The Strange Case of Finley Jayne Page 16

That was true. “She’s easy to like, ma’am.”

“Yes.” She smiled faintly, but proudly. “She’s a good girl. Lady Gattersleigh also told me that she thought you were unnatural in regards to your strength. Is that true?”

Finley swallowed the rest of her bacon. Since she’d begun to change she’d had to hide what she was, because people always reviled or feared her for it. Now, someone actually wanted her to be different. “Yes. I am unusual, but Phoebe is not in any danger from me. I want you to know that.”

“I have seen enough to know you would never hurt my daughter. Your excursion last night proves to me that you are exactly as I hoped.” She reached across the table and took Finley’s hand. “You will protect her, won’t you? If his intentions are nefarious, you will find out before the wedding?”

The wedding was to take place closer to the end of the Season, in late June. “I’ll do everything I can,” Finley promised with a solemn nod.

The older woman squeezed her hand once more before releasing it. “Thank you. I want you to know you have my permission to come and go at all hours. So long as you do not neglect Phoebe or raise her suspicions, I will gladly make excuses for your absence.”

Finley thanked her. She didn’t know what she could do against someone as powerful as an earl, but maybe she could find a reason for Phoebe not to marry him. That would please everyone.

“Three evenings from now we are expecting Lord Vincent to dine with us,” Lady Morton informed her, returning to her toast. “If you should happen to develop a headache immediately after the meal and need to lie down, I shouldn’t hold it against you.”

One of Finley’s brows rose. The woman was actually encouraging her to lie in order to sneak away from the house and break into Lord Vincent’s! Why, it was enough intrigue to make a girl’s heart race. And yet…and yet that dark part of her relished the opportunity. Even underneath all her misgivings, Finley wanted to do this.

“That’s good to know,” she replied. “I believe I am due for a headache that evening.”

They shared a conspiratorial smile, but it was the relief and thankfulness on the woman’s face that meant more to Finley than anything else.

“What are the two of you talking so quietly about?” Phoebe asked as she came into the dining room looking brighter than anyone had the right to when just out of bed.

Her mother smiled at her. “You, of course.”

The girl laughed. “Because I’m such a fascinating topic.”

Finley smiled, as well, and when Phoebe joined them at the table, the conversation turned to happier, lighter subjects, which suited her just fine. She felt almost like a normal girl sitting there with Phoebe, discussing parties and dresses and who was caught doing what in the scandal sheets.

But the part of her that wasn’t normal kept thinking about Lord Vincent and how something just wasn’t right with him. After all, it took a monster to know one.

That afternoon Lord Vincent came calling to take Phoebe for a ride in Hyde Park. It was a fashionable pastime, though one Finley thought ridiculous. Imagine, a bunch of rich people all swarming the park at five o’clock just so they could be seen there? Why not go when it was less busy? At least then a body could enjoy themselves.

Finley was not enjoying herself. While Phoebe and his lordship rode in a comfortable open carriage pulled by gleaming brass automaton horses, she was forced to follow behind on an actual smelly horse.

She had only ever been on a horse twice in her entire life, and the first time she had cried until her mother took her down from the saddle. Horseback was a long way up when you’re five and city-raised.

At least she was able to ride astride. It wasn’t terribly fashionable, but it wasn’t considered as scandalous as it had been years ago. A famous horsewoman from Astley’s Amphitheatre had started a trend for it and it had only taken a few noblewomen to follow suit for the rest of society to catch on. It was supposedly much safer than riding sidesaddle, for which Finley was greatly thankful.

She wore a black split skirt—wide-legged trousers that had a panel that could be brought about in front to make it more resemble a skirt—and a purple riding jacket with matching hat. She felt like a great eggplant atop the chestnut mare, despite Phoebe’s assurances that she looked “smashing.” The ostrich plume in her hat kept bobbing in her face no matter how many times she blew it out of the way.

She followed behind the carriage at a discreet distance, obviously a chaperone for the couple. If that wasn’t bad enough, many of the young men she had danced with at the engagement party tipped their hats and said hello to her as they rode past in their modern vehicles, calling even more attention to her eggplantishness.

Still, she could hear whatever Phoebe and her fiancé said to one another. No “usual” person would be able to at this distance, but since she was unusual the same rules didn’t apply.

“I have something for you, my dear,” Lord Vincent said.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have, my lord,” came Phoebe’s pleased reply. She might not want to marry the old man, but who didn’t like presents?

There was a space of silence, probably the time it took Phoebe to unwrap or open the gift. “Oh, they’re beautiful!”

“Champagne pearls,” Lord Vincent explained. “They’ll look lovely with your skin. They were Cassandra’s favorite.”

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