Previously on Mistaken Identity: After a bone melting waltz with Miss Standish, Conrad discovers he must leave the house party immediately. Ready to confess everything to her, he over hears her confessing her love for his brother. Unable to hear her says as much directly to him, Conrad leaves the party for good, leaving Jes to wonder why he abandoned her for the remainder of the evening.
Jes stepped down from the carriage, looking about the small village. Lord Ian was already half way up the road, a young lady on each arm. Her stomach twisted, the pang of jealousy tightening her throat. She pushed it down. Was she not the one he had chosen to waltz with?
He must be trying to allay any rumors by spending time with the other young ladies. Jes frowned. The thought did not sit well. Did he care about rumors linking them together? Was he embarrassed by her? She had, while not in so many words, told him of her family’s financial difficulties. Perhaps, given the time to consider, he had decided she was not worthy of his notice.
Her frown deepened and she began to twist at the ends of her bonnet ribbons.
Miss Barton pulled up alongside Jes, placing a hand about her arm. “Miss Standish, I believe a new bonnet is just what I need. Come join me in the milliner’s shop.”
Jes allowed herself to be pulled along.
After what seemed an eternity of ribbons and bows, they finally left the shop, with several new bonnets for Miss Barton.
As they walked down the street, Jes looked at the store fronts, wondering which shop Lord Ian had gone into and if the ladies were still with him. Her heart squeezed in her chest.
She spotted a bookstore down the way. Her heart was still heavy and in need of peace. It was just the shop she needed. Jes tugged Miss Barton in that direction, but she pulled back.
She nodded in the direction of the confectionery. “I thought we should peek in the sweet shop. I have not had a peppermint in ages.”
Jes nodded towards the shop. “I would prefer to look in the bookshop.”
Miss Barton grimaced. “Why would you want to look at a bunch of dusty old books?”
The need to visit the shop became almost too much for Jes to bear. She gave Miss Barton a smile. “Perhaps we should separate and meet up later for tea?”
Then without waiting for a response, Jes removed Miss Barton’s hand and stepped off the walkway to cross the road.
The smell of leather and parchment greeted Jes as she pushed the door open and entered the shop. With her eyes closed, she turned in a slow circle, soaking in the sunlight filtering through the windows. A calm began to envelop her, easing the tension in her shoulders and working its way down her body. Her mind quieted.
When she opened her eyes, an old man with a slightly hunched back stared at her behind thick spectacles. A smile curved his lips, creasing his wrinkled face even more. “I feel the same way, every time come into the shop. Is there something I can help you find?”
Jes shook her head, regret lacing her words. “I will only be looking today, thank you.”
She moved to the shelves, her fingers reverently rubbing over each spine. Oh how she wished she had some pin money to spend on one. She looked down at the dress she wore, irritated at what it must have cost. The funds would have been so much better spent in a shop such as this. A sigh escaped. There was no sense dwelling on things long past.
Her fingers stilled on a book, pulling it out she smiled at the front cover. It was a history of Somerstone Manor and the Du’Breven family. Jes opened the book, smiling at the pictures of the Hounds-Coat and Painted Drawing Rooms. A chuckle escaped as she remembered Lord Ian calling the latter the Yellow Room. Looking at page after page, she thought back on that day, a warmth settling in her chest. It was the first time she had spent much time with him, outside of a ballroom.
“Are you sure you would not like to purchase the book, miss?”
Jes shook her head. “I am sorry, but not today.” The clock on the wall gave a single chime. Had it really already been thirty minutes? She replaced the book. “I must be going. Thank you for allowing me to look about.”
As she placed her hand the door knob, Lord Ian walked down the opposite sidewalk. Jes stood still, watching as he stopped at the doorway of a drab looking inn. He looked both ways, before pushing open the door and entering.
Jes stepped out onto the sidewalk, mimicking Lord Ian as she also looked both ways, hoping not to encounter an acquaintance. She crossed the street. Walking past the inn, she tried to subtly peek in through the windows. Now she was closer, she could faintly see several tables filled with men hunched over. Obviously this was not just an inn.
Lord Ian sat at one of the middle tables, a woman sitting very close to him, her arm about his neck, her fingers twirling in his hair. He reached for a glass of deep amber liquid, draining it in a single swallow.
Jes stepped back in shock. She continued walking, her brow furrowed. Lord Ian was a gambler?
The notion did not seem correct. At the card game the previous night, he had seemed completely uninterested in the game. He even raised his brows when he learned of the wager. Was he purposely trying to mislead her? And what of the woman next to him? She looked to be— Jes swallowed the bile pushing its way upward. No, he would never be with such a woman. Would he?
An alley ran alongside the inn. Jes ducked into its shadow. She needed to think or be sick, she wasn’t sure which would take precedence. Finding a pile of crates, she sat down. What was she to do?
Anger suddenly reared up inside of her. How dare he use her for a distraction; lead her to believe he cared for her. If she sat on the far edge, she could just make out the doorway to the inn. She would wait for the scoundrel and inform him of her low opinion of him. While her pride felt better, the ache in her chest that began last night intensified.
