Read Edith Layton Online

Authors: How to Seduce a Bride

Edith Layton (5 page)

BOOK: Edith Layton
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Geoff says he doesn’t know who to introduce her to yet. He says his other friends are too stodgy and opinionated to take her at face value, and friends from the old days in prison would want to take her for far more, whatever he said. He’d rather not bring her into Society until she has a full wardrobe
and
has been coached in the finer niceties…there being few practiced in New South Wales, I gather.”

“But she knows her manners. She was wellborn and well bred,” Daffyd said. “That was why Tanner insisted on marrying her soon as he clapped eyes on her. Pretty females are rare on a prison ship. He could have used her and passed her along for profit. That was done. But beautiful, innocent,
and
wellborn? If her damned fool of a father hadn’t alienated his family years before, she’d never have been there at all. Tanner seized
the opportunity. He grabbed her and wouldn’t let go. He knew what he had. A real rarity.”

“Yes. Precisely,” Leland drawled. “She may have fallen into some sloppy speech patterns, but she knows how to speak and behave. Still, Geoff’s like a mother hen with her. If he were merely paternal, I wouldn’t worry. I’m not at all convinced that’s it. And if you were secretly amused a moment ago because you think I am slain by her big brown eyes,” he added too lightly, “I assure you I am not. She never turns them on me anyway.”

Daffyd’s eyes searched his. “And does that rankle? You’re famous for your taste in females, and as you say, she’s tasty. Are you annoyed because she ignores you?” The haughty look he received in return made him laugh. “Don’t give me your famous offended camel look. I don’t understand her overlooking you. I don’t know how you do it, but you usually get any female you want. And she doesn’t notice you at all? Really? Wait. Have you been nice or have you been your famous ‘Viscount Too Cruel,’ as that caricature put it? Be honest.”

“That ridiculous caricature?” Leland asked. “Really,
no one’s
nose is that long! Well, Welling-ton’s maybe. But Rowlandson drew that because he owed me money and was angry about it. The man’s a genius with his pen, but he should never bet on anything when he’s drunk. Actually, that means he should never bet. At any rate, I haven’t been cruel or kind, and it wouldn’t matter if I
were. As I said, her eyes slide off me. She can only see Geoff.”

“Then it’s time for me to have a look,” Daffyd agreed. “I’ll get to the bottom of it. I doubt she’s up to anything underhanded, but it’s impossible to fool another old flimflammer, which is what I am.”

“Was,” his half brother corrected him. “And I’m not?” he added, sounding offended.

“You have some scruples, Lee. They’ll be the ruin of you, too, if you don’t watch out.”

They laughed. But they looked pleased, too. They nodded at each other, because whatever the outcome, at least they would be working together.

“I
want a gold gown,” Daisy told the dressmaker. “Not the one you showed me the other day. Not precisely, that is. I loved it, but I don’t want Viscount Haye sneering at me all night. You heard how he felt about how revealing it was, or at least how it would be for me. But I’ve been invited to dinner with him and the earl tonight. They said they have a surprise, an old friend come to see me, and so I want to look wonderful! I know there isn’t much time and so I thought if you could alter a gown that was already made up? That one was so lovely. Oh, please, madame, say you can somehow make it acceptable for me!”

This one, Madame Bertrand thought, as she
saw the doting look the lady’s companion bent on her charge, could charm a mossy rock. And money is money, and Haye brought her here.
That
one’s approval could make her rich.

“I could, I think,” the modiste said. “I haven’t sold that one yet. I could make…alterations. But in a day? I don’t know.”

“Oh, please. Surely you could add an underskirt, or something, to make it more the thing for me. Price,” Daisy said, and paused as she swallowed down her fear, “is not an object.”

