"Where are we?" he asked his driver when the man stopped suddenly. They had been following Sir Harry's mystery woman, who had left his rooms dressed in mourning from head to toe, and now they were at...
"Whitehall, my lord," said the driver.
Whitehall? What were they doing here? Telling his coachman to wait, he followed the shadowy lady to the War Office, where he heard her ask to speak to someone in charge.
"And you are..." a slimy little clerk enquired with a sneer.
"Lady Wade, here to see about recovering the remains of my dear, departed stepson, Sir Stephen Wade." She sounded as if she had been weeping, and he marveled at how well she could act. Perhaps she was an actress. There had been more than one green lad caught in the clutches of a female who thought she was good enough to be on the stage.
"Just one moment, my lady." The clerk's voice became more solicitous, but he leered at her as she was directed to wait on a bench.
Leaving her to wait, Jarrod strolled down the hall to a friend's office, and went inside just as the oily little clerk was bowing his way back out again.
"Ah, Jarrod," Lord Varney called. "Just the man I was thinking about."
"Sir Stephen Wade?"
"Yes! How did you...never mind. I've learned never to doubt your sixth sense, man. It kept us all alive many a day and night. Any luck?"
"No." Jarrod sat down with a sigh. "I have my own brother in Belgium now, trying to discover what happened."
"Nasty business, this. No one saw the man fall, no one could find his body. It was if he had just vanished off the face of the earth."
"I know. He must be somewhere, dead or alive. As you can see, I am not alone in this."
"Well, I wish you luck. But what should I tell the lady?"
Jarrod frowned. "Tell her the case is closed."
"I do not wish to have anyone, regardless of their ties to Wade, interferring with this investigation." So I can stop being a guardian and go back to my own life, he silently added, and keep Harry safe from upstart little fortune hunters. "I'll keep in touch."
Placing himself just outside, he watched as the lady in black stormed out of the building a short time later and angrily hailed herself a ride. So, she did not like the news. It must have put a period to some of her plans. You are going to like what I'm about to do to a whole lot less, he silently told her as he watched her hackney carriage drive away.
Jarrod spent the afternoon in his study, catching up on business and plotting his expose of the woman who had her clutches in his ward. His plans were just getting interesting when there came a knock at the door.
"I do not wish to be disturbed..." he called. Whomever it was ignored his words.
"Fine, I will go back to Belgium," Lord Michael complained from the doorway. "Although I don't think they appreciate me there, either. I was making a dashed nuisance of myself, or so I was told."
"You're making a dashed nuisance of yourself, here, too. But come in and tell me what you discovered. Any sign of wade?"
He watched as a slightly shorter, younger and slimmer version of himself poured a glass of wine from the grog tray and made himself comfortable in front of the fire. Jarrod gave up the work on his desk and joined him, the brothers stretching their long legs out towards the warmth of the hearth.
"Nary a one. I've taken to going from farmhouse to farmhouse, though. A couple of them still harbor some of our men. I investigated each of those claims, however, and not one of 'em was Wade. One was named Saunders and he was hiding from his wife and children in Manchester, and a Mr. Morton was just regaining his strength after a serious leg injury. I left him some money for passage home when he is able, and have written to his family for him."
Jarrod frowned. "What about Saunders?"
"I gave him a lecture about responsibilities and left him some money, too. I hope his conscience gets the better of him, but just in case, I'm going down to Whitehall tomorrow morning and getting his family's direction. I think they will be pleased to hear their dear old husband and father is very much alive."
The marquess laughed along with his brother, but inside he was wondering what to do next. For the time being, he needed his brother at home. "If I increase your allowance from father, would you do me a favor?"
"I was hoping I could stay home for awhile, Gabe. I want to sample some of the delights of the season," he admitted.
"And so you shall. Young Wade is in town with his cousin, and while he doesn't need a keeper, I still feel responsible for him."
"Why don't you just ask him what his plans are every morning at breakfast? And his cousin is with him, you say? Is she pretty? Is she staying with mother?"
"Why would you think the cousin is female?" he asked suspiciously. He didn't want anyone else thinking along those lines, or his plans would be ruined. "Sir Harry is staying in rooms on Half Moon Street, and his cousin is a gentleman. A Mr. Pennington Wade, recently arrived from Jamaica."
"So no pretty cousins..." Lord Michael's face fell. "Does he have a sister?"
"Yes, and she's in Berkshire, which is where she will stay. For the time being, at least. I had thought to send her to mother, who suggested it in the first place, but I would rather find her brother and let him deal with her."
"You don't want to deal with young Wade, either, do you?" his brother correctly surmised. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that was included in the guardianship?"
"Devil take it, Michael! It was a guardianship I did not welcome. All I want to do is be left alone." He was angry, but his words did not reflect anything but mild annoyance. Still, his brother had not lived with him on and off for twenty-five years without learning to read his moods. It was a matter of survival.
"So you want me to keep an eye on Wade and his cousin? Lead 'em around a bit until they get their bearings? It's going to take extra funds, old man."
