Authors: Catherine Coulter
Tags: #Fiction, #General
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Topaz Book / published by arrangement with the author
All rights reserved.
Copyright 169 1995 by Catherine Coulter
This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.
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A TOPAZ BOOK
Topaz Books first published by The Topaz Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
TOPAZ and the “T” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.
First edition (electronic): July 2001
To my parents,
Charles and Elizabeth Coulter.
Thank you for being there for everyone. Here’s to the second time around.
“Lord Harry? Lord Harry, are you ready yet? You’ve been an age and your friends are getting impatient.” Pottson pressed his ear to the closed door to hear the reply, for he couldn’t enter unless given permission.
Lord Harry gave his cravat a final twitch, decided enough was enough, and called out, “I’m ready, Pottson, you may come in now.”
Although Mr. Scuddimore and Sir Harry Brandon were comfortably seated near the fireplace in the small parlor down the hall, Pottson looked back to make sure before he went into Lord Harry’s bedchamber. He stood in the doorway, critically eyeing Lord Harry’s appearance, as was his habit and duty. “By heavens, you’ve become an accomplished dandy,” he said with a humorless grin after inspecting Lord Harry’s shining black hessians, fawn breeches, and Weston coat of dark blue superfine. “And just what would that creation be called?” he asked, his eyes on the white starched cravat twined artfully about Lord Harry’s neck.
“I call it A Clever Copy of Lord Alvaney, Pottson. I’ve been practicing for hours at home. It’s three folds under and two over and then a few quick turns of the wrist. I don’t think I’ve done too badly. I drew a quick sketch of his lordship’s cravat at White’s one afternoon. Hopefully, the gentleman in question didn’t notice. And I’ve changed the style sufficiently so that he shouldn’t recognize it as his own.” Lord Harry followed Pottson’s eyes as he looked at the hopelessly rumpled cravats Lord Harry had thrown aside, and grinned. “Come now, I only ruined seven cravats this time. I’ve heard it said that the Beau rarely achieved perfection before his twelfth try.”
“Well, that don’t make it any less work cleaning up after you.” Pottson swiped up the discarded cravats. “At least you don’t go trying to ape those tightknit pantaloons the gentlemen wear. You still have the good sense for that, I hope.” Pottson’s grumbling had grown markedly less severe with repetition. Lord Harry gave a hearty laugh, perhaps a trifle high in pitch for a gentleman grown, but certainly passable for a young buck of nineteen or twenty. “I’m not such a fool as that. Of course, Scuddy and Sir Harry are forever twitting me about my abominably fitting breeches. They think me still a rustic in my tastes. It’s fortunate for me that their minds aren’t of a more tenacious bent.”
There was a loud knock on the bedroom door and both Lord Harry and Pottson froze to the spot. “Ho, Harry,” Scuddy called out. “We’re already late for the first act. Dawdle much longer, you young fop, and Harry and I will come in and drag you out.”
“Go about your business, Scuddy. Drink some more of my excellent brandy. I’ll be ready in a minute, two at the most.”
Pottson groaned aloud and mopped his forehead with a wrinkled cravat, but only after he was certain that he heard retreating footsteps from the bedroom door. “You’re making an old man of me, Lord Harry. I’ve got more gray hairs than I can count now.”
“All your hair is gray, Pottson. Stop complaining.”
“I’m not complaining, just telling the truth. My heart nearly bounded into my throat. That young Scuddimore, I’ll just bet he and Sir Harry have drunk a good bottle of that brandy you stole from your father’s cellars. I’ve had no more than the smallest nip of it.”
Lord Harry grinned and patted Pottson on the arm. “Take a good snort after we leave, you deserve it. Come on, stop sweating like a stoat. We’ve come through unscathed so far. Trust me to carry it off. For God’s sake, Pottson, do hide that wretched gown.”
