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Authors: Margaret Bennett

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BOOK: The Hopeless Hoyden
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Chesterfield, who waited until the Viscount apologized for his ill-timed levity, added, “Freddy's got the right of it.  But I must say, Emily, you're quite a clever girl."

Obviously much struck by this, Freddy turned to ask Jane in an overly loud whisper, "Ain't a bluestocking, is she?" 

“Oh no, my lord," Jane assured him.  “I am sure we must all share these thoughts at one time or another."

With his brow pinched between his eyes, the baron fell into deep thought and uttered not another word for the rest of the walk home.


              Not an early riser himself, Cecil Caldwell took his cousin's abandonment in stride.  He preferred to lie abed for several more hours than traipse across wet meadows to some lonely fishing hole. He was upset, however, when he discovered the foppish Ellison had also been left behind as it fell upon him to entertain the dandy over a late breakfast.  Still, things could have been worse.  At least that idiot, Fordyce, had gone off with Gabriel. 

Cecil's mood was still foul after telling the dandy his cravat had fallen, thus sending him back to the ministrations of his valet.  Hoping for solitude, Cecil entered the morning parlor.  There he found his sister sitting with a crumpled scrap of paper in her hands.  “Bad news?" he asked.

“The worst, Cecil.  This came in the morning post.  My modiste has tracked me here and sent a dunning notice."

“Let us hope she's the greedy sort and doesn't share her good fortune with your other creditors."

“It is no laughing matter, Cecil.  I cannot purchase another gown from any reputable modiste," Deborah whined.  "None will extend me any more credit."

“May I suggest you apply to our dear cuz for the funds.  With his sense of family responsibility, your piteous plea may not be ignored.  As for me, dear sister, I, too, have my own troubles."

“How can you be so cruel?"

“Because those same merchants are barking at my heels as well, so have done, Sis.  You've been told what to do.  I suggest you quit moaning about your lack of funds and use your time more productively.  Snag the beau with the most blunt."

“But I cannot like--"

“I really don't give a damn what you like.  Just do as you're told," Cecil growled, then, turning his back on his sister, quit the room.


              To recoup from their early morning outing, the gentlemen lazed about for the remainder of the day, playing billiards.  The ladies, needless to say, were hardly pleased yet acquiesced, whiling away the afternoon in the drawing room.

Emily, having endured Sylvia's hateful gaze throughout lunch along with Lady Raines's interrogation about how she and Jane had come upon the fishermen, banished herself to the library.  There she intended to improve her deportment by reading Jane Austin's new novel
Sense and Sensibility
.  But she wound up contrasting herself with the story’s impressionistic Marianne who found herself courted by the dashing John Willoughby. 

Emily’s mind wandered to one disastrous evening spent in the company of the young beau who had been her escort on several occasions during her brief sojourn in London.  During a stroll about the walkways of Vauxhall Gardens one evening, the pimpled faced Jeremy Wortham stole a kiss.  It was nothing like Emily had imagined, for it had left her completely unaffected.  In fact, she’d made every effort never to be alone with the young gentleman again.             

Remembering Jane Austen’s suave Willoughby, Emily thought about Gabriel.  Just remembering his kisses caused a warm glow to spread throughout her body.  But though his responses had seemed as heated as her own, afterwards his attitude became cold and distant as he reminded her about consequences leading to the parson’s mousetrap.  No, it was painfully obvious that while he seemed to enjoy her company, the Viscount had no desire to be leg tied to her for a lifetime.

Starting to feel depressed, she stood to break the reverie.

Her gaze strayed about the room, looking for something to do, when it settled upon a silver bowl filled with apples and grapes, and inspiration struck.

Minutes later, Gabriel came searching for her and found Emily stretched out on the couch, pink slippers poking out from the hem of her rose patterned  gown along with a delightful display of trim ankle.  He watched, fascinated, as she lay with her head propped back on the arm of a settee, popping grapes into her mouth.

              “Whatever are you doing?" he asked.

