When we arrived, Upton was surprised. “My dear Miss Lizzy, why are you here?” he asked.
“Uncle is faring badly and Aunt is too busy with all the sick patients. She asked me come and help you negotiate with Mr. Darcy’s steward.”
“There is no need, Miss. I know how to do my work.” He smiled nicely. “And why are you dressed as a woman of many more years?”
“I know you do, Mr. Upton,” I smiled back at the elderly gentleman. “But it is better to argue the best price for Uncle with two mouths. Imagine how happy he will be, to know he fetches double the normal price. I dress like this so that Mr. Winston would not treat me like a young girl fresh from the school room.”
“But you are a young lady of sixteen years, no more.”
“No, you should greet me as …” I darted my eyes around and thought for a few seconds. “Mrs. Tennet.” I made up a fictitious name. “I am a widow and … a distance relative of Mr. Gardiner.”
“You are too young to be a widow,” Upton protested. “And truly, there is no need for you to be present. I can handle Mr. Darcy’s man.”
I patted his hand and walked around. Upton was too nice, as my aunt had suggested, often being taken advantage of by some clients. Like now, he could not find any other words to dissuade me or send me back home.
A few minutes later, a very grand carriage pulled up at the entrance. Upon my word, it was magnificent! In deep blue, and trimmed with just a touch of gold. Why would this person want a new carriage from uncle? Did Mr. Winston travel in grand style too?
But I was mistaken. Stepping out of the carriage was a fine gentleman, very tall with dark curly hair. He looked extremely handsome and noble. My heart raced fast and skipped a beat.
Upton went to greet him and I followed right behind.
“Sir, how may I be of assistance?” Upton said.
Ah, so this was not Mr. Winston. Upton did not know him. Perhaps Uncle had a new wealthy client today!
“My steward, Mr. Winston, came down with a fever and I thought I would come instead.” His voice was deep and baritone, sending a tingling sensation down my spine. “I am eager to look at your workmanship … Mr. Gardiner.”
“Is it indeed yourself, Mr. Darcy?” Upton bowed. “Mr Gardiner has unfortunately come down with a fever also. I am Upton, his assistant.”
I could see Mr. Darcy look disappointed immediately. Perhaps he was like most wealthy people, and did not care to deal with a hired help. Instantly, my feet came back on the ground. I tilted my chin up.
“But I could escort you, Sir, and explain the detail to you,” Upton continued.
Mr. Darcy nodded. “And this is …” He gazed at me, rather intensely.
Before Upton could say anything, I jumped in. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Darcy … Mrs. Tennet of Hertfordshire. I am Mr. Gardiner’s … cousin. He asked me here to greet Mr. Winston.” I held out my hand.
“Indeed?” His lips thinned as he reluctantly accepted my offered hand.
Did he not like to deal with a woman? How very prejudiced he could be! I folded my arms across my chest. “My late husband owned a small estate and I am very good at negotiating with difficult people.”
His face relaxed and his lips curled up a bit as Upton was shifting besides me. “Mr. Gardiner describes Winston as difficult?” Mr. Darcy asked.
“Indeed not.” Damn, he was witty, to divert my sarcasm away. I could not let him talk his way to a better price. “My cousin refers to Upton here. He does not want your steward to be scared away by him.” I arched my brows as I talked.
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