She waited, half hoping the answer would be no. Price was always an object, and spending money frightened her. But if the viscount had been telling the truth, and the earl and her companion agreed that he was, then it would be some time before she had to pay her bills. If it was true that creditors gave ladies special favors, then time was on her side, and timing was everything in life. By the time she absolutely had to pay she could be married, or her investments could have made more money. And so far, everyone thought she was a lady. So she had to act like one and run up debts, though it went against the grain.

She’d taken a hired carriage to the dressmaker’s as soon as Helena said the shops would open. She was delighted to find that, as Helena had also said, no lady would be up at this hour. It was easier to play the lady of leisure when there weren’t any real ones around.

“Please?” she added, smiling at Madame Bertrand.

“Let me see,” the dressmaker said. She clapped her hands. “Margot!” she called. “Put on the gold cloth gown and come out here at once, if you please.”

A few moments later, the same tall, dark-haired model she had seen the day before came gliding out in the daring gold cloth gown. It still looked wondrous to Daisy.

Madame Bertrand walked around the model, muttering. “A train would add elegance,” she murmured. “
Oui.
But it must be rose-colored, a gauzy spray of rose spread out in a train, floating behind the gold, moderating it, like a sunrise seen through clouds. And an underskirt,
mais oui.
We raise the neckline and add a chemise so the gold cloth doesn’t lie like a second skin. Add long sleeves, puffed at the shoulders…
Oui.
And rose ribbons; gold is too harsh for you, mademoiselle, the viscount was right. But a touch of rose here, a dash of it there, to tame the gold, and you will glow.

“Yes,” the dressmaker added. “We can have the gown looking proper enough so that even the Viscount Haye won’t be able to say it is daring, though daring it would still be. But it will not be audacious. It’s beautiful as it is,” she added with regret, “but he’s right. Such gowns are best left to those women who know how to use them, and who can. But yes, mademoiselle, it could be done.”

“Thank you! Then do it!” Daisy said, then added, “And it is
Madam
Tanner, madame. I am a widow. I know how to use such gowns, too, you see, but alas, I’m a lady, and so I cannot.” Her grin was nothing like a lady’s.

This
one, the dressmaker thought appreciatively, will go far. “I must find the right gauze, and begin,” she said, and marched back to her workroom. “Margot!” she called over her shoulder, “Please return the gown to me, and put on the blue one. The countess is coming, and we know how she loves blue.”

Daisy didn’t need the rose gauze in order to glow; she felt triumphant. Whatever surprise Geoff had planned, now she could meet it with equanimity. She had a proper companion and would wear a wonderful gown, and whomever she met from the old days would have to forget the shame and degradation of her marriage and see only the success she’d become.

She was smiling when the tall model in the gold gown approached her.

“Congratulations,” the woman said in a cool, low voice. “The gown will look beautiful on you. It is only too bad you can’t wear it as it is. Viscount Haye was much taken with it, you know.”

“He was?” Daisy asked. She had to look up at the model, and got the feeling that the woman was looking down at her in other ways, too. She was smiling, which somehow made it worse. The woman was slender and long-limbed as a
boy, with only her small breasts and a hint of supple hips to show her gender, but she nevertheless exuded female sensuality. Daisy wasn’t surprised. She’d met too many kinds of women in jail to ever make the mistake of comparing the size of a woman’s breasts or hips with the size of her sexual appetites or inclinations.

She also knew when she was being taunted, and she’d been oppressed long enough to know too well how people who couldn’t speak freely could still voice their opinions clearly. She waited because she wanted to know more.

The model understood. “He offered to buy the gown for me,” the model said, nodding her sleek head. “But I have no use for it, and so I told him. Anyway, he liked it even better when it was off.” Her smile grew wider; she nodded again and glided away, looking as though she’d accomplished something.

Her words could be taken several ways. Daisy was no fool and took them each and every way they could be. She’d been warned. That much, she was sure of. She just didn’t understand what she’d been warned of, or off.

“What did she mean by that?” Helena asked, frowning.

