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“So her father did try to look out for her? That’s good.”

“Did he?” the earl asked. “We’ll never know. Some of us thought that money changed hands, as did promises of special favors, because though other men wanted to marry her aside from Tanner, he was the only one her father urged her to wed. Whatever he meant or got from it, her father never saw any other gain. He died of a fever before we reached land.

“There’s no question living with Tanner helped Daisy survive her time in Botany Bay,” the earl went on as he stared at the glass in his hand. “But I think only just, in some ways. Hers might have been just as hard a sentence to serve as ours.”

Leland drained his own glass and waited for the earl to continue.

“She’s four-and-twenty now,” the earl finally said. “I saw her tonight and marveled. She looks and sounds wonderfully well. I don’t know how even that valiant spirit stayed so bright after six years of marriage to Tanner. He never spoke when he could shout. He never asked when he could order. He never hit her in the face, because even he could see how rarely beautiful she was, and I
suppose he didn’t want to ruin that. It was a source of pride with him. But he did hit her, because he didn’t know how else to argue or show his displeasure; we all knew that. He struck her for such infractions as speaking up, for not speaking, for being there when he was drinking deep, but mostly, I think, for being who she was. He was as proud as he was resentful of her superior breeding, knowledge, and spirit.”

The room was still except for the spitting logs in the fire in the hearth.

“I did not know,” the viscount eventually said. “I wouldn’t have guessed. You’re right. She possesses more than a lovely face and a clever mind. She must be a brave spirit, indeed.” He cast a bright eye on his host. “So, what exactly is your part in this now? Do you think you can make it up to her? I wouldn’t blame you. You could; you’d be a good husband. And she’s very beautiful, and single again.”

“God! You have wedlock on the brain. No, and no, and no again,” the earl said, pacing in agitation. “I’m happy in my single life. I’m content. My wife was the best of wives; I’ve no desire to have less. And, sadly, I’d think any other woman was less.”

“Oh, you’ve taken up monkhood then,” the viscount commented dryly. “A new order? One that
gives up
abstinence? Interesting. Do you fellows make cheeses or brandy when you’re not at your prayers?”

The earl’s ears flushed. “I have my diversions, and well you know it. But those good women don’t demand more than my company and support. I can’t give them more, and don’t want more in return. As for Daisy? I always admired and pitied her, and just want to do good for her.”

“And if she wants more from you? Because I suspect she does.”

The earl stared at his guest.

“Her voice, when she speaks to you,” Leland said impatiently. “Her eyes. Good Lord, you could see it if you opened
your
eyes. She wants you, and for more than an old friend.”

“You see it, maybe” the earl scoffed. “I don’t, and I don’t look for it.” He stared at his elegant guest. “So. The only question is: Will you help me help her?”

“You trust me with her?”

The earl laughed. “With a beautiful woman? Of course not, unless you give your word not to toy with her, and I won’t ask that. Not to denigrate your charms, Lee, but I believe her to be impervious to them. Open
your
eyes, my friend. Didn’t you see how she reacted to you? I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but for once in your career, you must admit you failed to charm a female. She didn’t like you.”

Leland gave his friend an odd look. “You thought so?”

“Yes, and I’m glad of it.”

“Am I then such a monster?” Leland asked mildly. “A seducer, a despoiler?”

“No, nothing of the sort. You never do real harm. You take a willing female under your protection, or dally with one, and leave her none the worse for the experience.”

“And usually a little richer,” Leland commented wryly.

“Yes, in funds and experience. But I don’t want that for Daisy. Because for all her experience, she’s inexperienced with men such as you.”

“There are no others such as I,” Leland said in mock affront.

“Probably true, but I’m not joking,” the earl said. “She doesn’t seem to like you, and that’s good because it will keep her safe. The only problem with it is that she must work with you if you’re to bring her up to snuff.”

Leland cocked his head to the side.

“She has to take your advice and follow your lead,” the earl said, as he took his friend’s glass and filled it again. “You know fashion. You know who is acceptable, and who is not. You’re accepted everywhere. My God, you could rule London Society if you wished.”

“I certainly do not wish,” Leland said. He raised his glass in a toast. “To not being king of the
ton
! Society amuses me. It wouldn’t if I took it seriously. Nothing is amusing if taken seriously, and I live to be amused.”

