The Road to Scandal is Paved with Wicked Intentions – Merry Farmer

LADY PHOEBE DARLİNGTON had always had an exquisite eye for fashion. Even as a young girl, she had pored over La Mode and all of the other fashion magazines coming out of Paris, London, and even New York. She’d done her very best to dress impeccably and carry herself with grace, even when her family’s fortunes began to slip. The less money her profligate father gave to her and her mother, the harder Phoebe worked to make the best of what few pieces of clothing they had. She’d learned to make gloves last for months beyond their standard lifetime, hats look refreshed and new, even though they were years old, and faded, old dresses seem straight off the modiste’s mannequin. Phoebe knew fashion, which was why it was no surprise to her that she found herself standing behind a counter at Harrods department store instead of in front of it, selling gloves to the women she had once counted as her peers instead of purchasing them for herself. “We’ve just received this shipment from Paris,” she informed Lady Eastleigh in a sophisticated yet humble voice as she took a box of fresh, white, kid gloves from the wide shelf behind her. As she set the display box on the counter, she peeked at Lady Eastleigh. “As you can see, the workmanship is second to none.” “Yes, I can see that,” Lady Eastleigh said without looking at Phoebe. She picked through the gloves with an almost careless air, caressing a few of the ones with embroidered cuffs with a hand sheathed in a glove that Phoebe could have made use of for months more. Lady Eastleigh didn’t need new things, but making purchases was a symbol of wealth and status. Phoebe knew that as definitively as she knew how reduced her own circumstances were, and she knew how to make the most of it. “I think you would find these silk gloves particularly interesting, my lady,” she said, bending to take a special tray of ridiculously expensive gloves from a compartment under the counter. She set the tray on the table and peeked at Lady Eastleigh again.

“As I understand it, Lady Germaine will be hosting a ball next Friday, and I can say with absolute certainty that none of the people I expect to be on her guest list have so much as looked at these gloves.” “Oh?” Lady Eastleigh glanced directly at her for the first time. “You would be an original,” Phoebe added with a modest tilt of her head. Lady Eastleigh studied her for a moment with a mixture of calculation and pity in her eyes. Phoebe knew the look well. It was the way that almost all of her former acquaintances looked at her—as though she were an embarrassment to their class, and yet someone who still spoke their language and could be of use. Indeed, even though Phoebe had never once in her entire life felt as though she belonged in the upper echelons of society, ever since her fall a year before, she had made a point of keeping abreast of the gossip and social life of high society. The information wasn’t accessible to any of the other shop girls at Harrods, and it had served her well. “I’ll take these,” Lady Eastleigh said, selecting a pair of lavender silk gloves decorated with silver embroidery. “And these and these as well.

” She selected two more pairs from the white kid gloves. “Excellent choices, my lady,” Phoebe told the woman with a smile she hoped was pleasant. “One moment while I ring them up for you.” In a flash, Lady Eastleigh’s expression was veiled once more, as though the gilt of Phoebe’s former life had flaked off, leaving her as nothing more than a lowly shop girl. Any hint of recognition disappeared from Lady Eastleigh’s eyes, and she turned away from the counter, as though it were beneath her to be seen conversing with the girl behind the counter. Even if that girl was the daughter of a marquess and had once attended parties at Eastleigh House. It still stung. A year after taking up the position at Harrods and bidding goodbye to her old life, it still hurt to be snubbed. Not that she hadn’t been snubbed wherever she went before the money ran out. Phoebe’s father, Lord Darlington, had been as bad as they came.

