Submitting to the Marquess – Em Brown

“WELL, YOUR WICKED COUSIN deigns to show, does he?” Mrs. Grace Abbott asked of her daughter, Mildred, as she looked across the ballroom at a gentleman who had turned many a head by his appearance. Knowing the question to be more of a statement, Mildred, a practical young lady of four and twenty, made no reply as she fanned herself to keep from perspiring overmuch, which she was wont to do in crowded spaces, during uncommonly warm summer evenings, whenever she fretted, and if she should have on one too many layers of clothing. All four of these aspects conspired against her tonight, and the moisture would certainly ruin the many applications of powder her mother, declaring that Mildred’s complexion showed too darkly in the summer months, had insisted upon. As the occasion for the ball was Lady Katherine d’Aubigne’s fiftieth birthday, Mrs. Abbott had also insisted Mildred wear the shawl that her ladyship, Mrs. Abbott’s esteemed sister-in-law, had gifted Mildred last Christmas. Mrs. Abbott never failed to consider how she might curry the favor of her ladyship, the hostess of the evening’s soiree. Mildred adored Lady Katherine, but for once, her attention was more fixed upon her cousin, the Marquess of Alastair. She had hoped he would be in attendance and had thought of little else on the carriage ride over. Yet, now that she beheld his tall and imposing form, her nerves faltered and she wondered that she had the courage to speak to him, though she had never before felt intimidated. She was not one given to asking for favors from anyone, let alone the marquess, but she was in some desperation tonight. “I heard he had been dallying with some chit from the bourgeoisie,” Mrs. Abbott continued.

“I would have thought, once he had come into the marquessate, that he would forsake his rakish ways. It is a shame, for the former marquess was an upstanding man.” “You ought not speak ill of Alastair, Mama,” Mildred said. “He has been quite generous in providing for my dowry.” Mrs. Abbot sniffed. “Well, it was the only proper thing to do as he can well afford it and the two of you are cousins.” Though her mother, whose older brother had married Lady Katherine, needed no reminding, Mildred replied, “Cousins by marriage.” “Cousins, nonetheless.” “The marquess is under no obligation to assist us, even if his aunt married Uncle Richard.

” “No obligation? We are family!” Sensing that her mother was determined to see Andre d’Aubigne, the Marquess of Alastair, in poor light, Mildred offered no further comment. Nothing short of his lordship offering his hand to Mrs. Abbott’s daughter would improve Grace’s perception of him. If such a miraculous event as a proposal should come to pass, Mrs. Abbott would have gladly forgiven all his imperfections. “I suppose your father should introduce George to your cousin.” Mildred stiffened at the name of her fiancé, an uninspiring and officious man. But despite their connections to the d’Aubigne family, Mrs. Abbott, being the fourth daughter, and Mr. Abbott, a fifth son with no entailment to speak of, could not be particular.

Mildred had had few suitors since her come-out. With a figure slightly plump and a face more round than oval, she had only the brightness of her eyes and the shape of her nose to recommend her countenance. “I doubt Alastair will stay long enough for introductions,” Mildred thought aloud. She knew her cousin favored gaming hells over social gatherings of any sort. Mrs. Abbott scowled. “Well, I shall have to find your papa and ensure that he introduces George as soon as possible. George is quite eager to meet your cousin.” “Yes, he is,” Mildred affirmed. She rather suspected that, if they had not any relation to the d’Aubigne family, George Haversham would not have proposed.

She had made a grievous error in accepting his hand yesterday. The proposal had come as a surprise, and she had convinced herself that she ought not fall into the same habits as her mother in refusing to see the better qualities of a man. She should be grateful that a man had offered for her at all. But last night, sleep had eluded her. The prospect of marriage, and all the obligations that accompanied that institution, had roused desires that she had worked hard to suppress for the better part of the year. They were desires of such a dark nature that she once thought she had been cursed by the devil. It was shameful enough to find that she had not the fortitude to keep her virtue, but these wicked inclinations of hers horrified even as they titillated. Her discovery by one she revered had, surprisingly, set her at ease with these disturbing proclivities. Nevertheless, as her parents had grown more anxious regarding her prospects of matrimony, Mildred had resolved to keep her secret wantonness at bay. But they called to her often.

As the night wore on, she began to consider that spinsterhood did not appear all that unfavorable next to marriage with Haversham. She did not wish to be a burden to her parents, but if she should never marry, she decided that she could find employment as a governess or a lady’s companion. Lady Katherine would assist her. She had first considered appealing to Lady Katherine but loathed to trouble her ladyship with her woes. As it would be most unseemly for her to call off the engagement, it remained for Haversham to retract his offer or fail to come to terms with the marriage settlement. For that to happen, she needed Lord Alastair. As soon as her mother had left in search of her father, Mildred rallied her nerves, dotted her brow with her handkerchief, and prepared to speak to the Marquess. But first, she was beset by three of her peers eager to ask after her cousin. “Which dance do you think Lord Alastair most partial to? Does he fancy cotillions?” asked Helen. “Alas, I do not think him partial to dancing of any sort,” Mildred replied.

