To Tempt a Dashing Lord – Lucy Langton

Miss Catherine Hall’s smile was brighter than normal, for she was doing the one thing that brought her the most joy after all the sorrows she had endured. She sat with the younger children of the orphanage, reading them a children’s book with bright, colourful pages. Her employer, Lady Evergreen, sat in a chair next to her as Catherine read the story slowly and the children leaned forward in anticipation. Since Lady Evergreen, Countess of Waverly, a widow with no children, was the orphanage’s patroness, they often visited the children there to bring them goodies and play with them. Today, Catherine was reading one of her favourite books to the children. The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes not only captured the children’s attention each time, but it told of an orphan who one day marries for the better. Catherine read with enthusiasm as the children began to lean forward from where they sat on the floor, all eager to hear what would happen next. “Then what happens?” one of the children yelled out as Catherine slowly turned the pages to read how Margery Two-Shoes married the local landowner. “Now, we won’t discover that if we have children shouting,” Catherine said sternly, causing the child to quieten down once more. She smiled at all of them as she nodded her approval to the small one. The children all clapped happily as the book came to an end, a few calling out for Catherine to read another book. Lady Evergreen chuckled at their enthusiasm, gripping the top of her cane in her hand as she looked out over the small crowd. “Come now, children,” she said. “Why don’t you all see to the toys I have brought you? Enjoy playing with them.” The children cheered happily and raced to their beds to open up the packages that contained a new toy for each of them.

The room filled with the sound of happy children as she and Catherine simply watched the splendour. “It does my heart good to see these poor children so happy,” Lady Evergreen mused. “I agree, My Lady. I do enjoy spending time with the children. I always look forward to our visits to the orphanage,” Catherine admitted. “That pleases my ears to hear, Miss Catherine. I wouldn’t want you to become bored in your position to an older woman.” Catherine chuckled as she looked toward the Countess. She might be much older than her, but Catherine had learned that appearances were often deceiving. “I don’t think a single day in your employment has been a boring one, My Lady.

I look forward to each morning with you and will do so until we both pass on.” “Considering the fact that I don’t ever plan to die, then I can only assume that we will be spending much time together for years to come.” Catherine nodded her agreement as she turned her eyes back on the happy children. They were all taking turns showing each other their new toys and playing together with their things. Catherine had never known such poverty in her lifetime. And it wasn’t until this past year that she had even considered any sort of employment. Catherine sighed as she thought about her current predicament. She knew she should be at her father’s townhouse, enjoying a leisurely day or visiting with all of her acquaintances. The Season was in full swing and she should be dining with a multitude of families each night to find a prospective husband. There would be dinner parties, balls, and perhaps even trips to the opera to see the Ton dressed in their finest and on display for the masses to see.

But instead, Catherine needed to work to keep a roof over her head and food in her belly. When her parents passed away a few years ago, Catherine had every faith in her younger brother that he would be a wise earl. He’d inherited the family fortune and title at the age of eighteen and had been tutored since a young age to one day be responsible for everything. She had no doubt in her mind that Denver would be a fine gentleman and present her to the public for her own Season. However, that was not the case at all. The wealth of her father went to Denver’s head. He desired more than simply maintaining what they already had. He began to make risky business deals that fell through. And when he needed a way to quickly recoup everything he’d lost, he started to frequent the gambling halls in the hopes of winning big. When Denver started drinking heavily, Catherine knew that he had become a lost cause.

When word started to circulate about their dire need of money, Catherine started to receive quite a few different offers from gentlemen. At first, she thought she actually had chance at marrying after all even though her brother could no longer offer anyone a dowry in exchange. But it became rather clear to her that these gentlemen only wanted her for a mistress in exchange for money and protection. One particular gentleman, Lord Whetstone, had been rather forward with her on more than one occasion. He’d forced a kiss upon her lips at a dinner party when they were together in the gardens. Catherine had thought he’d taken her outside to propose. When he gave her a different offer, she had been appalled and tried to return inside immediately. He’d tried to force himself upon her then and only through brute force had she managed to escape, feeling more embarrassed than she ever had in her life. Her gown had been ripped and her reputation had plunged even further. Employment soon came Catherine’s only option.