She raised her head up slightly, then lowered it and tossed a grape up in the air.  When the purple orb disappeared down the muslin bodice of her gown instead of her open mouth, she answered, "Practicing."

“At what?" He smiled indulgently while desperately trying to keep his gaze from following the path of the lost grape.  She was as unaffected as a child.  No, more like an alluring and beautiful woman-child, he amended his thoughts as he gave in to contemplating the low neckline of her gown. 
              Oblivious of the enticing pose she presented, Emily ignored that particular grape and blithely pitched another into the air. This time, it plopped noisily against her tongue.  She smiled triumphantly at him as she chewed.  “Playing a game.  I am pretending to be a queen, or pampered wife, or...mistress."

“Emily!"  he roared, feigning shock by her openness.  "However did you come by such ideas?"

“From a painting.  Tom once took me to Somerset House in London to view a display of Italian oils.  It was most enlightening."  She threw him a sly grin.  "And revealing.  Italy must be excessively warm, for the ladies were so scantily clad—“

“Your brother should have had better sense than to allow you to see them."

“Oh, I am sure Tom never meant for me to see them.  But he became distracted when Miss Wescott strolled by and, well, I drifted off on my own."

“You are incorrigible."             

“I know."   She gave him a wonderfully devilish grin. "Here," she said, "you try tossing a grape in the air for me."

“You can't be serious."

“Why not?  I want to see how many grapes I can catch.”  When Gabriel shook his head, she added, “Try to think of me as Nefertiti, queen of the Nile.  Please, Gab, pull a chair over and sit behind my head."

He hesitated for a moment, then put action to her words.  "Oh, what the deuce.  It looks harmless enough."

From the instant he sat down, Gabriel knew he'd erred.  First, he found himself comparing the color of the ripe grapes to her almost violet eyes.  Next, his gaze was drawn to the commanding view of her décolletage with her head thrown back on the arm of the sofa.  It was most revealing, leading him to wonder about the fate of the lost grape.

What began as a silly little experiment soon escalated to something quite different.  And while he glibly tossed the first few grapes and watched her gobble them up, he teasingly held the rest, forcing her to suck them from between his fingers.   Then the little minx slowly chewed these grapes, all the while holding his gaze.  He saw the rise and fall of her chest quicken, and felt himself respond to the blush that slowly covered her face, neck, and chest.

Gabriel knew he was in trouble.  This child--hell, woman!--was one of the most sensual creatures he'd ever encountered.  Any minute now, he felt he'd lose what little control he possessed and kiss her pert mouth.  And if she ran her tongue over those luscious ripe lips one more time, he was likely to ravish her on this couch. 

Then, slowly, deliberately, he lowered his head to hers, to glistening, moist lips....

So preoccupied was he, Gabriel didn't hear the door open.

“What's going on here?"

The young man's angry voice washed over Gabriel's consciousness like a dose of cold water.  Springing up from the chair, he knocked it over as he tossed the bowl of grapes onto a nearby table.  Adding more chaotic noises, Emily squealed and began coughing raggedly.

Gabriel had time only to note the young lad was dressed to the nines, sporting a rose brocade waistcoat that warred with the color of his glaring countenance before his attention returned to Emily.  She was gasping for breath, apparently chocking on a grape she'd swallowed whole.  Gently, he patted her shoulders.  "Easy, Em.  Come on, now.  Try to take a deep breath."

“Put your arms up over your head, Em," was the young man's advice as he advanced toward the coach, whereupon he grabbed them and began pumping them up and down.  "Would serve you right if you did choke, from what I saw just now."

“Stop . . . please, I am fine,” Emily choked out before the young man released her arms.

When it seemed Emily had her breath again, Gabriel pulled a linen handkerchief from his pocket and offered it to her.  Eying the unsympathetic youth before him, he easily identified the resemblances to his wood sprite.  Slender and of medium height, the interloper possessed wild curly locks that refused to stay brushed back from a high forehead.  Though they lacked the purple hue of Emily's, Gabriel detected a familiar gleam of awareness behind large deep blue eyes as they jumped back and forth between Emily and himself.

