Her brows rushed downward. “Certainly not.”
“Then walk with me.”
Ignoring his proffered arm, she slid him a wary glance. “Shall we invite your brother?”
Devon shook his head. “He’s napping.”
“At this hour of the day? Is he ill?”
“No, he keeps the schedule of a cat. Long hours of slumber interrupted by brief periods of self-grooming.”
He saw the corners of her lips deepen with reluctant amusement. “Come, then,” she murmured, brushing by him to walk briskly along the hallway, and he followed without hesitation.
After only a few minutes in Devon Ravenel’s company, Kathleen had no doubt that every damning rumor she had heard about him was true. He was a selfish ass. A repellent, boorish rake.
He was handsome… she would give him that. Although not in the way of Theo, who had been blessed with the refined features and golden hair of a young Apollo. Devon Ravenel’s dark good looks were bold and raffish, weathered with a cynicism that made him look every bit his twenty-eight years. She felt a little shock every time she looked up into his eyes, the blue of a rough winter ocean, the vivid irises rimmed with blue-black. His face was smooth shaven, but the lower half was shadowed with a beard grain that even the sharpest razor would not completely remove.
He seemed exactly like the kind of man that Lady Berwick, who had raised Kathleen, had warned her about. “You will encounter men who will have designs on you, my dear. Men without scruple, who will employ charm, lies, and seductive skills to ruin innocent young women for their own impure gratification. When you find yourself in the company of such a scoundrel, flee without hesitation.”
“But how will I know if a man is a scoundrel?” Kathleen had asked.
“By the unwholesome glint in his eye and the ease of his charm. His presence may excite rather lurid sensations. Such a man has a certain something in his physical presence… a quality of ‘animal spirits,’ as my mama used to call it. Do you understand, Kathleen?”
“I think so,” she had said, although she hadn’t at the time.
Now Kathleen knew exactly what Lady Berwick had meant. The man strolling beside her possessed animal spirits in abundance.
“From what I’ve seen so far,” Devon remarked, “it would be far more sensible to set fire to this rotting heap of timber rather than to try and repair it.”
Kathleen’s eyes widened. “Eversby Priory is historic. It’s four hundred years old.”
“So is the plumbing, I’ll wager.”
“The plumbing is adequate,” she said defensively.
One of his brows arched. “Sufficiently adequate for me to take a shower bath?”
She hesitated before admitting, “You won’t have a shower bath.”
“A regular bath, then? Lovely. What kind of modern vessel shall I find myself soaking in tonight? A rusted pail?”
To Kathleen’s chagrin, she felt her mouth quiver with the beginnings of a smile. She managed to batten it down before replying with great dignity. “A portable tin bath.”
“There are no cast-iron baths in any of the bathrooms?”
“I’m afraid there are no bathrooms. The bath will be brought to your dressing room and removed after you are finished.”
“Is there any piped water? Anywhere?”
“The kitchen and the stables.”
“But there are water closets in the house, of course.”
She sent him a reproving glance at the mention of such an indelicate subject.
“If you’re not too delicate to train horses,” he pointed out, “who are generally not known for their discretion about bodily functions, surely you can bring yourself to tell me the number of water closets in the mansion.”
She colored as she forced herself to reply. “None. Only chamber pots at night, and an outdoor privy by day.”
He gave her an incredulous glance, seeming genuinely offended by the idea. “None? At one time this was one of the most prosperous estates in England. Why the devil was the house never plumbed?”
“Theo said that according to his father, there was no reason for it when they had so many servants.”
“Of course. Such a delightful activity, running up and down the stairs with heavy cans of water. Not to mention chamber pots. How thankful the servants must be that no one has yet deprived them of such enjoyment.”
“There’s no need for sarcasm,” she said. “It wasn’t my decision.”
They proceeded along a curving path bordered with yews and ornamental pear trees, while Devon continued to scowl.
A pair of miscreants was how Theo had described Devon and his younger brother. “They avoid polite society and prefer to associate with people of low character,” Theo had told her. “One may generally find them in East End taverns and sporting houses. Education was wasted on them. In fact, Weston left Oxford early because he didn’t want to stay there without Devon.” Kathleen had gathered that although Theo had no great fondness for either of his distant cousins, he had reserved a special dislike for Devon.
What a strange turn of fate, that this man would be the one to take his place.
“Why did you marry Theo?” Devon startled her by asking. “Was it a love match?”
She frowned slightly. “I would prefer to limit our conversation to small talk.”
“Small talk is a crashing bore.”
“Regardless, people will expect a man of your position to be accomplished at it.”
“Was Theo?” he asked snidely.