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Authors: Allison Chase

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“The Mad Marquess,” the others chimed in, all except Ivy. She felt ill again, and as though the walls were closing in on her.
University nonsense indeed. Had Victoria sent her to deal with a lunatic?
A pounding at the door made them all jump. With a quizzical look, Lowbry went to answer it.
“Lord Harrow!” he exclaimed, then quickly recovered his composure and stood aside. “Welcome, sir. To what do we owe the—”
“Sorry to barge in on you like this.” In a bound, the marquess crossed the threshold. Ivy’s pulse thudded at the sight of him, speeding to a frantic pace when he scanned their stunned faces and demanded, “Which one of you is Ivers?”
Chapter 4
F
or several resounding ticks of the mantel clock, no one moved, no one spoke, no one dared to breathe. Then, one by one, the gazes of the others settled on Ivy as though she had just been accused of some shocking crime.
She glared an appeal to each of them. Hadn’t they taken her under their wing, made her part of their tight little group? Hadn’t she accepted their ribald jesting and vile-tasting spirits with good grace? Yet with hardly a blink they abandoned her, or so it seemed to Ivy, who now felt as conspicuous as a peacock in a snowdrift.
Her mind raced with questions. Could she possibly have won the challenge? There had been that brief, glorious moment when she had believed she had answered Lord Harrow’s questions with singular brilliance. But no sooner had she handed her papers to Mr. Hendslew than she had realized how parochial and downright idiotic she must have sounded in comparing science to poetry.
She had approached this challenge not like a scholarly gentleman, nor even like a woman, but like a silly, sentimental girl. Her skin ran hot with shame at the memory of the drivel she had composed.
And yet . . . Lord Harrow was here, and he was staring at her.
“Are you Ivers?” His cape flaring out behind him, he bore down on her, prompting her to back away until her heels struck the wall beneath the window. She might have tumbled out had Lord Harrow’s hand not shot out and snared her wrist. “Careful, lad. Now that I’ve found you, I can’t have you plummeting to your death. You
are
Ivers, are you not?”
Her head trembled as she nodded.
“Good.” Lord Harrow released her, stepped back, and gave her a terse looking over. “You’re the hand-raiser,” he accused.
Ivy nodded again in short, jerky motions that made the Mad Marquess dance in her vision.
His lips drew tight, and Ivy felt sure he had come to disqualify her from the challenge. A frantic apology ran through her mind, but then he gave a nod of his own. “Come with me.”
With that, he turned and strode from the room, tossing out a brisk “Gentlemen” as he went. After an instant’s hesitation, Ivy took off after him.
 
Simon made his way out to St. John’s Second Court. The chapel bells rang out the noon hour, a familiar, comforting sound. He had been a St. John’s man himself, although his rooms had been in the residence halls of the First Court.
The boy’s rapid footfalls echoed from inside the stairwell. A moment later the lad stumbled outside—literally. As if his feet had tangled in an invisible web, young Ivers barreled through the doorway and sprawled headlong, breaking his fall with his hands and narrowly saving his chin from the ravages of the paving stones.
Then he simply lay there, stunned and out of breath. A torrent of laughter spilled from above. When Simon shot a glance upward, a circle of flushed faces in the window scattered out of sight.
He walked to the youth and leaned over him. “I say, Ivers, you seem remarkably intent on killing yourself today. Any particular reason why?”
“No, sir,” came a slightly muffled reply. Ivers sniffed and slowly levered himself off the ground. Once he had achieved a sitting position, Simon offered him a hand up. “Oh, er ... thank you, sir.”
The contact of the youth’s slender fingers against his own sent a peculiar sensation through Simon, not entirely unpleasant but nonetheless disconcerting. He pulled his hand away. “Are you injured?”
Ivers brushed dirt and small bits of leaves from his coat. The fine-boned face turned upward, and in the bright daylight Simon saw that his eyes were not as black as he’d previously thought, but the shape and color of almonds. That he should notice the boy’s eyes at all was disquieting, all the more so when he glimpsed the sheen of a tear.
The youth averted his face. “No, sir. I’m not injured.”
Some unnamed instinct sent Simon a foot or two away, a distance that strangely felt more comfortable. “Tell me, are you typically this clumsy?”
