The Lord’s Desperate Pledge – Kate Archer

THE SİX OLD dukes had settled themselves into their own snug corner at White’s. Young bucks might swan around the bow window, pretending supreme disinterest in who might note their expertly tied neckcloths, but these seasoned old gentlemen had more sense. Soft chairs, good claret, and a cheery fire to take off the chill were in order. At this moment in their history, it was the Duke of Gravesley’s time to crow, and that particular duke was no stranger to the attitude. “He’s done it,” the duke said. “My boy has married Lady Sybil Hayworth—there is finally a Marchioness of Lockwood and she is charming. Of course, I cannot claim to like the girl’s father, he’s as prickly as he ever was, but that’s a small price.” “Lord Blanding? Prickly?” the Duke of Bainbridge said. “That’s putting it delicately.” The Duke of Gravesley was in too high spirits to reminisce about Lord Blanding’s confoundedness at the wedding breakfast. He said, “I understand the dear girl has already taken steps to whip Kendall Hall into shape. My son had the thing done up as some sort of hunting lodge. Now he writes that she takes them all in hand, various carpets roll out of the house, wallpaper flies from the walls, and everybody awaits her instructions. He’s remarkably cheerful over it—precisely what that young rogue has always needed. I expect we’ll soon hear of a grandchild on the way and praise God it be a boy.

” The Duke of Wentworth winced as a servant gently placed his gouty foot on a cushioned stool. “I say, though, this effort to drive our sons into marriage and children seems to lead to the most confounded circumstances. There is no end of talk about what went on at Lord Hugh’s house party. Sabotage on the water, wagers of every sort, even a house fire?” “Do you say we give it up?” the Duke of Dembly asked. “I’d be happy to see the end of so many questions from my duchess.” The Duke sighed, long and deep. “She always has so many questions. And comments. And then more questions.” “Gentlemen,” the Duke of Bainbridge said, “we have made a pact between us.

We do not throw up our hands in surrender at the smallest difficulty. They will all marry and we will see grandsons.” “Hear, hear,” the Duke of Glastonburg said. “Chin up, Dembly.” The Duke of Dembly shifted in his chair. “That’s what my duchess always says.” Prologue White’s, London 1817 THE SİX OLD dukes had settled themselves into their own snug corner at White’s. Young bucks might swan around the bow window, pretending supreme disinterest in who might note their expertly tied neckcloths, but these seasoned old gentlemen had more sense. Soft chairs, good claret, and a cheery fire to take off the chill were in order. At this moment in their history, it was the Duke of Gravesley’s time to crow, and that particular duke was no stranger to the attitude.

“He’s done it,” the duke said. “My boy has married Lady Sybil Hayworth—there is finally a Marchioness of Lockwood and she is charming. Of course, I cannot claim to like the girl’s father, he’s as prickly as he ever was, but that’s a small price.” “Lord Blanding? Prickly?” the Duke of Bainbridge said. “That’s putting it delicately.” The Duke of Gravesley was in too high spirits to reminisce about Lord Blanding’s confoundedness at the wedding breakfast. He said, “I understand the dear girl has already taken steps to whip Kendall Hall into shape. My son had the thing done up as some sort of hunting lodge. Now he writes that she takes them all in hand, various carpets roll out of the house, wallpaper flies from the walls, and everybody awaits her instructions. He’s remarkably cheerful over it—precisely what that young rogue has always needed.

I expect we’ll soon hear of a grandchild on the way and praise God it be a boy.” The Duke of Wentworth winced as a servant gently placed his gouty foot on a cushioned stool. “I say, though, this effort to drive our sons into marriage and children seems to lead to the most confounded circumstances. There is no end of talk about what went on at Lord Hugh’s house party. Sabotage on the water, wagers of every sort, even a house fire?” “Do you say we give it up?” the Duke of Dembly asked. “I’d be happy to see the end of so many questions from my duchess.” The Duke sighed, long and deep. “She always has so many questions. And comments. And then more questions.

” “Gentlemen,” the Duke of Bainbridge said, “we have made a pact between us. We do not throw up our hands in surrender at the smallest difficulty. They will all marry and we will see grandsons.” “Hear, hear,” the Duke of Glastonburg said. “Chin up, Dembly.” The Duke of Dembly shifted in his chair. “That’s what my duchess always says.” Chapter One HAYES SUMMERSBY, VİSCOUNT Ashworth and eldest son of the Duke of Dembly, trotted his horse through the early dawn streets of London. Horus occasionally reared his head, the lord’s favored mount being fond of an early morning jaunt and having been cooped in a stable all evening. Hayes held the reins in one hand and patted his inside coat pocket with the other.