After one final look in the mirror to ensure that the blue coat and the fawn breeches didn’t show off his hips more than necessary, Lord Harry gave Pottson a mock bow. “Do stop fussing so. It will be all right, you’ll see. I’ll try not to be too late tonight.” After a brief pause, Lord Harry added, “Lord Oberlon is returned just recently to London.” His voice grew chill and distant. “It’s been eight months that he was away, Pottson. Undoubtedly, the marquess was loath to leave Italy and the plump arms of willing Italian ladies who assisted him to assuage his grief for his dead wife. Certainly since his return to London, he has wasted no time. I, myself, have seen him in the company of a beautiful new mistress. It’s even possible that he and his lovely new ladybird will be at Drury Lane tonight. God, I hope so. I want to see him, look him straight in the face.”
This bit of information produced a groan from Pottson and more sweat.
Lord Harry smiled his cold smile and patted his valet’s arm. “There can be no going back, Pottson. Finally, the plot thickens. Remember what Damien used to say: Many a battle was lost because the generals were scurrying the other way. I shall soon have the first close look at our enemy, at least I pray I will.”
“I never knew what Master Damien meant when he said that,” Pottson said. “I still don’t, but that isn’t important. Now listen to me, you take care.” He wanted to say more, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Lord Harry was set on a course that was too late to be changed.
Lord Harry waved a negligent hand and sauntered from the room with a swagger of a young gentleman bent on an evening’s pleasure.
It wasn’t long after Lord Harry had entered the hired hackney with Sir Harry and Mr. Scuddimore that his gay mood dimmed, his thoughts returning to Lord Oberlon. He just wanted to see the man’s face. He knew he’d see the guilt in his eyes, he just knew it.
“Never seen you so sunk into silence before, Lord Harry,” Mr. Scuddimore said, eyeing his friend in the dim light. “What the devil ails you?”
Lord Harry brought his thoughts back from Lord Oberlon and said, “Not a thing, Scuddy. I was just thinking about the first time I came to London not above four months ago, you know. Unlike you and Harry here, I’m not yet jaded by all the marvels.”
Sir Harry Brandon tapped his cane on Lord Harry’s knee. “Knowing you, it’s probably female marvels that haven’t yet jaded you. But you were quiet and we don’t like it. It won’t do for you to get the reputation of being a dead bore. It’ll make people believe you think too much and that won’t ever do. You’d be out of favor in a fortnight.” He sat back against the soft swabs and took in his friend’s appearance, his blue eyes narrowing with distaste.
“Really, Lord Harry, you must allow us to go with you to Weston’s. Pottson’s a good valet, but it’s naught he can do if you don’t give him the proper-fitting clothes to work with. I am shocked that any of Weston’s fellows would make a coat that hangs off the shoulders in such a way. As for the seat of your trousers, there’s room in there for another small fellow’s butt.”
Mr. Scuddimore laughed aloud. Sir Harry was offended. “Bedamned to you, Scuddy. I just gave him some excellent advice. Why, Lord Harry here “
Mr. Scuddimore only laughed more, then hiccupped. Lord Harry thumped him hard between his shoulder blades. When he caught his breath, Scuddy said, “No offense, Harry, it’s just that I still can’t get used to you being plain Sir Harry and Harry being Lord Harry. It’s damned amusing.”
Sir Harry said in the tone of one instructing a slow, yet good-natured child, “Scuddy, I’ve told you several times how it must be. I’m a mere baronet and Lord Harry here is the son of a Scottish laird something outlandish like that. In any case, the both of us can’t be Harrys damned confusing that would be. Since Lord Harry is of higher rank, it’s only right that he be the lord and I simply a sir. I know you aren’t always strong in your mental workings, Scuddy, but I swear, if you bring this up one more time, I’ll take you out to the Hounslow Heath and put a bullet through your toe.”
“You won’t shoot me in the toe, Harry. I’m a better shot than you.”
