Accounts. Right. Focusing, Lord Benedict Sheffield dipped his pen into the standish and began totaling the first row of sums. He made it through the first few pages before his butler appeared in the doorway.
Benedict frowned. No one called upon him during working hours without prior arrangement. “Yes, Coombs?”
“I’m afraid there’s a Lady Amelia Pembroke here to see you, my lord. She was most insistent.”
“I trust you informed her that I was not receiving, and refused to let her in?”
“Of course.” Coombs hesitated before continuing, “She said she would simply wait until you are receiving.”
Benedict put down his pen. “Wait where, pray?”
“Upon the front step, my lord. I’m afraid the lady brought . . . the lady brought . . . a book. She cannot be budged.”
Benedict tilted his head, impressed. Rather than attempt to barge her way in, she’d come prepared to wait him out—on the front stair, where every eye in every townhouse in the whole crescent was likely watching her. Intrigued despite himself, he tugged at his fob and checked the time on his watch.
A quarter ’til eight. Damn.
“Did the lady mention whether she was calling for business or for pleasure?”
“Both, my lord.”
He coughed. “Both?”
“She would not elaborate. She said . . . she said explaining the intricacies of her design to a butler would be a waste of both our valuable time, and that each of us would operate far more efficiently minding the tasks in which we’re experienced. Then she pulled out a book and a pair of spectacles and sat down on the front step to read.”
Benedict mentally canceled his plans for the theater. He loved actresses, found them endlessly diverting in fact, but was forced to admit he’d never once been intrigued by one. They were beautiful, simple creatures, which was precisely what he liked about them. After a long day of arguing in the House of Lords or negotiating business contracts or managing tenant properties, he liked to disconnect his brain and let the rest of his body reign for a few hours.
At least, he’d always thought he liked that. He was beginning to suspect he liked being intrigued even more. He consulted the hour again.
Still a quarter to eight.
A sudden thought occurred to him. “Do you mean to say we’ve got a lady with her derrière freezing to ice atop our slush-covered concrete?”
Coombs shook his head. “Not at all, my lord. She brought several rugs and a warming brick, and had her coachman clear off the steps before she settled in. He’s got eyes on her, even if he can’t talk her back into the carriage.”
Benedict drummed his fingers atop his leg. She hadn’t just been prepared in case she had to wait—she’d known it would happen! She’d planned for the lost time, for the denied entry, for the slush upon the stoop, for the inclement weather . . .
He shoved his watch back into his pocket.
Business and pleasure, the chit had said. He certainly hoped so. “By all means, Coombs. Show the intrepid lady in.”
He returned to his sums until footsteps sounded out in the corridor. Eight o’clock. Perfect timing. He sheathed his pen.
Let the games begin.
He pushed to his feet the moment the lady appeared in his doorway.
Her hair was a rich brown and her eyes a clear green, but despite the fine cut of her gown or the becoming flush upon her cheekbones, those were not the aspects of her appearance he found the most incredible.
She was dry.
There wasn’t a spot of snow on her pristine slippers. No hint of dampness to her velvet-and-ermine pelisse. No sign of the book or the warming brick or the infamous rugs. She had not only planned to be kept out, she had also planned to be let in!
“Who are you?” he found himself asking, his tone at complete odds with his usual charm and decorum.
She dipped a pretty curtsey. “Oh dear, I have you at sixes and sevens. I am Lady Amelia Pembroke, sister of Lawrence Pembroke, whom you perhaps better know as the Duke of Ravenwood.”
He peered behind her. “Where is your chaperone?”
“Elder sister,” she enunciated crisply. “At nine-and-twenty, I find myself being a chaperone rather than requiring one. If you suspect I have come to trap you to the altar, have no fear. Once our brief partnership has concluded, you will have no need to lay eyes on me anew. In fact, interacting in person need not happen beyond just this once. It would be far more efficient for us both if I were allowed to handle our business from here on out.”
He leaned back. “What, may I ask, is the nature of our business?”
The adventures of Lord Sheffield and Lady Amelia continue in:
The Viscount’s Christmas Temptation
The Dukes of War #0.5