It’s been fun and interesting for me to take these little trips back through my very first book this week. It’s been five years since Grace first hit the shelves, and soooooo much has happened during that time, both to me, and to the Ackerly family. I’d love to have you along for the ride. With the youngest Ackerly sister getting ready to make her debut (here and in her fictional world) it seems the perfect time for us become acquainted.
“Miss Grace is not in to callers.”
“What do you mean?” Trevor snapped at the stooped, elderly butler who had answered the door at the home of Grace’s aunt. After traveling across half of England, Trevor’s lighthearted mood had quickly begun to deteriorate in the face of yet another setback.
Greaves drew himself up as much as his diminutive height would allow, deeply affronted at the earl’s clipped, impatient tone. “I meant just what I said, my lord. Miss Grace is not in to callers.”
Trevor took a deep breath and slowly counted to ten, reminding himself that this man did not intentionally keep him from Grace. “And where might I find Miss Ackerly?” he asked in a more patient voice.
“Which, my lord?” the butler inquired with raised brows.
Trevor closed his eyes, again trying to quell his irritation. “Which what?” he asked.
“Which Miss Ackerly, of course,” the old man said, drawing back into the house a bit and looking at Trevor as though he thought the young earl on the doorstep might be a bit batty.
Trevor’s hands itched to close around the servant’s neck, but he checked the impulse and forced himself to answer. “Miss Grace,” he bit out between clenched teeth, enunciating each word clearly in an effort to control his rapidly crumbling temper.
A look of baffled uncertainty crossed the butler’s face. “I’m not quite certain that I remember, my lord,” Greaves said, scratching his bald head thoughtfully. “I know that they went out, and I’m most certain that Lady Egerton told me where they would go.” He squinted up at Trevor for a moment, trying as hard as he could to remember, then visibly brightened, struck with a most brilliant thought. He looked at the earl eagerly. “Do you know, my lord?” he asked hopefully.
Trevor stared down at the smaller man in incredulous disbelief, unable for the life of him to fathom why anybody with the slightest bit of common sense would employ this man, much less allow him to answer their door. “May I see Miss Ackerly’s maid, then?” he finally managed.
Greaves immediately opened the door wider. “Of course, my lord. Which Miss–” he began.
“Miss Grace!” Trevor snapped. He stepped inside and removed his gloves as the elderly butler shuffled off. Trevor hoped the man would manage to remember what he had set out to accomplish. He walked across the entranceway and glanced into the first room he found, a frilly, feminine salon with intricately carved furniture and knick-knack-covered tables, a fussy room of the sort Trevor hated. He noticed, however, a large sideboard of drinks near the fireplace. He walked in and poured himself a generous brandy, then gingerly sat in one of the impossibly fragile chairs that littered the room, waiting impatiently for the maid to come in from wherever Greaves had gone to fetch her. Fortunately, he did not have long to wait. In a matter of moments a small, round, frightened-looking girl with her mob cap set crazily askew atop her head stepped into the room.
“My lord?” Becky curtsied, hiding her trembling hands in the folds of her black skirts. She was quite terrified at the thought of confronting the strange man Greaves had only just described to her as “rather unfortunately demented.”
Annoyed, because whatever the butler had told Becky about him had obviously scared her to death, Trevor did not even look at the girl, merely held his glass up to the light and slowly moved his hand in a circle. “Who is your mistress?” he asked evenly, watching the amber liquid swirl in the flickering light from the candles.
“Miss Ackerly, your lordship,” the maid immediately answered.
Trevor shook his head, smiling grimly. “Would that be Miss Grace or Miss Faith Ackerly?” he asked with a resigned sigh.
Becky blinked. “Both, my lord,” she replied in confusion.
Suppressing a new urge to throttle the now conspicuously absent butler, Trevor moved on patiently. “Of course. Very good. Perhaps, then, you can be of some assitance to me. Do you happen to know where Miss Grace has gone this evening?”
“Almack’s, my lord,” the girl immediately replied, visibly relieved that she could answer his question. “And afterward they were to go to a ball at the home of Lord and Lady Seth.”
Trevor nodded briskly. “Thank you,” he said in a short, dismissive tone.
Becky stood waiting for a moment, then realized he no longer required her presence. She curtsied quickly and vanished, more than happy to take her leave of the strange nobleman.
Trevor watched her go and shook his head. Wednesday night. Almack’s.
He took a final swallow of his brandy and grit his teeth. The evening looked more and more grim. Of all the places he had hoped to find Grace this evening, he would have placed Almack’s at the bottom of the list. The moment he set foot in those exalted rooms, he would find himself set upon by a multitude of matchmaking mammas and their sometimes less-than-demure daughters, all of whom hoped the same impossible hope: to snare the elusive Earl of Huntwick, considered the best matrimonial catch in England for several Seasons. Actually, he amended to himself without rancor, with Sebastian’s newly acquired ducal title, Trevor would now be considered the second-best catch. He grinned for the first time since entering the Egerton house, happy to relinquish the label.
He set his glass on a table and walked slowly from the salon, toying with the idea of going to White’s and playing a few hands, then catching up with Grace at Lord Seth’s. After a moment’s further thought, he decided against it. White’s would likely be short of good company tonight. Lord Jonathon Lloyd, the Earl of Seth, and his younger brother Gareth, two of Trevor’s closest friends, would certainly not put in an appearance. If Amanda Lloyd planned to give a ball tonight, her husband would be at her side. She had probably roped in her young brother-in-law to help, as well. He smiled affectionately at the thought of the staid Earl of Seth’s beautiful, effervescent young wife. He would enjoy seeing them again tonight.
His mind made up, Trevor walked back to the front door. The elderly butler who had so annoyed him a few moments ago now sat in a chair conveniently placed near the front door, snoring peacefully with his chin resting against his chest. Giving the sleeping man a scathing look, Trevor quietly opened the front door for himself and stepped outside. With a great deal of satisfaction, he slammed the heavy door as loudly as he could. The resulting startled yelp from just inside the door was like music to his ears. Feeling vindicated, he walked down the steep steps to his waiting carriage, grinning widely.
“Almack’s,” he said to the footman who held open his door, “and quickly.” He pulled his watch from his pocket and looked at the time. Nearly eleven o’clock. If he did not arrive before then, the patronesses would close and lock the door. Nobody, not even the influential Earl of Huntwick, could make it past Mr. Willis after that hour.