Previously on Mistaken Identity: Conrad returns to Somerstone. He happens upon Miss Standish and Miss Graystock while they are on a walk. He discovers the situation with Ian is worse than he originally believed. Jes, while abhorring Lord Ian, is having difficulty completely removing the pleasant memories of him from her mind and more importantly, her heart.
Conrad rubbed his hand along the back of his neck. He had scoured the entire estate looking for Ian, but like the rat he was, he remained holed up somewhere unbeknownst to Conrad. Most likely some local gambling establishment, or worse. He felt like a criminal slinking around the house, hiding in dark corners whenever he spotted anyone about. Conrad had been searching since arriving yesterday afternoon—had even taken his meals in his chambers, but he could not put off announcing himself to Lady Du’Breven any longer.
The time had come and he found himself outside her private sitting room. Breakfast churned in his stomach. Why was he nervous to meet with this woman? She was only a dowager countess— not the Queen mum.
He was anxious because she knew. She knew he was a besotted fool and was the only person, besides himself and Ian, who knew what an utter mess Conrad had made of this whole situation.
Taking in a deep breath and straightening his waistcoat, he knocked on the door.
Her lady’s maid opened the door, allowing him entrance, before curtsying and leaving the room.
The Countess raised her eyes from the book in her lap, looking at him over the spectacles perched on her nose. “Ah, Lord…” She paused, her brows arched in question. “Kendal?”
He grinned at her. “It is a pleasure to be here at last, my lady. I am sorry business kept me away until now.” He moved closer to her and dropped his voice. “I have witnessed what a mistake that has turned out to be.”
She removed her spectacles and patted his arm with her wrinkled hand. “It seems things have progressed most unhappily in the last few days. I believe you have a very difficult task ahead of you, my lord.” She said the last with a touch of pity in her eyes. “While I adore your brother— I know he is a scoundrel and a spendthrift, but he has never been anything a charming to me— he has made a muddle of things.”
He took a deep breath, the weariness settling on his shoulders. “Yes, it appeared so when I happened upon Miss Standish during her walk with Miss Graystock yesterday.”
The Countess scowled at him, her lips pulled into a tight line. “And yet, you are just now coming to see me.” When Conrad offered nothing more than a shrug, she gave a quiet grunt. “Yes, Miss Graystock told me of the meeting. At the time, she also believed you to be Lord Ian.”
“It is just as well. I would prefer to explain to Miss Standish myself, once I have been properly introduced to her.”
“I shall see to it the introductions are made before dinner tonight.” She put her glasses back on, turning her eyes back to her book. She glanced up when Conrad did not move.
He took a deep breath. “I wish you wouldn’t…at least not yet. I need to speak with my brother before I make my presence common knowledge.” He rubbed a hand along his neck. “And then I hope I may get a chance to explain things to Miss Standish.”
“I hope you have fortitude, my lord. She will not be easily swayed.” She removed her glasses again, tapping them against her lip. “Tell me, my lord. Are you above begging?”
Conrad squirmed under her scrutinizing gaze. “I had hoped it would not come to that.”
“Then you are a dolt.” She placed her glasses back on her nose and returned her attention to her book.
Conrad recognized a dismissal when he saw one, but he needed to ask. “Have you seen Ian of late? Do you know where I could find him? I have yet to discover his whereabouts.”
A slight huff escaped her lips, but she did not look up. “I do not take notice of the comings and goings of each of my guests, Lord Kendal. You are a resourceful man.”
Conrad offered a bow, feeling as if he had just been rebuked by his governess. “Yes. Thank you, my lady.”
Conrad tried not to swear under his breath. He was tired of taking all of his meals in his chambers. Who would have guessed in a house this large it would be so difficult to avoid people?
It was late afternoon and still he had no notion where Ian could be. Once again Conrad slinked about the halls of Somerstone hoping to discover Ian or at the very least find somewhere to hide out. Conrad turned down a hallway, a faint memory surfacing of finding Henry and Lord Felling playing billiards in the room to the right. Peeking his head into the room, he found it quiet and empty. This seemed an unlikely spot for Miss Standish to happen upon him.