"I am prepared to give you a generous allotment." He named a sum that made his brother gasp. "Furthermore, I have a list of entertainments I wish you to engage them in, so that they are allowed to taste many of the delights the season has to offer to a young man. Manton's comes to mind, but I do not know if they can afford to shoot a few wafers. Hence the allowance."
Michael looked at his brother, as if trying to ascertain what kind of game he was playing. It was unlike Gabriel to pawn his ward off on his brother and then offer to keep them all in funds. He wondered what kind of gentleman Sir Harry was that his brother, despite protesting Wade's need for a keeper, was providing him with one after all.
"I have no problem leading the Wade cousins about by the nose. But why do you not just hand the lad the blunt and be done with it?"
"I believe the boy is proud, as is his cousin. Wade has probably already spent his allowance this quarter, and I found the cousin earning his in the card room at mother's ball. I do not want them to feel they should accept my charity. However, if you make friends with them and casually offer to pay every time you propose an entertainment, I believe you will find them willing to join you."
"And you. Will you be joining us as well?"
"Oh, yes," the marquess told him, green eyes glittering with a strange light. "I would not miss this for the world."
"So when do we begin?"
"Tonight. They are coming to dinner."
"I do not like this, Harry. Jarrod makes me nervous. Why in hell did you have to accept his blasted invitation?" She had been harping on the subject for a good half a day, her anxiety increasing the closer it came time to present themselves at Jarrod House.
They were met at the door by a wizened old butler with warm, sherry-brown eyes and wispy white hair who introduced himself as Parker and showed the gentlemen into the library. A younger copy of Jarrod sat in front of the fire, blowing a cloud, but jumped to his feet when he heard the Wades announced.
"Thank you, Parker. Come in, come in," he invited the twins. "I'm Lord Michael Roth, and you must be Jarrod's ward, Sir Harry," he guessed correctly, holding out his hand to Harry. "And you are Mr. Wade. Welcome to Jarrod House. I hope once you dine here you will reconsider Jarrod's invitation to stay..."
"Actually..." Harry began just as the door opened and Jarrod himself, in stark black and white evening dress, appeared.
"Actually, Michael, Sir Harry is an independent soul who relishes the company of his cousin and does not wish to impose on his poor, decrepit guardian. Did you not offer them a drink?" he asked lightly of his brother.
"We had only just met," Michael replied, frowning at Jarrod's overly-jolly demeanor. He only acted like that when he was...well, acting. Michael had gotten in trouble plenty of times in their childhood until he learned that jovial manner hid one of Gabriel's schemes. He did not see Penelope narrow her own eyes in distrust of Jarrod's tone of voice.
"In that case, may I interest you in some Scotch whisky, Sir Harry? I have some rum here, Mr. Wade, directly from Jamaica." He did not wait for an answer, but poured them each a healthy glassful. Harry looked at his doubtfully, but took a sip and began to cough. Penelope tasted hers, declared it perfect and then took a large gulp. She could feel Jarrod's eyes boring into her as she drank, but she had always been better at holding her drink than her brother, and did not embarrass herself at all. She wanted to raise her glass in salute to his lordship's ploy, but held her hand. Her nervousness having fled with the tot of rum, she relaxed and prepared herself to play whatever game his lordship had in mind.
Dinner was announced shortly thereafter, and the four "gentlemen" dined sumptuously on beef and lamb, with several side dishes, a fruit and cheese course of pears and Stilton, and then port and cigars. If Jarrod was tormenting her for some reason of his own design, he was going about it the wrong way, she thought with glee. She expertly lit her cigar and blew her smoke in his direction.
Jarrod was watching her carefully and plying her with port whenever her glass became empty, but he was silent.
"I have a proposal, young Wade," he finally said to Harry.
"It seems I have been remiss in not providing you and your cousin with entertainment while in town."
"But that's not necess-"
"Yes, it is. I am your guardian, absent as I sometimes seem..."
Penelope snorted. Absent as you always are.
Jarrod looked in her direction but said nothing to her. "You must see something of London while you are here, but I would be remiss in not sending you out without a guide. Michael has volunteered to assist me in showing you around. Not that I believe you are too green to navigate the town by yourselves. Far from it. However, Michael has inside knowledge you might not have available. What do you say?"
"I say, Jarrod, you're a regular out and outer!" Harry exclaimed. "When shall we begin?" If Penelope had been sitting any closer to her brother, she would have kicked him.
"Why not tonight?" the marquess replied, a small smile on his face. Penelope was immediately on her guard, but even she was not prepared for his next words. "I thought we would start at White's."
After a moment of shock, where she noticed the marquess was staring at her once more, Penelope shrugged and allowed White's was as good a place as any to begin an evening.
"And you, Mr. Wade, I believe, are the card player. I'm sure there will be something to amuse you at White's along those lines."
"I'm sure there will be," she said in her husky voice.
