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Authors: Rebecca Connolly

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BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
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Life was always more entertaining when he was around, and she was determined that this season would be the most entertaining of all.

For she would be leaving London after it ended, and she had no idea of ever returning.

C
hapter
T
wo

 

“R
emind me why we’ve come back to London again?”

Geoffrey Harris glanced over at his travelling companion and good friend, Duncan Bray, whose grumbling had been the only thing Geoff had heard all morning. Duncan was not naturally an unpleasant man, but London and its prospects had that effect on them both.

“Because the season will begin soon?”

His friend threw back his head and laughed. “Wrong. Neither of us is nearer to marrying than Colin is. This annual march of the debutantes is as entertaining as your left boot.”

Geoffrey sighed with infinite patience, though he knew his friend was right. “Because your sister is there, already breaking the heart of every man in London?”

The frown that Duncan tossed at him then was truly remarkable, and very fierce. “We are not talking about Marianne. She is far too flirtatious for her own good, and she will be dealt with.”

Geoff held up his hands in surrender. “All right, all right, we won’t speak of it. Well, how about the fact that your aunt has returned to London almost two months earlier than expected? That’s very nearly a summons for you, isn’t it?”

“What Tibby decides to do with her time is her own business,” Duncan muttered awkwardly. “I would never come racing to her side simply because she is there.”

Geoffrey laughed at his friend’s discomfort, knowing that Duncan’s denial was just for show. He really was devoted to Lady Raeburn, one of the most unique women that Geoffrey had ever met. She was also unfailingly generous and good-hearted, doted on Duncan and his sister like they were her own, and had even arranged her inheritance between the two of them.

“Don’t we have any other reason to be coming?” Duncan asked as their horses trotted along anxiously as they neared the city.

“Of course, we have,” Geoff retorted. “Nathan and Derek are already here, Colin ought to be soon, if he isn’t already, and this is what England’s gentlemen do at this time of year.”

“Being a gentlemen is sounding less and less like something I’d like,” Duncan muttered, “but I suppose you’re correct. When are we all meeting up?”

“Day after tomorrow, I think. Nathan has volunteered their house for us. Unless Moira delivers, and then I wouldn’t be so sure.”

Duncan snorted. “I think we would still go. I cannot imagine Nathan would be calm enough to endure that alone.”

“Probably not,” Geoffrey agreed. “Do you know if Derek and Kate are renting or are they staying with someone?”

“Renting, I believe. They have razed the remnants entirely, you know. Not that I blame them, there wasn’t much left worth saving.”

They both fell silent. Late in the summer, the home of the Marquess and Marchioness of Whitlock had been destroyed by fire, and they had been there to witness most of it. Thankfully no one had even been injured in the blaze, due to Kate’s quick thinking and authoritative personality, but the memory of it had affected all of them. It could have been so much worse.

“I wonder if Colin is here yet,” Duncan mused as they neared their friend’s house, which was lit as if he were.

Geoff shrugged off his negative thoughts from before and smiled. “Well, it won’t hurt to check, will it?”

“With Colin, you never know,” Duncan returned darkly as they reigned in and dismounted.

Duncan knocked rather soundly, and they were let in almost without a word, which surprised both of them. Surely the servants would not let them in of their own volition if their master was not in residence purely because they recognized them…

“Well, the two of you are a sight for sore eyes!”

Duncan and Geoff grinned at each other as the unmistakably exuberant voice of Colin Gerrard met their ears. It was not two seconds before his person was before them, smile at the ready, dark hair slightly disarrayed, as if he had run from his room to greet them. Which he very well may have done.

They shook hands, then entered a near room and were seated barely thirty seconds when a maid entered with some food.

“What in the world is this?” Duncan asked with a laugh as he helped himself to a bit of the light repast. “You couldn’t possibly have known we were going to descend upon you today. We hardly knew we were until about five minutes ago.”

“I keep my house in readiness at all times,” Colin replied smartly, his smile still fixed in place.

“Surely not,” Geoff protested. “You never said a word to the servants while we stood there, we would have heard you.”

Colin sighed in disappointment. “Must you always take the fun out of everything, Geoff? Very well, I saw you coming. I told the servants to let you in and bring some food. There, are you satisfied?”

“Not nearly,” Duncan grunted as he reached for more food. “Geoff hardly let us stop at all, so keen was he to be in town. I’m famished.”

“For heaven’s sake, man, if you are so starved, go down to the kitchens!” Colin cried with a laugh. “Perry is down there and he will get you something proper, not this light dribble. Had I known you would be in such a state, I would have taken us all down there instead!”

Duncan stood and bowed very deeply in gratitude. “I shall take myself down to plunder your pantries, then.”

“Eat up, my friend,” Colin said with a wave. “You are going to need it,” he added in a softer voice, smiling a little.

Duncan froze, and turned back. “Why?”

Colin’s mischievous smile deepened. “Marianne is on quite a rampage. I think she had ten callers last Tuesday alone.”

“It’s not even the start of the season yet!” Duncan cried, leaning on the doorframe. “How can she possibly…?”

“Because she encourages everybody, you know that,” Colin interrupted, his humor diminished. “She loves to flirt and receive attentions, everybody knows, and there are more than enough men in London willing to follow her to Africa, should she have any ideas to do so.”

“Is she that obvious?” Geoff asked, wincing.

