Authors: Johanna Lindsey
DON’T SEE HOW
you’re going to manage it. He’s a confirmed bachelor, a rakehell even. He only comes to these affairs to please his family.”
Emily Bascomb listened to her friend with only half an ear as she watched Jeremy Malory across the room. He would have stood out in any crowd, as tall as he was, but he was also so sinfully handsome, every single woman in the room had become aware of him the moment he arrived. His black evening togs fit him to perfection. His hair, which fell in thick black waves about his ears and neck, might be worn a trifle longer than was fashionable, but that just gave him a rakish air.
Both girls were debutantes that season, though Emily had been stealing all the attention with her unparalleled beauty. Jennifer was used to that, having grown up in the same shire. With blond hair and light blue eyes, petite, exquisite Emily was a smashing success and basked in so much adoring attention.
But from the moment Emily had clapped eyes on Jeremy Malory last week, she had become entranced with him and had determined he would be hers. She hadn’t expected to have to work at winning him, though, was quite annoyed that he’d barely glanced at her during their too-brief introduction last week, and now that she was finally seeing him again, he was ignoring her completely, as if they hadn’t even met.
It was intolerable. She had every young lord that season in the palm of her hand as she’d known she would, all except for Malory. And she had no interest at all in any of the others now—because of him.
For years she’d been hearing rumors about how handsome he was, but living in the country with her family, and rarely ever getting to London, she’d never had an opportunity to meet him to find out if the rumors were true. They were. His looks were positively mesmerizing.
Her friend Jennifer was still warning her, “And the only women he pays any attention to a’tall are”—she paused to add in a whisper—“those he knows he can take to his bed without risk of losing his bachelor standing.”
“Jen, you don’t get it,” Emily replied impatiently. “I
marry him, even if I have to sleep with him first to accomplish it. One way or another, he’s going to be mine.”
“Emily Bascomb, you wouldn’t dare!” Jennifer gasped.
Emily made a moue with her pretty lips and pulled her friend off to the side to whisper, “Of course not, but it wouldn’t be the first time that the rumor of an indiscretion has brought a fellow to the altar, now would it?”
“Give me a few moments and I’ll think of one. But I’ll give him one last chance to redeem himself first. Come along. Let’s remind him that he’s met us.”
“I haven’t met him,” Jennifer pointed out, not liking in the least being dragged in on her friend’s scheme.
“Then I’ll introduce you.”
“You can’t be so bold!” Jennifer complained, hanging back.
“You’ve barely met him yourself.”
Emily tsked and let go of her friend. “How do you expect to get what you want out of life if you play the coward?” Then she sighed, “Suit yourself then, I’ll go alone. It’s perfectly appropriate to approach the man you’re going to marry.”
Jennifer closed her mouth, embarrassed that she was talking to no one, since Emily had gone on without her. Much too bold, her friend was, but that’s what came of being the prettiest woman in all of England. It lent confidence on a par with royalty.
Jeremy saw her coming, turned around abruptly, looking for the nearest exit, but got caught by Drew, who was coming to join him. “This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for this evening,” Drew was saying. “I’m much better at socializing after I’ve bedded a few wenches.”
“Aren’t we all.” Jeremy grinned and took Drew’s arm to steer him toward the door. “Shall we then? This ball was Percy’s idea, since he’d promised he’d make an appearance. But we’ve done that, so—”
“Jeremy, you can’t possibly be leaving so soon. We haven’t danced yet.”
He could pretend he hadn’t heard her, should do just that, but he simply wasn’t that rude. With an inward sigh, he turned around.
“Lady Emily, how nice to see you again,” Jeremy said politely if in a somewhat bored tone, hoping she’d take the hint that he wasn’t interested in her.
She didn’t. She beamed at him. Positively stunning when she smiled like that, with her light blue eyes sparkling, Jeremy thought. She was quite the sensation this season. And looking for a husband, which put her off-limits to him.
“And you as well,” she said to him demurely. “We had so little time to talk when we met last week.”
“I was late for an appointment. And I’m afraid you’ve caught me late for another one. We were just—”
Drew jabbed him in the ribs, said, “Aren’t you going to introduce me?”
Jeremy sighed. “Lady Emily Bascomb, meet Drew Anderson, my uncle by marriage.”
“Make me feel positively ancient, why don’t you,” Drew complained, taking the hand Emily had offered Jeremy and shaking it gently. Nor did he let go immediately. “The pleasure is entirely mine, especially if you’ve come here without your husband.”
“Husband? I’m not married—yet.”
