“That’s right, this is your house, isn’t it?” Miss Whitford asked.
“Yes, but it’s Jane’s home now.” Phoebe inclined her head toward Jane.
Miss Whitford reached for her glass while glancing toward Jane. “And how is it that you find yourself living here alone?”
“Beatrix,” Lady Gresham said quietly before sending an apologetic glance toward Jane and Phoebe. “Pardon my sister. Sometimes she speaks a bit recklessly. Having come from the country, we are not used to polite society.”
“Please don’t concern yourself, Lady Gresham. I find Miss Whitford’s demeanor refreshing, for you see, I am quite weary of Society myself.” Jane smiled encouragingly at Miss Whitford. “That is why I am living here alone. I don’t wish to participate in the rituals required of unmarried women of my age. Furthermore, the purpose of the Spitfire Society is to celebrate womanhood and whatever independence we can claim.”
Miss Whitford blinked, her lashes sweeping briefly over her hazel eyes. “Fascinating. We came to town so I could have a Season. I must say, independence sounds rather lovely.” She cast a glance toward her sister, who, as a wealthy widow, enjoyed as much independence as a woman could probably hope to.
“Marriage is also lovely,” Lady Gresham said, eyeing Phoebe, who was, of course, very recently—and blissfully—wed. To a consummate rake, no less. Rather, former rake.
Phoebe picked up her lemonade. “I certainly can’t complain. And I daresay if any of you are lucky enough to find a man like Marcus, you wouldn’t either. Not that there are any other men like him.” A faint blush stained her cheeks as she sipped her drink.
“So what do spitfires do?” Miss Whitford asked.
“That’s up to us,” Jane said. “We support each other, obviously, but perhaps we can also do something meaningful for other women.”
“What a marvelous idea,” Lady Gresham said, perhaps with a hint of surprise to her tone. “Do you have anything specific in mind?”
“No, but I’m sure we can come up with something.” As Jane plucked a biscuit from the tray, a loud crash upstairs made her drop it. Her gaze shot toward the ceiling as her pulse picked up.
Phoebe frowned. “My goodness, what was that?”
“My, er, kitten!” Jane said quickly. “I just brought him home yesterday.”
Surprise flashed across Phoebe’s face. “You have a kitten?”
“Yes, I hope that’s all right. I should have asked you first, but the poor thing needed a home.” Jane realized she could have been talking about Lord Colton. He was in desperate need—not for a home, but for care. And she’d tell Phoebe about him too—later.
Culpepper appeared in the doorway, his forehead rippled with concern. “Miss Pemberton, might I have a word?”
Alarm spread through Jane as she rose from the chair. “Please excuse me a moment,” she managed to say calmly before walking sedately from the room just as a second noise sounded from upstairs.
She followed Culpepper into the hall and spoke in a frantic whisper. “What the devil is going on?”
Culpepper’s brows pitched low with a mixture of frustration and annoyance. “I’m afraid his lordship has awakened and is being rather…disruptive. Meg and Jones are trying to keep him quiet, but I don’t know if they will be successful.” The sound of something breaking carried down the stairs, and Jane prayed her guests, especially Phoebe, couldn’t hear it.
“Clearly not,” Jane said. “I’ll go right up—after I adjourn the meeting. Will you please show them out with alacrity?” She bustled back into the garden room with a wide, artificial smile. “I beg your pardon, friends, but I’m afraid the kitten is having some difficulty. Might we postpone the meeting? I do thank you for coming today and am sorry to shorten our time together.” Jane turned and hurried from the room before another noise further stretched the believability of her kitten story.
Rushing into the bedchamber where she’d left Lord Colton unconscious, Jane stopped short at the sight before her. A broken vase cluttered the floor, a table lay overturned, and Jones, the strong, young footman who’d helped carry Lord Colton upstairs, massaged his jaw while frowning at the viscount. Who was currently on the opposite side of the bed, holding Meg’s hand and smiling at her.
“What is going on here?” Jane demanded. She walked past Jones and threw him an apologetic look as she made her way to Colton and Meg.
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