He’d rung up debts all over England and the continent, alienated all of his peers of good taste and good standing, and generally made a nuisance of himself through bad debts, worse wine, and loose women. His decline had been such that society began turning their backs on Phoebe and her mother long before her father’s death. And once he had finally expired—dead of a heart attack in the bed of a prostitute he’d engaged at Piccadilly Circus, a prostitute who wore a dress but allegedly was not a woman—society had washed their hands of Phoebe and her mother and hadn’t looked back. All that was left of the Darlington fortune were debts and an estate that was entailed away to some fourth cousin no one had been able to find yet. Phoebe and her mother had been forced to fend for themselves. Which meant Phoebe had been forced to fend for both of them, since all her mother could manage to do was squander what little money they had left, wring her hands, and complain about her lot in life. Harrods and a second-rate boarding house in Marylebone were the only options left to them. “Here you go, my lady.” Phoebe handed Lady Eastleigh her wrapped purchases after payment was exchanged. She managed to keep her smile, even as Lady Eastleigh took her parcel and walked away without so much as a grin.

Phoebe’s smile dropped into a wistful sigh. She snapped straight a moment later at the sound of her manager, Mr. Waters, clearing his throat. He frowned at her and shook his head, warning her to keep the proper demeanor. Phoebe plastered on a pleasant smile for him, in spite of the melancholy in her heart, and turned to face the new customers approaching her counter. “May I help—” She stopped dead and her heart sank at the sight of Lady Jane Hocksley and Lady Maude Carmichael. Her two former acquaintances approached the counter with sly, demeaning grins. They exchanged a look that said they were looking forward to the cruel sport they were about to engage in. “I’d like to purchase some gloves,” Jane said with a sneer, tilting her nose up. “Show me your latest styles.

” “Yes,” Maude echoed imperiously. “Show us.” Phoebe shot a covert glance to Mr. Waters—who was watching the exchange intently —before dipping into a slight curtsy and turning to the shelves behind her. “It’s perfectly scandalous,” Lady Jane said once Phoebe’s back was turned. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.” Phoebe’s heart sank, and she let herself take longer to select a tray of gloves than she normally would have. “I would be too embarrassed to show my face out of doors again if it’d happened to me,” Lady Maude agreed. “As would I,” Lady Jane sniffed. “But I am certain that every word of the story is true.

Millicent always was like that.” Phoebe frowned, choosing a tray and turning to set it on the counter. As she did, she noticed Lady Maude leafing through a newspaper of some sort that was tinted pink. “Don’t let your mama see you with that,” Lady Jane warned her. “She would expire of an attack of the vapors.” “Everyone is reading Nocturne,” Lady Maude said, folding the paper and tucking it under her arm. “Nocturne?” Phoebe asked. Lady Jane and Lady Maude reacted to her simple question as though Phoebe had asked them to show their knickers. Mr. Waters cleared his throat, causing Phoebe’s cheeks to flare red.

“How dare you engage us in conversation?” Lady Jane said. “Yes,” Lady Maude agreed. “Do your job.” She sniffed, then added, “I doubt that a shop girl like you would be able to find or afford the sort of shocking literary sensation that has all of high society buzzing.” “Yes, my ladies,” Phoebe said, her voice hoarse. She glanced to Mr. Waters, but there was nothing more she could do except pretend her former acquaintances weren’t trying to deliberately goad her. “As it happens, my ladies, this fine selection of kid gloves has just arrived from Paris.” She gestured to the box she’d taken off the shelf, and then to the one Lady Eastleigh had looked through. “These as well.

” “I don’t want those,” Jane snapped. “They look as though every cheap working-class girl has rifled through them.” Her mouth twitched into a grin as she directed her insult toward Phoebe. “Show me something new.” “These are our latest acquisitions,” Phoebe said, her voice going hoarse and her face hot. “She said she doesn’t want those,” Maude snapped. Mr. Waters cleared his throat yet again—Phoebe was growing to hate the sound— adding humiliation to the pile already pressing down on Phoebe. She nodded silently to Jane and Maude, then turned to take a second box down from the shelves. With three trays of merchandise already on the counter, Phoebe had to shuffle what was in her hands and maneuver the tray of silk gloves back under the counter.

