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Authors: The Weaver Takes a Wife

Sheri Cobb South (5 page)

“Does it? I wonder,” said Lord David with a thoughtful frown. “I’m beginning to think I did Ethan a disservice by sponsoring him in Society.”

Sir Aubrey dismissed his friend’s misgivings out of hand. “Nonsense! He’ll be the better for a bit of Town bronze.”

“Town bronze? Bronze-plated armor might be more to the purpose. I cannot but fear for his happiness, married to a woman who despises him. And to think that it was I who introduced them!”

“Perhaps she’ll grow fond of him with time,” suggested Sir Aubrey. “He may not be genteel, but Ethan is the best of good fellows, ‘e’ll make her a fine ‘usband, ‘e will!”

Lord David had to smile at the baronet’s imitation of Mr. Brundy’s speech, but he was still unconvinced as to the wisdom of the match. “But will she make him a fine wife?
That
is the question.” He shrugged. “Ah well, I suppose he has made his own bed, and now he must lie in it.”

“With Lady Helen,” put in Sir Aubrey, raking long, shapely fingers through artfully disarranged chestnut locks. “Brrr!”

“At least he is well aware that Lady Helen married him for his money, and so has no illusions about true love, and happily ever after, and all that,” concluded Lord David.

Emily, Lady Randall, made no contribution to the conversation, but stared fixedly at the gloved hands clasped tightly in her lap. It was not so much Mr. Brundy and Lady Helen’s future that troubled her, but her own. To be sure, women of Lady Helen Radney’s station rarely married for love; her own marriage to Lord Randall eight years previously, while happy enough in its way, was hardly the stuff of romantic fantasy.

But her husband had been dead for five years now and she, at seven-and-twenty, was not getting any younger. From the day she had first put off her blacks, Lord David had been most particular in his attentions, but he had spoken no word of marriage from that day to this.

She cast a furtive glance at the man by her side. While she had been wool-gathering, the conversation had taken a ribald turn.  Sir Aubrey had enlarged upon his King Midas metaphor to wonder aloud what might happen that night when Mr. Brundy attempted to touch his haughty bride and, in the same vein, expressed his desire to be a fly on the wall of the bridal couple’s chamber. While Lord David seemed to find his remarks amusing, they brought a crease of discontent to Emily’s smooth brow.

She would be a good wife to Lord David; of that she was certain. It was sometimes said, only half in jest, that if one wished to see all of Britain’s finest political minds assembled under one roof, one need not look to Whitehall, but to Lady Randall’s dinner table. Given the opportunity, she would be delighted to utilize her unique gifts on Lord David’s behalf.

Unfortunately, if she had entertained hopes that seeing his friend entering the bonds of holy matrimony might inspire Lord David to do likewise, these seemed doomed to disappointment.

* * * *

After a late supper throughout which she and her bridegroom exchanged platitudes down the length of Lady Winslow’s ridiculously ornate dining room table, Lady Helen pled fatigue and sought the sanctuary of the room which was to be her bedchamber. To be sure, there was little comfort to be found in the faded wallhangings and drab window treatments, but the apartment was large and the carved rosewood bed inviting. A fire burned cheerfully in a cleverly designed fireplace inlaid with rose-colored marble, and a door in the wall opposite led, Lady Helen supposed, to a separate dressing room.

Her abigail had arrived earlier that afternoon, bringing the first of her trunks from the duke’s house, and in seeing her gowns properly bestowed in the clothespress, Lady Helen had been able to avoid her husband for most of the day. Now she dismissed the woman and, clad only in her shift, sat down at the dressing table to brush out her honey-colored hair. This enterprise, however, came to an abrupt halt when the door which she had supposed led to a dressing room opened to reveal Mr. Brundy, gorgeously arrayed in a chintz dressing gown.


Oh!
” shrieked Lady Helen, snatching up her discarded gown and clutching it to her chest. “Who do you think you are, sir, barging into my bedchamber unannounced?”

A gleam of amusement lit Mr. Brundy’s warm brown eyes. “Why, I’m your ‘usband, ma’am, and as for me barging into your bedroom, I believe it’s something of a tradition on the wedding night.”

Horror and understanding dawned simultaneously. She had known that Mr. Brundy married her to improve his standing in Society, but never dreamed he might presume to mingle his mongrel blood with that of eight centuries of Radneys. Lady Helen could only sputter in dismay.

