Authors: Shana Galen - Jewels of the Ton 03 - Sapphires Are an Earl's Best Friend
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult, #Fiction, #Historical Romance, #Regency
Copyright © 2014 by Shana Galen
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Cover art by Judy York
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For my daughter, who loves twirly dresses and long bedtime stories and the color blue.
Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.
“Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Lily.”
Lily snuggled under her covers and listened to her mother’s singsong voice. She heard the rain pattering outside on the roof and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves as a hackney passed her family’s modest home in London. On the floor below her, the low rumble of her father’s voice reverberated as he spoke to the man who’d arrived shortly after supper. Her father entertained more and more unexpected visitors of late. When she pressed her ear to the door to listen, she heard names like Napoleon and Fishguard and
whispered in furtive voices. Until Mamma told her to come away.
Sometimes she was scared, even though she didn’t know what she was scared of. But here in her cozy room with the low-sloped ceiling, lying in her soft bed with her baby doll and her mamma beside her, she felt safe. Lily yawned. “What about the little girl, Mamma?”
“She was in possession of several very special dresses. There was a green dress that glittered with emeralds, and when she wore the green dress, she could fly.”
Lily closed her eyes, imagining flying.
“There was a purple dress with a velvet bodice and ruffles on the skirt, and when she wore the purple dress, she was a princess. There was a pink dress covered with spangles, and when she wore the pink dress, she could dance like a ballerina. There was a red dress that radiated with rubies, and when she wore the red dress, she was
“As strong as Papa?”
“Yes. That strong. Now, close your eyes and listen.”
But Lily knew her favorite dress was coming, and it was so hard not to bounce with excitement.
“There was a white dress that dazzled with diamonds, and when she wore the white dress, she could swim like a fish. And there was a blue dress, and that was her favorite because it sparkled with sapphires. When she wore the blue dress, she was invisible.”
“And no one could see her.”
“That’s right, Lily Bea.”
Her name was Lillian Beatrice Dawson, and sometimes her mother called her Lily Bea. Mamma had pet names for all of her children—names like Robert Bear for her big brother and Lottie for Charlotte, who was only a year older than Lily—but Lily liked her special name best.
Mamma tucked the coverlet in snugly, and Lily yawned again. “Lily,” her mother asked, “why do you like the blue dress best? Is it because blue is your favorite color?”
“No.” Green was her favorite color, but it was all right that Mamma didn’t remember that. She had a lot to remember. “It’s because I want to be inbisible.”
“Like Papa. He says his job is to be in-vis-i-ble.”
“Hmm.” Her mother huffed, and Lily opened her eyes to see Mamma’s expression. Sometimes Lily said things that made her mother unhappy. Usually they were statements related to Papa. Mamma smoothed Lily’s hair off her brow, and Lily closed her eyes again.
“And lastly there was a black dress,” Mamma said, “as long and black as midnight, and when she wore the black dress, she could sleep for hours and hours. So let’s put on our black dress, and go to sleep.”
“Good night, Mamma.”
“Good night. Sweet dreams.”
Lily closed her eyes and dreamed of jewels and ball gowns.
London, last weeks of the 1816 Season
Lily was of the opinion that any lady who possessed a modicum of intelligence should be on good terms with her modiste. This was even truer for women, like herself, who were not ladies. Lily had no name or reputation to fall back on. There was only her ability to stun and impress. And when Lily needed to impress, as she did tonight, she called on Madam Durand.
Madam Durand was, in Lily’s estimation, the best modiste in London. This was not because the woman was the most expensive modiste, though she was, or because she was the most innovative, which she was. It was, in Lily’s judgment, because she had an eye for what styles and colors would complement a woman, and she dressed each woman accordingly. It did not matter what the latest fashion might be in Paris. If said fashion did not look well on a lady—or, in Lily’s case, on the courtesan—Madam Durand would not dress her in it.
“No, no, no!” Madam Durand said in her heavily accented English as soon as Lily walked through the shop’s door. “I do not comprehend why you insist on defying me.”
The seamstresses in the shop, as well as the young girl who must have had the appointment directly before Lily’s, turned their heads in Lily’s direction. Lily merely smiled and curtsied. So much for slipping in unobtrusively.
“Everyone is wearing high waists,” she said, kissing Madam Durand on both cheeks. “My gown is perfectly fashionable.”
