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My Lady Thief
Lady by day, Robin Hood by night
Arabella Knightley is an earl’s granddaughter, but it’s common knowledge that she spent her early years in London’s gutters. What the ton doesn’t know is that while Arabella acts the perfect young lady by day, at night she plays Robin Hood, stealing from the wealthy to give to the poor.
Adam St Just is one of Society’s most sought after bachelors. He’s also the man responsible for Arabella Knightley’s nickname: Miss Smell o’ Gutters—a mistake he regrets, but can never erase.
Bored by polite society, Adam sets out to unmask the elusive thief … but he’s not prepared for what he discovers.
“This is a great historical romance. Characters with passion, depth, intelligence, and a great sense of humor.”
~ Mary @ Buried Under Romance
“Truly, deeply romantic. How these two adversaries circle one another, flirt, mock and fend each other off when vulnerable was wonderful to witness.”
~ M.D. @ Goodreads
“A wonderfully sweet read. The way the author showed the gradual transformation of Adam’s mindset from a supercilious man to someone down-to-earth and absolutely in adoration of Arabella was superb. I loved this story, with its heartwarming, yet oftimes heart-rending moments; with its adorable characters and those hilarious moments, not to mention the flowing writing style. Lovely, simply lovely.”
~ Punya Reviews
Finalist in the Booksellers’ Best Award.
Finalist in the National Readers’ Choice Award.
Finalist in the Australian Romantic Book of the Year (R*BY) Award.
THE THIEF STOOD in front of Lady Bicknell’s dressing table and looked with disapproval at the objects strewn across it: glass vials of perfume, discarded handkerchiefs, a clutter of pots and jars of cosmetics—rouge, maquillage; many gaping open, their contents drying—two silver-backed hair brushes with strands of hair caught among the bristles, a messy pile of earrings, the faceted jewels glinting dully in the candlelight.
The thief stirred the earrings with a fingertip. Gaudy. Tasteless. In need of cleaning.
The dressing table, the mess, offended the thief’s tidy soul. She pursed her lips and examined the earrings again, more slowly. The diamonds were paste, the sapphires nothing more than colored glass, the rubies . . . She picked up a ruby earring and looked at it closely. Real, but such a garish, vulgar setting. The thief grimaced and put the earring back, more neatly than its owner had done. There was nothing on the dressing table that interested her.
She turned to the mahogany dresser. It stood in the corner, crouching on bowed legs like a large toad. Three wide drawers and at the top, three small ones, side by side, beneath a frowning mirror. The thief quietly opened the drawers and let her fingers sift through the contents, stirring the woman’s scent from the garments: perspiration, perfume.
The topmost drawer on the left, filled with a tangle of silk stockings and garters, wasn’t as deep as the others.
For a moment the thief stood motionless, listening for footsteps in the corridor, listening to the breeze stir the curtains at the open window, then she pulled the drawer out and laid it on the floor.
Behind the drawer of stockings was another drawer, small and discreet, and inside that . . .
The thief grinned as she lifted out the bracelet. Pearls gleamed in the candlelight, exquisite, expensive.
The drawer contained—besides the bracelet—a matching pair of pearl earrings and four letters. The thief took the earrings and replaced the letters. She was easing the drawer back into its slot when a name caught her eye. St. Just.
St. Just. The name brought with it memory of a handsome face and gray eyes, memory of humiliation—and a surge of hatred.
She hesitated for a second, and then reached for the letters.
The first one was brief and to the point. Here, as requested, is my pearl bracelet. In exchange, I must ask for the return of my letter. It was signed Grace St. Just.
The thief frowned and unfolded the second letter. It was written in the same girlish hand as the first. The date made her pause—November 6th, 1817. The day Princess Charlotte had died, although the letter writer wouldn’t have known that at the time.
Dearest Reginald, the letter started. The thief skimmed over a passionate declaration of love and slowed to read the final paragraph. I miss you unbearably. Every minute seems like an hour, every day a year. The thought of being parted from you is unendurable. If it must be elopement, then so be it. A tearstain marked the ink. Your loving Grace.
The thief picked up the third letter. It was a draft, some words crossed out, others scribbled in the margins.
My dear Miss St. Just, I have a letter of yours you wrote to a Mr. Reginald Plunkett of Birmingham has come into my possession. If you want it back. In exchange for its return. I should like to return this letter to you. In exchange I want ask nothing more than your pearl bracelet. You may leave it the bracelet for me in the Dutch garden in the Kensington Palace Gardens. Place it Hide it in the urn at the northeastern corner of the pond.