It had been a profitable evening and he was becoming more and more convinced that establishments like Lady Carradine’s club were where he should spend his time and efforts. He’d spent the past year investigating every gambling opportunity that might be had in London. It was necessary that he do so—his father had, through bad management and one failing investment after the next, put his inheritance in a precarious position. By the time Hayes had grasped the enormity of the situation, they had skated dangerously close to a mortgage or a sell-off. It still made his heart pound to think of it. If he had not chanced to discover the situation through some dark hints dropped by the family solicitor, they would have lost everything by now. His father was a distracted and haphazard sort of gentleman. The management of multiple estates had been quite beyond him. For years, while the duke had admired his collection of dead butterflies, or spent hours rearranging his books, or even days at a time hiding from his duchess, he’d allowed lazy and corrupt stewards to run things into the ground. Worse, whatever money there was coming out of the farms was invariably invested in a losing opportunity.

The duke’s hopes were always raised high and his scrutiny and skepticism kept low. The estates had paid a heavy price for it. Hayes had exchanged some strong words with his father, the first of a hard nature that had been spoken between them. The duke had finally relented and turned the management of the estates over to his son. There had been the caveat that nobody was to know it, especially his duchess, and so the duke routinely took himself off to his library and shuffled various papers this way and that to create the illusion of remaining at the helm of the family ship. The newly-hired stewards knew the truth of it though, and communicated all serious business to Hayes by letter. Nobody else was the wiser, so the duke held onto his dignity while Hayes took the steps needed to rescue the family legacy. Hayes had put good men in place, increased efficiencies, straightened out lax tenants, and trimmed expenses where he could, but it was not enough. His mother could not live without two carriages, his sister could not survive without her expensive fripperies, his younger brother appeared to require three horses at Oxford, and his father could not carry on without a cellar full of champagne and port. The estates were on their way back to firm footing, but he’d required an infusion of money to fund his family’s bare necessities lest they undo all of his good work.

More money could only be had one of two ways—marriage to an heiress or gambling. It had not taken a moment to decide which direction he would go; he had no wish to marry so soon and he would never marry only for money. That sort of thing was a distasteful business that smacked of the marketplace. Whoever his lady turned out to be, he would bring her into a situation that stood on stable ground and did not need rescue from a dowry. His self-respect demanded that much. Once making his decision, he’d holed up in a rented house and studied. When he was satisfied that nobody, with the exception of Hoyle, understood odds and strategies better than he did, he ventured to Ashworth and eldest son of the Duke of Dembly, trotted his horse through the early dawn streets of London. Horus occasionally reared his head, the lord’s favored mount being fond of an early morning jaunt and having been cooped in a stable all evening. Hayes held the reins in one hand and patted his inside coat pocket with the other. It had been a profitable evening and he was becoming more and more convinced that establishments like Lady Carradine’s club were where he He’d spent the past year investigating every gambling opportunity that might be had in London.

It was necessary that he do so—his father had, through bad management and one failing investment after the next, put his inheritance in a precarious position. By the time Hayes had grasped the enormity of the situation, they had skated dangerously close to a mortgage or a sell-off. It still made his heart pound to think of it. If he had not chanced to discover the situation through some dark hints dropped His father was a distracted and haphazard sort of gentleman. The management of multiple estates had been quite beyond him. For years, while the duke had admired his collection of dead butterflies, or spent hours rearranging his books, or even days at a time hiding from his duchess, he’d allowed lazy and corrupt stewards to run things into the ground. Worse, whatever money there was coming out of the farms was invariably invested in a losing opportunity. The duke’s hopes were always raised Hayes had exchanged some strong words with his father, the first of a hard nature that had been spoken between them. The duke had finally relented and turned the management of the estates over to his son. There had been the caveat that nobody was to know it, especially his duchess, and so the duke routinely took himself off to his library and shuffled various papers this way and that to create the illusion of remaining at the helm of the family ship.

The newly-hired stewards knew the truth of it though, and communicated all serious business to Hayes by letter. Nobody else was the wiser, so the Hayes had put good men in place, increased efficiencies, straightened out lax tenants, and trimmed expenses where he could, but it was not enough. His mother could not live without two carriages, his sister could not survive without her expensive fripperies, his younger brother appeared to require three horses at Oxford, and his father could not carry on without a cellar full of champagne and port. The estates were on their way back to firm footing, but he’d required an infusion of money to fund his family’s bare necessities lest they undo all of his good work. More money could only be had one of two ways—marriage to an heiress or gambling. It had not taken a moment to decide which direction he would go; he had no wish to marry so soon and he would never marry only for money. That sort of thing was a distasteful business that smacked of the marketplace. Whoever his lady turned out to be, he would bring her into a situation that stood on stable ground and did not need rescue from a dowry. Once making his decision, he’d holed up in a rented house and studied. When he was satisfied that nobody, with the exception of Hoyle, understood odds and strategies better than he did, he ventured to sample all London had to offer, from White’s to low hells and everything in between.

