Read Candice Hern Online

Authors: Once a Scoundrel

Candice Hern

BOOK: Candice Hern
4.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
C
ANDICE
H
ERN
O
NCE
A S
COUNDREL

Dedicated with thanks

to Louisa Pineault,
a fellow fashion print collector whose
knowledge of the prints and magazines
of the Regency period is breathtaking
in its scope and depth.

Her gracious generosity in sharing that
knowledge is deeply appreciated.

And to Elizabeth Boyle,
for kindly sharing her 1801 volume of
The Lady’s Magazine.

Contents

Chapter 1

If he weren’t so thoroughly drunk, he might never have…

Chapter 2

Tony glanced again at the note in his hand, thankful…

Chapter 3

Tony pulled the team to a halt in front of…

Chapter 4

Tony sat back and smiled. He’d reread the pages he…

Chapter 5

The entrance of Lucy with a tea tray precluded Tony’s…

Chapter 6

“A bee!” he shouted.

Chapter 7

“You are, of course, coming to Newmarket with us, Morehouse,”…

Chapter 8

She slowly rose from her chair and came to stand…

Chapter 9

“Have you taken Anthony to bed yet?”

Chapter 10

“Hullo, Withers. I believe m’mother is expecting me.”

Chapter 11

“Let’s make all the accessories in shades of red and…

Chapter 12

“Thank God you’ve come, Flora. You’ve got to help me.”

Chapter 13

Anthony handed her out of the carriage. She made a…

Chapter 14

“Here it is.”

Chapter 15

Edwina woke to a feeling of such languor, such pure…

Chapter 16

“Yer don’t mean it?”

Chapter 17

Prudence hovered over the desk while Edwina counted the huge…

Epilogue

She woke to the sensation of Anthony’s lips on hers.

Chapter 1

July, 1801

I
f he weren’t so thoroughly drunk, he might never have got himself into such a fine mess.

Anthony Morehouse raked in the small pile of notes from the center of the card table and thought he’d better call it a night. Earlier that afternoon he had bested Lord Reginald D’Aubney in a curricle race, for which he’d won his lordship’s favorite pair of matched grays, and had been celebrating the victory with his friends all evening. He’d lost count of the number of toasts in his honor. Clearly, he was too foxed to think straight or he would never have accepted such damned fool stakes.

It made him uncomfortable when a gentleman
began to put up personal possessions as collateral instead of money or vowels. Tony had never pegged Victor Croyden as that sort of desperate player, and yet he’d just won a piece of furniture from the man. Now, what the devil was he to do with this damned wardrobe or bureau or whatever it was he’d just won?

“Well, I’m for home,” he said, and tucked the notes into his purse. He’d better take his leave before he won a matching set of chairs. He stood and had to grab hold of the table edge to keep his balance. Devil take it, he really was squiffed. “Care to share a hackney, Croyden? We can discuss this chest of yours and arrange delivery.”

A burst of laughter from Croyden and similar hoots of mirth from the other men at the table caused Tony to look down and inspect his person. Was something amiss? His breeches gaping, perhaps? A wine stain on his neckcloth? Stockings puddling around his ankles? “What?”

“Really ought to pay more attention, Morehouse,” Sir Crispin Hollis said. He was the only one not laughing too hard to speak. “It ain’t a piece of furniture, you know.”

“Course it is,” Tony said. “Croyden said so. Heard him quite clearly. A chest or bureau or some such thing. Very fashionable, he said. It’s all right here in his note.”

More guffaws rang out in the card room and Tony began to become irritated. It was an idiotic
thing to have won, to be sure, but he’d seen stranger stakes. Besides, he hadn’t wanted to be rude and ask Croyden to stand down, even though he doubted the wretched bureau could possibly be worth the purse he’d staked. He was only trying to be civil, and look where it got him. All of White’s was gathering around the table to see what the fuss was about.

“Better look at that note again,” Sir Crispin said.

Tony fumbled in his coat pocket to retrieve his notes, but his fingers got all tangled up in the purse strings and the whole business was making him dizzy. He gave up. “Just tell me.” Fearing he might take a header—not at all the thing to do in White’s—he leaned on the table for support. “Have you bamboozled me, Croyden?”

“Not in the least,” the man said, though his smile indicated otherwise. “Made myself perfectly clear. Thought you understood.”

“Understood what?” Tony’s celebratory mood had faded. Wished he hadn’t drunk so much claret. Couldn’t seem to think straight. Had a fuzzy sort of notion, though, that he’d been played for a fool.

“Understood my stakes,” Croyden said. “The magazine.”

“What magazine? See here, Croyden, I may be drunk, but I’m not that drunk. You staked some sort of cabinet and that’s what I played you for. Said it was worth my purse. Took your word as a gentleman. If you’ve taken me in—”

“Nothing of the sort,” Croyden said. He held up his hand to stop any accusations, though he did not have the look of a man about to be caught out in a dishonorable wager. In fact, he looked positively gleeful. “I put
The Ladies’ Fashionable Cabinet
on the table and you won it. It’s yours, Morehouse, fair and square.”

