Elinor walked up
the steps to her rooms, the gay bonnet she'd worn for their
carriage ride bouncing up the stairs behind her as she dragged it
along by a single ribbon.So far, her plan, what there was of it
on such short notice, was failing miserably.Lord Davies was
disgustingly polite and irritatingly attentive.He had a way of
making her feel comfortable and she lost sight of her goal more
"All is lost," she
Yvette, her new
abigail - a gift for her upcoming birthday, walked slowly behind
her."Now, now," Yvette tried to soothe her as she helped Elinor
remove her gown so that she could nap before supper."I'm sure
your Papa will reconsider."
"Didn't you hear?It
has all been settled without me; the wedding is in three days'
"Lady Elinor, as
your chaperone it is my business to watch over you.It is not
necessarily my business to listen as well."Yvette pulled the pins
from her mistress' hair as they spoke.
"Oh, Yvette, he's
purchased a special license!My birthday ball, the day of my
official come out is now to be a wedding celebration.I cannot let
this happen, I need more time."
"Does the Baron
know you are unhappy?"
"I'm not sure.I've
been acting the complete ninny hammer but it does not seem to
deter him.He is always as polite and courteous as a man can
"Perhaps he desires
a stupid wife."
herself down on her bed. "There has to be a way out of this.Can
you think of nothing?"
stopped and pursed her lips.
"Well what?Out with
it, I need any help I can get."
"There is perhaps
one thing that I did hear my Lady; or rather, something that I
did not hear."
"Oh please make
"It is your name my
Lady.Lord Davies has never once to my knowledge spoken your
Elinor sat up
quickly, a look of concentration on her face."You're right. He's
never called me by my name.Since the night we met I've been
poppet, pet, darling, sweeting, my dear girl, and once I believe
I heard him call me kitten.By our wedding day I might be 'my
little hedgehog,' how disgusting."
"How could he not know your name?"
"We were never
formally introduced.I wouldn't know his name if I hadn't heard
Papa use it.Oh my God," Elinor's face brightened with the
realization, "he doesn't know my name."
"How exactly does
this help you?"
"He hasn't yet
signed the settlement papers; surely my name is on them," she
said excitedly."There may still be time to fix this but I need to
"How will you do
"I won't," Elinor
jumped up from the bed and grabbed Yvette by the arms."You
"What?My Lady how
"It's perfect don't
you see?No one in my family ever calls me by my name.I'm always
called little sister or darling daughter.I've no calling cards of
my own as I've only been allowed to go calling with my
"Surely you were
announced at Lord Powell's Ball?"
"I don't believe
Lord Davies was there yet."
"But your father is
a Duke; everyone knows your family."
"It's only the
oldest sons that ever matter.When a Duke has five daughters no
one cares overmuch whether they know their names or not."
"So," Yvette asked,
warming to the plan, "how is it that I am to test him?"
"Mother invited him
over again tonight so that we might play cards.She is determined
that he and I get to know each other better before the wedding;
as if it would make me want to marry the man.I'll ask her if you
might chaperone while we play and as soon as we are alone you are
to call me Lady Lucy."
"Who is Lady
"I am," Elinor
said, "or rather, I'm not."
"Now you are the
one talking in riddles."
"Call me Lady Lucy
as often as you can tonight.If he begins calling me Lucy we'll
know he hasn't signed any papers yet."
"What if he calls
you Lady Elinor?"
"Then I must find
another way to discourage him," she stated, "I know, I'll be
unladylike, I'll cheat and curse and be vulgar.Serve us wine and
I will overindulge."
"Wine makes you
"All the better;
I'll cast up right on his boots if I have to," she said
"And what shall I do?"
clasped her abigail's hand, "will spill wine in his lap while
serving.Between the two of us he'll be running out of here before
Their plan made,
Elinor settled back on the bed for her nap.As her eyelids began
to droop she smiled ever so wickedly as she remembered the solid
feel of him lying beneath her.Some other woman, she thought as
she drifted off to sleep, would be happy to have him.