He found the gentlemen’s clubs too fixated on chance bets and had no wish to risk even a pound over which direction a bird might fly, or which lord would produce a son sooner, or which color cat would first appear on the sidewalk. In truth, he was wholly uninterested in games of chance and thought only fools approached a hazard table without foreseeing what was to be the end of it. He was only interested in games of skill—it was in those games that one had the best odds of trouncing a man who had overestimated his own abilities. He was particularly skilled at piquet. There were times he had difficulty finding somebody who would challenge him at it, and other times gentlemen sought him out in droves, it appearing to be some sort of badge of honor to play against him. He did not take much joy in relieving gentlemen of their funds, but it was a necessary occupation. When he thought of what might have happened if he had not taken the reins—his younger brother forced from Oxford, his sister’s dowry gone—he felt a surge of energy that propelled him forward. He had been to Lady Carradine’s club often and it had a number of advantages. Lady Carradine herself was the primary recommendation. The air of the place was more a private house of a genteel lady than a gambling establishment.

There was none of the opulence found at some other places he frequented—all shabby façade when one looked closely enough. There were no copious glasses of wine always at one’s elbow, meant to muddle the mind and judgment and invariably declining in quality as the night wore on. There was not even a hazard table, as Lady Carradine often said she would not be responsible for some young fool losing an estate over a roll of a dice and then doing a violence to himself. She charged a monthly fee, as any club might do, and fair interest on loans from the house bank. The emphasis was on serious attention to skilled gambling, and that was what he preferred. That she called it “Lady Carradine’s Club for Ladies and Gentlemen” and had the odd musical evening was a touch absurd, but if the lady wanted to pretend it was anything other than a gambling house, that was fine with him. One might go to Lady Carradine’s to play at any number of card games, confident the house was on the up and up. A gentleman could be assured that the cards were not marked, and if one needed to borrow, the daily rate was reasonable. The betting sometimes did not go as high as some more famous clubs, but Hayes preferred it that way. The bets went high enough and fortunes were not made by one lucky night, though they could certainly be lost in one un-lucky night.

Lady Carradine’s was a fair set-up, and as he knew all too well, fair was not often encountered in the world of gambling. There were no sharpers or shills and nobody was a pigeon unless they were determined to make themselves one. That the club allowed females was the one point he did not find in Lady Carradine’s favor. She had set up the place to cater to them and kept a sharp eye on the proceedings. There were never ending rounds of tea and dry cake—the sort of dull refreshment one might find at Almack’s. There were middle-aged matrons whose sole employment seemed to be assuring Lady Carradine that everything went on proper—their hawk eyes perennially scanning the room. Gentlemen turning up the worse for drink did not get through the door. The air of the place was of a private house party where a lady might be free to sit down to cards. He supposed the likes of Mrs. Jameson and Lady Edith, both notorious for gambling away their husband’s money, must play somewhere.

And then there was that peculiar older lady who was forever chattering about something. He was wholly uninterested in playing against any of them and wholly irritated by their overwrought emotions when the play did not go their way. It was not to be sample all London had to offer, from White’s to low hells and everything in between. He found the gentlemen’s clubs too fixated on chance bets and had no wish to risk even a pound over which direction a bird might fly, or which lord would produce a son sooner, or which color cat would first appear on the sidewalk. In truth, he was wholly uninterested in games of chance and thought only He was only interested in games of skill—it was in those games that one had the best odds of trouncing a man who had overestimated his own abilities. He was particularly skilled at piquet. There were times he had difficulty finding somebody who would challenge him at it, and other times gentlemen sought him out in droves, it appearing to be some sort of badge of honor to play against him. He did not take much joy in relieving gentlemen of their funds, but it was a necessary occupation. When he thought of what might have happened if he had not taken the reins—his younger brother He had been to Lady Carradine’s club often and it had a number of advantages. Lady Carradine herself was the primary recommendation.

The air of the place was more a private house of a genteel lady than a gambling establishment. There was none of the opulence found at some other places he frequented—all shabby façade when one looked closely enough. There were no copious glasses of wine always at one’s elbow, meant to muddle the mind and judgment and invariably declining in quality as the night wore on. There was not even a hazard table, as Lady Carradine often said she would not be responsible for some young fool losing an estate over a roll of a dice and then doing a violence to himself. She charged a monthly fee, as any club might do, and fair interest on loans from the house bank. The emphasis was on serious attention to skilled gambling, and that was what he preferred. That she called it “Lady Carradine’s Club for Ladies and Gentlemen” and had the odd musical evening was a touch absurd, but if the lady wanted to pretend it was anything other than a One might go to Lady Carradine’s to play at any number of card games, confident the house was on the up and up. A gentleman could be assured that the cards were not marked, and if one needed to borrow, the daily rate was reasonable. The betting sometimes did not go as high as some more famous clubs, but Hayes preferred it that way. The bets went high enough and fortunes were not made was not often encountered in the world of gambling.