If Jarrod looks at me for a reaction one more time, Penelope told herself after short hops through White's, Brooks' and Boodles', I'm going to scream. Just what he hoped to accomplish by exposing her to every gentleman's club in St. James, she did not know, but she was beginning to have her suspicions. Fortunately, she could act male with the best of them, or her goose would have already been cooked.
He suspects something, she surmised, but he's waiting for me to hang myself. She had news for him - she was about as stubborn as the day was long. Fortunately, she was as sober as a judge, as well. Lord Michael was bosky by time they left Brooks', and when they ended back at Jarrod House for a nightcap - at three o'clock in the morning - Harry was properly shot in the neck as well. Only Jarrod and Penelope had stayed relatively sober, both because they had been a tad more temperate in their drinking than their more extroverted siblings, and, also, they seemed able to hold their alcohol a bit better.
The four were clustered back around the fire in the study, Lord Michael snoring loudly in a large leather chair, Harry curled up on the hearth rug singing softly to himself, and the other two sitting on the sofa with their feet stretched out. Jarrod nursed a brandy, and Penelope was sipping rum once more, again not of her choosing. She hated rum, making it easy for her to drink slowly.
"So, Wade, how do you like Jamaica? You must keep a lot of slaves on your cotton plantation..."
"All of my workers have been freed. Perhaps that is why it is less profitable at my plantation than at others. But we do not grow cotton, we grow sugar cane." Feeling another test coming on, she steeled herself for more questions, having crammed as many facts about the Caribbean into her head before she left for London. Just in case.
"And what did you do during your leisure time?" he wanted to know.
Penelope thought about that one for a moment. Her own favorite pastime would fit into her reply perfectly and her eyes assumed a far-away look. "I would go fishing. We are not far from the water," and her mind took her to the little stream running through one end of the Oak Hill property, "and I even had special fishing clothes. My, er, mother does not like me wearing my better clothing for such an activity. Down to the edge of the water I would go, with little lures I made myself. I have a hat that keeps my lures for me when not in use..." She tried not to choke on that one. Stephen had often complimented her on the variety and excellence of her lures. "The fishing is good there..." It wasn't Jamaica, so she didn't mention the trout, hoping he would not ask what type of fish she might catch.
But Jarrod was silent and must have given up the fight for the moment. She turned slightly and watched his profile as he sat staring into the flames. She wished she knew what the man was thinking.
A soft snore was her only reply.
She sat there for a long moment, watching him. In sleep, his face relaxed and he looked positively angelic. Lucifer was an angel before his fall, she reminded herself with a sigh, and nudged Harry with her foot, determined to get him home.
Franklin slipped into Miss Wade's room that morning, quiet as a mouse, to check on her. The twins had arrived back at their rooms very early that morning, Miss Wade having to support her brother, who was still very much well to go. The valet had already been in to see Sir Harry, whose snoring was rattling the windowpanes, and figured that gentleman would be out another couple of hours. When he woke, Franklin was prepared with his special "morning afters" concoction. He had some for Miss Wade, too, but when she popped up from her bed with clear eyes and a smile, he was so surprised, he backed away and almost stepped on his cat.
"Here, kitty, kitty," Penelope called, unperturbed at the sight of the valet in her room. Winkle jumped up on the bed and began to purr as she scratched him under the chin. "Might I have some tea, Franklin?" she asked. "What is in that cup?" she added, seeing him with something in his hand.
"Some of the hair of the dog that obviously bit only Sir Harry," he replied with a sniff, a little put out that Miss Wade was immune to hangovers.
Penelope laughed, catching his mood immediately. "Do not fret, Franklin. I've been known to cast up my accounts a time or two from a night of hard drink. Once, Stephen, Harry and I took port from our father's cellar and sat up in the hayloft all night drinking. I was ill in the extreme. Harry, too. Of course, Harry always is... I was perhaps eleven at the time, so I believe I have had several years in which to practice the art of holding my drink. Harry never learned," she added with a grin. "I must have the same constitution as Stephen." She sobered at the thought.
Franklin cast her an understanding smile, having heard all about the Wade family quest for the return of their brother. It was, indeed, the only part of Miss Wade's masquerade he could approve.
"Is it late enough, do you think, to go to Whitehall? Today I shall appear as Mr. Pennington Wade. Being a poor widowed stepmother did not work, so perhaps being a gentleman will."
But she did not get the chance. No sooner than she had dressed for the day when Lord Michael and Jarrod called, the marquess looking none the worse for wear. Lord Michael appeared almost as downcast as Harry did when he was finally roused from his bed, and it was decided that the two men would stay there and recover under the tender ministrations of Franklin and Winkle. Penelope allowed herself to be persuaded to attend Manton's Shooting Gallery with the marquess.
She was quiet on the way to Dover Street, where the gunmaker had his shop and gallery, and she stayed that way almost the entire time she stood there and shot wafers. She was bored, for one thing. These were not the same as shooting birds at Oak Hill, and she tired of the sport quickly. Also, as Jarrod limited his own conversation to one-syllable words and grunts, she felt no need to entertain him. Instead, she concentrated on matching him shot for shot, collecting a large crowd around them eager to watch two such superior marksmen.
