“My goodness, you were listening.” Mrs. Colson beamed. “I'm so flattered.”

“But you were saying…” Daphne prompted.

“Oh yes, of course. I was simply going to say that I have long held the opinion that the late duke never forgave his son for not being perfect.”

“But Mrs. Colson,” Daphne said quietly, “none of us is perfect.”

“Of course not, but—” The housekeeper's eyes floated up for a brief second in an expression of disdain toward the late duke. “If you'd known his grace, you would understand. He'd waited so long for a son. And in his mind, the Basset name was synonymous with perfection.”

“And my husband wasn't the son he wanted?” Daphne asked.

“He didn't want a son. He wanted a perfect little replica of himself.”

Daphne could no longer contain her curiosity. “But what did Simon do that was so repugnant to the duke?”

Mrs. Colson's eyes widened in surprise, and one of her hands floated to her chest. “Why, you don't know,” she said softly. “Of course you wouldn't know.”

“What?”

“He couldn't speak.”

Daphne's lips parted in shock. “I beg your pardon?”

“He couldn't speak. Not a word until he was four, and then it was all stutters and stammers. It broke my heart every time he opened his mouth. I could see that there was a bright little boy inside. He just couldn't get the words out right.”

“But he speaks so well now,” Daphne said, surprised by the defensiveness in her voice. “I've never heard him stammer. Or if I have, I-I-I didn't notice it. See! Look, I just did it myself. Everyone stammers a bit when they're flustered.”

“He worked very hard to improve himself. It was seven years, I recall. For seven years he did nothing but practice his speech with his nurse.” Mrs. Colson's face wrinkled with thought. “Let's see, what was her name? Oh yes, Nurse Hopkins. She was a saint, she was. As devoted to that boy as if he'd been her own. I was the housekeeper's assistant at the time, but she often let me come up and help him practice his speech.”

“Was it difficult for him?” Daphne whispered.

“Some days I thought he'd surely shatter from the frustration of it. But he was so stubborn. Heavens, but he was a stubborn boy. I've never seen a person so single-minded.” Mrs. Colson shook her head sadly. “And his father still rejected him. It—”

“Broke your heart,” Daphne finished for her. “It would have broken mine, as well.”

Mrs. Colson took a sip of her tea during the long, uncomfortable silence that followed. “Thank you very much for allowing me to take tea with you, your grace,” she said, misinterpreting Daphne's quietude for displeasure. “It was highly irregular of you to do so, but very…”

Daphne looked up as Mrs. Colson searched for the correct word.

“Kind,” the housekeeper finally finished. “It was very kind of you.”

“Thank you,” Daphne murmured distractedly.

“Oh, but I haven't answered any of your questions about Clyvedon,” Mrs. Colson said suddenly.

Daphne gave her head a little shake. “Another time, perhaps,” she said softly. She had too much to think on just then.

Mrs. Colson, sensing her employer desired privacy, stood, bobbed a curtsy, and silently left the room.

Chapter 16

The stifling heat in London this week has certainly put a crimp in society functions. This author saw Miss Prudence Featherington swoon at the Huxley ball, but it is impossible to discern whether this temporary lack of verticality was due to the heat or the presence of Mr. Colin Bridgerton, who has been cutting quite a swash through society since his return from the Continent.

The unseasonable heat has also made a casualty of Lady Danbury, who quit London several days ago, claiming that her cat (a long-haired, bushy beast) could not tolerate the weather. It is believed that she has retired to her country home in Surrey.

One would guess that the Duke and Duchess of Hastings are unaffected by these rising temperatures; they are down on the coast, where the sea wind is always a pleasure. But This Author cannot be certain of their comfort; contrary to popular belief, This Author does not have spies in all the important households, and certainly not outside of London!

LADY WHISTLEDOWN'S SOCIETY PAPERS, 2 JUNE 1813

It was odd, Simon reflected, how they'd not been married even a fortnight and yet had already fallen into comfortable patterns and routines. Just now, he stood barefoot in the doorway of his dressing room, loosening his cravat as he watched his wife brush her hair.

And he'd done the exact same thing yesterday. There was something oddly comforting in that.

And both times, he thought with a hint of a leer, he'd been planning how to seduce her into bed. Yesterday, of course, he'd been successful.

His once expertly tied cravat lying limp and forgotten on the floor, he took a step forward.

Today he'd be successful, too.

He stopped when he reached Daphne's side, perching on the edge of her vanity table. She looked up and blinked owlishly.

He touched his hand to hers, both of their fingers wrapped around the handle of the hairbrush. “I like to watch you brush your hair,” he said, “but I like to do it myself better.”

She stared at him in an oddly intent fashion. Slowly, she relinquished the brush. “Did you get everything done with your accounts? You were tucked away with your estate manager for quite a long time.”

“Yes, it was rather tedious but necessary, and—” His face froze. “What are you looking at?”



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