Miss Delectable (Mischief in Mayfair #1) - Grace Burrowes Page 0,1

way of the back garden, stopping only to grab his top hat, riding crop, and gloves. He could look the part of a gentleman when necessary, not that it did him any good. Still, the uniform mattered, in business as in war, and thus he had dressed today in the finery of a prosperous merchant.

The boys were likely watching him, so he made straight for the stables, as if his plan was to trot from one watering hole to the next. Like a cat, Benny sought the warmth and safety of the mews when he wanted privacy, another secret Rye carried. He’d once found Benny poring over a primer in the hayloft and had spotted the boy sniggling out to the mews on many occasions thereafter, a book in hand.

Rye gave his eyes a moment to adjust to the stable’s gloom. He kept two horses, an extravagance he excused as more vanity expected of a successful purveyor of fine wines. The truth was, old Agricola was getting on, though he still cut a dash under saddle, while Scipio was still prone to moments of youthful stupidity. They managed well enough together in harness, but a matched pair, they were not.

The horses looked up from their hay when Rye entered their domain. He paused to scratch Scipio’s hairy ear and spared a pat for Agricola’s velvety nose. Both geldings were calm of eye, and their stalls had recently been set fair, a routine Rye insisted on.

“Seen any wandering boys?” Rye asked softly.

Agricola craned his neck over the half door to nudge at Rye’s pocket. He rewarded the horse with a bit of carrot left over from their morning hack.

Where were the cats? The stable had its share, and they were a lazy, arrogant lot. The swallows made sport of them, and if the felines had ever caught a mouse, they’d done so under a vow of secrecy.

Benny loved the worthless lot of them, though. Rye climbed the ladder to the hayloft silently, his riding crop between his teeth. A fat tabby watched his progress from a beam over the barn aisle. An equally grand marmalade specimen lay curled in a pile of hay, yawning as Rye stepped off the ladder. Benny’s honor guard was keeping watch.

Threats welled, admonitions about boys who played silly games merely to get attention, foolish lads who set a whole household to needlessly worrying.

Except that Rye Goddard had once been a foolish lad unable to gain his papa’s notice, and on a few memorable occasions, he’d been a very foolish man. He poked gently at the hay with his riding crop.

“I know you’re in there,” he said pleasantly. “Grabbing a nap when there’s work to be done. Otter is worried about you, and if he’s worried about you enough to bother me, then you’ve made your point.” Not with fists, but with a more subtle weapon—absence.

The riding crop brushed against something solid.

“Go away.” This directive was muttered from the middle of the pile of hay, and never had two words given Rye greater relief.

“I’d like to,” he replied. “I’d like to get back to tallying up my revenues and expenses, like to create my income projections for the next quarter—a cheerful, hopeful exercise—but no. I am instead required to nanny a wayward lad who has probably fallen in love with a goose girl who rejects his tender sentiments. This happens, my boy. We all get our hearts broken, and it’s the stuff of some of John’s best melodies.” Also the stuff of a commanding officer’s worst nightmares.

“Go away.” For Benny, that tone of voice qualified as a snarl. “I ain’t talking to you.”

“Did Otter threaten to make you take a bath?” Benny didn’t stink, but neither did he regularly wash his face.

“Fetch the lady wot cooks at the Coventry. I’ll talk to ’er.”

Rye planted his arse on an overturned half barrel and considered the puzzle before him. Benny was not by nature a difficult or complicated fellow, but now he was talking in riddles.

“What lady who cooks for the Coventry?” The Coventry Club was a gaming hell doing business as a fancy supper club. Rye’s sister Jeanette had, for reasons known only to her, married one of the club’s co-owners several months ago. Multiple reconnaissance missions suggested the union was happy and the club thriving, which was ever so fortunate for the groom’s continued welfare.

And no, Rye was not in the least jealous. Jeanette deserved every joy life had to offer, and if Sycamore Dorning counted among