Again, as he did the evening he watched her play cards, Jarrod found himself unable to look away from her hands. She cradled the pistol gently, like a mother with its child, caressing the polished barrel with one slim hand as she lined up each shot. And yet he saw calluses, too, that denoted some labor on her part, wherever she had lived before coming to London. Having spent months on his estates helping his own workers, for he refused to expect any more from his own laborers than he, himself, was willing to give, her calluses might have matched his own.
Rejecting the urge to take her hands in his and outline each work-worn area with his own fingers, he became even more reticent and had already started to walk away by the time they finished. As she was surrounded by other gentlemen eager to congratulate her on her fine shooting, she did not realize he had quit her company until she found herself alone, pistol still in hand.
Returning to the front of the shop, she saw him in discussion with John Manton himself, and waited respectfully while the two finished their conversation. At a nod from Jarrod, she went with him to the carriage, an elegant barouche pulled by four bays.
"Shall we go for a short drive before returning to your lodgings, Mr. Wade?" he asked. He ordered the carriage out of Dover Street and down Piccadilly toward Green Park. As they approached the park, a contretemps ahead had stalled traffic and they were forced to keep the horses standing for a few moments. That was when Penelope spied the boys.
There were three of them, ragamuffins from the looks of it, and they were torturing a very small terrier, who cowered in fear.
"Oh, that I will not allow!" Penelope exclaimed. Without waiting, she leaped from the carriage and approached the boys, no regard to her person whatsoever. "You lads!" she called in her husky voice, and three sets of mean eyes looked in her direction without flinching. "Let that dog go this instant!" Aware, suddenly, that these boys were much larger than herself, frame-wise, she brought herself up short and was amazed when the lads took flight. She did not know the traffic had decided to move and the marquess, after ordering the carriage to be driven around the block, had come up behind her and was sufficient enough to scatter the boys. Heedless of all this, but knowing the little dog was safe, she knelt by its side and held out a fist.
The dog sniffed it and raised adoring brown eyes to hers, giving her a tentative lick. "Oh, you will be just fine now, my handsome lad," she crooned softly. "I must take you home with me."
"But will your landlady allow it?" the marquess asked.
Penelope jumped at the sound of his voice. "Most likely, no. But what am I to do?"
"You could bring him to my house. I have servants aplenty to aid in his recovery, and then we shall see about his future, shall we?"
She looked up and saw his green eyes soft with compassion for the little creature, and she was hard-pressed to hate him at that moment. "If you have a carriage rug, I could wrap him up," she offered.
Fortunately, the carriage had returned by then, and the marquess wasted no time in securing a rug for the dog. Penelope almost cried when the little thing whimpered, and she didn't wonder that it might be injured. Jarrod gave the order to return to his town house, and the dog nestled down onto Penelope's chest as if he planned to stay that way forever.
Penelope and the dog were ushered into Jarrod House with little fuss and escorted to the kitchens, where she was given a blanket for the pup.
"His lordship has called for a physician, sir," Mrs. Finch, the housekeeper, told her, "and Parker will bring him here when he arrives."
"You are too kind," Penelope told her, and sat with the poor little thing in her lap for more than thirty minutes before a doctor arrived, Jarrod hot on his heels.
"This is Dr. Timmons, Mr. Wade, and he has graciously consented to look at our injured little friend."
The doctor, who normally attended people, was an old friend of the marquess and used to his lordship having his way, and not very surprised to find himself examining a dog. What did surprise him was that Jarrod was on speaking terms with what was clearly a young lady dressed as a lad. But it was none of his business what people did in their private lives, and the dog required medical attention, so he bandaged what he determined was a sprained leg, and then took his leave without saying a word.
"Thank you, sir, for helping me with this poor creature," Penelope said to the marquess after the doctor had left.
"He will need a name," came the reply, which startled her. She was not aware he planned on committing himself to the canine that completely; she had been sure he was the type to just call it 'dog.' "He has been lucky in his escape from those lads," he continued, "and lucky, it seems, in his choice of companions. I believe Lucky would be an appropriate name."
"Then Lucky it will be," she agreed.
"Wherever have you two been?" Lord Michael wanted to know when they returned hours later to the Wade rooms. "I had thought a few rounds at Manton's would take about an hour of your time, and then you could return and we could have nuncheon together."
"We went to Manton's," Jarrod said. "Shot off a few rounds - my ward's cousin, it appears, is an excellent shot."
Penelope, who had come in from Harry's room, heard this last with much surprise. He had not thought to compliment her to her face.
"Well done, Wade!" Lord Michael called. "Your cousin, as you can see, is still unwell. Perhaps we should all leave him to that paragon of a manservant of yours. Wherever did you find such a treasure?"
"Franklin practically landed on our doorstep. But you two gentlemen run along to your meal. I will stay and keep Harry company." And make another trip to Whitehall, she decided.
"Nonsense!" Jarrod insisted. "Luncheon will be served soon at my house, and you will wish to check on the dog."