There were no sharpers or shills and nobody was a pigeon unless they were That the club allowed females was the one point he did not find in Lady Carradine’s favor. She had set up the place to cater to them and kept a sharp eye on the proceedings. There were never ending rounds of tea and dry cake—the sort of dull refreshment one might find at Almack’s. There were middle-aged matrons whose sole employment seemed to be assuring Lady Carradine that everything went on proper—their hawk eyes perennially scanning the room. Gentlemen turning up the worse for drink did not get through the door. The air of the place was of a private house party where He supposed the likes of Mrs. Jameson and Lady Edith, both notorious for gambling away their husband’s money, must play somewhere. And then there was that peculiar older lady who was forever chattering about something. He was wholly uninterested in playing against any of them and wholly irritated by their overwrought emotions when the play did not go their way. It was not to be his problem to explain to those husbands what had happened to their four hundred pounds, and he very much wished not to have his name mentioned during the tearful explanations.

Females did not have the steady nerves required for laying down substantial sums over a hand of cards. Still, he supposed the general atmosphere of the place, tea-soaked as it might be, was useful to him. There would be no young and drunken fools inconveniencing him by loudly challenging him before vomiting on their own shoes in Lady Carradine’s establishment. Hayes leapt down from Horus in front of his house on Berkeley Square. He’d rented it at a dear price, but his winnings helped him afford it. A groom, ever ready for his arrival, raced out of the early morning shadows to lead his horse to the stables. His penchant for gaming had produced a remarkable surplus. He’d been able to fund his family in the way they’d become accustomed. He’d thought one other particular benefit would be that it would stymie the old dukes in their ridiculous pact to force him and his friends to marry. He’d come near to threatening his own father to give it up, but the Duke of Dembly claimed he’d no choice in the matter, his friends were that determined, and that he was more of an onlooker than anything else.

Hayes had pointed out that his father could hardly cut him off, as it was himself that held the purse strings. Ominously, the duke had claimed he’d take the purse strings back if necessary. That, of all things, could not be allowed to happen. His father would run the estates back into the ground, and they both knew it. They had reached an uncomfortable impasse on the subject. Hayes reminded himself that he had one thing his father did not—an iron will to restore the family’s estates. He would not be pushed into marriage. He would marry at some point, of course he would. But he would decide when and to who and he would bring that lady into a comfortable situation. The very idea of counseling a wife that she must curtail her purchases or some other smallminded directive filled him with disgust.

In any case, he had not yet encountered any female he could contemplate joining with forevermore. There were no end of pleasant ladies one might dance with, converse with, match wits with and tip one’s hat to. Pleasant was not enough. It was true that he and his friends had lost Hampton, and now Lockwood despite their best efforts, to the state of matrimony. But that still left himself, Dalton, Cabot and Grayson. They would hold the line and when their funds were cut off, his winnings coupled with Dalton’s house would keep them afloat. If it came to it, his mother could live with only one carriage, his sister could make do with what she had in her wardrobe, his brother could survive with only one horse, and his father could drink his last bottle of champagne before Hayes Summersby would be pushed into a marriage he did not seek. When the estates were on solid ground, and when it was the right lady, he would not need to be pushed. He would chain himself happily enough. But not until then.

* LİLY FARNSWORTH MUSED over the array of dresses strewn about her bedchamber. Never had this particular room been so graced with all manner of fine things. More usually, she might find herself examining a year-old garment and contemplating how she might spruce it up to look like new. Or, at least not horribly old. The fine clothes almost inspired a sort of nervousness, an idea that they could not be afforded, his problem to explain to those husbands what had happened to their four hundred pounds, and he to have his name mentioned during the tearful explanations. Females did not Still, he supposed the general atmosphere of the place, tea-soaked as it might be, was useful to him. There would be no young and drunken fools inconveniencing him by loudly challenging him Hayes leapt down from Horus in front of his house on Berkeley Square. He’d rented it at a dear price, but his winnings helped him afford it. A groom, ever ready for his arrival, raced out of the His penchant for gaming had produced a remarkable surplus. He’d been able to fund his family in the way they’d become accustomed.