Daisy had known Helena Masters for only the week since she’d hired her, but already knew she was a dear person. Her new companion was an educated woman who’d been married for a decade before she was widowed. But she’d been
married to a decent man and had always lived among decent people, and so was still an innocent at heart.

Daisy laughed. “She could mean that the viscount likes to wear gowns, or that he likes women who don’t wear them. It doesn’t matter. Really it doesn’t.”

But it did; it mattered to her plans for the future, and she was still thinking about it as she left the shop.

 

The light at sunset showed the glorious sunrise of Daisy’s new gown. It was silken and it slithered, scintillating with every step; it flowed and glowed gold, moderated by a pink that looked as innocent as the underside of a rose petal. The dressmaker delivered it in plenty of time to dress for dinner. But Daisy had to try it on right away to be sure it was what she wanted to wear tonight.

She wanted to wear it; in fact, she never wanted to take it off. It glorified her; it flattered her, and made her feel both rich and right. She stood in the center of the bedchamber of her hotel and gaped at the magnificent creature she saw in the long looking glass. She was, she thought, a long, long way from Botany Bay, and a universe distant from the stinking prison ship that had brought her there. The elegant beauty in the mirror could never have set one silken slipper’s toe in such a place, or ever dreamed of it. Nor had
she dreamed she could look like this. And Tanner! If he’d ever seen her in such a dress…

Daisy’s eyes went dark and blind to the moment as she saw something that wasn’t in the mirror.

Tanner would have stopped and stared at her the way he always did when he saw her looking good, or in a different light—the way he did if he chanced to see her rising from the tub after a bath, or with her arms in the air as her gown slid down over her body while she was dressing, or even outside, hanging up the wash, with the sunlight silhouetting her body.

His mouth would get loose; he’d grin and grab for her, and she was never ever allowed to say no. It wasn’t a great hardship, not really; she didn’t know why she never got used to it, why she never stopped dreading it, her skin crawling, her stomach in a knot whenever she saw him looking at her like that. What he did took only a few minutes, after all.

But it always took too long for her. And she hated that she gave such pleasure to him when she didn’t want to. That was why she dressed in the dark, and bathed only when he was out of the cottage, and…

Daisy drew a deep, shuddery breath. He wasn’t here now. He’d never be here again. She could dress like a princess and bathe in the light, and no one would ever be able to touch her if she didn’t want him to, no one.

“Daisy?” Helena asked. “Is there something wrong with the gown?”

“No,” Daisy said, returning to the present. “It’s perfect.”

“It’s magnificent,” Helena said. “More than that, you look so beautiful in it. The fit is perfect, the color brings out your hair, your eyes—you’ll astonish them. But is it a very grand dinner? Because that is a very grand gown.”

Daisy blinked. She saw Helena’s reflection behind her in the mirror. Her companion and her maid were staring at her with identical expressions of wonder. But the gown now looked wrong to her, theatrical and overdone compared to what they wore: the maid in her simple gray frock, Helena in one of her usual modest, high-necked lavender day dresses. The maid looked dazed, and so did Helena. But her new companion, Daisy thought, also looked a little wistful. She realized why. She’d spent too many years wanting what she couldn’t have not to know what she was seeing.

Daisy shook her head to clear it. Then, to make her audience laugh, she overdid it, shaking her head like a puppy coming out of the water. She grinned. “Too right! Trust you to put your finger on it. It’s too magnificent! I can’t wear this tonight. I don’t know if I ever can, unless I’m invited to a coronation—as the queen. I’ll wrap it in tissue and put it away until I do have a reason
to wear it, some very special occasion. Tonight I’ll wear a gown I had made up before I came here. It’s rose-colored, too, and very pretty, actually, and I have a gold paisley shawl to make it livelier. But this?”

