Authors: Kathryn Caskie
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
She leaned toward the great beast, although it made her heart thud hard in her chest to do so. She held the tone of her voice as low as possible. “Might
suggest keeping your mind focused in the future, so the lives of others are not
The duke grimaced at her, then exhaled loudly. “I think I shall succumb to nausea if I do not locate a glass of wine. Perhaps the ladies might also enjoy a libation as well?”
“I would adore a sip or two of wine, Your Grace.” Lady
unfurled her fan and swished it across her powdered face.
“Very good, Lady
.” The duke looked to Mary. “And you, Miss
“No, thank you, Your Grace.”
The Black Duke started for the refreshment table, but before he had traveled a full step, he turned around. “Quinn, will you assist me?”
The sheen of disappointment was clear in the young viscount’s eyes. “Do excuse me, ladies. I shall return promptly.” He bowed politely—something the grand oaf had not troubled himself to do—then followed his brother through the heaving crowd.
The moment the two gentlemen were no longer discernable amongst the collection of dark dress coats, Lady
manner changed abruptly. “Mary, Lord
mightn’t have realized you were lying, but I certainly did.”
Mary frowned. “I didn’t lie. In actuality, I was very careful to tell the truth.”
huffed a breath of air between her painted lips. “I was holding your hand, dear. I felt it twitch and saw your body tense whenever the duke made his ridiculous accusations about garden statuary.”
“I didn’t lie.”
“You mightn’t have, but you certainly danced a full quadrille around the truth.” Lady
leaned close and tilted her chin up. She studied Mary’s face through squinted eyes. Then she gasped. “Oh, my word, Mary. He
the statue in the
’ garden! What could you have been thinking?”
“I only wanted to show my sisters the gentleman I would one day marry.” She paused, but Lady
folded her arms across her chest and lifted her eyebrows, as though waiting for the rest of her story.
“You see, earlier, our cook asked for the evening off to earn a few extra shillings by helping to prepare the dinner for the
’ garden party. We cannot afford to pay her much in the way of wages, so we agreed. Cook was very happy about this, as you might imagine. She began to tell us about the food that was to be served... and sometime during the conversation casually mentioned that Lord
, the young war hero, would be a guest.”
“But you said you are not acquainted with the
“Well, we aren’t. So we were not included on the guest list. But I did so want Anne and Elizabeth to see the man I have set my cap at, Lady
. And la, he was going to be just next door. So close. I knew I daren’t miss the opportunity, so we powdered ourselves and crept into the back garden—”
“Oh, dear me.” Lady
snatched a lace handkerchief from her frothy sleeve of rose lace. “’Twas all
“Please do not fret. No one saw my sisters. And no one saw me... well, except the duke. But it was dark, and I was completely marbleized with powder and a smear or two of paste.”
aware of any of this?”
“Am I aware of what?” Lord
and his cohorts,
and Lilywhite, were suddenly standing in a tight ring around them.
became instantly agitated. “Haven’t got a tick of the minute hand to discuss this now,
. You must know, however, that our Mary has set her cap at Viscount
, and I would wager every jewel I own that he is
interested in such a match.”
scratched his chin. “
. Why do I know that name?”
Lilywhite raised a finger. “Perhaps because
mentioned the lad in every dispatch from
. Or because the Prince Regent recently bestowed on him a
in recognition of his bravery and valor. Why,
led the Sixth Division in the heroic attack above
, you know. No small feat. He’s a true hero.”
“His father was the late Duke of Blackstone,”
added. “His brother holds the title now. You certainly have heard of him—the Black Duke.”
“Ah yes, the Black Duke. Have indeed.”
chuckled, and the other two gentlemen joined him, as if the three were sharing a private joke of some sort. “Now
is a man to consider, Miss
“Blackstone?” Mary stared at Lord
in disbelief. “How can you suggest such a thing. W-why, he is...
“No, no. You’ve got it jumbled.”
waved her comment away like a foul odor. “Blackstone is naught but a spirited young fellow. I admit, he even reminds me of myself in my youth.”
“Oh you do flatter yourself,
bent and peered around the towering lord. “But that is neither here nor there. The Black Duke holds some sort of a grudge against our Mary—”
“I slapped him,” Mary said matter-of-factly. “Quite hard too.”
cringed. “I am almost afraid to ask, but I must. Did this occur in the
“It did. But I swear to you, he deserved it thoroughly. He was about to... to touch me,” Mary bent at her knees and whispered into Lady
ear, “most inappropriately.”
“Oh, dear.” Lady
dabbed her brow with her handkerchief, taking off a bit of her facial powder in the process. “
choice, not his older brother. The viscount comes from an old family and has earned honor and distinction... despite his mother. Do you agree?”
“His mother?” Mary looked to each of the four for an answer, but it was as if her question fell on indifferent ears.
sounds like a perfectly suitable gentleman. I shall have my man investigate him further.”
smiled down at Mary. “Miss
, I shall have your answer within the week.”
