Two

Cassy was much too happy to leave the ship finally.

It wasn’t just the constant swaying motion which sickened her, nor was it the loud rumble of the engine right next to her quarters which kept her awake at night.

It was the constant attention of a certain Miss Theresa which bothered her.

Innocent as the young maiden was, she had taken a liking to Lord Levington ever since she happened to fall into his arms at dinner.

Literally.

Cassy had strolled clumsily into the hall, beige carpets and patterned wallpaper all over. Poor lady Theresa had tripped over her dress just then, and Cassy had fortunately been standing right next to her at the exact moment, thankfully reaching out to steady her before she toppled to the floor.

Flustered, lady Theresa had looked up at the handsome Lord and fallen in love instantly, unusual as it may seem.

"Thank you, kind sir," she’d said breathlessly. "I owe you my life."

"I would hardly say that," Cassy replied in a voice that caused lady Theresa's brows to crease. Quickly, she remembered that she was supposed to be a man, and men did not speak in a light, feathery tone. She cleared her throat.

"To whom do I address my thanks?" lady Theresa asked , clearly not bothered by the fact that she was still nestled in the lord’s arms. Cassy seemed to realize this soon enough, and she quickly pulled back so lady Theresa could stand on her own.

"Jonathan," she said gruffly. "Jonathan Trenton."

"Theresa Hardwick," she replied, offering her hand. Cassy stared at it for several seconds before she realized that she was supposed to kiss it. Lady Theresa watched expectantly as the lord brought her hand slowly to his lips, brushing over her knuckles lightly before releasing her hand almost immediately.

Ever since then, lady Theresa had become a thorn at Cassandra’s side. She never left. Even when Cassy had to make up some urgent business which required her immediate attention, Theresa refused to leave her side. She was traveling with her aunt, an old lady dwarfed by age who remarked on how ‘pretty’ the young Lord Levington was. Cassy had a sneaking suspicion that the old bat must have told her niece to double her efforts in trying to procure Lord Levington’s affection.

Through their talks, Cassandra learned that Theresa was an only daughter to an old General, and she was being shipped off to England to marry an old Viscount whom she’d met but once. On close inspection, Cassy realised that they were probably of the same age.

"I swear I don’t like him though," she added quickly, sensing that her words had perhaps upset the young Lord. For the most part, Cassy indulged her. It was the right thing to do. She didn’t even complain when the captain told Lady Theresa that the Lord Levington was coming to England so he would serve under a powerful duke until he came of age and acquired his own wealth.

The result of it all was that Cassandra felt an enormous relief when the ship finally docked at the English shore. She hurried off the deck almost at once, hastily turn around to make sure that Lady Theresa wasn’t lurking about somewhere close by. Thankfully, Lady Theresa didn’t make an appearance as Cassandra was approached by a tall, young man.

"Lord Levington?" he asked, and she nodded quickly in affirmation. She pointed to the one trunk that had been brought from America. The man seemed surprised.

"Some of my things were lost," Cassy lied. "Too many rascals on this ship. I’ll be glad to see it gone." That satisfied him.

"I'm certain that his grace will be ordering you new garments more commensurate with your station," the man said politely, and indicated that Cassy should follow him.

That caused her some unease as she tried to visualise how she would be measured for the new garments. But that was still in the future, and there were other hurdles to clear first, she decided as the man who was the steward and named Sheldon, showed her to a waiting carriage. She eyed it with wide eyes, noting the silver crest on the door, and the brightly gleaming joints and mountings of silver. Liveried positions, coachman and footman waited. One of them pull down the step for her to climb into the elegant coach.

Out of habit, Cassy waited for him to assist her into the coach, and Sheldon asked in his infinitely polite tone, "Is there some sort of problem, Lord Levington?"

Cassy gave a start, flushed, then paused. "Beg pardon," she said quickly. "Everything is fine."

Sheldon smiled. "If that will be all, my lord."

