“Who did you play with back then?” he asked. He had been so feverishly excited by his burgeoning role in the House that he barely remembered being at home. Not that things were much better now. All day long people had elbowed him, and smirked at him, and asked him what he was still doing in Westminster. Until finally they drove him to come home some four hours earlier than was his usual practice.

“The second footman was a fairly good partner: remember Jacobs? He had a long face, like a bulldog. I was saddened to hear that he had died.”

“He died?”

Jemma nodded. “How gorgeous this chess set is.” Each piece was a delicate marble fantasy of medieval warfare. The paint had long ago worn off, except for faint touches of red, in the fury of the king’s eyes, on the queen’s lower lip, in the bishop’s robe.

“You think I don’t remember your game,” Elijah said. “I do. I am ready for attack, if you please.” He moved a pawn to King’s Four.

Jemma smiled and moved her pawn to King’s Three.

“The pawn is my favorite piece,” Elijah remarked.

Jemma sat back, their moves ended for the day. “I could have guessed that. So lowly and humble as you are.”

“A pawn is crafty, versatile, and in pairs, they sometimes prove irresistible.”

“There’s little flair in a pawn,” Jemma said, picking up her queen to examine her faded robes.

“Your game is all about flair, as I recall.”

“That sounds remarkably dismissive.”

“I didn’t mean it so.”

“I prefer to think of my strength as being in the area of assault.”

Elijah watched his wife’s delicate fingers. “What I remember of your game,” he said slowly, “was that you would attack, but in the event of opposition, you would sacrifice. Run. You sometimes lost on that account.”

Jemma replaced her queen with a little click. “How gratifying to know that you remember the intricacies of my failures.”

Chapter 15

Around three in the afternoon

The Fleet River

“I told you that the kitten wanted to come,” Teddy said.

“But I disagreed,” his father said. “And I thought my sentiments constituted a mandate.”

Roberta watched footmen pack a sturdy basket into a flat-bottomed boat. It was a very pretty boat, with a roof of flowered muslin that rippled in the breeze, little benches for seats and rolled canvas walls that could be lowered from the roof in case of a sudden shower.

“This is Mr. Cunningham,” Damon said, introducing a serious looking young man who apparently arranged for the boat. “Ransom, this is Lady Roberta St. Giles. Ransom is my brother-in-law’s secretary. We know each other from years of debauchery at Cambridge.”

“Hardly debauchery,” Mr. Cunningham protested.

Damon ignored that. “More to the point, Ransom knows every bend of the river, and he has been kind enough to eschew the duke’s company for ours today.”

Roberta smiled at Mr. Cunningham, and thought that he had lovely dark eyes, and that it was a nice thing to go onto the river with two handsome young men.

Well, one could say three. Or two and a half.

The kitten was the only interloper.

Roberta could see precisely why Teddy was sleeping hither and yon, in beds where he had no call to be. Damon was attempting to be charming to his son, which, while a nice impulse, was the wrong tactic. Of course Teddy ignored talk of sentiments and mandates.

The fact that Teddy was reasonably entertaining company did not excuse the fact that he was a child, therefore, by definition, a lower species.

She cut directly into Damon’s courteous discussion of the kitten’s likely distaste for boating. “Perhaps we should see if he likes to swim.”

Teddy clutched the animal to his breast, his eyes rounding as he reassessed her as a homicidal cat hater.

“Just to see if he likes it. Your father can fish him out if he doesn’t.”

Teddy shook his head.

“If he’s not a swimming cat,” Roberta said, pausing a little to make clear her opinion of small kittens who professed no skills at swimming, “then he’ll stay in the carriage until he learns to know better.” And without further ado, she plucked the cat from Teddy’s arms and handed it to a footman.

“Are we going swimming?” Teddy asked, trotting along next to her as she walked down the stone steps to the waiting boat.

“I certainly hope not,” Damon said, handing her into the boat.

Roberta settled herself under the awning and they set out. The Fleet River was much smaller than the Thames, no more than a sleek and sinuous little stream, gleaming and sparkling in the sunlight. Mr. Cunningham moved them along by stabbing a large pole in the water and drawing it back out. Every movement caused the water to chatter and boil around the pole, which enchanted Teddy.

Damon kept himself occupied by ineffectively remonstrating his son for crimes such as getting wet, and Roberta trailed a hand in the water and watched the ripple of the water. Presently a family of ducks joined them.

“If only we had your kitten now,” Roberta said to Teddy, “we could throw him in and he could catch us a nice fat duck for supper.”

He shook his head at her. “My kitten, he’s too small.”

Roberta corrected his grammar, and Teddy allowed as how the kitten would have liked a ride on a duck’s back. “I’m going to catch a fish for his supper!”

Damon grabbed him back into the boat just in time.

The backs of large pleasure gardens stretched to the river; it was as if they were in Bath, or another more slumberous place than the great city of London. Just where green turf came to the water’s edge, one could see brown tree roots jumbled at the surface of the water. There was a squeal when Teddy discovered that sleek silver bodies flashed among the roots.

“You’ll have to catch a minnow out here if you want one,” Damon said.

“Mr. Cunningham,” Roberta said, “do people boat on the Thames as well?”

“There’s too much river traffic,” Mr. Cunningham explained. “The Thames is no place for anything other than a large pleasure craft. Unfortunately, they’re talking of covering over the Fleet, which would be a great shame.”

They drifted past a field all glossy and yellow with buttercups just as Teddy managed to catch a large amount of dripping weed. “Look!” he said, “I’ll give this to my kitten because Rummer says that cats eat grass sometimes, did you know that?”

Damon said fiercely, “Drop it, Teddy.”

Mr. Cunningham was laughing. “You need to teach your son how to swim, Damon. He’ll swim like a minnow on the first try.”

“I’m sure that I would,” Teddy put in.

“The water’s quite shallow around the curve over there,” Mr. Cunningham suggested. “Mud flats. We could simply drop him off the boat, just as Lady Roberta suggested for the kitten.”

“That would be good,” Teddy said, nodding so vigorously that he didn’t notice his father pulling the seaweed away, although he promptly plunged his hand back in the water to try to rescue it.

“Teddy, I told you not to get wet,” his father said. “And Ransom, do I understand you to be volunteering for the pleasure of such instruction?”

Tags: Eloisa James Desperate Duchesses Romance
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