She raised her arms and held them straight out from her shoulders. “I’m afraid to move in this! I feel like a frog in a silk purse, mucking it up just by letting my skin touch it. I don’t want to get it dirty or damp, I don’t know how to live in it! The viscount was right: It isn’t for me, no matter how it’s dressed up or down. And you know what?” She snapped her fingers. “
That
for the viscount’s taste! I have to live my life as well as be fashionable. We’ll go back tomorrow and pick out some simple gowns that I can wear without worrying.”

“But you’ve already ordered some,” Helena pointed out.

“Well, so I have, but we also have to get something else. You need new gowns, too!” She saw her companion’s face grow still and added quickly, “Not that there’s anything wrong with what you wear, but if I’m to look splendid—and every gown Madame Bertrand makes is splendid—then you must, too. I’m paying for it,” she went on, raising a hand. “Think of them as uniforms. Well, a fine thing if I go wafting in prinked to my ears, and let you look plain. I’ll look like a terrible vain creature, trying to keep you from being noticed, because you’re very pretty, you know.”

Helena laughed. “How could anyone look at anyone but you? With your face and hair? No one sees any other female when you’re in the room. And anyway,” she added more quietly, “a companion isn’t supposed to look dashing.”

“Why not?” Daisy asked, putting her hands on her hips. “That’s ridiculous. Why shouldn’t you look well? Please don’t argue.” She raised her arms again. “But please help me out of this beautiful thing right now, because I’m afraid to take a step in it!”

 

Daisy was afraid to step into the earl’s house that evening, too, but she wouldn’t let anyone know it. She wore a fine gown, if not a spectacular one. Her hair was drawn up in a cluster of curls, a simple cameo that she’d bought the other day hung on a spiderweb-thin chain at the base of her throat; her slippers were new, too. From her new underthings to the new cape on her back, there was nothing to be ashamed of.

“You hesitate?” Helena asked her.

“Well, I don’t know who’ll be here,” Daisy whispered. She smiled. “Expect the worst and get the best,” she said with false bravado. She raised her head and the hem of her cape, and walked into the earl’s front hall, Helena Masters a respectful two steps back. Geoff had been in Port Jackson. He knew how she’d lived. She doubted he’d ask any of Tanner’s friends here. Geoff Sauvage had been a popular fellow, with a
smile for everyone, but he and his boys had been close to the nicest people there. Not one of Tanner’s cronies had been that.

Even so, apart from a few female friends, there was no one Daisy yearned to see, and a lot more she hoped never to lay eyes on again. She wondered again why it was that a woman who was treated badly by her husband attracted men who wanted to treat her badly, too. She’d have thought they’d have wanted to rescue her. The only times she’d ever been glad of being married to Tanner was when she’d seen that desire in his friends’ eyes when they looked at her after he’d punished her.

She’d dealt with them after Tanner died, she remembered, her mouth settling into a flat hard line. She could again. But she didn’t like doing it.

“Daisy!” the earl said as he strode into the hall to greet her and saw her expression. “What’s displeased you?”

“Nothing,” she said, as a footman took the cape she slipped from her shoulders. She gazed at the earl and felt the tension ease as she studied his familiar, kindly face. “Well, something,” she admitted. “I don’t like surprises.” She shook her head and set her red-gold curls trembling. “Who the devil is it that you have for me to see?”

He laughed. “No roundabout about you, is there, Daisy? Not to worry. It’s someone you like.”

She placed her hand on his arm and looked
up at him with solemn eyes. “Straight truth, Geoff?”

He nodded, biting back his smile. “Cross my heart, Daisy, s’truth.”

She glanced across the hall to his salon. “Then lead on,” she said. “I’ll deal with it.”

BOOK: Edith Layton
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Spooky Little Girl by Laurie Notaro
The Mandie Collection by Lois Gladys Leppard
Echoes of an Alien Sky by James P. Hogan
The Violet Hour by Richard Montanari
Forgotten Place by LS Sygnet
Borrowing Trouble by Stacy Finz
To Crush the Moon by Wil McCarthy