Authors: Kasey Michaels
Affaire de Coeur
The Rambunctious Lady Royston
"Once again Kasey Michaels presents us with all of what is best in regency romance and a wonderful example of why its fans are legion."
A Regency Novel
First published in paperback by Avon Books, 1982.
Electronic Edition Copyright 2011 Kathryn A. Seidick
Learn more about the author and her books at
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording or any information storage and retrieval system without written permission of the author. This work is a novel. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
Cover art by Tammy Seidick
In remembrance of Aunt Loretta's Fudge and other lessons in Perspective.
"IZZY, for the love of heaven, control yourself!"
"I am in perfect control of myself, Samantha. I only cried out because I felt a bit faint as I raised my eyes to the tip of the balloon," replied a vision in blue-sprigged muslin. "Do you really think it's safe? It looks prodigiously high to me. And don't call me Izzy," Miss Isabella Ardsley added with the resigned air of a person called upon to repeat a request innumerable times while knowing full well it would be ignored.
Miss Samantha Ardsley gritted her teeth and ground out, "You nitwit, the name is
You'll ruin everything yet, Izzy."
Miss Isabella turned her shocked face to her escort and whispered, "Do you think anyone heard? Perhaps I
"Do, and I'll leave you in the dirt, I swear it. Now behave yourself."
Miss Samantha Ardsley (or was it Mister Samuel Ardsley?) took hold of her (or was it his?) sister's hand and led her to a nearby vacant bench. After depositing her upon the perch with no ceremony whatsoever, the questionable escort set off to spy out some sort of refreshment for the distraught girl. What madness, the young sprig of fashion thought, I should have known Izzy hasn't the starch for this intrigue.
Miss Samantha Ardsley—for in truth the well-dressed young gentleman was a young lady—allowed a small smile to light up one side of her face as she pushed her way towards a street vendor, thrusting boldly through the crush of young bucks to purchase a small flavored ice.
What would all these fine gentlemen think if they knew who I really am? she asked herself. In a way she was glad her father had vetoed the visit to Green Park to see the balloon ascension; it was certainly more of a lark this way. Thank heaven she was able to hold the threat of Izzy's clandestine meeting with young Malcolm over her head, or she might never have talked her into this delicious scheme. Oh, she could have donned her brother's clothes and come alone, as she had done before. But when Izzy caught her, one leg into Wally's outgrown breeches, there was nothing for it but to lug her missish older sister along. Experience had taught Samantha that the only way to keep Isabella's mouth firmly shut was to make her sister as guilty as herself.
It was such a bother being a female! Her brother Wallace was allowed the freedom of the city when he was home, and even Izzy had more leeway—considering she was already
, as the term went. But Samantha resided in the city only because her father, Sir Stephen Ardsley, could not afford to keep the country house open just for his younger daughter. Not that she was unhappy in London. Hadn't she already been to the Fives Court, The Tower, and even Covent Garden—all in the disguise of a country youth set loose in the city to acquire some town bronze?
Samantha harbored no secret desire to have been born a male. It was her impatience with the restrictions Society placed on young females and her envy of the freedom enjoyed by her brother and the rest of the masculine gender—a disparity she condemned as excessively unfair—that prompted her adoption of masculine attire. Oh, no, it would be irresponsible to dismiss Samantha as just another hoydenish tomboy.
She was as predictably feminine as her demure older sister when it came to her weaknesses for the latest fashions, dancing till the wee hours at provincial balls, and excelling in most of the accepted female pursuits (excluding needlepoint, which she eschewed as an old lady's pastime). Horses, dogs, tree climbing, and the like all had a part in her life, but they were not consuming passions.
No, Samantha's besetting sin—the failing that prompted her to don masculine clothing and poke about London—was, quite simply, an unquenchable thirst for adventure. At almost predictable intervals she became overpowered by an inner voice urging her to explore, to discover, to experiment, to observe new things, and the by now familiar feelings of longing could no more be ignored than could a sharp splinter jabbing under one's tender skin.
And so, ever since her maiden aunt had decreed that Sir Stephen Ardsley's youngest daughter must begin to behave like a young lady and desist in her unescorted ramblings about the countryside, Samantha had simply taken her longings and her unorthodox method of indulging them underground. Her borrowed masculine attire gave her the freedom to pursue her penchant for adventure to the top of her bent. Her secret was safe so long as the gods remained kind and no one took it into his head to compare a certain slim, red-haired youth to the not-yet-Out Samantha Ardsley.
When it came time for the Ardsleys to come to town, Samantha's other identity—in the form of Wally's discarded breeches—came right along with the rest of the baggage. There was so much to see and do in this great metropolis; Samantha's sojourns about the city thus far were seen by her to be in the way of tantalizing appetizers for the many fascinating discoveries yet to come.
Thanks to Daisy, her maid and sometime confidante, her excursions had been without incident thus far, but the balloon ascension was one treat she had almost missed. Poor Izzy! That girl had the backbone of a sea sponge. Samantha had better hurry back before the balloon went up, for Izzy would probably swoon at the simple sight of it.
