“Good afternoon, my lord! I’m here as we previously discussed, for the interview.” Lord Belhaven squints up at me from where he is laying on a couch, then throws his arm back over his eyes.
“Yes, well, I’m not sure why I need to wake up at this ungodly hour. Couldn’t we have arranged to do this at a more civilized time?”
“It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, my lord.”
“Is it? Huh. All right, then,” he sighs, and heaves himself into a sitting position, his jacket terminally crushed from sleeping in it and his cravat in a heap on the floor. “I suppose I shouldn’t have stayed out drinking and gambling until four o’clock with Alex, but it’s no use crying over spilt brandy.”
“Um, okay. Can we start now?”
“What? Oh, yes –begin.” He waves his hand graciously, leaning back against the cushions. I seat myself across him in a large wingback chair and open my notes, folding my hands primly on my lap.
“So, Lord Belhaven, how do you like being a hero in your very own book?” I ask brightly. He looks at me blankly for a moment.
“My own what?”
“Your own book. I wrote a book titled Blankety-Blank, and you are the star. Well, sort of. You do share the book with several other people.” I explain patiently.
“Oh, well, I guess I’m…pleased?” He cocks his head to the side, considering. “Yes, I’m pleased. Although, I would re-name the book. Shabby title, in my opinion. Perhaps something like The Wonderful Lord Belhaven or The Exciting and Amazing Amorous Adventures of a Handsome Earl?” He grins and waggles his eyebrows at me, pushing back a hank of overly long, silky black hair that flopped into his eyes.
“Er, yes. I’ll take that under advisement.” I pause and look down at my notes to re-orient myself. Even when used benignly, the earl’s smile packs a punch and I need a moment to recover. “Soo, you aren’t upset then about Miss Langford, then?”
The earl slowly sits up, his dark brown eyes narrowing. “What do you mean? Everything is going swimmingly with Miss Langford. I was just thinking last night that it was time to talk to her father, and make an offer for the girl.”
“Oh, well…about that.” I shift uncomfortably.
“Yes?” he asks ominously, leaning forward. I lean away as casually as possible, and take a deep breath.
“She-ran-off-with-your-best-friend-and-now-everyone-is-laughing-at-you!” I say it quickly, squelching my eyes shut in trepidation.
I open one eye carefully, peeking at the motionless figure of the earl sitting in front of me, staring at me with a blank expression.
“Say that again,” he says, his voice empty.
“She ran off? With the Earl of Conway? Your best friend?” I squeak, my nervousness making my statements sound more like questions.
“Pardon me, I’ll be right back.” I watch as the earl carefully stands up and calmly walks out of the room, quietly shutting the door behind him. I lean forward, straining my ears , my notebook sliding off my lap and onto the floor.
Belhaven wrenches open the door and strides back in, his dark hair disheveled; the dust of what must have been several priceless antique vases still clinging to his trouser hem. I jump up from my chair, but he waves me back down. I sit gingerly and pick up my notebook, as he throws himself onto the couch across from me again, breathing heavily through his nose.
“Right. As you were saying?”
“Oh, um. Okay.” I clear my throat, but he just stares at me with unreadable, heavy lidded eyes. “I’m sorry it was such a surprise, but-“
“I’m sorry it was such a shock, but not to worry,” I continue loudly. “You can still fulfill the conditions of your father’s will! You end up marrying Charlotte Patterson, so you see? It all works out.”
“Oh, for the love of… Are you trying to kill me, woman? Mirabelle runs off with Conway, and you replace her with his little sister, The Terror of Wiltshire? The Great Pest? The Pain in My-“
“Yes, yes! I understand it will take some getting used to but you’ll thank me in the end, I promise.”
“Not likely,” he says succinctly, folding his arms and glaring at me. I glare back. “I’m baffled as to why in the world you would think to pair me with her? Is she even of age yet?”
“She is almost twenty-one, my lord, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised when you finally take a good look at her. She’s really quite pretty.”
“She’d have to be, to make up for that mouth. Charlotte Patterson,” he scoffs. “Of all the crazy ideas…” He trails off, a thoughtful look coming over his face. He hums, then taps his lips with his fingers. I want to ask what he’s thinking but when I open my mouth, he shoots me a quelling look and I close it again quickly.
“Actually, madam, your suggestion may have some merit after all.”
“Um, it does? I mean, yes, it does!” I’m confused at his sudden good cheer.
“I will seduce the Patterson chit, ruining her thoroughly, and torture her brother by pretending to think about whether or not I’ll marry her. By the time I give in gracefully, he’ll be reduced to begging. I’ll get my revenge and my inheritance. You, madam, are a genius.”
“No, no! I meant that you are going to fall in love with Charlotte, and live happily ever after.”
He snorts. “Do not hold your breath. That will never happen.”
“It will.” I insist.
“Truly, you have delusions of grandeur. Even you, my writer friend, will never persuade me that love isn’t merely for fools and babies.”
“I’m not the one who will do the persuading, my lord.”
He merely shakes his head patronizingly, and flashes me another one of those blindingly sexy grins, causing my brain to fizzle. When I manage to pull it together, he is wandering the library, searching the shelves and muttering something about some military strategy book named The Art of War. I sit for another few moments, but he seems to have forgotten me. As I quietly gather my things and tiptoe out the door, I glance over my shoulder at the tall, handsome dark-haired lord. I laugh to myself and slip out the door, letting it swing shut silently behind me.