Home > Impossible (The Phoenix Club #5)

Impossible (The Phoenix Club #5)
Author: Darcy Burke


Chapter 1

 

 

June 1815

 

 

* * *

 


Hundreds of years ago, Stonehill had been a castle. Now, it was a large country house built within the last hundred years with a Palladian front. The façade was beautiful, but Ada Treadway would have preferred the castle.

Dark storm clouds hovered in the south, as if she needed to be reminded that this errand could be fraught with turmoil. Could be? Ada suspected nothing less from the Viscount Warfield.

The coach, which belonged to her employer, Lord Lucien Westbrook, rumbled to a stop in front of the entrance to the house. The coachman opened the door, and Ada stepped out into the early evening. A brisk wind whipped the ribbons of her hat beneath her chin. It seemed the storm was coming quickly. There was no avoiding it now.

“I’ll fetch your case, Miss Treadway,” the coachman said.

Thanking him, Ada started toward the house. The door did not magically open when she arrived at the threshold. So she knocked.

The coachman arrived beside her. “No one’s come to greet you?”

“Not yet.” Ada knocked again, this time with more vigor.

Another moment passed and still nothing. Frowning, the coachman looked about. “Perhaps I should take the coach to the stable and find someone there.”

“There must be someone in the house,” Ada reasoned, knocking a third time.

At last, there seemed to be a sound beyond the door—footsteps.

The door swung open to reveal a small red-faced woman with graying brown hair and weary chestnut eyes. “Begging your pardon, miss. My son—that is, the footman—is busy at the moment, and I’m afraid I was belowstairs.” She summoned a smile, but it was hard-fought, or so it seemed to Ada.

“Good evening,” Ada said warmly. “I’m here to help Lord Warfield with his ledgers.”

“Yes, I received a letter from Lord Lucien about your arrival. Do come in. I’m Mrs. Bundle, the housekeeper.” She stepped aside, holding the door. Looking to the coachman, she said, “If you’ll leave her case here in the hall, my son will fetch it shortly. I know you need to tend the horses.”

“Thank you.” The coachman inclined his head before setting Ada’s traveling case just inside the doorway. He nodded at Ada before departing for the stable.

Ada doubted she would see him again before he left in the morning. He’d be back in a fortnight to fetch her back to London. “Thank you, Jackson,” she called after him.

Returning her attention to Mrs. Bundle, Ada clasped her hands before her. “I can carry my own case upstairs—I don’t mind. If you’ll just show me the way to my room?”

A tall, rather lean young man hurried into the hall just then. His brown eyes were the same color as his mother’s and held the same weariness. No, not quite the same, for his mother possessed many more years of experience that made her gaze heavier.

“Here is Timothy now,” Mrs. Bundle said, brightening at the arrival of her son. “He’ll show you to the Primrose Room. Dinner is at seven.” She gestured to the left. “The dining room is through there—you’ll find it.”

“Should I expect to meet with Lord Warfield before dinner?” Ada asked.

Mrs. Bundle blanched. Ada hadn’t expected to be welcomed enthusiastically by her host—she was well versed on the viscount’s surly demeanor. However, she hadn’t expected this…strangeness from his retainers.

“No, I shouldn’t think so,” Mrs. Bundle said, an apologetic glimmer in her expression. “I doubt he’ll join you for dinner either. I will remind him that you’ve come.”

Ada suddenly recalled that the housekeeper had said she’d received a letter from Lucien about her arrival. Lucien had seen fit to write directly to the housekeeper. Was the viscount even aware that she was coming? It seemed he must have been at some point if Mrs. Bundle was going to remind him.

Ah well, Ada had known this would be a challenging assignment. Warfield was angry, wounded inside and out, and completely uninterested in help from anyone. These were things she’d learned from Lucien, who was one of Warfield’s closest friends, if the viscount truly had any of those anymore. She’d also heard them from Warfield’s half sister, who happened to be Ada’s closest friend, Prudence Lancaster. No, Prudence St. James since she had recently wed the Viscount Glastonbury.

By all accounts, Warfield was a nasty fellow with no desire to improve his demeanor. As a former governess, Ada had decided to view him as an unruly child. She had plenty of experience with those.

She gave Mrs. Bundle what she hoped was a supportive smile. “I understand his lordship possesses a difficult nature. Do not worry for me. I am up to the task at hand, which is to organize his ledgers and determine how he might make improvements. Not that I am versed in running an estate, but I understand numbers and will report my findings to Lord Lucien, who will help his lordship make the necessary changes.”

Mrs. Bundle stared at her as if Ada had suddenly sprouted a second head. “You and Lord Lucien are awfully confident.” Her tone was rife with skepticism.

“We are hopeful,” Ada said. It was also her hope that she’d be able to accomplish her mission with very little interaction with his lordship. She planned to stay out of his way as much as possible. So, it was really quite fine if he didn’t join her for dinner. In truth, all she really needed was access to his ledgers. He could stay wherever he was hiding.

“Bless you, Miss Treadway. Timothy will show you to the Primrose Room now.” Mrs. Bundle inclined her head toward her son before leaving the hall.

Ada offered the lad—he looked younger than her twenty-five years—an encouraging smile, for he seemed a trifle nervous. Perhaps that was what happened when you worked in a house with an excessively disagreeable employer. “The Primrose Room sounds quite charming.”

Without a word, he picked up her case and gestured straight through the entry hall.

They moved into a large staircase hall, with the stairs climbing from the center to the back wall and then splitting up either side to a gallery on the first floor. Ada preceded him up the stairs. “Have you and your mother been here a long time?” she asked.

“Yes.” The word was so quiet, Ada had to strain to hear it. She glanced back at him to see him staring past her, his features taut.

She very much wanted to put him at ease. “Well, I am here to help if I can. I look forward to my time here.”

He said nothing, and at the top of the stairs merely pointed again, this time to the left. If he hadn’t answered her question a moment ago, she might have begun to wonder whether he could speak.

They moved along the gallery, and she would have kept on going if he hadn’t said, “Here.”

Stopping, she turned back to see him standing in front of a door, which he opened for her.

“Thank you,” she said with a smile, still hoping he might relax a bit—she hated that he might feel nervous around her. Moving into the chamber, she wondered why it was called the Primrose Room, for there was nary a primrose about. “Is it called Primrose because of the yellow?” Bright, cheerful yellow dominated the color scheme of the room. Ada’s favorite primroses were that color yellow.

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