'Yes, please.' Thomas followed him back inside. 'I am sorry if I overstepped in some way, but I believe it was prudent to tell her that falling from trees and getting dirty is not the sort of endeavor she ought to be focusing on.'
Huntley threw him a humorous look as they entered his study. 'You needn't apologize, Coventry. I appreciate your critical evaluation. It actually happens to be one of the reasons why I wish to speak with you. Will you please sit?' He gestured toward Thomas's favorite armchair.
'Thank you.' Thomas sank down onto the velvet seat, leaned back and crossed his legs while eyeing the other duke. 'What is this about? Your note did not specify.'
Huntley studied Thomas for a moment, then pinched his lips together and said, 'You know I value our friendship. Correct?'
Wondering what might have brought on such a question, Thomas shifted slightly but nodded. 'Yes. Of course.'
'It's been bloody difficult, you know, what with my past and all, to find people I can trust.' Huntley's expression turned thoughtful. 'But you...you had no obligation toward me or my family, and yet you didn't turn your back on us. Indeed, if it hadn't been for you, Gabriella might very well have married that rotten bastard her parents favored.'
Thomas flexed his fingers. 'Fielding,' he muttered between clenched teeth. 'The man did not deserve her.'
'No. He did not.' Huntley tilted his head. 'But there was also my murky upbringing to consider, my boxing match and my connection to Carlton Guthrie. Many suspect him of being one of the greatest criminals in the country, and yet none of this seemed to trouble you.'
Thomas shrugged. 'I found it intriguing—a puzzle to be solved. And once I got to know you better, I realized you might be one of the most honorable men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, not to mention your title demands respect, regardless of your past. Mostly, however, I like how different you are from the rest.' Tilting his head, he arched his eyebrows. 'You are a refreshing peculiarity, Huntley.'
The duke chuckled. 'Well, thank you, Coventry. Your support has certainly been of great value to me and my sisters.' His expression sobered as he held Thomas's gaze. 'I hate having to ask you for anything else.' A knock sounded at the door and a maid arrived. She set a tray on the desk between the two men and swiftly departed. Huntley poured two cups of coffee, pushing one in Thomas's direction. 'But the thing is, I don't really know who else I can turn to.'
The seriousness with which he spoke gave Thomas pause. He took a sip of his hot beverage before saying, 'Just name it, Huntley, and I will see if I am able to help.'
'How's your mother, by the way?' Huntley asked while he raised his own cup to his lips.
The question threw Thomas completely off guard. 'My, er...she's very well, thank you.' He felt his eyebrows draw together with concern.
Huntley nodded. 'Good. Good.' He set his cup aside.
Thomas's frown deepened. He waited a second and finally exclaimed, 'Oh for heaven's sake, Huntley! Will you please tell me what this is about? I already—'
'Chaperone Amelia and Juliette for three weeks—four tops.'
Thomas almost spat his second mouthful of coffee all over the desk. Fortunately, he managed to keep it down with a slight cough and a wince. 'I beg your pardon? 'What?' The last word came out strangled.
Folding his arms across his chest, Huntley looked back at him as though he hadn't just made a preposterous request. 'Gabriella and I haven't really had much privacy since the wedding. She feels she has a responsibility toward Amelia and Juliette. In spite of the scandal, invitations have begun trickling in again, and preparing to escort them to these various events is taking up a great deal of Gabriella's time.' He expelled a deep breath. 'I'm 'opin' to invite 'er on a weddin' trip. If we can just get away fer a bit...' He scratched his head and offered Thomas a loopy smile.
As was oftentimes the case when his emotions ran high, Huntley had fallen back into the unrefined dialect he'd spoken during his life in St. Giles. Thomas arched an eyebrow. 'I understand your reasoning completely, old chap, but ordinarily, one would ask a female relation to help with such matters. Certainly not a bachelor.'