He’d thought one other particular benefit would be that it would stymie the old dukes in their ridiculous pact to force him and his friends to marry. He’d come near to threatening his own father to give it up, but the Duke of Dembly claimed he’d no choice in the matter, his friends were that determined, and that he was more of an onlooker than anything else. Hayes had pointed out that his father could hardly cut him off, as it was himself that held the purse strings. Ominously, the duke had claimed he’d take the purse strings back if necessary. That, of all things, could not be allowed to happen. His father would run the estates back into the ground, and they both Hayes reminded himself that he had one thing his father did not—an iron will to restore the family’s estates. He would not be pushed into marriage. He would marry at some point, of course he would. But he would decide when and to who and he would bring that lady into a comfortable situation. The very idea of counseling a wife that she must curtail her purchases or some other smallIn any case, he had not yet encountered any female he could contemplate joining with forevermore.

There were no end of pleasant ladies one might dance with, converse with, match wits It was true that he and his friends had lost Hampton, and now Lockwood despite their best efforts, to the state of matrimony. But that still left himself, Dalton, Cabot and Grayson. They would hold the line and when their funds were cut off, his winnings coupled with Dalton’s house would keep them afloat. If it came to it, his mother could live with only one carriage, his sister could make do with what she had in her wardrobe, his brother could survive with only one horse, and his father could drink his last bottle of champagne before Hayes Summersby would be pushed into a marriage he did not seek. When the estates were on solid ground, and when it was the right lady, he would not need to over the array of dresses strewn about her bedchamber. Never had this particular room been so graced with all manner of fine things. More usually, she might find herself examining a year-old garment and contemplating how she might spruce it up to look like new. Or, at The fine clothes almost inspired a sort of nervousness, an idea that they could not be afforded, though she did not owe a bill. All her life had been a series of calculations, what could be had and what could not, and it felt very foreign to find herself in the midst of such abundance. The clothes had begun arriving after she’d sent a letter to her childhood friend Cassandra Knightsbridge, now to be known as Lady Hampton.

She’d written Cassandra that she’d scraped together enough money for a season and would come in a month. Her father had no need of renting a house, Lily would stay with her aunt, Mrs. Amelia Hemming. Though the lady did not live at a particularly fashionable address, it was respectable enough. Lily had marshalled together the funds for theater tickets, a rented carriage to carry her about, a sum to compensate her aunt for the increased expenses of a houseguest, and perhaps even the means to host one dinner party, though not an elaborate affair. She’d used all her wits and skills to create a barely credible wardrobe, comprised of her old dresses reworked, reclaimed fabric from the attics, and a judiciously small amount of new material. Nobody, she cheerfully assured herself, would guess that the blue velvet spencer had once been curtains. The end result of all her labor was the bare minimum, but it was just enough as long as nobody was looking too closely. Lily had hoped, by telling Cassandra of her arrival, that her friend might provide some few introductions. She did not aim for the moon, but she doubted her aunt knew the sort of people who might throw a fashionable ball.

She suspected Mrs. Hemming of maintaining a small circle of friends her own age who preferred tea and whist to dancing or routs. Dear Cassandra had done more than vow to take Lily in hand and introduce her round the town. Lady Hampton had sent a dressmaker with instructions to fit her out with ten splendid gowns made of the finest materials. There were silks and velvets and satins, and a particularly fine muslin intricately embroidered with gold thread. There had also been an order for several day dresses and a lovely traveling cloak of ruby merino wool trimmed in fox. Unbeknownst to Lily, Cassandra had gathered her measurements from the returning modiste and set about writing of her situation to the Marchioness of Lockwood, known to Lily through Cassandra’s letters as the former Lady Sybil Hayworth. The Marchioness had taken those measurements and had made more day dresses, spencers, and a velvet riding habit. Then, somehow, Lady Lockwood told a certain Miss Penny Darlington, a lady entirely unknown to Lily, who had sent a carriage-full of accoutrements. There were nine pairs of kid gloves, a basketful of ribbons, silk stockings, five wraps of various materials, an elegant fur tippet, three parasols of different patterns, and four charming bonnets.

Another sort of lady might have worried that she’d somehow become a cause, a charity case pitied by those in more comfortable situations. Lily did not see it that way. In her view, a network of amiable ladies in possession of an ever-flowing fountain of pin money had seen another lady in need and ridden to the rescue. They had determined that one of their own would not arrive in London unprepared. In doing so, they had rid Lily of one of her worst fears—that great personages might raise their quizzing glasses and note the shabbiness of her refurbished wardrobe. That those elites might guess the truth of her family’s circumstances. Her dear father had spent a lifetime dragging their estate from the brink of ruin. He’d made sure her dowry was suitable, but just. No fortune hunter would eye Miss Farnsworth with any sort of satisfaction. Other than a respectable dowry, there was little money for new clothes of any sort.

