The Duke Goes Down (The Duke Hunt #1) - Sophie Jordan Page 0,2

every year. Winifred was very worldly and knew a great many things. Things Imogen’s parents would not deem proper—or Winnie’s parents for that matter—but Winnie knew of them nonetheless, and she imparted such knowledge to Imogen.

The reply came: “No, he’s moved on to an actress.”

“Indeed? I might pay the opera singer a call then. I’m a man about Town now. I’ve got an interest in setting up an attachment for myself. Something regular to see to my needs.”

“You’ve just finished your schooling and you want to take on the responsibility of a mistress?” another voice inquired with a snort.

“She’s not a wife,” came the quick rejoinder. “A mistress knows how and when to use her mouth . . . and it’s not to harangue a man.”

This earned several chuckles and remarks of agreements. She thought she recognized Amos Blankenship’s braying laugh.

Imogen’s face burned.

Penning had yet to comment—she knew his voice well enough—and she was inescapably curious to his thoughts on the matter. Did he, too, plan to take a mistress? Perhaps he already had one now that he was a man of ten and eight. For some reason the notion of this made her cheeks sting. He was a young man of the world now. If he did not have a mistress yet, he likely soon would.

The notion should not offend her. Truly, it should not affect her one way or another.

She shifted her weight and the motion nudged a small stack of planting pots stored beneath the table to her right. She cringed at the slight clanking and hugged herself tighter, holding her breath, waiting for what felt like imminent discovery.

What would they do if they found her? The mortification was almost too much to contemplate. She was hiding under a table like a mischievous toddler.

But then she was dressed like a toddler, so perhaps they would not be overly surprised.

They were still talking and she released her tight little breath. Thankfully they were too caught up with each other and their cigars to take notice of her.

“. . . after dinner,” one of the gentlemen was saying. “She has promised me a walk in the gardens.”

“Now that is a lovely mouth I would not mind being used on me.”

More chuckles.

More of Amos’s bray.

“You best be careful.” Penning’s familiar voice rang out and she could not help easing her arms around her knees and leaning forward, eager to finally hear him speak. What would he contribute to this wholly inappropriate conversation?

Of course he would be as scandalous as the rest of them. She should expect no less. She recalled him well enough, even if he had spent the bulk of these last years away at school. He’d been an incorrigible boy. She doubted he had changed that much. Mama always said a leopard never changed its spots.

Imogen rather enjoyed this moment of invisibility. No one, especially gentlemen such as these fine toffs, ever spoke their true minds in her presence. She winced. These toffs never even spoke to her at all. She was beneath their consideration.

How different the world would be if people spoke their true thoughts. Chaotic perhaps, but there would be no confusion.

You would know who the monsters were.

Penning continued, “You shall be betrothed by the end of this house party if you do not exercise some caution.”

“Well, married to Lord Delby’s daughter would not be such a terrible fate? I can think of far more miserable futures than that,” a voice contributed. “The lass is comely. Her papa is well positioned and with deep pockets. It would be a brilliant match for any of us.”

“Well, if you don’t mind marrying straight out of Eton, then I’m happy for you,” Penning said in that all-knowing way of his that had not changed since he was a lad of ten. He always had that air to him. It irked her then and it irked her now. Arrogance must go part and parcel with his noble birthright.

“You expect to do better, Penning?”

“He is Penning,” another lad chimed in with an incredulous laugh. “He will have his choice of heiresses. Beauty, charm, rank . . . he can take his pick.”

“Aye, I’ll have my pick,” he agreed mildly. Arrogant prig. He spoke as though he were shopping for ribbons at the village market and nothing more significant than that. “But nothing would lure me into marriage for another decade at least.”

Invisibility, indeed, proved useful. She was correct on that score. He had not changed from that lad who treated her