Edward Arundell suspected from the moment he almost ran her down on Monmouth Street, that Miss Fanshawe would be trouble. He had merely a few more corners to conquer before reaching the house on King Street, and had just rounded the bend to Monmouth when a young woman in a delicate sprigged muslin and a straw, beribboned hat, holding a single valise, and with a corded trunk at her feet, stepped lightly into the road. If he hadn’t been such a sure hand at the reins, he’d never have managed to pull up the team in time to skirt around her. But with a hair’s breadth to spare, he missed her and roared past. He should have kept right on roaring. The curricle he commanded at top speed was not his own, first of all, and if he didn’t reach home before his elder brother Sebastian awoke and discovered the theft (for surely he would call it that) he’d be in for a monstrous combing and quite possibly lose his monthly stipend. The combing he could take with fortitude. But losing his stipend was an unthinkable horror. To complete his journey he needed only to bear left onto Grafton Street, angle quickly right onto Gerrard’s, then make the razor-sharp turn onto Prince’s in order to come up directly by the mews off King. He would have stabled the horses and got in the house before Sebastian would know the difference. Only he didn’t keep on. The devil made him turn, he supposed, to spy the sweet vixen he’d missed by mere inches and see her drop senseless in the street. He was no saint, by Jove. But even he, a young sprig intent on making a wave among a set of wave cutters, had no choice but to slow the team, swallow an oath that flew to his lips, and return to the scene of the almost crime. At this early hour, only two passersby were on hand, and they hurried to surround the prostrate young woman.
These lost no time in hailing Edward, begging him to be so kind as to take the poor thing in his chariot to the nearest inn or coffee house. With a heavy heart, Edward allowed them to lift the young lady, and then her valise and trunk, into the curricle. She came to as he drove off, sinking his spirits yet further, for now he would have to apologize prettily, perhaps even take her somewhere across the metropolis—who knew? By the time he got back to King Street with Sebastian’s curricle, his elder brother would be in rare form. And if he cut off Edward’s stipend, which was by any standard already too meager to keep him looking all the crack, he’d be utterly dashed and done in. He slowed the team to a stop in front of The Boar’s Head Inn and turned apologetically to his slim, dark-haired young victim. After craning her neck to get a good look at the establishment, the young lady turned to him with large brown eyes infused with gratitude, eyes that would melt a sterner man’s heart. “Thank you, sir,” she said quietly. Colouring, she added, “I—I believe I nearly swooned!” He looked past a riot of curls that had escaped her bonnet and met those luminous orbs with a suddenly gentle disposition. “But you did swoon,” he assured her. “And it was on my account.
Please—please—allow me to —to—.” He motioned with his head to the inn, but when the innkeeper emerged from inside the brick building dusting off an apron and followed by a porter, a sudden better thought occurred to Edward. If he took this lovely creature into the inn to revive her with some refreshment, it would cost him something. More, he’d be detained and not get home before Sebastian—that starched shirt!—would discover his transgression. He’d been given set downs before on account of borrowing the curricle. With this infraction, he and his brother’d go to loggerheads and upset Mama. Or Edward would have to deliver a Canterbury story deep enough to satisfy the pope. In the few seconds it took for the servant to reach him, extending a hand for the ribbons to walk the horses to the mews, he’d made a decision. “Allow me to offer you breakfast,” he said magnanimously, turning only to dismiss the man with a curt nod. “My mother and elder brother are home, and there is no trouble at all in bringing a guest, I assure you.
” With an apologetic air, he added, bowing his head, “I beg your pardon. Edward Arundell, at your service.” “Miss Fanshawe,” said Frannie with a nod of the head. “Pleased to meet you.” Normally she would have left it at that. Normally she wasn’t given to a display of emotions but the excitement and danger of her situation must have had her in its grip, for she added in a gush, “But oh, Mr. Arundell, you’ve no notion of my troubles! I have endured the most horrifying experience!” Edward looked at her fairly amazed. “It’s but nine o’clock. Have you already had the most horrifying experience?” She nodded, with large, pained eyes. “Yesterday.
I’m afraid I’ve been at sixes and sevens ever since, wandering in town like—like a nomad.” “Surely you didn’t wander the streets all night,” he said, half in disbelief and half in awe. She shook her head, resulting in a ripple of curls that framed the bonnet. “I lodged at an inn, but I left this morning determined to return to my father’s house and—” “You didn’t run from home!” Edward pronounced. Such an impropriety on the part of a proper looking young woman quite astonished him. “No, indeed!” she said imploringly, her large eyes pinned upon his. “But my only relations that I know of—I suppose it was my aunt—turned me away!” “Do ye’ not know your aunt?” Edward asked, with narrowed eyes. “I never laid eyes on her before yesterday. You see, I was brought up by my mother and Mrs. Baxter,” she explained.