Drew coughed, realizing his mistake, though it was understandable. Even an American knew that young, unmarried debutantes, either on this side of the ocean or his own, didn’t approach bachelors without an escort in tow.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Drew replied, baffling the young lady.
Jeremy almost laughed. Drew had been quite interested until hearing that she was a young innocent.
Jeremy saved him having to explain that remark by saying, “Sorry, old chap, but you’ll have to find some other time to further your acquaintance with the lady. We really need to be off. We’re already quite late.”
“Such a shame,” Drew replied. “But if we must…” And this time he did the dragging to get them out of there.
Despite her pleasure with the new furnishings that had arrived that day, a glum mood had settled on Danny and was still present when she went to bed, keeping her from sleeping. She couldn’t figure out what was causing it. She should have been filled with euphoria. She’d gotten through her first day of working at a decent job and hadn’t been fired. She could be proud that she was firmly planted on the straight and narrow. The job was easy. The other servants were nice. The housekeeper was even willing to teach her to talk better. And she had a wonderful room all to herself. She should bleedin’ well be ecstatic.
Her new clothes had also arrived that day. They were plain and serviceable and comfortable to work in, the white blouse long sleeved with small ruffles at the cuff, high-necked, but not tight enough to choke her. The skirt was unadorned black. A short white apron had come in her package to wear over it. It was trimmed with a tiny ruffle, but otherwise was definitely a maid’s apron, with deep pockets on both sides, even a long, tube-shaped one that looked as if it would hold her feather duster.
She’d spent quite a while admiring herself in a mirror. After tucking her curls back behind her ears so they were a little more contained, she’d been amazed at how pretty she looked. No, she was more than pretty, she was every bit as beautiful as those women who’d fetched Malory. Is that what he’d seen all along when he looked at her?
The new footman had shown up around noon, about the time all the new furniture started arriving. Carlton was the new man’s name. He was young, probably only a few years older than Danny, plain looking, though he had some pretty doe-brown eyes. A talkative sort, he seemed good-natured. Danny had paid close attention to him when he was introduced to the staff, a bit too close probably, since it caused him a few blushes. She wasn’t exactly attracted to him, but she realized he was definitely the sort of fellow who would make a respectable husband, so she determined to get to know him better when she got the chance.
She still couldn’t sleep. Finally she got back up and went to make sure everything was still in its proper place upstairs. It was, except for the occupants. The two young nabobs were still out on the town, probably prowling about looking for wenches to bed.
That’s what rich young men did. Was that what was bothering her? That Malory was out trying to find a skirt to toss because she’d put him off? That should please her. It would mean he might leave her alone. The thought didn’t please her at all.
She went back downstairs, just as glum. She’d made it around the corner at the back of the hall when she heard the front door open and the tail end of an ensuing conversation.
“Then what are you waiting for? She’s just a wench,” Drew was saying.
“No, she’s not,” Jeremy replied. “And I don’t want to talk about her.”
“So it’s like that, is it? And what about that pretty little Emily Bascomb who fairly drooled all over you tonight at that ball. Don’t tell me she didn’t prick your interest at all?”
“Did I seem interested?”
“Not a bit, which was my question. Why not?”
“Same reason you backed off as soon as you heard she wasn’t married. In that we’re quite alike, old man. I avoid debutantes having their first season, second season, or any bloody season. Emily was rather obvious that she’s set her cap for me, but all she’s interested in is marriage, which I’m not. I’m sure you know how that goes.”
“Yes, marriage or nothing.” Drew sighed. “That’s too bad. Pretty little thing. And she did seem like she’d offer you a lot more.”
There was a shrug in Jeremy’s tone. “I don’t doubt she would. Some of them don’t mind putting the cart before the horse, but only because they’re confident they’ll get what they want in the end. I’ve seen more’n one lord get leg-shackled over mistakes like that.”
“Eh?” A long pause. “Oh, you mean married. Well, damn, that’s depressing. Think I’ll stick with tavern maids and parlor maids.”
“Did anyone ever tell you that you talk too much when you’re foxed?”
“I’m not foxed. Might be a little drunk though. And why don’t you English
English? Need a blasted dictionary to understand you sometimes.”
A chuckle. “Accents can get pretty strong in some quarters of the country, but you’re probably referring to
Just a passing phase, old man. Could be gone from the vocabulary in a year or two.”
“And get replaced by something just as undecipherable?” Drew complained.
“And you Americans have no slang?”