“But he must dance!” remarked Jane. “There is such the shortage of men with so many off to fight Napoleon. It would be so very impolite of him not to dance.” “I think you overestimate my acquaintance with him, but I would hazard that he would wear the label of rudeness as easily as he does the label of rake.” “How is it you are even able to talk to him?” asked Margaret. “He always appears quite put out at being spoken to.” Mildred was tempted to say that the Marquess must feel sorry for her, but he himself would protest that his selfish nature would not accommodate so generous a sentiment as pity. “Millie, will you not sing my praises to him?” Jane asked. “I am your oldest friend. Perhaps you can mention that Henry Westley has taken an interest in me.

” “I should be a better friend by not calling his attention to you,” Mildred replied. “Surely you know his reputation?” “My brother said the Marquess came very near to a duel once,” Helen noted. “How exciting!” Margaret sighed. Mildred looked across the room to where Alastair stood talking to his aunt, Lady Katherine. Even without the dash of danger to his character, Mildred understood his appeal. Nearing thirty years of age, his masculinity matured, the Marquess was a handsome specimen of his sex. He enjoyed the sports as much as cards and kept himself in fine physical health. He had the same black hair that all the members of the d’Aubigne family possessed and a smile that could charm when needed. But Mildred found his gaze too sharp and that his lips tended toward a frown. “He has left a fair number of broken hearts in his wake,” she remarked, though she knew full well that nothing called to the fancy of her sex more than the potential reformation of a rake by a woman.

“Surely he will give more thought to marriage now that he is the Marquess,” said Jane. Margaret waved her hand dismissively. “In truth, I simply wish to flirt with the man. That would be plenty exciting for me.” The women giggled in agreement. Mildred smiled. If she had shared their sentiments regarding Alastair, she, too, would have thrilled to receive a smile or a dance from him. Alas, she was to marry George Haversham, and would never know that fluttering of the heart, that spark of excitement, when the object of one’s affection comes near. But she was not yet ready to reconcile herself to a life of dullness. She would save herself from such a fate.

But she needed the assistance of the Marquess of Alastair. Chapter Two HIS LORDSHIP LOOKED at the longcase clock on the far wall. Not ten minutes had passed since his arrival. He would stay another twenty minutes before departing for his favorite gaming hell. “Surely you will give more thought to marriage now,” Katherine remarked. If his aunt persisted on such topics, Alastair resolved he would stay only five minutes more. It was sufficient that he had curtailed his hunting trip to pay his respects to his aunt on her birthday. Aloud, he replied, “And why should you think that, madam?” “You are the Marquess of Alastair now.” Unimpressed, he said nothing, compelling his aunt to state the obvious. “You will want an heir.

” “If I fail to produce one, the marquessate falls to my uncle.” Katherine wrinkled her nose. “My younger brother is ill prepared to assume the title.” “He is a d’Aubigne. That suffices.” “I suppose if that is your view on the matter, you need never marry.” “I see no reason to add unnecessary concerns to my plate.” “You are fortunate you’ve no mother to fuss over your unmarried state.” “Do you fret, m’lady?” he asked, for his aunt was as near to a mother as could be had, his own mother having been lost to him when he was a small child. “I do not.

You should know I am not the conventional sort of woman.” He did indeed know, for it was his aunt who had introduced him to Château Follet, also known as the Château Debauchery, but he raised his brows nonetheless. “It is not your bachelorhood that concerns me,” Katherine continued, “but will you never care for anyone?” “I protest, madam. I would not be here tonight if I cared for no one. You are the reason I am willing to tolerate this tedious evening for any length of time.” “As much as it warms my pride to know that you care for me, I would rather you not confine your affections to me alone. When I am gone, who will be left to care for you?” He looked down at her ladyship, small in stature but large in heart, and with a willfulness that knew little retreat. “You do fret.” “I suppose I do. Your friends are no friends at all.

You have estranged your sisters with your profligacy. You think the rest of the family fools. If you do not find someone to care for, you will die a lonely, miserable old man.” “Madam, there will always be those who care for my title and my wealth. I shall never be lonely.” “Then you will be miserable.” “That I am willing to accept.” Katherine narrowed her eyes. “You think so now because you are at the height of vigor and handsomeness. You will think differently when the wenches are not so readily had.

” “Is that why you married?” “Impudent pup! My dear Richard, God rest him, was the better half of me in every way. I never thought I should find a man who understood me so well. If not for Marguerite Follet, I should never have met my Richard. Perhaps she could recommend a lady for you when you are at her château this week.” He recoiled at the idea. “Madam, I intend to spend my time at Château Follet suffused in depravity. The only mate I seek is for purely venereal purposes.” He was about to excuse himself and make for the card tables when Mr. Abbott approached with a young man who had styled his hair in long, soft curls, though they did not hide his prominent widow’s peak. The many layers of his cravat gave him the appearance of a fancy rooster, and his cutaway coat revealed his large midsection and wide hips to no benefit.

