What is your opinion of Lady Helen?” he asked as Quincy arranged the meal on the table in front of him.
“She is the jewel of the Ravenels,” Quincy said. “A more kind-hearted girl you’ll never meet. Sadly, she’s always been overlooked. Her older brother received the lion’s share of her parents’ interest, and what little was left went to the twins.”
Rhys had met the twins a few days earlier, both of them bright-eyed and amusing, asking a score of questions about his department store. He had liked the girls well enough, but neither of them had captured his interest. They were nothing close to Helen, whose reserve was mysterious and alluring. She was like a mother-of-pearl shell that appeared to be one color, but from different angles revealed delicate shimmers of lavender, pink, blue, green. A beautiful exterior that revealed little of its true nature.
“Is she aloof with all strangers?” he asked, arranging a napkin on his lap. “Or is it only with me?”
“Aloof?” The valet sounded genuinely surprised. Before he could continue, a pair of small black spaniels entered the parlor, panting happily as they bounded up to Rhys. “Good heavens,” he muttered with a frown.
Rhys, who happened to like dogs, didn’t mind the interruption. What he found disconcerting, however, was the third animal that trotted into the room after them and sat assertively by his chair.
“Quincy,” Rhys asked blankly, “why is there a pig in the parlor?”
The valet, who was busy shooing the dogs from the room, said distractedly, “A family pet, sir. They try to keep him in the barn, but he will insist on coming into the house.”
“But why--” Rhys broke off, realizing that regardless of the explanation, it would make no sense to him. “Why is it,” he asked instead, “that if I kept livestock in my home, people would say I was ignorant or daft, but if a pig wanders freely in the mansion of an earl, it’s called eccentric?”
“There are three things that everyone expects of an aristocrat,” the valet replied, tugging firmly at the pig’s collar. “A country house, and a weak chin, and eccentricity.” He pushed and pulled at the pig with increasing determination, but the creature only sat more heavily. “I vow,” the valet wheezed, budging him only an inch at a time, “I’ll have you turned into sausage and collops by tomorrow’s breakfast!”
Ignoring the determined valet, the pig stared up at Rhys with patient, hopeful eyes.
“Quincy,” Rhys said, “look sharp.” He picked up a bread roll from his plate and tossed it casually in the air.
The valet caught it deftly in a white-gloved hand. “Thank you, sir.” As he walked to the door with the bread in hand, the pig trotted after him.
Rhys watched with a faint smile. “Desire,” he said, “is always better motivation than fear. Remember that, Quincy.