The Strange Case of Finley Jayne Page 21

Finley Bennet was not normal. In fact, the only thing he’d ever seen able to wreak so much damage was an automaton—a large one at that. No, she was not usual, and he’d wager his entire fortune that she was not a cousin to Lady Morton and the lovely Phoebe. He’d seen the way his future mother-in-law looked at him when she thought he wouldn’t notice. She knew his intentions were not as pure as he pretended. Not that it mattered. Lord Morton had sold the girl and signed a contract. She was his, and he would marry her, whether her mother liked it or not.

And no one was going to stop him now that he was so close to having his hopes and dreams realized, especially not a freakish little girl.


Dinner with Lord Vincent was one of the most uncomfortable situations Finley ever found herself in.

First of all, she was wearing one of the gowns that Lady Morton had insisted on buying for her. It was lovely and a gorgeous shade of plum satin, but the little sleeves were snug and didn’t allow for much movement, and Phoebe had laced her into her corset so tightly she thought her lungs might come out her nose.

Secondly, there was the fact that Lord Morton was there, as well, and he was about as pompous and self-important as she could stand. He practically ignored his wife and daughter, and had the table manners of a Newfoundland dog.

Most obviously, there was Lord Vincent himself. Oh, he was all manners and decorum, but Finley caught him looking at her several times with a gaze that was anything but polite. He looked at her like she was an insect he would like to pin to a board and dissect.

“I heard you ladies were set upon by ruffians the other day,” he remarked—rather casually.

Lady Morton’s head snapped up. “Oh? Where did you hear that, pray tell?”

The earl smiled gently. “Lord Morton informed me when he called upon me this morning.”

Finley didn’t miss the flush that crept into Lady Morton’s fair cheeks. It was obvious from the way that she looked at her husband she suspected he had called on Lord Vincent for more money.

“My valet told me,” Lord Morton explained with a sniff. “Damn fine kettle when a man has to hear about his wife being accosted from the servants.”

The most caustic and bitter smile Finley had ever seen curved the lady’s lips. “I knew how you’d worry if I told you.”

A similar expression crossed her husband’s face. “You’re always so considerate, my dear.”

Good lord, these two despised one another! Finley glanced down at her plate. Aristocrats were a queer lot—marrying for money, staying with spouses they couldn’t stand, living by all manner of foolish rules.

Selling their daughters to save their own hides.

“I also heard,” Lord Vincent continued, as though the tension between Lord and Lady Morton didn’t exist, “that it was Miss Bennet who fought the bounders off.”

Finley lifted her head and met his cool gaze. “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, my lord. I’m hardly a heroine.”

“So you didn’t return home with bruised and bloody knuckles from striking one of them?”

She glanced at Lord Morton, but he had gone back to his plate and paid her no attention. The man certainly liked to talk—at least when he was begging for money.

She held up her hands, palms toward herself, so that he could examine them. “Not a bruise nor a cut.” There wasn’t either. They had disappeared earlier that day.

Lord Vincent’s lips pursed. “I see I was mistaken.” He didn’t cast an accusatory glance at Lord Morton, but still he seemed perturbed. Perhaps it was a reach, but the thought flittered across Finley’s mind that perhaps he hadn’t heard details of the altercation from Lord Morton. What if he had gotten his information from a more reliable source, such as the thugs themselves?

No, that was too much. Wasn’t it?

“Although it would be extraordinary if I had fought them off, wouldn’t it?” she asked with a cheeky smile. “They’d write novels about me then—stopping runaway automaton horses, fending off ruffians. I’d be a sensation.”

Lady Morton and Phoebe chuckled—and sounded almost genuine, though Finley didn’t miss the look Lady Morton shot her. It was a look that demanded to know if she had lost her mind.

“Indeed,” Lord Vincent replied, then he dismissed her and turned to Phoebe. “You look lovely in the pearls, my dear.”

Phoebe had worn his gift to dinner. He was right; she did look lovely. She also, Finley imagined, looked like a younger version of his dead wife. It was enough to make a body shiver as though an icy hand trailed down her spine.

“I’m afraid I’ve developed a terrible headache,” Finley announced suddenly, pressing her fingers to her forehead. “It’s been brewing all day. I think I might lie down for a bit. Will you all excuse me?”

The gentlemen rose as she did—Mr. Morton looked rather put out about it. He also had beef in his moustache, but Finley didn’t point it out. Let him wear it for a while. Hopefully it would still be there when he went to his club later.

“I hope you feel better soon, Miss Bennet.” Lord Vincent sounded sincere, but she didn’t trust it.

“Thank you, my lord.”

Both Lady Morton and Phoebe wished her a quick recovery. As far as Phoebe was concerned the excuse was legitimate. Only Lady Morton and Finley knew exactly what she was truly about to get up to.

And she got up to it quickly. As soon as she entered her room she squirmed out of the gown, corset and underclothes. Then, she redressed in fresh bloomers, short skirt, blouse and leather corset. She laced up her sturdy black boots and shrugged into a black sweater to ward off the slight chill of the evening.

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