She smoothed her skirts over her legs, pulling her reticule closer to her body. Looking at it, she changed her mind and tucked it behind her back. Then she leaned against the wall and waited.
A gentle, cooling breeze blew through the alleyway, her eyes began to droop. The restless sleep from the night before made it difficult to stay awake. Before long she drifted to sleep.
A crash brought her eyes open wide. She frantically looked about her, trying to figure out where she was. Suddenly she remembered, her stomach clenching in fear. What had she been thinking? Falling asleep, alone in a darkened alley? She shook at the thoughts of what could have befallen her.
She looked about noticing the alley was not the only place lacking in sunlight. Another crash sounded in the distance. Thunder. The heavens looked as if they would open up before she could make it to the carriage. The carriages! Tears nearly choked her as she saw the spaces empty. They had returned to the manor without her.
Jes dropped her head into her hands. No, no, no! This could not be happening. Had no one missed her?
She took a fortifying breath and squared her shoulders as she began to walk. It could not be more than three or four miles back to Somerstone. She could make it on foot. It was not so very far.
Huffing and muttering under her breath, her frustration grew with every step she took. She was mad at her mother for dragging her to this blasted house party— yes, she thought it, even though her mother would surely disapprove of a lady using use such a word. She was mad at Lord Ian for confusing her so completely and making her lose sleep. Her chest pinched and her eyes burned. Just last night she had told her mother she loved him. How could she love a man such as this? He was a wastrel and a gambler. A stilted sigh escaped her lips.
But most of all, she was angry at herself. She was the one who had put herself in her current situation. As if mocking her stupidity, the heavens opened up and the rain began to fall.
Immediately, she was soaked to the skin. Even her bonnet could not protect her from the rain pelting down. Her hair stuck to her face and neck, as water ran down her cheeks. Mud caked her half boots and coated the hem of her gown. She stood rooted to her spot, no longer caring about being wet and dirty. Tears fell and mixed with the raindrops coursing down her cheeks.
Horse hooves pounding in the distance brought her head up sharply. She looked about for a place to hide and found nothing but wide open fields. She immediately added that to her ever growing list of complaints.
Holding her head up high, she kept walking, ignoring the horse and rider as they came to a stop in front of her.
“Miss Standish? Is that you?”
Jes looked up through the rain, seeing Lady Du’Breven’s footman peering down at her. She nodded her head, hoping he did not notice the redness of her eyes.
He leaned over, putting out a hand to help her up. “The Countess sent me to check on you.” He looked at up at the sky. “I should have brought a carriage, but it was not raining when I left. I apologize, but this will have to do.”
Jes placed her foot in the stirrup, trying to help him pull her up. With very little effort, she was seated to his front. It was difficult to put the proper distance between them sitting sidesaddle, but she scooted as far forward as possible. Then she turned back just enough to offer him a smile. “Thank you for coming for me.”
He tipped his head, water running off his hat brim and onto her arm. “It is always my pleasure to help a beautiful lady.”
Jes nodded, despair settling in her chest. As she was fast discovering, men are never truthful in the things they say to a lady.
Conrad rode hard throughout most of the night. He was able to keep thoughts of Miss Standish at bay, as long as he pushed to go faster. As the sun peeked over the horizon, he finally stopped long enough to rest his horse, his exhaustion took over and allowed him a dreamless slumber, even if only for a few hours.
Now as the sun was just beginning to set, he brought his horse to a stop. For the hundredth time he questioned his decision to ride to Shearsby, instead of his own estate in Westmorland. While this move would insure the duke received the information days sooner, it would also mean an extra day on Conrad’s return to Penymoor. Which, to his travel weary body, seemed like a tremendous sacrifice.
A boy came out of the stables, taking Conrad’s horse away. Conrad climbed the front steps to Morley Park, sounding two quick raps on the door.
The butler opened it promptly, gesturing Conrad into the entryway. He offered his card as the older man lead him into a parlor, richly decorated in greens and creams. Conrad had never been to Morley before. Most of his associations with the duke had been either through correspondence or in town. Massive marble carvings graced the fireplace surround. The home was impressive.
The door opened and a lady walked in, followed by the Duke of Shearsby.
Conrad had liked the duke from their first meeting at White’s several years before. The gentleman had an easy way about him, with a smile always at the ready. The duchess, while not wholly familiar, was no less easy to like.
The duke stepped forward, clasping one of Conrad’s hands, while thumping him on the back with the other. “Kendal. How are you doing? What brings you to Leicestershire?”
Conrad flicked a gaze to the duchess before returning it to the duke.
“I am sorry to intrude, without giving you proper notice, but I have some urgent news. I was at a house party in Yorkshire, when I received the information. It seemed prudent to deliver the message on my way home, rather than to send word after reaching Penymoor.”
The duke motioned to a chair. “Come, have a seat. Tell me of this news.”
Conrad’s gaze again shifted to the duchess. “Perhaps we could talk privately? The information is rather sensitive. Courtenay and Felling are both aware of the situation.” He hoped the duke would understand the rather cryptic details.
