The Strange Case of Finley Jayne Page 10

Dearest? Finley scowled. She’d been this close to giving Robert the thrashing she thought he deserved when he’d let go. She had seen Phoebe try to pull free of his grip, and now the girl was all over him wondering if he was all right?

“What did you do to him?” Phoebe demanded, glaring at her.

Finley raised her brows. “I heard you tell him no and then I saw him grab you. I thought he was trying to do you harm.”

“I would never hurt Phoebe,” Robert informed her indignantly. “I love her.”

“Love her?” Finley repeated dumbly, before pressing a hand to her head—which had started to ache again. This job was beginning to take on more twists and turns than one of those “sensation” novels.

Lips tight, she looked from Robert to Phoebe. “Someone had better explain to me just what exactly is going on here.”

The explanation was truly the stuff worthy of Mr. Dickens—simple, but oddly convoluted. Phoebe loved Robert, and Robert loved Phoebe, but Robert had yet to reach the age of majority so they couldn’t marry without their parents’ consent. Robert’s parents might have been persuaded to allow it, but Lord Vincent had gone to Phoebe’s father and asked Lord Morton for her hand. Her father said yes.

Finley’s gaze slid back and forth between the two as she struggled to regain her composure. Did this young buck know just how close he’d come to having her fist down his throat? The thought of it made her stomach twist and roll. She’d thought he was hurting Phoebe, and in return that dark part of her had wanted to hurt him. It still wanted to hurt him, even if just a very little.

“So why don’t you break the engagement?” she asked Phoebe. “Seems a simple enough solution.”

Phoebe glanced away, and even in the murky darkness Finley could tell that her cheeks were red. “I cannot do that.”

All right. She could accept that weak-arsed explanation for now, but the other girl would have to explain in detail the next time they were alone.

“You could elope,” she suggested.

This time Robert shook his head. “That would bring shame down on both our houses, dishonor me and ruin Phoebe’s reputation.” The look he directed at the girl embarrassed Finley—it was so warm. “I couldn’t do that to her.”

Finley grimaced. “So if I’m to understand you, the two of you are desperate to be together, but are unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices?”

Robert frowned at her. “You mock us with your ignorance.”

She probably should have pleaded the contrary, but Finley didn’t like being called ignorant, especially when she would do whatever necessary to be with the boy she loved—if there was such a creature. “Yes,” she replied honestly. “I do. I would mock anyone who whines about their situation yet can’t summon the bollocks to fight for who and what they want.”

“Finley,” Phoebe began.

Robert cut her off, looking down his nose at Finley. “Of course you would say something so coarse. You know nothing of the ways of our world.”

He made it sound like that was a bad thing. Finley shrugged. “You’re right, and I don’t want to know them if this foolishness is any indication of what your world is like. Now, you have two choices—we return to the ball now before someone starts to wonder where the two of you have made off to, or, I can run inside and tell all the wrong people that I found you together in the garden and the scandal will ensure you have to marry each other. What will it be?”

The hopeful glint in Robert’s eye almost won Finley over—almost. She still thought he was more of a prat than Phoebe deserved. Then Phoebe said, “You can’t do that!”

Poor Robert. He looked as though she’d broken his heart. Of course he had to know rationally that such a scandal would bring about the dishonor he so wished to avoid, but it was nice to know that he truly cared for Phoebe.

Finley didn’t question it. She arched a brow at the other girl, who looked away, not only from her, but from Robert, as well. “Then we’d best get inside.”

The three of them returning to the ballroom together would attract little interest. They would simply be a group of young people returning from catching some air out-of-doors. Never mind that they could have been up to all manner of mischief while out there.

“Phoebe,” Robert murmured as they crossed the threshold. “I…”

She barely turned her head to look at him. “I think it’s better if we don’t speak again, Robert.” Her voice was so cold, Finley thought she might get frost-bite. “It will be better for both of us that way. Goodbye.”

Robert’s face drained of all color. Finley was glad no one paid them any attention, because if they did they would all see the exact moment that Phoebe broke his heart, and that would entertain a few gossips just as much as if they had been caught kissing.

“Come along, Finley,” Phoebe instructed and began to walk away. Finley shrugged—in what she hoped was a sympathetic manner—to Robert, who in her mind was now not nearly as poncey as she first thought, and hurried after Phoebe. Her opinion of the girl had dropped a little right then. There was no need to be mean, and yet, another part of her—the dark part that sometimes seemed smarter than her or rather possessed of a better sense of intuition—wondered if perhaps Phoebe hadn’t broken her own heart at the same time.

Finley didn’t see much of Phoebe for the remainder of the evening. Lord Vincent took up much of her time—especially after the announcement of their engagement was officially made.

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