Authors: Allyson Jeleyne
“How could I not look at them with their bodies put out on display? I’m sure if I saw you without your clothes on, I’d ogle you, too.” When Linley smiled, he continued, “Don’t compare yourself to works of art, and whatever you do, for God’s sake, do not compare yourself to girls like Gaynor Robeson.”
“But she is so very pretty…”
“Pretty, yes. All exterior and no substance. Girls like her are ten a penny. Everything she knows, she was taught—how to walk, how to talk, how to turn her head
to look at a chap as if he were the only man in the room. Everything she is comes straight out of a fashion plate. She may as well clip it out and paste it to her chest every morning.”
“But you are an individual,” Patrick continued. “From the moment I saw you I knew I’d never meet anyone like you again. And that is something Gaynor will never have.”
“Did you know she never called on me after the ball?”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Why?” she asked. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Yes, I’m afraid you did.”
“Our private conversation? The one she interrupted?”
Patrick nodded. “Poor little Linley, failure of the season. Please tell me you have not been cooped up in the house all week.” When she didn’t answer, he added. “I’m sorry I waited so long to call on you. I’ve thought about you every day.”
Linley swallowed. “You have?”
“Yes. I have.” He scooted closer to her on the bench. “A girl as pretty as you should have callers ‘round the clock. How will I ever make it up to you?”
She leaned in very close to him and whispered, “You could start by kissing me.”
“That won’t win you any friends in London,” Patrick said, laughing.
“I don’t need any more friends.”
He reached up and ran his fingertips along the soft skin of her cheek. “I won’t kiss you simply because you told me to. I am not your little puppet on a string.”
“You are such an ass!” Linley said, choking out a laugh.
“An ass?” Patrick said, laughing as well. “Berenice Hastings needs to teach you some manners. You’ll never catch a husband with a mouth like that.”
“Good, because I don’t want one. Marriage seems like more of a headache than it’s worth.”
“I will have to agree with you on that.”
Linley stopped laughing and grew serious. “You don’t want to marry?”
“It’s not that I don’t want to marry, it’s just that I see no reason to. Of course, I’ll need an heir and all that, but the world won’t come to a screeching halt if there isn’t another Marquess of Kyre. In fact, it almost seems cruel to saddle my own son with all this responsibility. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
“But don’t you think you’ll get lonely without a wife or a family?”
“Linley, there is no shortage of women willing to spend time with me.”
“Oh, I see,” she said. “Why trouble yourself with a wife when you could have as many different women as you want.”
Patrick laughed a sad little laugh. “Something like that.”
“Well, I don’t want to get married either,” she said. “I have enough men in my life to worry about, and the last thing I need is another one telling me what to do.”
“You say that now, but when you are older you’ll see things differently,” he explained.
“I’m not one of those girls whose whole life centers on catching a husband,” she argued. “If I find I want a man that badly, then I’ll take a lover.”
“Don’t say that!”
Linley blinked up at him. “Why ever not?”
“Because ladies don’t talk that way, and if anyone were to hear you, it would be the end of your life as you know it.”
“You’re fooling yourself if you think anyone would care what I do.”
“I care,” Patrick said. “I care for you a great deal, Linley, and I know how men treat women who talk as you do.”
“I’m sorry I offended you.”
“You didn’t offend me.” He reached over and took her hand. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”
Linley and Patrick left the garden and crossed the street toward Berenice’s townhouse. On the kerb in front of her doorstep, Archie, Reginald, Schoville, and Sir Bedford stood smoking cigarettes huddled around Patrick’s motorcar.
“Well!” Archie said as he saw the pair approach. “What do we have here?”
Linley looked over at Patrick, and then back to her friend. “Surely, you remember Lord Kyre, Archie.”
“How could I forget,” he replied, bowing. “Lord Queer.”
Patrick shifted from one foot to the other and cleared his throat.
Linley cringed. “We were taking a walk in the garden,” she said, grasping at anything to steer the conversation toward neutral ground. “It is so nice to have some company for a change.”
Reginald leaned across the bonnet of Patrick’s automobile. “Is this your motor?” he asked, poking at the little silver figurine of a flying woman on the radiator cap.