The thief thinned her lips. She stopped reading and picked up the final letter. Another draft.
Dear Miss St. Just, thank you for the bracelet. I find, however, that I want require the necklace the earrings as well. You may leave them in the same place. Do not worry about the your letter; I have it it is safe in my keeping.
The thief slowly refolded the paper. Blackmail. There was a sour taste in her mouth. She looked down at the bracelet and earrings, at the love letter, and bit her lower lip. What to do?
Memory flooded through her: the smothered laughter of the ton, the sniggers and the sideways glances, the gleeful whispers.
The thief tightened her lips. Resentment burned in her breast and heated her cheeks. Adam St. Just could rot in hell for all she cared, but Grace St. Just . . . Grace St. Just didn’t deserve this.
Her decision made, the thief gathered the contents of the hidden drawer—letters and jewels—and tucked them into the pouch she wore around her waist, hidden beneath shirt and trousers. Swiftly she replaced both drawers. Crossing the room, she plucked the ruby earrings from the objects littering Lady Bicknell’s dressing table. The rubies went into the pouch, nestling alongside the pearls. The thief propped an elegant square of card among the remaining earrings. The message inscribed on it was brief: Should payment be made for a spiteful tongue? Tom thinks so. There was no signature; a drawing of a lean alley cat adorned the bottom of the note.
The thief gave a satisfied nod. Justice done. She glanced at the mirror. In the candlelight her eyes were black. Her face was soot-smudged and unrecognizable. For a moment she stared at herself, unsettled, then she lifted a finger to touch the faint cleft in her chin. That, at least, was recognizable, whether she wore silk dresses or boys’ clothing in rough, dark fabric.
The thief turned away from her image in the mirror. She trod quietly towards the open window.
ADAM ST. JUST found his half-sister in the morning room, reading a letter. Her hair gleamed like spun gold in the sunlight. “Grace?”
His sister gave a convulsive start and clutched the letter to her breast. A bundle of items on her lap slid to the floor. Something landed with a light thud. Adam saw the glimmer of pearls.
“Is that your bracelet? I thought you’d lost―” He focused on her face. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Grace hastily wiped her cheeks. “Just something in my eye.” She bent and hurriedly gathered several pieces of paper and the bracelet.
A pearl earring lay stranded on the carpet. Adam nudged it with the toe of his boot. “And this?” He picked up the earring and held it out.
Grace flushed. She took the earring
Adam frowned at her. “Grace, what is it?”
“Nothing.” Her smile was bright, but her eyes slid away from his.
Adam sat down on the sofa alongside her. “Grace . . .” he said, and then stopped, at a loss to know how to proceed. The physical distance between them—a few inches of rose-pink damask—may as well have been a chasm. The twelve years that separated them, the difference in their genders, seemed insurmountable barriers. He felt a familiar sense of helplessness, a familiar knowledge that he was failing in his guardianship of her.
He looked at his sister’s downcast eyes, the curve of her cheek, the slender fingers clutching the pearl earring. I love you, Grace. He cleared his throat and tried to say the words aloud. “Grace, I hope you know that I . . . care about you and that I want you to be happy.”
It was apparently the wrong thing to say. Grace began to cry.
Adam hesitated for a moment, dismayed, and then put his arm around her. To his relief, Grace didn’t pull away. She turned towards him, burying her face in his shoulder.
It hurt to hear her cry. Adam swallowed and tightened his grip on her. She’d grown thinner since their arrival in London, paler, quieter. I should take her home. To hell with the Season.
The storm of tears lessened. Adam stroked his sister’s hair. “What is it, Grace?”
“I didn’t want to disappoint you again,” she sobbed.
“You’ve never disappointed me.”
Grace shook her head against his shoulder. “Last year . . .” She didn’t need to say more; they both knew what she was referring to.
“I was angry—but not with you.” He’d been more than angry: he’d been furious. Furious at Reginald Plunkett, furious at the school for hiring the man, but mostly furious at himself for not visiting Grace more often, for not realizing how lonely she was, how vulnerable to the smiles and compliments of her music teacher.
The anger stirred again, tightening in his chest as if a fist was clenched there. I should have horsewhipped him. I should have broken every bone in his body.
