Season of the Marchiones – Patricia Haverton

It was the ball of the season at Almack’s Assembly Rooms, but Lord Timothy Ramsay knew that it was not yet time to collect his dance. Timothy had been well acquainted with the usual life at Almack’s, where gambling went on in one room, and the dancing took place in the great room. Occasionally, he preferred the increasingly scandalous nature of Carlisle House, but the ball of the year took place exclusively at Almack’s, also known as ‘The Marriage Mart.’ Not that Timothy was in search of a wife of good social standing. However, his longtime friend, Lord Curtis Sutton, the firstborn of an Earl, had such inclinations. For the time being, the two men enjoyed the view that spread before them. Beaming debutants with flushed cheeks would whisper to each other, throwing coy glances at gentlemen who’d caught their attention. Timothy always believed that one of the most extraordinary advantages of being friends with the host of the ball entailed the avoidance of being officially announced. Instead, he could do what he enjoyed most on these occasions. He simply observed the gathering of lords and ladies, with his friend by his side, focusing on the blushing beauties. “They all look so innocent, so prim and proper, don’t they, my good man?” Timothy chuckled to his friend, who simply nodded. “So absolutely beautiful. A damned improvement upon the last ball we attended.” “But there was still diversion enough, was there not?” Curtis elbowed his friend playfully. “Very well put,” Timothy agreed, his eyes watching a young girl across the room, whose dark curls framed her lovely face, as her eyes met with his.

“Mere diversion, nothing else, I assure you. Unlike it is the case with you and Lady Coleborn.” “Lady Coleborn will make a fine wife.” Curtis tried to defend his courting of a very suitable future wife. It was, after all, what the world expected of him. And, most importantly, what his own family expected. Timothy was also aware of that fact, and secretly dreaded the possibility of losing his best friend. Surely, they would continue to socialize, but once a man had gotten married, that was the end of the line. At least, in Timothy’s mind. Timothy also knew that, unlike himself, his friend had a title to inherit, and with it, a certain bearing of character.

He quickly frowned. “Marriage is Hell.” “Marriage to the wrong woman might be,” Curtis agreed up to a certain point. “But I believe marriage to the right woman is-” “Paradise?” Timothy laughed boisterously. “Do not be absurd, Curtis. I would expect this of anyone, but you.” “This is all fine and dandy, but you know that this can’t go on forever,” Curtis gestured with his hands all around him. “It can go on for as long as I want it to,” Timothy snickered. “For I dread the other option. Having a woman lead me by the bollocks? I think not.

Diversion is all I need in this life, and trust me-” But he couldn’t finish his thought. Instead, he found himself staring at the couple that had just entered the ballroom. The lady in question looked absolutely ravishing in her violet silk gown, decorated with dark purple flowers. Immediately, his throat went dry, and Timothy wished he had some whiskey, just to wet his tongue a little. He recognized the young man as His Grace Harley Windsor, the Duke of Pickering. In that case, the young woman by his side, with her large blue eyes and hair the color of the sun, must be Lady Harriet Windsor, his sister. But he could barely believe it to be. Lady Harriet was not of age yet. Or was she? He almost couldn’t believe it to be possible. All eyes were on them.

Timothy noticed they hadn’t approached anyone for a greeting. He watched her as they walked, her hand resting on her brother’s elbow. She was so short, so petite. A funny thought occurred to him. He could just hide her in his waistcoat pocket and run away. No one would even see him do it. “Why are you smirking?” Curtis asked. Timothy fell silent as he gazed at Lady Harriet; her demeanor calm and composed. There was no giggling, no blushing. Her cheeks were a dignified shade of pale, her eyes traversing the room with detailed accuracy.

And, yet not once did she look in his direction. Timothy finally turned to his friend, seeing the profile of Curtis’ once long and straight nose, now rendered slightly crooked, courtesy of some ruffian they met in a place no gentleman should frequent. Curtis locked eyes with Timothy, both of them with the same idea in mind. “I know what you’re thinking.” Curtis shook his head. “You couldn’t possibly begin to understand,” Timothy grinned. “She seems like she would be quite a pleasant distraction.” “She is breathtaking, I concur,” Curtis agreed. “However, I couldn’t even dare to entertain any such thoughts.” “What?” Timothy chuckled wildly, stealing a quick glance at Lady Harriet.

