Previously on Mistaken Identity: Jes dicovers both Conrad and Ian in the Billiard Room. While she realizes Conrad was the man she had fallen in love with, she still cannot seem to forgive the lies he has told her.
Conrad spent the next day avoiding everyone, while trying to find the one person he was looking for. She had been quite elusive since their encounter yesterday and he had checked every room he could think of to find her today, but it was all for naught.
While it made his chest ache to think Jes wanted nothing to do with him, he could understand her reasoning. He deserved her disdain.
He had actually found an intriguing, intelligent and witty woman, and it seemed possible he would never be able to have her. The fates must be having their fun with him.
Conrad peeked into a small sitting room and found it empty. He moved to the chair by the low lying fire and slumped down, dropping his head into his hands. What a muddle he was in.
He leaned back, resting his head on the seatback of the chair, staring at the ceiling. An intricate plaster of vine looped around the perimeter of the room. Other thinner shoots moved towards the center of the room with leaves and blue flowers spread around the outer edges. It was not something he usually took note of, or had not until he had toured the house with Jes. They had named this the Blue Flower and Vine Room. He had no idea what the actual name was. It would have required him to payed attention to Miss Graystock while she had given the tour, which he had not.
Taking in a deep breath, Conrad focused on one flower, admiring the deep navy blue as it faded to an almost violet on the outer edges of the petals. A vibrant orange center accentuated the navy next to it.
His lids felt heavy, his lack of sleep catching up to him. He slipped into the darkness of oblivion, but it felt so peaceful he did not care.
“Excuse me, my lord.” The request trudged through a heavy sleep, his mind too thick to process.
“My lord, an urgent message has come for you.”
A hand gave him a quick shove in the shoulder, bringing him out of his sleep. He squinted around the slightly darker room. The early morning sun must have moved higher in the sky, for it was no longer shining directly into these windows.
His focus settled on the footman standing before him. He rubbed a hand over his face. “What did you say?”
“A message was just delivered— forwarded on from your estate. The rider said it was urgent,”
Conrad took the folded parchment, holding it closer to his face until his eyes cleared.
Suddenly, he was wide awake, staring at the wax seal. “Thank you, er Damen, is it?”
“Yes, my lord.” It sounded as if there was a note of disdain in his voice, but Conrad shook it off. His stomach twisted. He was not sure if he wanted to know what was in this letter. Although, Jes already believe the worst. This letter would not bring any more pain, if it did, indeed, confirm what she believed.
Conrad broke the seal and read the letter through quickly, then a second time. A small smile curved his lips. Regardless of how things ended with Jes, he was glad he could do this for her.
He stood up, stretching his kinked body. He had to find her, this information could not wait any longer. Then, if she would not have him, he would leave. In time the ache in his chest would go away and he could look at a map without feeling…what? He Joy only to be followed by remorse. His shoulders dropped a fraction.
Tucking the parchment into the cuff of his sleeve, he moved out of the sitting room. Once in the hallway, he looked back and forth, trying to determine where to begin his search. This house was so large, he was not sure if he would be able to locate her before they would need to begin readying for the ball.
Walking up and down the hallways, he poked his head in every room, making a quick perusal before continuing on to the next. He glanced his head into the ballroom, the opulence drawing him in. One of the maids spotted him and came over.
“Can I help you find something, my lord?”
He hesitated. “I was wondering if anyone had seen Miss Standish of late? A letter was delivered for her.” While technically not true, the contents of the letter were undoubtedly for her.
The girl shook her head. “I can ask the others, see if anyone has seen her.”
Conrad nodded. He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling the eyes of all the servants in the hall looking at him. Several of the maids nodded their heads.
The maid returned. “Sarah and Jane saw her walking to the third floor, my lord. The nursery wing.”
Conrad offered the girl a brief bow. “Thank you very much. I shall continue my search there.” He had no idea why she would be on the top floor, but he had no other ideas of where to look.
Finally stepping onto the landing of the third floor, he spotted the entrance to the nursery. A smile curved at his lips as he remembered the gooseflesh which had dotted Miss Standish’s arms when they had seen the specter there— was it only last week? Conrad took a deep breath. How had he fallen completely in love with a woman in only a week?
He grasped his hands behind his back, walking slowly down the corridor. The only explanation was she was not any ordinary woman.
He had not yet reached the halfway point of the corridor when a sound reached his ears. It took only a moment for him to recognize the screeching coming from a room across the hall. A smile curved his lips. It was the same song from the night of the musical, although it sounded even worse today. Jerky, stilted words making the singing even more out of tune.