“And everyone is jumping off bridges!” the modiste replied. “Will you jump too?”
“I think what you mean to say is—”
“Bah!” Madam Durand waved a hand. “Have a seat and a cup of tea. I will be with you in a moment, and then we will discuss the waist that looks best on your figure!”
Lily perched herself on the red damask chair and accepted a cup of tea from one of Madam Durand’s seamstresses. She knew how the discussion with Madam would go. Madam would tell her she had a tiny waist and must wear gowns to flaunt it, and Lily would acquiesce and buy another gown with an unfashionably low waist. She would look stunning—Madam Durand could guarantee that—but her style would not be emulated as Juliette and Fallon’s had been. She seemed doomed to live in the shadows, despite her efforts to stun.
Drat, she thought, sipping her tea. But it couldn’t be helped. At the moment she had tasks more important than setting fashion trends—more was the pity. She had an extremely important man to attract.
Madam Durand finished with the young lady ahead of Lily, and the girl’s mother ushered her child out. As Lily finished her tea, she heard the chit—who must have been all of sixteen—whisper, “Who is that, Mama?”
“Shh! Do not look at her. Keep walking.”
“I shall tell you in the carriage.”
“I doubt that very much,” Lily muttered and rose. Madam Durand did not wait for Lily to enter the workroom before she waved Lily’s note about.
“What is this, Countess? A red gown? With your hair?
“I know,” Lily said, touching her tightly coiled auburn hair. It was, thankfully, a dark auburn. “But there is a gentleman.”
Madam Durand rolled her eyes.
“And he is said to prefer red. Ruby red.”
Madam Durand studied her for a long moment. “I might have known a gentleman would be involved. Fortunately for you, I am a genius.”
“I have every faith in you, Madam,” Lily answered, stepping on the dais and raising her arms so Madam’s assistants might remove her dress.
Madam clapped her hands. “Phillipa! Fetch the Countess of Charm’s gown.”
When the offending gown had been removed and Lily stood in her petticoats, the assistant presented Madam Durand’s gown. Lily’s brow winged upward. “Pink?” she asked. “I am not a debutante, though I thank you for the compliment.”
Madam Durand waved her hand. “Men like a woman in pastels. It reminds them of innocence.” The gown was sarcenet with a thin crimson gauze overlay on the skirts. The overlay was beaded with delicate ruby beads, which formed pretty floral patterns, while the bodice was a pale, pale pink ornamented with flowers formed of those same crimson beads. Lily knew immediately the gown was going to cost her. The materials, the beading—it was some of Madam Durand’s finest. She prayed she would not like it when she put it on. That would save her finances.
But when the seamstresses helped her don it, and pinned and taped it into place, Lily peered into the looking glass and sighed. It was perfect. It was exquisite. She had to have it. She could not fail to be noticed in this.
“Madam…” Lily breathed, but she could not find the words. The modiste was smiling, having seen the pleasure on Lily’s face already.
“A few adjustments, I think.” The women went to work pinning and measuring, and Lily stood still and allowed herself to be prodded and poked. She did not mind, especially when she was wearing such a stunning gown. The duke was going to be smitten.
At least he’d better be. The bill was going to be astronomical. Lily could not have afforded it without Fitzhugh’s assistance. She complimented Madam Durand several more times before the gown was taken away for its last alterations. “It will be ready for the ball this evening?” Lily asked.
Madam Durand gave her a look that indicated she did not like to be questioned.
“I apologize, Madam,” Lily said, gathering her reticule and her parasol. “Of course it shall be ready.”
“I will have it sent to your town house.”
“Very good, Madam.” Lily would need to pay the delivery man at that point. And that meant it was time to speak to Fitzhugh. She exited Madam Durand’s shop and waved to her coachman. He rushed to speak with her. “Yes, Countess?”
“I am going to walk, Franklin. The day is lovely. You may return home.”
“Are you certain you do not wish me to follow you?”
“Quite certain.” She was a notorious courtesan, but that did not mean she wanted to be seen arriving at the home of her friend’s betrothed. She would be far less likely to be noted if she arrived on foot. And she preferred to avoid notice if at all possible—not simply because Fallon was engaged to Fitzhugh. Fallon knew Lily was not carrying on with Fitzhugh. But there were others who might be watching and whom Lily did not want to connect her with the leader of the Diamonds in the Rough.