A man bowed before her, but she wasn’t smiling. It gave him hope. “Lady Coleborn has already shackled you, even without the official papers?” “It is too soon for me to cause another scandal,” Curtis sighed. Both men remembered how the ton buzzed at the revelation that Lord Curtis Sutton had ceased courting Lady Inglewood and immediately professed his adoration of the recently widowed Lady Holliday. The shortness of period was shocking, even for Curtis himself. But, sometimes, a man was led by something other than his mind. “Then, the path is completely open?” Timothy asked. “Not only open, but I also issue a challenge.” “A challenge?” Timothy’s curiosity peaked more than it had in ages. “Indeed,” Curtis nodded.

“I know how much you enjoy a good wager.” “Do you remember when we took bets at White’s on that man who collapsed on the doorstep?” Timothy laughed. “Luckily for the old fellow, he was alive, though not all that well. As for me, I walked out of White’s slightly richer that evening.” “I do,” Curtis joined in. They laughed so rowdily that a few ladies glanced in their direction, wonderingly. “In that case, this is your challenge. Win the lady’s heart by the end of the Season.” “Lady Harriet?” Timothy wanted to confirm. Curtis simply nodded.

Timothy watched as everyone’s attention was still directed towards the lady in question. His heart gave a pang when he thought she smiled at a young man, a different man this time, who was now bowing before her. Still too far away from her, he tried to find a flaw in her loveliness. From afar, there was none. He needed to get close, and not only for that reason. “I accept,” Timothy nodded. In his mind, he could already see himself kissing her shamelessly, her body in a state of intoxication, like so many other women before her. “We shall arrange the details later,” Timothy dusted off his shoulder with the tips of his fingers. “Now, I must act.” Confidently, he strode towards Lady Harriet, with only one thing in mind.

The man who was approaching Harriet was infamous. She knew that much. In reality, she knew much more than she was willing to divulge, and she had always found that to be one of her advantages in life, even at such a tender age. She had learned much regarding Lord Timothy Ramsay from her brother, and she knew that he was the kind of man mother’s usher their daughters away from. But she was not frightened the least bit, of a man with a suspicious past. A man whose cards were all out on the table was far less threatening than a man who had much to lose. Mr. Willis, the husband of the late Mr. Almack’s niece, approached her together with Lord Ramsay, whose confidence was visible from a mile away. He reminded her of a peacock.

“Lady Harriet,” Mr. Willis commenced, “if I may introduce Lord Timothy-” “Ramsay,” she finished his sentence. Lord Ramsay’s surprise didn’t escape her notice. It also didn’t fail to make her glad. She curtsied, mirroring Lord Ramsay’s bow of respect. “May I have this dance, Lady Harriet?” he asked, offering her his hand. To his surprise, she did not accept it immediately. Instead, she looked somewhere behind him, but he didn’t allow this to confuse him. His hand still lay outstretched in the air, waiting for her reply. “Now?” she asked, realizing herself the silliness of such a reply.

“What better time?” he smiled, revealing a row of pearly teeth; she knew that many women had fallen victim to that smile. She remained reserved, despite the fact that her heart skipped a beat at his charming chuckle. “Well, I…” she started, but at that moment, the orchestra struck up and what followed was a Viennese waltz. “Lady Harriet?” he asked again, his voice urging her to accept. The way he pronounced her name kept ringing inside her ears, like a long-forgotten melody. She waited a moment longer, then realized that her brother’s eyes watched her from the other end of the room ever since they had been briefly separated. Still, she placed her hand in Lord Ramsay’s. “Very well,” she nodded, but she did not return his smile. She moved slowly, her every step deliberate, as he led her to the parquetted floor to join the other dancers. They stood facing each other, hands linked.

His free hand found a suitably respectable position on the middle of her back. She made sure to keep a decent distance from him, as she gently pushed him away with an outstretched arm, her hand resting on his shoulder. “I assure you, I am quite a good dancer,” he told her, as they started to move. “I’m certain you are,” she replied, as he whirled her across the floor. It seemed he was telling the truth. He guided them both through the music, following the rhythm, his steps mirroring the tempo. He twirled her around, as they went down the line facing each other, then they turned away. Every time she got closer to him color rose to her cheeks. She was enjoying this dance immensely, even though she had been waiting for someone else before him. All the air fled from her lungs, every time her eyes met his.