“But—but I thought ours was to be a marriage in name only!”

Mr. Brundy was slightly taken aback by this revelation. “I’m sorry you ‘ad the wrong impression, but such an idea never crossed me mind. I’d like to ‘ave young ‘uns of me own, ‘elen. What good is me fortune
if I’ve no chick nor child to in’erit when I’m gone?”

“If you are contemplating an early demise, Mr. Brundy, you might select a likely brat from the workhouse,” suggested Lady Helen with something approaching her usual spirit.

“Aye, that I might,” agreed Mr. Brundy with a smile. “But I’d prefer to ‘ave a go at begetting me own.”

Lady Helen was distressed to discover that her tart tongue failed her just when she needed it most. Mr. Brundy, finding his bride for once bereft of speech, was emboldened to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. He had long since removed the lavender gloves he had worn to the wedding, and though his hands were clean and well-manicured, they were also callused and rough. As his work-hardened fingers brushed her bare flesh, Lady Helen shuddered.

This unpromising reaction, however involuntary, was not lost on Mr. Brundy. “Under the circumstances, per’aps we’d best take some time to get to know each other before we attempt to, er, beget heirs,” he suggested, allowing his hand to fall to his side.

“I—I would appreciate that,” Lady Helen said haltingly, finding her voice at last.

“Very well. I shall give you six months.”

“Only six?” whispered Lady Helen, clutching her flimsy shield all the tighter.

“Don’t press your luck, me dear,” recommended Mr. Brundy with a rueful smile. “Most men would say that I’ve the patience of a saint as it is, or else that I’ve rats in me garret.” He bent and dropped a light kiss onto the top of Lady Helen’s honey-colored head. “Good night, ‘elen. Sleep well.”

He left the room through the same door he had entered, beyond which lay a second bedchamber, one whose furnishings were distinctly masculine. As soon as the door had closed behind him, Lady Helen leaped to her feet, snatched up a spindle-legged Sheraton chair, and wedged it securely underneath the doorknob.

* * * *

In the privacy of his own room, Mr. Brundy studied the closed door which separated him from his bride. Without the outward trappings of aristocracy, she looked younger and more vulnerable, though certainly no less lovely, than she had that first night at Covent Garden. He smiled a little at the picture she had presented, with her unbound hair cascading over her shoulders and the gentle swell of her bosom behind its muslin barricade. Surely he had not been mistaken in thinking that somewhere beneath the haughty Society air lurked a vibrant young woman with a heart to be won.

And win her he would; he had come too far to fail now. He had made up his mind to wed her, and now she was his wife—in every way except that which mattered the most. Winning her hand had been almost too easy; he would have felt like a thief accepting Sir Aubrey’s thousand pounds. Winning her heart, however, was likely to prove an entirely different matter. His offer of a six-month adjustment period had been as much for his own sake as hers, as it would give him time to woo his unwilling bride. In twelve hours of marriage, he had felt the sting of Lady Helen’s scorn, to be sure, but he’d endured worse tongue-lashings in his life—been knocked around a bit, too, for that matter—and he had always come about in the end.

No, the Lady Helen Brundy would not be easily won, but in his experience, few things worth having were.

 

Chapter 4

 

‘Tis pride, rank pride, and haughtiness of soul.

JOSEPH ADDISON,
Cato

 

Early the next morning, as dawn cast its gray light over Grosvenor Square, Sukey the upstairs maid tiptoed into Lady Helen’s bedchamber. The bed curtains were tightly drawn, and the sound of regular breathing within gave Sukey to understand that her ladyship was still abed and fast asleep. Quietly, so as not to disturb the slumberer, she knelt before the grate and swept out the ashes, then laid and lit a new fire with the swift efficiency of long practice.

She had performed the chore many times while her former mistress, Lady Winslow, had occupied this room. But today something seemed out of place, something so subtle that she could not say precisely what had changed. Shrugging the thought aside, she picked up the dustbin and was about to slip quietly from the room when she froze in her tracks, almost dropping the bucket of ashes in the shock of suddenly recognizing the difference in the room’s arrangement.

A dainty Sheraton chair, which had previously stood against the wall flanking the dressing table, was now wedged beneath the knob of the door which connected the suite to the one adjoining.

