Previously on Mistaken Identity- Conrad left the party to return home to make arrangements for the rally. On his way home he stopped to see the Duke of Shearsby, the cousin of Miss Standish. Jes made a trip to town, only to discover Lord Ian was a bigger cad than she believed. The outing ended in disappointment and a rain storm.
Ever since she returned from town wet and angry two days prior, Jes watched Lord Ian from afar. It was not difficult to avoid direct contact with him, he acted as if he had no idea of her existence. At first her heart hurt and she found herself near tears more oft than not, relegated to her previous role of observing him over the tops of tea cups and fans or through lowered lashes when he was engaged in conversation with someone else.
Today, however, she found she no longer desired his attentions. But it did not follow she was not curious about him. There were still so many questions, so many inconsistencies left unanswered. In truth, she was disappointed in herself. How could she have been so completely deceived by him? How had she allowed herself to give her heart to such a man? Hours had been spent examining all her thought and feelings. She scoffed as she thought of her earlier notions of how much she had matured and now knew what love truly was. It appeared she was an even bigger fool now than when she had first started her silly fantasies about Lord Ian when she met him in London.
Jes walked around the corner of the house in search of the activity planned for the day. She spotted the grassy area ahead. The lawn was filled with easels, some already occupied by ladies seated on a stool. Some held canvases and palates for oils, while the others held paper for charcoals or watercolors. She picked a spot and sat before a blank canvas. Picking up her palette, she walked to the table holding an assortment of oil paints, placing an array of colors on her board.
After returning to her seat, she looked around, evaluating which view spoke to her the loudest. Using a pencil, she roughly sketched the outlines of the grounds around the far end of the lake. It was understandable why Miss Graystock had chosen to set up the easels in this location. The view was quite breathtaking, but in a different way than the views she had from her bedroom window in Hartlepool. There her views of the Channel and the docks often elicited feelings of uncontrolled power and the unfairness of life. But the scene before her now was serene and peaceful.
With the end point of a paintbrush pursed between her lips, she mixed several colors together. Her shoulders eased as she fully immersed herself in one of her favorite pastimes. She had not painted since leaving her father’s townhouse in Durham, only now realizing how much she missed it. It was the first time, since arriving at this party, her eyes had not involuntarily sought out Lord Ian. She supposed he was still on the edge of the lake, fishing with the other men, but she truly did not know for certain, nor did she care.
Pulling the brush from between her lips, she dabbed the bristles into the puddle of prussian blue and then into the ceruse white. She brushed over the canvas from side to side, blending the two paints into the perfect color for sky. A little more white on her brush swept horizontal cirrus clouds across the sky. A soft sigh escaped her lips, her head titled to one side as she evaluated the scene taking shape on her canvas. This is the memory she would take with her back to her aunt’s estate in Nottinghamshire.
Wiping the brush against the cloth on her lap, she rubbed the brush into the celadon green. A hint of paint still remained in the bristles, giving the greenery around the lake a bluish tint. Her lips curved in a contented smile; the first one in days.
A ruckus on the lawn pulled her out of her joy. Lord Ian and Mr. Tierney laughed wildly, shouting to each other.
Jes scowled at them for disturbing her peace.
“I’ll wager I can catch a fish before you, Tierney.” Lord Ian waved his rod widely in the air.
“Oh, and what is the wager?”
“You have been eying my new gelding. It is yours if you land the first fish.” Lord Ian wobbled a bit on his legs, leaning precariously close to the shoreline.
“And if you land the first? What is it you demand of me?”
Lord Ian looked to be thinking when his eyes widened. “Horseflesh for horseflesh. I will get your stallion.”
Tierney rocked back a step, his face furrowed in thought. “I don’t know, Ian.”
Lord Ian gave a sharp laugh. “Don’t tell me you are pigeon livered.”
A touch on her arm pulled Jes from the ridiculous scene in front of her. “Excuse me, Miss Standish. Your mother has asked for you to join her in the blue parlor.” The maid dipped a curtsy and turned to leave.
Jes quickly washed her brush in the turpentine and laid it down on the easel, frowning at her unfinished piece. What did her mother need that could not wait until after the activity was over? Perhaps if she hurried, she would be able to return before everyone finished and moved on to something else. Or perhaps she could ask the Countess if there was an out of the way corner she could use. Jes wiped her hands on a rag as she stood.
She gathered her skirts and walked into the house. Stopping just outside the door, she heard talking inside the room. Her brow furrowed as she tried to place the familiar voice. All at once it came to her. A quiet squeal sounded in her throat. Pushing open the door, she practically ran into the room. “Cousin Tad? What are you doing here?” She embraced his wife. “Cousin Violet. It is so good to see you both.”