"But I'm not. . ." Cassy began, then stopped. "I’ve been meaning to ask. I'm not a lord yet, am I?" She ended lamely. "I thought someone had to swat me with a sword, or something."

"Perhaps, my lord, being from America, you aren't familiar with the usage and inheritance of titles. It will all be explained to you."

"I hope so," Cassy muttered as she climbed into the carriage. "Things are beginning to be a bit confusing."

Alone in the carriage, Cassy stretched out a shapely leg as the carriage rolled away from the docks, and stared out the window. She stifled a chuckle when she saw Lady Theresa alighting from the deck, helping her aunt while she kept looking around hopefully. Cassy didn’t have to guess who she was searching for.

She was all alone in an ornate carriage with a fancy ducal crest on the door, and she saw that people stared as they rolled past. It was an elegant carriage, with comfortable velvet squabs, and very well hung. It hardly bounced at all in the rutted streets, and other carriages made room for them to pass.

Perhaps this duke of Eastland was much more important than she'd first thought, Cassy reflected uneasily. A quick pang of fear hit her, but she brushed it determinedly aside. It was certainly not her fault that she had been pledged to a stranger, was it? It served him right to have her masquerade as her brother. She only hoped that he would see the sense in her reasoning if he discovered the truth before she reached eighteen.

Shifting on the plush velvet seats, Cassy stared out the window, her eyes growing wide as they rolled past huge stone bridges and quays. Southampton was much larger than she'd assumed it would be.

When the carriage rolled out of the city and into the lonely stretches of nothing but winter brown fields and an occasional village, Cassy found that she was extremely tired. She could barely keep her eyes open, even when they stopped for refreshments and fresh horses.

By the time the carriage arrived at the Duke's estate in Redbridge, it was dark and Cassy had fallen asleep. She lay sprawled over the velvet seats of the carriage, one arm flung over her head, her slender body limp in the abandon of slumber. The coat was twisted beneath her, and her attire was woefully bad for a good first impression.

Sheldon gazed at the rumpled cravat and waistcoat and cleared his throat. "My lord?" he said loudly, frowning when there was no response. "My lord Levington?"

Still no response, and Sheldon hesitated about giving the lad a shake. When it seemed as if the dark haired young man with the beautiful face would continue to sleep, Sheldon reached out and touched Cassy lightly on the shoulder.

She sprang up immediately, her heavy lashed eyes dazed with sleep, her tousled curls dangling over her eyebrows.

"Where. . .where am I?" She blurted before remembering she was to speak in a deep voice. She cleared her throat and added gruffly, "I must have fallen asleep."

"Yes, my lord, I believe you did." Sheldon stood politely back and waited for Cassy to climb down from the carriage, which she did stiffly, blinking at a blaze of lights and gazing up in awe at the high walls of Eastland hall.

Mellow brick gleamed dully in the light of countless lanterns, and seemed to stretch in all directions. There were two staircases, one at each side, both leading up at opposite angles to a separate entrance hall with Corinthian columns that supported a pitched roof and ornate frieze.

She could see two wings from where she stood, and the suggestion of more was indicated by a forest of chimneys and spires that jutted from the roof, dark silhouettes against the night sky. The double staircase leading to each side were joined by the central building which was flanked by curved wings.

Good lord! She thought in dismay. Most houses in Hampton roads could fit in this one house. If ever there was a way the duke could display his wealth and power, then surely it was by this.

As her head tilted back and she looked up the ivy covered walls towering above, she absently straightened her cravat and tried to smooth her hair. Sheldon's polite cough brought her back to the present, and she flushed.

"I believe his grace is waiting upon your arrival, my lord," Sheldon said.

"Oh. Sorry. I Thought he might be in bed. Isn't he too old to be up this late?"

Sheldon blinked with surprise. "Ah, I really couldn't say, my lord. His grace is known to keep odd hours."

