Authors: M.C. Beaton,Marion Chesney
Tags: #Historical romance
“And I have something to tell
,” said Jonas Palmer, pushing past Rainbird and walking into the front parlour, where the remains of the wedding breakfast were spread out. He seized a decanter and poured himself a glass of port and drained it in one gulp. “That’s better,” he sighed. “Was there ever such a coil? You’ve got another tenant.”
“We don’t need another tenant,” said Rainbird.
But Palmer was not listening to him.
“The Duke of Pelham has returned from the wars and is getting his town house in Grosvenor Square redecorated and he’s coming to live here for the rest of the Season. It’s a mercy that harpy, Goodenough, has left, although I would ha’ liked the pleasure of turning her out. But don’t you go mentioning anything about your wages to Pelham, see!”
“Why not?” demanded Rainbird. “We are disgracefully paid.”
“Because if you so much as tell him what you are getting, I shall tell him how you was dismissed from Lord Trumpington’s household for seducing Lady Trumping-ton, and I shall tell him how that bishop caught that Joseph fellow stealing.”
“I have told you and told you,” said Rainbird grimly, “that we were both innocent of the crimes we were accused of.”
“But the duke will listen to me, not you, and I’ll go and get Trumpington to add his word.”
Rainbird opened his mouth to tell Palmer that not one of them needed to stay at Number 67 a moment longer, and then the thought struck him that the Duke of Pelham knew nothing of their miserable wages. Palmer had probably been charging him higher ones and pocketing the difference. What a marvellous farewell to servitude it would be if Palmer could be exposed as a bully, cheat, and liar. They had the money for their pub; they would only need to wait another two months for their freedom.
“When can we expect his grace?” he asked smoothly.
“Next week,” said Palmer curtly. “You’re looking very fine for a rented butler.”
“The Earl of Fleetwood invited us all as guests to his wedding.”
Palmer thrust his beefy face towards Rainbird. “Don’t you go getting ideas above your station,” he snarled. “Remember, you’re only servants and I hold you all
.” He clenched his fist.
“If you have quite finished,” said Rainbird icily, “I suggest you leave us to go about our duties.”
Palmer eyed the remains of the meal greedily. But he was worried to death the duke might demand to see the estate books immediately, and Palmer wanted to go over them again to make sure there were no mistakes. He had not seen the duke for many years, having received all communications from him by letter. He remembered him as a slim, rather pretty youth. Should be no trouble there, but it would be as well to make sure.
He took himself off and Rainbird returned to the servants’ hall with the news. Angus, Joseph, and even Dave were delighted at the thought of a possibility of unmasking Palmer. But the women were afraid. What could they, as mere servants, do to unseat the all-powerful Palmer? A duke’s agent held more sway over the underlings than a country squire.
But as they talked and planned, even they began to brighten. They turned over their past successes, and comforted themselves with the thought that Palmer could really do nothing to them now. A servant with a bad reputation that was broadcast over London by a duke’s agent could never hope to find another job; ladies and gentlemen of property, such as they were about to become, could not be harmed.
At last Rainbird reminded them, they were, for the time being, still servants. They changed back into their working clothes and set about their duties, each one of them wondering what the Duke of Pelham would be like.
A few days later, the Countess of Fleetwood stretched lazily in bed and rested her head on her husband’s naked shoulder.
“I fear you are not a very conscientious landowner, Peter,” she murmured. “We seem to spend most of our time in bed.”
“Best place in the world,” he said sleepily. “You are wonderful, my love, a real countess. One would think you had been born to the position.”
“Did you expect me to behave like a servant?”
“No. But I am pleased the way you have taken over the running of my household without depending on your private army.”
“Those Clarges Street servants.”
Emily laughed. “At least they changed your attitude towards the class of servants.”
“Not quite. They are not proper servants. Perhaps there is something odd about that house after all. Perhaps the house has turned them into a small, highly intelligent force.”
“Perhaps,” said Emily with a yawn. “I, my love, am going to set you a good example by getting up.” She threw back the covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed.
The earl sat up, reached over, and put his hands on her naked breasts and began to kiss the back of her neck.
“Oh, Peter,” sighed Emily, leaning luxuriously back against him. “I fear, in some respects, I am not a lady at all!”