“Huh?” Robert looked up to see twin looks of exasperation on his parents’ faces. “Er, sorry no, woolgathering,” he said, gesturing lazily to his head.
“I said that this whole nonsense you have about avoiding the Stantons needs to end. For heaven’s sake you’re no longer a child, Robert. I don’t even remember what the poor girl said or did that upset you so.”
Oh, so they were talking about the Stantons again. That could only mean that they expected the Stantons to attend the ball tonight. That was fine. He rather liked Lord Norwood and his wife…sort of, and he liked Mary, and he sort of liked Heather although she reminded him of her mother. They acted like twins. They made the same comments, dressed in the same style, basically they walked, talked, and acted alike. He would probably avoid those two as much as possible. Then there was Elizabeth.
Oh, he would definitely avoid her. He’d been doing it successfully for over a decade, so one more night shouldn't be at all difficult.
“Robert Lemonade,” James happily supplied.
“Thanks so much,” he said dryly, hoping that his mother simply let it be.
James grinned hugely. “Think nothing of it.”
“That’s why you’ve avoided them like the plague? Over a name? Of all the ridiculous things. Son, you’re twenty-nine years old. It’s about time you acted like a man and got over this nonsense,” his father grumbled, sounding irritated as he usually did when he gave Robert this little talk.
“Well,” James drawled, “in Robert’s defense the two of them cannot be in the same room without causing a scene.” He held up his hand to stop his mother from speaking when it became obvious that she was dying to say something. “I realize that they haven’t been in the same room in over fourteen years, but you must understand that no one, and I mean no one, has forgotten his nickname or the circumstances around the name. It follows him everywhere.”
Catching Robert’s murderous glare, James shot him a wink and continued.
“But, I do agree with you. He needs to get over this, especially if he wants to escape that dreadful nickname. He doesn’t go out into polite society. He keeps to himself and his books and, when he’s not doing that, he’s out on his manor working. He’s far too serious.”
“You’re just jealous, because I’ve made my own way in the world,” Robert added, trying to irritate his brother enough to drop the conversation.
“I hardly think you making a fortune off your inheritance counts as making your own way in the world.”
“It does if it was my birthday sum when I turned eighteen. Unlike you, I didn’t spend it on cards and whor-“ his father pointedly cleared his throat to remind him that their mother was in the carriage, “er, entertainment. I took my money and invested it and reinvested it. Now I have my own fortune and land. I don’t need to marry for money or to wait for a title.” He shot a sheepish grin at his father when he realized how that sounded. “Sorry, father.”
His father waved it off. “I know that no one is wishing me ill to get their hands on my title. We are all very proud of your accomplishments, Robert.”
“Thank you, sir,” Robert muttered, embarrassed by the turn of conversation. He hated talking about his small fortune, especially with his family. It was bad enough that the mothers of the ton were starting to eye him greedily, eagerly ignoring his reputation as a rake and a bastard in general in the hopes of having their daughters well settled. Little did they know that it would never happen.
His mother huffed.
“What is it, Danielle?” his father asked.
She gestured to Robert. “He’s done it again, Harold. He distracted us from this conversation, don’t you see?” She turned her attention back on Robert with a look of determination that actually sent chills down his spine.
“You will stay the entire four weeks that you promised me. I will not accept any sudden emergencies that come up over your estate or any notes from your solicitor. You will be on your best behavior and you will not make a scene. You will do your best to get along with Lady Elizabeth.” Her eyes narrowed on him. “ And you will promise not to fight at the ball.”
He ground his teeth together. His temper wasn’t that bad. He couldn’t think of any fight he’d gotten into that hadn’t been necessary. His mother just didn’t understand what it was like to be a man. Some things could not be ignored.
“I promise for your sake not to fight inside the ball.” He chose his wording carefully. No need to break a promise to his mother when he could get around the particulars.
She nodded. “Even so, I think I’ll keep an eye on you.”
“Is that why you didn’t allow me to bring my own carriage?” he asked, suddenly very certain that it was the reason why she’d browbeat him into accompanying her tonight. He knew this nonsense about missing him and wanting to enjoy his company during the ride had been a bit much, even for her.
She ignored him as she continued. “If you do not behave and make the best of it so that your brother can find a new wife,” she narrowed her eyes to slits, “I will personally make it my life’s mission to find you a wife.”
“Oh dear God in heaven,” Robert gasped. It was just the sort of threat that would work. He didn’t want a wife, not unless his brother failed to produce an heir and the job fell to him, leaving him with no other choice.
James chuckled beside him as their father tried his best not to laugh and was doing a fine job of it until he met James' eyes. He abruptly stopped laughing a moment later and cleared his throat when Danielle glared at him.
Two could play at this game. He narrowed his eyes and glared right back at her. “You’re bluffing.”
She smiled sweetly, too sweetly for his comfort. “Am I?”
He studied her for a long moment before he groaned in defeat. “This isn’t fair,” he complained.
Four weeks of balls, dinners and the bullshit of the ton was not his idea of a good time, but if it meant that it would help get the smirking bastard sitting next to him married and save him from a similar fate, then perhaps he should consider remaining on his best behavior, he decided as he leaned his head back, closed his eyes and sighed heavily.
This was going to be a long four weeks.
Elizabeth forced a smile for the young Earl who was trying to monopolize her attention. Things hadn't changed. He’d tried the same tactics last season. The moment he walked into the room, he’d given her what she was sure he believed was a devastating smile before he worked the room, avoiding her for the next hour. Every few minutes his attention would shift to her face to see if she was watching him. She wasn’t. She only knew of his tactics because Mary kept her well informed.