"Oh." Cassy followed Sheldon up the seemingly endless steps and into the house, her eyes widening even more as they entered a vast entrance hall. She had a quick impression of black and white marble squares on the floor, and the presence of large greek and roman statues placed at discreet intervals. Glancing up at the huge crystal chandelier dangling from the ceiling, her lower jaw dropped as she noted the painted murals of celestial beings on the ceiling, edged with glittering baroque scrolls. Just beyond the entrance hall was an anteroom, with more statuses, and an inlaid floor in a blue and crimson and gold pattern.

Sheldon led her through an arched doorway, her footsteps echoing loudly on the marble floors. She had the distinct impression that she was a shabby intruder.

Instinctively walking on her tiptoes, Cassy shrugged away the uncomfortable feeling she was in a museum instead of a home. The neoclassical mania had apparently struck the duke, she decided, or at least his ancestors. Bronze and marble busts were everywhere, on the stairs of beautiful stones, and placed inlaid gold tables. Massive pieces of furniture looking endured since the middle ages were scattered regally throughout the rooms through which Sheldon led her, and when she glanced down at the floor, she saw at once that the turkish carpet was of the best quality. Nothing shy about the Duke's pocketbook, she thought with a grimace.

Her overlarge boots slid up and down on her heels as she tiptoed across the carpet, and when Sheldon turned back to her, his face reflected surprise.

"Is there a problem, my lord?"

"Problem? No. What do you mean?" Cassy started at him with wide blue eyes

"Your gait is rather. . . hesitant."

"Oh. That. It's my boots. I, uh, lost them, you see, on board the ship, and these are not mine. They're borrowed."

Comprehension eased the concern on Sheldon's face, and he nodded. "I see, my lord. I shall inform his grace of the situation and save you some embarrassement."

Gratitude flooded Cassy. "Would you? I do hate to come in like a beggar in the night." Her voice altered to subtle sarcasm as she added, "I mean, the duke has done so much for me already."

Sheldon had been trained to detect the subtle nuance of tone that could reflect different meanings to the slightest comment, and his eyebrows rose slightly at the tone of Cassy's voice. His gaze sharpened, and he observed the young American more closely. There was a definite undercurrent tension in the strangely soft voice, due to more than just weariness or the strangeness of new surroundings.

Yet, Sheldon had also been trained to let nothing show on his impassive features and so he brightened and shook his head and said "Just so, my lord. I and his grace will be appreciative of your acknowledgement.” He paused and then added softly, "You might as well straighten your cravat, my lord."

Swinging open a heavy oak door, Sheldon ushered Cassy into a small room, then stopped to another door and rapped twice. Cassy felt the thrumming of apprehension tighten her nerves, and automatically smoothed the rumpled folds of her cravat, then tried to finger comb her hair into a more orderly style.

When Sheldon motioned her forward, Cassy inhaled deeply to steady her nerves, and strode clumsily across the rich carpet and into the next room. She had a brief impression of elegant furniture, floor to ceiling book cases, landscape paintings, tall, mullioned windows flocked by heavy drapes, and solid brass candlesticks as her eyes focused on the man behind a huge mahogany desk.

Cassy felt her heartbeat escalate rapidly, and her breath hung in her throat. The Duke of Eastland, -what on earth was his real name?- was not old at all. And not only was he not in his dotage, he was the most handsome man she had ever seen in all her seventeen years.

The duke was not sitting, but stood languidly behind the desk, and looked up as she approached.

"Your grace," Sheldon said from somewhere behind her, his voice quietly respectful, "may I present to you Lord Jonathan Trenton, Earl of Levington."

Cassy jumped slightly. She'd never get used to that. Nor did she think she'd get used to the duke.

He looked at her with a slightly lifted brow, and his piercing gaze raked her with a thoroughness that made her waver between anger and embarrassment. Cassy returned his stare with one of her own. It was the perfect opportunity to gaze at the duke without seeming more than mildly presumptuous, since he'd begun it.