She pulled back from them, looking to her mother for an explanation. Lady Rachel motioned to the chair next to her with a tilt of her head.
Jes sat down on the edge of the seat. The Duke of Shearsby’s arrival was odd at best. She looked between him and his wife, questions forming in her brain faster than she could ever have asked them.
As if sensing her growing impatience, her cousin sat down on the settee next to his wife. But his mouth remained closed as he studied her and her mother.
A sigh sounded to her side. “Yes, nephew? What brings you all the way to Yorkshire?” Her mother’s brow arched high.
“An acquaintance happened by Morley Park a few days past and in the course of our conversation, he mentioned you were here.” He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “It was a great relief. Upon hearing of the unfortunate demise of your husband’s ships, I sent numerous letters to you in Hartlepool. When they were all returned to me unopened several weeks back I confess, I became quite frantic to know your whereabouts.” He rested his chin on his entwined fingers.
Jes frowned. “We went to Aunt Lydia’s. And from there we came here. How was it so difficult to discover us? It is not as if we were hiding.”
“I figured that as well and sent word to Pavenham Hall. As best I can figure, my letters must have just missed you at each location. Although, why our aunt did not send word…” He scowled into his hands.
“My guess is she is holding the letters until we return. The duration of this party is only a fortnight. There would be no cause to forward correspondence unless it was urgent.” Lady Rachel gazed pointedly at the duke. “Once you discovered where we are hiding,” she said with a smirk. “Could you not have sent a letter? Must you have taken the time to travel all this way? I feel terrible to have pulled you away from your duties. And to what end? As you can see we are both well.”
Cousin Tad returned her narrowed gaze. “As I said, I have not had much success with correspondence of late.” He sat back in his seat, shaking his head. “Besides, the information I need to discuss with you both are far too important for a letter. I felt it best to deliver it in person.”
Everyone sat looking at one another, no one speaking for a moment. Finally, Lady Rachel broke the silence. “What, pray, are these matters which require you to make a two day journey?”
The duke glanced at his wife, who nodded encouragement. He resumed his position, his elbows on his knees. “It has come to my attention you have been left in a… precarious financial position after dispensing with the debts left by your late husband’s death and the loss of his ships.”
Lady Rachel dropped her eyes to her hands, twisting them in her lap.
The duke turned his eyes on Jes. Heat crept up her neck. Unable to look him in the eye, she also dropped her gaze.
“Come now. There is no call for embarrassment. We are family, are we not?”
Her mother took a deep breath.
“I have come to offer assistance.”
Jes’s head jerked up as her mother shook hers. “We are not your concern, Your Grace.”
Jes cringed. Her mother only used the duke’s title when she was at odds with him, which was not an oft occurrence. The two had developed a fondness for each other upon meeting.
Jes laughed, her hand coming up quickly to cover it. The duke’s American upbringing did not surface often.
Lady Rachel arched a brow in challenge.
He ran a hand along the back of his neck, a sigh hissing from his lips. “Just hear me out, aunt.” He shifted in his chair, tapping his finger tips together. “I am here to offer you the use of the dower house at Morley Park for as long as you have need of it.”
Her mother’s mouth dropped open slightly.
“I will provide Jes with a dowry of ten thousand pounds and pin money for the both of you.”
Jes gasped, her head shaking slowly. Was he in earnest? A dowry of that size was almost twice what her father would have provided. Her throat felt thick and tears began to prick in her eyes. In a matter of moments she had gone from a pauper to a lady of wealth.
Lady Rachel shook her head vehemently. “No, Your Grace. We cannot possibly accept.” She stood, smoothing her hand over her hair, putting nonexistent strays back into place. “It is too much.” She walked towards the door.
The duke stood also, placing a hand on her arm. “Please, aunt. I mean no offense. You have been the closest thing I have to a mother here and I would provide for my mother and sisters. Please, let me do this for you. Both of you.” His eyes pled with them to accept. “Besides, we both know you do not wish to return to Nottinghamshire. I know what it must be like to be under Aunt Lydia’s thumb.”
“Lydia has been very kind to us.” Lady Rachel raised a shaky hand to her cheek. “What do you wish me to say, Tad?”
“Say you will be joining us at Morley Park upon quitting this house party.”
Jes held her breath and bit her lower lip. Her stomach twisted into knots. It was as if her entire future balanced on the edge of a cliff, ready to crash to the earth with one shake of her mother’s head.
