Rogues Like it Scot – Eva Devon

Lady Andromeda Gateshead, Marchioness of Schollingbrook, had lost her husband. No, he had not wandered off into Hyde Park whilst she took her daily invigorating walk. She had not lost him to the numerous gambling tables that graced London’s gilded homes and clubs. Nor had he succumbed to drink. A duel had not claimed his life. In fact, the Marquess of Schollingbrook had bumbled through life causing fewer ripples in a pond than an errant stone, except. Except for when he was being an absolute tyrant to his wife. So, when he had shuffled off his mortal coil one late winter night, for no seeming reason that any physician could elucidate, Lady Andromeda had not mourned his unmemorable passing. Not one little bit. She had, in fact, been both stunned and relieved. A great weight had been lifted off her shoulders. The albatross of her life had suddenly vanished. Freedom from a man who hated her beyond measure was hers at last.

For her married life had taken on a sort of relentless torture which suggested one could actually be the living dead. In all actuality, Sisyphus had come to mind. When she’d thought of her future life, spending year after year with her husband, she could well imagine the grim acceptance Sisyphus had felt pushing his rock up the hill, only to see it roll down again and be condemned by the gods to push it up and watch it roll back for all time. There had been little peace of mind in that daily Hades. Free of that slow, unyielding madness? Well, she had, indeed, felt as if a boulder had been taken from her life. Even so, it had been no easy thing, her transition to widowhood. How lovely it would have been if all had been magically well within hours. Nothing was ever simple for a woman. Nothing. After all, a lady sans a masculine ruler was. Well, she was considered to be quite the conversation piece. She was a risk to society.

Would she be the model widow, inclining her head, turning away from worldly things? Or would she embrace all that life had to offer? To her good fortune, her brother, the Duke of Clyde, had no wish to meddle in her life or suggest that she rusticate at some country house for the rest of her days, acting as a nun might do. Being rather eccentric himself, her brother made no attempts in their long siblinghood and friendship to tame her. Quite the contrary. He’d always encouraged her to be as wild as she may. And her marriage had been a source of great unhappiness and worry to him. And so, after a time in Scotland at her family seat, healing her soul and thinking about what to do next, she had returned to London. Her pockets were plump with her marriage portion and a large allowance from her brother, who had insisted. Though her husband had found little interest in the world, she had always thrilled to salons, literature, the arts, and anything that was de rigueur. A beautifully appointed townhouse near Hyde Park had ensured that she would be able to continue her popular parties. Parties that her husband had never attended or cared for.

This particular summer’s eve, she was thrilled to play hostess to the explorer and poet, Lord Peregrine Brinkley. He was the second son of the Earl of Ashbourne. No one, absolutely no one, was more popular at the moment. And she had secured him! The room buzzed with the carefully constructed conversation of the crème de la crème of London. Candlelight danced on hundreds of jewels. Emeralds, diamonds, sapphires, rubies. The room was a veritable array of colored stars winking in the fire. Not only were some of the most important English nobility present, the most important lovers of antiquities and the arts were also in appearance this night. Several of them were even one and the same. Some of her vast array of guests came because she was the sister of a duke, it was true.

But many, many of the people who filled her salon were truly lovers of knowledge and beauty. Just like herself. Knowledge and love for beauty had been the only things which had ensured her survival these last years. The ice-blue brocade walls shimmered with silver threads and the collection of mirrors hanging on the wall. The surfaces, reflecting the candles, filled the room with light. A few hundred people had come at her invitation to listen to the newly returned poet. She smiled encouragingly at the young man whose delicately curled hair looked as if it had taken two hours to create. His cravat was so perfectly folded, she wondered if he was an admirer of Beau Brummell. If so, she hoped he’d give it up. Not that she found the rather tight breeches to be dismaying but, good Lord.