Reaching the door, he realized it was crying causing the uneven sound. His heart sank to his toes. Conrad rested his head against the door, his palm flat on the wood. Was he the cause of this?
He took several steps back, one fist clenched at his side as the other hand rubbed at his chest. It did nothing to relieve the pain.
He wanted to speak with her— explain why he had not told her who he was from the beginning. Tell her he loved her. But maybe he needed to quit thinking about what he needed and think about what she needed for a change. He wished she needed him.
The letter crinkled in his shirtsleeve. He looked down at the parchment. This was what she needed now. Pushing off of the wall, he moved to the door and knocked.
The singing stopped immediately, but the barrier between them remained. There were a few more sniffles, and then the door cracked open. Their eyes locked, hers widening before she closed the door.
“I would prefer not to be disturbed Lord Kendal.”
Joy at hearing his actual name from her lips battled with the disappointment of the door which stood between them.
“I am sorry. I did not mean to intrude…” He stared at the wood. “I have something for you— a letter I thought you would be interested in reading. It concerns your father.” He stood in place a moment longer, waiting to see if she would come out. When the she did not appear, he stooped down to push the missive under the door. Before it was fully under, the door opened. Conrad pulled the letter back up and took a large step back.
Several tendrils of hair had escaped her pins and now hung down the side of her face. His breath sucked in. There was a smudge of something running up her left cheekbone. She had never looked more beautiful. The sparkle of freshly shed tears in her eyes caused him to swallow hard.
Her gaze flicked from his eyes to a spot somewhere down the corridor.
“You said there is a letter about my father?” She stood in front of the door with her hand hovering over the knob.
Conrad cleared his throat. “Oh, um. Yes.” He tilted his head, glancing into the small room. A canvas sat in the corner, mostly obscured by shadows. Before he could get a good look the door slammed closed behind her.
He looked at Jes, a brow raised in question. “I did not know you were a painter.” His head inclined toward the closed door.
“There are many things you do not know about me. Now, the letter, my lord?”
Conrad visibly flinched at the cut. He fingered the smooth paper, trying to gain some comfort from it before he gave it to her. He lifted his hand, this time lightly touching her face and rubbing at the paint streak with his thumb.
She shuttered under his touch and seemed to lean into him. Her eyes closed for a moment before they opened wide and she took a step back.
“The letter.” Her voice trembled as she held out her hand.
Conrad placed the folded square into her palm, then bowed. “There is so much to I need to say…”
She took a step back into the room, closing the door on him.
He stared at the door. “I realize it is a false hope, but I would be honored if you saved one dance for me, Jes.” He turned and walked down the corridor. Taking the stairs two at a time, he reached the bottom and made his escape to the stables.
Jes clutched the letter in her hand, folding her arms across her middle to stop the roiling in her stomach. She leaned back against the door, closing her eyes. He had called her by her Christian name and she had never heard anything so lovely.
Touching her cheek, she could still feel the heat radiating there.
Pushing back the curtains, the room filled with sunlight. She placed the parchment in her lap as she shook out her trembling hands. Examining the letter, she saw Lord Kendal’s name scrawled across the front. Why would he give her one of his personal letters? She did not recognize the wax seal.
Slowly unfolding the paper, she started at the top and began to read. Her breathing coming in frenzied bursts as the words began to swim in her eyes. Could this be true?
Bursting from the closet room, Jes ran down the stairs to her mother’s chambers. She did not knock or wait for her mother to admit her, but flung open the door, looking widely about.
“Mama! Are you here?”
Her mother emerged from the small adjoining sitting room. “Jes, good heavens Sweetling. What is the matter?”
Jes thrust the letter into her mother’s hands.
“What is this?” Her mother read the opening salutation, her eyebrows raising as she looked at her daughter. “Why do you have a letter for Lord Kendal?”
Jes danced from foot to foot, shaking her head in agitation. “He found me and gave it to me, but that is not the point, Mama. Read it.”
Lady Rachel moved to the chair by the window and picked up her small pair of glasses. She gave Jes one last questioning look before turning her attention to the letter.
Jes sat on the edge of the bed, wringing her hands as she watched her mother read painfully slow. She heard her mother’s intake of breath, saw as her hands began to shake.
Lady Rachel looked up. “Is this true? What did Lord Kendal say?”
Jes shook her head. “He said nothing about the letter” Jes stood up and paced the floor by the bed. “Oh, I do not remember his exact words. He found me while I was singing and painting and…” Jes grimaced, “crying. Over him no less! But Mama, if the letter is true, this changes everything for us.”