Jane and Maude seemed to find her work amusing. They snorted to each other and giggled behind their hands. “As you can see,” Phoebe told them, face burning, “what we have here are some of the most delicate and fresh styles the season has to offer.” “I don’t like them,” Jane said with a sniff. “They look cheap to me.” She stared straight at Phoebe as she spoke. There was no denying the game her former acquaintances were playing. They hadn’t come to purchase gloves, they’d come to gawk at her and tweak her about Nocturne, whatever the journal was. Not a week went by when fine ladies of society didn’t come by to stare at the daughter of a marquess who had been forced into common employment to survive. Phoebe supposed she could have taken a more traditional route and retired with her mother to a country cottage to live out the rest of her days in genteel poverty.

Or she could have married whatever loathsome lord wanted a bride, as her mother kept insisting she do. But Phoebe had far too much pride to marry the sort of men who were still interested in her, now that she didn’t have a penny to her name, and she was much too stubborn to starve. She had other talents that she’d only discovered when push came to shove. “I’m so sorry these gloves don’t meet with your approval,” she told Jane and Maude, her eyes downcast. “Only, Lady Eastleigh just purchased two pairs of these kid gloves and one of the silk. And earlier, Lady Clerkenwell expressed an interest in this pair with the crewel work on the cuff.” She glanced up and met Jane’s eyes. “I hinted that I would save this pair for Lady Clerkenwell, but—” Jane made a disgusted noise. “I would sooner see something this fine on swine’s feet.” She sniffed.

“It’s only a matter of time before Lady Clerkenwell shows up in the pages of Nocturne.” She peeked at Phoebe as if to judge whether her comment had the desired effect of making Phoebe jealous over being left out. Phoebe pretended she hadn’t noticed at all. Disappointed, Lady Jane went on. “I’ll take them.” She paused. “And this pair as well.” “And I like these. And these,” Maude added. “As you wish,” Phoebe said, eyes still downcast.

She knew Jane well enough to know that if Lady Clerkenwell, formerly Bianca Marlowe, her sworn enemy, wanted something, Jane would snatch it up. Knowing the rivalries of the upper class as well as their social goings on had helped Phoebe to make enough commission from selling gloves to pay the rent on the respectable boarding house where she and her mother lived. “I must wear these to the May Flowers meeting next Thursday,” Jane said with a vicious grin. “Lady Clerkenwell will be green with envy.” “I hear Lady Clerkenwell is green with illness from a particular condition yet again,” Maude sneered in return. “Honestly, the woman is obscene with her fecundity.” Phoebe kept her expression neutral at the news. She’s always liked Bianca Marlowe, and if she were honest, she was envious of the happiness Bianca had found in her marriage, as unconventional as it was. Her own chances for a marriage that wasn’t a complete humiliation had evaporated along with her father’s money. “I do wish Claudia would get on with things and make a full break with the rest of the May Flowers,” Maude said with a sigh.

“She keeps threatening to break entirely, then going back on that decision and dragging us all back into odious company.” “Claudia enjoys conflict,” Jane said with a knowing look, seeming to forget Phoebe was still listening and knew whom they were speaking about. “Honestly, how she can even show her face in society, after the debacle with her brother is—” “Phoebe!” Jane and Maude’s gossip, as well as Phoebe’s work wrapping their purchases, was sharply interrupted as Phoebe’s mother charged down the aisle, drawing attention as she went. Phoebe winced as not only Mr. Waters, but Hilda—who worked the counter across from Phoebe’s, selling handkerchiefs—and Imogen—who stood behind the counter next to Phoebe’s, selling stockings—glanced up from their customers to see what was going on. “Phoebe, look who I’ve found,” her mother fluttered on, far too loud, pushing her way through a few ladies studying the wares for sale. “You remember Lord Cosgrove.” Phoebe blanched and shot a quick look to Jane and Maude. The two women lit with amusement, exchanging laughing looks and covering their mouths with their hands. But the true source of her horror was the man walking through the aisle of ladies’ finery with her mother.