Without her brother around to offer her protection, and no wealth of her own, she had been forced to start searching for an opportunity to survive. She’d met Lady Evergreen at Hyde Park right before the fashionable hour. She’d stumbled and was leaning heavily on a tree when Catherine approached her and offered her assistance. They’d formed a strong connection afterwards, especially when Catherine had explained her current situation. Lady Evergreen took Catherine under her wing, opening her house to her as her companion. In return, Catherine’s reputation was forever ruined after entering the service industry. Without any other option, it was the only thing Catherine could do to keep a clear conscious about herself. “You’re doing it again, my dear,” Lady Evergreen said, causing Catherine to focus back on her reality instead of becoming lost in her thoughts. “Forgive me. I was getting carried away again,” Catherine said as she forced a small smile to her lips.

“I know things are not ideal. But you shouldn’t sulk so. It will give you wrinkles.” Lady Evergreen was never bothered about speaking her opinion. Catherine figured it was a benefit of growing old. “You must never have sulked a day in your life, for you don’t have a single wrinkle,” Catherine replied, a true smirk coming to her lips then. “Don’t patronise me, young lady. It will not lead you to gaining a higher income,” Lady Evergreen said, a smile on her own lips as she said the words. Catherine had learned to never really take anything Lady Evergreen said very seriously or personally. The woman was rather brave in her words and never feared who might overhear her.

“Would you play skipping rope with us?” asked a young girl as she approached Catherine. “I would love to,” Catherine replied, thinking that by playing with the children she might be able to distract herself from her own personal woes. She enjoyed visiting the orphanage mostly because she knew that the likelihood of her marrying and having children of her own was rather slim. Therefore, she was quick to share her motherly love with these children when she and Lady Evergreen had no children to tend to at home. ~*~ Marcus stepped out of his carriage and looked up the walk towards the orphanage. He could hear children laughing from within, yet all he could do was scowl. He wasn’t really particularly interested in going inside. Yet, he’d promised his aunt that he would make an appearance during her bi-monthly visit to the place to which she donated the majority of her wealth. Or whatever was left of her overbearing husband’s fortune. Marcus walked up the stone path to the orphanage after passing through the open gate.

The smell of Town was rather stronger in these parts, as the poor and the disadvantaged lived in cramped homes. The orphanage was always full of children whose parents had either died suddenly from illnesses that were more prevalent in this part of Town, or who had been left there on purpose when the parents could no longer afford to keep them. All in all, it was a rather depressing place to be when he already felt rather depressed. Stepping into the orphanage, Marcus was quickly greeted by one of the attendants that worked at the orphanage. She greeted Marcus and then showed him through the building to where his aunt was currently presiding. It was there that Marcus saw a room full of the younger children playing with what appeared to be brand new toys. No doubt they were the latest contributions from his aunt, and perhaps even a bit from his own charitable donation after an attempt to improve his family’s name. But what surprised him the most was the sight of a young lady, dressed in finer clothing than the attendant who had greeted him, playing jump rope with the young children. They all laughed together as the young lady did her best to keep up with the rhythm, holding her gown a bit higher than what was proper so she could clear the jump rope with ease. And when she missed the rope that came to smack against her ankles, the children all laughed with delight.

“Oh, my goodness,” the young lady said as she clutched her chest and regained her breath. “You all are so good at jump rope.” She looked towards his aunt, and that’s when she seemed to realise that he was in the room and immediately lowered the hem of her pale-yellow gown back down onto the floor. She turned away from him quickly as though to compose herself before holding the end of the jump rope so the children could have their turns. “Ah, my dear nephew. Come join me,” Lady Evergreen said, pulling Marcus’ attention to his aunt. He sat down in the chair next to her, forcing a smile onto his lips as he greeted her. “It is good to see you after you’ve been out at sea for so long. We barely had the opportunity to visit at the funeral,” Lady Evergreen said as she rubbed her hands together before placing them back on her cane. Marcus wondered if she was cold during the warm weather of Spring.

