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Authors: Joan Smith

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BOOK: The Great Christmas Ball
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She leaned over him and gently applied the plaster. “I hope that wound he inflicted is not too uncomfortable.”

He lifted his hand to pat the bandage, and their fingers brushed. Cathy hastily withdrew hers. “You do it,” he said, lowering his hands.

She pressed tenderly on the plaster. “Does that hurt?”

“A mere bagatelle to a veteran of Badajos, I promise you—that little bit of boasting is just for you. Don’t tell Gordon. But I didn’t mean this lump on the head when I said it was a pity he saw me, Miss Lyman. The fact that I was aware of the rendezvous tells him you are working with me. How else could I have known of it? I may have put you in danger,” he said, and gazed at her a long moment. Cathy was beginning to feel the greater danger was in his eyes that held her mesmerized. “You did not catch sight of my attacker?” he asked.

“No, he must have been there before any of us.”

Costain nodded. “Gordon will
dislike it, but I think I really must ask you two to resign.”

“You’re right. We are more harm than help,” she said reluctantly. “I shall miss the excitement.”

“You are developing a taste for alarums and excursions, are you? Take care, or you will find yourself enjoying Byron.”

“I shall place the blame in your dish, sir.”

Gordon returned with the tea tray. “I have just had a capital notion, Costain,” he said, smiling from ear to ear. “What you said about it looking suspicious, my hanging around the Horse Guards—”

“Yes, I do think it a poor idea,” Costain said at once.

“So do I. The thing to do, I’ll sign up to work for them on a full-time basis.”

Cathy could almost hear Costain’s inward groan. “They aren’t hiring at the moment,” he said quickly.

“That will be no problem. Mama knows everyone. You would never guess it, the way she hugs the grate, but she has connections throughout society. She will arrange it, never fear. Do you think I could get an office next to yours?”

“That office is taken. The Horse Guards has certain requirements for recruitment, Sir Gordon.”

“Call me Gordie. All my friends do. As to requirements, dash it, I have two years at Oxford. I can parlay the old bongjaw as well as a Frenchie. Papa made a point of our learning languages. I can scribble up a pretty good fist. I shan’t mind what job I am given—scribbling out letters, or what have you. Dash it, I’ll even make the tea.”

Cathy said, “This is nonsense, Gordie, and you know it. What do we know of spying? We are nothing but a nuisance to Lord Costain. I have just been telling him we shan’t involve ourselves further in his business.”

“Speak for yourself,” Gordon said, unfazed. “I shall drop around Whitehall tomorrow and see who I can pester into giving me a post.”

Costain felt this was to be avoided at all cost, and said, “Do you know, Gordie, I think it would be better if you remain anonymous. You could be of more use to us in a free-lance capacity.” He looked over Gordon’s shoulder to Cathy, who shook her head in amusement.

Gordon looked interested. He did not really relish sitting behind a desk.
Free-lance
had a dashing sound to it. “What did you have in mind, Costain?”

“It would be a great help to me if you could follow certain people,” he said, rapidly inventing an imaginary chore to keep the boy busy.

“It will require a disguise, of course,” Gordon said knowingly.

“Oh, certainly! A disguise is of the essence.”

“Who is it I am to follow?”

“A fellow at the office.” He stopped, ransacking his mind for some harmless person. “Mr. Leonard, Cosgrave’s secretary,” he said. “He lives on Half Moon Street.” As Mr. Leonard would be in the office all day, Costain added, “And his wife. It would be helpful if you could discover something of her doings.”

“A shady wife, eh? Sounds pretty suspicious to me.”

Costain and Cathy exchanged a secret smile. Costain said, “Highly suspicious.”

“Can you describe her?”

“No, you’ll have to discover which house on Half Moon Street the Leonards live in. When you see a lady come out, don’t let her out of your sight.”

“I’ll stick like lint on a coat sleeve. You can count on me.”

“England counts on you.”

“England couldn’t be in better hands.”

Gordon was in alt with his new assignment, and spent the next five minutes discussing his disguise. He would dress as a chaplain, in his late father’s black coat and a rusty hat. When Lord Costain was sufficiently recovered to leave, Gordon darted out to see if he could find a hansom.