"Dog?" Lord Michael came to attention. "What dog? Jarrod, your dogs are never-"
The marquess put a finger to his lips to hush his brother. "Mr. Wade rescued a dog today, a dog that now resides at Jarrod House. Shall we repair there now and view his progress"
"As soon as I inform Harry of our direction," Penelope insisted and went back to her brother's room without so much as a by-your-leave from anyone.
"Harry, we are to go to Jarrod's for our meal. May I purchase you anything while I am out?" She looked at Franklin, still hovering over his patient, and asked him, too, if anything was needed.
"We are sufficient for the present, Mr. Wade."
"Go on, Pen, have a good time. If that's possible..."
"Oh, I believe I shall," she told him, beginning to warm nicely to Jarrod's game. The implications of her discovery notwithstanding, she was beginning to find her guardian an intelligent and engaging opponent.
She was having second thoughts about the "game," as she referred to it internally, later that evening, when she and Harry went with Lord Michael to the Sanderling ball.
Lord Michael, of course, was amused at Mr. Wade's propensity for dancing with wallflowers, thought it would be a lark of the first order, and entered into the scheme willingly, delighting a bevy of mamas. Lord Michael, although a second son, was to inherit his maternal grandmother's earthly possessions upon her demise, and the dowager's coffers were well filled.
Sir Harry, of course, would claim his whole inheritance in several months, and although rather young (and looking rather peaked that evening, if the truth be told, said one mama to another), was a worthy catch as well. Mr. Wade was not considered a secure catch, although a plantation in Jamaica was not to be sniffed at, but Lady Juno thought otherwise, and spent the better part of the evening, to her mother's chagrin, hounding her brother to secure her a dance with the gentleman. Not just any dance, either, but the supper dance, for she was sure if she staked her claim now, he could not possibly disappear at that time, as was his wont.
The viscount, tired of his sister's blatherings, caught up with Penelope just as she was about to quit the ballroom, and the hang-dog look on his face was too much, even for her. She found herself agreeing to partner Lady Juno for the supper dance, and was then taken by Coddy to greet his mother and sister so that she might tell Lady Juno the good news in person.
"Good evening, Lady Markworth, Lady Juno." Penelope executed a fine leg to the ladies. "Your brother has indicated your interest in dancing with me, Lady Juno, and I would be pleased to solicit your hand for the supper dance."
Lady Juno twittered behind her fan, as if she had not suggested any such plan, but she was quick enough to accept his invitation. Declaring herself ready for punch, she took Penelope's arm and insisted she escort her to the refreshments. Once there, Lady Juno made a special point of parading Penelope in front of all her friends.
"Isn't he handsome?" she asked one young lady. Penelope could only surmise that Lady Juno was an arbiter of fashion when it came to young men, because no sooner than she had announced Mr. Wade to be comely, but three young ladies all made a point of wanting to dance.
Penelope, seething with anger because she could not now retire to the card room gracefully, was forced to solicit dances from all three chits.
"I do not foresee cards in your near future this evening, young Wade," Jarrod said rather snidely just as Penelope was forced to stand up with Lady Juno for the supper dance. "But would be glad to take the three of you up with me afterwards, to White's."
Penelope could only nod as Lady Juno pulled her out onto the dance floor.
In a far corner of the room, Lady Wade watched with interest as her stepson, Sir Harry, made the rounds. Why he was dancing with stupid, uninteresting chits, she could not fathom. Then a chance remark from someone nearby made her sit up with interest.
"...And his cousin, Mr. Wade, is not worth much at all, but he is amiable and kind to my niece, who is such a wallflower! Wade, Mr. Pennington Wade. Sir Harry calls him Pen, isn't that amusing?..."
Lady Wade's eyes narrowed in thought and the wheels in her head began to turn.
It had been a long day, and even longer evening, by time Penelope and Harry returned to their rooms. Harry, jug-bitten once more, was singing a song about a dock worker and a doxy at the top of his lungs as he prepared for sleep, and Penelope, who had limited herself very carefully as regards to drink, was trying to ignore him. However, she could not blame Harry for his high-jinks. A chance conversation with Coddy, who had chosen to sit his partner with his sister at supper, revealed Harry to be rather studious at Oxford, even after his elevation to baronet had given him cause to shirk his school work.
"He don't get much of a chance to kick over the traces, as it were, at university," Coddy had admitted. "Takes his studies that seriously." She nodded, distracted by the large quantities of food being consumed by Lady Juno. It being her privilege to prepare that lady's supper from the buffet, Penelope had piled the plate as full as possible, hoping Lady Juno would concentrate on her food and ignore her; her wildest dreams had been realized. For the first portion of the meal, at any rate.
Once she determined herself to be full, Lady Juno superseded her brother's conversation and began to ask questions about Jamaica. To make matters worse, Lord Michael and his partner had joined them at that time, and all three young ladies at the table wished to know more about her alleged plantation.
"I hear you have more than three hundred black slaves working for you, Mr. Wade," Lady Juno admitted, batting her eyelashes at her above the table, squeezing Penelope's leg below.