“All right, so I won a piece of
female
furniture.”

The players erupted in laughter once again. Tony was becoming seriously annoyed. “Well, what of it? It ain’t all
that
comical.”

The press of spectators surrounding the table had become oppressive, and the roar of their laughter made Tony’s head ache. He lifted his hands, palms up, and looked around at his friends and acquaintances. “What? If the blasted cabinet is worth what he says it is, what is so damned funny?”

His friend Ian Fordyce took pity on him. He came to Tony’s side and put an arm around his shoulders. “I think you’d better sit back down,” he said. “And try to pay attention this time.”

“Don’t want to sit down. Want to go home and fall into bed. I’m done in, I tell you.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Ian said, “but first you need to understand what you’ve won, old boy. It ain’t a piece of furniture.”

“It is, by God. If I’ve heard the word ‘cabinet’ once, I’ve heard it a dozen times.”

“Yes, but it’s not furniture,” Ian said, his voice quivering with suppressed mirth. “It’s a magazine.
The Ladies’ Fashionable Cabinet
. Do you understand me, Morehouse? It’s a magazine.”

Tony took a moment to allow this bit of information to work its way through the bleary pathways of his brain. He’d just won a magazine? A few sheets of printed pages against his entire purse? Could he have been that drunk?

No wonder he was a laughingstock.

“Let me make sure I have this right.” Tony enunciated each word as clearly as possible, and tried to set his brain to listening with the same deliberate clarity. He glared down at Victor Croyden. “You put up a threepenny throwaway female ragsheet as stakes against my purse?”

“Not a single copy of the magazine,” Croyden said. “The business. I owned the magazine, and now you do.”

“Eh? What’s that?”

“You are the new owner of the publishing enterprise started by my mother,” Croyden said. “
The Ladies’ Fashionable Cabinet
. And you’re welcome to it.”

Tony’s knees seemed to have given out and he sank into a chair that somehow appeared at his back. “The devil you say. I played you for a goddamned ladies’ magazine?”

“And won.” Croyden was altogether too cheerful about his loss.

“Can’t you just see it?” Lord Jasper Skiffington spoke in his loudest voice to the room at large.
“Old Morehouse here reporting on the latest fashions from Paris.”

“Or waxing rhapsodic about Mrs. Radcliffe’s latest novel.”

“Or sighing over lovesick poetry.”

“Or offering advice on the best method for removing unwanted facial hair.”

“Or how to get stains out of muslin.”

“Or how to treat the green sickness.”

“Or how to fashion a headdress from a length of cheesecloth.”

As each suggestion was called out, the laughter grew louder. Waves of dizziness swept over Tony and he thought he might be sick.

“Here, you’d better drink this.” Fordyce had somehow managed to procure a cup of coffee and thrust it into Tony’s hands.

He took a sip and grimaced. What the devil had he got himself into this time?

His head began to throb.

“Tell you what, Croyden,” Tony said. “Play you another hand. You can try to win it back.”

“No, no, Morehouse. You won it legitimately. It’s all yours now.”

It was a damned dirty trick, that’s what it was. The man ought to be ashamed, taking advantage of a chap in his cups like that. Tony was still having difficulty wrapping his mind around the idea that he was now the owner of a ladies’ magazine, but one thing was clear. It didn’t smell right.

“Why are you so all-fired anxious to be rid of it?” Tony asked. “What’s wrong with it? Besides being a female concern, that is?”

“Not a thing,” Croyden said. “It’s a decent little enterprise, in fact. Turns a tidy profit. It’s only one of several publications I inherited from my father.”

Tony took a long swallow of very bitter coffee and tried to focus his befuddled brain. He did seem to recall that among Croyden’s many business enterprises, enough to taint him with a faint smell of the shop, he was in some way involved in the book trade.

“I have too many other publishing ventures of more importance to me,” Croyden said. “Newspapers, political and literary reviews, court miscellany, as well as the usual books. And I’m very much involved at the moment in a new history of Greece. I’m afraid the
Cabinet
has never been of much interest to me. I don’t have time for it.”

Tony found himself looking at the man’s fingers for traces of ink stains. He had not realized
how
involved Croyden was in the publishing trade, though truthfully he did not know the man well. Croyden was a good twenty-five or thirty years his senior, and they met only now and then at the clubs. “You say your mother started the magazine?”

“Yes, it was her pet project late in life. She somehow managed to coerce my father into financing it. As it turned out, she made quite a success of it. Since her death, my late wife’s niece manages it.
Very efficiently, too. Keeps the thing running smoothly, so I am never bothered.”

“Does the niece come with it?”

“Leave it to Morehouse,” Sir Crispin said above another burst of laughter, “to get straight to the heart of the matter: a female.”