* * *
Dinner dragged on
for an hour before she finally convinced her parents that there
was no need for them to curtail their social obligations just
because of her.While they had decreed that she would attend no
other social events until after the wedding, they had already
accepted several invitations before what they now referred to as
herself physically herding her mother out the door to the waiting
carriage while assuring her with each step that with her maid
Yvette, Watson the butler, the housekeeper, thirteen maids, ten
footmen, the cook and five of her staff she would be well
She was waving her
hand frantically at the back of their coach as Lord Davies
arrived and offered his arm to escort her back into the house.As
if by divine inspiration the front door opened above them casting
a warm golden glow over the steps.Taking Quin's arm she looked up
in time to see a dark silhouette appear in the doorway."Lady
Lucy," she heard Yvette call out, "please come back in the
house.You're not properly dressed to go walking."
God for her abigail, he thought.Lucy, his fiancé's name was
Lucy.A pleasant name, it was short and easy to remember.Patting
her hand where it rested on his arm he spoke, "Shall we, Lady
Lucy?" as he led her up the stairs.
Elinor winked at
Yvette as they passed her in the hallway.It was their prearranged
signal that he'd taken the bait.She blushed as she felt Lord
Davies once again cover her hand with his.
Once settled in the
drawing room they started their evening with a game of
piquet.Yvette inquired if either Lord Davies or Lady Lucy would
like her to ring for a bottle of Madeira to be brought to the
drawing room.Elinor touched her fingers to her lips to keep from
giggling out loud.
Elinor won the
first hand of the game but suspected that he had allowed her
to.Determined to beat him outright she focused all her
concentration on her cards for the second hand while
absentmindedly sipping her wine.More than anything she wanted to
give him a trouncing that would wipe the smile off his
face.Imagine, she fumed, proposing to a girl when you didn't even
know her name.
Elinor dropped her
cards in mock outrage, she had indeed been cheating."Sir, you
dare accuse a Lady of cheating at cards?"
"Yes, and you're
doing it quite badly.My dearly departed grandmother could have
caught you from beyond the grave.Which one of your sisters taught
you how to cheat?"
"None of them," she
said haughtily lifting her chin in defiance."It was my
"Then I most
definitely will have to ask your brother to play cards some
day.Tell me, is he a betting man?"
"Am I what?"
"A betting man; do
you gamble Lord Davies?"
"I never gamble
more than I can afford to lose."
"I'm sorry my Lord,
that was not well done of me.It's just that I don't really know
anything about you other than that you can spot a cheat at
"Quite.On a similar
subject I was just now wondering if in private you might agree to
call me by my Christian name and perhaps give me leave to use
yours as well so we might begin to know each other better.We are,
after all, soon to be man and wife."
Elinor felt her
throat tighten.Of course if he knew her name he would want to use
it.Wasn't that what she'd intended all along?She smiled shyly;
she knew he was waiting for her response.This time she most
definitely did not feel like giggling.She felt the tiniest burn
of shame but quickly doused it with a gulp of wine."Yes Quinlan,
I would like that very much."
"Quin, please; if
you don't mind.The only person that calls me Quinlan is my dotty
old auntie who lives in a smelly cottage with her housekeeper and
She laughed out
loud in a most unladylike manner before she could cover her mouth
and regain control.
"Don't," he reached
over and gently pulled her hand away from her face."You've a
beautiful laugh Lucy, and a lovely smile.Never fear of showing
your happiness to me."
Another flicker of
shame fluttered to life somewhere near her heart.Elinor reached
for her glass to quickly drown it before realizing that he was
still holding her hand.Suddenly the grand drawing room felt much
too small and much too warm.It had to be the wine.
"I'm sorry my dear
Lucy," she heard him say."It was not my intent to make you
uncomfortable."With that he slowly released her hand.
The next two hands
were played with silent concentration while Elinor finished
another glass of wine.She stole glances of him from behind
lowered lashes while pretending to examine her cards.There was an
ease about him; in the way he moved and in his stillness as well.
Was that confidence or age? She wondered, before realizing she'd
been staring at him outright for who knew how long, and the Baron
"If those cards are
not to your liking my dear I will gladly reshuffle and deal
"The cards are fine
my Lord, I was simply considering strategy."