A gentleman needn’t spend more time at his looking glass than she did! She supposed it was a trifle better than previous years when men had caked their faces with paint and patches. They had also worn wigs in which one could never be certain if little companions had made their homes within the creations. Then, too, there had been men who’d spent hours at their looking glass, choosing the perfect heart or spade to cover a mark upon their cheek. Fussiness was not something she particularly admired. Frankly, given that the young fellow had spent months living it quite rough abroad, she was astonished now by his exceptionally polished nature. They had not met until this night and he looked nothing like she thought he would. Slight, tall, perfectly coifed and tailored, his speech had a slightly arrogant lull that had brought out a furrow in her brow. His laugh, high and barking, was worrisome. Still, she couldn’t deny his reputation. Surely, he was merely ill at ease before such a crowd? Since he’d been published, he’d become a veritable god.

Even so, she was eager to hear him speak. His book had sold out entirely in one week. It had gone to the printer for another thousand copies to be published on the morrow. Bookstores were clamoring for it as customers made their demands known loudly. The verses had been sheer divinity. Yes, there was no question. He was the most exciting and fashionable thing in town at present and her reputation as an exceptional hostess had lured him here. Which was marvelous for she had never gone anywhere outside the shores of the island she’d been born to. Hearing of ancient lands and glorious deeds filled her with heaps and heaps of delight. His book had been the perfect escape.

A general murmur and scuffling of chairs filled the air as even the most elegant of people readied for the reading. The crowd of London’s most exclusive members shuffled around the room. They all found their perfectly made, straight-backed chairs. Champagne circulated. A string quartet, playing brightly in the corner, suddenly came to a pause. She fought a girlish grin of excitement. Now! Now, it was time for her guest to stun and awe the company with his secrets and experiences. Truth be told, she could scarce draw breath in her eagerness to hear tales of Greece and Egypt. Those were lands she only knew from the pages of books from ancient library shelves. Very few women, let alone gentlemen, ever traveled so very far.

Greece, maybe. Egypt? No. So, she strode to the space between the quartet and the eager crowd, raised her gloved hand, and declared, “We are most honored to have this celebrated and brave lord before us to share his tales and experiences. I ken ye all are longing for the on dits no’ allowed in publication. Lord Brinkley has promised to pepper the evening with them. And now,” she gestured to the young man, “I give ye our guest.” There was a surprisingly enthusiastic round of applause, for a group of powerful English aristocracy. The quartet played a short burst of music. The young lord sauntered forward. There was a languid smile on his lips as he struck a pose, one snow-stockinged calf slightly ahead of the other, a hand in the air.

She studied this and fought another frown. Oh dear. He did, indeed, seem to be a student of Brummell. “Good evening,” Brinkley called out grandly. “So delighted you all have deigned to come and hear my adventures.” He clasped a hand to his breast, the diamond on his hand winking. “Though I risked death by both sword and illness many times, I consider myself to be lucky. I saw countless devils cut down by their masters. The lords there. Savages.

The Turk! The Mamluks! They rule their people like gods. Brutal, angry gods. It is we English, we lucky few. ” he tittered with laughter at his own wit, “to quote the Bard. That know how to rule like gentlemen.” Andromeda tensed. This was a sentiment that she hadn’t anticipated. After all, while the English would call her English, as a Scot. She could not agree. Neither to her Englishness nor to the superiority of English rule.

As a matter of fact, in her homeland, she’d seen English rule and the effects of military actions in the previous century crush her people. She’d seen their brutality. And there was the fact that the English did seem to think Scots were savages, too. Even so, she’d read Lord Brinkley’s book. It had shown great promise. The poetry had been divine. No doubt, he would turn to it at any moment. Yes, at any moment the evening would turn to the sublime. Lord Brinkley lifted his chin, twirled his hand, and announced, “They need us in Egypt as children need a father. The French?” he scoffed.

“The French are dissolute and will not help the natives to achieve higher things. Besides, we English certainly showed them the door via Nelson, did we not?” He gave a pleased little laugh before he sneered, “Those frogs ensured that the artifacts are already being sold to the highest bidders on the Continent. Luckily, we secured the Rosetta Stone for the British Museum.” Her stomach dropped. Andromeda could scarce believe what was transpiring. She was all for political discourse, but this? This was absolute vile tosh. His face darkened as he proclaimed passionately to the onlookers, “But it is not enough! It is our duty to claim as many of history’s jewels as possible. We must bring them here, where they can be admired and protected from the ignorant, as they should be. The local men are thieves, you see. They steal and sell them to whoever gives them the most coin.