She was wearing a satin gown made of dark burgundy with black lace trimmings that truly showed that she still had plenty of style and class for a widow of wealth. “My days have all started to blur together since I returned to the news of my brother’s sudden death. I wasn’t ready to bury him…wasn’t ready to be an earl,” Marcus said, keeping his voice low since he wasn’t sure who might be listening to their conversation. He could never really trust those he didn’t know fully when it came to personal matters. “No one is ever ready for death, Marcus. Well, perhaps besides me. When your uncle passed away from seeking the bottom of his brandy glass too many times, I became the happiest woman alive,” his aunt said, causing Marcus to actually smirk at the comment. It was no secret that Lord Evergreen often over indulged and had a handful of concubines. Marcus sometimes wondered if his aunt had a hand in his demise. She had always been the sort that was rather forward and bold with her words and actions.

“I’ve known too much of death in the number of years I’ve been alive. The war against France seemed to give my life purpose as I served as captain of my own ship. I lost men at sea, yet the water seemed to swallow up all that death. Now, back in Town, I feel the weight of my brother’s death each day,” Marcus said, feeling as though he’d never really be able to get over the depression he’d succumbed to. “Your body is still recovering from your own wound to the leg, Marcus. You need time to heal your body and mind. And both of those things won’t happen if you don’t become more active. The name of Kingston will become but a whisper if you don’t show yourself more in public.” “I’m working on it, Aunt. I’ve come today at your request.

I have an invitation to dine at Lord Hunter’s home where he plans to introduce me to all sorts of gentlemen.” “My goodness, Marcus. You need to broaden your social circles. I know you and Lord Hunter served together in the Navy, but there is more to life than war and death.” “I suppose I’ll have to take your word for that,” Marcus said as he turned his focus on the children once more and their varies games around the room. “Who is the young lady that is playing with the other children? One of your new charity cases?” “I suppose you could say that,” Lady Evergreen mused. “Her name is Miss Catherine Hall, sister to the Earl of Sedgewick. And, she is my companion.” “Companion? Why would a proper lady choose to do such work?” Marcus asked, surprised by the details. “You are not the only one who has troubles, you know.

All that Miss Hall explained to me is that her brother could no longer support her. Miss Hall had no choice but to take up employment. And since she’s a proper lady, I thought she’d be fitting as my companion.” “That surely is a terrible story. She has no reliable family and now she has to deal with your antics on a daily basis.” His teasing caused the older woman to laugh openly, pulling the attention from the children and Miss Hall. Marcus looked at her, observing her fair features. Her blonde hair and blue eyes were tantalising. Her slim figure yet rather large breasts would make a man mad with desire. Marcus was certain she could have a great fortune if she agreed to be a gentleman’s mistress.

Marcus offered her a smile, which she returned before focusing back on the children. The little girls seemed interested in convincing Miss Hall to play dolls with them as she sat upon the scuffed wooden floor. Marcus admired her ability to play so easily with the little ones and that she was bold enough to do so in front of a gentleman. Marcus reasoned that perhaps Miss Hall was as bold as his aunt. As Marcus watched the children playing, he tried to remember ever hearing of a Lord Hall before. He’d been out at sea ever since his parents passed away and his older brother rightfully took the title and all responsibilities. He never thought he’d be earl and had enjoyed serving in the Navy and rising up in the ranks. There were times when Marcus longed to return to serving his country, but the pain in his left hip often reminded him of not only his new responsibility but also the fact that he’d never be able to serve again with his injury. “Come dine with me soon, Marcus. I would like to see more of you.

Being around the young people keeps me young, after all,” Lady Evergreen said. “Is that your secret, Aunt? You suck all the life out of these young people so you can remain so beautiful?” Marcus asked with a chuckle. “I cannot share my secrets with you yet, Marcus. You’re not even married yet.” “Nor do I wish to be,” Marcus said firmly, knowing how his aunt could be full of all sorts of ideas. “It’s too soon for me to even think about having a wife.” “You’re an earl now, Marcus. The only thing you should be thinking about is marrying, having a litter of children, and maintaining the family fortunes for the next generation,” Lady Evergreen retorted. “Martin was raised so that he could do all of this. I didn’t have the same education as he,” Marcus reasoned.

“I doubt I’ll do as well as he.” “If a fifty-two-year-old woman can manage estates and households while not completely draining the coffers, I’m confident that a young man such as yourself can do the same.” Lady Evergreen smirked as she rapped her cane down on the wood floor, gathering all of the children’s attention. Marcus knew it was time for them all to say their goodbyes, even though he had just shown himself. It suited him well since he longed to return to the solitude of his townhouse.

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