"My apologies,' he
said with a chuckle, "for a moment it appeared your thoughts were
Elinor felt her
face flush red and recovered her composure as quickly as she
could. "I thought a moment of an amusing story that is
He knew she'd been
staring at him and called her bluff. She searched her now
story-less brain for anything that sounded amusing to keep from
admitting she'd indeed been looking at him rather than her
cards."My sister Regina had no less than six offers her second
season," she blurted out.
She saw that he was
smiling again and wondered why she'd never before noticed that he
had the whitest teeth she'd ever seen."Guess how she chose
"Perhaps she was
blindfolded and agreed to marry whichever one she could
"No!" she laughed
and slapped her hand on the table for emphasis."She put their
names into a hat and drew one out; right in this very
replied with mock surprise. Elinor waved to Yvette for more
Madeira and he began to wonder exactly how much wine his petite
bride-to-be could hold.She was already smiling and laughing as if
she hadn't a care in the world.
"Yes, it's quite
true," she continued, "and now they are madly in love."
poor Benedict aware he was chosen in this manner?"
"No, so you mustn't
breathe a word of it to him."
"On my honor I will
never tell without your leave.Of if I forget that it was a secret
and shout it out while in my cups."
aloud again, this time remembering she had no need to cover it
up."You're very amusing my Lord."
"Quin," he reminded
"You are very
"I have several
tenants that would be quick to argue that point with you.However,
you make it very easy to speak freely my dear Lucy."
with a small tray containing another decanter of deep red
Madeira.Balancing it precariously on the edge of the table, she
preceded to fill their glasses.In a movement so smooth that not a
hint of suspicion was aroused, the tray shifted, and as she
grabbed for the decanter, spilled the wine onto Lord Davies
lap.Quin jumped up from his chair, but the damage was already
done and he watched in horror as a bright red stain bloomed
across the front of his trousers.
"Oh, Lord Davies!I
am so sorry, please forgive me."Looking convincingly contrite,
Yvette reached for the fallen glass.
Elinor stood, took
a sip of her wine and surveyed the damage."I'm afraid the chair
is ruined and the carpet will need cleaning as well," she said
matter-of-factly. "Our housekeeper will be furious."
housekeeper?Quin shook his head, did neither one have an ounce of
concern for his situation?"Would it be too much to request a
Lord," Yvette responded, and turned toward the door.
called after her, "Someone on the kitchen staff must have a
concoction for removing wine stains; we may yet be able to save
Lord Davies' trousers."
"I'll see to it my
Elinor continued to
sip her wine, trying hard not to notice the stain and any other
thoughts of Lord Davies' trousers.Unfortunately the red stain
drew her eyes like a beacon and as she spoke she addressed his
midsection."I'm terribly sorry Quin; it appears that we are to be
vexed by spirits yet again."
"Apparently it was
my turn for a dousing."
She lifted her gaze
to his face, "We are most unlucky, are we not?It seems a bad sign
for our future."
"Or, nothing more
than a silly accident; you mustn't let it trouble you."
"I am not
troubled," she lied. "I only wonder if you may be reconsidering
"I assure you …" he
was cut off by Yvette's return with a damp towel on a
"The staff swears
by this remedy my Lord."Yvette took up the towel and reached to
press it against the stain.
He stayed her hand
as she reached out."I believe I'll take it from here Yvette."He
turned his back to the women and cautiously pressed the damp
towel against his upper thigh.The bright red did indeed fade.It
was now a dark green.
He pressed at the
stain again and noticed an additional change; whatever chemical
reaction turned the red to green was now burning the flesh
underneath his trousers.
"Is it working,
Lord Davies?" asked Yvette.
"Not yet," he
replied through clenched teeth.
"Perhaps if you
removed your trousers it would be easier," he heard his fiancé
offer.He turned to them just in time to catch a glimmer of
something in Yvette's expression.Amusement?
She looked almost
as if she'd done it on purpose.The thought stilled his hand.He
had no proof and it certainly appeared accidental.It was
difficult to think with his bollocks on fire but he was
determined not to show it."My trousers look to be a total loss,
but I believe they shall stay with me."
