Improper (The Phoenix Club #1) by Darcy Burke



“Yes, she’s just being dramatic,” Fiona whispered. “She does that.”

“Oh. Then I daresay it’s wise that I’ve procured a chaperone and a sponsor for you. You’ll meet the former shortly and the latter tomorrow.”

“Did I hear you say you’ve hired a chaperone for my Fiona?” Mrs. Tucket sounded aghast. She pursed her lips most strenuously. “I am her chaperone.”

The earl smiled affably. “Certainly, but I thought she might benefit from an additional chaperone. Someone acquainted with London and Society.” He darted an uncertain look at Fiona as if he were looking for support.

“An excellent idea, my lord,” Fiona said as she went to sit in another chair near the hearth. She reached over and patted Mrs. Tucket’s hand. “How can I not prosper with two chaperones?”

“Harumph.” Mrs. Tucket narrowed her eyes at the fire.

Fiona looked up at the earl. He was frowning, one hand on his hip and the other stroking his chin.

The butler arrived with a tray bearing tea and a glass of sherry. The earl scooped up the latter item and brought it directly to Mrs. Tucket. “Your sherry, ma’am.”

She took the glass and downed half the contents without a word. Holding the sherry to her chest, she settled back against the chair and closed her eyes.

Fiona slowly rose and tiptoed back to the center of the room where the earl stood staring at her maid. “She’ll likely fall asleep in a moment. The key will be to catch the glass before it falls.”

The earl’s dark brows climbed just before he nodded. Turning, he gestured for the butler to move the tray to a table in front of the windows that looked out to Brook Street.

A snore rattled the air, and Fiona dashed to catch the glass of sherry as Mrs. Tucket’s grip slackened. Just one small drop of the contents splashed over the side onto her skirt. Fiona considered that a victory.

When she joined the earl at the table near the window, he inclined his head with appreciation. “Well done.”

She set the wineglass on the table. “It is not my first rescue.”

The earl held her chair as she sat. “I see, and here I thought you had someone taking care of you.”

“She does take care of me, but it’s true that I also take care of her. More in the last year or so. She’s quite tired, I think. She all but ran our household the past six years after my father died and then later when my mother became ill.”

The earl, seated across the round table, handed her a cup of tea the butler had prepared before leaving. The entire activity—the delivery of the tea, organizing it and a selection of food on the table, and his departure had occurred with such ease and precision that Fiona wondered how the butler had done it all without her really noticing.

“How long since she’s been gone?” Overton asked before sipping his tea.

“Not quite two years. She’d hoped to come to London with me for my Season, but, ah, your father didn’t extend the invitation until just before she died. And then, well…” She didn’t need to tell him about how things had happened. “I didn’t mean to imply anything by that.”

“Of course not,” he said benignly, reaching for a biscuit. “You need never fear voicing an opinion about my father. You’ll find I have many, and few of them are good.”

“Oh.” Fiona didn’t know what to say to that, so she decided to find another topic. It wasn’t hard, for she had a thousand questions. And that was before she’d learned she was to be presented to the queen or that she would have a new chaperone and a…sponsor? “What does a sponsor do?”

He finished chewing and waved his hand, still holding the biscuit. “An excellent question. You are quite fortunate to be sponsored by one of Society’s most influential ladies, Lady Pickering.” He waggled his brows. “She will come tomorrow, and you’ll discuss all things of import, including your presentation to court, your wardrobe, and, of course, invitations.”

Fiona had just picked up a biscuit and promptly dropped it into her teacup. “I already have invitations?”

“Not yet. No one knows who you are, and the Season has barely begun. Lady Pickering will see that you receive invitations. Once you’re presented, there will likely be a flood.”

Fiona picked up her teacup and frowned into the contents where the edge of the biscuit was visible just above the liquid.

“Let’s pour you a new cup.” He reached for the third cup that was likely for Mrs. Tucket, who wouldn’t be needing it. After pouring the tea, he added milk and sugar, then swapped it with her cup with an efficiency and care she would not have expected from an earl.