“I know it. Now, my plan is to get Daisy Tanner into Society, find a good man to take care of her, and see her well settled. I’ll have to think of some way to get her to trust your advice, at least. But that’s what I mean to do. Are you with me?”

“Of course,” Leland said. “Make a chit from Botany Bay into a paragon of fashion? Create a diamond of the first water from a felon, and marry her to a lord, at least? It would be quite a coup for me.”

“You aren’t working with an empty basket. This isn’t the fable of Pygmalion. You aren’t making something of mere clay, building an ideal woman from nothing. She already has breeding and beauty and wealth.”

“And a fascinating criminal past.”

“It’s her future I’m speaking of. I’m serious.”

“So am I,” Leland said. “I mean it. Count me in. This is something I have to see.”

S
he wouldn’t go back, but didn’t know how to go forward. Daisy paced the hotel suite she’d taken for herself and her maid. She’d much to think about and little time to do it in. The rooms she paced were decently furnished, but only that, but they cost so much, she thought she ought to have been gliding over velvet carpets and sleeping in a golden bed. She’d only wanted respectable lodgings. That was what she was paying for, but she didn’t know how long she could or should stay here.

Daisy hadn’t lied; she did have money now. But what had looked like vast riches in Port Jackson was nothing like it here. Geoff’s house had staggered her. There was wealth in every seam
and fleck of paint of it. She and her father had lived in a modest home. What she’d lived in while with Tanner was considered good in a raw new colony, but the tiles in Geoff’s front hallway probably cost more than that whole house had.

If she’d had another place to go, she’d have left the hotel the minute they quoted her daily rates. In truth, she’d been half dreaming, half hoping the earl would invite her to stay with him. She supposed he could have if he’d a respectable older female relative living with him. But Geoff lived alone, although the strange viscount who’d made her so uneasy yesterday certainly made himself at home there…

Daisy halted in her tracks. Was there a reason for that?
Did
the fellow live there?

That would put a different light on everything, one she could see clearly in. She wasn’t an innocent anymore, or like most young women in England whether they were experienced or not, for that matter. Living as she had done, in prisons and among convicts, meant she’d seen and heard about different sides of life. Men took love where they found it, and some found it in unusual ways. She’d accepted that without judging it.

Daisy sat down abruptly. Still, that was certainly something she hadn’t thought of. She’d never seen a hint of it in the earl when he’d been plain Geoff Sauvage. She cocked her head to the side, considering the matter. It could account for his peculiar friendship with the much younger,
fashionable, and oh-so-affected viscount! She sensed the fellow didn’t trust her and didn’t know why, but if she was right it would make sense. He might be afraid she’d steal Geoff’s affections.

She chewed her lip and frowned. It would definitely explain why Geoff was single even now, when he had wealth and title.

But she still admired and respected Geoffrey Sauvage. The more she thought of it, the more she liked the idea of marrying him even if he preferred men. She’d be untouched but not un-loved. They could always adopt a child. Hadn’t he already taken two boys under his wing, seen them grow into happily married men, and rejoiced for them?

Daisy contemplated the idea of marrying a man who’d never take her physically. It seemed too good to be true after the years of marriage she’d endured. In fact, she thought with rising spirits, if the earl were so inclined toward his fellow man, it might be the best solution of all for her.

But she didn’t know if he was. She didn’t know much of anything yet except that he was here, he still liked her, and he was still available, in one way, at least. She’d have to see about the rest. If he didn’t want to marry, maybe he had friends his age or inclination who did. She didn’t plan to marry for love or money, just for security and a place to belong, a place where she could stay on in peace, unmolested. She’d never be free until
she was married, and then if she had a husband who simply cared for her like a father or a friend, it would be bliss.

She roused herself from dreams. Money, the here and now of it, was her most pressing problem. She wasn’t as cheap as Tanner had been—no one could be. But she’d learned to worry about funds going out, and they’d been draining at an alarming rate since she’d gotten here. At least she’d been smart enough to hire a maid in New South Wales. That cost was small enough; the girl had been eager to go home to England.

But what about the hotel charges, the house she had to rent? The clothes she had to buy? And the “respectable” companion she had to hire?

Respectability, Daisy thought bitterly, looking around her spare, expensive room, came dear. She’d bet whomever the earl recommended would come dearer. If her plan didn’t work, how long would her investments continue paying off? She had money, but not the golden touch Tanner had. How long could her money last and grow if she had to keep paying out at such a clip?

