Seduce Me with Sapphires – Jane Feather

The Honorable Fenella Grantley glanced quickly along the corridor before she tiptoed past her mother’s sitting room. Lady Grantley’s avid curiosity about her only child’s plans for the day was inconvenient at best. Fenella loved her mother dearly, but she found it difficult to turn aside the questions without appearing uncivil. And her mother was bound to want to know how her evening with George had gone. Lord George Headington was rapidly becoming a thorn in Fenella’s side, but her mother’s hopes in that direction were, if not openly expressed, obvious to the dullest intelligence. She hurried down the horseshoe staircase and across the hall to the front door. To her relief, none of the servants were around and, most importantly, Collins, the butler, was nowhere to be seen. Collins had an uncanny ability to get information without appearing to ask for it, and Fenella was in no mood for questions from anyone. She stepped out of the house onto a frigid Albemarle Street. It was not quite midmorning and the street, normally busy with hackney carriages and delivery carts, was unusually quiet. The winter had been vicious, and on freezing days like this one, the residential streets of Mayfair tended to be almost deserted. She turned up the collar of her sable coat against a violent gust of icy wind and quickened her step, looking for a hackney, but she had reached Piccadilly before she saw one. The wide, shop-lined thoroughfare was busy with foot and carriage traffic and she waved down a hackney with little trouble. “Gower Street,” Fenella told the cabbie as she climbed in, grateful to be out of the wind for a minute. Alone in the musty interior she felt her spirits lift.

She always felt this heady sense of freedom once she was on her way to Bloomsbury. She reveled in the sense that no one knew where she was, not even her dearest friends and certainly not her mother. No one knew where she was going or how she would spend her morning. Apart from the time she spent with Diana and Petra, life seemed, these days, to have a monotony to it. There was no sense of expectation or the possibility of surprise. She knew she had no right to feel this way; she should be thankful for her life of privilege and comfort. But somehow it didn’t seem to be enough, and however often she chided herself for being ungrateful and spoiled, she couldn’t shake off the grayness of her mood. And whenever she thought of Lord George Headington, the grayness grew darker and thicker. The carriage turned the corner from Bloomsbury Square onto Gower Street, and Fenella fumbled in her change purse for the fare, her spirits lifting anew as she opened the door and jumped to the pavement, reaching up to the cabbie with the coins. He took them with a nod before taking a swig from a hip flask, clearing his throat and spitting phlegm onto the far pavement.

Even in the bitter cold, the air was thick with the foul-smelling smoke from the sea coal fires of the poor and the heavy smoke from the anthracite heating of the houses of the rich. A day spent on London streets produced labored breathing and phlegm-filled lungs. But Fenella was unaware of the polluted air; in her present uplifted mood, it smelled crisp, redolent of freedom. Bloomsbury was a respectable if unfashionable part of London, and one that had become familiar ground in her weekly forays over the last year. She went up the steps of a narrow, terraced house halfway along Gower Street and let herself in through a front door badly in need of repainting. The narrow hallway was equally in need of redecorating, the skirting boards scuffed, the linoleum on the floor scratched and lifting at the edges. The air was chilly despite the rattling huff from a steam radiator and the gaslight showed only dimly through its dust-coated sconce on the dingy, gray wall. A narrow staircase rose to the upper floor from which the sounds of scales on a piano drifted down. Fenella hurried up the stairs to the first-floor landing. The piano was louder, coming from behind one of the closed, badly painted doors along the corridor.

The chill light of the February morning showed through a grimy window at the far end of the corridor. Fenella opened a door halfway along. “Good morning, everyone,” she greeted the small group of people gathered around a long table in the large room. They were all huddled in coats, gloved fingers fumbling with sheaves of paper in front of them. Another steam radiator grumbled ineffectually from beneath a window, which looked out onto the street. “Oh, good, you’re here at last,” commented an elderly man with a distinguished mane of silver hair sitting at the head of the table. His threadbare frock coat, fingerless gloves and stringy woolen muffler did nothing to diminish the power of his presence. Fenella refrained from pointing out that she was actually five minutes early. “My apologies, Cedric, I didn’t realize I was keeping everyone waiting.” She offered a general smile, remarking, “It’s bitter out there,” as she took a spare seat at the table, drawing her coat closer around her.