“But they are both gone now, and I have suffered the very worst sort of ill usage by—by this lady! It is quite abominable.” “Bad luck,” he said feelingly, regarding her now with a benign expression, his entire sympathies instantly on her part. Miss Fanshawe was certainly under the hatches. He’d found himself at the bottom end of deep scrapes for most of his eighteen years, so that a fellow sufferer he regarded almost as a fellow in arms, though he wasn’t a military man. “Not to fret,” he assured her. “My uncle’s a baronet,” he said importantly, “and my brother’s his heir.” Miss Fanshawe’s eyes widened. This satisfied Edward, who had yet to discover a commoner who wasn’t impressed with a tie to nobility, whether high or low as to the scale of titles. Sir Hugo would scarcely know him by sight, but that was not to the point. The connexion was real, but tenuous because of an ancient feud between Sir Hugo Arundell and his mama; a mysterious affair that remained shrouded in reticence, with the result that Edward’s family rarely saw the baronet.
Nevertheless, claiming the relation was social proof that Edward found uncommonly useful and irresistible, therefore, to make known. He nodded toward King Street. “Whatever your troubles, Sebastian’ll sort them out.” “Is that the brother you spoke of?” Edward nodded. “My elder by nine years.” In a disgruntled voice he added, “Thinks he’s my father, I daresay.” Frannie’s large eyes filled with hope. “Could it be—do you indeed think he will champion my cause? I find myself quite friendless. I own it is a nasty kettle of fish and I haven’t the faintest idea how to proceed in it. But I prayed earnestly for divine assistance.
I believe it was Providence that brought you to me!” Edward would not have put it that way, but he gave her a wry glance while slapping the ribbons lightly to start off. “What sort of trouble is it?” She swallowed, and said emphatically, “A mystery. Which I must get to the bottom of as soon as possible! My future, my entire fortune is at stake!” Respectfully, and trying not to appear too curious, Edward asked, “And is that fortune very large?” “Quite large, I am told.” She paused and said philosophically, “Mrs. Baxter assured me that it must be in excess of £30,000 by now.” “Lud, that is a fortune,” he acknowledged gravely, and rather in awe. “Mrs. Baxter?” “The dear lady who raised me after my mama died.” At this, Frannie blinked back tears. “She has only gone to her rest a fortnight ago.
” “I say,” Edward mumbled, sincerely. “Poor Miss Fanshawe.” Frannie stifled her tears with a handkerchief, turning to give him a look of gratitude for his understanding, her eyes large and dark and long-lashed. Edward sucked in his breath. Miss Fanshawe was first-rate, his friends would say. A pearl of the first water. “But that is only part of my trouble. The worst of it is what happened since her passing!” He turned the final corner onto King Street. With any luck they’d be in the house before Sebastian had summoned his valet. Good thing his elder brother wouldn’t countenance appearing at breakfast unshaved.
But he turned to Frannie and said warningly, “Sebastian can be devilish unfriendly in the morning; he grows less formidable as the day wears on.” After a moment Frannie asked curiously and a little troubled, “Why would that be? If a gentleman is good-natured and amiable, he ought to be so always unless there has been provocation. He ought to be steady in his character, day or night.” “He don’t sleep well,” Edward explained matter of factly. He gave her a serious look. “Don’t get in the vapours if he ain’t amiable right off.” Frannie frowned. “I assure you, I am not in the habit of getting in the vapours.” “But you swooned earlier,” pointed out Edward, “though you weren’t injured by me.” Frannie sniffed again.
“That’s only because…because I haven’t eaten for a whole day. And the fright of that close call—.” She turned to him, her eyes dawning with recognition. “Injured by you? Was that you? Thunder! It was this carriage that almost killed me?” Edward’s heart lurched. “Dash it, Miss Fanshawe, I meant no harm! Only I was—I am—in the deepest pickle; couldn’t afford to lighten the pace! I daresay an apology will hardly answer, but I am sorry.” Frannie regarded him silently for a moment. “And you did return to rescue me.” In another moment her eyes brightened. “You are forgiven, Mr. Arundell.
I maintain, it would have been worse for me had any other carriage nearly blown me down. Not many gentlemen would see their way to helping a stranger! That must compensate for one small moment of terror.” Edward swallowed, and hoped sincerely that his brother would indeed be able to untangle whatever ravel she was in. He owed her that. He pulled up to the house. It was ungentlemanly not to assist her down, but he needed to get the curricle stowed and out of sight. Frowning, he explained that he had only to get the horses in the mews himself—didn’t wish to disturb a servant!—and would be right back with her valise, but was silenced by the arrival of a dour-faced Sykes, Sebastian’s man. Glancing disapprovingly at Edward, Sykes assisted the lady from the carriage. After ordering a footman to lift down the young woman’s portmanteau, he looked back upon Edward with his peculiarly frigid gaze. “Look here, Sykes, you needn’t tell him—” “He knows, sir,” said Sykes, in the deep, gloomy voice that always reminded Edward of a mausoleum.
