shoulder to the drawing room door but the doorway and the hallway beyond were empty. She strained her ears but heard no footsteps. It would seem she was on her own to deal with Lady Oakland. She turned her gaze back to their guest and squared her shoulders.
“That is what I told Candel,” replied Lady Oakland. “That one is a scoundrel who likes nothing better than meddle into matters not of his affair.” She looked around. “Is Mr. Sharrington not joining us with his son?”
“I’ll ring for tea,” Josceline blurted. “And send one of the footmen to find Chris –er, Mr. Sharrington.” Her face grew hot. Her nerves were so rattled, she’d almost called him by his given name. However, Lady Oakland didn’t appear to have noticed. Josceline fumbled for the bell pull.
“There is no need,” Christopher stepped into the drawing room. “My apologies, Lady Oakland.” He swept a bow. “I was caught up with ledgers in the library. I lose track of all time when I’m there.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Sharrington. I just recounted to Lady Woodsby, Lord Candel has the most dreadful story. He claims to have seen you and two young boys in Bristol yesterday.”
“Why, how could that be, Lady Oakland? Lord Candel is surely mistaken.” He answered calmly and his face held a quizzical expression.
His response appeared to satisfy Lady Oakland and Josceline began to relax.
“I told him so,” replied the woman smugly. “I told him you had a son living with your mother in Bristol.”
She had a busybody’s air and Josceline knew full well Lady Oakland’s gossip would make or break the deception.
“Most assuredly so.” Christopher nodded, apparently unperturbed by the woman’s story. “I only have one son. Lady Woodsby, would you please bring him down?” He turned to Josceline and winked. He looked as if he enjoyed himself immensely.
“Of course, Mr. Sharrington. I’ll fetch him immediately.”
A relieved Josceline almost galloped from the drawing room. As she left, she could hear Christopher offer to seat their guest.
Scant minutes later, Josceline returned with Philip firmly clasped in one hand. Outside the drawing room, she paused.
“Remember, you’re not to say a word,” she admonished, gently tapping his nose with her index finger. “Children should be seen and not heard.”
She looked him up and down one last time. His hair, so dark yesterday, had turned blonde after his bath and it curled about his cheeks disarmingly. In his new clothing, he looked as fine as any young lad she had ever seen. Only his hands betrayed him – they were tanned and rough.
“Philip, you must also remember to put your hands behind you. Like this.” Josceline clasped her hands behind her and turned to show him. “Pretend it’s a game.”
Philip nodded and did as she instructed.
“Good boy.” She smiled at him then dropped her hand on his shoulder to steer him into the drawing room.
An attentive Lady Oakland watched them approach and curiosity hovered over her like a bird of prey drifting on the wind. As she stirred her tea, to Josceline’s fanciful mind her fingers resembled claws.
Josceline’s stomach churned as she halted and pulled Philip beside her. “May I present my charge, Tom.” Balderdash, she’d used the wrong name. Would anyone notice?
“Philip.” The boy looked up at Josceline. “Me name is Philip Stanford.”
Not surprisingly, the boy had noticed. And now he had done the one thing she had instructed him not to – he spoke.
His rough dialect grated on Josceline’s ears and she clapped her hand over his mouth. Glancing down, she could see the mutinous set of his lips beneath her fingers.
Her stomach stopped churning and leapt into her throat; she swallowed hard several times before she was able to speak. “Yes, Philip, how silly of me to call you Tom.” she squeaked, wracking her brains for a plausible excuse. “Er, you remind me of my younger brother when he