If ever a gentleman stood in need of forbearance then this confounded house party surely fit the bill. Jonathan Oliver, Earl of Selwood, stood amid the giddy throng and wished himself elsewhere. The perfumed stench of his best friends’ circle of acquaintances—each resplendent in more silk, satin, and sparkling jewels than necessary—choked the very breath from his lungs.
Jonathan eased out of the mind-numbingly boring conversation he’d become trapped in and moved away in search of more appealing quarry. Unfortunately, a hand clamped over his upper arm before he’d gone very far.
“I tell you she’s up to no good, Selwood.”
Jonathan groaned but turned to face his friend, Lord Warminster. “To whom do you refer to this time?”
Warminster’s fingers tightened. “Lady Warminster, of course.”
Jonathan glanced down at the hand that held him in place. “How so?”
Warminster released his arm. “Her whole face lights up whenever any gentleman comes into view, has done so all evening too. Can you not see what I mean?”
Jonathan saw nothing in Lady Warminster’s manner to precipitate such a high level of distrust. But then again, he was conversing with the most suspicious man in England, and should hardly be surprised by the direction of his friend’s thoughts.
Warminster’s stepmother, widowed these last four years, glided past with a group of twittering acquaintances. Her deeper, earthy chuckle reached Jonathan’s ears as she clung to his sister’s arm, sharing a confidence. The lady appeared to him as she always had. Utterly breathtaking.
“If anything, your mother appears happy,” Jonathan conceded. “About time.” He muttered the last under his breath, knowing his older friend would not agree.
Beside him, Warminster’s scowl deepened. “Step-mama.” A servant passed them with a tray of champagne and Jonathan’s friend scooped up a glass with an extravagant movement, downed the contents whole, and then returned the empty glass to the tray. “I have a job for you, Selwood.”
“No!” Jonathan groaned. Whenever Warminster needed something done, no matter how innocuous the matter sounded at first hearing, Jonathan would certainly face a moral dilemma. He didn’t like to spy on acquaintances, but Lord Warminster often called on him to do so whenever he had state business elsewhere. And his request couldn’t possibly come at a more inconvenient time.