"Oh, of course."This time when she reached for her glass, he
moved it from her reach.
"It's late and you
are starting to look a bit rosy in the cheeks.I think it best
that I take my leave and you retire for a good night's sleep.With
your permission I will call on you again tomorrow.Your mother has
suggested a trip to the zoological gardens.Does that suit
Elinor ignored the
sour look on Yvette's face."Yes, I would like that very
"I'll call at
eleven then and perhaps we can tour the gardens and luncheon in
the City.We need to speak more of our plans for after the
wedding.I'm sure there are things you will need to begin packing
for our trip."The hotter his skin burned, the faster he
"What trip?"It had
never occurred to her that they'd be taking a honeymoon
journey.It had never occurred to her that they'd be leaving
London at all.
"To my estate,
Evenswood Grange, I'd like to get you all settled in so you can
begin redecorating or whatever it is that women do to a new home
to make it their own.You need to become familiar with my tenants
and employees before the next harvest home celebration and you'll
want the changes to the house finished before winter I'm
She felt the blood
drain from her face as she asked, "And where is your
replied, counting the minutes until he could rip his trousers off
and soak his manhood in a cool tub.
But that's days and days away from London."Any notion she had of
living the life she'd always expected and wanted began to
"It is quite a
journey.Evenswood is a beautiful piece of land between Wadebridge
and Bodmin Moor. I know you'll come to love it as much as I
do.You've never seen the likes if it I'm sure."
"I can't go to
Cornwall; I want to stay here in London."In her mind she watched
as visions of her perfect life withered.
His patience worn
as raw as his skin, he replied, "Lucy, I live in Cornwall and
when we are married you will come to live at my estate in
"I most certainly
will not."No Almacks, no Vauxhall, no box at the opera; each
dream flickered out like candle-flames.Her breath caught in her
throat with the certainty of it.
"You most certainly
will.Your father and I have agreed upon this."
Emboldened by the
wine, Elinor placed her hands on her hips."Then my father can
live there with you because I will not.I'll stay here at your
townhouse in London and you can go about your business
sheepherding or farming, or whatever it is that you do.You can
visit with me every Season."
"Lucy, you're being
childish.I do not own a London townhouse.I've only rented one for
this Season and I have no interest in returning to London unless
urgent business calls for it."He placed his hand gently on her
shoulder."I realize that this has all happened very quickly but
in time you'll be much more agreeable."
She stepped away
from his hand and glared."If I am that disagreeable Lord Davies,
then perhaps it is best that you beg off our engagement.I will
bring no suit against you."
He stared at her in
disbelief, "Your reply to my proposal led me to believe that you
were indeed amenable to our situation."
"My feelings have
"Have I done
something to make me despicable in your eyes?"
Elinor took a step
forward and raised her hand, stopping just short of touching his
arm."You've been a perfect gentleman my Lord.I don't wish to
leave my parents."She shook her head, "I don't wish to marry
anyone at all yet, it is only my first season and I especially do
not wish to live in Cornwall."She felt a tear making its way down
He laughed at
that."Well dear your Father cares about that very much."He tilted
her head back so that he could look into her eyes, "I care as
well.I would never allow you to be ruined because of me."
"It isn't fair,"
she sobbed into his coat."We didn't do anything wrong.Surely you
would be happier if I jilted you?"
"I don't think the
seriousness of this has yet occurred to you. Should I beg off I
will spend the rest of the season being thought of as a despoiler
of innocents and my entire journey will be for naught.We seem to
rub along together well enough; I came to the City to find a wife
and I am not unhappy that I will be returning with one"
"I didn't intend to
find a husband my very first season."She thought of all her
pretty gowns and dancing slippers going forever unused; the rides
along rotten row that would never be taken, the parties and games
she would miss, and regret left a lump in her throat.
"So your only
complaint is with the timing of this arrangement?"
"I do not dislike
you Lord Davies but neither do I love you.I don't know you well
enough to feel anything for you at all."
"Love? Good God
Lucy, who said anything about love?"