“T-Tom," Emily sputtered at last.  “What are you doing here?"

“Cut line, Em," retorted the young man with hands on his hips and the light of battle in his eyes.  "You answer first, and it had better be good.  Who's this Lothario, anyway?"  The heavily starched points of his collar came just under his ears, limiting his head movement as he jerked his chin toward Gabriel.

Gabriel deemed it time to unruffled the aspiring dandy’s feathers.  "Allow me to introduce myself.  I am Gabriel Caldwell, the Viscount Lindemann."  Gabriel noted with amusement how the young man's jaw dropped, along with his hands from his hips.  As the young blood's glower changed to a look of awe, he added, "I assume you're related to Miss Pendleton?"

“Oh, I say, sorry I barged in, my lord.  Didn't recognized you right off, you see.  'Course, I should have.  Seen you once at your club, White's."

Emily snorted, obviously disgusted with her bother for playing the mushroom.  "Do tell the man who you are, Tom."

“Oh, right, Em.  Sir Thomas Pendleton.  We're neighbors, you know?"

Emily shook her head.  "Of course he does, you nincompoop.  Otherwise, what would I be doing here?"

This seemed to recall Tom to his original question.  "Just what are you doing here, Em?"
              “She is here as my guest," replied Gabriel.

“I understood that, my lord, when your butler said my sister could be found in the library."  The sarcasm and censure in Tom's voice revealed the young man possessed more backbone than Gabriel had first thought.  "What I meant was, what were you doing just now?"

As an unnatural blush stained Emily’s cheeks, Gabriel gallantly tried to divert Tom's curiosity.  “Actually nothing," he replied, taking the young man by the arm and leading him toward the door.  “Your sister and I were merely comparing different ways to eat grapes."

Tom nodded.  “It’s a notion she got from some art.  Em’s tried to get Nick and me to do the same with chickpeas.  Claims there's different methods for catching them."

“Really?" countered Gabriel.  “I never gave it much thought before."  He threw a smile over his shoulder to where Emily still stood, as pink as the roses printed on her gown.  Regretfully, he closed the door behind him as he asked Tom, “How many ways are there to, er, catch chickpeas?"

Dinner that night should have been a gay affair with her brother in attendance, but Emily found it more than flat.  To begin with, Jane met her in the hall just before she’d started down the stairs to dinner.

“Emily," Jane whispered, nervously glancing about, “please forgive me.  I...I cannot speak to you anymore."

“What nonsense, Jane?  You are speaking with me now," replied Emily with a grin.

“Yes, no...I mean Sylvia has forbidden me to talk to you."

Emily stopped dead in her tracks, and Jane reached a hand out in supplication.  “Please, try to understand, Emily.  Sylvia was worried when I returned so late this morning and...and feared something might have happened to me."

“Give over, Jane."  Emily shook off the other girl's hand.  “She is merely jealous because she was not with us.  It goes back to what Freddy said about conniving females."

“You may be right.  But it is her duty to marry well."

“That may be, but it has nothing to do with us being friends."

Jane hung her head.  “I am sorry."

Emily said no more, for she did understand.  Sylvia was vexed with Jane for spending the morning with the Viscount.  And though Jane wasn't paid help, as a poor relation she might as well have been.  The girl could ill afford to go against her selfish cousin's wishes.  After a long moment, Emily left Jane to descend the stairs, alone.

Except for Cecil and Ellison, the men were subdued and stirred their conversations away from the morning’s fishing excursion, perhaps aware that Emily and Jane had encountered some difficulty over their morning adventure.  However, the subject arose when Chesterfield's trout were served smothered in onion sauce and mushrooms. 

“Respectable young ladies," Lady Raines began with her nose haughtily in the air, “do not gad about the countryside without a chaperone.  I am sure such impropriety shall not be repeated," the dowager concluded, spearing Jane, then Emily with a malevolent glare.