Daisy shot to her feet. She wouldn’t go back. Whatever happened, she wouldn’t go back. That left her only one way to go: forward.

She walked to the door to her maid’s room and called. “Amy? Please go downstairs and tell the hotel manager that he can begin sending up applicants for the position of my companion now.”

 

Life with a father always looking for money and with a husband always looking for a fight had taught Daisy unusual skills. She could read faces the way other women read books, and she was a fast reader who seldom missed a nuance of meaning.

She soon discovered that some of the women she interviewed pitied her for being alone and without family, and some felt superior to her. In turn, she pitied some of them, and some frankly frightened her. Only one thing was plain, and that itself was a little frightening. There were too many respectable women who needed jobs in London Town.

Daisy was ready to halt the flow of prospective companions because the interviews had taken up most of the morning and she was getting hungry. She was heartily sick of her dreary room but planned to eat in, even though it made her feel like an outcast and a prisoner again. The hotel dining room had looked splendid from afar, with its glittering glassware and clean white tablecloths and well-dressed, merrily chattering patrons. But she couldn’t eat there. She couldn’t dine alone, or with a maid; she had to have a respectable companion with her before she could dine in public.

“You have recommendations with you?” she finally asked the last woman she interviewed before she sent for her luncheon, after the woman recited her qualifications.

“Yes, of course,” the woman answered. She held out a sheaf of papers.

Daisy pretended to study the letters, but watched Helena Masters instead. She saw a woman some years older than herself. Seven-and-thirty, her papers said, but she looked older because of the barely concealed worry on her face, and the plain, sensible, drab clothing she wore. A sailor’s widow with two children who lived with her own widowed mother in the north of England, she had to work for her keep.

She seemed well bred and had a pleasant voice. Mrs. Masters’s brown hair was neat, as was her figure. Her face, with its sincere blue eyes, was plain but promising, because she had laugh lines, which meant that at least she sometimes laughed. The letters from former employers extolled her. She’d never lost a position so much as had to move on because of circumstances beyond her control.

But not all the words on those letters or the woman’s own softly voiced history impressed Daisy as much as the fact that her hand trembled when she handed over her excellent references. And the glove that covered that hand had a tiny darn in it. She needed the work, badly. Need was a thing that Daisy never missed. She knew it too well.

“I plan to buy a house in a good district and stay on in London,” Daisy said, returning the papers to her. It was also time to put her cards on
the table. “Your duties would not only be to accompany me, but to advise me on current manners and fashions. I’ve been out of the country for years, you see.”

Light sprang to the woman’s eyes. “I could do that,” she said. Her hands knotted together over the papers.

“Starting immediately.”

“I could do that as well.”

“And the salary pleases you?”

The woman nodded; Daisy realized she was too tense to speak.

“If you’d like, I could give you two days off every three weeks, so you could visit with your children. Since they live so far we could see about more if you needed,” Daisy added, and then frowned, realizing she was gilding the lily because she wanted this woman to stay on with her. Need called to need, and so this woman didn’t frighten her. She took a breath. If it was going to hurt, she’d best get it over and done with.

“I came from New South Wales,” Daisy said bluntly. “I was a prisoner there, then a wife, then a widow. I was convicted with my father, and that because he poached once too often on a neighbor’s land. But I was a convict, and that is who I am.” She held up her head.

Mrs. Masters’s eyes widened. “Oh, you poor child,” she exclaimed. Her hand flew to her lips when she realized she’d said so bold a thing to a prospective employer.

Daisy’s eyes searched her face; she could see no recoil as realization of what she’d said about being a convict sank in. The pity she’d originally seen was gone in an instant, replaced by sorrow, and the woman’s obvious distress at her outburst.

“Yes, well, it
was
bad,” Daisy said. “Now, I want only good. Can you help me, Mrs. Masters?”

“You will have me?” the other woman asked, as though afraid to believe her good luck.

“I will. So. When can you begin?”

“Now. At once. What would you have me do?”

Daisy hesitated. Then she heaved a small heart-felt sigh, and voiced her present dearest wish. “Would you come downstairs and have luncheon in the dining room with me?”

