Lord Marchmain, otherwise known as August Bright, stared at the man who had been his idol for so many years and shook his head with remorse. That the fellow had been reduced to this; it was shocking, and rather terrifying, too. The object of the young man’s pity was none other than the Duke of Ware, otherwise known as Beau to his intimates. To be fair, August had to concede that Beau didn’t seem the least bit regretful at the loss of his freedom and his decadent lifestyle. In fact, truth be told, the fellow seemed to revel in his new way of life. One might even say he was … happy. Yet as August watched him juggle one of two newborn babies with surprising ease and confidence, he could only wonder at how this was possible. His duchess, Milly, was a good sort, too, rather fun, in fact, but that poor Beau was quite firmly under her thumb was only too obvious. This was the man who’d had half the women in London falling at his feet, and one that August had tried hard to emulate. To be perfectly truthful, he’d done a damned good job, too. Bearing in mind he was neither a duke, nor even a marquess – as Beau had been at the height of his fame – but a mere baron, August thought he’d succeeded rather admirably in taking up the man’s crown as darling of the ton and the most notorious rake in town. “It won’t do, August,” Beau continued, handing the mewling baby to his wife, who was scolding him about feeding times. “By all accounts, your mother is at her wit’s end, and believe me, I know, as she was here all of Monday afternoon, thank you very much.” Beau’s tone was terse now, though August didn’t blame him, a visit from his mother was enough to leave anyone feeling blue-devilled. He was embarrassed, however, so he just glowered and rolled his eyes to the ceiling as Beau kissed his wife and actually looked regretful to see her take the horrifyingly noisy twins from the room.
“Dammit, Beau, you know that was none of my doing. I’m mortified that she came to you.” “No more than I,” Beau replied, his tone dry as they were finally left in blessed peace. “I’ve heard more about you and your scandalous affairs than I needed to know, I assure you, but the only way I could get free of her was by promising to talk to you.” To be fair, Beau looked just as disgusted by the turn of events as August, but they both knew that his mother was a hard woman, and one that you crossed at your peril. August glowered harder nonetheless. His mother was a dreadful snob, and one of the only things he had ever done that she had approved of was making friends with the duke of Beaumont. That she’d had the audacity to come to Beau herself to discuss her son’s sordid behaviour … August shuddered with the humiliation of it. “So tell her you did your duty and leave me be,” he said, crossing his arms and feeling increasingly indignant. “Just because you’re happy being a poacher-turned-game-keeper, I don’t see why you have to try and spoil my fun,” he added, more than a little aggrieved at the duke’s interference, bearing in mind the man’s own reputation had been every bit as black as August’s.
Beau snorted and shook his head. “That’s exactly why, you fool. Believe me, I have every sympathy with you for your mother.” August flushed, mortified at Beau realising what a dreadful bitch she really was. God alone only knew what she’d said to Beau about him. Beau’s face softened with pity and August felt ill as his worst fears were confirmed. “But she does have a point,” Beau continued, “and I’m not talking about providing the heir she’s so desperate for, either. You need to take an honest look at your life, August, because I know all of that fun you’re having will begin pall very soon, if it hasn’t already.” Beau’s intense blue eyes turned on him with rather too much force and August looked away. The devil always seemed to see through him, and it was disturbing.
August got to his feet, determined that he bring this interview to a close as soon as possible. “Look, I’ve brought most of what I owe you, I just need a few weeks to find the rest, but you’ll have it, I promise. So there is no need to punish me any further with this father-figure speech of yours. You can tell Mother you did everything you could with a clear conscience.” He reached for the thick wad of notes in his pocket, the result of a very timely win on the horses, and held it out to Beau with regret. It was all the money he had in the world at the moment, and if his mother had been here complaining about him, well, an advance on his allowance wasn’t looking likely. Beau shook his head. “No.” August blanched, wondering if Beau was going to insist on the whole lot. He’d been very patient, after all, allowing him to pay off his debt over the course of a year, but this last instalment was already a month late.