Still, Lily had been determined to go to London for a season. She had looked around her little corner of Surrey and found the gentlemen wanting, ranging from gangly to insipid to irritating. Further, though she did not owe a bill. All her life had been a series of calculations, what could be had and The clothes had begun arriving after she’d sent a letter to her childhood friend Cassandra Knightsbridge, now to be known as Lady Hampton. She’d written Cassandra that she’d scraped together enough money for a season and would come in a month. Her father had no need of renting a house, Lily would stay with her aunt, Mrs. Amelia Hemming. Though the lady did not live at a particularly fashionable address, it was respectable enough. Lily had marshalled together the funds for theater tickets, a rented carriage to carry her about, a sum to compensate her aunt for the increased expenses of a houseguest, and perhaps even the means to host one dinner party, though not an elaborate affair. She’d used all her wits and skills to create a barely credible wardrobe, comprised of her old dresses reworked, reclaimed fabric from the attics, and a judiciously small amount of new material.

Nobody, she cheerfully assured herself, would guess that the blue velvet spencer had once been curtains. The end result of all her labor was the bare minimum, but it was just enough as long as Lily had hoped, by telling Cassandra of her arrival, that her friend might provide some few introductions. She did not aim for the moon, but she doubted her aunt knew the sort of people who might throw a fashionable ball. She suspected Mrs. Hemming of maintaining a small circle of friends Dear Cassandra had done more than vow to take Lily in hand and introduce her round the town. Lady Hampton had sent a dressmaker with instructions to fit her out with ten splendid gowns made of the finest materials. There were silks and velvets and satins, and a particularly fine muslin intricately embroidered with gold thread. There had also been an order for several day dresses and a lovely Unbeknownst to Lily, Cassandra had gathered her measurements from the returning modiste and set about writing of her situation to the Marchioness of Lockwood, known to Lily through Cassandra’s letters as the former Lady Sybil Hayworth. The Marchioness had taken those measurements and had made more day dresses, spencers, and a velvet riding habit. Then, somehow, Lady Lockwood told a certain Miss Penny Darlington, a lady entirely unknown to Lily, who had sent a carriage-full of accoutrements.

There were nine pairs of kid gloves, a basketful of ribbons, silk stockings, five wraps of various materials, an elegant fur tippet, three parasols of different patterns, and four charming Another sort of lady might have worried that she’d somehow become a cause, a charity case pitied by those in more comfortable situations. Lily did not see it that way. In her view, a network of amiable ladies in possession of an ever-flowing fountain of pin money had seen another lady in need and ridden to the rescue. They had determined that one of their own would not arrive in London unprepared. In doing so, they had rid Lily of one of her worst fears—that great personages might raise their quizzing glasses and note the shabbiness of her refurbished wardrobe. That those elites might Her dear father had spent a lifetime dragging their estate from the brink of ruin. He’d made sure her dowry was suitable, but just. No fortune hunter would eye Miss Farnsworth with any sort of Still, Lily had been determined to go to London for a season. She had looked around her little corner of Surrey and found the gentlemen wanting, ranging from gangly to insipid to irritating. Further, she would be able to do little for her sisters if she married some local gentry.

Marigold and Rose did not yet even have dowries and though it had never been said, Lily felt her father depended upon her to marry well and somehow provide. She must not let them down. Lily bit her lip as she examined the finery given to her. None of those generous ladies could be in the least aware of how she’d scraped together the money to install herself in London for the season. She wondered if they would condemn her over it. While her father had no means to fund her, it turned out Lily herself did have the means. She had a particular skill at cards. She’d spent the past year practicing that skill at a tidy profit. It had taken some doing, not the least of which had been convincing her mama and papa that it was the only practical solution. After she’d realized the potential value of her unique skill, she need only devise opportunities to use it.

Lily had, during this time, claimed an injury to her leg that made dancing impossible. She would arrive to an assembly with a slight limp, look helplessly about, and then make her way to the card room. She would not wear any of these new dresses to those outings, it would not be well to appear too prosperous. She donned one of her old, refurbished dresses and sat herself down of an evening. Most of local Surrey society appeared to pity her condition and find some solace in the idea that she was at least able to enjoy cards, while they graciously handed over their money. Oh, she did enjoy cards! While she had struggled through her studies in the schoolroom, it seemed not the least trouble to remember which cards had been played and which had not. They arranged themselves in her mind like so many paintings, with gaps for those cards still in a pile or in another player’s hands. She might have found it impossible to explain to her old tutor which English King took the throne at what date, but it was the simplest of matters to calculate the likely location of the king of hearts. One was text and the other was picture—pictures formed in her mind like some kind of magic, while memorizing text was impossible, her mind a veritable sieve. Cards seemed as old friends that she’d known all her life.