"So you do not love
me either?"She already knew the answer, yet a small part of her
wanted to hear he'd gone madly in love the moment he saw
"As you have
already stated, I don't know you well enough to feel anything for
you at all.However, I do feel that in time we could develop a
She sniffed loudly
and he handed her his handkerchief.Companionable friendship made
them sound like cousins, she thought.She'd imagined her first
kiss a thousand times and it was always with someone she loved
and who loved her madly in return.
As she tidied
herself Quin indulged his curiosity by drawing a long strand of
her hair through his fingers and smiled.It really did feel like
silk and momentarily took his mind from his discomfort.
"Go to bed now
poppet and speak to your Father in the morning.I'll call at
eleven and whatever news you have for me we will speak of
then."He drew another long strand of hair through his
fingers."I'll take my leave."
As soon as the door
closed behind him Yvette stuck her head around the corner,
glumly, "Not only does he refuse to beg off he expects me to live
in Cornwall.There's nothing in Cornwall but corn, big rocks and
the occasional thatched-roof cottage.I don't believe they have a
social season at all."
"You must speak to
your Father my Lady."
"I have little hope
that I will change his mind."Head down and shoulders slumped in
defeat; Elinor began walking to her bed chamber.
Elinor retire to bed, Yvette sat in her small attic room quietly
crying angry tears.How she yearned to be able to escape to the
countryside and live a quiet life; to perhaps even have her
mother and father living in a nearby cottage.She shook the
thought from her head, those were the dreams of an innocent
child, and she was no longer an innocent child; she was a traitor
and a spy.
One long year of
her life wasted ingratiating herself into the household of an
influential Duke only to be exiled off to Cornwall with his
daughter and a Baron with no interest in politics. Yesterday she
was 365 days closer to saving her parents and now it was all for
Her parents were
back in France in a cramped dirty prison, she didn't even know if
they were truly still alive.The French agent assured her they
were, and that every bit of information she passed along brought
them closer to her.But it had been a year since he'd shown her
their letter.Yvette reached under her bed and eased the
well-creased vellum from its hiding place.There was no need to
light a lamp to read it; she'd memorized it months ago.She was
their only hope.
How would she
explain that instead of being lady servant to the Duchess, she'd
been given to her youngest daughter as a birthday gift and would
soon be moving to Cornwall?How she yearned for a friend, a
confidant, someone to share her fears with.She liked to imagine
that in other circumstances Lady Elinor would be a friend, but
with her betrayal it would never come to be.
* * *
Quin began ripping
at his clothes before the carriage jerked into motion.Within
moments his trousers were pulled down to his knees and he sighed
with relief as the cool night air soothed his reddened
He was being
truthful when he told her he was not unhappy to have found a
wife.Sure she was young, he thought, but one wife was as good as
another in the end.If she managed to talk her father into jilting
him it would certainly add another complication to his quest to
find a suitable bride before the beginning of August.If only he
could have found someone closer to his own age who was yet able
to produce an heir.Someone more mature and yet amusing with a
beautiful smile; someone very much like Lady Lucy, only
As the carriage
shuddered to a stop, he reached for the door thinking only of the
tub of cool water he'd be soaking in within minutes.He took a
step before his half-lowered trousers caught and tangled in his
legs as he pitched headfirst out the door.
Madly grabbing at
anything that would slow his descent, Quin managed to tumble out
onto the street unharmed just as a soft rain began to
fall.Grabbing his lantern and jumping down from his perch, his
coachman ran to his side.
"Lord Davies, are
you harmed man?Shall I fetch a doctor?"He stared in disbelief at
the site of his master lying on the damp pavement with his pants
down and what looked to be a raging case of the French pox."My
"For God's sake,
it's not what it looks like.Give me a hand up."Quin was helped to
his feet as the coachman stared in disbelief."I suffered an
unfortunate accident whilst visiting my betrothed.It was nothing
to speak of.Ever.Do you understand?"
Gathering up his
dignity as well as his trousers, Quin walked up the steps where
the butler stood near the open door.At his questioning expression
Quin replied, "Oh shut up."