“Very,” Colin admitted. “It’s borderline outrageous. There have been comments. Not harsh ones,” he hastily added as Duncan began to look murderous. “Just comments in general.”

“Have you spoken with her?” Duncan asked as he rubbed his brow.

“Not directly, no. I have spoken with Mrs. Lansfield, but she is only a chaperone, and I think she likes Marianne’s behavior.”

“You could have spoken with Marianne directly,” Duncan told him with a look. “Any of you chaps could, she respects the lot of you.”

Colin snorted. “Not me. Not that I blame her. Besides, I’m not a big and imposing and terrifying brother who can put the fear of God into her. I am merely a lookout.”

Again, Duncan sighed. “Very well, I’ll address it. But I’m eating here first. Lord knows what she will have going on in my own kitchens.” He pushed off of the wall and headed on down the hall, leaving Colin and Geoff alone.

“I don’t envy him a younger sister,” Geoff remarked with a shake of his head. “Especially not one with Marianne’s temperament.”

“Nor I,” Colin agreed with a chuckle. “Speaking of sisters…” he said suddenly, giving Geoff a look.

Geoff raised his brows and returned the look. “Since when do you care what Franny is doing, Colin? She’s married with six children and far too old for you anyway.”

“I wasn’t talking about Franny,” Colin said very seriously, which was always a hint that what was about to be said was either unpleasant or downright horrifying. “I was talking about Cassandra Hamilton.”

“Cassie?” Geoff asked in confusion. “She’s not my sister.”

Colin snorted. “Not all family is blood relation. You watch over those Hamilton girls as if you were their guardian, if not one of their brothers.”

Geoff sighed and sat back. “This is true. Very well, what about Cassandra?”

“She hasn’t been seen all winter. Not that people care beyond the fact that they need to talk about something, but she’s not gone out at all.”

“How do you know this?” Geoff asked him, worry knitting his brows.

Colin smiled faintly, though his blue eyes showed understanding at Geoff’s distress. “I keep my ears open for everything, and I have my sources. Besides, Kit came back to town this winter and he mentioned seeing Mary at a party the other night, but not Cassandra. He found that odd, as Mary is not nearly so keen about social activities as her sister.”

“No, not by half,” Geoff murmured, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. “What do your gossips say about Cassie these days?”

“Same as they always have done,” Colin said with a shrug. “I keep thinking it will die down, but Wyndham’s sister Felicity came out last season, you remember, and she is everywhere these days, and whenever she is…”

“…the comments continue,” Geoff finished with another sigh. “I hate London.”

Colin smiled thinly. “Yes, I know.” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “What are you going to do?”

“Well, since I cannot force them to stop talking about her…”

“Not likely, no. Everybody likes you too much to take you seriously,” Colin commented with a snort.

Geoff rolled his eyes. “At least my reputation is a good one.”

That brought a grin to Colin’s face. “Touché.”

He sat forward and rubbed his hands over his face. “What if I just throw caution to the wind and take her somewhere myself?”

“Alone?” Colin winced. “I don’t think so. What about Christian?”

“My brother?”

Colin nodded immediately, looking thoughtful. “What if you and Christian take both girls to the theater tomorrow? Nobody would think very much of the Harris brothers escorting the Hamilton sisters, everybody knows how close your families are. And Christian is so fresh to Society that nobody’s had time to think anything of him at all but his family’s reputation, which, thanks to his wonderful, kind, good-hearted, gentleman-like brother,” he paused to indicate Geoff a touch dramatically, to which Geoff merely smirked, “is nothing less than immaculate.”

“He does have other brothers, you know,” Geoff muttered, feeling more than a little embarrassed by the exuberant, if mocking, praise from his friend.

Colin shook his head, still grinning. “The other three have nothing on your reputation, Geoff, and you know it.” He sat back with a satisfied sigh. “I knew it was a brilliant idea, I ought to trust myself more often.”

That would not have been entirely wise, but Geoff thought it best to say nothing. After all, this was Colin’s home, and if he thought himself so very clever within its walls, then who was Geoff to tell him otherwise? And it really was a good idea. Colin was a good deal cleverer than people gave him credit for. But that, too, was not to be spoken of.

“So your brother is back in London, is he?” Geoff asked as he relaxed further into his chair. “I thought Kit was determined to avoid town forever.”

Colin shrugged and helped himself to some more food. “So did I, but suddenly last week, there he was. You know, you would never think it, but he is actually one of my chief sources of gossip.”

He was right, Geoff didn’t think it. “How is that, exactly?” he asked with a laugh. “Your brother never speaks badly of anybody. He barely speaks at all.”

“I didn’t say he joined in the gossip,” Colin said with a wag of a finger. “He just hears everything and tells me about it. He can be quite elaborate when he chooses to be.”

Geoff gave him a disbelieving look. “I find that very hard to believe.”

“Would you like a demonstration?” Colin asked politely, his eyes sparkling mischievously.

“I think that would be called for under such circumstances.”

“Well, then,” Colin began smugly, rubbing his hands together, “here you are: Mary Hamilton was at the party at Lord and Lady Carteret’s Thursday evening. She spent most of the night near the west wall, near a window with dark green draperies. She wore a grey dress and a gold chain. She danced exactly four times.”

“Did she, indeed?” Geoff interrupted, feeling a small burst of pleasure. “With whom?”

BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
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