“It’s bitter in here,” a young man muttered through his muffler. “If we’re to continue meeting like this through the winter, Cedric, we need a kerosene stove or something.” Cedric Hardcastle, an irascible man at the best of times, ran his little drama school out of this rundown Bloomsbury house on a shoestring and glared at the speaker. “If you can pay for the fuel, Robert?” Robert muttered something and chewed the tip of a pencil, staring down at the scratched tabletop. Fenella winced. She was the only member of this troupe who could afford to supply both stove and fuel, but she tried not to draw attention to her privileged world. They were all here for one reason: a passion for drama and a longing to tread the boards themselves. Cedric had been a well-known classical actor until alcohol and memory loss had rendered him incapable of taking the stage, so he’d set up his acting school, the only one of its kind, in the hopes of making some kind of a living. It was a paltry one at best. Fenella picked up the sheaf of papers in front of her.

It was an unfamiliar script; in general, their readings were from various forms of classical drama. “We’re reading a new play today,” Cedric announced. “And we’re very fortunate to have the playwright with us to interpret any complexities in the script. Edward, do you have anything to say before we start?” He nodded toward the shadows at the far side of the room. Fenella looked up from the papers, wondering why she hadn’t noticed the stranger sitting on the high stool when she’d first entered the room. When he stood up and stepped forward out of the shadows, she wondered even more at her initial failure to notice him. His physical presence was significant. He was a tall man with broad, powerful shoulders and square, competent hands. Fenella had always been drawn to a man’s hands. She liked them well-manicured and capable-looking.

This Edward’s certainly fit that bill. She offered him a curious and friendly smile and was rather put off to encounter something akin to a scowl. The effect of the scowl was somewhat diminished by his eyes, which were of the most penetrating, startling blue Fenella had ever come across. Thick, unruly black eyebrows matched the equally untidy thatch of black hair flopping on his forehead and curling over his collar. It gave him a rakish air. It was a pity about the scowl, she thought. She glanced down again at the script. “Edward Tremayne” was written boldly on the title page, and beneath it, Sapphire. The only Tremaynes she knew socially, Viscount Grayling and Lady Julia, were the children of the Earl of Pendleton, but this morose individual couldn’t possibly be associated with that family. He reminded her of an ill-tempered, scruffy mongrel, with his black, overlong hair much in need of a brush.

Which, of course, was most uncharitable of her, and Fenella was not, in general, uncharitable. “Sapphire?” she queried pleasantly. “Is that the title of the play?” “It’s a working title,” Edward Tremayne declared with a dismissive flick of his hand. His voice was attractive, deep and well-modulated. “If you read the script, you might understand the point.” Fenella felt her initial prickle of irritation blossom into an active dislike. She and Mr. Tremayne were not going to get along well if matters continued in this fashion. His arrogance was palpable. But perhaps he was nervous at the prospect of hearing his play read by strangers, or even perhaps for the first time ever.

With an effort, she accepted the charitable explanation and swallowed her annoyance, removing her attention from him by deliberately turning her head away and asking Cedric, “Do we have specific parts for the reading, or are we going around the table?” “You’re reading Rose,” Edward Tremayne declared. “I don’t mind who else reads what. Cedric, you decide.” “Why am I to play this Rose character?” Fenella asked, genuinely puzzled at such a definite statement. “You don’t know me. You haven’t heard me read. How can you be so sure I’ll be right for it?” “I can’t. Call it instinct,” he responded. Fenella frowned, a strange feeling of déjà vu prickling the nape of her neck. There was something familiar about him, a sense that she’d caught an image of him in her peripheral vision at some point.

A glancing familiarity. She stared at him as the memory crystallized. She had seen him before, she realized. Several times, in fact. She remembered one of the innumerable dances she’d attended during an occasion as boring and unproductive as most of them except that she’d been acutely aware of a man standing, arms folded, against the wall, glaring at the dancing couples. She’d been struck by the glare, which rather mirrored her own feelings hidden beneath the polite smile and cheerful inconsequential chatter. She’d forgotten all about him once the dance was over, but now she remembered that once she’d thought he’d been outside her house, just hovering across the street when she’d come down the front steps. If he hadn’t been such a large and imposing figure, she probably wouldn’t have noticed him at all among the ambling pedestrians on Albemarle Street. And once, walking down Park Lane, she’d had the unmistakable sensation of being followed. She’d cast an involuntary glance over her shoulder just as a tall man disappeared into an alley.

At the time, the glimpses had not struck her as strange. He was a member of the privileged society inhabiting the streets of Mayfair; it was hardly surprising she would catch sight of him now and then. Now the extraordinary thought struck her that perhaps these occasional appearances had been intentional. Ridiculous idea. She was just being fanciful. What possible reason could he have had to follow her? Anyway, she was far too interested in the idea of the reading to continue pointless speculation. She shuffled the pages of the script and quickly saw that Rose appeared on almost every page. Well, she was always up for a challenge; this whole acting project had started as a challenge, one she kept very much to herself. Lord and Lady Grantley would have forty fits if they knew of it; it was hardly a suitable activity for a baron’s daughter. For some reason she hadn’t even confided in her oldest and closest friends.