Adam dug in his pocket for a handkerchief. Grace had come perilously close to ruin. Even now, six months later, he woke in a cold sweat from dreams—nightmares—where he’d delayed his journey by one day, where he’d arrived in Bath to find her gone. “Here,” he said, handing her the handkerchief.
Grace dried her cheeks.
Adam smiled at her. “Now, tell me what’s wrong.”
Grace looked down at her lap, at the papers and the pearls. She extracted a sheet of paper and handed it to him.
My dear Miss St. Just, I have a letter of yours you wrote to a Mr. Reginald Plunkett of Birmingham has come into my possession. If you want it back. In exchange for its return. I should like to return this letter to you. In exchange I want ask nothing more than your pearl bracelet.
“What!” He stared at his sister. “Someone’s blackmailing you?”
Grace bit her lip.
Adam’s fingers tightened on the sheet of paper. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her gaze fell.
Because you were afraid I’d be angry at you, disappointed in you. Adam swallowed. He looked back at the blackmail letter without seeing it. He rubbed his face with one hand. “Grace . . .”
“Here.” She handed him another piece of paper. The writing was the same as the first, the intent as ugly.
“You did what this person asked? You gave them your pearls?” His rage made the sunlight seem as sharp-edged as a sword. The room swung around him for a moment, vivid with anger. He focused on a chair. The rose-pink damask had become the deep crimson of blood, the gilded wood was as bright as flames. How dared anyone do this to her? The sheet of paper crumpled in his fist. I’ll kill them—
“Yes.” Grace gathered the bracelet and the earrings within the curve of her palm.
Adam blinked. His anger fell away, replaced by confusion. “Then why―?”
“Tom returned them to me.”
He blinked again at the elegant piece of paper she handed him, at the brief message, the signature, the cat drawn in black ink at the bottom of the page. His interest sharpened. That Tom.
I believe these belong to you, Tom had written. I found them in Lady Bicknell’s possession.
“And the letter to Reginald Plunkett?”
Grace touched a folded piece of paper in her lap.
Adam read the note again. Tom. “The devil,” he said, under his breath. He fastened his gaze on his sister. “Was there anything else? Anything that might identify him?”
Grace shook her head.
Adam touched the ink-drawn cat with a fingertip. It stared back at him, sitting with its tail curled across its paws, unblinking, calm.
He lifted his eyes to the signature, and above that to the message. “Lady Bicknell,” he said aloud, and the rage came back.
“Apparently,” Grace said.
The blackmail letters were clearly drafts. “You have the ones she sent you?”
Grace shook her head. “I burned them.”
Adam reread Lady Bicknell’s letters, letting his eyes rest on each and every word, scored out or not. “She’ll pay for this,” he said grimly. “By God, if she thinks she can―!” He recollected himself, glanced at his sister’s face, and forced himself to sit back on the sofa, to form his mouth into a smile. “Forget this, Grace. It’s over.”
“Yes,” said Grace, but her expression was familiar: pale, miserable. She’d worn it four years ago when her mother died, and she’d worn it last November when she’d learned the truth about Reginald Plunkett.
Adam reached for her hand. “How odd, that we must be grateful to a thief.” He laughed, tried to make a joke of it.
Grace smiled dutifully.
Adam looked at her, noting the paleness of her cheeks, the faint shadows beneath the blue eyes. “Grace, would you like to go home?” Away from the press of buildings and people and the sly whispers of gossip.
Her face lit up, as if the sun had come from behind a cloud. “Oh, yes!”
“Then I’ll arrange it.”
“Thank you!” She pulled her hand free from his grasp and embraced him, swift and wholly unexpected.
Adam experienced a throat-tightening rush of emotion. He folded his sister briefly in his arms and then released her. How did we become so distant? He cleared his throat. “Have you any engagements today? Would you like to ride out to Richmond?”
“Oh, yes! I should like that of all things!” She rose, and the pearls tumbled from her lap onto the damask-covered sofa. A much-creased letter fluttered down alongside them. It was addressed to Reginald Plunkett in Grace’s handwriting.
The delight faded from his sister’s face, leaving it miserable once more.
Adam gestured to the letter. “Do you want to keep it?”
Grace shook her head.
“Shall I burn it for you? Or would you prefer―”
“I don’t want to touch it!” Her voice was low and fierce.
Adam nodded. He scooped up the pearls and placed them in Grace’s palm, curling her fingers around them, holding her hand, holding her gaze. “Forget about this, Grace. It’s over.”