“Lady Katherine, Lord Alastair,” Mr. Abbott greeted. “May I introduce to you the gentleman who will be my son-in-law, Mr. George Haversham?” Katherine held up her quizzing glass, and Alastair knew she was hardly impressed. Haversham bowed. “A pleasure, Lady Katherine! Many, many happy returns on your birthday. May I compliment you on a delightful soiree? I look forward to the performance of the chamber quartet.” “Son-in-law?” she queried, and despite her poise, Alastair detected a hint of vexation. “When did this happen?” “Yesterday, my lady, and my happiness is not lessened by the passage of a day,” Haversham answered, his silly grin reaching from ear to ear. “Lord Alastair, may I compliment you on your generosity for supplying the dowry for Miss Abbott? Will you be participating in the drafting of the marriage settlements as well?” “Good God, why would I?” Alastair returned.

“Miss Abbott is not my daughter.” Mr. Haversham laughed as if he had been told a droll jest. “No, indeed! I merely thought, as you seem to be quite charitably supportive of your family, that you would extend your interests to all areas of concern. I certainly would not refuse you if and when you saw fit to intervene. Indeed, I should be honored by your involvement.” “My involvement extends only so far as providing Mr. Abbott the funds he seeks. What he chooses to do with the monies, even if he should choose to wager it all on horseflesh, is his affair.” Haversham’s brow furrowed as he contemplated what it was the Marquess might be implying.

“I shall be forever indebted to you for your munificence, my lord,” Mr. Abbott said. The marquess expected the man knew better than to comment further or Alastair would be compelled to withdraw his donation. Millie was no dolt, and her intelligence had to come from one of her parents. “Yes, yes!” Haversham nodded. “We are immensely indebted and exceedingly grateful for your kindness! I cannot give words to express how delighted I am that we shall all be family! Of course, the d’Aubigne name is an illustrious one, whereas I must claim a more humble background, but I think we shall deal well with each other. I should only be too happy to be of service, always, and your humble servant, etcetera.” With a frown, Alastair looked to Abbott to have the sycophant removed. “Come,” Abbott said to Haversham, “I think his lordship and Lady Katherine must have many other guests to greet.” “It was an honor to finally make your acquaintance,” Haversham said with a final bow.

When they had left, Katherine turned to her nephew. “My goodness, how much did you promise Abbott?” “A mere two thousand pounds,” Alastair replied. “I thought granting him the sum would spare me his attentions, but I worry that is not to be the case. You had best advise your brother-in-law or I shall rescind my offer.” “I must say that this is perhaps the kindest display of benevolence I have ever seen you make. I am impressed. Perhaps there is hope for you yet.” “Madam, I hope not.” “It is a shame two thousand pounds could not attract better for Millie.” Her brow furrowed.

“This is all so sudden. I wonder that she did not speak to me of this. I do not think he will suit Millie at all. Not at all. I am rather surprised that Abbott approves of this Haversham fellow. I think her mother and father worry that she will be doomed to spinsterhood if she does not marry soon. Still, I think they underestimate her qualities.” Alastair suppressed a yawn and glanced once more at the clock. “It was kind of you to take an interest in your cousin.” Alastair felt the keen eye of his aunt surveying him.

“If my giving Abbott two thousand pounds gives me the appearance of altruism or suggests that I give a damn what others are about, then I have made a grievous error. Ah, I see Mr. Priestly is here. He had asked me to invest in the purchase of a racehorse with him. Pray excuse me, madam.” “You will be off soon, I gather?” “You know me well.” “I intend to travel to Bath within a sennight. I know the fashionable prefer Brighton or Weymouth these days, but the rooms at Bath are still in good shape. I should consider it a fine birthday present if you were to join me.” Alastair suppressed a shudder at taking the waters at Bath.

“Recall that I am to spend three days at Château Follet.” “Of course. If I were years younger, I would certainly prefer Château Follet to Bath.” “I had commissioned for your birthday a pianoforte from Vienna. I regret that its delivery has been delayed, but it will have a full six octaves.” “I appreciate the grandeur of such a present, but you need not have. You would make me a happy woman if you granted me something far less impressive but much more meaningful. I would ask nothing more of you if you granted me this one wish.” He raised his brows. “If it is in my power, madam.

” “Choose for me one person whose concerns you will take to heart. One person to care for—that is not me. Do this, and I shall even refrain from ever troubling you with talk of marriage and heirs.” He frowned. “Who is to be this person?” “It is for you to choose. You have many in your family whom could use your protection, guidance and wisdom. I am certain you will make a selection that will make me happy. And this would be the best birthday gift of all to me.” From the corner of his eye, he saw Priestly walking away. “Very well, I will give it consideration.

” “Well, do not take forever to make your decision or it will not qualify as a birthday present.” He sensed that Katherine had more to say, but she knew better than to stay him too long. After speaking with Mr. Priestly, he would take his leave. There were too many mothers present who had set their sights upon him, though if they knew what he planned in the way of female companionship this weekend, they would reconsider him as a marital prospect for their daughters. They would be appalled and horrified. He had not been to Château Follet in some time and looked with anticipation to indulging his most wicked penchants in the coming days.

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