Cathy and Costain went to the door. “Well,” she said quietly, “it seems this is good-bye, Lord Costain.”

He lifted his finely arched brows in disagreement. “Coward! Would you abandon me to Gordie’s machinations when it is you who brought him down on my head? I shall require a deal of assistance in devising jobs for him.”

“I suspected Mrs. Leonard was a ruse.”

“I shall call on my way to Lady Martin’s rout tomorrow evening to get Gordon’s report.” He hesitated a moment, then said, “It is possible your intruder will be there, as Sir John Martin works at the Horse Guards. You might recognize him—there is no saying. Actually seeing him again might trigger a memory. I wonder—would your mama let you come with me?”

“Yes, she would,” Cathy said with no coy demur.

“Shall we say nine o’clock?”

“That will be fine, milord,” she said primly, damping down her delight.


Á
demain,
then.” He bowed and left, just as Gordon hailed a hansom.

As Costain drove home, he wondered if he was being rash. Lady Lyman certainly had him in her eye as a prospective son-in-law. His intention was to return to Spain as soon as his job at the Horse Guards was done and the doctor considered his wound cured. It would be unconscionable to become involved with a lady when he had no intention of marrying her. Cathy Lyman, he thought, was not a lady who took her affairs lightly. There was nothing of the flirt or coquette in her. Then, too, she was no longer a deb. She would be interested in finding a match soon.

He would dilute that visit to Lady Martin’s rout by inviting Gordon as well, and making it very obviously a working engagement.

* * *

When she lay in bed that night, Cathy’s thoughts did not turn to marriage. Costain had made it perfectly clear their evening out was strictly business. She felt Lord Costain was miles above her, and hoped only that Mama would not frighten him off. It would be amusing to go about to a few parties with a handsome parti, even if there was no romance in it. She might meet someone who could love her, and if she did not—well, it would pass the time until Gordon went to Italy at least.

 

Chapter Five

 

Satisfied with her perusal of
Debrett’s,
Lady Lyman made a grande toilette to greet the third son of the Duke of Halford the next evening, and even condescended to loan Cathy her second-best string of diamonds for Lady Martin’s rout.

“For he has already seen your emeralds,” she pointed out. “We would not want him to think you have only one decent necklace. It is not really deceitful, for I have decided to give you this necklace as a wedding gift, Cathy.”

“It is only a rout party, Mama. You must not raise your hopes too high,” Cathy said, but she was happy for the loan of the diamonds. They lent a note of elegance to an otherwise indifferent toilette. Her burgundy gown, while of the finest silk and in excellent condition, was three years old. Cathy had adopted the strategy of choosing plain designs that did not go out of style quickly. Embellished with a new shawl or ribbons or jewelry, they served through several changes of fashion.

“Only
a rout, when he has invited Gordon to go with you? My dear, that betokens serious intentions. A gentleman does not invite his lady’s brother along unless his intentions are honorable and serious.”

“Your mama is right,” Rodney said. “If he did not want to catch you, he would not be angling in this stream.” He didn’t believe a word of it, but he liked to agree with his sister when it did not impinge on his own comfort.

By the time Costain arrived that evening, Lady Lyman was in possession of the name of his estate. Her reading had informed her that Lord Costain was heir to Pargeter, in Wiltshire. To discover something of its extent, she said, “Will you be spending Christmas with your family, Lord Costain, or at your own place in Wiltshire?”

“If I leave town, I shall be going to my parents’ home,” he replied vaguely.

“And who looks after Pargeter for you during your absence? It is not wise to abandon an estate to servants for too long. They tend to let the place deteriorate. Is it cattle you raise at Pargeter?”

“Some cattle,” he said, “but my bailiff is also my cousin, who takes a keen interest in the estate. I daresay he runs it better than I could myself.”

“A large place, is it?”

“It was originally small, but over the years—before my time—it has grown to a thousand acres, I believe.”

“Ah.” She nodded. “And the house? Is it one of those old historical homes?”

“It dates from the time of Queen Anne, ma’am. Do you have an interest in historical homes?”

He managed to divert her to a discussion of architecture, and escaped with his bachelorhood in good repair without alienating the mother. He noticed that Gordon did not accompany them, but followed in his own carriage. This looked like a maneuver to leave him and Cathy alone, as indeed it was. Lady Lyman was awake on all suits.

