Say No to the Duke (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #4) - Eloisa James Page 0,1

were merely jesting.

Betsy blinked. “Boadicea is certainly unusual,” she said hastily. “I prefer Betsy.”

Clementine’s nose wrinkled. “We have a second housemaid who used to be called Betsy. My mother changed her name to Perkins.”

Betsy couldn’t think what to say. “I see,” she managed, her voice coming out flat and strange.

“Please, won’t you sit down, Lady Betsy?” Octavia asked, gesturing toward a chair.

Betsy sat. “Have you been at the seminary for some time, Lady Octavia?” she asked.

“Clementine and I have been the only parlor boarders since—” Octavia began.

“I have every expectation that my mother will fetch me away within the week,” Clementine said, interrupting.

“I see,” Betsy repeated, fighting to make her voice cordial. It was ridiculous to feel shaky and a little frightened. This wasn’t the way she had imagined her first encounter with possible friends, but Clementine was only one person, and there was a whole school of girls to meet.

“Do you?” Clementine demanded.

“Are you good at maths?” Octavia put in, her voice rather desperate.

“No, I am not,” Betsy said. “I am sorry to hear that you are departing, Miss Clarke. Is the parlor too small for three of us?”

Clementine snorted.

“The meals are frightfully good here,” Octavia said, her voice rising.

“My mother will travel from the country to fetch me as soon as she learns of your arrival,” Clementine said, ignoring Octavia. “I sent her a message yesterday.”

Betsy had the horrible sense that she’d somehow strayed into a nightmare. She took a deep breath. “Why are you so impolite, Miss Clarke?”

Clementine pursed her lips tighter than nature had made them, and then opened them just wide enough to speak. “No one can blame a child for her mother’s lascivious nature, but it would have been more agreeable if His Grace had thought how unpleasant it was for young ladies of quality to share a chamber with someone who . . .”

“Who?” Betsy prompted.

“Is bound to have inherited her mother’s sinful inclinations,” Clementine said, her eyes shining like greased blueberries.

Betsy stared back in horror. Of course Clementine knew that the duke’s second duchess—her mother—had run away with a Prussian count when Betsy was a baby. But no one had ever spoken of her mother so demeaningly—nor implied that she, Betsy, would inherit a penchant for debauchery.

“Clementine!” Octavia protested, adding, “You are being frightfully ill-bred!”

Clementine turned toward her. “I’m merely repeating what scientists have proved, Octavia. Strong attributes are always inherited, just as when racehorses are bred for speed. You could call it destiny, but it’s really science.”

“I don’t believe it,” Octavia said stoutly.

But Betsy’s brother North was fascinated by horse breeding and gave near-nightly disquisitions on which traits were making themselves known in the ducal stables. Betsy knew, better than most ladies, that traits were indeed inherited.

A strange tingle coursed through her body, as if a wall had opened, revealing something frightful behind it, something she’d never imagined. Her Aunt Knowe had never allowed the second duchess’s children to become embittered about their mother’s absence.

“Your mother didn’t belong in a marriage to your father,” Aunt Knowe often said. “Thank goodness, she recognized it, because it allowed the duke to find Ophelia.”

Family lore had it that the ink on the divorce decree wasn’t dry before Aunt Knowe ordered her brother off to London to find a third duchess. Since Betsy adored her dearest papa, her darling stepmother, and even those annoying brothers, she had never given the matter much thought.

Yet it seemed that other people—all of polite society, or so Clementine Clarke was shrilly declaiming—had given her mother’s circumstances a great deal of thought.

“There is no need to be rude,” Octavia said.

“Everyone thinks it,” Clementine said, her eyes sliding over Betsy, nose still slightly wrinkled, as if Betsy were a piece of spoiled mutton.

“Are you saying that every girl in this school will think that I am lascivious because my mother was unfaithful?” Betsy asked, just to be very clear.

Octavia turned a hot pink and closed her lips tightly.

“Will think?” Clementine retorted. “They do think, and so does everyone else important.”

Betsy tried not to hear her harsh breath echoing in her ears. Her father was important, but he must not know, because he never would have left her in a den of lionesses.

She almost jerked up from her chair and ran for the door. Perhaps the ducal coach was still at the curb. Or Miss Stevenson could send a groom to the townhouse and they would return and take her and her sisters away.

“Everyone says that the second duchess was never, shall