Lady Rachel squared her shoulders and nodded twice. “I always loved the dower house when I was a girl.”
Jes and the duke both exhaled, at the same time— great whooshes of air, causing laughter to fill the room. While Jes was relieved, she was also a bit befuddled. How was such generosity to be repaid?
A maid brought a tea tray into the room. The duchess inclined her head, indicating Lady Rachel could pour out. The ladies began to chat as the tension in the air began to clear. Jes leaned closer to her cousin. “Thank you, Tad. It is more than most relations would do.”
The duke winked at her. “We are closer than most relations. As I said, I think on you as a sister. I only wish I could have found you sooner.”
Her thought’s returned to his earlier conversation and confusion knit her brow. “Who did you say informed you of our whereabouts? I do not believe I caught the person’s name.”
A sly smile turned the corners of her cousin’s mouth. “You did not hear it because I did not say.”
Jes opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off. “And I gave my word I would not speak the gentleman’s name. So please, Jes, do not ask again.” The sparkle in his eye brought a smile to her lips, even as she narrowed her eyes at him. “But I can assure you, he is a great admirer of the lovely Miss Standish.”
Heat warmed her cheeks at the notion she could have a secret admirer. But as they moved into polite conversation, the question continued to nag at her. The earlier relief she had felt tempered as new questions of a mysterious gentleman filled her head. She thought back on the other guests, unable to recall anyone leaving the party early. She looked up at Tad once more, her mouth open in question.
He raised a brow and gave a slight shake of his head. Jes knew she would get no answers from him, but she also knew she would not be able to let it go.
Conrad rubbed the wax stick in a circular motion over the folds in the parchment. He removed the signet ring from his small finger and pressed it into the red puddle, before placing it on top of a stack on the corner of his desk. He stood and moved to the bell pull, summoning the butler into his study.
“Yes, my lord?” The man had a way of appearing without a sound and in record time.
“Have the messengers returned yet?”
The butler nodded. “Two have returned within the last hour. The other two arrived in the early morning.”
Conrad nodded as he walked back to his desk, retrieving the stack of missives. “Frampton, make sure they all have a good meal and rest before you send them back out.” He handed the letters over to the servant. “These are the last of them, but it is vital they reach their destination by nightfall tomorrow.” He gave detailed instructions to the butler about which rider was to deliver messages to which gentleman. With this last batch of letters, all of his contacts would be notified about the change in plans for the rally.
Frampton bowed. “Very good, sir.” He turned and left.
Conrad stretched side to side, trying to work out a few kinks from his neck and back. He looked about the room. There was nothing else in need of his attention. It was lulls such as this when his mind drifted to Miss Standish. She was never far away, waiting in the back of this mind, constantly drifting into his dreams. What was she doing today? Had she planned to go on any outings? If so, where would they visit and would she make up fictional stories with someone else. Possibly even Ian? His stomach burned at the thought.
He grunted in dissatisfaction. A distraction was needed until he could rid himself of her completely. Perhaps the library could offer some diversion. He had been meaning to employ a different means of organizing the shelves— a task he had intended to set a maid to work on, but given his current state of mind, Conrad decided to begin the enormous undertaking on his own. He moved to the nearest shelf, pulling an arm load of books to his chest and carrying them over to the table.
Turning back towards the shelf, he was stopped when his gaze caught sight of something sticking out of the top drawer. He pulled it open so as to push the offending parchment back inside, when a map caught his eye. It was almost identical to the one he had examined with Miss Standish at Somerstone. Without thinking he pulled it out. Pushing the books to one side, he laid the map on the table. His finger tracing the coastline as his eyes closed. He could still smell her, as if she stood next to him. A growl sounded in his throat, his hands fisted at his side. This was not the room to vanquish her memory. While she had never been in his home, he did not think he would ever see a library that did not conjure her memory. He sighed. It was a pity, for he very much enjoyed the library. Or rather he had.
He had had plenty of time to evaluate his actions while he stayed at Morley Park. Guilt twisted in his stomach. He was disappointed and frustrated with himself, allowing his pride to dictate his behavior, propelling him to leave without so much as an explanation about who he was, much less how he felt for Miss Standish. His decisions, after thinking upon them far too often, may have caused Miss Standish unhappiness. Although, Ian had promised to be kind to her, so perhaps they were even now spending time together.
While it made Conrad glad to think she was happy, his chest still constricted at thought of her with anyone, but especially the likes of his brother. He ran an agitated hand through his hair. Would he ever be able to think on her without a degree of tightness in his chest and churning in his stomach? At this moment, it seemed an impossible task.