I never saw a man in so wretched a condition.
-- Robert Walton, Frankenstein
Fourteen months later
"No, I don't think you cheated, Evie, and I wish you'd stop saying it." Lucinda Barrett sent her friend an exasperated look as she settled deeper into the window seat.
"I know," Evie replied, "but I only intended on delivering lessons to a scoundrel. And now I've ended up married to him." With a scowl she rose, striding toward Lucinda's refuge and back again. "I mean, for heaven's sake, less than two months ago I was plain old dull Evie Ruddick, and now I'm the Marchioness of St. Aubyn. I can't even believe--"
"You were never plain or dull, Evie," Georgiana interrupted as she glided into the drawing room and signaled her butler to close the door behind her. "And as for apologizing, firstly I'm late for my own tea, and secondly I seem to have married the object of my lesson as well."
Lucinda grinned. "Neither of which is an offense for which you need to apologize, Georgie."
Smiling, Georgiana motioned Evie to a seat on the couch and sank carefully down beside her. "Perhaps, but a little over a year ago I would have shot anyone who even suggested I would marry Tristan Carroway. And now here I sit, Lady Dare -- and two months away from bringing yet another Carroway into the world."
Evelyn chuckled. "Perhaps it'll be a girl."
"That would only begin to even the odds against me." Georgie shifted, plainly uncomfortable. "I'll never understand how Tristan's mother could be brave enough to produce four more boys after the example he set. If not for his aunts, I should be completely outnumbered -- and they've abandoned me to take the waters at Bath."
"Speaking of the Carroway brothers," Lucinda said, knowing she was deliberately stalling, now that she'd finally decided to tell her friends about her own plans, "did I hear you say that Lieutenant Carroway is due back in London?"
"Yes. Bradshaw's ship should be in Brighton by the end of the week. He's hoping for a new assignment to the West Indies, of all places." Georgie narrowed her eyes. "Why do you want to know about Shaw? You've decided on him for your lesson, haven't you?"
"Good heavens, no." Lucinda's cheeks warmed. "Can you imagine my father's reaction if I began paying attention to a Navy man? Not that delivering a lesson means imminent marriage, of course."
Evie snorted. "The odds do seem fixed in that direction."
Georgie's gaze was more speculative. "Nor is that possibility something you should ignore." She sipped her tea, gazing at Lucinda over the rim of the cup like some all-seeing blonde-haired gypsy girl. "You have decided on a student."
"Oh, I knew it!" Evie seconded, applauding. "Who is the villain?"
Hesitating, Lucinda looked from one successful lesson deliverer and happily married friend to the other. What would they say if they knew she'd watched their maneuverings with a combination of interest and growing jealousy? Did they realize that since Evie had married St. Aubyn she'd been on the lookout for a student of her own? And not so much one in need of a lesson as one she wanted to marry. She sighed. Of course they realized it. They were her closest friends.
"Well, I have narrowed down the search," she hedged.
Yes, she'd narrowed it down -- to one.
"Tell us," Georgiana pressed. "This whole lesson thing was mostly your idea, anyway. No more delays, my dear."
"I know, I know. It's just --"
"And no excuses," Evie interrupted.
"Fine." Lucinda took a deep breath. "It's Lord Geoffrey Newcombe." She closed her mouth to wait and to watch.
Lord Geoffrey, the Duke of Fenley's fourth son, was quite possibly the most beautiful man she'd ever seen. Other ladies of the same opinion referred to him simply as "the Adonis." Curling golden hair, light green eyes, broad shoulders, and a smile that could charm a cobra --it was no wonder that women threw themselves at him with nearly calculated regularity.
And that was the problem. The choice was so obviously directed more toward matrimony than lesson giving. Dozens of more poorly behaved single gentlemen practically littered Mayfair, after all. John Talbott, for example. What did it matter if he only had one eyebrow that ran almost ear to ear? Or there was Phillip R --
"Lord Geoffrey," Georgiana said slowly. "He's a splendid choice."
"Yes," Evie seconded with her pixie smile. "I agree."
Relief made Lucinda's shoulders sag. "Thank you. I really have given this a great deal of thought. I mean, he's a war hero -- a fact of which my father would certainly approve -- and he's quite handsome, but at the same time he could definitely use a few lessons. He's arrogant and insensitive ... " She trailed off. "I'm being terribly obvious about why I chose him, I'm afraid."
"No, you're not," Evelyn countered. "You're being brilliant, as usual. I mean, how can you ignore the fact that Georgie and I both fell in love with and married our students? You have to take that into consideration."
Georgie was nodding. "Nor can you ignore the fact that you and your father are quite close, and that General Barrett would have to have some fondness for whomever you decided to take on as a student, whether you thought anything beyond your lessons might occur, or not."
"Exactly," Lucinda said, smiling at the effort her friends were willing to go through to justify her choice. "As far as I can tell, the general thinks highly of Lord Geoffrey socially, and I know he worries that I'll be left all alone when he hops the twig, as he puts it."
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