“Of course it is,” Reginald said, answering his own question. “Who else could afford a motorcar this fine?”
Archie pretended to study the automobile, as well. “It
a fine motor,” he said. “About how much would one of these cost, Reggie?”
“Somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve hundred pounds, I’d say.”
Even Linley was shocked to hear that.
“Twelve hundred,” Archie said with a whistle. “One wonders about a man who would waste that much on a motorcar…”
Patrick knew where this was headed, and he certainly wasn’t going to stick around and let them make a fool out of him. He turned to Linley. “I think I had better go.”
But Archie stood with his arms crossed, blocking the driver’s door.
Refusing to be bullied, Patrick straightened his shoulders and stood so close to the man that their hat brims touched. Neither moved for what seemed like a very long time.
Neither blinked and no one spoke. Linley thought her chest would cave in from the tension, and she prayed the two men would not come to blows right there in Bedford Square.
Patrick wished Archie would swing on him. He’d been looking for an opportunity to beat the man’s face in, but his sense of decorum and damned annoying gentleman’s code of honor wouldn’t let him pick a fight with a lesser man.
So, in the meantime, he would have to take the high road.
“Excuse me,” Patrick said, and, finally, Archie stepped aside.
But not before turning around and knocking the hat off the back of Patrick’s head.
“I cannot believe you!” Linley cried as she watched Patrick’s motorcar turn out of Bedford Square. “Why are you all acting so childish?”
“Someone needs to show that chap he can’t pull any of his usual tricks with you,” Archie explained. “At least not while I am around!”
Linley looked at each of them. “What are you talking about?”
Reginald cleared his throat and stepped forward. “I asked my brother about him. Harry said he’s bad news. Turns out they were at Eton together. Of course, he was just Lord Patrick Wolford back then.”
“You would judge a man on his behavior when he was barely more than a child?”
“That’s not all,” Reginald said. “I don’t suppose he told you about Lady Wolstanton?”
Linley shook her head. “Who is that?”
“Ask him. See what he tells you.”
“Oh, Reginald,” she said, waving him off. “I refuse to listen to this nonsense.”
Schoville, who until then had remained silent, spoke up. “If you won’t listen to us, then I hope you will listen to your father.” He turned toward Sir Bedford. “Please tell her not to see that man again.”
Linley’s father sighed. “While you all make convincing arguments against him, and while I must admit I don’t particularly like the fellow, I leave the decision completely up to Linley. It is, after all, her life.”
“Thank you, Papa,” she said. “Now, if you will all please excuse me, I have to write a letter apologizing for your behavior to my friend Lord Kyre.”
After she went inside, Archie, Reginald, and Schoville all turned on Linley’s father.
“Bedford, you can’t be serious!” Archie cried. “That man is a bounder!”
“Despite what you say, Berenice finds him to be suitable company for Linley.”
Reginald threw his hands in the air. “That woman would let Linley marry Satan if he had a good enough title!”
Sir Bedford Talbot-Martin could not help but laugh. “I believe you are jealous.”
“Jealous?” Reginald scoffed. “I may not be a marquess, but my father is the Earl of Bredgebury! And compared to us Bournes, the Wolfords are
He spat that last bit out with enough contempt Linley’s father didn’t dare to continue the argument. “I stand by my decision, Reginald. I am sorry.”
Patrick just finished his bath when there was a knock at the door.
“There is a letter for you, my lord,” his valet said.
“Just lay it on the bed. I’ll read it later.”
The man cleared his throat. “It’s from Miss Talbot-Martin, sir.”
“Oh!” Patrick reached for a nearby towel and wrapped it around his waist. Padding across the cold tile floor, he opened the bathroom door. “I’ll take that now.”
“I rather thought you might,” his valet said, handing over the envelope.
Patrick read the letter, noting what pretty handwriting Linley had. And what perfect spelling. Unlike Georgiana, she must have actually paid attention to her tutors. In fact, it put his own Eton scrawl to shame.
“A reply?” his valet asked.
“A reply. To the letter.”
“See if she will have dinner with me. Eight o’clock.”
The man set off down the dark, wood-paneled corridor to relay the message. Left alone in his room, Patrick walked to the far end and sank down onto the narrow bed. Still clad in only a towel, he flopped backward against the mattress and stared up at the ceiling.
