Hampshire, April, 1926
Robert sighed as Bates helped him into his dressing gown. While he would defend the tradition of white tie until death as the hight of elegance and refinement, it always felt dashed good to get out of the monkey suit. Not that he would ever let anyone hear him call it a monkey suit.
Bates gave him a softly amused look in the mirror. “Long evening, m’lord?”
“Not so long. Quite enjoyable, really, especially the food. Standish has always been known for good cooking. Still,” Robert admitted, “I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I only wish Cora were feeling better.”
“Is her Ladyship unwell?” It was a touching show of concern. The valet could easily have asked Baxter for details in the servant’s hall, but Robert appreciated being asked personally.
Fortunately, the answer was not dreadfully severe. “Just a touch of a headache,” he assured. “Possibly the heat or too much noise. She did get stuck talking to Lady Dermott for a good portion of the evening. You could probably hear the conversation downstairs.”
His candor earned him a bit of a chuckle. “Will there be anything else, m’lord?”
“No, thank you Bates. I suspect that early to bed will mean I’m early to rise, but you needn’t anticipate my needing you until the usual time.”
“Very good, m’lord.” With his customary bow, the valet showed himself from the room and left Robert alone.
Alone, with a large, very comfortable looking bed. Robert smiled at it. True, it would have been more comfortable if his wife had been there. Also true, when visiting Cora was normally awarded the more comfortable beds, so they normally shared hers. This one, however, would do quite nicely. Divesting himself of the dressing gown, despite having worn it only a few minutes, he settled in under the covers.
Yes, very comfortable. With a wistful smile for the absence of his wife, Robert clicked off the lamp and settled in for the night.
He was most of the way to asleep when something woke him up. He wasn’t certain what. He’d about decided that it must have been the wind when there was a nearby rustling sound and something heavy perched on the edge of the bed next to him.
“Miles, darling?” a warm, female voice whispered into his ear, accompanied by the soft brush of fingers on his cheek. “Don’t tell me you’ve fallen asleep!”
Robert struggled to wake up enough to place the voice. “Pamela?”
“Of course, Pamela!” the voice huffed in the darkness. “Who else were you expecting?”
“I’m not Lord Richmond, so I wouldn’t know.” Being woken from a near slumber was irritating at best. Being woken and then told off for being asleep by another man’s mistress did not leave Robert feeling at all charitable. “Possibly he’d expect Lady Richmond, given that she’s his wife.”
“Oh!” Lady Pamela Bracebrige exclaimed somewhere over his head. “Robert?”
“So sorry.” The snap was gone from her voice and she now gushed honey. “I’ll be on my way. Ah…if you could please not tell Walter?”
Robert replied with an inarticulate noise meant to indicate that he didn’t care about Pamela, her husband, or her lover, only his own sweet sleep.
“Thank you, you’re a dear.”
Not long after, the door clicked shut. With a sigh, Robert nestled back into the covers and started counting sheep.
No sooner had he started dreaming, something hazy about being aboard a ship, than he was startled awake by a body pressing the full length of his, arms wrapping around him. He managed an indignant, sleep addled noise and was answered by a low, husky, very male voice. “There you are, darling. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this.”
Robert opened his mouth to reply, only to find a pair of lips pressed against his and a tongue firmly invading his mouth. With a thoroughly put out huff, he smacked at the intruder’s shoulder and grumbled, as firmly and distinctly as possible, “Gerroff.”
The protest was distinct enough, apparently, because the other body pulled back a bit. “Oh really, you weren’t that fast asleep, were you?”
Despite the darkness and the lingering cobwebs of sleep, Robert managed to place the voice easily. “This is Robert, Augustus.”
“Robert?” the other man yelped in the darkness. “I…ah…so sorry! I was looking for…Julianna’s room. Of course.”
“Even half asleep, I’m not that thick, Gussie.” The notion that the other man would confuse Robert for his wife was almost insulting enough to properly wake Robert up. “Bernard’s room is two doors down on the left. I ran into him going down to dinner.”
“Ah. Yes. Thank you. So sorry about this.”
Robert rolled over and closed his eyes, doing his best to ignore the other man’s retreat from the bed.
“By the by, could I persuade you not to tell Julianna? Or, you know, the police?”
“You could,” Robert mumbled. “Provided that you are out of this room in five seconds.”
The door clicked almost immediately. Robert sighed. Again. At least it had been a halfway decent kiss. He’d definitely had worse.
He’d not gotten anywhere close to sleep again when the door clicked. He stifled a groan.
“Lord Bryson?” an eager, young, female voice asked. “I’ve come, as you requested.”
“I did not request,” Robert informed her, sitting up in bed and opening his eyes. It did him no good, of course. “Because I am not Lord Bryson. Really, how does a maid get the wrong room? You should know this house inside and out!”
There was a squeak somewhere in the darkness, much like a frightened mouse, followed by a stammered, “I’m visiting, m’lord. So sorry, m’lord.”
Robert snapped. “Don’t be sorry, be elsewhere!”
The door clicked. Robert buried his face in his pillow. What next, one of the footmen?
“You just missed her.”
The clock had just struck half past midnight and Robert was just starting to entertain the notion that he might get back to sleep before one o’clock when the door clicked again, accompanied by a light giggle.
“Are you certain it’s empty, m’lady?” a voice, this one rather young and very male whispered.
“Of course. Lord Grantham always sleeps with his wife when he travels, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
That was, without argument, the last straw. “Except, of course, when his wife has a headache,” Robert informed the disembodied voices. Sitting up, he clicked on the lamp and glared, blinking for a moment in the light. The woman gaping at him from the other side of the room was at least his age, with hair that had clearly been dyed, of all things, as if she were a flapper, and she was caught up in the arms of, yes, as he had anticipated, one of the footmen. He glowered heartily at them both. “Really, Julianna, was your own room not nice enough?”
“Oh, well,” Lady Julianna Ashtead hedged as the footman quickly released her and went about straightening his livery. “You know, it’s right next door to Gussie’s and he’s such a terribly light sleeper. I was afraid we’d wake him.”
Robert gave her a flat, unimpressed look. “If you think Gussie’s sleeping in his own room, you’re blind and an imbecile.” It was, of course, no way to speak to a lady and not in keeping with his earlier promise to her husband, but at that hour, he was beyond caring. “But here. Have the bed. In this house, it is clearly a crime to sleep in your own room anyway.” Swinging himself out of bed, Robert grabbed his dressing gown, threw it over his shoulders, and stalked past the shaken lovers and out of the room.
The door closed behind him with a very final click.
Standing in the middle of the moonlit hallway, Robert ran a hand over his face and tried to wake up enough to tell left from right. Once he’d managed that he looked at the doors on either side of his own and tried to remember which had been Cora’s room. Left, he was fairly certain. Still, he was very cautious about opening the door and poking his head in. “Cor-”
“If you are not my husband, get out,” a reassuringly familiar voice snarled at him from the darkness.
“Oh thank goodness.” With a thoroughly relieved sigh, Robert let himself into his wife’s room and made his way by feel to the bed. The dressing gown was deposited in a heap on the floor and he once more wrapped himself in the comfort of good sheets and a down mattress as Cora moved over to make room. “How is your headache?”
“It was better, awhile ago. It’s come back.”
“I know what you mean, darling. I know what you mean.”