"I have no such thing, Lady Juno. I have approximately one hundred workers, none of them slaves. They are all freed people."
"Yes," a Miss Partridge, Lord Michael's partner, interjected, "but they are so small!"
Penelope and Lord Michael exchanged glances, neither quite sure what she had meant by that comment.
"You are a silly!" Coddy replied before Penelope could think of an answer. "You are basing your opinion on seeing one blackamoor in your life, Lord Moreby's little page, Thaddeus. In the West Indies they are all above six feet tall and as broad as oaks. Even the women!"
"Oh, cut line, Coddy!" Lady Juno admonished her brother. "Everyone knows the women are even taller!" She took one little slippered foot and ran it up the length of Penelope's leg.
The conversation went downhill from there, and when Miss Partridge allowed that Mr. Wade was her partner directly after dinner, Penelope made some excuse and fled the room, Lord Michael directly behind her. The two escaped to the library, where their whoops of laughter brought Jarrod in to investigate. Penelope, who longed to share her added mirth at Lady Juno's antics with the other men, was particularly done up over the incident.
"If you lot are quite finished," the marquess said at one point, while Lord Michael and Penelope laughed themselves into tears, "I will make your excuses, Wade, and we shall all repair to White's." Without waiting for an answer, and indeed, the two were incapable of giving any, he returned shortly with Harry.
At White's, Penelope found herself seated at a card table with Jarrod while Lord Michael, eager to converse with friends, had taken Harry with him for introductions.
"No doubt Michael would have taken you, too," Jarrod drawled, "but I am in need of a partner who is up to snuff when it comes to cards. I've seen you play, young Wade, and have wondered if I should not have named that mongrel after you, instead." After that, he got down to business, and between the two of them, they fleeced all comers.
"Today, Harry, I must storm the gates at Whitehall and discover what I can about Stephen."
"No time, Pen. We're to go to Angelo's this day with Lord Michael."
"Fencing!" she scoffed. "How can you think of such things when Stephen is out there somewhere waiting for us to rescue him?"
"I'm thinking of such things," Harry retorted, "because I hope to get on Jarrod's good side and let him handle the job of finding Stephen. I have only one week before I must return to school. Let me enjoy it while I can."
Penelope, remembering Coddy's words from the evening before, softened and said she would go to Angelo's with them.
"Capital! And here is Lord Michael now, ready to take us!"
Penelope went along with the others to Bond Street, and looked longingly at Jackson's boxing saloon next door before entering the fencing academy. Fairly handy with her fives, she knew she could strip to advantage, but did not dare do so. It would prove too revealing. However, if she got the chance to see what was going on at Jackson's, she would not hesitate.
Even so, stripping off her coat and cravat at Angelo's was enough to almost put her to the blush. Almost. Especially when Jarrod entered in his shirtsleeves, carrying a couple of foils. Penelope found herself watching the way his shirt fitted across his chest, and staring at the blond hairs on his arms.
"Ah, well met Mr. Wade. I don't suppose you would care to fence?" Tossing her a foil without waiting for a reply, he raised one silvery brow as she caught it neatly with one hand. She had been given only rudimentary lessons in fencing, from Stephen, but she decided she could use that to her advantage, as well.
Jarrod was looking at her now, a very strange expression on his face, and Penelope glanced down at her person to make sure she was still in sufficient disguise. She had, in fact, left on her waistcoat, and the thin lawn of her shirt was only able to show her arms and her neck, but she still felt undressed in front of him.
"I would not mind receiving a lesson or two in fencing, my lord," she replied. "I fear I have only had basic instruction. Perhaps Lord Michael would be a more suitable partner for you?"
"Nonsense! Michael knows less than you, I imagine. In fact, I believe you fence very well, sir, more so than you realize."
Penelope understood him to be referring to more than just the sport, and she smiled. "Perhaps I do at that. It might surprise your lordship to know I have my share of 'foils.'"
"Oh, no, sir," Jarrod said softly. "I know exactly just how many 'foils' you have."
"I sincerely doubt that," Penelope said briskly, eager to change the subject before she said something she would later regret. "En garde!"
The two began to fence, drawing Lord Michael and Harry's attention, the parries and thrusts from Penelope just as skilled and controlled as Jarrod's.
"I believe you were not telling the truth," Jarrod exclaimed as he was forced to launch a counter-attack in the face of one of Pen's sudden onslaughts.
"Whatever do you mean, my lord?" Pen asked easily, pleased to find Stephen's few lessons remained in her head.
"You are either a quick study or had more than the scant lessons you claim."
"I must be a quick study," she told him cheerfully, happy to be holding own and trying very hard not to watch the way his muscles rippled underneath his shirt as he parried and thrust. It would not do to become distracted.
"We seem to be drawing a crowd," he noted after a few moments of trying to disengage his opponent. Penelope chose that moment to retreat, just as she had been instructed so long ago by her brother.
