Read A Proper Lady's Gypsy Lover Online

Authors: Juliet Chastain

A Proper Lady's Gypsy Lover (2 page)

BOOK: A Proper Lady's Gypsy Lover
13.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

 

“For heaven’s sake, sit still, girl,” snapped Aunt Louisa. “Smith will never get your hair as it should be if you keep wriggling like that.”

“And such lovely hair it is,” said Aunt Emily in her sweet voice. “Like the color of honey. With your fine figure and your pretty blue eyes, every gentleman will want to dance with you.”

“Emily, you’ll inflate her self-regard to a shocking degree,” Aunt Louisa said loudly—Aunt Emily was a little deaf.

“But it’s quite true,” said Aunt Emily. “You’ve said so yourself, Louisa.”

“In private, sister, in private only. It’s not suitable for a young girl to hear these things. Will you sit still, Lucy-Ann!”

“Must it take so long?” Lucy-Ann sighed. “I hate being fiddled with this way.”

“My dear, to achieve the highest style one must be fiddled with. There is no other way.”

Lucy-Ann sighed again. There was no arguing with Aunt Louisa.

She did not know if it would be worse to dance or not. She disliked conversing with the other young ladies—she did not share their interest in bonnets and ribbons and how much each young man was worth. As for the gentlemen, they either discussed hunting or they mouthed silly platitudes until she wanted to scream. She resolved to only dance with a man who looked as though he might be too shy to speak much. She knew all too well that most dances lasted half an hour or more and protocol generally required one to perform two consecutive dances with a partner. She could end up for as much as two hours in her partner’s company, save only when they danced down the line and she would do a turn with each man on the floor.

“Darling Lucy-Ann,” Aunt Emily said, leaning forward and patting Lucy-Ann’s hand, “perhaps this season you will find the man you will marry.” Lucy-Ann managed to refrain from shaking her head. She would never marry the kind of man who frequented Almack’s assembly rooms. Never. “Perhaps tonight is the night you will be introduced to that man and, because you are so pretty, he will ask you to dance and in no time he will propose. Within the year you will have a home of your own.”

Lucy-Ann sighed. A home of her own. She knew she could never return to her father’s house and, though she loved them dearly and they meant her nothing but well, she couldn’t live here with her aunts forever. They had gone to considerable inconvenience to “rescue” her from her negligent father, but they would never understand that she had not wanted to be rescued.

She knew that had it not been for Papa’s housekeeper and cook, she would have gone hungry and quite possibly naked. But Papa let her be free, unbound by all these social niceties, and free is what she wanted to be. To be practical, she would have no money of her own until Papa died—provided she had married. Could she perhaps find a man who would be like her papa and not care what his wife did or what she wore?

She wished with all her heart that Liberty might appear in London. She had written her papa several times begging him to tell Liberty where she was. He had finally replied saying that he had told “that young rapscallion, Liberty Wood, that you were gone to London, but I gave no address because at the time I could not think of it. I did not give him your letter, nor pass on the one he gave me to give to you because Louisa would disapprove.” He’d gone on to say that he now employed a man with a threshing machine, so the Gypsies came no more.

She sniffed and Aunt Emily handed her a handkerchief.

 

***

 

Lucy-Ann and her aunts arrived late at Almack’s assembly room. Huge chandeliers glowed above the extensive dance floor and in the balcony, the orchestra sawed away at a lively country dance. The line of dancers extended across the room, and on either side, the ton, the members of high society, swirled about, talking and laughing. Aunt Louisa, who had weak ankles and found standing tiring, led the way through the throng to some empty chairs against the wall. Traveling in her wake, Lucy-Ann looked enviously at the dancers, wishing she were taking part so that she could avoid the small talk high society required of young ladies. Acquaintances greeted them as they passed.

Many of the women greeted Lucy-Ann rather coolly, just as they had last season. Aunt Emily said it was because they were jealous, as she was so pretty, while Aunt Louisa said it was because she didn’t make proper light conversation. She knew Aunt Louisa was right about her and conversation. She seemed quite unable to discuss fashions or ribbons or bonnets, or, for that matter, the unseemly behavior of this young lady or the freckles on another. In fact, she could barely tell one bonnet from another, thought all dresses pretty and impractical, considered the unseemly behavior perfectly normal, and as for freckles, she simply could not care and thought the freckled girl quite as pretty as all the others.

