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Authors: Sandra Wilson

Lady Jane's Ribbons

BOOK: Lady Jane's Ribbons
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Lady Jane’s Ribbons
THE TERRIBLE TEMPTATION

Lewis Ardenley was considered society’s most handsome lord, and he had never looked so overpoweringly attractive as now, as he met and held Lady Jane Derwent’s gaze. His eyes were cold and
glitter-bright
as he said, ‘You want me back, don’t you? Oh, yes, I know that you do, I can feel it when I’m near you.’

 

‘I’d rather die than take you back!’ Jane breathed.

 

‘You can’t fool me, Jane, I know you too well,’ he said. Twisting her close, his grip on her wrist as viselike as steel, he forced her against him. Then his lips were over hers, bearing down with a force that almost stopped her breath.

 

It was bad enough that Ardenley had flaunted his mistress before her. But the power he now flaunted was even worse. The terrible truth was, the temptation he created was as mighty as his
treachery
….

Lady Jane’s Ribbons

Sandra Wilson

The peace of the warm June night was shattered by the commotion in the street outside. The noise of the unruly mob awoke Lady Jane Derwent with a start and she sat up in her bed, her long dark hair tumbling down from beneath her lacy night bonnet. She listened for a moment, staring at the leaping reflections from the crowd’s torches, and then her heart-shaped face went a little pale as to the general din of shouting and chanting was added the unmistakable sound of breaking glass. Windows were being smashed! What on earth was going on?

For a moment she was so frightened she couldn’t move. The elegant Mayfair bedroom was no longer in quiet darkness but was illuminated by a flickering light, and the gilded washstand in the blue-and-white-tiled
bathroom
beyond the dressing room was glittering brightly, as if on fire. The tiles themselves, usually so cool and soothing, were burnished to a dancing
crimson
. She gasped aloud as the ormulu clock on the marble mantelpiece began to suddenly chime. It was two o’clock in the morning, and exclusive South Audley Street was as noisy and disorderly as the market at Covent Garden! Oh, how she wished her companion, Mrs Rogers, was with her here instead of away caring for her sick mother.

Flinging back the bedclothes and slipping into her pink muslin wrap, she hurried to the window to hold the curtain gingerly aside and peep out at the chaotic scene below. A hooting, chanting mob was gathered across the street in front of the brightly-lit residence of Sir Matthew Wood, a troublesome Member of Parliament whose sole purpose recently had been to embarrass the government and cause unrest; he would seem to have succeeded at last. But even as she thought this, she realized that the mob wasn’t angry and aggressive, but cheering and happy. They were waving banners and what appeared to be little green bags on sticks. Little green bags on sticks? She stared at them, wondering what on earth they signified. The chanting became more and more strident, and gradually she realized what they were saying.
God save the queen! God save the queen!
Jane stared down in
puzzlement
. Why were they shouting for the queen? Caroline of Brunswick was in exile on the Continent and had been since she was Princess of Wales, long before her husband’s accession as King George IV.

More glass was broken as the more unruly elements in the crowd turned
their attention to a nearby house, which had remained in darkness in spite of the disturbance. Stones and missiles were hurled, shattering some of the windows, and Jane’s heart leapt a little in alarm. Had Melville seen to it that some lamps were placed in their own windows? The thought was only
fleeting
, for almost immediately her attention was drawn to some gentlemen who were unwise enough to attempt to pass down the street. They were rudely jostled and made to doff their hats toward the jutting stone porch of Sir Matthew’s house, almost as if the queen herself was standing on its balconied roof. Jane couldn’t understand it, for the queen had been virtually banished from England because of her indiscretions, and since being on the Continent had persistently shocked European society with scandalous conduct which had appalled the British and had made the king more and more determined never to have anything to do with her again, even though his own conduct over the years had left a great deal to be desired. So why had the mob gathered like this? Why shout and cheer for so disreputable a heroine? Jane was a little bemused now, as well as alarmed, for evidently something had been happening during her absence at Derwent Park, the family seat in Cheshire.

At that moment a carriage turned into the street from the direction of Curzon Street, attempting with great difficulty to pass through the crowd and drive north past the window where Jane stood. The crowd immediately became more excited on recognizing the occupant as Lord Sidmouth, a high-ranking member of the government who was known to uphold the king’s wishes where the queen was concerned. Jane’s breath caught in horror as someone let squibs off beneath the hooves of the horses, which sprang forward almost out of control. The carriage careened away along the street, the crowd hurling stones after it. She could hear each missile striking the vehicle’s gleaming black panels.