The cards spoke to her, and sometimes the backs even told her things. There might be the tiniest of variations in the design—a minute drop of ink or the smallest smudge. There might be a slight bend of a corner and she would know it was the nine of clubs. Over the course of an evening, it would prove handy to recall that the back of the ten of hearts had the smallest deviation. Piquet was her particular game of choice. The thirty-two cards arrayed themselves in her thoughts, very helpfully providing their various locations—in her own hand, played, on the table, or in her opponent’s hand. Once she and her opponent had declared, she was able to make reasonable guesses at what her foe held. Piquet had the further benefit of being a game with only two players. Aside from her skill at cards, Lily also claimed a skill at faces and more importantly—hands. A skilled player might become adept at concealing various expressions, but they always forgot about their hands.

A person holding strong cards moved smoothly and confidently. A person unsure of their hand moved ever so slightly less so and would often re-check their cards. The signals came to her as clear as daylight—she had a knack for detecting patterns. Further, she could not bear to play with a partner. There was nothing worse than being saddled with an incompetent at a whist table. Unfortunately, there were far too many people sitting themselves down for whist who were sadly incompetent. The money had been slowly collected, pound by pound and guinea by guinea. Now, all of this finery sent from three generous ladies must be packed and readied. She would leave for London in the morning. Thanks to Cassandra and her friends, Lily Farnsworth would arrive for her season she would be able to do little for her sisters if she married some local gentry.

Marigold and Rose did not yet even have dowries and though it had never been said, Lily felt her father depended upon her to Lily bit her lip as she examined the finery given to her. None of those generous ladies could be in the least aware of how she’d scraped together the money to install herself in London for the season. She wondered if they would condemn her over it. While her father had no means to fund her, it turned She’d spent the past year practicing that skill at a tidy profit. It had taken some doing, not the least of which had been convincing her mama and papa that it was the only practical solution. After she’d Lily had, during this time, claimed an injury to her leg that made dancing impossible. She would arrive to an assembly with a slight limp, look helplessly about, and then make her way to the card room. She would not wear any of these new dresses to those outings, it would not be well to appear too prosperous. She donned one of her old, refurbished dresses and sat herself down of an evening. Most of local Surrey society appeared to pity her condition and find some solace in the idea that she Oh, she did enjoy cards! While she had struggled through her studies in the schoolroom, it seemed not the least trouble to remember which cards had been played and which had not.

They arranged themselves in her mind like so many paintings, with gaps for those cards still in a pile or in another player’s hands. She might have found it impossible to explain to her old tutor which English King took the throne at what date, but it was the simplest of matters to calculate the likely location of the One was text and the other was picture—pictures formed in her mind like some kind of magic, while memorizing text was impossible, her mind a veritable sieve. Cards seemed as old friends that she’d known all her life. The cards spoke to her, and sometimes the backs even told her things. There might be the tiniest of variations in the design—a minute drop of ink or the smallest smudge. There might be a slight bend of a corner and she would know it was the nine of clubs. Over the course of an Piquet was her particular game of choice. The thirty-two cards arrayed themselves in her thoughts, very helpfully providing their various locations—in her own hand, played, on the table, or in her opponent’s hand. Once she and her opponent had declared, she was able to make reasonable guesses at what her foe held. Piquet had the further benefit of being a game with only two players.

Aside from her skill at cards, Lily also claimed a skill at faces and more importantly—hands. A skilled player might become adept at concealing various expressions, but they always forgot about their hands. A person holding strong cards moved smoothly and confidently. A person unsure of their hand moved ever so slightly less so and would often re-check their cards. The signals came to her as Further, she could not bear to play with a partner. There was nothing worse than being saddled with an incompetent at a whist table. Unfortunately, there were far too many people sitting themselves The money had been slowly collected, pound by pound and guinea by guinea. Now, all of this finery sent from three generous ladies must be packed and readied. She would leave for London in the morning. Thanks to Cassandra and her friends, Lily Farnsworth would arrive for her season appearing just as prosperous as any other young lady.

* BELLAMY POURED BRANDY for the gentlemen gathered round Lord Dalton’s table in the library. Since the Lockwood Af air, as the butler had taken to thinking of it, his master had been in high dudgeon. Fortunately, that high dudgeon had not in the least affected how the house was run. He and his footmen remained free with the lord’s wine and must only be careful not to appear too cheerful in the face of their lord’s wrath. At this moment, Bellamy adopted an expression that was suitably grave. “I still cannot fathom how we lost Lockwood,” Lord Cabot said, throwing back his brandy. “We were hours from victory, then old Lord Blanding decides to start a fire and nearly get himself killed,” Hayes said. “I wish the old devil had found the decency to perish,” Lord Grayson said. “If Lady Sybil was to wear the black bombazine, it would have bought us a good six months to knock some sense into Lockwood.” Lord Dalton, appearing to see no use in going over old ground said, “Blanding did not have the decency to kick off and Lockwood was the hero of the hour, launching himself into the flames to pull the old boy out.