She’d never really belong to the ton—and she didn’t want to. She suspected the only reason she was allowed at Almack’s was because of the social standing of her aunts. She knew the gentlemen only flocked to her because they had heard she would be rich when Papa died. She would have to marry. But whom? Surely among these absurd young men there was one…

In the midst of these unhappy thoughts, she saw him for an instant among the dancers. Her heart skipped a beat. No, it couldn’t be. She shook her head. It must be wishful thinking, a trick of the light. Surely Liberty would never dress like a dandy, and surely Liberty would never wear his hair cut short and brushed forward in that foppish fashion.

Without a word, she left her aunts’ side and made her way through the crowd toward the dancers.

She found a place between a couple of elderly women where she could stand and watch. Her breath caught—her eyes had not deceived her. There he was in a navy coat, white waistcoat, and fawn pantaloons with an immaculate silk cravat tied at his throat. Beau Brummel himself could not have cut a finer figure. He danced beautifully and smiled at his partner the way the men in search of a rich wife smiled at her.

She could have wept with frustration. Liberty, a dandy. Liberty, flirting with his dance partner. How could he? The dance came to a close and she saw him bow to the woman across from him and lead her to her seat then bow again. He turned and met Lucy-Ann’s gaze. Her heart stopped. There was a loud rushing sound in her ears. Happiness flooded her from head to toe—it really was Liberty, at last!

She took a step in his direction. He was looking at her, but he did not move. The world stood still, the rest of the room an immaterial blur as she waited for him to smile, to run to greet her. But he didn’t move. She saw him pale and frown.

The happiness that had coursed through her turned to ice as terror overcame her. What if he simply turned and walked away? What if he didn’t even recognize her? Or didn’t want to see her?

To her own surprise, she flew into a rage. How dare he flirt with that stupid girl? Just as suddenly, absurdly, she thought she might burst into tears. She turned and ran from the room.

 

***

 

Liberty had not danced the first several dances in order to keep watch on the entrance, hoping Lucy-Ann might appear. When she did not, he’d told himself to be realistic. It had been two years since her aunts took her away to make a lady of her. If they had succeeded, she would be a married woman by now. Probably living in one of those enormous country houses with a socially acceptable husband and a baby on her knee. He’d told himself sternly that it was best to forget his hopes of seeing Lucy-Ann and to get back to business.

As they had promised, the Almack’s dragons had introduced him to their nieces and granddaughters and goddaughters. Foolishly, he had not asked any one of them to dance or even managed much proper conversation, all for thinking of Lucy-Ann. In order to set that to rights, he’d engaged the chief dragon’s niece for this one and the dance preceding it, and another’s granddaughter for two later in the evening, and so forth until all the dances save the next one were booked. He’d smiled and preened, and they’d simpered and murmured platitudes.

He had just escorted the unutterably dull young woman to her seat when he’d seen her—Lucy Ann. He gasped. But no, it could not be. Frowning, he had just decided he must have imagined it when she appeared again much closer, her eyes shining the way they used to whenever they were together and she was happy. Yes, it really was Lucy-Ann. His heart stopped and he stood immobilized. There stood the girl he had loved, looking much as he remembered her, except that now she was a fashionably dressed woman with her hair piled up and looped with ribbons—not at all like the Lucy-Ann he had adored, but he thought her beautiful just the same.

Warmth flooded his being and his heart soared, but she scowled and then turned and rushed away. What could it mean? Did she not approve of his presence here? Did she not want to see him again—was he an unwelcome memory? Understandable, although the sight of her had made it painfully clear to him that he still cared for her. He started to follow her only to be stopped by a portly gentlewoman whose acquaintance he had made earlier in the evening.

“Mr. Derbyshire, allow me to introduce my other niece, Miss Pym. Emily, this is Mr. Derbyshire, a personal friend of His Royal Highness.”

