Improper (The Phoenix Club #1) by Darcy Burke



“Yes.” He pointed to the one at the top. “That’s my grandmother. She lives at the dowager house at Deane Hall. She rarely comes to London anymore.”

The likeness was of a woman past the blush of youth but not yet in middle age. Her gray-blue eyes were very similar to that of her grandson, including a certain sense of exuberance, as if she were ready to meet whatever came her way. “She looks lively.”

“She has many opinions and will share them whether you want to hear them or not.” At the top of the stairs, he continued onto the next flight. “Your room is up one more.”

The staircase up to the second floor was not quite as grand, and the paintings were of landscapes. There was also one of a bowl of fruit.

“Just to the left here.” He led her to a doorway and stepped into a small, well-appointed sitting room decorated in pale pink and green. Once inside, he gestured to the right. “Your chamber is through there. And here is Miss Lancaster.”

The woman who was to be Fiona’s companion walked into the sitting room from a door on the wall opposite the one to Fiona’s chamber. Miss Lancaster was taller than average with dark blonde hair and a narrow face. Her pale, gray-green eyes were wide, however, and fringed with long, dark lashes. There was a steel to her, perhaps in the way she stood or the manner in which she held her head with an air of resolve.

Fiona moved toward her with a warm smile, wanting to start their relationship off well, even if she did feel a bit like the woman was edging Mrs. Tucket out. “Good afternoon, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Miss Lancaster dropped into an easy curtsey. “I have been eager to meet you, Miss Wingate. And to be of service.”

“I will let the two of you become acquainted,” the earl said. “Dinner is at eight.”

“So late?” Fiona asked. “Mrs. Tucket will be quite famished by then, I should think.”

“We don’t keep country hours here in town,” Overton said. “But we’ll do our best to accommodate Mrs. Tucket. I’ll see she has whatever refreshments she desires. As soon as she wakes,” he added.

“Where is her room?” Fiona glanced toward the door from which Miss Lancaster had emerged.

“Across the gallery overlooking Brook Street. I’m sure she’ll find it more than acceptable. See you at dinner.” He turned and left before Fiona could ask any more questions.

Instead, she addressed Miss Lancaster. “Is that your room there then?” Fiona inclined her head toward the door that didn’t lead to Fiona’s chamber.

“Yes. His lordship thought we should share this sitting room so as to form our, er, bond.” Miss Lancaster shifted her weight, and Fiona saw the crack in the woman’s façade. She was nervous.

Fiona relaxed, for she was nervous too, and it helped to know she wasn’t alone. It also helped that her new companion appeared to be just a few years older than her, rather than someone with several additional decades. Fiona loved Mrs. Tucket, but it would be nice to have someone young to talk to. “How old are you, Miss Lancaster?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Is that the age of most companions in London?”

“Er, yes?” Miss Lancaster sounded uncertain.

“You don’t know? I thought Lord Overton said you were an experienced chaperone.”

“Oh, of course. Just not here in London.” Miss Lancaster abruptly turned. “Come, I’ll show you your room. I’m sure you’re anxious to see it.”

“Thank you. I should like that very much, Miss Lancaster.”

The taller woman looked back over her shoulder. “Please call me Prudence.”

“All right, but you must call me Fiona then. Especially if we’re to be friends.” How she hoped they would be friends. Fiona hadn’t had one in a very long time. Not since Abigail Harding had moved to Ludlow after getting married four years ago.

Prudence’s gaze softened and some of the tension seemed to leave her frame. “I would like that.”

“Wonderful.” Fiona grinned and then gasped as she stepped into her bedchamber. It was more than twice as large as the one in their cottage in Bitterley on her cousin’s estate, perhaps three times, actually, and decorated in beautiful rose and gold. There was a large bed, a writing desk, a dressing table, and a grand armoire along with smaller dressers for her things. What she owned wouldn’t fill even a quarter of everything, but then she supposed her new wardrobe would.