They’d have robbed me blind and tricked me with false objects if I’d allowed them.” Andromeda bit the inside of her cheek as she stared first at Brinkley and then to her guests. Many were nodding their heads. Many appeared as perplexed as she. This was not romantic at all. This was. This was. Brinkley sniffed. “They’ve no honor, don’t you know, the natives.” Andromeda bit back a yelp of dismay.

This was a disaster! She strode forward, ready to somehow force Lord Brinkley to quit this offensive tirade. “Balderdash,” a voice suddenly roared from the back of the room. “They treated you thus, because they think you are an idiot.” Silence, then a titter of excitement filled the air as the words reverberated through the candlelit salon. Andromeda gasped at the thundering voice. She searched for whoever had issued it, as did Lord Brinkley, whose pink mouth pinched. Whoever had shouted was not immediately visible. The voice had come from the shadows at the very back of the room. The entire crowd twisted around, searching the recesses of the salon from which the voice had come. Stretching to the tips of her slippered toes, she still couldn’t quite make out whoever had spoken.

But those rich, rough notes had seized the attention of all her guests. Everyone was craning their necks, looking backward. They were twisting in their chairs, desperate to see who would dare cause an overt scene. “Who speaks?” Lord Brinkley demanded, his voice piping with indignation. “You clearly do not know these fellows as I do.” A loud, derisive noise was the answer. A snort. It was, indeed, a loud, cutting snort. “Have you even been beyond the Nile Delta?” the protestor demanded scathingly. “Indeed, I have,” Brinkley blustered.

“I have gone down the Nile—” “Up,” the man corrected. “You went up, my lord.” Brinkley flushed red. The muscles in his cheeks were visibly straining. “Surely, a great explorer such as yourself knows where Upper Egypt is,” the man mocked. His rich, plumy voice was fairly shaking with his disdain. Brinkley dropped his beringed hand and pointed. “And who are you, sir? Have the grace to show yourself.” From the shadows at the very back, a tall figure emerged. Andromeda felt a wave of heat flush over her as she caught sight of the scene-causing fellow.

At least six feet and two inches, shoulders that looked positively Herculean, the man’s black hair shone like jet in the amber candlelight. He, too, was dressed in the style of Brummell, except for his hair which was simple and brushed back from his hawk-like face. Perfectly austere, his black coat, white cravat, and cream breeches gave him a terrifying sort of panther-like aura. As he strode forward, hands clenched in fists, her mouth dropped. The man appeared to be a gentleman. Yet, there was something absolutely wild about him. Had she invited him? She’d never seen him before. Whatever the case might be, he looked as if he were about to start a bout of fisticuffs. In her home. She was simultaneously thrilled, because Brinkley really was an arse, and horrified.

An excited murmur of voices filled the air as the giant of a man cut down the aisle between the chairs. Andromeda caught her friend, the Duchess of Huntsdown’s gaze. The young Duchess Olivia’s eyes twinkled with anticipation at the arising developments. Brinkley shrank for several seconds. But then, he clearly realized that this debacle would be detailed to the last gesture in the papers and discussed in every drawing room on the morrow. He rallied, tossing his golden curls, a smug smile on his face. “And you are?” Brinkley challenged haughtily. “A lover of peasants?” The man stopped and sneered. “Those peasants know more about those ancient sites, their ins and outs, than your infinitesimal pudding brain could hope to fathom.” Brinkley spluttered.

“Now really. My brain is of the highest. I ought to call you out!” The tall man stilled, arched a brow then cocked his head to the side. “Ought you?” Brinkley stiffened, a sudden bout of hesitation unmissable on his pasty features. “I only fight with gentlemen.” The other man grinned, baring tigerish teeth. “My pedigree would suit.” “I doubt it,” Lord Brinkley spat out. “Your name, sir.” The man gave an elaborate and mocking bow.