“How do you do,” he said shortly, bowing. He turned to follow Lucy-Ann only to be accosted by another matron with a daughter to introduce and then another.

Normally all this would have been an excellent thing. London was a big place and there was plenty of money to be made from the gamblers here before he would have to move on. Introductions were essential to his plans. The largest wagers were made among social equals and a man needed to be properly introduced to be considered an equal of the men—and women—who played at cards at Almack’s and in private homes. But right now these introductions were infuriating. His sole interest was Lucy-Ann. Never before had he bowed so quickly, nor said “how do you do?” in such an uncivil manner as he did now in his rush to pursue the girl he had once loved with all his heart and soul.

 

***

 

When she had composed herself sufficiently, Lucy-Ann returned to the assembly room and went in search of her aunts, intent on begging them to take her home.

“My dear, there is someone you must meet,” Aunt Emily said, taking firm hold of her wrist and, before Lucy-Ann could protest, dragging her across the room.

“Ah, here he is. Miss Lucy-Ann Taylor, allow me to introduce Mr. Derbyshire.”

Liberty Wood bowed. “Miss Lucy-Ann Taylor,” he murmured. “How charming to make your acquaintance.”

Lucy-Ann curtsied in return. Her blood hammered in her ears and she was so filled with confused emotion that she could not think what to say.

“Mr. Derbyshire is a personal friend of His Royal Highness,” said Aunt Emily.

Lucy-Ann looked at him in surprise. Could this dandy be an exact physical replica of her beloved Liberty? What was that mark across his cheek? Had that been made two years before by the handle of the coachman’s whip?

Mr. Derbyshire winked.

Lucy-Ann gasped. “Liberty!” she croaked. “It is you.”

Mr. Derbyshire shook his head.

“I beg your pardon,” said Aunt Emily, putting her hand behind her ear, “but I don’t understand.”

“I, um…that is…”

“She said she was pleased to meet a friend of our future sovereign,” said Mr. Derbyshire.

“Oh, we are all pleased to have you among us.” Aunt Emily smiled. “I must find my sister. She will want to meet a friend of His Royal Highness. Excuse me please,” she said, then hurried off.

Lucy-Ann took a deep breath. Her lips twitched slightly as she tried to hold back a smile. “Well, Mr. Derbyshire, how was the prince when you left him?”

Liberty smiled broadly at her. “He was sleeping soundly and thus never knew that I had left. Nor for that matter did he know of my arrival.”

“Do you mean that you—”

“I do,” he interrupted. “And ‘tis best not discussed here.”

She nodded.

“And perhaps best we do not discuss our past relationship,” he whispered. “Nor look too closely at what I have become.”

“Well then, sir,” she said, smiling. “What manner of thing may we discuss?”

“We may discuss the weather, the room, the merits of the orchestra, even the company.”

“And is there a time and place where we may discuss other things?”

“Indeed there is, but first, may I have the pleasure of this dance?”

“You may, sir,” she said, taking hold of Liberty’s offered arm. They joined the end of the line and bowed to one another.

Liberty stood across from her and Lucy-Ann could not stop studying him. He looked so…so manly. The Gypsy boy whom she had loved so passionately was a handsome, broad-shouldered man with foppish hair. Her thoughts were broken as the lead man crossed to her. They went through the steps, only a minute or two passing, but she resented every second that she could not see the man she once loved.

Finally it was time for them to repeat the steps with each other. Liberty’s dark eyes looked at Lucy-Ann as though he would like to devour her.

“Sir,” she said softly as they passed close by one another, “it does not do to stare at me so.”

“Nor should you look at me as you are doing,” said he as they passed the other way. She felt the heat rise to her cheeks and tore her gaze away.

“I think the weather fine,” he said, smiling down at her as they moved around each other once more.

BOOK: A Proper Lady's Gypsy Lover
13.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Last Warrior by Susan Grant
Smog - Baggage of Enternal Night by Lisa Morton and Eric J. Guignard
A Striking Death by David Anderson
Chasing the Bear by Robert B. Parker
Terror by Night by Terry Caffey & James H. Pence
Generation M by Scott Cramer
Atonement by J. H. Cardwell
Playing With Water by Kate Llewellyn