“Oh, don’t look so horrified,” Beau replied, shaking his head and smiling. “I’ve just decided on another way in which you can repay me.” August’s eyes widened and he knew well that he really must look horrified now. He was in debt to the man and late with payment and Beau had him over a barrel. Honour demanded he do as he was asked. He waited in trepidation to discover what on earth it was he was in for. Beau chuckled, clearly enjoying his discomfort enormously. “You remember Lord Nibley? He was up at Eton with us, my year, actually, so older than you.” Frowning as a tall, gaunt man with spectacles came to mind, August nodded. “Dull fellow, academic, always on about rocks or something?” He watched as Beau grinned at him.
“That’s the fellow. Well, as it happens, he’s a good friend of mine and he needs help, and you’re going to give it to him.” “What?” August demanded, wondering if Beau had taken leave of his senses. “What the bloody hell could I possibly help him with?” Beau turned away and poured them both a drink, carrying the crystal glasses over and handing one with a generous measure to August. There was a rather amused glint in his blue eyes that didn’t bode well. “You, my dear August, can help the man learn how to charm the birds from the trees … and find him a wife.” *** “It’s got to be here somewhere!” Patience threw the cushion back onto the armchair as though it had offended her and put her hands on her hips. Her younger step-sister, Caro, quailed a little and bit her lip. “Well, I suppose I might have come home without it,” she offered, as Patience rolled her eyes to the heavens and prayed for more of what her name implied she had in abundance. It was ironic, really, a more impatient woman you’d be hard-pressed to find.
She wondered if her parents had known it all along and had merely named her so to remind her daily of what she most lacked. “Caro, even you cannot be so utterly bird-witted to come home with only one shoe,” Patience retorted, getting on her hands and knees and looking under the sofa. “I refuse to believe it.” “Well, I don’t know why,” Caro replied, flopping into the nearest chair with a flurry of muslin skirts. “You have to admit, it’s the sort of thing I would do.” Patience snorted and then gave a lusty sneeze as the dust under the sofa got up her nose; they really ought to get another housemaid, but their mother – Patience’s step-mother – was economising again. That was a laugh, too, her darling step-mama had no more idea of economy than she did how to lie through her teeth. It was really too much when you couldn’t remonstrate with the woman for spending the entire week’s grocery allowance on a pair of kid gloves because the colour matched her eyes, when she was so utterly guileless. “Whilst I’m prepared to concede that you would do such a thing, surely you would remember coming home on Friday night with one shoe?” Patience demanded as she fumbled for her handkerchief. “It was raining, for heaven’s sake.
” She blew her nose with gusto and looked up, watching as Caro screwed up her own nose, deep in thought. She was really a very pretty girl. Black hair fell in thick ringlets around a heart-shaped face, and her blue eyes were perfectly angelic. Her nature was just as sweet, and despite being only a half-sister, she was devoted to Patience, as was her mother. Patience’s own mother had died young and her father had quickly married Cecilia, or Cilly as she was known to her friends. It was an alarmingly apt name for her. Neither Caro or Cilly had an ounce of common sense between them, and Patience had become the one they both deferred to. Her own father had died not long after marrying Cilly, and it was her step-mother’s unwavering kindness to Patience during this difficult time that made it all the easier to bear with her rather frivolous nature. Cilly had naturally married again, but her new husband had died of tuberculosis after only two years of marriage, leaving Cilly to bring up little Caro alone. Cilly had been distraught, as she truly had loved her husband, and it fell to Patience at the tender age of twelve to take over the running of the household.
It was not a role she minded exactly; after all, she couldn’t bear to see the two of them get themselves into such ridiculous situations and do nothing, but she did occasionally experience a pang of regret for what her youth might have held if not for them. Now at the ripe old age of twentyeight, she had accepted that any thoughts of marriage were behind her, but didn’t mourn the loss of it as hard as some might have believed. After all, she was used to being in charge, used to her independence, and she was damned if any man was going to take that away from her. “Of course!” Caro exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “It must be in the larder.” Patience stared at her sister and refused to bite. There really was no point in asking how one – not both, mind – but one of her best satin dancing slippers had ended up in the larder. “Of course it is,” she muttered, getting to her feet again. “Well, Rufus was trying to eat the rosette off it, you see,” Caro continued as Patience followed her down the stairs to the kitchen. Rufus was Cilly’s obnoxious little pug dog.