“Dash it all!” Edward took a deep breath. “So be it.” Sykes took the ribbons and handed them to a groom who had emerged from the servants’ entrance, while Frannie looked nervously and questioningly at Edward. Edward climbed down and went around to the pavement where he offered her his arm. They walked, Sykes following with his singularly disapproving mien, to the door. Edward said bracingly, “Sebastian’s a crusty fellow, but he won’t dare comb me over in your presence.” The words were more for his own assurance, it seemed, than Miss Fanshawe’s. Escorting her inside, he hoped it was true. C H A P T E R T W O “It must seem irregular to you,” Frannie said apologetically, allowing him to usher her in ahead, “to accept such kindness, to come into your home on so short an acquaintance!” A small, squat, but dignified little man hurried toward them and took Edward’s things, and then Frannie’s. He was not the usual butler to be found in an upper-class establishment, or most anywhere for that matter.
In place of the long legs and fine calves that butlers and footmen were sometimes chosen for—because they showed off the breeches of livery to a turn—this man was thick set and muscular; not what you would call elegant by any standard. But he performed his office and was thanked by Edward as he bowed shortly to Frannie before Edward turned them toward the stairs. Sykes, holding the valise, said, “Is your guest staying, sir?” His sepulchral monotone echoed in the hall. Edward could not understand for the life of him, how Sebastian could stand such a dull plate for a servant. Why, if he, Edward, had a gentleman’s gentleman, it’d be a man with spirit, with conversation and suggestions. An energetic being, not a walking tomb like Sykes. Flustered at the unexpected question, however, he replied, “Yes, yes. Tell my mother. She’ll direct you to which bedchamber she wants for Miss Fanshawe.” With both servants gone, Edward looked timorously at the young woman.
“Are you stopping elsewhere? I suppose I should have asked you first, if you were wishing to stay.” But she answered, smiling, “It is exceedingly generous of you to put me up. Indeed, I have no lodgings in the city. You see, it was part—part of my troubles; that I ended up without a place to lay my head. And my purse was nabbed—and—and—” Her eyes watered at this, and Edward, alarmed, said, “None of that now. As I said, we’ll get it sifted for you.” He brought her to the morning room, which thankfully, neither his mama nor brother had as yet entered. Frannie looked with appreciation through its arched window at a small garden behind the house, a welcome spot of greenery in the city. The sideboard, with delicious aromas wafting from an assortment of covers, beckoned, and lifted her spirits further. She’d been feeling the lack of nourishment, for she’d had nothing since her purse was snatched.
Edward offered her a plate, and she chose what she wanted. When they were both seated with breakfast before them, eggs en cocotte and rolls, butter, a pot of chocolate and one of tea, he eagerly dug in but glanced her way, and stopped chewing. “Is something amiss?” he asked. “Do you not—” she hesitated. “That is, do you mind if I give thanks?” Edward hurriedly put down his fork. “Forgive me. Not at all.” Sebastian must like this one, he thought with satisfaction as Frannie said a heartfelt prayer of thanks. Indeed, it rather astonished him, for she gave thanks for the mercy of having almost been run down, for it led him to help her. Such a detailed prayer from the heart was not something he often heard.
Must be a Methodist, he thought, instantly resolving to say nothing of it to Sebastian, a staunch Anglican. When sheʼd done, he dug back in to his food, being famished. Heʼd been out half the night in pursuit of a fly-by-nighter, a man who’d promised to sell him a bang up equipage, a smart gig, just the thing for a whip-in-training, and for the smallest sum imaginable. All Edward had to do was convey said man from the low district club where they’d met to his home north of London. There, the transaction was to take place. But for this Edward was forced to borrow his brother’s curricle, which meant waiting until the small hours of the night to do it undetected. To Edward’s chagrin, when he was presented with the supposed prize, he’d never seen a sorrier looking equipage. Outdated, outmoded, its sides peeling with strips of languishing wood, and the wheels uneven. The man was not eager to lose the sale and harped on most unpleasantly about a gentleman’s word being his honour and other such drivel. By the time Edward got away (and only after pressing a few shillings into the man’s hand) it was well past morning light.
He pushed the team hard to make time and was cracking along nicely—until Miss Fanshawe stepped into his path. Looking at her now, he wished he’d been less hasty in bringing her to the house, for it began to be borne in on him that it would be an uphill climb convincing Sebastian to take her case. He’d best learn all he could before facing him. The next half hour in the morning room was spent in earnest conversation as Frannie laid out her case for Edward. Many emphatic sighs with outstretched arms were heard and noted. Edward listened with a growing frown, rubbing his chin, nodding now and again. By the time he’d heard the whole sorry tale, he knew one thing. Sebastian wasn’t going to like it.