He moved to the sticks sitting in the corner and selected one. Placing the balls in formation on the table, he moved to the opposite end and lined up the shot. His cue hit the balls forcefully, sending them scattering crazily around the table. He needed to rein in his emotions or he would end up jumping the balls off the table.
A sigh slipped from his lips. It did feel good to hit something, even if was not what he wished to.
He lined up his next shot and sent the ball flying to the end of the table where it hit the side and bounced, dropping to the floor. Laughter drew his attention from the runaway ball.
Ian stood just inside the doorway, a smirk on his face. “You have returned? Why the devil did you come back? And with only two days remaining on the invitation? You do realize the ball is tomorrow, do you not?”
Conrad straightened to his full height, his hand balling at his side. His relationship with Ian had been strained since their father’s death, but never had it reached the point of fisticuffs. Today may be the end of that assertion. “I was informed you were in need of rescuing from your own folly. Is it true? Do you not even have a horse to ride once you quit this house?” Conrad turned back to the table, afraid what he would do if he did not.
“It is only temporary.” Conrad did not need to see his brother to know he had shrugged the question off.
“Until I put out for another, you mean?” Conrad smacked the ball with renewed force. “Well, it will not be happening. Not this time. When I told you I was done paying your debts and making excuses for you, I meant it.”
“Oh?” Ian scowled. “And how do you suppose I will get home?” He moved forward, placing his hands on the edge of the billiard table.
“I do not care if you have to ride on the same saddle as Mr. Tierney or one of your other useless friends. Perhaps if you walked back to Penymore you would realize the mess you have made of your life.” Conrad took a deep breath. “Father would be…” He shook his head and moved to the other side of the table.
A hard edge entered Ian’s voice. “Did you really travel all this way to lecture me, Conrad? Come, brother. I know the real reason for your return. It is Miss Standish, is it not? What, did you learn of her dowry and decide she was good enough for you now?”
Conrad pushed past him, leaning over to line up his next shot. If he stopped, he would most like beat his brother with the cue. “I have no notion to what you are talking about. Miss Standish has no dowry. She told me so, herself.” The balls crashed against the side of the table. “Although, I find I agree with her request of you.”
Ian quirked one brow up.
“Stay away from her.”
Ian barked out a chuckle. “Oh? You have spoken with the chit? She has become quite high in the instep, has she not?”
Conrad straightened, placing the butt of the stick on the floor between his feet. He stared at his brother until Ian began to squirm. Shaking his head, Conrad turned away, his voice low. “I do not understand you. You have been given everything you desire and you appreciate none of it. I think it best if you experience life from the other side. Perhaps then you will realize what you had and tossed away as though it were rubbish.”
Ian stood still for a moment. His mouth opened but then closed without uttering a word. His eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared. “You think yourself so far above me. The grand Marquess of Kendal and I just the lowly dependent brother. I do not need you or your money, my lord.” He turned on his heel and ran directly into Miss Standish in the hallway.
Jes glanced from one Lord Ian to the other, trying to understand what she was seeing. They looked exactly the same, right down to the freckle under their right eye. Her brow furrowed.
The gentleman who had just plowed into her, backed up a few steps. He threw his head back laughed. “Talk of the devil.”
Jes gasped at the curse.
The other Lord Ian groaned and muttered, “Bad form.” His voice held a tone she recognized and suddenly all the pieces fell into place. She turned towards the man standing behind the billiard table. “You are twins.”
The one behind her snorted. “I thought you said she was clever. Personally, I have never seen proof if it.”
She felt the heat rise in her cheeks. She remembered the stories she and one of these men had made up. It had been the other one at the castle, telling her a bluestocking she was not. Jes swallowed hard. It was not difficult to guess which one was which.