“Lord Peterboro, sir.” As the appellation set in, Brinkley flinched. The entire crowd hushed then burst out in titillated gossip. My God! Lord Peterboro? Here? In her home? The very idea was absolutely shocking and delicious. Once again, she swung her gaze to Olivia who was very nearly bouncing with the thrilling revelation. Unable to help herself, Andromeda quickly glided to her friend, grabbing her gloved hand. “What in God’s name is happening?” she hissed. Andromeda was truly unsure if blood was about to be spilled or simply sharp words. Olivia’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “Darling, you’re throwing the most notorious event of the Season.

” Andromeda groaned, agog. Notorious was not what she had hoped for this night. Or ever. She’d desired memorable. Notorious and memorable might both result in a similar ending, but they certainly had very different feelings. And while everyone would have her house upon their lips, it wouldn’t be for the reasons she planned. “What am I to do?” she asked. Should she throw herself into the fray? Should she allow it to play out? “Pick a side to support,” Olivia quipped. “Betting will no doubt begin apace!” Andromeda scowled then turned back to the two men bristling at each other. “You’re no gentleman, sir,” Brinkley accused, apparently abandoning any attempt at peacemaking.

“You went native. We all know it.” Lord Peterboro went still. So still, the entire room felt as if the space about him was that odd quiet before a devastating storm breaks. It was true, though. Even if the phrasing of it was appalling. Everyone knew it. Peterboro was a legend. Lord Peterboro had gone to India as a captain in His Majesty’s Army, sold his commission after three years then simply disappeared into Asia and the Ottoman Empire. He hadn’t been seen or heard from until Napoleon had begun to destroy Europe and the Near East.

Some even whispered that Peterboro had married an Egyptian woman. It had not been proved. But the rumor itself had only added to his scandal and mystique. In fact, the whisper about an Egyptian wife had been both the most widespread and the most shocking to the ton. Suddenly, Lord Peterboro said coldly, “I thank you for the compliment.” Brinkley’s mouth hung open at this stunning reply to his insult. But then he nodded. “So, if you find the idea of abandoning your people and going native as you agree you’ve done, of course you defend them. You’re almost one of them.” The entire room seemed to swing their gaze from one man to the next, collective breaths held.

Waiting for blows to begin. So far, she had great admiration for Peterboro’s control. Suddenly, a disastrous feeling burned in her and she raced to the two men. Blood on her floor would truly be too much. And she could not be seen to support Brinkley’s disgusting view. “Now, what a passionate exchange!” she declared, desperate to calm the situation. She narrowed her eyes at Brinkley. “Yer book and yer words are so at odds, my lord. I never would have guessed yer devotion to yer superiority.” Brinkley let out a strangled bleat.

Peterboro turned. His emerald eyes pierced her with a burning intensity. “And who the devil are you, woman?” Well, that was really not necessary. Woman, indeed. She squared her shoulders. “Yer hostess.” “Of this dratted affair.” He growled. Growled. “He’s an idiot but you lot are the worst.

Showing off men like Brinkley like they’re prime specimens. He’s an absolute arse—” “Yes,” she cut in abruptly. “Thank ye for yer commentary, Lord Peterboro.” Unfazed or perhaps deaf, the asinine and arrogant man continued on. “Affairs like this only glorify the absolute nonsense of ponces like Brinkley who go abroad and come back to print insipid memoirs.” Brinkley made another protesting noise, rather like a dying swan. “My memoir is not insipid—” “Thank ye, Lord Brinkley,” she cut in. “I agree. Yer book is quite good, but I think ye are best served by yer silence at this moment.” “I have never been silenced by a woman,” he spat.

“Pity,” Peterboro drawled. “It would have done you good.” Andromeda fought a strong desire to tell them both to go to the devil or back to their nannies. Both seemed apt. What stopped her was the glaring fact that she, too, found Brinkley to be the absolute worst at the moment. Peterboro was a loud, arrogant arse, but he wasn’t denigrating an entire people. So, instead, she cleared her throat. “Perhaps ye’d care to lecture, too, Lord Peterboro? I’m sure we’d all listen to what ye have to say. And learn a great deal.” He snorted.

Again. “I’d rather be dead.”

.

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