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Authors: Joan Smith

Tags: #Regency Romance

A Christmas Gambol (16 page)

BOOK: A Christmas Gambol
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His guests were impressed and happy, he was noisy and happy, and the dinner was a great success. Cicely was possibly the happiest person at the table. She hadn’t much privacy to discover what had happened at Murray’s, but Montaigne found a moment to whisper, “Don’t worry. He likes it,” and that was enough to make her evening.

At least Murray hadn’t hated it. Cicely would have to do some revising over the winter, take out the scene of the pig in the garden—though it was one of her favorites. She had chuckled to herself as she wrote it, remembering Anne chasing after the old sow, Hildie, with the broom. If she worked hard, she could have the manuscript ready for spring.

Made expansive by relief, she lavished praise on the food, although she found it tasted rather strange. She also inquired exhaustively into its contents and preparation, all in the way of research. Morland was delighted to find a fellow gourmet. When Cicely asked if he’d mind if she just jotted down a few notes, he was flattered to death.

Even when dinner was finally over—and it lasted two hours—she still had to wait to hear the whole story from Montaigne. It was arranged that Fairly and Meg would drive Sissie home, while Montaigne was to deliver the slightly inebriated duke home to his duchess.

“I am dead. I shall go straight to bed,” Meg announced when they arrived at Berkeley Square. They exchanged good nights with Cicely, and Fairly accompanied Meg abovestairs.

Cicely dallied over the removal of her wrap. She felt it was probably improper to receive Montaigne alone at such an hour, but she knew in her bones he would come. He couldn’t be so cruel as to leave her in suspense until the morrow.

The fire in the grate had been banked for the night. It neither flamed nor flared. A sluggish warmth that took the bitter edge off the cold issued from beneath the blanket of coals. Cicely huddled into her shawl. It was ten minutes before she heard the quiet clopping of Montaigne’s team in the street. He had his driver set a slow pace to diminish the noise.

He planned to drive by, and if the lights downstairs were extinguished, he would leave and return in the morning. When he saw the light in the saloon, he knew Sissie was waiting for him. A warm glow engulfed him, to be the bearer of good news.

Cicely rose as one in a trance to meet Montaigne as he entered the saloon. “What did he say? Tell me everything,” she said, and held her breath until she heard the answer.

Montaigne read the hope and fear in her dark eyes, and his heart swelled with joy at the chore awaiting him.

“He loved it. Sorry I was late at the theater, but once he got his nose into the book, he wouldn’t stop reading. I darted home to change while he finished it, then went back for his verdict. Of course he wants to publish it.”

Cicely felt a giddiness and a soaring joy such as she had never known possible. She stood stunned to silence for a moment. “Really?” is all she said when she recovered her wits. Then she rushed forward and pitched herself toward Montaigne.

His arms closed around her, holding her tightly against him. A surge of warmth engulfed him as they stood together, her curls tickling his chin, while a faint aroma of flowers wafted around him.

Cicely was startled at his response. She had acted on the spur of the moment, intending only to show her gratitude. She hadn’t expected Montaigne to crush her against him in a bear hug and not let go. In fact, his arms began to tighten until Cicely became acutely aware of the hard wall of his chest and his masculine warmth. She wasn’t prepared for the way her body responded, either. An unfamiliar thrill lifted the hair on her arms and sent shivers of delightful apprehension down her spine. She suddenly felt awkward, with her arms around his neck.

She glanced up shyly and dropped her arms, but still Montaigne held her loosely around the waist, as if he didn’t want to let her go. His dark eyes gazed at her in a strangely intimate, questioning way. The way a man looked at a woman he found attractive ... The heat began in Cicely’s chest and rose to her head, until she felt uncomfortably hot and breathless. She remembered Anne’s lecture—she was too old to be doing this with Montaigne.

“Well, aren’t you going to let me go?” she asked gruffly.

His expression dwindled to disappointment, then changed to a casual smile so quickly that Cicely wasn’t sure she hadn’t imagined that brief grimace. “I was hoping for a kiss,” Montaigne said, dropping a careless peck on her cheek. Her skin felt as if it had been scalded. Then he released her and gave himself a mental shake.

“I’ve heard of killing the messenger of bad news,” she said, adjusting her shawl. “I didn’t know you were supposed to kiss him if he brought good news.”