Grace nodded, but the happiness that had briefly lit her face was gone.
Adam stood. He kissed her cheek. “Go and change,” he said, releasing her hand.
When she’d gone, he picked up the pieces of paper: Grace’s love letter, Tom’s note, Lady Bicknell’s blackmail drafts. He allowed his rage to flare again. Lady Bicknell would pay for the distress she’d caused Grace. She’d pay deeply.
But some of the blame was his. The distance between himself and Grace was his fault: he’d been his sister’s guardian, not her friend. She’d been too afraid of his disappointment, his anger, to ask for help.
Adam strode from the morning room. His shame was a physical thing; he felt it in his chest as if a knife blade was buried there.
He had failed Grace. Somehow, without realizing it, he’d become to her what their father had been to him: disapproving and unapproachable.
But no more, he vowed silently as he entered his study. No more.
Adam grimly placed the letters in the top drawer of his desk. He put Tom’s note in last and let his gaze dwell on the signature. “I would like to know who you are,” he said under his breath. And then he locked the drawer and put the key in his pocket.
ARABELLA KNIGHTLEY, GRANDDAUGHTER of the fifth Earl of Westcote, paused alongside a potted palm and surveyed the ballroom. Lord and Lady Halliwell were launching their eldest daughter in style: hundreds of candles blazed in the chandeliers, a profusion of flowers scented the air, and yards of shimmering pink silk swathed the walls. An orchestra played on a dais and dancing couples filled the floor, performing the intricate steps of the quadrille. The débutantes were distinguishable by their self-consciousness as much as by their pale gowns.
Grace St. Just wasn’t on the dance floor. Arabella looked at the ladies seated around the perimeter of the ballroom, scanning their faces as she sipped her lemonade. Her lip lifted slightly in contempt as she recognized Lady Bicknell.
The woman’s appearance—the tasteless, gaudy trinkets, the heavy application of cosmetics—was reminiscent of her dressing table. Her earrings . . . Arabella narrowed her eyes. Yes, Lady Bicknell was wearing the diamond earrings she herself had discarded as worthless.
If the woman’s appearance was in keeping with her dressing table, her figure brought to mind the mahogany dresser: broad and squat. Like a frog, Arabella thought, watching as Lady Bicknell’s wide, flat mouth opened and shut. She was declaiming forcefully, her heavy face flushed with outrage. One of the ladies seated alongside her hid a smile behind her fan; the other, a dowager wearing a purple turban, listened with round-eyed interest.
Telling the tale of Tom’s thieving, Arabella thought, with another curl of her lip. The woman certainly wouldn’t mention the other items that had gone missing last night: the pearl bracelet and earrings, the blackmail letters.
Arabella dismissed Lady Bicknell from her thoughts. She continued her search of the ballroom, looking for Grace St. Just.
She found her finally, seated alongside a St. Just aunt. The girl wore a white satin gown sewn with seed pearls. More pearls gleamed at her earlobes and around her pale throat. She was astonishingly lovely, and yet she was sitting in a corner as if she didn’t want anyone to notice her.
Arabella was reminded, vividly, of her own first Season. It was no easy thing to make one’s début surrounded by whispers and conjecture and sidelong glances.
And I had advantages that Grace does not. She’d had the armor her childhood had given her; armor a girl as gently reared as Grace St. Just couldn’t possibly have. And she’d had advice—advice it appeared no one had given Grace.
Arabella chewed on her lower lip. She glanced at the dance floor, trying to decide what to do. Her eyes fastened on one of the dancers, a tall man with a patrician cast to his features. Adam St. Just, cousin to the Duke of Frew.
She eyed him with resentment. St. Just’s manner was as aloof, as proud, as if it was he who held the dukedom, not his cousin. How could I have been such a fool as to believe he liked me? She should be grateful to St. Just; he’d taught her never to trust a member of the ton—a valuable lesson. But it was impossible to be grateful while she still had memory of the beaumonde’s gleeful delight in her humiliation.
Arabella watched him dance, hoping he’d misstep or trample on his partner’s toes. It was a futile hope; St. Just had the natural grace of a sportsman. His partner, a young débutante, lacked that grace. The girl danced stiffly, her manner awkward and admiring.
Arabella’s lips tightened. No doubt St. Just accepted the admiration as his due; for years he’d been one of the biggest prizes on the marriage market, courted for his wealth, his bloodline, his handsome face.
