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Authors: Judith Ivory

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

The Indiscretion

BOOK: The Indiscretion
10.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Judith Ivory







Any woman who can make you happy has all the information she needs
to make you miserable if she wants to.


A Texan in

, Brace, & Co.,
, 1884


, 1899


am Cody wasn't usually a hard-drinking man, but today was an
exception. His ribs were sore. His mouth was cut. His eye was swollen. The
woman he loved wasn't speaking to him. Her family, if they got hold of him, was
fit to hang him, and his own friends and relatives were so riled they'd
the horse out from under him to help. So
here he was, in a godforsaken coach station in the middle of nowhere – whatever
it took to avoid the pack of angry friends and family – while he sulked, as
irritated with himself as they were: But there was no way to avoid himself.

Or almost no way. He tipped back his flask, gingerly putting its
lip to his, and knocked back another sour mouthful of what passed for whiskey
. He drew in
air over the liquor as it ran down his throat – a little trick he'd learned
today, since he had to breathe through his mouth, because breathing through his
nose made it burn so badly his eyes watered. The whiskey settled hotly in his
belly. Oh, he was working up a dandy drunk. Once he was on the coach, if the
doggone thing ever came, he intended to drink himself unconscious.

The only company in the little wooden room was an oversized trunk
someone had deposited here before he'd arrived. It sat in a halo of dust motes,
blocking most of the light from the only window, a big box container that
looked nonetheless clean and freshly packed, so he thought maybe he'd be having
company on the ride to
– though
whoever it was must know something he didn't, because the other passenger was as
late as the coach. Sam could only guess as to which way to walk, up the road or
down, if the coach didn't come. He was a stranger here – and pretty much felt
like the proverbial fish, its gills sucking air.

He was new to
by two weeks,
and so far he didn't have much use for the country or anyone in it. Today
especially. Today he hated every goshdamn Brit right up to their prissy, raised
eyebrows. He hated every one of their little pasty-faced children. He hated
their yappy dogs, their fat cats, their tiny carriages, their windowless walls
and narrow alleys. He hated the way they didn't say what they thought – if one
more slick-eared, stall-fed Brit answered him one more time with the word
he'd rip the fellow's tongue out—

Oh, what did it matter? He was headed home.

In that spirit, he ambled over to the only furniture in the room,
a wood bench, and sat on it, drawing one long leg up to hook his boot heel on
the edge. He lay his arm over his knee, his metal flask dangling in his

You idiot, Gwyn
. His now former fiancée. Oh, he hated
her. He loved her. He missed her. How dare she be so mean to him? He had
another quick mental argument with her. He'd been arguing with her all
afternoon even though she was present only in his imagination. Once more, he
explained carefully and convincingly exactly what had happened today. It made
perfect sense. Over and over, his explanations made everything all right again.

A shame the real woman wouldn't be hearing his fancy speeches.

He raised his flask again – light, hollow, near-empty – and
polished off the last of the whiskey. He was just wondering what the limit was
before the rest of his body interpreted English whiskey the way his taste buds
did – as poison – when his vision jumped. It was a new variation to the
swimming of his head. He leaned back on one arm to make the movement stop,
which it didn't. He closed his eyes. Oh, how his body hurt. Closed, his swollen
eye felt the size of a peach; the lid didn't unfold right.

Sam bent his elbow, shifting around to lower himself backward onto
the bench. Hard as the surface was, meeting it seemed a relief, almost
comfortable. He let his shoulders, then head, drop the last inch, a
onto wood. Fully horizontal, he knew a dicey moment as to whether he could stay
in this position or whether he'd have to heave his sorry self up so as not to
choke on all the liquor and coffee keeping his breakfast eggs company, all of
it considering a return trip.

Exhaustion won. He sank past queasiness … falling, a plummet, into
sleep … like a U.S. silver dollar dropped, blinking then disappearing, down,
down, out of sight, into the deepest part of a choppy Channel sea.


Lydia Bedford-Browne. She and her lady's maid sat side by side on a one-horse
farm cart as it pulled to a stop. "Ask him to tell you about his
That's what anatomy books call it."

Rose, round-cheeked, round-bosomed, and a head shorter than her
mistress, tied the reins as she giggled nervously. "Oh, I couldn't
possibly say that," she answered and set the brake.

Married this afternoon, Rose had just stammeringly admitted that
she hadn't the foggiest notion about "that part" of a man. Not a clue
what it looked like, what it did exactly when it came to a woman, or even what
to call it so as to open a discussion about it with her new groom.

Alas, back in
's father's
library at Castle Wiles contained numerous representations. She even knew where
her brother kept his forbidden copy of the Beardsley drawings to
with their amazing exaggerations of the fanciful item under discussion.

Of course, she could have found Rose pictures of fairies and
werewolves, too. They were roughly as real to
. And as
relevant to the life of the Viscount Wendt's daughter.

She laughed. "Beyond recommending anatomy books, I can't
help. I'm sorry."

Rose nodded. "I just thought you might know a good word. You
always know words."

"Well, I've already given you the best word I know." She
lifted a handful of skirts and stood up, thinking to abandon Rose, the
conversation, and the cart. "You mustn't fret," she counseled over
her shoulder. "Thomas will help. It doesn't matter how you say it. Just
ask what you need to ask, however it comes out."

