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Authors: Joan Smith

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An Affair of the Heart

BOOK: An Affair of the Heart
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AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART

 

Joan Smith

 

Chapter One

 

Lord Claymore’s handsome brow wore a frown as he pelted down the steps of the mansion on Tiburn Lane and leapt into his curricle. His tiger, Black Cat, was too wise to make reference to the danger of springing the grays in the middle of town.
lucky you didn’t get the crop across your shoulders, saying a word when he was in this mood. Anyway, there was no one to speak of in the park at this unfashionable hour of the morning, and they would be on the Chelsea Road in next to no time, the way he was springing ‘em. There he might run his bits o’ blood into the ground without killing anyone save themselves...

So, Black Cat thought with a smug smile, she’d turned him down, and thank God for it! To be carting that China doll round town, going no more than five miles an hour and stopping at every carriage with a crest on the side of it, was not Blackie’s idea of driving at all. A nifty piece she were, to be sure. Pretty as could stare, with her blond curls and blue glass eyes. The carriage hit  rut in the road, and its occupants were lifted six inches from their seats. Milord’s curled beaver left his head and went whirling down the road behind them.

“Eh, you’ve lost your lid,” Blackie informed his master. “Shut your face,” was his reply.

“A new one it were,” he continued, undaunted.

Milord was obviously paying no heed, for Blackie escaped scot free for his impudence. The carriage continued bolting down the road at its dangerous pace, but its driver’s heart remained behind at Tiburn Lane with
her,
Gloria Golden.

She had been
the
acknowledged queen of the season just closing. Beau Brummell himself had hardly more power than Miss Golden where it counted—in society. Every buck and beau in town had been at her dainty feet, heart in extended hand. It was one of the
on dits
that she’d had to hire a secretary to answer her invitations, and it was
said,
though the lady was too modest to confirm the rumor, that she had every week a box of trinkets received from her admirers hauled off to be sold, and the proceeds sent to her favorite charity, the London Orphans. She did blushingly admit, however, that the overflow of floral tributes was sent daily to St. Bartholomew’s to be admired by the patients there. It was not within her power to deny Lord Cushington’s having bred and named a yellow rose for her—the Golden Rose it was called—when everyone knew it had taken first prize at the Hampshire Flower Show. Inspired by the incident, Brummell had concocted a perfume for her sole use, and called it Rose d’Or. Lord Petersham had offered to make her up a batch of her own snuff, and though she was gratified, she had declined, having no desire to mar either her nose or her gown by this dirty habit. The Golden Rose bonnet, worn by her at an
al fresco
party given by the Prince Regent, had been an immediate success, and shamelessly copied by every lady with any pretension to fame or fashion. Her gowns, pelisses, coiffures, reticules, even her faint and enchanting lisp were similarly copied, till it seemed all of fashionable London was inhabited by a hundred Golden Roses. But always the original, unique, incomparable Golden Rose herself was at the lead.

It was not to be imagined that a connoisseur like Lord Claymore would be tardy in recognizing such an Incomparable, and be among the first to attach himself to the comet’s train. Nor did it ever occur to him that his attentions were unwanted.
His
offerings—floral or otherwise—were never carted off with the others, for she frequently wore the corsage sent by himself, and had used every flummery bit of stuff he had ever conferred on her. Fans, satin roses (golden, of course), perfume bottle—all were displayed to the eyes of her goggling public, and their donor acknowledged... Such encouragement gave him no cause to expect his offer of marriage would be unwelcome. In fact, he had even more explicit reason than this to think himself
the one.
Unbeknownst to any except himself and the Rose, she had
twice
allowed him to touch her rosebud lips--once fleetingly behind the pillar at Lady Castlereagh’s ball, when Fate had conspired to give them a moment alone, and once in her garden just at dusk, behind the fountain her great-grandpapa had imported whole from Italy. And on that occasion it had been more than a touch. He had felt it as good as an acceptance. Had, in fact, from that moment on considered her his own.