“Nothing that isn’t perfectly understandable,” Drew said with a smirk in his tone.
old boy, but it would be foreign to me, now wouldn’t it?”
“Try not to be logical when I’m drunk, Jeremy, it gives me a headache.”
Jeremy laughed. Danny even caught herself about to chuckle, which was a good clue for her to take herself off to bed before she was discovered there in the hall. And she went to sleep immediately now that Malory was home.
HERE’S GOING TO BE A DINNER PARTY TONIGHT
,” Mrs. Appleton announced to Danny and Claire the next morning. “Mrs. Robertson will tell you all about it and what you need to do. I was given warning only last night. Barely enough time to plan the menu and shop for it!”
“This soon?” Danny asked as she started filling a plate. She wasn’t going to miss a full breakfast today. “Doesn’t it take time to send out invitations for parties?”
“Usually,” Mrs. Appleton agreed. “But not when it’s just family coming.”
“Oh,” Danny replied, not all that interested. “Well, I’ll be sure to stay out of the way.”
“No, you won’t. You and Claire will both be serving. So will Carlton.”
Danny had been doing just fine with her speech until she heard that. “Serving wot?”
“The food and drinks, of course.”
“That ain’t me job,” Danny pointed out reasonably.
“It is when we’re short on staff,” the cook countered, much to Danny’s dismay. “Every hand will be needed with some fifteen to twenty guests expected.”
“So it’s not just ’is family?”
“It is. The Malorys are a
family. But not all of them are in London at the moment. The Marquis of Haverston, head of the family, rarely comes to town, I’m told. And the earl’s two daughters aren’t in town either; they’re on their country estates with their husbands. One is married to a duke, you know.”
Royalty, Danny thought. The bleedin’ nabob was related to royalty! And Mrs. Appleton was sounding so proud, to be able to mention it.
“I’m feeling sick,” Danny said.
“The devil you are,” the cook snorted. “This will be a good test of your resourcefulness, my dear. With a little instruction, you’ll do just fine.”
That was doubtful, but Danny said no more on the subject. The breakfast didn’t sit well with her, going down on a nervous stomach, which she now had, so she didn’t eat her fill after all and headed upstairs to start her routine. Maybe if she avoided the housekeeper for the rest of the day, the woman would forget about giving her new instructions and Danny wouldn’t be forced to serve royalty that night.
In her nervous state, she managed to clean the entire upper floor by noon—except for Jeremy’s room. He was still in it, so she wasn’t going near it.
By midmorning, Mrs. Robertson had found her and took her to the large dining room for that promised instruction. There really wasn’t that much to learn, just whom to serve first, how to pour wine without gaining notice, to watch the glasses and refill them as needed. The men would apparently serve themselves drinks prior to dinner. She’d only have to fetch a tea tray if the ladies requested it. She was to stay on hand, though, in the parlor, in case there were any other requests. She just had to stay unobtrusive and not draw any attention to herself.
“And look your neatest,” Mrs. Robertson had warned before she sent Danny back to her cleaning.
Danny blushed. Claire had snidely mentioned her wrinkles that morning, too. She was going to have to give up her habit of sleeping in her clothes, obviously.
“Danny, come here, please.”
She sighed mentally. So much for avoiding Malory. He was the only one left upstairs, and he
hadn’t left his room. But obviously, he was no longer sleeping in it. He’d opened his door to call her and had left it open.
She peeked her head around the corner of the doorframe. He was still abed, lying on it, his arms crossed behind his head, looking so damned comfortable and relaxed. He wasn’t fully dressed. He was wearing just a white lawn shirt, fastened only halfway up his chest, and buff-colored breeches. No shoes or stockings.
Lazing the day away, that’s what she used to do before she got a
job. Bleedin’ nabobs. And how was she supposed to clean his room if he wouldn’t leave it?
She was making excuses for her annoyance when, the truth was, seeing him lying in bed set her pulses racing. God, she wished he wasn’t so damned handsome that her fingers itched to touch him.
“Don’t you have something to do during the day that would take you elsewhere?” she said more sharply than she should have.
Her voice drew his attention to her and his cobalt eyes widened in surprise. He even sat up on the edge of the bed. “Good God, you’re beautiful!” he exclaimed.
Danny would have been pleased to hear Carlton say so, but Malory’s flattery didn’t impress her, since she knew his motives. Besides, she wasn’t at her best, so she snorted. “You’re a bleedin’ liar. I’ve been told twice already today that I’m wrinkled beyond salvation.”