“Ha, the devil you are. Why I”
“He’s right, Harry,” Lord Harry said with a wide grin, displaying even white teeth. “He is the better shot. Now about this Lord Harry and plain Sir Harry business, it is strange, but I think we’ve solved the problem rather neatly. After all, I didn’t want to be called Sir Buttris, after my father. Now, about that other fellow’s butt in my trousers, let me tell you that you can line up the possible candidates and I’ll pick one.”
Sir Harry grunted, then eyed Mr. Scuddimore with as much distaste as he had Lord Harry a few minutes before. “Lord, I hope my reputation doesn’t suffer being seen with the likes of both of you. Here is Lord Harry with baggy breeches and coat, and thinking himself so amusing in them, and you, Scuddy, you are simply too heavy to be sporting yellow knitted pantaloons. You’ve got to stop stuffing all those sweetmeats down your gullet.”
Lord Harry patted Sir Harry’s arm. “We will walk ten paces behind you, Harry, if you wish it. The way the women do in those Muslim countries, to show you our respect.”
Mr. Scuddimore said, “I don’t like the sound of that at all, Lord Harry. Imagine us behaving like women. The mere thought of being a female shrivels all my favorite manly parts. No, I don’t like the sound of it at all.”
Lord Harry turned away, grinning into the darkened carriage. “I’ll tell you what Scuddy and I will do, Harry. If we happen to see the Honorable Miss Isabella Bentworth at the play tonight, then we will pace back ten steps. You know, give you an opportunity to play the gallant, to gain the young lady’s attention.”
Sir Harry Brandon shifted uncomfortably against the carriage swabs. Although he was the first to proclaim the lovely Miss Isabella to be a diamond of the first water, he didn’t think that as a sophisticated man of the world his deeper feelings concerning the lady should be so obvious. He blanched at the thought of his friends even thinking of him proposing marriage to the young lady. “Oh, very well,” Sir Harry said. “The two of you loudmouths win. I won’t say another word about your wretchedly fitting clothes if you and Scuddy will keep mum about Miss Bentworth.”
“But why should we, Harry? You’re not planning to make the young lady an offer?”
“By God, I’m only twenty-four years old, far too young by half to be leg-shackled, even to Miss Bentworth.” He said a silent plea of forgiveness to Miss Isabella. If only she were still in the schoolroom, say fourteen or fifteen years old, instead of a marriageable age, ripe to be plucked from the marriage mart. Even his very self-assured brother-in-law, the Earl of March, had not met and married Harry’s sister, Kate, until he was twenty-eight, and Kate, very rightly, was but eighteen. That was the right way of it. Curse Isabella for being born too early. It wasn’t fair. What was he, too young a man, to do about it? He said, “Listen to me, both of you. You’ve got to keep quiet about it. You know word like that gets around and before you know it, a fellow is the butt of wagers at all the clubs. The next step is an announcement in the Gazette.”
Mr. Scuddimore said, “Same thing happened some time back, I remember. There were several gentlemen in the running. Lord Oberlon, you know, the Marquess of Oberlon,” he added at the sudden peculiar look in Lord Harry’s eyes, “won a vast sum from Sir William Filey. A vast sum. I remember he ended up marrying the lady.”
Lord Harry sat suddenly forward in the carriage. “Were there other gentlemen involved in the wager, Scuddy?”
Mr. Scuddimore narrowed his eyes, a sign of profound concentration. “Yes, I think so. There was another gentleman. A military man as I recall. Always in his damned uniform quite turned all the ladies’ heads, the bounder.”
“Do you remember his name, Scuddy?” Lord Harry asked.
Mr. Scuddimore cudgeled his brains, then suddenly brightened. “The fellow’s name was Rolland yes, that’s it Captain Damien Rolland. Lord Oberlon never collected the wager from him Rolland up and left England, later got himself killed at Waterloo, if I remember correctly. In fact, some wagging tongues put it about that Rolland sheared away, put himself out of the running before the lady made up her mind. One day he was pursuing her, then the next gone off without a word to anyone.”