He smiled secretly to hear the odds at the clubs were running two to one in favor of Everleigh, the Duke. As if the Golden Rose would attach herself to that black thorn, old enough to be her father. Leading comments that the Duke was a great friend of her papa, and had besides twenty-five thousand a year, were shrugged off. Even if he had three estates, besides his London residence and hunting lodge in the Cottsmore Hills, he had also a nose as long as a parsnip, and gray hair, to counterbalance those material advantages. Rose actually
laughed
at him behind his back, and called him “the old goat.” Others, who were on Claymore’s side, contented themselves with the banal reference to Beauty and the Beast. Obviously there would be no match between that mismated pair.

Yet she had not a quarter of an hour ago informed him that a marriage had been arranged between herself and the Duke of Everleigh, to take place a month hence. She had besides pokered up and pouted at him when he reminded her of those stolen kisses and her numerous stars on his grace. Even his impassioned plea that he be allowed to rescue her and spirit her off to the Border had been shunted aside.

“I don’t want to
escape,
silly,

she had said, tapping him on the wrist with her fan—the ivory fan with painted lace covering he had given her only a week ago.

“Miss Golden, you cannot mean you entered
willingly
into this match?” Lord Claymore asked, aghast.

“Of course I did. I must marry thomone,” she lisped. “He is a duke, and I should like very much to be a ducheth.”

“But—but I can make you a marchioness,” Claymore reminded her.

“Yes, but a ducheth rates higher than a marchioneth,” she had retaliated happily.

“Is that all our relationship has meant to you? You will turn your back on me only because of a greater title?”

“Oh, it is not only the title,” she said pettishly, arising and pacing about the Green Saloon (which Mama had refused to have redone in gold) where she was receiving his offer. She was exquisitely aware that her perambulations showed off her figure and her Italian silk gown to advantage. “Our families have been connected forever, and besides, I am ever so fond of Iggy. He will deny me nothing.”

Claymore was too overcome to argue further. It was plain as a pikestaff she was
selling
herself to the highest bidder. Pride overcame chagrin long enough for his youthful visage to assume a sneer, and he congratulated her on her conquest

“Now don’t be like that, Clay,” she said, dimpling adorably. “Let uth still be friends.” She had come and laid her hand on his arm. He felt that if he tried to kiss her again, he would not be repulsed. Almost those pouting lips seemed to invite.

He was not to be won over. “You might have told me you had accepted Everleigh and saved me the bother of making an offer in form,” he said stiffly.

“Oh, but I wanted to see if I couldn’t bring
you
up to the mark, too,” she returned pertly.

“You are to be twice congratulated in one day, ma’am,” Clay said. “Good day, Miss Golden.” Turning, he fled the room.

The remainder of that morning was never entirely clear to Claymore. He remembered only the wind whistling in his ears, and green fields whipping past him. He did not recall at what point Blackie had taken over the reins, but at noon he was being deposited at his own house on the corner of Curzon and Half Moon Street, and wafting up the steps in a sort of daze. He was heartbroken, incredulous still, mortified, and extremely ill-tempered. He rounded on his innocent butler and demanded of him if it was not possible to ever be greeted by a
smile
when he came home, and why was it his house must smell of fish? Decaying fish.

His friend, Rex Homberly, was awaiting him in his study, sipping a glass of ale and tossing cards into his hat, which he had placed on the floor halfway across the room.

“Why have you been put in
this
room?” Clay demanded. Rex looked at him in astonishment as it was in this cozy if shabby little study that they regularly conversed.

Rex did not consider himself a knowing one, but figured he knew at least what this fit of pique was an about. “Heard the news,” he said by way of commiseration. “In the
Morning Observer.
Brought it over. Thought you might not have read it, but I see by your face you have.”

Clay wordlessly accepted a glass of ale which a servant had been hurriedly sent off to get him. His domestic menials were not always so alert, but when his lordship came in lambasting a body for not grinning like a hyena when he went to the door, something special was called for.