Someone tapped urgently at the bedroom door behind her, making her jump, but it was only her maid, Ellen. ‘My lady? I must come in and put a lamp in your window. Mr Melville says the earl left instructions for the house to be illuminated if there was any sign of trouble.’

‘Yes, Ellen. Please come in.’ Jane was surprised to learn that her brother Henry had evidently been expecting some sort of disturbance and yet had gone out to his club, even though he knew she was coming back from Cheshire that night.

The maid hurried in with the lighted lamp, her night bonnet and
voluminous
night robe a startling white in the dimly lit room. Quickly, she placed the lamp on the window sill, and was rewarded by an immediate cheer from the street. With a sigh of relief, she turned to Jane, her tangled, sandy-colored hair sticking out in spikes from beneath her bonnet. ‘We’ll be all right now, Lady Jane. Mr Melville says they only throw things at houses that don’t light up in honor of the queen.’

‘Did I understand you to say that the earl left instructions about this?’

‘Yes, my lady. There was trouble last night as well.’

‘But why? What’s it all about? And why wasn’t I informed about it the moment we returned from Cheshire?’

‘Mr Melville says he didn’t want to alarm you unnecessarily, my lady,’ explained the maid, gazing down at the street. ‘You were so very tired after the long journey from Derwent Park, and the street was quiet because the constables had managed to clear everyone away. He hoped nothing would happen tonight.’

Jane nodded. She could understand the butler’s reticence, but she still couldn’t understand why her brother had seen fit to go out and risk
exposing
her to such an unpleasant situation. And anyway, what on earth was it all about in the first place? ‘Ellen, did Mr Melville tell you why the crowd is here?’

‘The queen has returned from Europe, my lady. She arrived yesterday and is lodging with Sir Matthew Wood. It’s said she’s come back to claim all her rights. The crowds accompanied her all the way from Dover and have stayed with her ever since. Mr Melville says it’s been quite dreadful, and all of Mayfair’s complaining. It’s worst of all when she appears on the balcony.’

‘I can imagine.’ Jane glanced out again, at the green bags in particular. ‘What are those funny little bags, do you know?’

The maid looked out. ‘No, my lady.’

‘Did Melville mention my letter to the earl? I confess I’m a little astounded that my brother should decide to go out when I was due back. The letter set out very clearly his error in thinking I wasn’t due until two days from now.’

‘I, er, don’t think the letter can have arrived,’ replied the maid tactfully, avoiding her mistress’s eyes. The letter had arrived all right; the earl had simply forgotten all about it, as seemed only too usual these days.

Jane read the maid correctly. Henry Derwent, fifth Earl of Felbridge, had changed so much of late. He had become so wrapped up in his new passion for coaching that he thought of little else, his fiancée and sister included. Poor Blanche, what sort of husband was he set to be now? No doubt, he’d neglect his bride and spend most of his time at the Fleece in Thames Street, which establishment he’d gone so far as to purchase so that he could become a professional coachmaster and operate his crack Iron Duke stagecoach on the fashionable Brighton road. He bore little resemblance now to the gallant, dashing, loving and attentive suitor he’d been when first he’d wooed and won Blanche Lyndon’s tender heart.

Jane sighed inwardly. Her brother was fast slipping beyond redemption. His obsession wasn’t only causing endless difficulties for his long-suffering sister, it was threatening to jeopardize his betrothal. Blanche’s father, one of London’s most important bankers, had wanted his daughter to turn down Henry, a mere earl, and settle instead for the loftier-titled Duke of Dursley, who had recently been paying her a great deal of attention.

Jane stared at the milling crowds. She’d gone to Cheshire for six months partly to escape from Henry’s constant coaching chatter, but that had proved impossible because it followed her in the form of Blanche’s sad letters, which had listed his continuing sins and which had also begun to make more and more mention of Mr Lyndon’s attempts to break the Felbridge betrothal and replace it with a Dursley alliance instead. Jane really didn’t know what to do about her brother, for she knew he loved Blanche very much, but if he didn’t take more care he’d lose her to the Duke of Dursley, a notorious libertine whose only reason for pursuing her was to lay his avaricious hands upon her vast inheritance. Mr Lyndon wasn’t concerned with this – he was intent only upon having one of the premier dukes of England as his son-in-law.

