His Housekeeper's Christmas Wish(6)

By: Louise Allen

 This was what Sister Luke would describe as the Primrose Path leading directly to Temptation. With a capital T. And probably Sin. Capital S. No wonder they said it was a straight and easy road. Being carried by a strong and attractive man, eating delicious pastries, sleeping—next door to four men—on a blissfully soft bed. All undoubtedly wicked.

 After that, how could travelling in a carriage with two gentlemen for a day make things any worse? She wasn’t sure she trusted Lord Weybourn’s slanting smile, but Mr Rivers seemed eminently reliable.

 ‘Thank you, my lord. That will be very satisfactory.’ It was certain to be a very comfortable carriage, for none of these men, even the rumpled dice player, looked as though they stinted on their personal comfort. She found she was smiling, then stopped when no one leaped to their feet and started to bustle around making preparations. ‘When do we start and how long will it take us?’

 ‘Seven and a half, eight hours.’ Finally, Lord Weybourn got to his feet.

 ‘But we will arrive after dark. I do not think the ships sail in the dark, do they?’

 ‘We are not jolting over muddy roads all day and then getting straight on board, whether a ship is sailing or not.’ The viscount strolled across to one of the other doors, opened it and shouted, ‘Gaston!’

 ‘They do sail at night and I am taking one to Leith at nine this evening,’ Mr Rivers remarked. ‘But I am in haste, you’ll do better to take the opportunity to rest, Miss Ellery.’

 ‘I am also in haste,’ she stated.

 Lord Weybourn turned from the door. ‘Do nuns hurry?’

 ‘Certainly. And you know perfectly well that I am not a nun, my lord.’ The maddening creature refused to be chastened by her reproofs, which showed either arrogance, levity or the hide of an ox. Probably all three. ‘I am expected at the London house of the Order.’

 ‘The Channel crossing is notoriously uncertain for weather and timing. They will not be expecting you for a day or so either way. Unless someone is at death’s door?’ He raised an interrogative brow. Tess shook her head. ‘There, then. Arrive rested and, hopefully, not hobbling. Always a good thing to be at one’s best when making an entrance. Breakfast is on its way.’

 He sauntered out, lean, elegant, assured. Tess’s fingers itched with a sinful inclination to violence.

 ‘You might as well contemplate swatting a fly, Miss Ellery,’ the blond icicle remarked. Apparently her face betrayed her feelings graphically. He inclined his head in a graceful almost bow. ‘Crispin de Feaux, Marquess of Avenmore, at your service. Rivers you know.’ He gestured towards the third man. ‘This, improbable as it might seem, is not the local highwayman, but Gabriel Stone, Earl of Edenbridge.’

 Lord Edenbridge stood, swept her an extravagant courtesy, then collapsed back into his chair. ‘Enchanted, Miss Ellery.’ His cards appeared to enchant him more.

 ‘I’ll send for some hot water for you.’ Mr Rivers held the bedchamber door open. ‘You will feel much better after a wash and some breakfast, believe me, Miss Ellery.’

 Tess thanked him, curtsied as best she could to all three men and sat down on the bed to await the water. It wasn’t their fault. She knew just who to blame, but because she was a lady—or, rather, had been raised to have the manners of one—she would bite her tongue and do her best to act with grace. Somehow. As for breakfast at this hour—why, it was going to be almost noon by the time it was finished at this rate.

 * * *

 As she had suspected, the carriage proved to be very comfortable. ‘I keep this and my own horses over here,’ Lord Weybourn explained when Tess exclaimed in pleasure at the soft seats and the padded interior. ‘Job horses and hired vehicles are unreliable.’

 ‘You come to the Continent frequently, my lord?’ Tess settled snuggly into one corner and submitted to Mr Rivers arranging her legs along the seat and covering them with a rug. A hot brick wrapped in flannel was tucked in, too. Such luxury. She would enjoy what good things this journey had to offer, especially as the future seemed unlikely to hold much in the way of elegant coach travel.

 ‘We all do.’ Lord Weybourn folded his length into an opposite corner while Mr Rivers took the other. They had given her the best, forward-facing position, she noted. ‘Cris—Lord Avenmore—is a diplomat and spends half his time at the Congress and half doing mysterious things about the place. Gabe enjoys both travelling and fleecing any gamester foolish enough to cut cards with him and Grant here buys horses.’

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