A deadly silence followed, and Emily had flashbacks of her disastrous London Season with everyone's censoring eyes trained on her.  Aunt Esmeralda threw her disparaging looks and kept Prudence busy, thus ensuring the young girl would be kept from Emily.

As for her brother, Tom completely ignored Emily, spending his time dangling after the quiet Miss Burke-White.  Emily noted how polite Tom was around the girl, almost diffident to the point of being a tedious bore.  It was all Emily could do not to throw something at him, though she would have been hard put to hit her mark.  Tom never came within twenty feet of her. 

Considering her lost friendship with Jane Taber, Emily debated returning to the Manor.  No doubt her aunt, along with Deborah and Sylvia, would be glad to see her back.  She knew she would miss Jane's companionship.  Jane was the first real girlfriend Emily had ever had.  When she was smaller, she'd always ran with her brothers and their friends and, thus, had been on easy terms with most of the local male population.  Naturally, it developed that the other girls were envious, some even spiteful.  They called her names and after Sunday church services, Emily often found herself the target of their malicious tongues.  And while invitations to local social events came to the Grange regularly, Emily often felt she was included as a concession to having her brothers present.

But Jane was different from most girls.  Though her manners and accomplishments were every bit that of a lady of Quality, Jane was kind.  She had tried to make excuses for Sylvia's unreasonable demands and seemed unbothered by Emily's hoydenish ways.  

Loathed to give up her friend, after dinner Emily pulled Jane into a small parlor to argue the point one more time. 

“Jane, you must stand up to Sylvia.  I know it is my fault you are in this trouble.  But still, she has no right to tell you who your friends are."

“It is not just Sylvia, Emily," Jane said as tears gathered in her eyes.  “Her mother expects her to marry well.  Sylvia must be amongst the gentlemen at every opportunity so they may get to know her."

“Men are not horses with blinders on, Jane.  They can see though that spiteful cat and her conniving ways."

“Emily, please understand it is not what I want," begged Jane, clasping her friend's hand.  “Perhaps we can find ways to communicate.  If Sylvia is surrounded by gentlemen, surely she will not care if we converse."

But later that night, sitting in the window enclosure of her bedroom, Emily contemplated what Jane had said and knew it wasn't enough.  Jane was such a good person, and Emily wanted to share time with her.  Now she couldn't and again she thought of returning to Pendleton Grange. 

If it were not for Gabriel, Emily would have risen and begun packing.  But there still remained the threat upon his life.  True, no one had tried to harm him--but Emily knew it was only a matter of time.  The menacing evil in the voices of the men in the woods had been very real.  And someone had to watch out for the Viscount.

Emily's eyes caught movement where the light from a downstairs window fell into the garden, and she sat up straighter.  Cecil was leaving the house.  There was no mistaking his tall, lean figure for anyone else.  Then too, he wore no concealing hat, no cloak.  He appeared in a hurry, headed for the stables where, Emily quickly surmised, he probably meant to meet with his accomplice. 

Why she pegged Cecil as the man in the red coat in the forest that day, she did not know.  While the man barely acknowledged her existence, she’d come to expect that from his ilk. More likely it was because the odious Cecil showed no caring for his cousin.

And, she decided as she hopped off the window seat, if she didn't hurry, she'd lose him for sure.

*** Chapter 5 ***


“Oh pooh, if this don't beat the Dutch!"

How could she, Emily Margaret Elizabeth Pendleton, be lost?  She'd grown up in these woods.  She'd trampled the mossy ground nearly all her life, knew every bridal trail, foot path, lake and creek for miles around.  And now, she couldn't find her way back to Lindemann’s house.

She'd become disoriented, chasing after Cecil Caldwell.  With barely a sliver of a moon, little light filtered through the heavy canopy of trees, making identifying land marks impossible. 

BOOK: The Hopeless Hoyden
11.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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