A Princess by Christmas (A Royal Wedding #3) - Julia London Page 0,1

tea, but were there really so many who needed the tone set for them?

The confused man moved behind some other gentlemen, and Hollis lost sight of him.

She turned back to Donovan and her vexation. “You ought to have seen how smug Mr. Shoreham was. Entirely too confident in his place in this world and in what he clearly believes are his superior thinking skills because he is a man. I tell you, he is one of the most supercilious and ridiculous men in all of London.”

“Well, that’s quite something, isn’t it?” Donovan said. “There are an awful lot of men in London. A right proper feather in his cap.” He stepped up to the guardhouse and handed Hollis’s invitation to one of the guards. The guard disappeared inside with it. “What was it you called him, again?” Donovan asked, but before Hollis could answer, he leaned forward and said to the guard, “It won’t do to keep Mrs. Honeycutt waiting, lad. She’s the sister of the Duchess of Tannymeade.”

“Hold your horses,” the guard said gruffly.

Donovan looked at Hollis. “Ah, I remember. A bag of wind, wasn’t it?”

Hollis felt only a twinge of remorse about that. “Well, I didn’t shout it. I merely stated the obvious.”

A group of three men jostled them as they pushed through the gate; Donovan pulled her to the side.

“Well,” Hollis said, righting her bonnet. “Do you think they fear the tea will go cold?”

“Or that the queen will not have made enough cakes? Stay here. I’ll see what keeps the guard.”

He moved back toward the guardhouse, but another group of gentlemen who had just been given permission to enter very eagerly and loudly crowded through the gate. Hollis stepped back to avoid being trampled, but missed the curb and stumbled. She collided with what she might have thought was a wall had two hands not caught her by her elbows and effortlessly righted her. “Oh!” Hollis exclaimed, and turned to see who had saved her from taking a tumble.

It was the confused man. Except that he didn’t look confused now—he looked slightly concerned. His gaze swept over her, as if checking to see if there was any injury to her person. Hollis noticed a thick tress of dark chestnut hair had escaped his hat and hung over his brow. His complexion was from a region of the world where skin tones were darker than the pale skin of the British. He had vivid golden-brown eyes, and Hollis was so startled that he was the one who had prevented her from falling that she couldn’t speak. He clearly didn’t need her to speak—he gave her a polite nod, stepped around her, and walked up to the guardhouse. She watched him hand his invitation to the guard, and when the guard handed it back, the man looked around, as if uncertain if he should actually enter the gates. Apparently, he thought not—he stuffed the invitation into his pocket, then walked in the opposite direction of the entrance, as if he’d meant to enter another palace and had just noticed he was at the wrong one.

Donovan suddenly appeared in front of her. “All sorted, then. This way,” he said, and led her into the crowd of gentlemen going through the gate. “You’re to meet Mr. Bellingham just inside the courtyard.” He showed the invitation to another guard, who opened the gate. As Hollis stepped through, two more men elbowed past her.

“Why are all these gentlemen here for tea?” Hollis asked as she and Donovan headed for the courtyard. “I didn’t think gentlemen really cared for it. I invited Beck once and he said that tea was for grandmothers and scandalmongers.”

“I can’t speak for his lordship,” Donovan said, “but my guess is that these gentlemen are here to take tea.” He reached up to rap on the door the guard had pointed him to. “It’s not often one is invited to sit with the queen.”

The door swung open. Donovan handed the invitation to the gentleman who stood there. “Ah, yes, of course, Mrs. Honeycutt. We’ve been expecting you. I am the underbutler, Bellingham, at your service. If you will come with me?”

“Thank you.” Hollis looked up at Donovan.

“Shall I call for you in an hour or so?” he asked, looking at his pocket watch.

“No need. Eliza will see that I am sent home under proper escort.”

He nodded and slipped the watch back into his pocket. He smiled. “How beautiful you look, madam. I should think today is an excellent day