She set out amongst the hustle and bustle of peers, their servants, and shopkeepers. The sounds of the city were unmistakable—the clash of hawkers’ voices, horses’ hooves, church bells, harness bells. She loved the busyness of London. She felt alive here.
She did not love the poverty she encountered on London’s streets. She noted a thin young woman hunched in a doorway with her hand out. The beggar did not meet the eyes of those who passed her, noses in the air. Any moment now, the shopkeeper would spot her and order her to move. Lily stopped, dug in her reticule, and pulled out what few coins she had with her. “Here,” she said, placing them in the woman’s hand.
The woman’s defeated gaze met Lily’s for a brief moment. “Thank you, my lady.” Then she closed her hand on the coins and scurried away.
Lily watched her. “I’m no lady,” she murmured to herself. “There but for the grace of God—and the Earl of Sin—go I.”
Lily walked on at a leisurely pace, reminding herself to breathe in the last of the spring air and admire the azure sky and the fluffy white clouds floating in it. Of course, the air smelled more of manure than flowers, and the sky had a black haze from coal fires, but she would not allow any of that to bother her today. Dirt and grime could not touch her when she wore this yellow gown—with the extremely high waist Madam Durand had chastised her for—and carried its matching yellow parasol with the pretty white-and-yellow ruffles. She felt pretty, and the admiring looks from the men she passed told her she looked the way she felt. This was Mayfair, so she had few worries about any of them accosting her, but she had her mission on her mind and tried to stay alert.
Perhaps that extra measure of cautiousness was what led her to notice she was being followed. Perhaps the man following her was not a very good shadow. Or perhaps she had simply been lucky. But two blocks from Fitzhugh’s town house, Lily spotted her tail. She told herself she was simply paranoid or overly cautious. She stopped in front of a window and pretended to admire a display of ugly hats. The man stopped as well, studying a shop that sold women’s shoes.
Lily sighed and considered, momentarily, just ignoring him. But no, she had to take action. She looked down at her gown, knowing it would be the inevitable casualty of this encounter. It was so pretty, but she supposed Madam Durand was correct—it didn’t suit her. The loss would not be so great, though it still pained her to cause damage to anything beautiful. Gritting her teeth, Lily dropped her reticule. When she bent to lift it, she caught a finger in one of her flounces and deliberately tore it. The ripping sound it made rent her heart. She pretended not to notice the damage and continued on until she had almost reached an alley. And then she made a production of looking down, spotting the tear and looking shocked and horrified. She peered about, as though making sure no one saw the embarrassing condition of her gown, and stepped around the corner and into the alley.
Once out of sight, she sprinted down the length of the alley, passing several dark doorways, the rear entrances to the shops she’d browsed earlier, until she found one that was narrow but deep. She shot into it and flattened herself against the wall, lifting her parasol and rubbing her fingers over the polished ivory handle.
And then she waited.
Her shadow would think she had stepped off the street to repair her gown. When she did not return to the street in a few moments, he would come looking for her. Lily was not the patient sort. In fact, if she were ever asked to make a list of what she detested most, waiting would be at the very top. Every time she had to wait, she needed the privy, even if she had just used it. It was all in her mind, she knew, but she had to cross her legs anyway.
She tried singing in her head part of an aria she’d heard at the opera last week, but she had forgotten the words. She was never very good at Italian. And then she heard a splash and froze. Finally! She would perish from boredom if forced to wait much longer. Lily pushed her spine against the wall and made certain no part of her gown was peeking out. She heard the man’s footfalls approaching. He would be confused now, wondering where she’d gone and not believing she would have ventured this far into the alley. She wondered who he worked for. Ravenscroft? Lucifer? Or perhaps it was one of her own checking on her.
She sensed more than saw the man draw nearer, and she held her breath, sinking into the shadows. The man stepped into her line of sight, and Lily watched as he slinked carefully forward. He had not yet seen the doorway where she hid. Idiot. He was looking forward, not even thinking that she might have stepped to the side and now lay in wait. And she supposed that was to her advantage, but still, this was going to be far too easy. Hardly worth her time. He took another step, and she moved into position, rose on tiptoes, and slammed the parasol on the back of his neck. Fortunately, he had not been a tall man, or she would never have been able to achieve the right angle. As it was, she hit him perfectly, and he crumpled to the ground.