The mama’s questions certainly indicated her thinking, and he felt he must inform Cathy how matters stood. “I wish I could spend more time at Pargeter,” he said, “but as I shall be returning to Spain soon, I thought it best not to interfere with Cousin Paul’s handling of the estate.”

She appeared unperturbed by this. “I expect you are waiting for your leg to heal. How is it coming along?”

“Very well, and so is my head. Your plaster is scarcely necessary. I would leave tomorrow if it were not for this job Castlereagh has asked me to undertake for him. The sawbones feels I should give the bone a chance to heal. He wants me to stay in England until the spring.” That left the whole winter to avoid entanglement, and he added awkwardly, “I may leave sooner. Any day now, as soon as this matter at the Horse Guards is settled.”

She turned to him in the carriage and said bluntly, “You must not pay any attention to Mama. She is the same with all my callers. I have not set my cap for you, if that is what you fear.”

“My dear Miss Lyman!” he said, and laughed nervously. “I do not consider myself such a prime parti as that, I promise you.”

“Of course not,” she agreed with alacrity. “You are only a younger son, but when one’s daughter is pushing five and twenty, mothers become less demanding.”

“Well then, as we are being quite frank—and I do like frankness in such dealings as this—I shall tell you I lied. Pargeter is twenty-five-hundred acres of prime cattle land.”

“I shan’t tell her,” Cathy said, and laughed, but it was not precisely a happy laugh.

“That clears the air!”

“Did anything interesting happen at the Horse Guards today?” she asked, to show him in what light she considered this outing.

“Harold Leonard is beginning to trust me a little, I think. He gave me a not very important letter to handle this morning, as he was not feeling up to it himself. He has developed what might be a flu and went home early. Mr. Burack was not entirely happy at my actually being given a letter to deal with. Lord Cosgrave flew into a passion over something or other and heaved his ink pot at the wall.”

“And Lord Costain?”

“He handled the not very important letter—a request from the Cabinet for certain information, then sat memorizing the list of procedures to be followed regarding sensitive documents. In the seemingly unlikely event of my ever being handed one, I shall know exactly what to do with it. How did Gordon’s day of sleuthing go?”

“He has fallen in love with Mrs. Leonard,” she said.

“With Mrs. Leonard! He must like older ladies, I am amazed. Her husband is a dull old stick. I made sure she would be an antidote.”

“Au contraire!
Gordon says she is a diamond of the first water, which means she is not actually old or ugly.”

“If he has discovered anything to her discredit, we must make the most of it, to keep him from imagining he is in love with her.”

She looked at him in surprise. “I expected more sense from you, a reader of Byron, Lord Costain! A whiff of sin will only make her irresistible. We must use the Spartan’s trick.”

“Dunk him in cold water, you mean?”

“Flutes,” she declared. “The Spartans had such a natural inclination for war that they were played flute music to soothe their ardor. Gordon has such a natural inclination for romance and intrigue that we must dull his appetite by making Mrs. Leonard respectable. Not that I mean to say she is not,” she added hastily. “I know nothing of the lady.”

“Nor do I, but I know her husband, and if Mrs. Leonard is like him, I cannot think Gordon is in any danger.”

The assembly was in full swing when they arrived. Lady Martin had decorated her lofty saloon with fur boughs and red velvet swags, in honor of the approaching season. The ladies’ pastel gowns of spring had darkened to russets and greens and burgundies.

She was thrilled to have caught Lord Costain in her net, and peered to see what lady accompanied him. The face seemed familiar, but she could not put a name to it.

“Allow me to present Miss Lyman,” Costain said.

“Miss Lyman? Not Sir Aubrey’s little girl? I met you
eons
ago in France. You would not remember.”

Costain saw the flush of embarrassment on Cathy’s cheek, to have her antiquity flaunted.

“Yes, I remember,” Cathy said. “It was just at the turn of the century, I think, at a New Year’s levee, where they allowed the youngsters to participate.”

“So you are Cathy Lyman,” Mrs. Martin said, and studied the lady with a coolly appraising eye.

“All grown up now, and most charmingly, don’t you think?” Costain said.

“Indeed! And how is your mama, Miss Lyman?”

BOOK: The Great Christmas Ball
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