Authors: Tiffany Clare
Tags: #Romance, #Historical romance, #st, #Fiction
And wasn’t that the truth.
A night that had suddenly been in her favor was quickly turning to disappointment. Here she stood with the Marquess of Castleigh, society’s biggest rogue, and he trembled in fear at the thought of sparring with Genny.
Charlotte flicked her fan open and thought out her next move. If the marquess attended dinner at the Carletons’ tomorrow evening, she’d find a way to get him alone, with her cousin far removed from the picture.
* * *
Tristan sat next to Hayden and across from Leo and Jez in the carriage. They’d left the duchess’s ball after Jez had thought it necessary to yell obscenities at Mr. Torrance and disturb everyone in the games room. The impudent man had insulted her, called her insensitive, and then he went on to question how she could enjoy a night out when her husband wasn’t yet cold in his grave. She’d given him many reasons that had ladies running out of the room with their hands over their ears, and gentlemen tsking at her and removing those women too stunned to leave of their own accord. He wished he’d been in the games room to defend Jez.
It didn’t matter to Tristan that their group had been forced to leave the ball after only being there for a mere hour. The lady they intended to finagle away from Mr. Warren had left fifteen minutes prior to them, and the rest of the company at the ball was overly dull. Tristan rested his head on the back of the seat and stretched his legs out, his right shin pressed against Jez’s skirts.
The Ponsley chit had trouble written all over her. He’d have to handle her with kid gloves so he didn’t well and truly ruin her. He didn’t think it was his imagination that she was determined to have him ruin her good name. There was a moment as they danced when he’d sensed her desire to sequester him in the darkness of the gardens.
He was too practiced with the fairer sex to fall for such a ruse, and instead he had maneuvered her in another, much safer direction. While he was considered a man of loose morals, he did not simply indulge at the first presented opportunity, especially where women were concerned. Women should be seduced over time so that they were savored to the fullest.
It was also odd that a debutante would specifically seek him out, and he had to know why Lady Charlotte had done so. Was she already engaged to Mr. Warren and perhaps enlightened to the man’s true character? Not possible, since a debutante wouldn’t be privy to the same information he was.
Jez had given Tristan the impression that their nuptials hadn’t been announced and wouldn’t be for some time. Perhaps the young lady just liked to live dangerously. His own name was printed often enough in the scandal sheets for doing precisely that … Still, he was determined to know what deviousness Lady Charlotte had planned and why.
Turning his head to the side, he noted that Hayden’s expression was dour, concerned even. Leo’s gaze seemed contemplative as he stared out at the passing scenery, which Tristan thought had more to do with one devil-tongued chaperone than Jez’s current predicament.
“The night is still young, and midnight not yet rung.” Jez leaned her head back on the leather seat, mimicking his position. Despite her request to keep going tonight, her eyes were at half-mast from exhaustion. “Whatever will we do to occupy ourselves?”
“Anything you like,” Tristan said, not sure why he had agreed to any such commitment when Jez clearly needed to sleep.
Maybe she didn’t want to be alone tonight? Or maybe she needed the comfort and support of her friends a while longer. Though she did not grieve for her dead husband—the man had been a vile prick—she obviously lamented the loss of the richly afforded life she’d been accustomed to.
Leo’s focus returned to them. “I have a bottle of rum in my study that hasn’t been cracked open yet.”
“You’ll be attending the Carletons’ tomorrow and you think it wise to drink a bottle of rum so late in the evening? You’ll be three sheets to the wind when you wake up in the morning.” Hayden’s tone was stern, though his anger seemed directed at Jez and not Leo or Tristan.
“You’re turning into your father,” Tristan pointed out as the carriage rolled to a stop in front of Leo’s town-house—where they usually congregated when they weren’t causing mischief about Town.
“You’re simply angry that I lost my temper with that cad, Mr. Torrance,” Jez said defensively.
“Angry? Simply angry? You’ve bloody well lost your mind to do what you did tonight, Jez.” Hayden remained calm as he lectured Jez, but his gloved hand squeezed the black jade eagle head atop his cane. “You’re your own worst enemy; you cannot be so brash and unpredictable without your husband’s name to protect you.”
“Come now,” Tristan interjected. “She’ll be excused for any wrongdoing or minor blowouts since her husband has
died. Everyone will think that she is grieving.”
Hayden glared back at Tristan as he shoved his hat on his head. “I wish that were the truth. I’ll bid you all a good night. Unlike you lot, I have obligations in the morning.” Pointing the top end of his cane in Jez’s direction, he added, “Don’t forget our appointment in the morning. Unless you don’t care that your husband’s fortune may soon be forever out of reach.”
Jez rolled her eyes, pushed the carriage door open, and grabbed Hayden’s sleeve to drag him down the steps behind her.
“Stop being so dramatic and join us for one toast. We must celebrate my newfound freedom.” Jez pouted out her bottom lip. “Don’t be mad, darling, I’ve had a dreadful week.”
Hayden removed his hat again and scratched the back of his blond-topped head. “One drink, Jez. Then I have to be off.”
Jez gave them all a winning smile and she seemed much more her radiant self for a moment.
Hayden stayed for three shots and left, and then Tristan, Jez, and Leo sang bawdy songs for God knew how long—until the rum ran out, he thought.
The better plan would have been to call it a night as Hayden had originally suggested. Tristan wasn’t sure how he made it home, but he woke in a bath of sunlight, his half-clothed body tangled in the sheets, and his head feeling as if it were squeezed in a vise.
