As it turned out, Grace was wrong. Wilson opened the front door to reveal the Duke of Blackthorne standing on the front steps. “Good morning, your grace,” he intoned, stepping aside to let him in. A footman appeared to take his hat and cape. “I believe Lord Huntwick went into the study after he finished breakfast. Shall I announce you?”
“Actually, I’ve come to see Miss Mercy Ackerly, Wilson.”
Wilson spotted O’Reilly just entering the foyer and motioned him over. “Please show his grace to the drawing room, and then go to the garden and inform Miss Mercy she has a caller.”
Sebastian followed O’Reilly to the drawing room. When he was sure they were alone, he bent and spoke to the much smaller footman in a low voice. “Thank you for keeping me abreast of Mercy’s schedule.”
The diminutive footman’s craggy face split into a pleased smile. “I was happy to help, your grace.” He’d been sneaking notes out the front door when he became aware of the family’s movements each day and placing them beneath one of the flower pots for Sebastian to find. It was by this means that Sebastian had been able to make an appearance at each event Mercy attended.
“With any luck, by the time my conversation with Miss Ackerly is concluded this afternoon, such services will no longer be required.”
The footman nodded. “Shall I go and let her know you’re here, your grace?”
O’Reilly bowed and trotted off. Sebastian strolled to the windows that opened into the back garden, arriving just in time to see O’Reilly cross the expanse of lawn to speak to Mercy, who was lying flat on her stomach beneath a tree reading a book. She looked up as O’Reilly approached, glanced toward the house, said something, and then went back to her reading. Sebastian watched O’Reilly make the trek back to the house.
“Miss Mercy is not in, your grace.”
Sebastian, still looking out the window, chuckled. “O’Reilly, please inform Miss Ackerly that I can see her,” he said without turning around.
“Yes, your grace.” O’Reilly left the room, made the trip across the lawn again, spoke with Mercy, and then came back inside. “Miss Mercy said to tell you that she is still not in, your grace.”
Sebastian shook his head and turned around. “Would you please ask her when she will be in?”
O’Reilly shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “She said that you would ask me that, your grace.”
“Did she give you an answer to give me, as well?”
The small footman nodded. “Miss Mercy said to tell you that she doesn’t expect herself back for quite some time, your grace.”
The duke raised an eyebrow and glanced out the window again. Mercy was reading peacefully, twirling one auburn strand of hair around a finger. “In that case, O’Reilly, please inform Miss Ackerly that I will be happy to wait.” He walked to a nearby chair, sat down and crossed his legs.
O’Reilly stared at him for a moment, and then found his voice. “Yes, your grace.” He bowed and left the room again. Sebastian didn’t bother watching from the window this time. He had no doubt that Mercy would happily leave him sitting here all day.
Ten minutes later, Grace walked into the drawing room. Sebastian stood politely. “Good morning, your grace.”
“Good morning, Lady Huntwick.” He smiled. “I trust your day is pleasant, so far.”
“My day, so far, has been interesting.” She laughed. “How long do you intend to take up space in my drawing room, please?”
“Until your sister comes in and speaks with me.” Grace gave him a long look. She hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to him herself since the night Mercy snuck over to his townhouse in the middle of the night. He looked back at her steadily. As if reading her thoughts, he added, “I shouldn’t have let her leave with you that night. At least not until she agreed to become my wife.”
“Has it come to that?” Grace crossed her arms and walked to the window. “She’s almost halfway through her book,” she remarked.
“She can’t ignore me forever.”
“Oh, I think she can. And she might.” Grace smiled at him. “May I offer you some refreshment while you wait?”
“It’s a bit early for brandy.”
“I’ll send tea, then. And I’ll let Lord Huntwick know you’re here, your grace.”
The tea arrived presently. Sebastian sipped it, and then carried his cup back over to the window. Mercy had rolled over onto her back and had the book propped on her chest. She turned a page, glanced toward the house, saw Sebastian in the window and shook her head, returning her attention to the book.
An hour passed. The hands of the clock on the mantel ticked past twelve. A light luncheon arrived, and soon after, there was a flurry of activity in the foyer as Viscount Sexton and Mr. Maintree arrived to take Patience driving. Trevor poked his head in once, laughed out loud at the sight of his friend still cooling his heels, and left again. Mercy made steady progress through her book, and Sebastian began to wonder what she would do when she reached the end.