She looked again at Grace St. Just. The girl bore little resemblance to her half-brother. Adam St. Just’s arrogance was stamped on him—the way he carried himself, the tilt of his chin, the set of his mouth. Everything about him said I am better than you. Grace had none of that. She sat looking down at her hands, her shoulders slightly hunched as if she wished to hide.
I really should help her.
Arabella looked at St. Just again. As she watched, he cast a swift, frowning glance in the direction of his sister.
He’s worried about her.
It was disconcerting to find herself in agreement with him.
Arabella swallowed the last of her lemonade, not tasting it, and handed her empty glass to a passing servant. No one snubbed her as she made her way through the crush of guests, her smiles were politely returned, and yet everyone in the ballroom—herself included—knew that she didn’t belong. The satin gown, the fan of pierced ivory, the jeweled combs in her hair, couldn’t disguise what she was: an outsider.
Music swirled around her, and beneath that was the rustle of silk and satin and gauze, the hum of voices. Her ears caught snippets of conversation. Much of tonight’s gossip seemed to be about Lady Bicknell. Opinion was divided: some sympathized with Lady Bicknell; others thought it served her right.
There was no doubt why Tom had paid her a visit last night.
“That tongue of hers,” stated a florid gentleman in a waistcoat that was too tight for him.
“Most likely,” his wife said, glancing up and meeting Arabella’s eyes. For a brief second the woman’s smile stiffened, then she inclined her head in a polite nod.
Seven years ago that momentary hesitation would have hurt; now she no longer cared. Arabella smiled cheerfully back at the woman. Only four more weeks of this. Four more weeks of ball gowns and false smiles, of pretending to belong, and then she could turn her back on Society. But first, I must help Grace St. Just.
The girl looked up as Arabella approached. She was fairer than her half-brother, her hair golden instead of brown, her eyes a clear shade of blue. She was breathtakingly lovely—and quite clearly miserable.
“Miss St. Just.” Arabella smiled and extended her hand. “I don’t believe we’ve met. My name is Arabella Knightley.”
Grace St. Just flushed faintly. She hesitated a moment, then held out her hand. Her brother has warned her about me.
Arabella sat, ignoring the St. Just aunt who frowned at her, lips pursed in disapproval, from her position alongside Grace. “How are you finding your first Season?”
“Oh,” said Grace. She sent a darting glance in the direction of the dance floor. “It’s very . . . that is to say―”
“I hated mine,” Arabella said frankly. “Everyone staring and whispering behind their hands. It’s not pleasant to be gossiped about, is it?”
Grace St. Just stopped searching the dance floor for her brother. She stared at Arabella. “No. It isn’t.”
“Someone gave me some advice,” Arabella said. “When I was in a similar position to you. If you don’t think it impertinent of me, I should like to pass it on.”
She had the girl’s full attention now. Those sky-blue eyes were focused on her face with an almost painful intensity. “Please,” Grace St. Just said. Even the aunt leaned slightly forward in her chair.
“It was given to me by Mr. Brummell,” Arabella said. “If he were still in England, I’m certain he’d impart it to you himself.”
“The Beau?” Grace breathed. “Truly?”
Arabella nodded. “He said . . .” She paused for a moment, remembering. The Beau’s voice had been cool and suave, and oddly kind. “He said I must ignore it, and more than that, I must ignore it well.”
It was the only time Beau Brummell had spoken to her. But he had always nodded to her most politely after that, his manner one of faint approval.
“And so I did as he suggested,” Arabella said. “I gave the appearance of enjoying myself. I smiled at every opportunity, and when I couldn’t smile, I laughed.” She smoothed a wrinkle in one of her long gloves, remembering. A slight smile tugged at her lips. “I believe some people found it very annoying.”
She looked up and held Grace St. Just’s eyes. “So that’s my advice. However difficult it may seem, you must ignore what people are saying, the way they look at you. And you must ignore it well.”
“Ignore it?” Tears filled the girl’s eyes. “How can I?”
“It isn’t easy,” Arabella said firmly. “But it can be done.”
Grace shook her head. She hunted in her reticule for a handkerchief. “I would much rather go home.” Her voice wobbled on the last word.
“Certainly you may do that, but if I may be so bold, Miss St. Just . . . the rumors are just rumors. Speculation and conjecture. If you shrug your shoulders, London will find a new target. But if you leave now, the rumors will be confirmed.”
Grace looked stricken. She sat with the handkerchief clutched in her hand and tears trembling on her eyelashes.