“But a female who manages a magazine?” Fordyce said. “Liable to be a different breed than the sort you’re accustomed to, old boy. Not susceptible to your usual, er, charms.”

“Ah, but think of the challenge,” Sir Crispin said.

Tony did his best to concentrate on the matter at hand and paid no attention to the subsequent bawdy remarks, however accurate, about his prowess with women. The important thing at the moment was the wretched magazine. He had no desire to get his hands dirty if he could avoid it. The only business he was interested in was one that ran itself and poured profits into his bank account. If Croyden’s niece could make that happen, then he wanted her to stay on. “Well, Croyden?”

“I daresay that is up to you,” he said. “She seems to enjoy working on the magazine and will likely stay on if you make no changes. I warn you, though, she can be hard headed. A bit on the bluestocking side, if you know what I mean. Likes to think she has a head for business.” He chuckled and shook his head. “Silly woman. She’s one of
those frustrated old maids who thinks she can do a man’s job. Never wanted me nosing about, but then I never wanted to interfere. A bunch of dotty old women and middle-aged spinsters writing about fashion and poetry and romantic stories.” He shuddered visibly. “Leave ’em be, Morehouse, and you’ll have no trouble.”

Though still the worse for drink, Tony found his sudden ownership of a female publication had had a remarkably sobering effect. He wasn’t altogether certain what was involved in running a magazine, but one rather horrifying notion did come to mind. “You never actually had to write anything for this…this cabinet thing, did you?”

“Write for it?” Croyden said. “Good Lord, I haven’t even read the little rag in years. But it’s very popular with the ladies. All you have to do, Morehouse, is sit back and collect the profits.”

Tony hoped it would be as easy as that. “Where do I find this magazine of yours?”

“Of
yours
, you mean.” Croyden chuckled again and Tony did not at all like the sound of it. “If you are talking about copies of the publication, you can find it at most of the large booksellers. Probably a good idea to have a look at one. If you are talking about the business, I put my niece’s directions on the note. Except for the actual printing, she runs it all out of the house in Golden Square she shares with her brother. You might want to pay a call upon her
tomorrow and take a look at what she and her gaggle of silly old spinsters do. Then come by and I’ll have my man of affairs draw up all the papers.”

Tony’s mind was much too befuddled to have a serious business discussion, so he cut it short and agreed to meet with Croyden the next day. When Tony had finished his coffee, Fordyce hauled him to his feet and dragged him outside.

“Slow down, Ian, I beg you. My legs still ain’t working properly and my head’s spinning like a top.”

“Yes, I know. That’s why I’m taking you out of there. Don’t want to see you get into any more trouble.”

“It was only one foolish wager, my friend. Better to win a magazine than lose my shirt, eh?”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

Fordyce hailed a hackney, which pulled to a stop in front of the club. He pushed Tony inside, called out directions to the jarvey, then climbed in and shut the door. An unpleasant odor wafted up from the straw at their feet, and Tony, feeling queasy again, tugged down the window to let in fresh air.

“You think this magazine’s going to be trouble?” he asked.

“Bound to be,” Fordyce said.

“Well, you’re wrong there. I have no intention of holding onto the damned thing. What the devil would I want with a ladies’ fashion magazine?”

“You going to sell it, then?”

“The very moment I have the papers from Croyden.”

“Who do you know who’d want to own a ladies’ magazine? Your mother?”

“Egad, no.” The thought of his mother, posed languidly upon her chaise and dripping in expensive lace, being stirred actually to do something productive brought a smile to his face. “No, not Mother. Got a few ideas, though.” In fact, he only had one, but he thought it might work. He’d sign it all over to the spinster niece. If she managed the whole business, she might as well own it. He suspected it would put Croyden’s nose out of joint to have a woman in charge, but it wasn’t his business anymore.

“I’ll wager a monkey,” Fordyce said, “that within a fortnight you’ll be sorry you ever heard of
The Ladies’ Fashionable Cabinet
.”

“You’re on.” Tony said the words almost by force of habit. He almost never refused a challenge. Some, most especially his father, might suggest it was his greatest weakness. But as they drove back to his town house, Tony began to wonder if he had not just made yet another idiotic wager he would live to regret.

 

Edwina Parrish tied string around the package containing the page proofs for the next issue of
The
Ladies’ Fashionable Cabinet
and handed it across the desk to the printer’s apprentice. “I trust this will go to print tomorrow, Robbie?”

“We’ll do our best, ma’am, if there ain’t many changes.”

“Not too many this time,” she said. “But we do have an extra engraving and will need additional time for the hand coloring. The sooner we get the copies the better. Oh, and tell Imber we’ll have another pamphlet for him by week’s end.”

BOOK: Candice Hern
4.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Playing a Little by Breanna Hayse
Harry Houdini Mysteries by Daniel Stashower
Dead Won't Sleep by Anna Smith
The Ice Pilots by Michael Vlessides