The man behind the table moved around, standing closer than was comfortable. She took a few steps to the side, but was still able to look up into his gray blue eyes. Her stomach rolled as she recognized them. They were the eyes she had seen on the house tour and the ghost hunt— excited and passionate. They were the eyes which looked on her with so much compassion in the library. She just did not know which name went with which gentleman. Had it been Lord Kendal twirling her around the dance floor or Lord Ian? “One of you must be Lord Kendal and the other Lord Ian.” She looked up into the face of the man next to her, his brow creased and tense.
He prodded at the toe of his boot with the end of his stick, before he finally looked into her eyes. He bowed deeply, but she suspected it was more to avoid her gaze than out of politeness. “Lord Conrad Pinkerton, Marquess of Kendal. It is indeed a pleasure, Miss Standish.” As he said her name, he finally caught her gaze.
Lord Ian scoffed. “But, my lord, no one has properly introduced you. Do you think you will be able to weather the scandal?”
Jes tilted her head to one side. Lord Kendal and Lord Ian sounded very similar except for a few subtle differences which would be difficult to detect when they were not together. But when in the same place, there was a slight difference. Lord Kendal’s speech was more refined and there was a sense of authority in his tone. She nodded to Lord Kendal. “You were here in the first week— on the house tour and the ghost hunt.” It was not a question.
Lord Kendal nodded his head, but still would not hold eye contact with her.
She turned to Lord Ian. “And you have been here since when, the morning of the outing to town?” But that did not seem right. There were times before town when she had questioned his identity.
“I was here days before the trip into the village.” He smiled at her, but it was forced and false.
Now that she was really looking at them side by side, she could see other differences. The straightness of Lord Kendal’s posture or even the slight quirk of Lord Ian’s lip. How had she not noticed them before?
She folded her arms across her chest, a scrutinizing gaze leveled at both men. Looking into the gentleman’s eyes should have told her everything. Although, Lord Ian had not given her many chances to see his, except for the time in the hallway.
She turned her gaze to Lord Ian. “Indeed, you were here, much earlier. It was you at Wentworth Castle.”
Lord Ian bowed exaggeratedly, as if those were fond memories. “As I was just telling my brother, there was no need for him to return. We are getting on famously without him.”
“I heard a different story, Ian. Do you not have a horse to win back or some such?”
Lord Kendal turned to face her and for the first time really looked at her. The air seemed thinker, harder to breath. His voice dropped to a near whisper. “Now if you will excuse us, I have an important matter to discuss with Miss Standish.” Lord Kendal spoke to his brother, but his intense gaze never left her face.
How had she not noticed these differences? The longer she stood here, the more dimwitted she felt.
Lord Ian stomped his foot like a petulant child. “I will do no such thing. I have every right to be here. After all, I was the one invited. You were the pretender here, not me.”
Jes felt Lord Kendal’s breath move the small hairs on her neck as he sighed. He looked over to his brother. “It was not because I desired your life, I can assure you on that point.”
Jes could feel his anger rising toward Lord Ian. But looking at Lord Kendal, he was in total control—another difference between the two men.
She took a step away from them as they continued to argue. Lord Ian contending she had great affection for him and Lord Kendal disputing the claim.
As she listened anger built up inside, until she could hold it in no longer. How dare they presume to know her mind and make decisions for her. Neither man, for at this moment she was not sure either of them was a gentleman, had earned the right to court her, let alone determine her future.
Finally, she snapped. “I am not a horse at Tattersall’s for you to dicker and banter over.” She felt her throat tighten, making it difficult to swallow past the lump forming there. Her eyes began to blur and she knew within moments tears would begin to fall. It was a mortification she would not allow them to witness. Drawing herself up to her full height, she raised her chin and looked from one to the other. “You know what I think? I think you are a pair of jackanapes, and I want nothing to do with the lot of you. Good day, gentlemen.” The last word was spoken with sarcasm and disdain.
Turning on her heel, she walked quickly towards the door, barely registering the sound of her name as it echoed through the room. She rounded the doorframe into the hallway, picking up her skirts, she raced down the corridor as tears spilled onto her cheeks.