Improper (The Phoenix Club #1) by Darcy Burke



She couldn’t help but smile at him. “You’re quite jovial.” She didn’t recall his father being so likeable. He’d been rather serious.

“I try to be.” He finished the rest of his biscuit while Fiona sampled her new cup of tea.

“Better?” he asked.

“Much, thank you.” She set her cup down just as he picked his up.

“THE BLOODY QUEEN?”

The outburst from Mrs. Tucket caused the earl to spill his tea right down the front of his cravat and waistcoat. His eyes widened with shock as he darted his gaze toward where Mrs. Tucket still slumped in her chair. “Is she all right?”

“Oh, yes. She does that.” Fiona picked up her napkin and went to the earl, dabbing at the tea on his front without thinking.

“Er.” His gaze met hers—they were rather close—and Fiona realized this was highly improper.

“Sorry!” She dropped the now-soiled napkin in his lap and dashed back to her chair, heat rushing up her neck and cheeks.

He plucked the napkin up and continued where she left off. “It’s fine. I appreciate your quick reaction. Mrs. Tucket often shouts in her sleep?” He looked toward her again, one brow arching. “She is still asleep?”

“Most certainly. At this time of day, she typically naps an hour or two. And, yes, she is known to call out. Usually with a profanity.”

His hand stopped wiping at his waistcoat as his gaze fixed on her. “Truly?” At her answering nod, he let out a wonderfully warm laugh. Fiona couldn’t help but join in.

When their laughter subsided, he set the napkin on the edge of the table. “Well, it’s good that I’ve enlisted additional help. You will require a chaperone who does not fall asleep and make exclamations using inappropriate language.”

Fiona leaned forward slightly. “You can’t dismiss her. I won’t allow it.”

The earl studied her in silence a moment. “I’m afraid it’s not up to you to allow things,” he said with a subtle edge of steel. “However, it was never my plan to dismiss her. I understand she’s been with your family for some time. She will simply take on a new role.”

His plan. It wasn’t up to her. Perhaps Overton wasn’t as likeable as she thought. “Thank you, my lord,” she said as sweetly as possible. “What role is that?”

“Whatever you deem it to be. Just know she will not accompany you to Society events. That will be Miss Lancaster’s responsibility.”

“Miss Lancaster?”

He stood. “Come, I’ll introduce you now.” Looking toward Mrs. Tucket, he pressed his lips together. “Should we wake her? I can have Mrs. Smythe, the housekeeper, see her upstairs.”

Fiona went to assess Mrs. Tucket’s situation. She didn’t look particularly comfortable, but Fiona knew that didn’t matter. What did matter was not interrupting this most important afternoon nap, particularly after their long, arduous journey over the past week. “She’ll sleep another hour at least. Would it be possible to have a maid check on her periodically so that she doesn’t startle when she awakens? She may not recall where she is.”

The earl looked alarmed. “She’s forgetful?”

“Occasionally, but so is anyone nearing seventy. This is a new place and we’ve only just arrived. I fear I might not recall where I was.”

“Fair enough.” He gestured to the door. “Shall we?”

The tea had stained the folds of his cravat, and parts of his maroon waistcoat were darker than the rest because the fabric was wet. She would feel bad if his clothing were ruined, but then he could likely afford to replace both items without a second thought.

He led her from the sitting room back into the foyer. A liveried footman stood near the door like a statue. They turned to the right, and there was an actual statue in the corner, a life-sized rendering of a muscular young man in a brimmed hat, winged sandals, and a cloth draped in an artful fashion covering his most intimate parts.

“Is that Hermes?” she asked.

“You know your Greek gods.” He sounded impressed. “My father liked Greek mythology in his youth. Or so my mother said.”

He led her into a large hall in which a wide staircase climbed up the right side. Portraits lined the wall ascending to the first floor.

“I seem to recall that about him when he visited my father. They discussed Greek philosophers too.” She looked at the paintings as they went up. “Are these your relatives?”