“No doubt it was your throwing yourself into my arms like a hussy that raised my hopes. That is not a complaint, Cicely,” he added, smiling. He had never called her Cicely before, except when he was angry. How odd. He had realized she was all grown-up now.

“Tell me what Murray said. Did he really like it?”

They took up a seat in front of the grate.

“I can’t imagine why he would lie about it. He spoke of an early release date. Ten thousand copies, in three volumes.”

“And I don’t have to pay him anything?”

“Au contraire.”
He mentioned the sum Murray had in mind.

“I shall buy the fur-lined cape for Morland’s party,” she said. “But did he not complain of the pig in the garden? Sir Giles felt—”

“He particularly enjoyed that scene,” Montaigne announced with the greatest satisfaction. That should write finis to Sir Giles. “Its homey humor matched the tone of the rest.”

“I can’t believe it. I shan’t sleep a wink tonight.”

“There is the problem of what name to use for the author, since it is fairly well established that you wrote
Chaos.
The two books are so different Murray feels it would lead to confusion in the readers if we tout you as the author of both. I feel a villain for having saddled you with authorship of the inferior novel, making it impossible—well, difficult at least—to claim the honor of your own.”

“I don’t care about that,” she said. “My family and close friends will know I wrote it. They’re the only ones who matter to me. It can be by another anonymous lady. A provincial lady. Or we can just make up a name. Aunt Ethel, perhaps,” she said, laughing.

“Chaos
is not a book that will last. After a few years, and a few more volumes from your pen, folks will forget about Eugenie, and you can claim full honors for
Georgiana. Chaos
will be chalked up to your first, youthful effort.”

“I’m really not at all concerned about that.”

“Well, it has been bothering
me.
I’m relieved you take it so lightly. We should celebrate, Cicely. Shall I ask the butler for a bottle of Fairly’s champagne?”

Cicely felt again that strange discomfort she had felt when Montaigne held her in his arms. It was the way he studied her, with a pensive, penetrating gaze, as if he were looking at some creature he hadn’t seen before. It left her ill at ease.

“I’m already floating on Morland’s champagne,” she said. “Did you ever sit down to such a feast before?”

“Yes, at Carlton House. I never before heard a lady lavish so much praise, however.”

“I wanted to find out a little about it—for my research, you know. It was all so beautiful and tasted so funny. It was that French chef who was to blame.”

Blame! His lips quirked in a smile. What would Morland say if he heard that? “Jacquiers is top of the trees. He cooked for Louis the Eighteenth before coming to England.”

“No wonder Louis was fat as a flawn. Everything so rich, and the desserts all awash in sour cream.”

“It was liqueurs that gave the cream that taste.”

“That’s right. Dick told me.” She soon returned to the more interesting topic. “What about revisions? And a contract. Shall I call on Murray?”

“He’ll call here tomorrow morning, since you’re going out with Witherspoon in the afternoon.”

“I’d forgotten all about it. Witherspoon seems nice,” she said, thinking back to the earlier part of the evening.

“Our touring of London will have to wait another day. I’ll be in touch with Meg to see what is on for the evening. And now, I expect I should leave, since it is three
A
.
M
.”

“Is it really? I don’t feel a bit sleepy.”

“London is seducing you into bad habits.”

“I shall be quite spoiled when I return to Elmdale. I must write to Anne before I go to bed. She’ll be so excited for me.”

“Send her my regards. And now I must be off.”

She accompanied him to the door. “Did you manage to eat your humble pie, or were you too busy gourmandizing on the French fare?”

“I didn’t get around to it. I’ll send Morland a note tomorrow.”

Montaigne waved the butler away when he came to open the door. He wanted a last moment alone with Cicely. But once the door was open, an arctic blast of air made lingering impossible.

“Thank you, Monty,” she said, reaching for his hand.

He lifted her outstretched hand and brushed a light kiss on her fingers. “
À
demain,”
he said and left.

Despite the cold breeze, Cicely stood a moment, watching as Montaigne left. He had never kissed her hand before. What had come over him? She decided it was all part and parcel of London manners. Now that Cicely was becoming “seduced” by London, he was treating her like a London lady. That’s all it meant. It would be foolish to go thinking it meant anything more.

