That is, I believe, a just description of Peter Highsmith. No title to bear his name high, but a fortune large enough to compliment any young woman who would bear his name herself, Highsmith is a very amiable gentleman. He has an attractive masculine frame and a pleasant manner which has led to more than one lady in London setting their cap at him.
He however, set his cap in a different direction, but upon finding no reciprocal feeling, he contented himself with becoming Miss Julia Rotherham’s confidant.
Highsmith’s mischievous humour and Julia’s sharp wit rub well together. However, if Highsmith were to pick fault, it would be Julia’s impetuosity as in The Unexpected Earl she seems to have a knack of embroiling him in several schemes.
Highsmith, though game for all sorts of designs, does like to be in charge of all the facts before agreeing to play a part, which we will see in the excerpt below. However, the more he sees of the Earl, and the more upset his Julia gets, the more his feelings rise up in defence making everything far more complicated…
“Now, dear lady, I am sure that you must have felt ill this morning? Am I right in assuming the ill effects of your alcohol consumption?”
“Oh, you are a horrible tease,” replied Julia without the least discomposure. She flicked a stray embroidery thread from her lap.
“Yes, I am.” He paused. “And I fear I shall have to tease you some more before I depart. You made me a promise last night, and I am come to redeem it.”
“Must you?” Julia recollected which story she had promised to share, but she was in no mood to recount her dealings with Lucius Wolversley. She had awoken at an unearthly hour, feeling wretchedly ill and remembering afresh the man who had broken her heart six years ago. She would rather embroider every morning for a month than talk about the Earl who had come upon her so unexpectedly at her sister’s ball.
“Yes.” Highsmith’s voice became gentler. “You are unhappy, my dear—I can see it in your eyes, and you would be better to tell a friend. You yourself told me last night that I have been a good friend to you—let me continue to be so now.” His handsome face leaned in to her, his soft brown eyes comfortingly sweet.
She did not reply. He waited a few minutes and then, realizing she had no intention of telling him what she had promised, took a different route.
“In truth, Mrs. Rotherham,” he called, turning to his hostess, “other than thanking you for a delightful evening yesterday, I had another design in calling today.”
“You did?” Mrs. Rotherham was brought out of her pleasant recollections of the ball, and away from the thread which had knotted under her unskilled hands.
“Yes, I came to see Miss Rotherham for, as I was enjoying your eldest daughter’s company last night, she dropped something which I wish to return.”
“Oh, my eldest daughter is forever losing things—the housekeeper found a reticule beneath a pile of books in the library just last week.” Mrs. Rotherham was shaking her head, though her gaze was directed once again towards the embroidery, her interest in her daughter’s carelessness clearly fading.
“Well, Mr. Highsmith, and what, pray tell, did my scatterbrained self misplace last night?” Julia cocked her head to one side in curiosity and addressed Mr. Highsmith with a flicker of defiance in her eyes. What was he planning? “Come now, I grow impatient—what is it?”
“Yes, yes—I know patience is not one of your virtues.” He stopped and looked at her strangely. “Would you be so kind as to please stop looking at me like some inquisitive owl?”
Julia gaped. She had been attempting to disguise her tiredness from last night by opening her eyes wider than usual. Now she felt ridiculous. “I am not an owl, you odious man! Now where is my lost item?”
“Julia, my dear, stop insulting Mr. Highsmith. I am sure you are grateful that he had the wit to pick up whatever it is!” Mrs. Rotherham apologized for her daughter’s behavior. “But now my curiosity is piqued,” she said in calmer tones, peering over at the couple. “What is this object?”
“Alas, it is not something I can freely speak of. A trinket or keepsake, I suppose, but perhaps not something Miss Rotherham will want made public.”
Now he was being thoroughly exasperating! Despite his attempt at seriousness, Julia could see the corners of his mouth twitching. It was all a game to him. She would not tell him what he wished and so he was making up some scandalous falsehood to get her into her mother’s black books. The worst of it was his charming countenance, which had won over so many ladies before, would not fail to do the same with Julia’s mother. How dare he blackmail her!
But Mrs. Rotherham was in an indulgent mood. “Something I do not know about, I see,” she said, and instead of demanding an explanation, she smiled and went back to untangling her embroidery. If Julia had glanced over at her mother, she would have seen her thoughts as plain as day—the faint flicker of hope that perhaps her daughter and Mr. Highsmith were courting.
Ah, the good-natured teasing of friendship! And there you have it, the main characters of my second novel, though I suppose I have a few more I could introduce you to, or should I just make you wait and read…?