“Lord Cosgrove,” she said shakily as her mother brought the man to a stop at the end of her counter. “My dear Lady Phoebe. What a pleasure it is to see you again,” Lord Cosgrove said with a wolfish smile. He was a friend of her father’s, inasmuch as her father had had friends. His grey hair was slick with something that looked like boot-black and parted in a fashion popular with men half his age. In fact, everything from the way the old roué was dressed to the way he carried himself suggested a man far past his prime who was attempting to present himself as still in the flush of youth, which he most certainly wasn’t. Jane and Maude could hardly contain their amusement. Phoebe swallowed hard and rang up their purchases, eager to get rid of them before her mother diminished her even more in their eyes. But even after their gloves were paid for, they lingered by the edge of the counter to watch the show. “You cannot imagine how overjoyed I was to see our old friend again,” Phoebe’s mother went on in a rush.

“I was thrilled to encounter Lord Cosgrove in Green Park just now.” “It was a fortuitous meeting,” Lord Cosgrove said, sending a smile to Phoebe’s mother before turning a more appraising look on Phoebe. The look made her skin crawl. “When Lord Cosgrove asked about you, I had to bring him to see you right away,” her mother went on. “Can you believe that he paid our cab fare to come all this way? I haven’t ridden in a cab in ages,” she sighed wistfully. Phoebe’s face heated even more than it already was. To admit in front of acquaintances like Jane and Maude, and Lord Cosgrove, that they couldn’t afford cab fare was as good as admitting the extent of their poverty. “I’m glad to see you looking so well, Lady Phoebe,” Lord Cosgrove said, raking her with a look that left Phoebe repulsed. “The summer sun agrees with you.” It was as though he’d shot another arrow into her already wounded body.

Yes, Phoebe was well aware that she’d lost the porcelain complexion of a lady of means, thanks to being forced to walk from Marylebone to Kensington for work nearly every day. “Thank you,” she mumbled, not knowing what else to say. “I told Lord Cosgrove that you’d be happy to see him,” her mother went on, evidently not seeing how ragingly uncomfortable Phoebe was. “And see, I was right.” She giggled and glanced to Lord Cosgrove. Phoebe prayed for sudden death. It would have been less embarrassing than the attention she was getting. “It is good to see you again, my lord,” she said, the same way she would speak to a customer. She darted a glance to Mr. Waters, who was only barely tolerating the conversation.

“I also told Lord Cosgrove that you would be delighted to walk out with him,” her mother said. Phoebe’s eyes snapped wide. “Mama,” she hissed. There was no way to dress her mother down the way she wanted to, though. She could only smile vacantly at Lord Cosgrove and say, “I’m afraid I am at work at the moment.” Jane and Maude, who were still watching, giggled. “Perfectly understandable,” Lord Cosgrove said. “Perhaps some other time.” He glanced to Phoebe’s mother. “Now that I have made your mother’s acquaintance again, I’m certain we will have ample opportunity for further encounters.

” Phoebe wanted to groan at the words. What had her mother done? “This nonsense about working is unimportant,” her mother balked. “Surely there is someone else who can fiddle with gloves while you engage in more important matters.” She glanced sideways at Lord Cosgrove with a look of urgency. Phoebe knew exactly what her mother had in mind and rebelled at the idea. “I’m afraid leaving work is entirely out of the question, Mama,” she said. She gambled on glancing in Mr. Waters’s direction. Blessedly, the man stepped forward from his position. He cleared his throat and addressed her mother and Lord Cosgrove.

“I’m terribly sorry to be a nuisance, my lord, but I must ask that you either make a purchase or kindly leave my staff alone to tend to other customers.” He nodded to a pair of ladies hovering near the counter. “Yes, yes, of course,” Lord Cosgrove said, nodding to the man, then turning a wide smile on Phoebe. “We will speak again soon.”


PDF | Download

Thank you!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments © 2018 | Descargar Libros Gratis | Kitap İndir |
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x