“Wrinkles can’t hide potential, dear girl. What you wear doesn’t detract from your amazing bone structure, doesn’t change the unique color of your hair, doesn’t alter the violet clarity of your eyes. But since I was already familiar with all that, what I probably should have said was, ‘Good God, you’ve got nice breasts!’ ”
Her face went up in flames. But she couldn’t call him a liar this time, not when she’d spent ten of those thirty minutes yesterday in front of his mirror admiring just how nicely she filled out her new blouse.
She scowled at him though, flustered enough to slip back into her street talk. “Mentioning me breasts ain’t proper, is it?”
He grinned unrepentantly and assured her, “Only in mixed company.”
Her lips flattened out. “Then ye talk to all yer servants like ye do to me, eh?”
“No, just those I hope to get extremely intimate with. By the by, this is a comfortable bed. Would you like to try it sooner rather than later—like now?”
She should have known better than to ask questions that would encourage him to be more outlandish. “The only thing I’ll be doing with that bed is fixing the covers on it after ye get out o’ it.”
“I’m wounded.” He sighed.
“Yer lazy. Go do something so I can clean yer room.”
“But I am doing something. I’m recuperating from last night’s entertainment, and resting up for tonight. And besides, your job doesn’t require a room to be unoccupied. You can clean around me.” He turned on his side, bent his elbow to rest his head on one hand, and grinned at her again. “Just pretend I’m not here.”
Right. As if that were even remotely possible. But she could try not to look at him. Bleedin’ hell, that wouldn’t work, because she’d know he was watching her. And even if he wasn’t, she’d think he was and be glancing at him to find out, and…
“You can’t,” he seemed happy to tell her. “I’ll be resting here until dinner.”
She gritted her teeth, ripped the duster out of her apron pocket, and turned toward his small writing desk with the intention of attacking it with her feathers. She gasped instead, seeing the hat lying on it. It hadn’t been there yesterday.
“Me ’at! Why do ye still ’ave it?”
There was a shrug in his tone. “I kept it as a keepsake of an— interesting experience.”
“I’ve missed it.”
“Too bad. Belongs to me now.”
She glanced back at him curiously. “Why? You wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it.”
“Don’t intend to wear it. Don’t intend to give it up either. So if I find it missing, I’ll know where to look, won’t I?”
“I’ve given up stealing.”
“Glad to hear it. Then I’ll consider my hat safe.” That got him a glare, to which he only chuckled. “Cheer up, luv. It really doesn’t go with skirts, you know. Frilly bonnets are what you need now.”
She snorted. “I’ll wear these bleedin’ skirts, but those silly lady hats aren’t for me.”
He tsked. “You’re thinking like a man again.”
“So shoot me.”
She went on to attack the desk as she’d intended, but it was rather deflating to find no dust on it yet that she could scatter about the room. She was careful not to touch her—
hat. She had a feeling he was silently laughing at her for having gotten into such a rotten mood over a hat. As if she cared.
When she took a moment to really look at the room, she was glad to see she’d done such a good job on it yesterday that there was barely anything to do to it today other than pick up a few clothes he’d dropped here and there. She gathered those and started to leave with them, keeping her gaze well away from the bed.
“Hell’s bells, Danny, you aren’t thinking of depriving me of your delightful company already, are you?”
He truly sounded disappointed. A ruse, no doubt. Still, she found herself stopping at the door to say, “You have guests coming tonight. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done before they get here.”
He sighed. “Ah, yes, my first foray into entertaining on the home front.” Then he added somewhat snidely, “Mimicking your betters again, are you?”
She stiffened, realizing he was referring to her speech. “No, actually, Mrs. Robertson has been coaching me.”
“Good God! And you caught on that quickly? Amazing.”
He was being derisive, so she didn’t bother to tell him that the way she used to talk was coming back to her more and more. She still had too many lapses when she got nervous or angry for him to believe her, so she changed the subject instead.
“I’m surprised you’re having a party this soon. I’ve barely gotten all the dust and grime off the new furniture.”
“I assure you it wasn’t my idea.”
She lifted a brow. “Let me guess: your cousin?”
Since he sounded annoyed at the moment, Danny’s mood improved a lot. She even flashed him a cheeky grin. “Cheer up, mate. I was told it’s just your family coming. No need to impress family, eh?”
“On the contrary. I could care less about impressing mere acquaintances. It’s my family that needs to think I’m getting along fine or they’ll join forces to find out why not and proceed to correct the matter.”
“You’re a grown man. Why don’t they let you muddle through on your own?”
“Because they love me, of course.”