“Sir?” Flustered or perhaps insulted, the youth hitched his small nose defiantly into the air.
“It is a necessary question, Ivers. Surely you can grasp the dangers of having an accident-prone assistant in a laboratory filled with electromagnetic equipment.”
“Oh . . . quite right, sir. And no, sir . . . not typically. It’s ...” He glanced down his length, perplexity blossoming across his milky-smooth brow. “It’s the boots, sir. They’re new, not yet broken in.”
Simon’s gaze followed Ivers’s tapering trousers to where the stirrups circled the soles of a pair of black and tan half Wellingtons with squared-off toes—the very height of fashion. “Only the best, eh, Ned?”
“Sir?”
“Never mind. How soon can you have your things packed?”
“Sir?”
Simon studied those dark eyes and again saw, behind the lad’s confusion, the simmering energy that had caught his attention that morning. Puzzlement gripped him, a sense that the spirit embodied by that spark simply didn’t fit the outer image of the ungainly Mr. Ivers, as if he’d been encased in a foreign, utterly mismatched shell.
“You know, Ivers,” he said, “for someone who is able to pour his heart out through his pen, you have surprisingly scant verbal skills. This could prove problematic.”
Alarm filled the boy’s eyes. “I promise it won’t, sir. I can be as verbose as you please when the occasion warrants it. It’s merely that ...”
“The boots?” Simon joked. “Cutting off the oxygen to your brain?”
Ivers’s oddly elegant eyebrows knotted and white lines of tension formed on either side of his nose. Then . . . his generous lips twitched and broke into a grin. “Indeed, sir, that must be it, surely. I must find a way to loosen them posthaste.”
Simon joined in the youth’s chuckles, until something about their shared mirth felt too familiar, too . . . intimate. He stepped another stride backward. What was it about this fellow that left him so flustered, and would it be a hindrance to their working together?
The thought of screening more applicants overcame his doubts. The lad was awkward and shy, but that would change once they established a rapport. Simon would make this work; either that or he must reconcile himself to working alone.
Simon regarded the boy, waiting respectfully if nervously silent. “
Mr. Ivers
seems too formidable for such a wisp of a youth. What do they call you at home?”
The lad considered a moment before he smiled and lifted his chin. “Actually, sir, my sisters call me Ivy.”
“Ivy?” The sound of it made Simon feel like smiling, too, but he didn’t. No, like the fellow’s laughter, the nickname produced a too cozy, too damnably intimate sensation inside him. “That won’t do, either. What did you say your Christian name was?”
“Edwin, sir.”
“A bit formal, that. I shall call you Ned. You may call me Lord Harrow.”
“Yes, sir. Then . . . I
have
won the . . . the challenge, sir?”
Simon blinked and dropped his gaze in concern. “Those boots really are too tight, aren’t they? What the blazes do you think we’re doing here? Of course you won the challenge.”
“Thank you, sir . . . Oh, thank you!”
“Mind you, we shall proceed on a strictly trial basis. Upon the first indication that you might prove unsuited to the position—”
“There shan’t be, Lord Harrow. I promise. I swear, oh—”
“That will be sufficient, Ned.” Simon scanned the rows of Gothic, stone-cased windows of the building before them. “Are you presently living here?”
“I am, sir.”
“How soon can you have your things packed and ready to be moved?”
Ned’s eyes narrowed within their uncommonly thick lashes. “Moved . . . to where, sir?”
“Harrowood, of course.”
“But . . .”
“You can’t very well assist me from here, can you?”
“But I thought ...” Ned’s hands snapped to his hips. “I assumed the laboratory in question would be located on the university grounds.”
Simon emitted a laugh. “My dear boy, I am not
employed
by the university. I have one laboratory, and it is located at Harrowood.”
“And it is necessary for me to . . . move in?”
“Sorry, but yes. My research is of a sensitive nature and I won’t risk word of it leaking out prematurely. Does this pose some sort of predicament for you?”
Ned emitted a high, squeaky little note, but he shook his head. “No predicament, sir.”
“You needn’t worry, lad. This has been cleared with the dean of natural philosophies. You’ll receive full credit for the semester. Extra, no doubt.”
“Then I’ll . . . er . . . just go and pack my belongings.”
