Previously on Mistaken Identity: Jes is given the cold shoulder by Lord Ian while they are touring Wentworth Castle. When Jes is genuinely shocked that Conrad speaks to her after dinner, he realizes the only explanation is Ian has arrived at the party.
Jes bolted upright in her bed, her eyes scanning the room frantically. Raising a hand to her cheek, she felt a cold dampness there. Searching the room again, she fell back onto her pillow, pulling the covers up around her neck, trying to ward off the chill suddenly creeping up her skin.
Slapping her hands down against the bed covers, she chided herself. ‘Jes, you are chicken-livered!’ She scowled at the ceiling. It seemed her brain was conjuring cold wet kisses from a non-existent specter.
Jes let out a chuckle, shaking her head at her own absurdity. Throwing back the bed linens, she moved to the wardrobe to begin dressing for the day.
As she searched her gowns, she reviewed the days schedule in her mind. She did not recall anything being planned until cards after dinner.
A lavender day dress seemed the best choice. Laying it on the bed, she sat at her dressing table looking at herself in the mirror. Reaching over, she tugged on the bell cord, calling the maid Lady Du’Breven had assigned her. There were far too many buttons for Jes to manage her on own and a breakfast tray would be nice.
She was desirous for some solitude this morning. The library seemed the best place to spend her day. She would be able to keep her mind off ghosts and Lord Ian, while she immersed herself in a good novel.
Grabbing a handful of hair, she pulled her dark locks into a simple chignon at the back of her neck. It was not the most flattering look, but she had no intention of spending time with anyone who should care. Studying her reflection, she squinted back at herself. She had a few of her mother’s features, but not enough of them to make her stunning.
Her father’s blood ran more prominently in her veins. He had been a handsome man, but it had not translated well into a female. Or so she had been told numerous times. Her eyebrows were perhaps a bit too thick and her eyes too close together. Even her forehead seemed larger than was deemed acceptable for a female.
Turning her face, this way then that, Jes shrugged. There was nothing for it.
A light knock sounded on the door, just before a slight young girl slipped inside. “I’ve come to help you dress.”
As the girl finished fastened the last button, Jes ran her hands down the front of her dress. “Thank you Fanny.”
The girl eyed the knot at the back of Jes’s neck. “Are you sure I cannot dress up your hair a bit, miss?”
Jes shook her head. “No, Fanny. It is fine the way it is. I do not plan to leave the library, although I would appreciate your assistance in dressing for dinner.”
“Of course, miss.” Fanny began to pick up the nightrail lying in a pile on the floor, and straightening the bed covers.
“That can wait for later, Fanny. For now, could you please have a breakfast tray delivered to the library?”
Fanny murmured an assent as Jes walked into the hallway.
She pushed open the library door, peering inside, assuring herself she was alone. Moving to the shelves, she began to read the titles. Her fingers ran along each spine, the feel of the imprinted leather calming her.
After going through several cases of books, Jes still had yet to find one to read. She turned her back to the shelves, gazing about the room, not knowing what exactly she was looking for, until she spotted a table to one side.
It contained several long flat drawers. With a slight tug the top one opened, exposing several maps. Pulling out the top one, she studied it closely. Her chest constricted as her finger followed the coastline of the continent. Tears burned the backs of her eyes, memories flooding over her. A tear spilled over onto her cheek.
A slight breeze fluttered the edge of the map as the library door pushed opened. Jes looked up, expecting to see Fanny and her breakfast tray. Her stomach dropped to her toes when instead she saw Lord Ian carrying the tray.
He smiled. “I found your maid loading this tray with breakfast. After much coaxing, she finally confided in me where you were hiding yourself.” He set the tray on a table on the opposite side of the room. “I have found myself missing the library at Penymoor. Would I be imposing too much if I asked to join you?”
Jes’s brow furrowed as she stared at the tray. So it was to be amiable Lord Ian today? Her objective had been to have an day free of all things Lord Ian, most particularly the man himself.
His face seemed to fall, as he watched her nod her head. “I see. Well, I am sorry to have imposed on your solitude.” He bowed politely. “Miss Standish.” He reached the door in four long, quick strides.
When he reached for the handle, Jes heard herself call out to him. “Wait.”
He stopped, turning slowly around. His gaze riveted on her as he walked towards her, cautiously. As he got closer his face crinkled in concern. “Have you been crying?”
She ducked her head. First she practically begged him to stay with her and now he knew she had been crying. He must think her utterly ridiculous.
He stepped closer, the smell of sandalwood and soap wafting forward with the movement, almost overtaking all of her senses. Slowly and quietly she inhaled deeply, her eyes closing as her nerves crackled like the fire in the grate.
She looked down at her slippers. Her brain was going in a thousand different directions– part of her wanting him closer, while another wanted him to leave altogether. And then he tipped up her chin with his finger. She thought for a moment her heart had stopped until it thundered so loudly she was convinced he could hear it also. All thought fled from her brain— only a blissful void remained.
She looked into his eyes and her breath caught in her throat at the intensity there.
“Why have you been crying?” His voice was soft and kind, which made it even harder to swallow and force a breath out. She just stared at him for a moment and then she looked over to the table and map.
He followed her gaze with his own. His hand dropped to the small of her back, moving with her to the table. He looked from the maps to her with curiosity. “Reading maps made you cry? Is it the coloring the cartographer used or perhaps the penmanship is not to your liking?”
Her lips parted as she looked up at him in confusion. His smile fell away for the second time in a matter of minutes. “I am sorry, I did not mean to make light of whatever was troubling you. I have never been very good at handling a crying woman.”
