The Strange Case of Finley Jayne Page 3

She wore a dark plum day gown with a pearl-gray shawl and matching hat. Finley glanced down at her own stockings, boots and short skirt and grimaced. Her clothing was very modern—not the sort of thing one wore to receive polite company.

Nevertheless, she was not going to put this off any longer. Better to just get it over with, like tearing a bandage off a cut.

“Lady Morton?” she inquired as she stepped into the shop.

The woman stopped her browsing and turned. Her strange gaze swept over Finley from the toes of her boots to the tip of the pencil she’d used to hold her hair in place on the back of her head.

“Miss Finley Jayne, I presume?” Her voice was low and crisp.

“Yes, ma’am,” Finley replied with a curtsy. “My stepfather says you wished to speak to me?”

“I do. Is there some place where we might speak privately?”

Well, it didn’t seem the lady was there to cause trouble for Finley with her parents, so that was a relief. “We could use my stepfather’s office if you like.”

Lady Morton actually looked relieved, as well. “That would be fine, thank you.”

Since she was already close to the back of the shop, it wasn’t much of a distance to Silas’s office. Finley stood near the threshold and gestured for her ladyship to enter first, as was polite.

Silas’s office was normally a chaotic terrain of papers, books and coffee cups, but the woman who came once a week to help her mother with some of the cleaning had been there just that morning, so the office was bright, neat and smelled of lemon furniture polish. There was even a chair for Lady Morton to sit upon without Finley having to remove a pile of books first.

Finley perched on the edge of her stepfather’s desk as she couldn’t bring herself to actually sit behind it in his chair. Plus, this position gave her a height advantage, and helped her feel less intimidated by her guest, whose foggy eye seemed to peer right through a person.

“Would you like something to drink?” she inquired. Her mother always offered guests refreshment, even if she didn’t like them.

Lady Morton smiled. It seemed a genuine expression, not a rude one. “No, thank you. I will get right to the point of my calling upon you, Miss Jayne, because I suspect you are naturally quite curious as to why I am here. I wish to offer you a position within my household.”

Finley blinked. “I’m sorry. Did you say you wished to offer me a job?”

The lady nodded. She looked as though she did this sort of thing all the time, sitting there with her matching bag clasped in her lap between her gloved hands. Normally, it was the housekeeper or the butler who took care of the hiring of staff within a large household, so this strange circumstance made Finley leery.

“I wish to hire you as companion to my youngest daughter, Phoebe.”

A frown squished Finley’s brows together. “Why?” She wasn’t the most intelligent of girls, but even she knew enough of how the world worked to know she was completely unacceptable as a companion. For one thing, she hadn’t been born into the right social class. Companions were often poor aristocrats, or at least of good to noble birth. She could claim middle class if she was bragging. She knew nothing of society and how to behave in it, but she’d seen enough of the girls who lived there to know that she’d rather cut her own throat than spend time with one.

Lady Morton’s eyebrows rose. “Why? My dear girl, from what I hear you are hardly in the position to question such an opportunity.”

“I know that, my lady,” Finley replied. “That’s why I have to ask. Why would a lady such as yourself want to hire someone as lowbrow as me to spend time with your daughter? Surely Lady Gattersleigh told you why I was sacked.”

“She did.” Her tone was strangely chipper and dismissive at the same time. “I have no interest in discussing your previous post, Miss Jayne. Suffice to say that I find the kind of girl who would defend a child at the risk of her own welfare to be exactly the sort of person I wish to have in my employ.”

How was it possible that this woman seemed insulted that Finley didn’t think she was good enough to work for her? Shouldn’t she be flattered? And should she really argue with the woman? She needed a job. She wouldn’t get too many people who would be as tolerant as Lady Morton after hearing what she did.

“May I inquire as to what my wage will be?”

Lady Morton’s shoulders relaxed slightly, as though a large weight had been lifted off them. “You will have food, lodgings and clothing provided for you. In addition to that I am prepared to offer you the sum of twenty-five pounds per annum.”

Twenty-five pounds a year? Finley’s jaw sagged at the amount. That was more than most ladies’ maids earned in a year!

“Fine,” the lady said in a clipped tone. “Thirty, but that is my final offer.”

How many times had her mother cautioned her that when things seemed too good to be true they often were? “When would you like me to start?” She fought to keep the excitement out of her voice.

Lady Morton smiled. “Is tomorrow morning too soon?”

“No, not at all.” She hadn’t even fully unpacked.

“Excellent.” The older woman rose gracefully to her feet. “My carriage will come by for you at nine o’clock. By the time you are settled Phoebe should be awake. We’re off to a charity event hosted by Lady Marsden and her nephew the Duke of Greythorne tonight.”

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