Jane continued to stare at the scene in the street, thinking of her other reason for hiding away in Cheshire for six long months. She’d gone there to try and forget her own desperately unhappy love affair with Lewis, Lord Ardenley, the most handsome and most unfaithful and heartless man in London. But six months hadn’t made any difference. She was still hopelessly in love with him, and she knew that she always would be, in spite of all that he’d done.

Outside, the cheering became suddenly louder.
God save the queen! God save the queen!
Jane’s attention returned to the present as Caroline of Brunswick, Queen of England, emerged onto the balcony of Sir Matthew’s house with her smugly satisfied host and his wife at her side. The queen wasn’t an inspiring figure, for at the age of fifty-two she was short and immensely fat, with a vast wig of coal-black, girlish curls and bushy
eyebrows
dyed the same false color. She wore a large hat adorned with
enormous
ostrich plumes, and a mourning gown in ostentatious respect for the late king, who had been both her uncle and her father-in-law. Her gown had a large Tudor ruff, which made her head look like a grotesque
pièce-de-
la-rèsistance
on a banquet platter, but she waved as regally as Good Queen Bess herself to her adoring supporters, who cheered wildly and waved their odd green bags in the air. Jane couldn’t help disapproving of her, even though the king himself was hardly a shining example, for how could a woman wno kept a low-born Italian courtier as a lover be fit to be queen? Her antics, and those of the king, had left the royal family at a very disreputable ebb in this year of 1820, and if this night’s events was anything to go by, things weren’t set to improve just yet.

Ellen suddenly clutched at her arm, making her jump. ‘Oh, my lady! Isn’t that the earl’s phaeton returning? Surely it will overturn in such a horrid crowd!’

Jane followed the maid’s gaze and her heart almost stopped with alarm as she saw that it was indeed her brother, with another gentleman at his side, driving the dangerously high, unstable phaeton toward the house. It was an eccentrically old-fashioned vehicle, once owned by their father, and it was
notoriously difficult to drive, even at the best of times, which of course was why Henry chose to use it. No other vehicle could better display his
considerable
skill as a whip of the first order, for it was drawn by no fewer than six horses, and Henry was one of the only men in England who would risk such a large team without the assistance of at least one postilion. The horses were highly strung and very nervous indeed as they picked their way through the turmoil in the street, their heads tossing and their eyes rolling alarmingly. Ellen’s fear seemed justified, for it did indeed look as if the phaeton must overturn at any moment.

Jane held her breath, relaxing only a little as Henry was recognized and cheered as the mob greeted him with approval for having his house
illuminated
. Beside him, his passenger’s top hat was pulled down over his face, concealing his identity. She hardly gave him a second glance, believing he must be Charles Moncarm, Marquis of Bourton, her brother’s closest friend and the man who had long wanted to marry her, continuing to propose even during her brief betrothal to Lewis Ardenley. She didn’t love Charles; she should, for he was good and kind, but she didn’t.

At last the phaeton reached the curb and two grooms hurried to attend the frightened horses. Henry and his companion vaulted lightly down to the pavement, turning to doff their hats and bow to the queen, who
acknowledged
them with a wave and smile. The crowd immediately cheered again, but Jane was oblivious to the noise, she could only stare in dismay at the man at her brother’s side; it wasn’t Charles Moncarm after all, it was Lewis!

Tall, elegant and as handsome as ever, with disheveled hair of the
brightest
gold, he cut a striking figure even in the flickering, uncertain light from the torches. Jane couldn’t look away from him. It was as if the last six months had never been, for the pain and heartbreak of his betrayal was suddenly as fresh as if it had been discovered that very moment. She could see again the beautiful, taunting face of his mistress Alicia, the Duchess of Brantingham, when she’d come to tell his unknowing fiancée the truth.
Lewis is my lover, Jane, and he has been all along. Marry him and you’ll never be anything more than second best. My dear, he’s only marrying you to please his father. The old man’s dying, you know, and nothing would delight him more than to see his son and heir safely married to a suitable wife. I’d have been first choice, if I hadn’t already had a husband. Brantingham’s being very tiresome, refusing to divorce me. Still, one can’t have everything, can one? And I do have Lewis, you know. You’ll never have anything more than his name. Be sensible, my dear, give him back his ring and save your pride.

Jane blinked back the hot tears which suddenly pricked her violet-blue eyes. How could Henry bring him here, how
could
he?

Ellen looked uncertainly at her mistress, having immediately recognized Lewis. ‘Shall – shall you go down, my lady?’

BOOK: Lady Jane's Ribbons
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