Fenella wondered if she was embarrassed or ashamed of this weird passion but decided that she was neither. It was just something very personal and private . a welcome distraction from the restless malaise that for some reason hovered over her these days. However, it occurred to her now that it was definitely time to confide in Diana and Petra. The secret was getting too demanding to keep to herself. The whole business was taking up too much of her time to continue pretending to herself that it was just a hobby, of no more significance than Diana and her racehorse, or Petra and her passion for eccentric and colorful clothes and all things related to the music hall. “Shall we begin?” Cedric said after allocating the remaining parts around the table. Fenella, as usual, quickly lost herself in the drama of the reading. It was one of the things she loved so much about the activity, the way it took her out of herself. But she wasn’t sure about her character.

She seemed more a cipher than a real person and it was hard to get a handle on how to play her. Once or twice she became aware of Edward Tremayne looming behind her, seeming even larger on his feet than he had on his stool. And he made her nervous, which annoyed her even more. She stumbled over a line and heard an audible sigh of exasperation behind her. She slapped her hand on the papers in front of her and turned to look over her shoulder. “Could you possibly stand somewhere else, Mr. Tremayne? You’re putting me off.” The blue eyes narrowed, and for a second, a pop of fire illuminated their sapphire depths. Edward offered a mock bow. “Forgive me, Miss Grantley.

I have no intention of disturbing your delicate sensibilities. In my experience, amateur actors can’t afford to be too sensitive.” “I am not in the least sensitive or delicate,” Fenella retorted, wondering what she could have done to arouse such hostility from a stranger. “But when all I can hear is your heavy breathing down the back of my neck, I find it impossible to concentrate.” Her gray eyes snapped at him. He stepped back, raising his hands in a defensive posture. “The lady has a temper, I see. Where should I put myself, ma’am, so that I don’t disturb your concentration?” “I couldn’t care less,” she stated. “Just don’t stand behind me.” Fenella was aware of the interested, amused eyes of her companions.

This completely unnecessary spat was proving entertaining to everyone but herself. “This Rose character has no stuffing to her,” she declared, now more than ready to do battle. “She’s just flat words on a page. There’s no fire, no emotion, no hint of complexity, nothing to work with.” She ordered the papers in a neat pile in front of her. “I have no interest in this reading, Cedric. I apologize to you all.” She stood up abruptly, for the moment not caring what bridges she was burning. Drawing on her gloves, she left the room, an astounded silence in her wake. She marched down the stairs to the sounds of the piano scales repeating endlessly behind her and let herself out onto Gower Street, hugging her anger and frustration to her against the February cold.

She rarely lost her temper; it tended to do no good, and more often did the opposite, not to mention leading to a loss of dignity, and she was angry with herself now for letting Tremayne’s arrogance and contempt to provoke her into abandoning an activity that was becoming essential to her sense of wellbeing, one that gave her so much satisfaction. She turned the corner toward Bloomsbury Square. “Hey, hold on a minute, Miss Grantley.” The voice behind her made her increase her speed. She heard his steps coming up fast at her back. “Obviously I didn’t make myself clear, Mr. Tremayne. I have no interest in your company and even less in your play.” She spoke without slowing, but he caught up with her easily and fell into step beside her. He’d followed her in haste judging by his unbuttoned coat and gloveless hands.

“Allow me to buy you a cup of coffee, Fenella . I may call you Fenella? We have some fences to mend, it would seem.” She stopped and looked up at him, exasperated that she had to look up so far to meet his eye. “No, you may not call me Fenella. And no, I don’t wish for coffee. Also, I have no interest in mending fences of any kind. Good day to you, Mr. Tremayne.” Spinning on her booted heel, she stalked off toward Bloomsbury Square. Edward hesitated for only a moment.

He couldn’t afford to let her go. The last thing he had thought he wanted was a pampered, privileged Society lady to play his Rose, and yet against every instinct, when he thought of Rose, he couldn’t get the image of the Honorable Fenella Grantley out of his mind. It had been like that from the moment he first saw her at some dance on his one and only foray into Society’s brittle playground. Sapphire and its main character were becoming solid, taking shape on the page, and for some extraordinary reason, the moment he laid eyes on Fenella Grantley, she became inseparable from Rose. He moved swiftly after Fenella, drawing level with her again, putting a hand on her arm. “Please, just listen to me, just for a minute.” His tone was so different from the mocking sarcasm of earlier that she slowed almost involuntarily, glancing up at him again. Those blue eyes were different, warm, amused and most definitely penitent. “I was horrid, I know. Please forgive me.

