"Can't hold his drink," Nicki explained, following the direction of Stephen's gaze.
Stephen crossed his feet at the ankles and glanced in disapproval at the red-faced, glassy-eyed youth. "You would think," he said, "that someone would have taught them how to conduct themselves before turning them loose on the rest of society."
"My thoughts exactly," Nicki agreed.
The Skeffingtons had given up their rented house in town and repaired to the village of Blintonfield. As a result, it took Nicki three more hours than he'd anticipated to reach Sheridan and put into effect the romantic plan that Langford felt was the best—and only—way to bring her to him as well as convince her his intentions were honorable.
The fact that Nicki was now Stephen Westmoreland's emissary instead of his adversary did not strike Nicki as odd in the least. For one thing, he was merely doing his best to repair a relationship he had inadvertently helped to damage. For another, he was thoroughly enjoying his role, which was to persuade Sheridan to resign her position with the Skeffingtons and accompany him at once to an interview for a "new position" at an estate several hours away.
To that end, he had brought with him two impeccably qualified governesses to take her place.
Since Lady Skeffington had taken her daughter to Devon, where she had heard the future Duke of Norringham spent his bachelor days during July, Nicki had only to convince Sir John to accept two governesses in place of one—an easy feat since Stephen Westmoreland would be secretly paying more than half their wages for the first year.
Having accomplished all that, Nicki was now attempting to persuade Sheridan of the logic—and the need—to pack her clothes at once and accompany him to meet an unknown nobleman who had a "better position" to offer her. In keeping with that end, he was providing her with as much of the truth as he could tell her and improvising when the occasion—or his sense of humor—required it.
"Viscount Hargrove is a bit temperamental, even disagreeable, at times," he told her, "but he dotes on his nephew, who is also his heir at the moment, and wants only the best for him."
"I see," Sheridan said, wondering just how temperamental and disagreeable the viscount was.
"The wages are excellent—to compensate for the viscount's personal shortcomings."
The figure he named made Sherry's lips part in a silent O of stunned delight.
"There are also other benefits that go with the position."
"What sort of benefits?"
"A large suite of your own, a maid to attend you, a horse of your own…"
Her eyes were widening with each word. "Is there more?" she asked when he let the sentence hang. "How could there be?"
"As a matter of fact, there is more. One of the most appealing benefits of this position is what I would call… tenure."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that if you accept the position, it will be yours—along with all its benefits—for as long as you live."
"I wasn't planning to stay in England above a few months."
"A small complication, but perhaps you can persuade the viscount to give it to you anyway."
Sheridan hesitated, trying to get a clearer picture of the man. "Is he an elderly gentleman?"
"Comparatively speaking," Nicki confirmed, thinking with amusement that Langford was a year older than himself.
"Has he had other governesses in the past?"
Nicki choked back several highly amusing, but inappropriate, answers as to the likelihood of that and gave her the answer she'd expect, "Yes."
"Why did they leave him?"
Another set of diverting speculations occurred to him, and he uttered one of them. "Perhaps because they expected tenure and he didn't offer it?" he suggested smoothly, then to prevent more questions, he said, "As I said a moment ago, this is a matter of some urgency to the viscount. If you are interested in the position, then pack your things, and we will be on our way. I promised to bring you to him at two o'clock today, and we are already going to be three hours late."
Unable to trust in the first good fortune that had befallen her since coming to England, Sheridan hesitated and then stood up. "I don't understand why he's interested in employing someone like me when he could surely have his choice of better-qualified English governesses."
"He's set on having an American," Nicki said with amused certainty.
"Very well, I'll meet with him, and if we are at all compatible, I'll remain with him."
"That is what he is hoping for," Nicki said. As she turned to go upstairs and pack, he added, "I have brought you a better gown to wear, one that does not look so—" He looked for some fault with her perfectly neat but drab dark gown. "—so somber," he finished. "Viscount Hargrove dislikes somber things around him."
"Is something wrong, chérie?" he asked as the sun began its lazy descent.
Pulling her gaze from the verdant countryside passing by the coach's window, Sherry shook her head. "I am only—anticipating the change—a new position, wonderful wages, a large room of my own, and horses to ride. It seems almost too good to be true."
"Then why do you look so inexpressibly solemn?"
"I don't feel right about leaving the Skeffingtons so suddenly," Sherry admitted.
"They have two governesses now, instead of one, Skeffington was so excited, he'd have helped you pack your valise."
"If you'd met their daughter, you'd understand why. I left her a note, but I hated not to say good-bye to her. In fact, I hated to leave her to them at all. In any case," Sherry added, shaking off her unease and smiling, "I am exceedingly grateful to you for everything you've done."
"I hope you will still feel as you do in a little while," Nicki replied with a touch of irony. He took out his watch and frowned at the time. "We are very late. He may have decided we aren't coming, after all."
"Why would he think that?"
He took a moment longer to answer than should have been necessary, but Sherry dismissed that as soon as he said, "I could not guarantee the viscount that I could lure you away from your present position."
She burst out laughing "Who in their right mind would pass up such an offer as his?" Another possibility occurred to her, and she sobered abruptly. "You aren't trying to tell me that he might have given the position to someone else by the time we arrive?"