“Good. I’ll send my carriage round first thing tomorrow to collect you. Oh, and one other thing.” Simon extended his forefinger, circling it in a gesture meant to encompass Ned’s chin and upper lip. “Attempting to grow a bit of whiskers, are we?”
Ned’s expression turned pained. “Yes, sir.”
“You might wish to consider shaving instead.”
The boy nodded glumly. “Thank you, sir.”
 
“I am Lillian Walsh, Lord Harrow’s housekeeper. Mind you call me
Mrs.
Walsh when you call me at all, which shan’t be often if you know what’s good for you.”
Well.
Dear Mrs. Eddelson at home in London would never have taken such a tone with a guest, Ivy thought. But given the earliness of the hour, perhaps
this
woman suffered from excessive weariness; the church bells in the nearby city had barely finished striking seven in the morning.
When Lord Harrow had said his carriage would collect her “first thing in the morning,” he had apparently meant to precede the rising of the sun. She had had to jump into her clothes and race to toss the last of her belongings into her trunks.
Her first view of Harrowood, as she’d been driven through the gates and down the winding, treelined drive, had been shrouded by the dawn shadows. Her initial impression had been one of a drab, brick and stone relic of the pre-Georgian age, nestled at the edge of a gloomy forest and blanketed by an unnatural silence—as if the birds and even the breeze feared to disturb the Mad Marquess of Harrow.
Or perhaps it was Mrs. Walsh they feared.
“Best you know straightaway that I was not put on this earth for the purpose of catering to the whims of university ruffians. Now, follow me, and mind you don’t touch anything.” Her heels clicking briskly, the housekeeper led Ivy across the marbled entry hall that boasted lofty ceilings presided over by a massive chandelier dripping with equal amounts of crystals and cobwebs. Expansive archways on either side of the hall disappeared into darkness. A wide set of carpeted steps curved away to a likewise dusky first-floor gallery.
“Mealtimes are set by his lordship and strictly adhered to. There’ll be no trays carried up to your room, not unless you’re half dead of a fever, and perhaps not even then.” At the base of the steps, the housekeeper stopped and turned.
Mrs. Walsh was a large woman, though not so much corpulent as broad and big-boned. Even abundant layers of clothing could not dispel Ivy’s impression of brawny arms and tree-trunk legs. She had the bulky shoulders and stocky neck of a laborer, a round, pale moon of a face, and strawlike hair that straggled from the edges of her starched white cap.
Her beady gaze raked over Ivy once, twice, and locked.
Ivy pulled up straighter and asked, “Is there something amiss?”
“Let us hope not.” The woman quirked her lips and started up the stairs.
Ivy hastened to match her pace, taking extra care not to trip and fall as she had done yesterday, utterly humiliating herself in front of Lord Harrow, not to mention Jasper Lowbry and the rest of her new “mates” who had been watching and laughing from two stories above.
It was the trousers. The weight of the fabric kept informing her brain, wrongly of course, that her legs had become tangled in her petticoats, thus setting off an instinct to kick them free, which threw off her stride and sent her tripping over her own feet. So much for a lifelong belief that trousers would be less confining than skirts.
Below in the hall came the sounds of servants going about their daily tasks. A peek over her shoulder brought two maids, one with a mop and one with a duster, into view. A footman hauled a ladder across the hall while a second liveried manservant trailed him with an armful of fresh tapers. She resisted suggesting that they attend to the chandelier. Instead she asked Mrs. Walsh, “Er, is Lord Harrow up and about yet this morning?”
“His lordship is in his laboratory.”
Ivy felt a burst of excitement at the prospect of finding Victoria’s stone this very day and making a hasty departure back to London. “Shall I report to him there?”
Mrs. Walsh came to a dead stop. “Certainly not. No one goes near the master’s laboratory without his express permission.”
Their ascent continued.
“But I am here to assist him.”
“And you’ll wait until his lordship sends for you.”
“How rude,” Ivy murmured.
“Excuse me?”
“Nothing.”
At the top of the stairs, they crossed the gallery and turned down a corridor, passing many doorways along the way. Larger by far than Thorn Grove, Harrowood made Ivy feel dwarfed and lost, as though she might never find her way out. Nonsense, of course; she could leave any time she pleased.
BOOK: Outrageously Yours
5.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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