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Miss Dashing
Author: Grace Burrowes


Chapter One



“I am a curiosity.” Lord Phillip Vincent paced from the pianoforte to the French doors and on past the great harp. “I have no wish to become a laughingstock.”

“Has somebody derided you to your face, my lord?” In Miss Hecate Brompton’s opinion, only a fool would make fun of Lord Phillip. He stood several inches over six feet in his riding boots and moved with the brisk vitality of a wild creature in roaring good health. His hair needed a trim, and his clothing, while well made, was clearly borrowed. The fit across those broad shoulders was a trifle too snug to be Bond Street’s best work.

And yet, those rough edges made him all the more imposing. In a fair fight against Mayfair’s dandies and Corinthians, Hecate would put her money on Lord Phillip—not that Mayfair fights were usually fair and not that she gambled with her wealth.

“You lot don’t insult a man openly,” his lordship replied, straightening an unlit taper in a wall sconce. “You find it more diverting to whisper about him behind your fans and chortle over his missteps in the clubs.”

“Perhaps we seek to spare that man embarrassment?” You lot. He made polite society sound like a secret club for naughty children. Not far off the mark.

“Nothing so considerate as that.” He prowled back to the pianoforte and took a seat on the bench, which creaked under his weight. “You seek to embarrass him to the maximum extent possible, humiliation by a thousand cuts, and all of them delivered by unseen hands when his back is turned. I travel a dark forest rife with snares, and I am the most ignorant of prey.”

The analogy was all too apt. Hecate had taken her own turn as the most ignorant of prey, which was why she didn’t change the topic to the weather, pour his lordship a cup of tea, and send pointed glances at the clock on the mantel.

“Learning any new terrain takes time, my lord. You are a marquess’s heir, and the fools will twit you on that basis alone.”

He glanced around the music room. “I cannot help that my brother holds a title. I can do much to foil the fools, though, provided I have proper guidance.”

Had Hecate been in that dark forest, she might have experienced the same uneasy sensation when a twig snapped in the dense thicket behind her.

“I can recommend some etiquette manuals.”

He was back on his feet, retracing the same path he’d just trod. “I’ve read them. They are for a cit’s daughter who has bagged a baronet’s nephew and now must entertain an MP’s cousin. I’m to be introduced at court, God help me, and my brother… Tavistock was to the Great Nonsense born. He doesn’t even grasp how much he knows about proper deportment. The whole business goes beyond good manners—which we have even out in Berkshire—to mysteries too numerous to name.”

“I can solve one mystery for you,” Hecate said. “A gentleman does not pace.”

He stopped, heaved those muscular shoulders in an audible sigh, and returned to his piano bench. “There, you see? Another snare closed ’round my ankle. I’ve probably paced the length of three ballrooms, four guest parlors, and two conservatories in the last week alone. Why doesn’t a gentleman pace?”

“Would you like some tea?”

“Please. Cream and sugar, but this is Mayfair, so you probably have only milk. Don’t bother if that’s the case.”

“You put cream in your tea out in Berkshire?” Who knew the shires were home to decadence?

“I can’t speak for all of Berkshire. At Lark’s Nest, we have plenty enough cream for our butter and cheese, so yes, I can have cream for my tea, porridge, and bread pudding, if I prefer, and I do. I also ensure some of my heifers freshen in autumn. Thus we have ample supplies in the dairy year-round.”

He looked at his hands. Broad, capable, calloused. A white scar crossed the knuckles of the left hand. No signet rings, no lace draped over his wrists. Not the hands of a gentleman.

“I have just committed another six breaches of decorum, haven’t I? Now I want to pace again, but a gentleman doesn’t, and you’ve still not told me why.”

“A gentleman also doesn’t make his hostess hike across the music room to deliver his tea. Come sit over here, and I will explain about pacing and fidgeting.”

“I do not fidget.” He crossed the room and settled beside Hecate on the sofa, which dipped the cushions and nearly had her pitching into his side. “But sometimes I want to pace all the way back to Berkshire.”

“One lump or two?”

“In that thimble? One will do.”

She obliged and passed him the cup and saucer. “A gentleman does not pace or fidget because it betrays a lack of self-control. A lady is to behave at all times with similar composure. She never touches her face or hair in public either, lest she convey anything other than serene calm.”

The tea disappeared in a single swallow. “Whyever not? If she’s frightened by a mouse, will her serene composure impress the little fellow into scurrying off posthaste? If she’s set upon by footpads, will serene composure keep her reticule from their grubby mitts? If a curl comes loose, is she to ignore it bouncing in her eyes?”

Hecate had offered similar arguments to her finishing governess, though Lord Phillip’s baritone rumble made the same logic more convincing.

“The lady with an errant curl is to withdraw to the nearest retiring room to repair her coiffure. Next time, wait until I’ve served myself before you enjoy your tea, and try to savor it. Sip rather than gulp.”

He glowered at his empty cup. “I knew that. We have tea trays in Berkshire. But I’m so blasted unsettled, I forget basic manners. What else?”

Lord Phillip was determined, and he wasn’t arrogant. “A gentleman never sits close enough to a lady to risk inadvertently touching her person, unless the relationship is one of friendly familiarity.”

Lord Phillip wrinkled his nose—a good, lordly beak—gave Hecate an inscrutable look, and moved a foot away on the sofa. “Don’t stop there. We’re just getting started, I’m sure.”

Hecate sipped her tea and pointedly did not glance at muscular calves lovingly encased in gleaming leather. “A gentleman removes his spurs before entering a dwelling.”

“I vaguely recall that one too. No sense in it, though, when the mud is on his boots rather than his spurs. But then, I rarely wear spurs at home. A horse should go when you tell him to without needing a jab in the ribs to remind him. These are for show, and a ridiculous show it is.”

Hecate grasped only too well the sense of bafflement that Mayfair Society could cause in those new to its peculiarities. Lord Phillip was right to trouble himself to learn this dark forest and find all the hidden snares and mantraps.

She wanted to spare him those mocking smiles and smirking silences before they escalated to pranks, wagers, and worse. And yet, he was not her debutante to launch.

“Wearing a fancy uniform into battle is thought by some to be ridiculous,” Hecate said. “On campaign, that fancy uniform will get dusty, dirty, bloody, and torn.”

Phillip passed her his empty cup and saucer. “But that uniform tells all and sundry to which regiment the fellow belongs. It proclaims him to be a soldier, a hero, rather than a bandit, though he’s engaged in many of the same activities bandits are prone to. You are saying I need to learn to wear the uniform, and I agree. Will you teach me?”

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