Her mother began reading the letter aloud. “’I was surprised by your inquiry concerning the fleet of Mr. James Standish. Your information about Mr. Standish’s demise is correct, however, upon further investigation it seems you have been misinformed about the other two ships. While both the Eye of India and the Cleopatra sustained severe damage, they entered Hull with their cargo intact.’” Lady Rachel stared at the letter, her brow furrowed, her head shaking lightly. Finally, she looked up, catching Jes’s gaze. “We have already paid the creditors for the goods on those ships. It will not make us wealthy, but once it is all sold, I believe we could live quite comfortably. We shall not be required to live on your cousin’s generosity. I could once again provide you with a dowry. While it will not be as substantial, it will be respectable.”
Jes nodded as tears once again began to stream down her face. “Will we still live at Morley Park? We could live somewhere else.”
“If the offer of the dower house still stands, I believe I should very much like to live at Morley.” Lady Rachel sat silently staring at the paper, her head shaking in wonderment. Then a smile curved her lips. “This letter does have other ramifications.”
Jes studied her mother, her forehead pulled down in question.
“A gentleman does not go to the trouble or call in favors from the First Lord of the Admiralty for someone he does not care for deeply. If this is not an act of love, I don’t know what is.”
Jes shook her head, unready to accept this new revelation. “I am sure it was just a guilty conscience which urged him to inquire. Nothing more.”
Her mother tsked quietly before asking, “What did he do that was so bad? You have already figured out Lord Ian was the one responsible for all the reprehensible behavior.”
“Mother. He lied, made a fool of me— of us all. And did you not caution me about my regard for him after the waltz we shared?” Her voice ringed with challenge.
“Do not take that tone with me, young lady.” Lady Rachel frowned. “My warnings were when we thought his actions inconsistent. I was concerned his overtures were false or, at the very least, fleeting. We know the truth and I have no reservations. Lord Kendal always treated you with upmost respect. He is not a liar, my dear.”
“Of course he is!”
“Did he introduce himself as Lord Ian?” Her mother asked.
Jes thought back to their encounter in the parlor before dinner on that first night. “No. I actually approached him and reminded him of our acquaintance in London.”
Her mother smiled smugly. “Precisely.”
Jes glowered. “Omission is just as much a lie, Mama. You have told me so on several occasions.”
Lady Rachel’s tone gentled and she beckoned her daughter to come to her.
Jes kneeled on the floor in front of her mother, looking up into her face. Fingering a stray lock of hair, Lady Rachel tucked it behind Jes’s ear. “Give him a chance, Sweetling. I believe he is a good man who will love you as your father loved me. Let him explain himself. Don’t give the chance at love because of pride.”
Jes pulled her hands away and looked at them. Her heart and mind warring within her. “I don’t know, Mama.” She bit the inside of her lip. “It may be too late, anyhow. I spoke terribly to him. Especially in light of all he has done for us.” She looked at the letter sitting in her mother’s lap.
Lady Rachel stood up, helping Jes to her feet. She held up the parchment. “When a gentleman goes to this much trouble, a few terse words will not deter him, I assure you. Now, it is time to get ready for the ball. I think tonight you should look especially handsome.” Her mother went to her wardrobe and pulled out a beautiful lilac ball gown with a black lace overlay. It was breathtaking.
“Oh, Mama,” Jes breathed out.
Jes entered the Marble Ballroom and gaped. She had thought the room pretty on the house tour, but now flower arrangements dotted the corners and the crystals shimmered with candlelight.
Jes adjusted her long gloves as she entered, feeling as beautiful as her surroundings, for once. She scanned the faces of those already gathered, trying to find one person specifically. Her breath caught as she saw him in the far corner, speaking with Lady Summers. Stomach sinking panic set in when he fingered a ringlet by the lady’s ear.
He turned in her direction, and all of the air whooshed out of her. It was not Conrad. Conrad. She found she liked the sound of his name—very much.
Lord Ian caught her gaze and winked as he ran his finger along Lady Summer’s cheekbone.
Jes looked away, embarrassed for the both of them.
She continued to examine everyone, trying to find Conrad. Her mother was right. She needed to hear his explanation. What if he had left already? She had told him she did not wish to see him again. Why would he stay? Desperation nearly swallowed her. How had she ruined everything so thoroughly?
The orchestra began to tune their instruments and a low buzzing floated through the air as people sought their partners.
Jes saw Lord Bloomsbury walking in her direction. Her eyes widened and a sinking feeling twisted her stomach as he approached.
