nathaniel returned, the stifling robes of earldom beginning to close on him again, not that they’d ever fit well. For Christ’s sake, until two years ago he’d practically lived out of a saddlebag, acquiring additional things as necessary and discarding them once they were no longer needed. Evidently an aristocrat didn’t pilfer shirts from clotheslines, however.

“Please reconsider, my lord. Wherever it is you’re going, you will have need of pressed shirts and starched cravats. You—”

“Very well.” Cursing under his breath, Nathaniel motioned the servant toward the door. “One small valise. And tell Garvey I’ll be taking the phaeton. To Shropshire and its environs, since I’m evidently to inform people of my comings and goings now.”

From his expression, Franks didn’t quite know how to respond to that, but Nate wasn’t in the mood to explain himself. He’d done his duty by the Crown, and now he did his duty to his family by taking the title his cousin Gerard had vacated after falling from a boat in the Lake District. What grated was the remaining wish to do something for himself, something that he wished to do for his own curiosity and interest. At the moment, that was riding—no, driving now—to Shropshire and the neighboring villages to look for a trace of Miss Rachel Newbury. And by God, he meant to find her.

Chapter Two

The washroom was the plainest room in The Tantalus Club. Even the kitchen had a selection of antique pots and pans lining the walls. The washroom, however, featured only a wooden chair, a small cabinet for towels and soaps, and a large brass tub in the middle. A small window did look out over the carriage drive, but after several men were caught trying to look inside, the window was actually raised so high on the wall that it now looked out into the sky.

Considering the reputation of The Tantalus Club for hiring beautiful, unavailable women, Emily Portsman was somewhat surprised the window hadn’t been boarded over entirely. The fascination of the unobtainable, she supposed it was. But as she’d been obtained several times over the past three years, that explanation didn’t quite serve.