Vanessa remembered passing the library on her first day and located it without difficulty. She entered the room, finding it empty. It was designed for masculine comfort. Bookshelves filled with tomes covered all available wall space. A tan leather chesterfield and two chairs were grouped in front of the fireplace, and a tiger skin covered the floor in front of the hearth. The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Penny Press lay on a table, and the aroma of cigars and pipe smoke lingered in the air.
A variety of magazines was stacked in a rack. Vanessa sorted through The Gentleman’s Magazine, Punch, The Strand, and the London Sunday Journal. She selected Punch and the Penny Press to take back to her room.
She roamed the shelves searching for suitable books and found several on botany, including one by Lord Falconbridge on Lepidoptera. She piled them onto a mahogany table, along with the books and the notes she’d fetched from her room. Searching further, she spied Plato’s Symposium and climbed the ladder. It was just out of reach. Not wishing to climb down, she leaned across. Her fingers touched the binding, and she leaned farther. She almost had it.
“You read Ancient Greek, Miss Ashley?” Lord Falconbridge asked behind her.
Vanessa jumped, and her foot slipped off the rung. She lost her balance and fell into a pair of strong arms.
He set her on her feet. The imprint of his touch remained as her heart beat madly. She hugged a wisp of hair from her eyes, sure her face was crimson. “Not with any degree of expertise, my lord.”
His lordship moved the ladder, climbed up, and took down the book she’d been trying to reach. He held it out to her. “Are you all right? I’m sorry I startled you.”
Still thoroughly disconcerted, Vanessa took it. “I’m fine, thank you.”
He moved to the table and looked through the books she’d selected. “You are interested in reading Darwin?” He looked surprised as he put aside Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species. “You aren’t bothered by the religious ramifications of his evolutionary ideas?”
“I have not as yet read it, my lord.”
“When you do, perhaps we can discuss it further. I approve of all of these, except for this one.” He held up a favorite of her mother’s. “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. I trust you’re not planning to turn Blythe into a suffragette?”
Discomfiture flooded her face with heat. “It is for my own pleasure, my lord.” She wasn’t aware he knew about her mother.
He gestured to the settee. “Please sit down, Miss Ashley.”
“I thought you might like to see what I have planned.” She gathered up her notes with shaking hands. “This is a list of subjects I intend to cover and the books I brought with me.”
Sitting in a chair, he took the notes and read them. Without comment, he flicked open the books.
She took a deep breath. “My lord, I have to tell you I had not thought of botany. I’ll need some time to prepare.”
“I gathered as much,” he said, without looking up. After several minutes, he closed the books. “These seem appropriate.” He gave a brief smile. “No need to concern yourself. I will teach my daughter botany.”
Then why hadn’t he mentioned it? Did he enjoy making her feel awkward? She bit her lip before a note of outrage escaped. She’d spent hours worrying about botany lessons before falling asleep. She was sure it had caused her disturbed dream. “I would like to learn something of botany, myself. I became quite interested in the subject in Cornwall.”
“You may attend the lessons if you wish.”
“Your choice of reading material is unusual, Miss Ashley. I too enjoy reading the Classics. Shakespeare also.”
“Shakespeare is a favorite.”
“Which of his works particularly?”
His brows rose. “I would have thought some of Shakespeare’s more romantic plays, As You Like It or Twelfth Night, would better suit your taste.”
“History interests me more than comedy.”
“Indeed.” His blue eyes studied her as he rose. “I think we’ve covered everything. What do you plan for Blythe this afternoon?”
“I understand that Blythe has been under a doctor’s care. I thought a walk in the fresh air would build up her strength.”
“An excellent notion. But please refrain from entering the wood.”
“Poachers, my lord?”
“We have had a poacher or two setting traps in the past, but I’m afraid it’s more serious than that. Some months ago, a young woman from a nearby village went missing. Her body was found in Falconbridge Wood. She had killed herself.”
Vanessa drew in a sharp breath. “How tragic.”
“A very sad matter. It is not spoken of because I’d prefer Blythe not know.” He turned away to the door.
It shut behind him, leaving Vanessa alone. She was horrified. What would cause a woman to do such a thing?