Claudia fell asleep—admittedly after a long spell of wakefulness—thinking about the Marquess of Attingsborough and awoke thinking about Charlie—the Duke of McLeith. Oh, yes, indeed, she had come honestly by her antipathy toward the aristocracy, particularly toward dukes. It had not started with the odious and arrogant Duke of Bewcastle. Another duke had destroyed her life well before she met him. She had lived and breathed Charlie Gunning during her childhood and girlhood, or so it seemed in retrospect. They had been virtually inseparable from the moment he had arrived at her father’s house, a bewildered and unhappy five-year-old orphan, until he had gone away to school at the age of twelve, and even after that they had spent every waking moment of his holidays together. But then, when he was eighteen and she seventeen, he had gone away never to return. She had not seen him since—until last evening. She had not heard from him for almost seventeen years. Yet last evening he had spoken to her as if there had been no abrupt and ruthless ending to their relationship. He had spoken as if there were nothing in the world for him to feel guilty about. But what a delightful surprise! But where are you living? Where may I call on you? Had he really believed he had the right to be delighted? And to call on her? How dared he! Seventeen years might be a long time—almost half her life—but it was not that long. There was nothing wrong with her memory. But she firmly cast aside memory as she dressed for breakfast and her visit to Mr. Hatchard’s office later in the morning. She had decided to go alone, without Edna and Flora. Frances was coming to the house, and she and Susanna were going to take the girls shopping for new clothes and accessories. And since Frances came in a carriage and bore the other three off in it not long after a prolonged breakfast, Claudia found herself riding to her appointment in Peter’s town carriage. He had refused even to listen to her protests that she would enjoy the walk on such a sunny day. “Susanna would never forgive me,” he had said with a twinkle in his eye. “And I would hate that. Have pity on me, Claudia.” She was buoyed by high spirits as she rode through the streets of London, despite a niggling worry that the employment Mr. Hatchard had found for the two girls might not be suitable after all. Now that the time had come, she was fairly bubbling with excitement over the fact that she was about to put the final touch to her independence, to her success as a single woman. There was no longer any need of assistance from the benefactor who had so generously supported the school almost from the start. She had a letter for him tucked into her reticule—Mr. Hatchard would deliver it for her. It was regrettable that she would never know who the man was, but she respected his desire for anonymity. The school was flourishing. Within the last year she had been able to extend it into the house next door and add two more teachers to the staff. Even more gratifying, she was now able to increase the number of charity pupils she took in from twelve to fourteen. And the school was even turning a modest profit. She was looking forward to the next hour or so, she thought as Peter’s coachman handed her down from the carriage and she stepped inside Mr. Hatchard’s office. Less than an hour later Claudia hurried back outside onto the pavement. Viscount Whitleaf’s coachman jumped down from the box and opened the carriage door for her. She drew breath to tell him that she would walk home. She was far too agitated to ride. But before she could speak, she heard her name being called. The Marquess of Attingsborough was riding along the street with the Earl of Kilbourne and another gentleman. It was the marquess who had hailed her. “Good morning, Miss Martin,” he said, riding closer. “And how are you this morning?” “If I were any angrier, Lord Attingsborough,” she said, “the top might well blow off my head.” He raised his eyebrows. “I am going to walk home,” she told the coachman. “Thank you for waiting for me, but you may return without me.” “You must permit me to escort you, ma’am,” the marquess said. “I hardly need a chaperone,” she told him sharply. “And I would not be good company this morning.” “Allow me to accompany you as a friend, then,” he said, and he swung down from his saddle and turned to the earl. “You will take my horse back to the stable, Nev?” The earl smiled and doffed his hat to Claudia, and it was too late to say a firm no. Besides, it was something of a relief to see a familiar face. She had thought she would have to wait for Susanna to return from her shopping expedition before she would have anyone with whom to talk. She might well burst before then. And so just a minute later they were walking along the pavement together, she and the Marquess of Attingsborough. He offered his arm, and she took it. “I am not much given to distress,” she assured him, “despite last evening and now this morning. But this morning it is anger—fury—rather than distress.” “Someone upset you in there?” he asked, nodding toward the building from which she had just emerged. “That is Mr. Hatchard’s office,” she explained to him. “My man of business.” “Ah,” he said. “The employment. It did not meet with your approval?” “Edna and Flora will return to Bath with me tomorrow,” she said. “That bad?” He patted her hand on his arm. “Worse,” she assured him. “Far worse.” “Am I permitted to know what happened?” he asked. “The Bedwyns,” she said, sawing at the air with her free hand as they crossed a street, avoiding a pile of fresh manure. “That is what happened. The Bedwyns! They will be the death of me yet. I swear they will.” “I do hope not,” he said. “Flora was to be employed by Lady Aidan Bedwyn,” Claudia said, “and Edna by none other than the Marchioness of Hallmere!” “Ah,” he said. “It is insufferable,” she told him. “I do not know how that woman has the nerve.” “Perhaps,” he suggested, “she remembers you as a superior teacher who will not compromise her principles and high standards even