The duke settled in next to his wife, taking her hand in his. “My wife is aware of all my dealings, sir. There is nothing you need say to me to which she cannot be privy.”
Conrad furrowed his brow. “But, Your Grace. Surely—”
The duchess smiled. “I shall ring for tea and allow the two of you to talk, privately.”
She moved to stand, but was held in place by her husband. “No. You should be aware of what is happening, as well. The society is aware of your role in this movement.” He turned his gaze back to Conrad. “As I said, Kendal, my wife is aware of my leanings. So tell me, what have you learned?”
Conrad shrugged his shoulders and sat forward, closing some of the gap between them. “The date of the rally has been moved up to August. We will need to get word to our people of the change. Hastings is counting on us to bring as many as we can to represent the northern counties.”
The door opened and the butler entered. “Dinner is ready, Your Grace. I have taken the liberty of adding another place for Lord Kendal.”
The duchess smiled at the man. “Thank you, Baker. We shall be along shortly.”
As the butler turned to leave, the duchess stopped him. “Baker, would you please have a room made ready for Lord Kendal? He has traveled a great distance and I am sure he could use a soft bed.”
“Of course, Your Grace.”
Conrad started to object. “I could not poss—”
She arched a brow, stopping his protest. “You can and you will. You look exhausted, my lord.”
The duke grinned at Conrad. “You best not argue with her, Kendal. She can be very persuasive.”
The feeling of sand scratching the backs of his eyes made the decision for him. He dipped his head. “Thank you, Your Grace. It is very kind of you.”
They all arose and moved into the dining room.
The duke chuckled as he waited for the first course to be dished. “Did I hear you correctly, Kendal? You were at a house party?”
Conrad smirked. “Indeed, you did. A guest of the infamous Countess Du’Breven.”
“I have never met the woman, only know her by reputation. But it is quite the reputation.” The duke raised a brow. “I am surprised, Kendal. I thought you abhorred all things society. A house party is society at its worst. Every mama there trying to secure a match for her daughter. What could possibly have enticed you to attend such an event?”
Conrad shook his head. “It was all Ian’s doing. He was supposed to attend, but was otherwise engaged trying to woo Miss Jane Simmons. He convinced me to attend in his stead, until he could come himself.” He ran a hand over the back of his neck. “It was a complete disaster. Thankfully, he arrived in enough time for me to leave when I discovered the change in plans.”
“You were attending the party as your brother?” The duke’s brows rose high on his head. “I do not know your brother well, but I believe I know enough to be disappointed to have missed that charade. I am certain it would have been most amusing.” His eyes danced with mirth.
Conrad scowled. “Yes, it was a difficult role to play. Especially when our visits overlapped by a day or two. As I said, I was most happy to leave him to the crowd, while I quietly went on my way.”
His chest tightened as he thought back to Miss Standish. She had been the bright spot of the trip into Yorkshire. He pushed the thoughts away. They only brought on disappointment in himself and resentment towards his brother.
The duchess’s voice pulled him back to the dining table.
“What was that, Your Grace? I must have been wool gathering.” Conrad grimaced.
The duke smiled widely, making Conrad only scowl more.
She spoke again. “Certainly there was something redeeming about the party. Was there nothing there for you to enjoy?” Her eyes twinkled. “Perhaps a young lady or two caught your eye?”
Conrad felt his face heat. Drat it all! If they were not suspicious before, they would certainly be now. “There was one young lady who proved to be amusing, but merely in a friendly sort of way. Her attentions are directed elsewhere.” He played with the fork sitting beside his plate, picking up the tines and then dropping them back to the table.
Shearsby laughed. “And what was this diverting creature’s name? Come now, I must know. Who is her family?”
The duke’s taunting suddenly irritated Conrad. “And why should I tell you? It is not as if you know every young lady of the ton.” He was the one to laugh this time. “You barely know the men serving in Parliament, let alone the ladies.”
The duke shrugged. “True. But still, Kendal, I have never seen you blush over a lady. This one must be special.”
Conrad tried to sound disinterested, even as his heartbeat picked up its pace. “I am not blushing over a lady, Shearsby. She was just a distraction for the time I was there.” He tilted his head to one side, his eyes half closed. “Miss Standish was amusing. But that is all.”
The duke sat forward, placing his forearms on the table. “Did you say Miss Standish? Miss Jessica Standish?”
Conrad’s mouth dropped open slightly. What were the chances the one woman Conrad found interesting and perfectly lovely, would be an acquaintance of the Duke of Shearsby? He schooled his features, cautious in his answer. “Yes. The very one. Are you acquainted with her?”
The duke cast a glance at his wife, then nodded. “Yes, yes I am. Tell me, was her mother with her?”
“Lady Rachel? Yes. She accompanied her. Why do you ask? How do you know the ladies?”
A relieved sigh escaped the duke’s lips. “I had wondered where they had gone off to. I admit, I have been worried about them of late.”
Conrad stared, his brow furrowing deeper with every comment the duke made.
As if sensing the barrage of questions about to erupt from Conrad, the duke continued. “Lady Rachel is my aunt.”