"It is harmless, Rufus, scarcely dishonest! A deception so inconsequential you will have forgot it when we have been returned a week to the north. We harm no one in London, and no one at home. It would mean so much to me, to have Grace's help and support." The girl cast a wheedling look at her brother.
Grace watched Lord Evenswood's expression soften as he gazed at his sister. "It is outrageous, and you know it, Tansy Sophronia Evens. How long did it take you to hatch this mad idea? No never mind." He flung up a hand as his sister made to speak. "What if I return yearly to London to attend at Parliament?"
"You will have a wife in truth by then, and she will be remaining in the north. You know Charlotte will not travel. Who in London is to know that your wife is a different woman from the one they met?"
The baron looked set to respond heatedly to his sister's disdain.
Grace cut across the siblings' altercation. "Stop this, please!" She could not allow Evenswood to be convinced; there were too many drawbacks to the scheme. Not the least, her peace of mind could only be harmed by proximity to the baron. "It is out of the question. I cannot abandon my business, and I could not be party to such a deception. I will not for a moment contemplate it; I am sorry Miss Evens. The risks of discovery and dishonor are too great, for us all." She rose to indicate that, as far as she was concerned, the call was over. The smallness of her sitting room, the modest nature of her possessions reproached her decision, but she thrust aside the thought that she could preside in a more fitting setting.
The baron, who had halted his pacing near the door, bowed in her direction. He said to his sister, "You are rightly reprimanded, Tansy. Thank you, Miss Whitton, for your sane good sense. And thank you for your assistance with our housing problems. We will not trouble you further. Come Tansy, bid Miss Whitton good day."
The younger girl crossed slowly to her brother's side. She said, with equal reluctance, "I do apologize Miss Whitton, if I have given offence. It seemed such a brilliant notion. I--I do think it could work." She followed her brother as he strode from the parlour, down the corridor, and plunged down the stairs.
Grace found herself unable to speak, as she hurried after her visitors. The shop was empty of clients at that moment, but Miss Purcell was tidying gloves away. She watched as the trio crossed the show-room. Grace opened the street door for her companions.
The baron nodded coolly to her. His reticence had the effect of stiffening Grace's straight spine.
"I wish you every success with your stay in London, Miss Evens," she said. "And you, my lord. Good day."
Tansy turned suddenly and embraced Grace. "Don't think badly of me, I pray," she whispered, before withdrawing. Outside the door, she accepted her brother's offered arm.
Grace closed the door, and her eyes. For a moment, she felt dizzily undone. Then she felt a gentle hand on her arm.