Eight

Eastland found himself in a towering rage as he strode toward the manor with heavy footsteps, each one heavier and more pronounced than the last. His brows were knitted in annoyance, and he screamed at the doorman when he took half a second too long to open the door. He growled at the steward when he entered his study as well, when the fool had the audacity to ask if anything was wrong with him.

"Get out!" He pointed to the door with a fire in his eyes that caused the young lad to take off in a split second. Fuming, Henry sat at his table, surrounded in a cloud of his own contempt.

Since when did he allow himself to be irritated past the point of self control by anyone? Not to talk of the foolish boy who couldn’t seem to do anything right.

He cursed lightly as he strode to the window, unable to sit still while he anger continued to boil within him.

Levington just had such a vulnerable, female look about him. His shy, wide blue eyes, and the way his lashes lowered whenever he thought the duke wasn't staring at him were irritating to the extreme, not to mention those few times he'd caught the boy gazing at him with something close to wary admiration.

Henry was no stranger to admiring looks, having been on the receiving end of them more times than he’d cared to count. At first, he’d assumed that Levington simply watched him with the admiration of one who sought to be like him someday. In that area as well, he was no stranger. He’d had enough youths eye him with an unabashed reverence that he had soon gotten bored of it. A man of his accomplishments was bound to draw that sort of attention. Over the years, some had even dared to ask that he grant them the honor of becoming his wards, in hopes that they’ll one day grow to become like him.

The honor.

And then there was Levington; the poor, simpering fellow who couldn’t seem to do anything right.

What had sparked his anger was when Pym had leaned into his ear earlier and whispered, "Perhaps the boy will look less feminine if he were to grow a beard."

As if Levington could even grow a beard.

There was definitely something about the boy that made him edgy, but he felt ridiculous not being able to deal with it calmly.

He had enough on his mind without the problem of a sulky, missish earl. Not only did he have his own estates to run as well as Levington's inheritance, but his Aunt had also recently taken to presenting an endless stream of young eligible females to him as if he were the only bachelor left in all of England. At twenty and Seven, he still had no desire to wed, in spite of the urging of many beautiful women who longed to be a duchess. Women like Rebecca...

Henry's mouth tightened, and he flung himself away from the window and into an aggravated pacing.

Miss Rebecca Spencer, delicate blond beauty and as determined as they came, had been pursuing him with great determination. Rebecca had been incomparable for two years in a row, setting London society on its elegant ear with her cool, classic beauty and air of confident arrogance. And Rebecca had also taken to making herself convenient to him; too convenient.

All of it, combined with his hereditary obligations, put Henry into a less sympathetic mood. He'd had enough of his ward's rebellion and clumsy mistakes, and though what had just happened with the stallion had not been Levington's fault entirely, Henry was determined nothing like it would happen again. He'd not have it said that he'd encouraged the late Earl's heir to follow in his grandfather's footsteps...

He rang the bell then, ordering Sheldon to summon Levington.

By the time Cassy arrived at the duke's library, she had managed to apply liberal amounts of liniment to her sore muscles. Only her bruised nose was a visible reminder of her humiliation. Oddly enough, her hair was wet at the edges, and she appeared paler than usual. The image was not one Eastland had wanted to see. She was still thinking about her encounter with Colin though, and kept wondering if perhaps, he might have noticed her real gender. But, would he have kept quiet about it if he did?

He was waiting for her with his back to the door, a snifter of brandy in one hand. When Sheldon ushered her in, the duke turned slowly and fixed Cassy with a cold stare.

"Sit down, Levington," came the steely command, and she sank hurriedly into a chair.

Watching the duke cross from tall bookshelves to his desk, she felt the beginnings of alarm stir in her. Was he so angry he couldn't speak? It didn't seem fair, somehow, that he should be angry with her.

"I'm sorry about this afternoon, your grace," she said finally when he didn't speak and she couldn't stand the suspense any longer. Because of her bruised nose, her voice was strangely muffled, and her words came out as "I'm torry 'bout dis afternoon, or graits."

It had the effect of making the duke smile, a little wryly, but it was much better than his glacial stare.

"How is your nose, Levington?"

"Tore (sore)," she replied in the same snuffling tone.

"Should I send for a physician?"

"Oh no! No, don't do that..."

"Afraid of doctors, too, Levington?" Eastland muttered with a shake of his head. He moved to the front of his desk and leaned back against it, crossing his powerful arms over his chest and regarding her for a long morning, the stem of the brandy snifter still wedged in his lean fingers.

Cassy was far too aware of his long legs thrust out in front of him, superbly evident in the tight buff trousers and knee-high boots that hugged his calves. Eastland exuded masculinity from every pore and she felt small and frail beside him.