“Gor!” breathed Sukey, momentarily forgetting the need for silence. The new mistress had locked the master out of her bedchamber, and on his wedding night, no less! Hitching the dustbin higher onto her hip, she scurried quietly past the bed and out the door, eager to share her discovery.

She found an eager audience in the downstairs maid, Annie, who sighed over her employer’s plight and gave it as her opinion that he would have done far better to have wed a nice girl of his own class—someone, in fact, very much like herself.

Sukey, while in complete agreement with Annie’s sentiments, took instant exception to that damsel’s proposing herself as a suitable bride for the master. Indeed, so violent was her opposition that the two girls might have come to blows, had it not been for the timely intervention of Mrs. Givens, the housekeeper.

“What is going on here?” she demanded, arms akimbo in a belligerent stance as she glared at the quarreling maids. “Stop this yammering at once!”

“ ‘Twas she who started it!”

“Not I!
You
was the one saying as how Mr. Brundy should have married you!”

“Foolish girls!” chided Mrs. Givens, interrupting before hostilities could be resumed. “As Mr. Brundy is already married, neither of your opinions can say anything to the purpose!”

“Yes, but it could be annulled. It’s un—uncommiserated,” Sukey confided to her superior, and had the satisfaction of finding herself the center of that exalted woman’s attention. “When I come to clean the grate just now, there was the door closed and a chair shoved under the knob, big as life. Locked him out, she did, sure as I’m standing here.”

“Mark my words, Sukey, you’ll not be standing here much longer if you don’t learn to keep a still tongue in your head! Back to work, both of you, and no more gossiping about your betters, do you hear? If you’ve got something that needs saying, you come to me!”

Thus chastised, the two girls returned to their respective duties with heads hung low. Mrs. Givens waited until they were out of sight, then sought out the butler in his pantry.

“Mr. Evers, have you a moment?” she asked. “I’ve just heard the most
astonishing
tale!”

* * * *

While Sukey’s tidbit made its way through the downstairs grapevine, the news that Lady Helen Radney, daughter of His Grace, the Duke of Reddington, had been married to Mr. Ethan Brundy of Manchester the previous day in a small, private ceremony was delivered to an astonished
ton
with their breakfast trays via a discreet announcement in
The Morning Post.
The predictable result was that a crush of carriages choked Grosvenor Square as the curious flocked to gawk at the happy couple under the guise of paying their respects.

The visitors were received in the Egyptian drawing room, where Lady Helen sat (or rather, stood) for her portrait. She wore the same white and silver gown she had worn that night at Covent Garden, with one addition: about her neck was clasped the magnificent collar of diamonds her husband had given her as a wedding gift. It had been his particular request that she wear the ensemble, and since Lady Helen professed the matter to be one of supreme indifference to her, she had conceded to his wishes in this regard.

At that moment, the couple’s well-wishers included the bride’s brother, Viscount Tisdale, inspired no doubt by some vague notion of supporting his sister through the ordeal; Lady Randall, who had not forgotten Lord David’s misgivings concerning the marriage; and sundry other denizens of the
ton
inspired by varying degrees of goodwill, curiosity, or outright malice. Among these former was the spinster Miss Maplethorpe, a lady of indeterminate age who had brought a gift for the bride. This, when opened, proved to be a packet of embroidered handkerchiefs bearing, not the crest of some noble house, but a simple letter “B” entwined with roses. However pure her intentions might have been, Miss Maplethorpe could not have selected anything more symbolic of Lady Helen’s fall in Society’s eyes.

“Oh!” exclaimed Lady Helen in feigned delight, too proud to show her humiliation. “You really shouldn’t have, Miss Maplethorpe.”

“ ‘Twas nothing,” replied the spinster modestly, blissfully unaware of the strong emotions warring within Lady Helen’s breast. “I always like to do whatever I can for a new bride. I must say, Lady Helen, that your husband is—” she glanced across the room at the plebian Mr. Brundy, deep in conversation with Lady Randall, and struggled for something generous to say. “That is, er, well, he certainly is—”

“Yes, Miss Maplethorpe,” agreed Lady Helen in clear, carrying tones, “he is quite fabulously wealthy.”

Mr. Brundy could not possibly have failed to hear this declaration, but Lady Helen was denied the satisfaction of seeing his response by the quick-thinking Lady Randall, who chose that moment to announce, “I have decided to give a ball in honor of Mr. Brundy and Lady Helen, Miss Maplethorpe. Do say you will come!”

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