What’s done is done.” Lord Grayson used his forefinger to move his glass, a signal that Bellamy ought to refill it. As the butler did so, the lord said, “I suppose Lockwood appeared a regular knight in shining armor. Rescuing the lady’s father could hardly have been more providential, surprise though it was to us.” Lord Dalton looked suspiciously round at his friends. “As we were all surprised to lose Lockwood, is there anybody here who might deliver a similar surprise? Any flirtation that might grow out of hand?” “Certainly not,” Hayes said. “I’ve not encountered a single female I could countenance for a fortnight of close quarters, much less a lifetime.” “Nor I,” Lord Grayson said. “My flirtations are many, but they never go too far. I am very particular to say nothing that might be construed as a declaration.

” “As careful not to declare yourself as you may be,” Lord Cabot said, “various mamas are beginning to complain. It is said that you led on Miss Mayfield most unmercifully last season and Mrs. Mayfield has declared you a rogue.” “Miss Mayfield was a delightful diversion, I was quite taken by her,” Lord Grayson said. “Until you weren’t,” Hayes said. “Just so,” Lord Grayson said. “I fear I should never encounter a lady who can hold my feelings in the palm of her hand for more than a few months. A curse, but there you have it. Anyway, what about you, Cabot? Precisely how many times did you dance with Miss Darlington last season?” “Bah,” Lord Cabot said dismissively, “we all danced with Miss Darlington, she is a pleasant lady.” “See that she stays only pleasant,” Lord Dalton said darkly.

Hayes folded his arms. “And you Dalton? Are you in any danger?” There was a long pause before the gentlemen round the table erupted in laughter. Even Bellamy was hard pressed to keep his expression somber. The last man on earth who would be in any danger from female wiles was the scarred Charles Battersea, Earl of Dalton. for the gentlemen gathered round Lord Dalton’s table in the library. Since the , as the butler had taken to thinking of it, his master had been in high dudgeon. Fortunately, that high dudgeon had not in the least affected how the house was run. He and his footmen remained free with the lord’s wine and must only be careful not to appear too cheerful in the face of “We were hours from victory, then old Lord Blanding decides to start a fire and nearly get “I wish the old devil had found the decency to perish,” Lord Grayson said. “If Lady Sybil was to wear the black bombazine, it would have bought us a good six months to knock some sense into Lord Dalton, appearing to see no use in going over old ground said, “Blanding did not have the decency to kick off and Lockwood was the hero of the hour, launching himself into the flames to pull Lord Grayson used his forefinger to move his glass, a signal that Bellamy ought to refill it. As the butler did so, the lord said, “I suppose Lockwood appeared a regular knight in shining armor.

Lord Dalton looked suspiciously round at his friends. “As we were all surprised to lose Lockwood, is there anybody here who might deliver a similar surprise? Any flirtation that might grow “Certainly not,” Hayes said. “I’ve not encountered a single female I could countenance for a “Nor I,” Lord Grayson said. “My flirtations are many, but they never go too far. I am very “As careful not to declare yourself as you may be,” Lord Cabot said, “various mamas are beginning to complain. It is said that you led on Miss Mayfield most unmercifully last season and “Just so,” Lord Grayson said. “I fear I should never encounter a lady who can hold my feelings in the palm of her hand for more than a few months. A curse, but there you have it. Anyway, what about “Bah,” Lord Cabot said dismissively, “we all danced with Miss Darlington, she is a pleasant There was a long pause before the gentlemen round the table erupted in laughter. Even Bellamy was hard pressed to keep his expression somber. The last man on earth who would be in any danger * LİLY’S AUNT, MRS. Amelia Hemming, lived in a tidy house on Cork Street. The residence had the advantage of being so nearby more elegant addresses that it often prompted the lady to refer to it as just of Berkeley Square. The house was not overlarge by anybody’s standards, but everything needed was neatly done. There was a suitable drawing room where one might receive callers, a dining room where twenty might be seated, a cheery though rather compact breakfast room, and even a snug library, though it contained more furnishings than books. Above stairs, the bedchambers were on the small side of things, though Lily’s aunt had been clever in avoiding oversized furnishings that might overwhelm the space they were given. Lily did not care two figs for a room any larger than the one she found herself in—it had a charming bedstead of wrought iron, a small fireplace enameled in a lively yellow and green diamond pattern, an overstuffed chintz chair, a slender and elegant writing desk, a large wardrobe, and a lovely view of the tidy rows of the kitchen garden. Her aunt’s lady’s maid, Pips, had unpacked her trunks and helped her out of her traveling clothes. Lily had told the maid she was perfectly able to dress herself, as she had been in the habit of it all her life. Pips had not been daunted or put off and had muttered something about backward country ways. Lily had no choice but to let the maid carry on with it in all good humor. Now, Lily hurried down the stairs to the drawing room to join her aunt.

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