"You have a twin sister, isn't that correct, Levington?" he asked suddenly, startling Cassy.

Her head jerked up and her eyes widened, and she gave a silent nod, afraid to trust her voice not to break. He knew. He must. There was no other explanation.

"I assume that the two of you spent a great deal of time together during your... formative years."

Another nod of her head.

"Just as I thought,” he sighed. "I'm going, to be frank with you, Levington. Your behaviour leaves much to be desired when it comes to certain masculine pursuits. I realize that you may not have been accustomed to some of the activities that I have set out for you to do, but that will change. Even if your heart is not in it now, you need to give yourself a chance to enjoy these things, Levington. If you don't develop a more manly way about you, you're going to end up the butt of some very unsavoury jests before too long. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?"

Cassy nodded weakly.

Eastland rubbed his jaw thoughtfully, gazing at the top of Levington's bent head. The silky mop of curls were pretty but too pretty. They would have to go. It may be the style at the moment but it didn't matter. With those big, heavy lashed eyes, the impression was entirely too feminine. And the boy needed some muscle on him. Broader shoulders, and even a bit of hair on his chin would do. Let everyone know that at least he was capable of putting some hair in that region. The lad always wore a clothes which never revealed his chest, so there was no way of knowing whether he had hair on there as well.

"I have a master in pugilism coming this week, Levington," he said and was faintly startled at the earl's soft moan of despair. He continued grimly, "Grimes has been a champion in his youthful days, and he will see to it that you learn the art and put some muscle in your shoulders. You're too thin in all the wrong places."

"Yeth, or graits (Yes your grace)," came the odd, sniffling words, and Eastland's mouth tightened.

"Also, I am giving a small dinner this evening which I expect you to attend, and I expect you to remember the names and the correct titles of every single guest, do you think you can do that?"

A nod and indistinct mutter answered his question, and Eastland found his irritation returning.

"See that you do. Sheldon will give you a list of the guests, and you will see to it that you are dressed in the appropriate fashion and your manners are impeccable. I've not forgotten how effective a good caning can be to a young man too lazy to learn, so don't think your laziness will be overlooked."

The dark head flung up at his oblique warning, and the blue eyes were a smoky grey beneath the long, curling lashes. "Yeth, or graits," came the husky voice between clenched teeth. "I unner'tand perfeckly (understand perfectly)."

"Excellent." Eastland returned the cool blue gaze with his own and was fairly surprised when Levington did not blink. There was no sign of fear or remorse, or even guilt in the large eyes, only fiery wrath that would have been amusing, and vaguely gratifying if he weren't so irritated about having to give this lecture in the first place.

Levering his long body away from the edge of his desk, Eastland said, "You may go up and get ready for dinner now."

Cassy almost ran from the room and sped up the long, curved flight of stairs that led to her chambers. Damn him! Did he have to act as if he was saddled with a ward too stupid to learn? She had done her best, and if it fell short of the mark, it was still all she could do.

Flinging herself across her bed, Cassy lay facedown until she realized it was only making her nose ache, and then turned over on her back to stare up at the bed canopy. She wished suddenly, fiercely, that Jonathan was there, and that he would tell the duke just what he thought of him. Or what she thought of him. Her brother's temper had never been leavened with tact, and while that could be a definite disadvantage, there were times when the honest rage was much more memorable than a sharp retort.

She wondered glumly what kind of tutor the expert in pugilism would be. Pugilism. She would certainly fare no better in that than she did in fencing, and it sounded much more painful. She briefly closed her eyes at the thought.

It was growing increasingly tempting to confess all and throw herself on the Duke's mercy, but the thought of his anger was daunting. The threatened flogging promised to be an experience she could do without. Besides, there was her brother to consider. He had already risked his inheritance enough.

He would have to come to England in spite of his reluctance, that was all there was to it. A rush of irritation at her twin pricked her, and she had the disloyal thought that Jonathan should not have left her alone to face everything. He should have refused to go ahead with her plan and come to England with her, instead of allowing her to bear the brunt of it all. And she'd tell him just that after he came to England. Her disguise was growing much too difficult to maintain. Looking back, she realized that her plan hadn’t been all that brilliant in the first place. They hadn’t bothered to go over the details of what she would do should the duke find her wanting in areas were she could unfortunately never improve.

And now, to make things much worst, she would have to attend a formal dinner and mouth inane courtesies to people like that stuffy Baron Harry. It would be a long dull evening and she would have to be on her toes to keep from saying something incorrect.

She groaned audibly. Surely, things couldn't get any worse!

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