Time for another teaser excerpt from True Pretenses! (Remember, you can read the complete first chapter and pre-order the book here.)
In this scene, Ash has just met Lydia’s little brother.
It had been a long evening, Ash thought as he walked back into Lively St. Lemeston. A long evening of swindling on his own, for when it came to dealing with her brother, Miss Reeve didn’t have the faintest idea what to do. He understood that: brothers were difficult. Ash would have to handle it, that was all.
The invitation to re-pot a tree was a Godsend, because Lydia wouldn’t be there. It had taken far too much of Ash’s energy tonight to be glad for her that her brother had come to see her, and not envious.
Ash couldn’t remember ever being so envious of anyone.
But he was lucky, really. He’d lost Rafe, yes; but while he’d had him, Rafe had been the best brother possible, worlds better than anyone else’s. Jamie was a nice boy, and Ash liked him, but he would be no fun at all to tramp across England with and worse than useless in a swindle. He couldn’t even pretend to be polite for five minutes at a time.
When the ladies left them alone after dinner, the young man had fidgeted silently, misery all over his chubby, good-looking English face. When Ash said, I must admit I’ve never much cared for port or cigars, Jamie had shot up out of his chair in relief. How could he share the cast of Miss Reeve’s features and her porcelain-doll coloring and entirely lack her finesse?
Shy people could be swindled, but it took longer, and pressing them was never shrewd practice. Maybe Ash should suggest postponing the wedding again.
He didn’t want to. He couldn’t sleep in the solitary silence of empty streets and thick interior walls. He’d been catching a few hours’ rest in the early morning, when carts started moving in the road below. He wished he liked to read, so he’d have something to do all night, instead of wasting a candle playing patience with a deck of cards he and Rafe had used for piquet, or lying awake looking for faces in the knots on the ceiling and wondering whether he should have told Rafe the truth sooner, or never told him at all.
For all Ash knew, he and Miss Reeve would have separate rooms even when they were married. How many rooms did the Dower House have? How rich did you have to be, exactly, before you didn’t share a bed with your wife? Miss Reeve had probably never shared a bed in her life. What if she hated it?
He put his hand up to his breast, feeling the reassuring crinkle of paper in his inner coat pocket. He hadn’t yet opened the letter she had written him. It was a simple trick, but an effective one. He’d used it as a child, keeping a boiled sweet in his pocket and telling himself he’d eat it when he was really hungry. As long as he had the willpower not to eat that licorice drop, he knew the pangs he was feeling must be bearable,and so he could bear them. Besides, it had given him a treat to look forward to.
So he took out the letter, looked at it and put it back in his pocket, thinking, I’m only a little lonely. If I were really lonely, I’d open it. He occupied the rest of the walk home in wondering what was in it. Poetry? A lock of hair? He’d like to have a lock of her hair, tied with a bit of ribbon. Sky-blue velvet would look nice against that satiny copper.
There was nothing wrong with swindling yourself a little, in a friendly way. He wondered sometimes if flats ever knew they were being swindled, and went along with it because it was better than no one paying them any attention at all.