“It doesn’t matter whether you committed whatever indiscretion London thinks you did,” Arabella said matter-of-factly. “What matters is whether London believes it or not.”
Grace St. Just bit her lip. She looked down at the handkerchief and twisted it between her fingers.
“Be bold,” Arabella said softly.
“Bold?” The girl’s laugh was shaky. “I’m not a bold person, Miss Knightley.”
“I think you can be anything you want.”
Arabella’s voice was quiet, but it made the girl look up. For a moment they matched gazes, and then Grace St. Just gave a little nod. She blew her nose and put the handkerchief away. “Tell me . . . how you did it, Miss Knightley. If you please?”
Arabella was conscious of a sense of relief. She sat back in her chair and glanced at the dance floor. Adam St. Just was watching them. She could see his outrage, even though half a ballroom separated them.
It was tempting to smile at him and give a mocking little wave. Arabella did neither. She turned her attention back to Grace St. Just.
ADAM RELINQUISHED MISS HORNBY to the care of her mother. He turned and grimly surveyed the far corner of the ballroom. His sister sat alongside Arabella Knightley, as she had for the past fifteen minutes.
They made a pleasing tableau, dark and fair, their heads bent together as they talked, Miss Knightley’s gown of deep rose-pink perfectly complementing his sister’s white satin.
Adam gritted his teeth. He strode around the ballroom, watching as Grace said something and Miss Knightley replied—and his aunt, Seraphina Mexted, sat placidly alongside, nodding and smiling and making no attempt to shoo Miss Knightley away.
Grace lifted her head and laughed.
Adam’s stride faltered. Arabella Knightley had made Grace laugh. In fact, now that he observed more closely, his sister’s face was bright with amusement.
She looks happy.
Arabella Knightley had accomplished, in fifteen minutes, what he had been trying—and failing—to do for months. How in Hades had she done it? And far more importantly, why?
Miss Knightley looked up as he approached. Her coloring showed her French blood—hair and eyes so dark they were almost black—but the soft dent in her chin, as if someone had laid a fingertip there at her birth, proclaimed her as coming from a long line of Knightleys.
His eyes catalogued her features—the elegant cheekbones, the dark eyes, the soft mouth—and his pulse gave a kick. It was one of the things that annoyed him most about Arabella Knightley: that he was so strongly attracted to her. The second most annoying thing was the stab of guilt—as familiar as the attraction—that always accompanied sight of her.
Adam bowed. “Miss Knightley, what a pleasure to see you here this evening.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Truly?” Her voice was light and amused, disbelieving.
Adam clenched his jaw. This was the third thing that annoyed him most about Miss Knightley: her manner.
Arabella Knightley turned to Grace and smiled. “I must go. My grandmother will be wanting supper soon.”
Adam stepped back as she took leave of his sister and aunt. The rose-pink gown made her skin appear creamier and the dark ringlets more glossily black. A striking young woman, Miss Knightley, with her high cheekbones and dark eyes. And an extremely wealthy one, too. But no man of birth and breeding would choose to marry her—unless his need for a fortune outweighed everything else.
She turned to him. “Good evening, Mr. St. Just.” Cool amusement still glimmered in her eyes.
Adam gritted his teeth and bowed again. His gaze followed her. Miss Knightley’s figure was slender and her height scarcely more than five foot—and yet she had presence. It was in her carriage, in the way she held her head. She was perfectly at home in the crowded ballroom, utterly confident, unconcerned by the glances she drew.
Adam turned to his aunt. “Aunt Seraphina, how could you allow―”
“I like her,” Aunt Seraphina said placidly. “Seems a very intelligent girl.”
Adam blinked, slightly taken aback.
“I like her, too,” Grace said. “Adam, may I invite her―”
“No. Being seen in her company will harm your reputation. Miss Knightley is not good ton.”
“I know,” said Grace. “She spent part of her childhood in the slums. Her mother was a . . . a . . .” She groped for a euphemism, and then gave up. “But I like her. I want to be friends with her.”
Over my dead body.
“Shall we leave?” Adam said, changing the subject. “It’s almost midnight and we’ve a long journey tomorrow.” To Sussex, where there’d be no Arabella Knightley.
He began to feel more cheerful.
“I’ve decided to stay in London,” Grace said.
Adam raised his eyebrows. “You have?”
“Yes,” Grace said. “This is my first Season, and I’m going to enjoy it.”