“Miss Standish, may I claim the first dance?” His head was already dotted with perspiration and his hair was beginning to slide forward. If the first dance was a reel or quadrille, it would surely slide the rest the way forward. Whomever he was dancing with would receive a perspiration shower when he flung it back into place.
Her face puckered in distaste. Although, perhaps it would be better to dance with him before he was fully drenched in sweat.
Jes curtsied and put a false smile on her face. “I am honored you have singled me out, my lord.” She thought he had turned his attentions elsewhere.
Placing her hand on his arm, she allowed him to lead her to the dance floor. Standing as far away from him possible, while still being part of the line, she touched him only when required and kept her eyes searching the ballroom for latecomers.
Finally the music ended and she was able to curtsy and make her escape, having narrowly missed his hair spray on two occasions.
Jes moved to the side, her anxiety building. A breeze blew in from one of the open terrace doors. No longer caring to watch the dancing, Jes made her way through the crowd. Once outside, she took in a deep breath, placing her elbows on the thick stone railing. She leaned her head forward, massaging her temple with her fingers.
“May I claim your waltz? I happen to know we are very well suited for that dance.”
Still staring out into the gardens, Jes let Conrad’s voice wash over her. “I believe the last time we waltzed, you made a hasty retreat back to Penymore.” He had come, she wanted to shout out loud.
“If I promise not to ever leave you again, will you say yes?” His voice was tentative and hopeful.
A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth. “Well, I did just dance with Lord Bloomsbury. Do you think you can match his…enthusiasm?”
His deep chuckle sounded behind her, raising the gooseflesh on her arms. She was grateful for the railing which was currently holding her up.
He moved closer, the heat from his body warming the air around her. “Jes, how could anyone partnered with you not show great enthusiasm? I believe your nature brings it out in others.”
She closed her eyes when he said her name. Then opening them once more, she straightened her spine and took a deep breath. “Why did you lie? Why the charade of being your brother?”
Jes heard him run his hand through his hair. “It started out as a harmless way to give Ian a little more time at another house party. The dates overlapped and he was concerned if he arrived to this one late, it would offend the Countess.” He came to stand next to her, placing his elbows on the railing.
Jes glanced at him from the corner of her eye. He was staring straight ahead.
“I admit, I was hopeful the party may result in an engagement with the lady. Ian is in need of a….calming influence. I believed this young lady would provide it.”
Jes felt him turn his gaze on her.
“It was only to be for a few days, and I did not believe I would encounter anyone who would capture my attention so completely. By the time I realized—well it was too late. I thought about pretending to come as myself, once Ian showed up, but by then you were friends with Lord Ian, not Lord Kendal.” He sighed heavily. “If I could take it back I would.”
“All of it?” She needed to know if he regretted everything.
“No, only the original lie. I could never wish the rest had never happened. Even if you decide to never see me again.”
Jes turned to face him. “Thank you.” He opened his mouth to respond but she shook her head. “Please, let me finish.”
“Thank you for giving me the letter.” Her voice shook. “Thank you for inquiring on our behalf. I am sure you had to request a great many favors to get the information. You don’t know what you have given my mother. While she would never admit to it, being reliant for support, upon first my aunt and then my cousin, was hard for her. From what I have been told, my grandfather was a very proud man. I am afraid both my mother and I have inherited some of his pride.” She breathed in again as emotion started to overtake her. “Because of you we can stay on at Morley Park without feeling like a burden.”
“I can tell you Shearsby has no such notions about you and your mother. When I stopped to see him on my way back to Penymore, he could say nothing but kind things about you.” It was Conrad who had told Tad about the house party. She opened her mouth to reply, but he put his finger to her lips to stop it. Her lips felt the chill when he lowered his hand. “While I respect your mother a great deal, I did it for you. That day in the library— how could I not use every resource I have to help you?”
His voice dropped so low she had to lean closer to hear him. “I would do anything for you— for your happiness. If you still wish to never see me, I will depart this very moment.”
Jes reached out and grasped his arm, shaking her head vigorously. “No. I do not wish that. Quite the contrary. I am sorry for what I said to you yesterday. I let my pride get the better of me.”
He raised a hand to her cheek. “You need not apologize for anything.”
She leaned into the warmth, feeling everything in her world righting itself.
“I believe I hear the first strains of the waltz in the Checkerboard Room. Shall we, my love?”
Jes had thought the sound of her name on his lips was beautiful, but hearing him call her ‘my love’ was more perfect than anything she had ever heard before.