Thick, tawny hair waved over his forehead in the close cropped style of lord Byron, and his eyes were a glittering green that seemed to rivet her into place. His shoulders were broad even without padding and filled out an open necked white shirt he wore to perfection.

A bright waistcoat buttoned over his lean waist, and his buff colored breeches stretched tautly over well muscled legs. Cassy couldn't see his feet, but she guessed that he must be wearing highly polished Hessian boots complete with tassels. Oh yes, the duke of Eastland would dress to the nines, she was certain!

"Are you done staring, Levington?" the duke asked her finally, his deep, rich voice filled with an insolent sarcasm that immediately lifted Cassy's temper.

She controlled it with an effort, and asked cooly, "Are you?"

Cassy could hear Sheldon's strangled gasp, but didn't care at the moment. How dare he reprimand for doing what he was doing?

"Your grace," Sheldon hurried to say, "I believe his lordship is unaware of the proprieties. Colonials don't seem to understand protocol, and. . ."

Eastland flicked Sheldon a glance that immediately silenced the man. "I am well aware of the lamentable lack of manners peculiar to ill-bred colonials, Sheldon."

Cassy's small hands curled into fists, and she was suddenly fiercely glad that she was the one standing in front of him instead of Jonathan. He would not have tolerated this man's words for a moment, and it would have ended very badly. She, however, had always been forced to exercise more restraint than her twin, and could respond in kind without resorting to outright rage.

Her chin lifted, and blue sparks of defiance flared in her eyes as she met the Duke's scathing gaze. "If you always address guests in your home so rudely, sir, I can well imagine that you've been treated to some ill manners in your time."

Sheldon almost sobbed, and he stepped as if to physically come between Cassy and the duke. Eastland waved him aside with a negligent hand.

"Leave us, Sheldon."

The steward immediately inclined his head and murmured "your grace," as he stepped backward, pausing by Cassy just long enough to repeat in a whisper "your grace!"

Cassy realized that she was to address the Duke as such, but stubbornly refused. He was being rude to her, and she was tired and had come a long way. It was late at night, and she'd had nothing to eat or drink since shortly after leaving Southampton. She had no intention of being polite until he was. Her arms folded across her chest, and her small chin tilted out at him.

Eastland regarded her with a flicker of grim amusement. "Feisty little beggar, aren't you?" He murmured, coming from around the edge of his desk. He paused and leaned back against the heavy surface, crossing his legs at the ankles with an indolently graceful motion and gazing at her so long she began to fidget.

Somewhere a clock ticked with slow, sonorous clicks, beginning to sound extremely loud in the quite room.

"You might do, once we put a muscle on you. You seem girlish at first glance."

Her smoldering gaze flicked up to meet his. "Do I?" She almost snarled.

This was going very badly. Her resentment at the duke for forcing her from her home and into a masquerade was escalating into dislike, and she began to blame him for all the ills that had befallen her in the past few months.

Eastland frowned, and his eyes narrowed fractionally, making Cassy's throat tighten. When he looked at her like that, she began to understand why Sheldon had seemed so worried. The duke looked positively fierce, and the green of his eyes had cooled to a clear ice.

"Yes, you little upstart. You're not only game, but you're insolent. Who taught you your manners, if I may ask? They don't speak very well for your parentage, that much is certain."

Cassy's voice was rough with chagrin and defense of her parents. "My parents would be appalled if they heard me rude, sir... Your grace. They didn't condone ill manners to any of us."

A muscle leaped in the Duke's lean jaw, bur his voice was soft and even. "I find that less comforting at this moment." He straightened, and levered his body away from the desk in a smooth curl of muscle. "I see that you won't need a nursemaid. You seem well equipped to handle yourself in verbal spars, at least." His gaze raked her again, and she stiffened warily. "A little muscle and some hair on your chest and you'll do, I suppose. Damned inconvenient of my cousin Levington to leave me with this task, but that's what I get for being such a good natured fellow."