If she had taken but a single sip of wine, she would be happy to bestow the effects on the spirits and not him. But the dizzying response her body exuded was due to him and him alone. “But that is not my only strength,” he added mischievously, so much so that her cheeks flared up at the insinuation. “It seems that modesty isn’t one of them.” She couldn’t resist the urge to talk back. After all, she had never been the one to remain quiet in the face of adversity – of any kind. Timothy chuckled once more. “A man needs to know where his strengths lay, does he not?” It was obvious that he was enjoying himself, and what she had heard was utterly correct. He was not bothered much by what society thought of him. His was a reputation that not only followed, but actually preceded the person in question.

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know that for sure,” she replied, stifling a smile. “For I am not a man, my lord.” “That is indeed true,” he nodded. “And call me Timothy. All my friends do.” She wondered if they were friends. Or, at least, if he considered them such, after this much too brief a time spent together. All logic claimed otherwise. “If you wish,” she responded. He seemed a little disappointed at her reply.

She supposed he expected her to be thrilled that they were on first name basis so quickly. “May I call you Harriet?” he continued, boldly. He was confident. She had to admit that much. And, that confidence was highly amusing. She didn’t reply immediately, as their bodies flowed together, fitting so well that she herself was shocked at the realization. She never thought such a tall person would lead her so well on the dancefloor. But he wasn’t only tall. He was muscular. His jaw clenched as his eyes shone every time he looked at her.

She forced herself to look away. “That would infer that we are friends,” she told him. “Are we not?” He spun her wildly. “Well, for one we have just met,” she elaborated. “People do not become friends just like that.” “What does it take then?” he urged, locking his eyes with hers. “Common interests, time spent together,” she explained. “But I am not certain we could be friends, My L… Timothy.” He twirled her again, and her gown flounced freely. She remembered his reputation once more and knew that once this dance ended, she would curtsy and then be led back to her brother’s side.

But something told her that she would not be rid of Timothy that easily. And she welcomed the idea. “How can you be so certain of that, Harriet?” He used her name so freely, as if their supposed friendship had spanned across decades and not mere minutes. “I have my ways,” she blushed. She wanted to tell him all; her aim to get to know all the people of influence and wealth, the redeemable ones, that is, and employ them in her altruistic cause of helping those who could not help themselves. She was already privy to much information, and her demure appearance concealed strong opinions. She was well aware of the fact that her brother’s support meant much in the way of keeping her safe and well looked after. In addition to this, he supported all those causes she felt passionately about, such as women’s education and the poor’s welfare in the House of the Lords. He always offered support, yes, but never so much as to be branded extreme. And she understood why.

As a result, Harriet knew much of the rumors regarding Lord Timothy and his dandy ways. She was almost positive she knew what his intentions were, from the moment he bowed before her and offered a dance. She should be shying from him, like the Devil shied from the cross, and yet, she felt no such inclination. On the contrary, she was utterly confident that she could control the situation. But, this time, he seemed to be the one in control, as he bent over, outrageously diminishing the proper distance that was to be kept between the dancing couples. She was caught off guard and did not even remember to pull away. Instead, she listened to him singing, with a voice more melodious than any she’d ever heard before. He started, following the melody to perfection. “I once knew a lady whose countenance bore, a striking resemblance to a sandy seashore. Her eyes, they were blue, her skin was pale white, she promised she’d meet me by the seashore tonight.

But, alas, she was gone, she was nowhere in sight, how shocking to find ladies so impolite!” He pulled away, suddenly, once his mischievous song had come to an end, and she found herself entirely amused by it. Her lips danced in a barely visible smile, and she was fighting the urge to break into loud laughter. It was obvious that he had come up with the words himself, and paired with his most harmonious voice, it sounded more than appealing. Still, she knew that controlling the situation meant that she should always be one step ahead of him. Her lustrous, pink lips parted to speak, but at that moment, the music ceased. “Thank you for the dance, my lord.” She made sure to use his title and not the name he offered, and be the first to thank him, even though that was always left to the man. “It is I who should be thanking you, Harriet,” he bowed deeply. “I think perhaps -” “I need to see my brother now.” She excused herself not overly politely, but graciously enough to be given a reason to depart.

She didn’t need to turn around to know that his eyes were burning a hole in the back of her head. He was confused, probably a little upset at the way she had handled the situation. She chuckled to herself, silently. By the time she reached her brother, she was an epitome of grace and serenity, as always.


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