 

It was the loveliest gown Daisy had ever seen up close. Red, with rose ribbons at the waist, gold ones trimming the flounces on the skirts and on the puffed sleeves, and a beautiful needlework rose climbing up the bodice and blooming at the breast. The model wearing it looked magnificent. Daisy turned a glowing face to the earl to see his reaction before she said she’d take it.

“No, not for you,” Viscount Haye drawled before she could. “A gown need not be beautiful in itself; it must make the woman who wears it beautiful.” He waved a hand. “There’s too much gown there, madame. Show us another.”

The modiste nodded. “Trust you, monsieur,” she said with a little smile. She clapped her hands to signal the next model to come out.

Daisy turned a militant face toward the viscount, but the look of approval on her new companion’s face as she gazed at him stopped her from saying anything.

“It
was
a work of art,” the viscount murmured to Daisy. “That’s the problem. Do you want people to notice the beautiful gown they see, or the woman in it?”

She subsided.

He nodded. “And red, my dear, can be a striking statement for a woman with your coloration. But a little goes a long way, and that gown went much too far.”

The earl laughed. “
That,
Lee, is why you’re invaluable. See, Daisy? I told you he’d be your best guide. I don’t know a thing about fashion. He’s right. I can’t even remember what the woman wearing that concoction looked like, and I usually have an eye for a pretty young girl.”

Daisy grinned at him. “Then if you say so, so be it. I don’t know much about fashion, either, and will be guided by you.”

The earl sat back, looking pleased. The viscount’s midnight blue eyes were half shuttered. He looked bored, but then, Daisy thought, he usually did.

The blue gown and the silver one that came out after it were deemed suitable. The coral walking
dress was roundly approved, but the green gown was frowned at. Though Daisy had loved it, she held her tongue. But when the model came out in the gold gown, Daisy actually sighed aloud, in appreciation. The gold cloth was sleek and tissue thin; every curve, every indentation on the model’s slender body showed. It was shocking, but even though the girl looked sensual, she also looked elegant, sophisticated, classical, like a Greek statue dipped in gold.

Daisy smiled when the earl said, “Why, that color ought to look good on you, Daisy!”

Before she could agree, the viscount spoke. “Yellow for Mrs. Tanner would work, yes,” he said lazily. “Not gold. And not in such thin ply. Much too daring for her. You don’t want to lie about her background, of course. But do you want to flaunt it?”

Daisy spun around to stare at him. She was insulted and indignant, even though she realized what he said might be true. Insult won out. “But if Geoff, I mean, if the earl likes it,” she declared, “it’s good enough for me. I’ll take it.”

Leland shrugged a shoulder.

“Really, Daisy, he’s the expert,” Geoff said.

“Well, if you think I’d look bad in it,” she said, “then I’ll change my mind.”

The earl’s face turned ruddy, but he nevertheless looked flattered. “I liked it, yes. Still, what do I know?”

“Enough for me,” she said firmly.

Leland’s eyebrow went up, but he mimed a slight bow to Daisy from where he sat. “Of course. Opinion’s a relative matter,” he said negligently. “The most important opinion is that of the person who’ll be wearing the gown; a dress made of spun silver would look bad if she didn’t believe in it. But if you believe your figure and your confidence is firm enough for the gold, why not? If you want it, Mrs. Tanner, so be it.”

Daisy didn’t answer. The mention of silver and gold turned her thoughts in unpleasant directions. It suddenly occurred to her that she’d ordered up four gowns, and yet hadn’t been told the price of one. That was bad trading, poor practice, and very foolish of her. Even her father would have frowned. Tanner would have…well, it was best not to think what he’d have done. Bad enough that realizing what she’d done took the joy out of the morning for her.

She’d been having a wonderful time until now. Mrs. Masters had told her to wear one of her best gowns to go to the dressmaker’s shop, and she’d laughed, thinking it ridiculous. But she was paying for that kind of knowledge and so had put on a tasteful long-sleeved violet walking dress she’d had made up especially for the trip to England.

She was glad she had after she got to the dressmaker’s shop. It didn’t even look like one. It was so luxurious, she felt more like she was paying a morning call on a fashionable lady of the
ton
than ordering new gowns. The place was furnished
like a sitting room; the dressmaker was called a modiste and spoke with a French accent. There were comfortable couches to sit on, and she was given a little cup of dark coffee to drink. There were patterns to muse over; and lovely young women came out modeling the gowns for sale. And there hadn’t even been a sign above the door!

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