His teeth flash with a wolfish smile that made Cassy's heart thump with dread and disbelief. Good natured was the last thing she could have thrown at the duke. And he did not sound at all friendly, or even remotely civil, when he met her wary gaze.

"As you are now Lord Levington, you ill tempered little thing, you'd best learn from whom you should show your teeths and whom to avoid like plague."

"Oh, I think I've already learned the last, Sir. . . Your grace." Cassy should keep from retorting.

"Somehow, dear boy, I doubt that," Eastland said grimly. "You stand in danger of a thorough canning, and I assure you it would give me great pleasure to administer it. But I will be lenient this evening as I realise how tired you must be."

Wisdom bade Cassy to hold her tongue, and she recognized in the Duke's tautly held posture that she had indeed, push him to the limit of his temper.

"I was made to believe that you would be arriving with your sister in tow," he said impassively. Cassy felt a minuscule fluttering in her heart at the thought that he was thinking about her, butter thought was quickly banished upon the cynical look in his eyes.

"Cassandra?" she said with the familiar discomfort of uttering one’s name out loud. "I’m afraid she found the idea of being wed to you quite appalling, and she took off the night of our intended departure with an old lover of hers."

Eastland stared at her coolly.

"You seem to find this quite amusing," he said in a quipped tone.

"I’m deeply trouble, as it happens,” she said. "Cassandra is a sweet little dove, with no prior knowledge of how the world works. I fear that she will not be able to cope against the trials and tribulations of the world if left to her mercy. As it happens, the poor fellow she eloped with is nothing more than a farmer’s boy with nary a decent source of upkeep."

When he narrowed his eyes at her, Cassandra resisted the urge to take off from the room. His gaze was calm and cold, sending equal waves of terror and guilt through her.

"No matter," he said finally, and she was able to breath then. "We’ll find her soon enough. She can’t hide for much longer."

He eyed her for a moment as if waiting for her to say something, and when she remained silent, he strode to the bell pull and gave it a sharp tug.

"Have this rude young boy shown to his chambers, Sheldon," Eastland instructed when the steward answered the bell. "And begin his lessons early tomorrow. It appears we have to makeup for a great deal of lost time if he is to be made a decent English man."

Cassy had already turned to follow Sheldon, but at that last, she turned around to glare at the duke. "I am not an Englishman. I am an American, sir, and will always be so."

Sheldon cast an anguished glance toward Eastland, but the duke seemed only amused. His gaze rested speculatively on Cassy's flushed, angry face for a long moment.

"It should be interesting to see how an American compares to an Englishman," he drawled at last, his voice soft and silky and filled with menace. "So far, the manners of an American are definitely lacking. Now, leave me before I lose my temper entirely and give you a thrashing you so richly deserve."

Cassy backed away a step, her face wary as she kept her eyes on the duke. He was furious with her; she could see it in the dangerous lights glittering in his eyes, and she knew she'd provoked him. If not for the fact that she was certain she'd never make it, she would have fled England at once.

Turning to follow Sheldon, Cassy stepped out of her overlarge boots and had to pause, her face flaming as she tried to wedge her foot back into it, feeling the Duke's gaze resting on her.

"Good God!" She heard him mutter. "What a clumsy lad!"

Sheldon rushed to her rescue murmuring, "here, my lord, allow me to assist." And he kneeled to help push her foot back into the boot. That done, he hurriedly led her to the open door and escorted her through it as if she would somehow do something else to incur the Duke's wrath.

When the door closed behind her, Cassy found that her knees were shaking, and her hands trembled so violently that she shoved them deep into her pockets. She looked up to see Sheldon's appalled gaze on her, and said faintly, "I dont think he likes me."

Sheldon cleared his throat and seemed to gather his composure. "I hope that is not true, my lord. I must say, however, that after something to eat and a night's rest, things would look much better."

"Do you really think so?" Cassy murmured as she followed Sheldon up a wide flight of stairs and through a confusing maze of hallways. "I have the feeling they'll only get worse."

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