Sometimes, when I’m particularly anxious about something important, I can’t seem to help myself. I become most unpleasant to people.” “I see,” Fenella said dryly. “And is this unfortunate change of character a frequent occurrence, Mr. Tremayne?” He ran a hand through the disordered thatch of hair, pushing it off his forehead. “I deserve it, I know. But could we go somewhere warmer while you excoriate me?” A violent gust of wind whistled around the corner of Bloomsbury Square as if in punctuation. Fenella felt an absurd urge to laugh. Not for one minute did she believe the humble penitent side of Edward Tremayne, but she found herself both intrigued and amused by it. A sufficiently novel feeling these days for her to want to indulge it.

“You may buy me a cup of hot chocolate, Mr. Tremayne. There’s a café on the far side of the square.” He bowed with a flourish. “You do me too much honor, ma’am.” He offered his arm with an air of scrupulous formality. Fenella slipped her gloved hand inside his arm and, feeling very much as if she was acting a part in some comedy sketch, directed her step to the café in the square. Edward pushed open the door onto a warm fug of well-wrapped bodies, cigarette smoke and steaming cups. Fenella stepped in ahead of him and he swiftly closed the door before anyone could complain at the blast of cold air. “At least it’s warm,” she observed, loosening her scarf.

It was hard to breathe and she waved a hand in front of her face, trying to clear the air. “You’ll get used to it in a minute,” Edward told her, guiding her with a hand at her back toward a spare table by the far wall. Fenella felt that prickle of irritation again. His tone was brusque, dismissive, and that guiding hand was far too familiar a gesture from a near stranger. Nevertheless, she sat down in the chair he pulled out for her and drew off her gloves, picking up the menu in front of her. “You should undo your coat,” he said, glancing at his own menu. “If you don’t, you won’t feel the benefit when you go outside again.” Fenella regarded him in astonishment and saw that he was laughing, or at least his eyes were; his mouth had a slightly humorous twist that against her better judgment she found rather attractive. “At least that was what my nanny used to tell me,” he said, pushing the menu aside. “So did mine,” Fenella responded, unable to keep the responding amusement from her voice.

What was it about him? He could be so off-putting one minute, then the epitome of humor and charm the next. A harried waitress hurried over to them. “What can I get you?” “Hot chocolate, please,” Fenella replied. “Coffee,” Edward stated. He glanced at Fenella. “Anything to eat?” Fenella considered while the waitress tapped her pencil against her notepad. “Yes. I’d like a toasted tea cake,” she decided. “Two, then,” Edward told the waitress, who sniffed and hurried away. “I don’t think she’s happy in her work,” he observed drily.

Fenella gave a wry smile. “I can’t imagine why she would be. It must be exhausting, on your feet all day carrying heavy trays, and not everyone’s polite or appreciative.” “So, the Honorable Miss Grantley has a social conscience,” he said, raising his thick eyebrows. She frowned. “Must you always sound so unpleasant?” “Oh, not always, surely,” he protested, eyebrows still raised in a sardonic arch. Fenella pushed back her chair, setting her hands on the table as she prepared to get to her feet. “I cannot think of a single reason why I should stay here as the butt of your ill-temper.” He moved, lightning fast, his hand shooting out to seize her wrist. “Forgive me, Fenella, please.

Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Please stay and let me redeem myself.” She regarded him for a moment in exasperation. “Why on earth should I?” He kept hold of her wrist, although the clasp was light and she could easily free herself. “Because I am truly sorry, and because I want to talk to you about my play, and because I find you . ” He hesitated, as if looking for words. “Because I find you compelling. I want to get to know you, Fenella. No, I need to get to know you. Please sit down again.

” Every instinct told her to walk away, put him out of her mind, forget about him and his wretched play. And yet she sat down again as his fingers released her wrist. The waitress set their drinks and hot, buttery tea cakes on the table. “Anything else?” “No, thank you,” Fenella said swiftly, stirring the thick, dark liquid in her cup with a show of concentration such a simple action didn’t warrant. Edward said nothing for a moment, cutting his tea cake in half, spooning sugar into his coffee. Finally he said softly, “Thank you.” “What for?” She took a sip of her chocolate, regarding him through the curling steam. “For forgiving my rudeness . for staying.” “I may be staying, but I’m not sure I’ve forgiven,” she retorted, turning her attention to her tea cake.

He gave her a rueful half-smile. “Fair enough.” “We’ve never actually met before, but I’ve seen you several times,” Fenella stated abruptly.

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