But it was not so easy to thread through the crowd now that all were rooted where they stood. The men had climbed into the balloon, and amid the crush Samantha was finding it difficult to locate Isabella in the throng. She pushed and nudged, apologized and bowed her way through the crowd only to pause at the sound of the
as the balloon slowly rose above the park. She stopped for a moment to watch its flight, but suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she saw her sister standing now at the edge of the onlookers, rapidly losing color.
Samantha took one last wistful look at the balloon before making tracks for Isabella's side, arriving only a moment too late—for her sister was already reclining in an unconscious state in the arms of a very large man.
"Miss Ardsley, are you all right?" Samantha queried. Her voice had elevated to an octave a bit too high to sound very masculine, due more to her anger at missing the ascension rather than from any concern for the girl's welfare.
"Are you responsible for this female?"
The question was more of an accusation, and Samantha's head flew up to meet the speaker's face. Samantha was a tallish girl—one good reason for her ability to get away with wearing her brother's clothes—but this man made her feel a veritable dwarf. Eyes as dark as coals burned down on her out of a face that looked to be chiseled out of solid marble, though his skin was tanned as though he spent many hours in the sun. His hair was as black as his disconcertingly shrewd eyes, and slight streaks of grey marked his temples, adding not a whit to his age but making him look still more forbidding.
Even Samantha didn't have to look twice to know she was confronted with the notorious Zachary St. John, Earl of Royston. "Describe the Devil and you have likewise conjured up a likeness of Royston," the saying went. He was right, the wit who had made up those lines, thought Samantha; for truly it was Satan himself, glaring down at her in obvious disgust.
While Samantha was examining the Earl, he was returning her scrutiny. He saw before him a young blade, damned young by the lack of beard on his face—though you could never tell that for sure with a redhead. The lad was reasonably tall, but he certainly didn't look physically capable of holding up Miss Ardsley, who was small but no lightweight. Dresses reasonably well, even if he fails to fill his coat very neatly at the shoulders, thought his lordship; probably some young pup who's just recently shaken the mud of Yorkshire or Devon from his boots, as I don't remember seeing him about before this. None too overcrowded in his brainbox either; just look at those wide green eyes, gawking at me as if I were going to eat him in lieu of lunch.
"Well, sir? Are you dumb? I asked if you were escorting this unfortunate creature," he said at last, his voice booming like thunder in Samantha's ears.
"I—I, that is, I had gone to fetch her an ice." Samantha looked down at the paper cup with its melted contents and dashed it to the ground with a muttered oath. "I thank you for your kind intervention, my lord," Samantha tacked on when she belatedly remembered her assumed role, "but if you will, er, pass the lady to me, I shall take her off your hands."
"And do what with her? Toss her over your shoulder and march off like a Viking bearing a prize of battle?"
Samantha felt herself going beet-red, a habit she thought she had left behind in the country, as she retorted, "That is my concern, your lordship. Kindly unhand my—Miss Ardsley at once!"
Luckily, Miss Ardsley was at last showing signs of recovering from her swoon. The Earl led her to the bench she had (in Samantha's mind) so stupidly chosen to leave in the first place, and sat her down. Isabella stammered her apologies and thanks as her eyes met those of her rescuer, and she quickly held out her hand to her sister.
Samantha took that hand and squeezed it unnecessarily hard in warning. Isabella threw her a darkling glance; she may have been only a female, but she certainly knew enough to be careful around the Earl of Royston. "I would wish to go back to Mount Street if you don't mind. I have an exceedingly painful head, I fear." There, she thought smugly, that should prove Samantha is not the only quick thinker in the family.
"Of course," came the reply from the Earl, before Samantha could utter a sound. "Do you wish this youth's company, or would you prefer I escort you in my curricle?" He shot a look at Samantha. "I can understand your feeling uneasy under his protection, as he has already failed you once this afternoon." He turned to Samantha. "Is your carriage nearby, Mr.—?"
Samantha quickly answered "Smythe," just as Isabella—suddenly and unfortunately displaying a heretofore carefully concealed flair for invention—supplied the alias of "Wright." The Earl raised his finely arched brows and turned from one to the other.
"Smythe-Wright," Samantha corrected with fervor. "Samuel Smythe-Wright. Your servant, and all that, my lord. And it is unnecessary for you to introduce yourself, for I would be a slowtop indeed if I did not recognize you, sir. Allow me to present Miss Isabella Ardsley, late of Ardsley Manor and—if I may be so bold—your arms, your lordship."
"Sam it is, all right!" Samantha almost shouted, to cut off her sister, who was about to call her Samantha and land them both in the basket for sure. She quickly lowered her voice to its assumed huskiness. "Every one of my friends call me Sam, your lordship." Isabella would get the sharp side of Samantha's tongue once they were out of this; if they ever were out of this!
The Earl raised his quizzing glass to stare at the discomfited youth. "I shall call you Smythe-Wright," he supplied coldly, "and quite a bit more, if you don't get this unfortunate child to her carriage posthaste. We're attracting quite a crowd and I have a pressing engagement I shall be late in keeping if I can't see a satisfactory conclusion to this mess immediately. Do I make myself clear, Smythe-Wright?"