It was spoiled and badtempered and Patience despised it. The feeling was most certainly mutual. “He didn’t want the left one, for some reason, only the right, and I was hungry after that party so I went to the kitchen …” “Yes, yes,” Patience replied, holding up a weary hand. “I do see.” She waited whilst Caro trotted off to retrieve her missing shoe, and looked in the parlour where her step-mama was sipping tea with a distracted air. “Is your packing all done, Mama?” Patience asked, though it always seemed odd to her to call the woman Mama. Her step-mother was only thirty-seven and looked younger. She could easily pass for Patience’s older, and far more lovely, sister. It was just as well Patience didn’t care for such superficial things as looks, or she might have been just a little put out. As it was, Patience was perfectly content to have taken after her father.
He may not have been the most handsome man in the world, but he had a good brain in his head, a great deal of common sense, and had even wit enough to educate his daughters. As Caro would only too quickly point out, it had only been of use to Patience, as she herself was quite stupid. This comment would quickly dissolve into a row as Patience knew quite well that Caro was not really stupid at all, only rather lazy and more interested in pretty frocks and parties than anything that taxed her perfectly capable brain. “Mama!” Patience repeated, as the lovely woman before her jumped and nearly dropped her teacup. “Oh, Patience, dearest,” she said, flushing a little. “I didn’t see you there.” “I asked if you had finished packing. You know we leave early tomorrow morning?” Cilly bit her lip and shook her head. “No, not yet. I … I did start, only … Oh, Patience, it’s so fatiguing.
Mary will keep asking me questions about whether I want to bring this or that, and I needed a moment to get away.” Patience folded her arms, narrowing her eyes. “You only began after midday, Cilly,” she said, her tone rather severe now. “Despite promising me that you’d do it this morning, and as it is only now two o’clock, I find it hard to believe that you have over-exerted yourself.” She watched as Cilly huffed and pouted and then made a sound of objection as Patience took her cup and saucer away and hauled her to her feet. “Just think, though, Cilly, what will happen if you don’t oversee things. You know, I think I saw Mary pack that shocking violet outfit you bought in London that makes you look positively hagged, and that old sprigged muslin that you wear out in the garden to prune the roses.” This, far more than any other remonstration, had the desired effect as Cilly gave a cry of alarm and hurried back up the stairs. Patience snorted and shook her head, making a mental note of all the other things she must do before they left in the morning. She must take a moment and sit down and pay the last of their bills before they left, and give instructions to the gardener, help Mary put the Holland covers over the best furniture, as the poor woman would be dropping with exhaustion after dealing with Cilly and her packing – oh, and make sure they had a picnic, as Caro and Cilly were bound to attract unwanted attention if they stopped at an inn, no matter how respectable.
She could only pray that the lodgings she had found them were every bit as elegant and well-placed as she had hoped from her correspondence. Not that she could do anything about it now. Patience was torn from her thoughts, however, as Caro appeared from the kitchen. “Found it!” she crowed, dark curls bouncing as she ran towards Patience, triumphant as she held the blue satin slipper aloft. “Well,” Patience murmured as she gave a heavy sigh. “That is a weight off my mind.” *** To Patience’s great relief, the three-story town-house on Henrietta Street was everything that she had hoped for. One of a long row of identical houses, built of Bath stone, it was everything that was quiet elegance. Not at the height of fashion, perhaps, but a good and very respectable address that should speak well for them as a family, and that was what mattered. Patience had little time for the haut ton and their notions of what was and was not of the first importance.
There was no denying, however, that for Caro to make some good connections, and, God willing, a suitable marriage, appearances had to be maintained. In truth, this didn’t ought to be difficult. Her father had left them all very comfortably off, if only Cilly would try and remember she was a widow and couldn’t spend and gamble as she had whilst her darling husband was alive. In fact, her second husband had been a very wealthy man and the bulk of his fortune had been left to Caro. This was both a blessing and a curse, since her come-out as a pretty, young heiress meant every fortune hunter in town was nosing about after her like asses after the last carrot. Patience snorted, rather pleased by the appropriate mental image that conjured. Still, it was her job to ensure that Caro did not get taken in by rakes and libertines, but married a good and kind-hearted fellow that would treat her well and not squash her enthusiasm for life. As Cilly was as ill-equipped to deal with such men as Caro herself, it fell to Patience to be the grown-up, and the lion-tamer. Any man who set his sights on Caro had better be worthy of her, or face the consequences.