“Thing is,” Rex continued, tossing a card a foot wide of his hat, “no point in offering for her now. Good thing we found out before you went making a cake of yourself.”

“I made an offer this morning,” Clay admitted, and colored under the look his friend bestowed on him.

“What!
She
let you...? Oughtn’t to have done that. Not the thing to be receiving you alone when she’d already accepted Everleigh. Dashed loose way for a young lady to be acting... And
you
shouldn’t have gone dashing off without reading the paper. Ought to have looked at the Social Column first, Clay. Told you it would be published any day. Everybody knew it. Pity to give her the satisfaction.” He whizzed another card, and it landed by accident in the hat. It was the last, and he arose to his full five feet six niches and looked up at his miserable friend. There was ready sympathy in his bright blue eyes, and on his childish face.

Clay was not in the mood for sympathy. “No harm done,” he said nonchalantly, willing down the urge to rant and rave.

“No, but she’ll blab it all over town. Make you look a terrible fool. Oh well, you would have looked that anyway, the way you’ve been dangling after her all Season, showering her with flowers and cheap junk.”

“As to looking the fool, who will look wise in
this
affair? Everleigh marrying a girl young enough to be his daughter... Miss Golden latching onto a title and a fortune, and me, making a cake of myself over her, as you so kindly pointed out. Fools all!”

“I wouldn’t call the Rose a fool,” Rex said consideringly. “Not by any manner of means. As shrewd as she can hold together, it you want my opinion. Everleigh was the pick of the Season’s beaux, not a doubt of that. The only duke in the race, and all those estates and what not. Quite a catch.”

“An ugly old man in his forties!” This seemed an advanced state of decrepitude indeed to one who was not yet twenty-five himself.

“Thirty-nine,”
Rex corrected unhesitatingly. “Born within two hours of my Aunt Marjorie. They was neighbors, and it used to be talked up at home that she’d nab him, but then she developed that squint. Unfortunate.”

“He is old enough to be her father in any case.”

“He’d have had to marry awful young, and the Everleighs don’t. His younger brother only got hitched last year, and
he’s
thirty-seven. Anyway, he
ain’t
her father, that’s the thing.”

“I trust they will not try to palm this off as a love match,” Clay said, leaning against an old desk, much battered and strewn with debris.

“Easy to love twenty-five thousand a year,” Rex replied in an attempt at lightness. He heartily disliked seeing his friend in such a fit of the sullens. Wouldn’t be up for any sport all day if he carried on in this fashion.

“They’re all alike,” Clay said in disgust. “Money and titles, that’s all women think of. Everleigh has
bought
Gloria with his twenty-five thousand a year and his coronet, and she has sold herself to become a duchess. A man may buy anything or anyone if he is rich enough.”

“That’s true,” Rex admitted, assuming his “wise” face, which is to say he wrinkled his brow and pursed his lips. He then proceeded to mar the effect by sticking the head of his cane in his mouth and sucking it. Finding the flavor not to his liking, for the cane was tipped in silver and had a metallic taste, he removed it and added sagely, “Daresay I could attach Miss Simpson if I had a title, and a quarter of your fortune.”

“Certainly. I shouldn’t be surprised to see her have her legs amputated to please you, if only you had a handle to your name.”

Miss Simpson was of a build currently described as Junoesque. She was close to half a head taller than Rex, and a more foolish sight than Mr. Homberly partnering her on the floor, his neck arched back to look up at her, was seldom to be seen.

“Yes, if I had a handle, like you,”
replied Rex. “No reason for
you
to fret, dear boy. You ain’t a duke, but you’re a marquis, next best thing to it, and your blunt must nearly match Everleigh’s. Figures, if he gets first prize—the Rose—you ought to pick off the next plum, for you’re second in title and fortune.”

BOOK: An Affair of the Heart
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