That was balderdash. Leverton had been incredibly helpful, especially in dealing with all the commotion at Lady Barrington’s ball. He’d brought the situation quickly under control after Honoria and Sarah had explained how Andover had insulted them all in the grossest manner. The duke had glared down at the still unconscious earl before plucking a goblet of champagne from the tray of one of the footmen. Much to the delight of the crowd, Leverton had poured the cold beverage onto the earl’s face.
After Andover came spluttering to life, Lord Lendale and Mr. Stratton had hauled the earl to his feet and carted him off. Leverton, meanwhile, had herded Gillian and her friends back to their respective grandmothers as if nothing untoward had occurred.
But the damage from Gillian’s knockout had been done. Clearly, a young lady was simply expected to stand meekly by while a man insulted her. Well, people who subscribed to that philosophy would continue to be sadly disappointed if they thought she would ever put up with that sort of behavior. That didn’t mean, however, that she wasn’t embarrassed, mostly for her grandmother’s sake. Poor Grandmamma had been mortified, and furious with Gillian for drawing even more attention to the Marbury family with her impulsive behavior. According to her grandmother, Gillian and the girls should have simply excused themselves and walked away from the caddish earl.
Gillian had never been very good at walking away.
“I’ve not yet properly thanked you for taking my side of things,” she said. “I think Grandmamma would have murdered me if you hadn’t come to my defense. According to her, no man of sense will ever wish to marry me. ” In fact, her grandmother had told Gillian that her actions had now made her toxic. And while something like that had been a key component of her plans, it still hurt to be described in those terms.
“The situation is far from hopeless,” Leverton said. “But I should have done a better job of looking out for you.”
“You didn’t exactly drop me in the Mongolian Desert to fend for myself. Lord Lendale didn’t leave for long, and Grandmamma was lurking about somewhere.”
He looked disgusted with himself. “I didn’t expect Lendale to leave you alone at all. I should be apologizing to you for failing to protect you from a cad like Andover.”
“Well, you did seem fairly distracted at the time.”
He shot her a sharp glance, but didn’t answer as he steered her around a group of nursemaids and their charges on their way home from the park.
“It’s easy to get distracted at large gatherings,” he finally said in a cool voice.
“Ah, I see. You’re trying to warn me off this particular topic of conversation.”
He gave her a reluctant smile. “Is it working?”
“No,” she said. “You already know I have deplorable manners.”
“That is rather an understatement.”
“Think of it as yet another opportunity for a lesson in my social schooling. You’d given me the impression the other day that you didn’t particularly like Lady Letitia.”
Gillian knew she was being shockingly nosy, but she had to ask. She’d been thinking about the intimate scene between Leverton and Lady Letitia ever since the ball—when she wasn’t stewing over her own idiotic behavior, that is.
“Is there a question in there, Miss Dryden?”
“Now you’re being deliberately dense. Of course there is.”
“Then I suggest you cease beating about the bush and just ask it.”
“Very well. Not to be too blunt—”
“Which I feel very sure you will be,” he interjected.
“As I was saying,” she said firmly, “it seemed to me that you and Lady Letitia were, hmm, exceedingly friendly with each other at the ball. Now, I understand that married ladies, married gentlemen, and unmarried gentlemen all engage in affairs with one another quite regularly. It seems rather taken for granted in the ton.” She frowned. “Now that I think about it, the only people who don’t engage in such affairs are unmarried ladies. I understand why, of course. But it doesn’t seem all that fair, does it?”
When he didn’t answer, she glanced up at him. His expression suggested she’d just starting flapping her arms and crowing like a rooster.
“Miss Dryden, are you by any chance a devotee of Mary Wollstonecraft? Because that would be most unfortunate, I assure you. As is the tone of this disturbing conversation.”
Gillian waved a hand, banging her reticule into her elbow. “Yes, I know I’m not supposed to talk about things like this, but I have to ask someone if I’m to learn how to get along with all the silly people you’re forcing me to meet. Grandmamma certainly won’t discuss anything with me.”
“Nor will I, except to say that there are many, many people in society who do not engage in illicit behavior.”
She eyed him dubiously, but he clearly wasn’t going to budge. “All right. But I would still like to know about you and Lady Letitia.”
“There is nothing to know about me and Lady Letitia,” he said in an austere voice. His face was like a mask.
“You’re very good at that,” she said.
“Hiding your feelings.”
“The only feeling I hold toward this particular topic is irritation.”
“Hmm,” she said. “You don’t like to even talk about scandals, do you?”
“No.” He lifted an imperious eyebrow. “Do you?”
She shrugged. “I’m rather agnostic on the subject. By definition, I’m a walking scandal, so I’ve had to get used to it.”
“Miss Dryden, you are not a walking scandal. You are a young lady with a happy future ahead of you. In order to achieve that future, you simply need to listen to your elders and obey them. That includes me.”
“That’s no fun,” she said.
“Young ladies are not supposed to have fun.”
Gillian stopped, forcing him to stop too. “And that attitude is exactly why young ladies get into trouble, sir. You treat us like hothouse flowers and refuse to explain things to us. I assure you, ignorance is not bliss. It would be much better to treat us like sensible human beings with the capacity to understand what is in our best interest.”