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.He was simply dressed but neat and clean, well-spoken, and a pleasant sort of man.And he was young and would inherit an earldom.Mr.Strader was definitely going to have an entry in her matchmaking book tonight.Now it was time to investigate the kitchens and see how easy it would be to bribe the staff into revealing something helpful.***Marchford gave an obligatory look of feigned interest to a matron who was attempting to engage him in conversation with her young daughter.The daughter was pretty enough, but he could not imagine having to tolerate meaningless conversations on a daily basis.He kept an eye out for Penelope.She was always finding something of importance, and while he may not always agree with her, she never once made him consider faking a fit of apoplexy just to avoid a dull conversation.Marchford broke away as soon as was socially possible and searched the ballroom for Penelope.Not only did he wish to hear her report, but also he needed to ensure her safety.Truth was he wanted to see her again.Of course the kitchens should be perfectly safe, but then again, he would have bet money the kitchens at the Grant house would have been safe too.He found her delivering tea to his grandmother.Penelope threw him a glance, one that said there was something to say but nothing immediate.He wondered for a moment how it was that she could so readily communicate without words.And yet he knew her looks.Every twitch of an eyebrow meant something.It was a language he seemed to naturally understand.It was of course important in his line of work to have an accomplice with whom he could so easily communicate.She was looking very lovely tonight in ice blue.Once again her décolletage was on display, and though it was not lower than any other fashionably attired lady in the room, she captured his full attention.Her brown hair was swept up into a bun, with a few ringlets of hair framing her face, a contrast to her pale skin.He did not have words to express how much he wished to thread his fingers through her hair and touch her ample bosom.“I wonder what will become of her,” said an elderly woman’s voice.Marchford turned to find the Comtesse de Marseille, dressed to kill in burgundy silk with enough gold and jewels to beggar a king.“I beg your pardon?” asked Marchford.“I was speaking of Miss Rose, who has had a very surprising change in wardrobe lately.”“My grandmother insisted.” Marchford was suspicious.The comtesse rarely initiated conversation with him, which could only mean she was pursuing some sort of society gossip.“I wonder what will happen to her when Antonia marries.She must also be looking for a new situation.” She gave him a condescending smile and glided away, taking her suspicious mind with her.He went back to staring at Penelope.The comtesse was right about one thing: Penelope’s situation was tenuous.She would need to move out when the dowager left.And that was the one thing he could not allow.Twenty“The housekeeper and the cook were beyond reproach, but the scullery maid was not above a monetary incentive to provide information,” whispered Penelope.“I am not sure I approve of your methods,” said Marchford.It seemed the appropriate thing to say, although he was far from finding fault.They had met by design in a little-used corridor between the ballroom and the card room.“Shall I go to a lonely corner to repent?” Penelope arched an eyebrow in a teasing gesture that made him want to reciprocate in a manner that would not be appropriate.Ever since those blasted “friendly” kisses, he had wanted more from her.And he only had himself and the mistletoe to blame.“What else did you learn?” He needed to focus on the task at hand.“First of all, I ran into an uninvited guest, Justin Strader, Lord Felton’s heir.”“I thought they were estranged.”“They are.Mr.Strader apparently bribed one of the grooms to allow him access to the house.Said he was curious to see it, since he will inherit.”“That is interesting.” Marchford rubbed his jaw but could not think of any connection between Felton’s poor family relations and the missing safe.“Also, Lord Felton has been receiving some packages of late.He is a mite anxious about them, only wants the butler to receive them and then bring them into the study.Do you think it significant?”“Perhaps.Perhaps not.Suppose I should inspect his study.”Penelope nodded.“What shall I do?”“You will do nothing.You’ve done enough.”Penelope’s face fell, and he was himself disappointed not to include her in the adventure, but his conscience would not allow him to put her at risk.It was better this way, though he was certain she would not share his conviction.“As you wish.” She spun on her heel and gave him her back, her posture rigid.She walked away without another word, giving him ample opportunity to admire her pleasing figure with her trim waist and the promise of a delightful swell at her derrière.Marchford sighed.He was trying to protect her.She was having none of it, but still, it was for the best.Marchford casually wandered about the ballroom, making polite conversation and avoiding every member of the female species.He tossed back several drinks and shared some loud laughs with some of the highbred, ill-behaved members of the young male aristocracy.It was enough to convince his acquaintance that he was a bit bosky.If he should be caught where he shouldn’t be, he needed an excuse for poor directional sense.Despite his need to appear carefree, his eyes continued to find the figure of Penelope in her ice-blue gown.She made conversation with a few people and briefly attended his grandmother, who was radiant on the arm of the Earl of Langley.Penelope then sat down by the wall with the other matrons.He was sorry for her, alone in a ballroom.He wished to go speak to her, to at least provide some company, but it would not serve.He should keep his distance.It was, of course, for the best [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]