for money or position.” Claudia snorted. “And perhaps,” he said, “she has grown up.” “Women like her,” Claudia said, “do not grow up. They just grow nastier.” Which was ridiculous and unfair, of course. But her antipathy toward the former Lady Freyja Bedwyn ran so deep that she was incapable of being reasonable where the woman was concerned. “You have an objection to Lady Aidan Bedwyn too?” he asked, touching the brim of his hat to a couple of ladies who were walking in the opposite direction. “She married a Bedwyn,” Claudia said. “She has always struck me as being particularly amiable,” he said. “Her father was apparently a Welsh coal miner before making his fortune. She has a reputation for helping people less fortunate than herself. Two of her three children are adopted. Is it for them she needs a governess?” “For the girl,” Claudia said, “and eventually for her younger daughter.” “And so you are to return to Bath with Miss Bains and Miss Wood,” he said. “Are they to be given any choice in the matter?” “I would not send them into servitude to be miserable,” she said. “Perhaps,” he suggested, “they might not see it that way, Miss Martin. Perhaps they would be excited at the prospect of being governesses in the houses of such distinguished families.” A young child with a harried-looking nurse in hot pursuit was bowling his hoop along the pavement. The marquess drew Claudia to one side until they were all past. “Little whippersnapper,” he commented. “I would wager he promised most faithfully that he would carry the thing except when he was in the park with plenty of open space.” Claudia drew a slow breath. “Are you suggesting, Lord Attingsborough,” she said, “that I reacted overhastily and unreasonably at Mr. Hatchard’s office?” “Not at all,” he said. “Your anger is admirable as is your determination to burden yourself with the girls again by taking them back to Bath rather than placing them in employment that might bring them unhappiness.” She sighed. “You are quite right,” she said. “I did react too hastily.” He grinned at her. “Did you give Hatchard a definite no?” he asked. “Oh, I did,” she said, “but he insisted that he would do nothing until tomorrow. He wants the girls to attend interviews with their prospective employers.” “Ah,” he said. “I suppose,” she said, “I ought to give them the choice, ought I not?” “If you trust their judgment,” he said. She sighed again. “It is one thing we are at pains to teach,” she said. “Good judgment, reason, thinking for oneself, making one’s own decisions based upon sense as well as inclination. That is more than one thing. We try to teach our girls to be informed, thinking adults—especially the charity girls who will not simply marry as soon as they are out of the schoolroom and allow their husbands to do all the thinking for them for the rest of their lives.” “That is not a very rosy picture of marriage,” he said. “But a very accurate one,” she retorted. They were walking beneath an avenue of trees that lined the pavement. Briefly Claudia raised her face to the branches and leaves overhead and to the blue sky and sunshine above. “I will warn them,” she said. “I will explain that the Bedwyns, led by the Duke of Bewcastle, are a family that has enjoyed wealth and privilege for generations, that they are arrogant and contemptuous of all who are below them on the social scale—and that includes almost every other mortal in existence. I shall explain that Lady Hallmere is the worst of the lot. I shall advise them not even to attend an interview but to pack their bags and return to Bath with me. And then I shall allow them to decide for themselves what they wish to do.” She remembered suddenly that both girls had actually stayed at Lindsey Hall with the other charity girls last summer for the occasion of Susanna’s wedding. They had actually met the Duke and Duchess of Bewcastle. The Marquess of Attingsborough was laughing softly. Claudia looked sharply at him. And then she laughed too. “I am a tyrant only when I am wrathful,” she said. “Not simply annoyed, but wrathful. It does not happen often.” “And I suspect that when it does,” he said, “it is because someone has threatened one of your precious girls.” “They are precious,” she told him. “Especially those who have no one to speak up for them but me.” He patted her hand again, and she suddenly realized that she had been walking with him for several minutes without paying any attention whatsoever to the direction they took. “Where are we?” she asked. “Is this the way back to Susanna’s?” “It is the long and the best way home,” he told her. “It passes Gunter’s. Have you tasted their ices?” “No, I have not,” Claudia said. “But this is the morning.” “And there is some law that states one can indulge in an ice only in the afternoon?” he said. “There will be no time this afternoon. I will be at Mrs. Corbette-Hythe’s garden party. Will you?” Claudia winced inwardly. She had completely forgotten about that. She would far rather stay at home, but of course she must go. Susanna and Frances expected it of her, and she expected it of herself. She did not enjoy moving in tonnish circles, but she would not absent herself from any entertainment just because she was self-conscious and felt she did not belong. Those things were all the more reason to go. “Yes,” she said. “Then we will stop for an ice at Gunter’s this morning,” he said, patting her hand once more. And for no reason at all, Claudia laughed again. Where had her anger gone? Had she by any chance been manipulated? Or had she just been given the benefit of the wisdom of a cooler head? Wisdom? The Marquess of Attingsborough? She remembered something suddenly, and it put to flight the remnants of her anger. “I am free,” she told the marquess. “I have just informed Mr. Hatchard that I do not need my benefactor any longer. I have just handed him a letter of thanks for the man.” “A cause for celebration indeed,” he said. “And what better way to celebrate than with one of Gunter’s ices?” “If there is one, I cannot think what it might be,” she agreed.