What the hell was he doing asking Linley to dinner?
Resting his hands on his bare chest, he wondered where he would even take her. The Savoy? He wrinkled his nose at the prospect. The Cavendish Hotel? No, not the Cavendish. Claridge’s, perhaps? Patrick sat up, propping himself up on his elbows. Yes, Claridge’s would do in a pinch.
“Oh my God!” Linley cried. “What do I wear?”
Berenice looked up at her from the paper she was reading. “Your nicest gown.”
“Will you be coming with us?”
“No,” Berenice said, resuming her place on the page.
Linley slapped her hand to her forehead. “Oh my God!”
“A sudden case of the nerves, dear?”
“It’s…it’s just that I’ve never been to a really fancy restaurant before,” she replied. “What if I make a complete fool of myself?”
Again, Berenice looked up at her from the paper. “Then don’t go.”
Linley balked. “Cancel on the Marquess of Kyre? Have you lost your mind?”
The old woman shrugged. “Whatever you decide to do, you only have an hour to do it.” As if on cue, the hall clock chimed seven.
“Oh my God!” Running up the stairs to her room, she called for Clare the entire way. When she slipped through her door, she yanked the bell pull. “Clare!”
A breathless Clare fell into the room. “Miss?”
“I’m having dinner with Lord Kyre. He will be here in one hour!”
The maid waved her hands into the air. “Heavens! You go take your bath and I will find something for you to wear! Hurry, miss! Hurry!”
Even when she washed in crocodile infested waters, Linley was sure she’d never bathed so quickly. Dripping onto the carpets, she stood in the middle of her bedroom while Clare brushed out a tangle of long, brown hair.
“What time is it?” Linley asked.
“About half seven, miss.”
She blew out a sigh of relief. “We’ll have plenty of time.”
Clare did not answer, but tugged Linley’s hair into a twist and pinned it at the crown of her head.
“Ouch! Do you have to pull so hard?”
“It has to stay put all night,” the maid replied, jabbing another pin in for good measure. “Would you like to wear the jet bandeau, or leave it how it is?”
Linley studied her hair in the mirror. “Do the bandeau.”
With a nod, Clare pulled open the dressing table drawer and fished out the thick black headband. She carefully set it in place over Linley’s brow. “How is that, miss?”
“Oh! Perfect!” she replied, grinning. “Now for my dress. Which did you pick?”
Clare pointed to the freshly pressed black satin gown draped over the wardrobe door. Linley did not have many gowns, but that one was certainly the best. It was the one she intended to wear to her next ball, but since invitations never came, she never got the chance.
“You are a genius!” Linley said. “He will love it!”
“I don’t care if
loves it, it’s everyone else that matters. Once the other gentlemen see you on the arm of Lord Kyre, they’ll want to court you, too.”
Linley stood stock-still while Clare helped her into the long black corset and laced her up. Since she didn’t have a bosom to wrangle in, the process went by without any problems. After that came the dress. Clare slipped it over Linley’s head, careful not to disturb her
Studying herself in the mirror, Linley turned to the left and right. The dress clung to what little curves she had, and the low V-neck showed off an attractive, freckled chest. Its satin panels draped around her legs, stopping just short of pooling on the floor.
“Oh, no!” Clare gasped.
Linley saw it, too. The front of the dress was too short! Her bare toes wiggled in plain sight. So did her ankles. “What are we going to do?”
“We don’t have time to press another dress! It’s ten ‘til!”
Linley’s eyes shot to the little clock on the mantle. “Damn. We’ll just have to make it work,” she said, swishing over to the wardrobe. Pulling out a pair of bright red silk Moroccan slippers, she yanked them onto her feet.
Clare’s hands went to her mouth. Against the black gown, the red shoes made quite a statement. “You look like a…a…”
“Don’t say it!” Linley said. “Just help me finish getting dressed.”
Downstairs, Patrick stood in the foyer, tapping his black top hat against his thighs. No one even bothered to show him into the drawing room. It was obvious his presence was tolerated, but clearly not welcome. He pulled out his watch—eight o’clock. As soon as he shut it, the clock down the hall began to chime. Hopefully she wouldn’t keep him waiting too long.