“I fear we haven’t that long.” Lady
hastened her next words. “My concern is that Blackstone will not support the match. Already this evening, he has taken great strides to shame our Mary. I fear he may do irreparable damage to the potential match unless he is persuaded to stop.”
“I can certainly distract the duke this eve. Then we shall meet again in the morn to discuss a broader strategy for keeping our two young lovers together.”
raised his quizzing glass to his eye.
“What do you mean to do?” Mary’s head was beginning to throb.
She had already set off on the worst possible footing with the duke. The Old Rakes were only going to make things worse, of that she was sure.
“Ah, what have we here?”
, who stood a full head above most others in the grand drawing room, became suddenly alert. “That’s him, the tall gentleman, with shoulders like a pugilist. Am I correct?”
Lilywhite lifted his glass as well and peered into the crowd. “You’ve got the right of it,
glanced mischievously around the drawing room. “Leave Blackstone to me. Lady
, you may see to the task of seeing that the viscount and Miss
connect again this eve.”
nodded, sending her double chins quivering.
held his quizzing glass before his eye. “Hmm... best make haste though, dear. See there.” He raised his chin, covertly gesturing to the center of the drawing room. “The duke seems to be introducing his brother to the lovely widow Lady Tidwell.”
“Oh, dear me.” Lady
rose up on her toes to catch a glimpse of the young woman, who was indeed laughing with Lord
The duke, however, was no longer with them. With Lady
refreshment in his hand, he was heading straight back to their party.
held her fan before her face and pulled Mary close. “Lady Tidwell is out of mourning. Oh, Mary, her connection with your young man is a poor turn of events, very poor—one we must reverse at once!”
“Do not worry overmuch, ladies,” Lord
said with all confidence. “Miss
has innocence and superior breeding to recommend her. Lord
will make the right decision. Now, if you will pardon me, ladies, I have my own task to complete.” A wicked grin turned Lord
lips, and the ancient rake set off on a course for certain collision with the Black Duke.
Rogan took one last glance at his brother before delivering Lady
glass of wine.
It was going well. Quinn was clearly taken with Lady Tidwell, which helped put his own mind at ease.
He just couldn’t endure it if his brother formed a connection with Miss
. Why, the chit seemed to take great pleasure in irking him at every turn.
Certainly, he had never met a more irritating woman in all his life.
What else could he have expected from her, though? Everything he now knew of her served to bolster his belief that she was common, and penny-poor at that.
Still, she was dangerous, for she was pretty and knew how to use her wiles.
She belonged to the absolute worst class of woman. The sort that snared unsuspecting men by their heartstrings, then lured them to the altar solely for their money.
was a guinea-grabber. Worse yet, she had Quinn fixed firmly in her sights.
Not for long, though.
When he had mentioned to Portia, Lady Tidwell that Quinn meant to marry and begin a family before the year was through, she was more than a little intrigued.
would be his perfect match.
She was from a good family, possessed a sizeable portion, was well mannered, and maintained all the best society connections. Yes, she would do quite nicely.
He had just turned toward Lady
when he felt a firm tap on his shoulder. He turned to see a well-muscled gentleman staring angrily up at him. “May I assist you, sir?” Rogan asked.
“I would speak with you in the garden, Your Grace.” A web of red threads shot through the man’s furious eyes. His cheeks burned crimson, and his foul breath was coming fast.
“Might I inquire what this is about, sir?”
The gentleman huffed at that. “You know exactly what this is in reference to. Several old gentlemen saw you do it. Pointed you out to me. I demand satisfaction—in the garden.”
Rogan looked at the two elderly gentlemen watching the exchange with amused grins on their wrinkled faces. “I am afraid, sir, that there is some confusion. Might I know what I supposedly did that so incensed you?”
The man was practically snorting fire, but he was well enough trained to lower his voice to a near whisper. “You pinched my wife’s backside.”
“Did I? Are you sure?” Blackstone glanced around the room. “Which is your wife? Point her out to me, will you?”
A vein throbbed along the young man’s wide forehead, and his red face almost seemed to pulse. “To the garden,
” He grabbed Rogan’s sleeve and turned him toward the passage.
“You are making a dangerous mistake, sir,” Rogan said, shaking the man’s hand loose.
“The mistake was yours, Your Grace, the moment you touched my wife.”
“But I didn’t. I am sure I would remember.”
Rogan lifted the edges of his lips and set Lady
glass of wine on the tray of a passing footman. “Then let us continue our discussion in the garden, as you suggested, sir. It is rather stifling in here, and I could use a bit of fresh air.”
Rogan’s full lips twisted into a smirk as he followed the irate fool down the passage and through the French windows into the garden.
He removed his gloves and shoved them between his waistcoat and lawn shirt for safekeeping.
Yes, perhaps a little air would cool his new friend’s ire. But if not—Rogan flexed the fingers of his right hand, then curled them into a tight fist—he would take matters into his own hands.