Would I Lie to the Duke - Eva Leigh Page 0,1

it’s not flattery, he’s got wool in his ears.”

It felt as though someone had hit the back of Noel’s head with a shovel. Everyone, even his father and younger siblings, continually praised him.

Not these four boys.

“I don’t understand.” Noel got to his feet and looked at each of the boys in turn. “Why are you saying this to me? Don’t you want to be my friends?” Like everybody else?

McCameron surprised Noel by grinning at him. “If you’re looking for arse-lickers, seems like you won’t find any here.”

“Every society has a r-ruler,” Holloway stammered. “And every ruler needs honest counsel.”

“Or else he finds himself with a knife in his back.” Curtis guffawed. “How about it, Clair? You going to take the batting out of your ears, or are you going to—” He mimed getting stabbed from behind, gurgled, and slumped over his desk.

Rowe snickered, and Noel got to his feet and looked at the boys.

He hadn’t realized it when he’d walked into the library this morning, but perhaps these very different blokes might be precisely what he needed.

Chapter 1

Wiltshire, England, 1817

Jessica McGale didn’t thrive on chaos, but she certainly knew how to manage it.

“Be sure to let Powers know that her ladyship will overnight at the Three Graces Inn in Basingstoke,” Jess said to Penny, Lady Catherton’s maid, as they walked down the length of the portrait gallery. “And make certain that her ladyship doesn’t order the roast pheasant. Pheasant never agrees with her.”

“Yes, Miss McGale,” Penny said breathlessly as she trotted next to Jess.

With an apologetic smile, Jess slowed her stride. She forgot, sometimes, that other people didn’t move as quickly as she did, or with the same intensity of purpose.

“The stay in London will be brief,” she continued without consulting the small notebook she kept in her apron’s pocket. The notebook was merely insurance that she didn’t forget anything important—but Jess’s memory was as reliable as an iron lockbox. It had to be. “We’ll only need a dozen gowns.”

“With the rest accompanying her on the Continent. Does that dozen include dresses for the daytime?”

Stepping into the corridor that led to the back chambers of the manor, Jess resisted the impulse to roll her eyes. Honestly, one would think that the lady’s maid to a young and influential widow such as the Countess of Catherton would already know what her mistress required. Jess had been four months in her ladyship’s employ, and was already considered, in the countess’s words, “irreplaceable.” Within two weeks of beginning her work for her ladyship, Jess advised the cook on what to prepare for meals, directed the gardeners’ activities maintaining the estate’s substantial grounds, and ensured that every moment of her ladyship’s day was planned to the quarter of the hour.

Focusing on Penny’s anxious face, Jess said, “It doesn’t. She’ll need day and evening ensembles. I’ll take them with me when I leave for London tomorrow. The rest will come with her a week later when she journeys to the city.”

“Elegant gowns with you,” Penny repeated, twisting her hands together, “and the rest with her ladyship.” She nodded but didn’t look particularly confident.

“Don’t fret so. You’ll be with her the whole time.” Jess patted Penny’s arm, even though she was impatient to move on to her next task. Lady Catherton had entrusted Jess with the preparation of her London town house in advance of her ladyship’s arrival, and there was still so much to do before Jess departed the following morning. “I’m certain you can figure out whatever comes your way.”

Jess had very little confidence in Penny, who often wore her cap inside out, yet for some reason, Lady Catherton seemed to entrust the maid with the appearance of her person.

“Yes, Miss McGale. Thank you, Miss McGale.” Penny curtsied before rushing off.

There wasn’t a single ha’penny of her salary that Jess didn’t earn. Yet, in a particular way, she enjoyed being useful. Solving problems. Managing chaos.

She checked the timepiece pinned to the front of her dress and saw it was a quarter past the hour. Which meant she had an important appointment.

Jess went quickly to the back stairs and hurried up, up, up to her room just beneath the manor’s roof. The door stood open, so her visitor was already within.

Jess rushed into her room and threw her arms around the woman sitting on the edge of her bed.

“How bist, big sister?” Cynthia said, returning the embrace. Jess pulled back enough to gaze at her with golden-brown eyes that were the mirror image of Jess’s