The Handbook to Handling His LordshipBy: Suzanne Enoch
“And you have a sieve for a brain, retaining nothing but absolute nonsense.” Nate stood, but with his tired foot he didn’t feel much like pacing. Instead he sank into the chair placed at right angles to his brother’s. “In your letter you said you had a disagreement with one of your professors. At least tell me it was something academic and not a moral clash over whether you should be allowed to have a whore in your rooms or not.”
Laurie wrinkled his nose. “Do you have any idea how tiresome it is to have you for a brother?” he finally said, a sigh in his voice. “However clever I may think I’m being, you simply cut a swath through all the cobwebs of deceit, put your hands on your hips, and bellow out the facts.”
Ignoring the fact that he hadn’t bellowed anything, and that evidently his brother had been caught with a chit in his rooms, Nate cocked his head. “‘Cobwebs of deceit’?” he repeated.
“I was going to say clever cobwebs, but I’d already used clever, and you would have said I was repeating myself.” Laurence thudded a fist into his thigh. “I know you don’t want me here, and honestly I’d rather be back at Oxford with my friends, but I made a mistake. I’m sorry.”
“How long is this punishment?”
“Yours, or mine?” Laurence shrugged. “The term’s nearly over. I’ll miss a fortnight, and the final exams.”
For a long moment Nathaniel gazed at his brother. People said they looked a great deal alike, but other than having the same green eyes, he didn’t see it. Laurie’s hair was darker, more of a solid brown than his own. Nate was taller by two or three inches, but he remained uncertain how long that might be so. No one, however, had ever said they behaved alike. And for that, he was generally grateful. “Being excluded from final exams isn’t a first offense, Laurence,” he finally said. Ten years separated them, but most of the time it felt more like a hundred.
“I hope you realize this isn’t a holiday. You’re not going to spend your days at Gentleman Jackson’s or Haymarket or Tattersall’s, and you damned well aren’t going to any clubs or soirees.”
“So you mean to keep me locked up here? In the cellar, I presume?”
“You’re heir to an earldom now, and you’re going to be more prepared for it than I was.”
“Prepared how?” his brother asked, green eyes narrowing suspiciously.
“To begin with, I’m going to show you all of the accounts and ledgers. And then you can balance them.”
“On my head?”
“Very amusing. And yet I’m not at all moved toward sympathy.”
“Nate, that isn’t—don’t you have people who do that? Cousin Gerard must have, because he couldn’t do a sum to save his life.”
“I do hope that wasn’t a jest aimed at our dear late cousin’s unfortunate and untimely demise, Laurence.”
His brother flushed. “No, of course not. He drowned, anyway. That had nothing to do with ledgers. Unless he threw himself into the lake to avoid balancing them.”
Nathaniel stood. “And now I’m even less sympathetic toward you. I’ve been the Earl of Westfall for two years. It’s time you learned something useful. Let’s begin with the accounts of three years ago, shall we?”
“Nate, I was only attempting to keep you from yelling at me for the chit in my rooms. Don’t be a bloody axeman.”
Hm. That actually seemed a rather apt description. But no one had ever asked him how he meant to deal with inheriting either an earldom or a younger brother, and he was expected to manage both. “It’ll be good for you. You shouldn’t have to rely on someone in your employ to tell you your own finances. Now come along. We might as well get started.”
With a curse, Laurie clomped to his feet. “You know, suddenly I’m not so grateful that Gerard’s inheritance got you this position, or that it paid for me to be at Oxford in the first place.” He sidestepped on the way to the door and snatched up Nate’s spectacles. “And I don’t think you are, either,” he said, putting them on. “Hah. Glass, just as I thought. Why are you pretending to be addlepated again? You resigned from the service, you said.”
“I’m not being addlepated; I’m being absentminded. And I did resign from the service. I wouldn’t lie to you about that.”
And whatever duties had pushed him to leave Wellington, part of him had been relieved to finally set all the lies and deceits and disguises aside. In truth, he’d never expected to live long enough to retire from that particular service. At the same time, there were bits of it that he missed—the thrill of knowing more about everyone else in the room than they would ever know about him, the satisfaction he found in weeding through piles of nonsense and distractions to find one true thread of information.
But it had also meant other things: pretending friendships with people he despised, or worse, with people he might otherwise have liked. Lying about who and what he was in so many different ways that on occasion he’d been hard-pressed to remember the truth. Distancing himself from his emotions as well as from his brother, even after their mother’s unexpected passing, in order to protect both of them. “You do remember that you’re not to discuss my service,” he said belatedly.