A chuckle managed to push past the lump in her throat. It was enough to bring a half smile back to his lips.
“Although I do find the colors on this map a bit garish, they were not the cause of my tears.”
He turned towards the map. Placing a hand on table, he leaned over it. “Pray, I see nothing else objectionable enough to warrant such a strong reaction.”
Jes ran her finger along the coastline again. “My father was a tradesman. He had a fleet of ships, sailing in all directions in search of goods to bring back to England. He always traveled on one of the ships. He said it made for better prices if he could haggle for them himself.” She smiled at the memory. “Whenever he returned from a journey, he would pull out our map and trace the journey with my finger, telling me stories about every stop he made.” Her finger stopped on outline of Spain, tears pricking at her eyes again.
Lord Ian placed his hand on top of hers, tracing the outlines of Italy, Greece and the Ottoman Empire with her. Her breath hitched, as the heat from his arm seeped through the thin fabric of her sleeves.
“Is your father away now? Is that why you are sad?” He leaned towards her even move.
She shook her head. “No, the ship he was on became caught in a storm. It was lost, along with the rest of his fleet…That was almost two years ago.”
Their fingers stopped. He looked down at their hands and then up to her face. His eyes brimmed with emotion. She could see sadness and grief, but there was more. Something else she could not understand.
He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Gad. I am sorry to have made light of such a situation. You must think me a complete dolt.”
Her hand felt immediately cold once his was removed. “No!” She grabbed at his arm, both of their eyes drawn there. Pulling her hand away, she continued as heat colored her cheeks. “You could not have known the cause. Please do not chastise yourself unduly.”
He moved away, collecting two chairs and setting them down at the table. “Would you tell me about some of his adventures?”
Her stomach flopped and her heart nearly burst out of her chest. This was the type of man she could love. She swallowed hard. Did love. Everything she had believed was love, up to this point, seemed false and shallow. She squinted at him as she allowed the thought to settle in her mind.
Conrad smiled as he strode down the hallway, his nerves tingling with excitement and joy. He had spent a perfectly delightful morning scouring maps of Europe and India with Miss Standish. Who would have thought hearing about someone else’s journeys could prove so entertaining? They were so immersed in their conversation, she had completely forgotten about her breakfast until it had grown cold.
When she had finally excused herself to have tea with her mother, Conrad had wanted to tie her to a chair and lock the door, just so he could spend more time with her. Thankfully he was not prone to the outlandish. But now he was left restless, with nothing to do. Having already been on his morning ride, he roamed the halls in hopes of finding something to occupy his time until the evenings entertainments began.
The sound of ivory hitting ivory drew his attention. Following the sounds he found himself in the billiards room. Courtenay and Lord Felling were in the midst of a game. Conrad leaned against the door frame, watching the two play, few words being exchanged. Felling moved into position, his stick lined up with the ball, when he stopped and stood.
“Kendal? What are you doing here? I had no idea you were to attend this party also.”
Conrad opened his mouth, but Courtenay spoke first.
“That is not Kendal, it is his brother Lord Ian.” There was caution in his voice.
Felling walked over, eying Conrad closely. “I beg to disagree. This is Lord Kendal as sure as my father is the Duke of Somerset.”
Both men now stood in front of him, scrutinizing every freckle and line. Finally, Conrad could bear it no longer. “Pray, take a step back the both of you.”
Courtenay raised a brow. “Well?”
Sighing, Conrad nodded his head. Felling laughed, smacking him on the back, while Courtenay just stood there, shaking his head.
“Why did you not tell me from the beginning Kendal? We could have been making much needed plans.”
Conrad shrugged. “Do you know the scandal this will cause, if it ever gets out? Both Ian and I would be severely censured. And neither of us can afford that, although for entirely different reasons. So please, continue calling me Lord Ian, as much as it makes my skin crawl.”
Felling laughed loudly. “I am sorry I have missed watching this performance.”
Conrad scowled. “You do not know the half of it. My cad of a brother arrived yesterday and did not even make me aware of his presence.” A growl crawled from his throat. “While I was settling one of his most recent gambling debts, he was touring a nearby castle, making life unbearable for some of the more respectable guests.”
Courtenay smiled. “I can guess which guest you are speaking of. Oscar mentioned something about your odd behavior on the outing. I should have put it together.”
The remark earned Courtenay a glower. “And then, after I spent the evening making amends for his boorish behavior, he had the audacity to laugh and excuse me from the party entirely!” His body shook with anger at the memory of Miss Standish’s cold reception. “I have had it with him. I told him last night I would no longer be funding his carefree lifestyle. My father would turn in his grave to see what Ian has become.”
Courtenay shot Conrad a sympathetic grimace, while Lord Felling clapped him on the back.
Taking a deep breath, Conrad gestured to the billiard table. “Well, now you both know who I am, we have much to discuss.”
Courtenay looked towards the door. “It is too risky to discuss here. Too many prying eyes and ears. There is a parchment placed a statue. It has the details.”
Conrad nodded. “I am aware of the note. I saw you place it there before the musicale, but I have yet to find the room unoccupied. I am hoping to get my chance tonight, while everyone is engaged with cards and such.”
Felling moved back to the billiard table, lining up his shot. “I will admit, I am relieved to find you here. I was becoming concerned with the lack of information coming from your counties.”
Conrad pulled a cue from the rack. “You have nothing to worry about. Everything will be ready when the time comes.”