She studied the ground below, gauging the distance, then felt
Rose's hand at her elbow.

"Wait," the girl said. "I'll come around to

shook her
head. "I can manage—"

She took aim on a spot several feet below, where she intended to
land. Indeed, in
, someone would
have been there, arms outstretched. In
, a dozen
people would have helped her down. Her father or brother, a servant, half a
dozen willing gentlemen, or even her mother. Everyone was always helping her,
as if she were an invalid.

Not here, though. With a sense of freedom, she leaped from the
cart seat, her arms out. Her skirts billowed. She was momentarily airborne,
thrilled. When she landed on hard, uneven ground, though, one foot and knee
slipped out from under her. She went down onto her back, colliding with the
earth so forcefully it knocked the wind out of her. She lay there flat out,
stunned, staring up into a sky streaked with fluffed clouds. Then she rolled to
her hands and knees, a little shaky, and pushed herself up.

As she dusted grit from her palms, her maid came rushing around
the cart. "Did you break anything? Are you all right?"

The girl set about brushing the back of
's plain brown
dress until
her reach. Even then Rose's plump little hands followed, darting upward, trying
to right an askew hat.

laughed as she
straightened the hat herself. "No, I didn't break anything. Yes, I'm
fine." She let out another light burst of laughter at the antics of a
short young woman who, for a few steps, half-chased while trying to adjust the
edge of her jacket. "It was a little fall, Rose. Nothing more."

The lady's maid made another pass at her, a swipe of her hand that
tried to brush the back of her shoulder.

captured the
girl's hands and drew them down to her sides. "Will you stop," she
said. "You've gone completely dotty. I'm fine. Honestly."

The girl shook her head, biting her lip. "Well, between the
two of you, I'm in a state. You, going off alone—"

Ah. "I won't be alone. I'll call on Meredith in

"And Thomas—" Rose all but choked, her face filled with
dread and angst. "Thomas can't talk of it either. We've tried. We're both
simply mortified to speak of it." They were back on the uncomfortable
subject of Thomas's John-Thomas. "He is as innocent as I am. A fine
honeymoon it will be, both of us as ignorant as rocks."

"No, no,"
reassured her,
"Boddington" – her near-fiancé – "once likened the process to
cricket. Something about bats and wickets and team play." She hadn't explored
it further, since both Boddington and cricket bored her to tears. "Nothing
to worry about."

"Cricket? Cricket matches are endless!" Rose protested.
"Surely it is nothing like cricket."

"One can hope."
"You must find out and tell me. I entrust the matter to your research. I
want a full report."

She looked around them, taking in the surroundings as she
carefully hid a hurt ankle. She'd twisted it in the fall, but better not to
mention it. Rose had enough to fret about. While
herself felt
so hopeful and happy that, by contrast, she was almost ashamed of herself.

In her twenty-four years of living, she had never been on her own
for more than an afternoon. Now she had three whole days to herself, and they
stretched before her like paradise. She drew in a breath. The air was clear and
bracing, the afternoon bright. A pinch in her ankle meant nothing in the
context of so much freedom and choice. She would do fine. So would Rose.

In spite of her good mood, though, when she turned and faced fully
for the first time the coach station to which she and Rose had brought
themselves, Lydia felt a little let down. Here was where her independent
adventure would start? She stared at a small wooden shack as bare and raw as
the land that spread out behind it.

. Its open
tableland lay beyond the tiny building, dwarfing it in a vastness of granite
and sparse grass. As far as the eye could see the moor looked … hard,
unyielding. It brought to mind the stories associated with it: giant black dogs
that ran at night, devouring lost souls; the ghost of a murdered noblewoman
rattling through the dark in a driverless coach; a devil with burning eyes who
appeared out of nowhere, riding a black stallion, who with his horse could leap
into the air and gallop on the wind.

Romantic rubbish,
scoffed. Yet
seeing the moorlands stretch out, unimpeded by civilization, made her aware of
how such nonsense got started. Without the
to jolly up
the landscape – and its warm, joyous wedding celebration now left behind – the
terrain was at once majestic and bleak. And the ramshackle ticketing office for
the bimonthly coach across it was of a piece: a stark little structure that
looked about to collapse, about to give its slats and beams back to nature,
barely deserving the word
, let alone the dignity of

Rose continued in her dour vein. "I don't like it," she
said as she walked around the back of the cart. "The coach isn't even
here." Indeed, there wasn't a horse, vehicle, or human in sight.

"Your mother said it always ran late, or I wouldn't have
stayed for the last round of toasts to the bride and groom. I trust that it
will be along shortly."

At the rear of the cart, Rose reached for
's long
satchel, frowning over her own arm at her mistress. "Why not take the
train? You could hire your own compartment. You'd be hidden. No one would see
that you were traveling alone."

"Until I got off at a busy station without you. No, thank
you. I can't risk running into someone who knows me or, worse, knows my parents
– and disapproves as much as they do of my going anywhere unchaperoned.
Besides, a private compartment would be expensive." Rose scooted the
satchel to the edge of the cart, and
took hold of
it, too. They had a little tug-of-war as she continued. "No, no one will
pay a speck of—" She frowned. "Let go, Rose, I have it," then
continued, "a speck of attention to me on an out-of-the-way public coach.
If, indeed, I even see another soul."

BOOK: The Indiscretion
10.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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