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Mr. Murray called on Cicely early in the morning to arrange the details of her contract. He was enthusiastic about her work. Together they discussed a few modest changes, which she undertook to make. The book was to be published in the new year.

After such a start to her day, the rest of the morning was an anticlimax. The visit to Bedlam was never intended as a pleasure jaunt, but it was made extremely uncomfortable by the company of the Duke of Morland. Witherspoon had told Debora of the outing, she had told the duke, and he had invited himself along, using the ploy that his presence would insure good treatment, as indeed it did. They were greeted most cordially and given a guided tour of the premises.

Cicely could not think Morland’s pointing and gawping and laughing at misfortune was pleasant, even for lunatics. Their case was so miserable she felt ill. The worst ones were locked up in cells, where they ranted and raved, pounded the walls, and pulled their hair. The less violent inmates sat around the place on benches or the floor, looking so desolate she wanted to cry. The ragged clothes, the clotted hair, the fetid air, the indifference of the guards, and the futility of it all were enough to drive a sane person to madness.

“If they wasn’t mad when they went in, they soon would be,” Morland said, with a rare insight, when they left. “Can’t imagine why you wanted to see ‘em, Sissie. The stuff of nightmares. Let us stroll along Bond Street to clear our palates.”

Witherspoon had received his invitation to Hastings and was eager to oblige His Grace. Cicely was becoming a little known in London. A few heads turned to see her on the strut with the duke. Morland insisted on buying her a memento of the trip to Bedlam. She had great difficulty controlling his generosity. He felt a little diamond brooch was just the ticket. Cicely finally agreed to accept a fan made of ivory slats ingeniously painted to show the Parthenon when closed; when opened, its silk expansion showed a peacock in full display.

“It will always remind me of you,” she said with unsteady lips, as her eyes flickered over the peacock elaboration of his toilette. Then she quickly closed the fan, lest he take offense.

“It does look a little like Hastings,” he said, smiling at the picture of the Parthenon.

As he had taken a fancy to the brooch, he bought it as well, saying it was for Debora. His intention was to force it on Cicely at some later date. He imagined it was Witherspoon’s presence that made her so reluctant to take the trinket.

The duke dropped Witherspoon off at the Albany and drove Cicely back to Berkeley Square, where he invited himself in to say good day to the Fairlys, in hopes of receiving an invitation to lunch. Fairly was out, but Meg had just returned from shopping. Morland was desolate to learn Cicely was busy that afternoon. She had uphill work convincing him he could not accompany her to her meeting with Palin and Moore. “It is a business meeting,” she insisted.

“Gad, what a bluestocking you are, Sissie! This evening, then,” he said. “What are you and Fairly doing, Meg?”

“Nothing in particular. Perhaps a concert.”

“Then you’ll dine with us,” he said. “Won’t take no for an answer. Deb will love to have you. She is blue as megrims lately. Don’t know what ails her. She does nothing but lie in her bed, complaining. I’ll have some entertainers from Drury Lane in to serenade us afterward. Or perhaps a little dance.”

Cicely, who had had quite sufficient of His Grace’s company, said, “Montaigne mentioned dropping by to do something this evening, Meg.”

“Excellent! Bring him along,” the duke said. “P’raps he can cheer Deb up. Blue-deviled lately, poor girl.”

“I cannot answer for him,” she said.

“Make him come. Don’t take no for an answer.”

Morland soon left to arrange the dinner and evening’s entertainment. He decided that dancing was better than a musical evening after all. Waltzing would provide a good chance to get Cicely in his arms. Dashed pretty chit, and lively. Always something pleasant to say. He’d give her the little brooch that evening.

The meeting with Palin and Moore went off with no difficulty. Meg decided that Sissie shouldn’t go alone and made Fairly accompany her. As the meeting occurred at Covent Garden, he was well entertained by the actresses, who were in rehearsal for a new production.

Montaigne, busy at the House, didn’t call on the Fairlys that afternoon. Cicely wrote him a note directed to his home, telling him he was invited to the Morlands for dinner and entertainment after. She had no reply. Montaigne didn’t receive the note until he returned home at six-thirty, at which time he wrote to the duchess apologizing for the tardiness of his reply, declining the dinner invitation, but saying he would drop in later for the entertainment.

BOOK: A Christmas Gambol
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