Those fortunate enough to receive an invitation for the revered Lady C
’s evening soirees often find themselves embroiled in the gossip of the season. My fingers tingle in anticipation of the scandals to arise from such a motley crew …
—The Mayfair Chronicles,
May 1846 It was unfortunate that Mr. Warren thought it necessary to visit her at all. She’d been daydreaming about her previous evening’s adventure when the maid had come to tell her that he awaited her in the parlor.
Gathering every ounce of courage she had, Charlotte sat at the vanity, leaned close to the mirror, and pinched her cheeks to bring some color to them. She smoothed out her skirts—she hadn’t had time to change out of her checked walking dress—and spritzed water over her hair to flatten the flyaway strands.
Why she cared about her appearance at all she couldn’t say. Only, she didn’t want Mr. Warren to make some snide remark about her looking unkempt when she would one day be a countess in a prestigious household.
Genny was waiting for her when she opened her bedchamber door, and Charlotte released a sigh of relief that she wouldn’t have to go downstairs and face him alone. Her cousin hadn’t had time to change out of her walking dress, either, so hopefully Mr. Warren wouldn’t comment on her being inappropriately attired as he’d done in the past.
“Did you know he planned to visit us today?” she asked her cousin.
“I think he came because he was not present at the duchess’s ball last night.”
She’d nearly forgotten he was supposed to be there. Perhaps it was better that he came this afternoon rather than finding her in the arms of the marquess last night. What would he think if he learned that she intended to attract the attention of a certain marquess?
She thought she could tolerate fifteen minutes with the odious Mr. Warren considering everything wonderful that had happened the previous night.
“Let us get on with it then.” She motioned toward the staircase and they started walking in the direction of the parlor.
“He’s not so dreadful as you make him out to be.” Genny defended him far too often.
One of Charlotte’s brows rose in disbelief. “You don’t seriously believe that, do you? He’s always arguing with me and pointing out my flaws. I’m sure if we married he’d see more reason to criticize me.”
“He’s come into the Fallon estate quite unexpectedly, so he has a lot on his mind. Be kind to him, Charlotte. He’ll come around when things settle in his life.”
Why did her cousin side with him at all? Was it because she’d never found a husband and had been a companion for family members since her last failed season? It was understandable that her cousin didn’t want the same thing for Charlotte, but unfortunately that was not how Charlotte felt—she quite liked the idea of being free, of making her own decisions.
“I’ll call for tea and sandwiches,” Genny said. “That’ll give you a moment of privacy. Endear yourself to him, Charlotte. I know you can if you put your mind to it.”
She didn’t want to endear herself to
man in any way—she wanted him very much out of her life. Charlotte reached for her cousin’s hand before she could make arrangements with the kitchen. “You’ll sit with me before long, won’t you?”
“Yes, once the tea is prepared.” At Charlotte’s distressed expression, Genny added, “The parlor door will remain open while I make arrangements, of course.” And before Charlotte could grab her cousin again, Genny was heading away from her and toward the kitchens.
She took a deep breath and mentally prepared herself for the battle of words sure to come the moment she stepped into the parlor, and slid the door fully open. She had no qualms about the rest of the household hearing their conversation; maybe they’d understand just how vile a man he truly was and try to convince her father that their match wasn’t worth the trouble it was sure to cause in the end.
“Mr. Warren. How kind of you to stop by.” She dipped her head as she greeted him. The polite action necessitated by her cousin’s parting words that she try and be civil. “Genny is instructing the kitchen to prepare tea and sandwiches. She’ll join us momentarily.”
“We’re to announce our engagement soon, so it won’t do for me to not pay you a visit.”
Mr. Warren stood next to the mantel, his dark, imposing frame overly pressed and too primly perfect. She wished she could roll him down a hill so that he was rumpled and not as well put together—something he’d probably never been in his whole life. He was taller than her by at least four inches and Charlotte had always been tall for a lady.
There was nothing spectacular about his appearance to set him apart from anyone else of her acquaintance. Perhaps she’d find him handsome if he weren’t such an ass. His hair was a thick wave of brown that looked smeared in soot it was so dark. And though he wasn’t yet an earl, and had probably never expected to be one, Genny had told her on many occasions that she thought him dashing.
should marry him.
His lips were on the thin side, his teeth were brilliantly white, and he had a full smile she did not trust.
The thought of their engagement still made her face screw up in displeasure; she simply couldn’t help the reaction since it was so distasteful to her.
“And here I thought you wanted to see me.”
“Don’t be absurd.” His expression seemed almost appalled at the very idea of enjoying her company.
Why should she try to be civil when Mr. Warren didn’t seem to have a civil bone in his body?
“You know how important it is to keep up appearances,” he said. “What should anyone of worth think if I hadn’t called on you once before the announcement is made in the papers?”
“Yes, I always am. You needn’t question my judgment about anything.”
“I constantly question your reason for this farce you insist on calling courting.”
“I only visit you at your father’s insistence.”
“How kind of you to think of my feelings.”
“Kindness has nothing to do with it. And feelings are solely a woman’s prerogative, and have nothing to do with the better sex.” He tapped his fingers almost impatiently along the mantel. “You’ll learn your place and to save your feelings for any children we have.”
Was she so terrible a person to warrant such cruel treatment from him? She’d never really met anyone who disliked her on first meeting her.
He pulled out his watch and looked at the time. He must be in a hurry, which was fine by her.
“Do you have somewhere else you need to be, Mr. Warren? Don’t let me keep you from any engagements.”
“I’ll stay the allotted fifteen minutes for tea.”
What a shame he wasn’t in a rush to leave.
She motioned toward the settees in the room. “Would you like to sit with me for a spell?”
He took the seat opposite hers and stared at her oddly.
Charlotte had to fold her hands in her lap lest she fidget under his inspection.
“Were you out walking?”
Charlotte looked down at her dress. “Genny and I shopped along Bond Street.”