"Hurrah!" Harry cheered from the sidelines. "Stephen taught you well!" he cried, bringing Penelope and Jarrod to a sudden halt.
"Stephen?" Jarrod queried.
"Er, yes," Penelope prevaricated. "I had, on one occasion, the honor of visiting Oak Hill, a number of years ago. Cousin Stephen was most kind in giving me my 'scant lessons.' You remember, Cousin Harry, do you not? He tried to teach us both, but I am afraid I was the only one interested."
Harry laughed nervously and tugged at his cravat. "Heh, heh, I remember. My sister was..."
"His sister was most interested in the proceedings," Penelope said smoothly, "for I was fortunate enough to meet all my cousins on that occasion."
Jarrod's eyes narrowed dangerously. Protective feelings for a ward he had neither met nor wanted welled to the surface and he fought them down. It was true Miss Wade must be protected, but as long as he had this female under personal surveillance, there seemed to be no immediate danger.
"You are quite the worthy opponent, Mr. Wade," he admitted to Penelope, and again she felt he was discussing more than their fencing.
"I thank you, my lord. I believe, however, I have done enough fencing for one day."
"I would not be too sure of that," Jarrod said under his breath. "Shall we all adjourn to my house for luncheon and then visit my stables and choose mounts for a ride in the park?"
Everyone was in agreement, and after Penelope and Jarrod returned their wardrobes to their former elegance, the four strolled through Jackson's saloon, watched a round or two and then stepped out onto Bond Street.
That was when Penelope saw the beggar. The wizened old man was dressed in rags, in desperate need of a bath and a razor, and thin to the point of emaciation. But she would know those watery blue eyes anywhere, and it was all she could do to run over and fling her arms about him.
Her good sense came to the fore, however, and she calmly pulled Harry aside.
"Harry, do you see that poor old man over there?"
"No - where?" Penelope rolled her eyes. Harry could be as dense as a pudding when he wished.
"That one! The one that looks like Carver, you bacon-brain!" Mr. Carver had been Stephen's batman.
"By Jove, that is Carver! Carver!" he called, running over to the beggar. "Carver was Stephen's batman," he told the marquess and Lord Michael. "My word, Carver! You look all done in!"
Penelope stood watching, holding back tears, not realizing Jarrod was watching her and not Harry, who was, by now, on his knees in front of Angelo's, his arms about the beggar.
"Come, Carver, you must come home with us," Harry was saying. "I have my own manservant," he began, but realized that Franklin was, in fact, more of Penelope's devoted slave. But while there might not be enough room for another servant, there was no way he was about to let an old family retainer sit out on the street. He and Penelope, who had come to his assistance in getting Carver to his feet, were surprised, then, when Jarrod insisted the man come to his home to recuperate.
"I daresay there is not enough space at your lodgings, and I have already become Mr. Wade's home for neglected animals. What is a person to that?"
Penelope, however, took offense at his words. "If it is that little to you, my lord, I wonder you even bother to offer your assistance," she snapped. "Franklin should be glad of the company and will be able to put the man to rights soon enough. I am sure we would never pawn my late cousin's batman off on strangers, would we, Harry."
Harry, who had actually thought Jarrod's suggestion a rum one, was now confused. Pen wanted Carver well taken care of, so why should she balk at Jarrod's offer of care and feeding? He said as much, and Jarrod nodded.
"Indeed, when I was going to set my own man to watch over him? Come, Mr. Wade, surely Mr. Franklin has plenty to do without having to nurse a man back to health? Besides, I would hardly call myself a stranger, even on such a short acquaintance."
Harry, considering the matter closed, insisted on personally escorting Carver to the carriage, where he settled him with care and allowed Jarrod to give direction back to his home.
Jarrod raised one eyebrow at the thought of Sir Harry gaining the upper hand, but for some reason, Mr. Wade did not seem to be as put out as he had expected, and he had to be content with knowing his ward was not quite the flat he had first taken him to be.
With Carver settled, Lucky inspected for improvement and a splendid luncheon of roast beef, potatoes and haricots vert out of the way, the gentlemen went to the stable to choose mounts for their ride in the park.
"Mr. Wade, I have the perfect mount for you," Jarrod told her, letting Lord Michael and Harry wander off to look at the rest of the well-filled stable. "I have had him brought up from the country in hopes you would ride."
"You flatter me, my lord. I am certain I will-" She had reached the stall and found herself brought up short by a large chestnut gelding so like the one she used to have before her stepmother sold it out from under her several years ago, she almost cried out. He even had a small white spot above his nose...
"His name is..."
"Homer!" The horse whinnied at the sound of her voice and she hurried to his side. "Homer! It is you! I..." She turned and saw the marquess watching her carefully. "I beg your pardon..." Fortunately, Jarrod did not say anything to her. Instead, he called for the stable lads to saddle Homer for Mr. Wade, and went to see to his own mount, leaving her to whisper and nuzzle her former horse. "Oh, Homer! I have missed you! Excuse me," she asked one of the stable hands. "Do you know where his lordship acquired this animal?"
The lad nodded and said the big bruiser had been purchased at Tattersall's just a few months prior, and that the poor boy had had several owners before that. "He do seem to be taken w' you, sir," he added, and Penelope had never hated her stepmother more than she did at the moment.
"Hinty," Lady Wade whined, "where would one go to hire a man to follow someone else?"
"What?" Lord Hinton was not paying attention to her ladyship, as he was trying to tool his phaeton toward Hyde Park, something that kept his attention, as he was not known to be much of a whip.
"I want to have someone followed," she said with a pout.
"Now why in the devil would you want that?" he asked. "It ain't me, is it?"
"Of course not, darling. It's that blasted stepdaughter of mine!"
Hinton's eyes came alive with the thought of that stepdaughter. Hortense truly hated her, when her only misdeed was to have been born, as far as he could see. He never could believe half of what she said about the girl, which included how she hunted, fished and rode, refused to follow her stepmother's lead and be a lady, and how she was a dab hand at cards. Shaking his head, he thought he was going to have to stop thinking about some young lady he had never even met. If he could just get Hortense to quit harping about her, it might not be a problem.
Lady Wade, however, had gone off on a tangent he was only half listening to, insisting that Miss Wade was in London and masquerading as a gentleman.
"Nonsense! But if you want to have this fellow followed to make sure he ain't who you think he is," he told her, "I will have Slippery Ned, a man who does the odd job for me, come round to see you tomorrow and you may direct him as you see fit."
Satisfied with that answer, Lady Wade changed the subject. Much to his lordship's relief.
Hyde Park at the fashionable hour was filled with Corinthians, fribbles, dandys, sporting bucks, fops, Bond Street beaus, rakes and nonpariels of every sort. These gentlemen, quite naturally, were paired with and pursued by every sort of female, including chits, tabbies, ape leaders, diamonds of the first water, dowagers and members of the demimondaine. In Penelope's eyes, it was bang-up entertainment, reminding her of her first visit to Astley's as a child. Only this circus was much more amusing.
What she did not find amusing was how Lord Michael and Harry deserted them at the first possible moment, for a quick race, leaving her alone with her guardian.
"I do love an afternoon in the park," she said finally, not at all eager for conversation.
Jarrod eyed her with some amusement. "And what do you find so entertaining, Mr. Wade?"
Penelope chuckled. "Why, the people, my lord, the people."
"Anyone in particular?" he asked slyly, catching sight of a couple of acquaintances. "Good afternoon, Coddington, Lady Juno."
Penelope tried not to groan. Of all the people to meet in the park, only Lady Wade could have been worse. As fate would have it, a gentleman Penelope had never met pulled up to their party in a high-perch phaeton, her stepmother seated smugly at his side.
"Ah, Jarrod," Lord Hinton called. "Good afternoon." He nodded to Coddington and his sister, and then looked at Penelope. "I do not believe I have had the pleasure of meeting your ward, Sir Harry."
"Then you shall be obliged to wait until his return, Hinton. This is his cousin, Mr. Wade of Jamaica. Wade, Lord Hinton and your cousin's stepmother, Lady Wade."
"Hinton, Lady Wade..." So this was the infamous Lord Hinton. Penelope was pleased to say she had never met her stepmother's lover, although she had spent many an evening this past winter listening to that woman ramble on and on about how she was irresistible to the man. He didn't look like much to Penelope, but then beauty was in the eye of the beholder. He was too short, for one thing, especially when compared to someone like Jarrod. He was losing his hair and he was almost as round as he was tall.
"Can't keep my horses standing then," Hinton told them with some relief. He really did not relish meeting the stepson.
Penelope, too, gave a sigh of relief when the pair had trotted off. She did not quite trust the oily smile her stepmother had given her.
"Do you think she is pretty?" Lady Juno had brought her mount up next to Penelope's. "Lady Wade, of course. I think she is rather ugly."
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Penelope repeated aloud, not wishing to say anything else on the subject.
"Perhaps. I think your horse likes my little mare," she said coyly. "Don't you?" She fluttered her eyelashes at Penelope, who was surprised to see Homer actually touching noses with Lady Juno's mount.
"So it seems. You know, however, Lady Juno, that Homer is a gelding?"
Lady Juno shrugged. "What has that to do with anything?"
Penelope roared with laughter, and the lady turned bright red. "What did I say? Coddy!" She demanded, just as Lord Michael and Harry returned from their race. "What is he talking about?"
The viscount told his sister he was dashed if he knew. Lady Juno then repeated the conversation to Lord Michael, and everyone but she and her brother laughed again. Even Jarrod cracked a smile, and Penelope was amazed to see the man's face transformed. She wondered why she had ever thought him to be so evil. He had helped rescue the dog, and Carver, and he had inadvertently rescued Homer, too. If he had not also been so adamant in exposing her as a fraud, she might have even liked him. As it was, he still had much to answer to. She also had the sinking feeling he was not finished seeking his satisfaction where she was concerned. But what else could he do to her?
© 2003 Copyright held by the author.