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Authors: Jenny Brown

Lord Lightning

BOOK: Lord Lightning
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L
ord
L
ightning

J
ENNY
B
ROWN

For Alicia and Lisa.
With thanks also to Val-Rae,
Alison, Edith, and Linda.

       Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

A Few Last Words from the Author

“There’s no reason you can’t become my mistress.”

Romances by
Jenny Brown

Copyright

About the Publisher

Chapter 1

London 1818

T
he ability to predict the future for others was a blessing for which Eliza Farrell hoped she was sufficiently grateful. But her gratitude would have been far greater had her own future not depended so heavily on the accurate employment of that skill. As the Theatre Royal’s doorway attendant guided her down the dim passageway that led from the street to a small room located to one side of the stage, Eliza struggled to recover the confidence which had, until now, enabled her to withstand so much adversity. She had left nothing undone when preparing for this meeting with the actress who would be her first paying client. She had studied the horoscopes diligently and consulted the works of the authorities when she
found herself in doubt. But still, if she were to fail!

A clamor in the passageway outside the dressing room announced her client’s arrival. Eliza clutched the handle of the bulging flowered satchel that held her almanacs and prayed for strength. Then Violet LeDuc swept into the room. The actress paused at the doorway only long enough for Eliza to take in her stately height, the perfection of her rounded figure, and the peevish way her eyes narrowed as she caught sight of Eliza. An older woman fluttered a few steps behind her: the neighbor who, upon learning of Eliza’s predicament, had so kindly offered to put in a few words for her with her mistress—the very words that had resulted in the present interview.

But who would have imagined the quiet, faded older woman would have led Eliza to such an Aladdin’s cave as this? The late afternoon sun filtering through the sooty skylight high above sent reflections glittering off the jeweled buttons and golden braid of the costumes piled on every available surface. The air was thick with an indefinable odor—the actress’s scent, perhaps? Eliza had no experience with such things, but whatever it was, it mingled with a hint of sweat and a whiff of the pork pie some actor had left uneaten on a table in the corner.

Eliza suppressed the pang of hunger that rose as she caught sight of the food. It had been a long time since she had eaten. Still, if all went well and she satisfied her new client, she and her father would again have money for food.

But only if all went well.

After a measured pause, Violet acknowledged Eliza’s presence with a nod so faint it ran no risk of disarranging her artfully arranged golden curls. She seated herself on the bench facing the dressing table set against one wall and gave a quick glance at the mirror above it, favoring it with a smile much warmer than the one with which she’d greeted Eliza. Only then did she swivel around and demand of Eliza, “What do the stars command? Should I travel with His Lordship to Brighton?”

As the actress’s voice, so well adapted to the stage, reverberated through the cramped dressing room, it threatened what little confidence Eliza had left. Still, she schooled herself to show nothing but calm as she opened her satchel and extracted from its depths the two horoscopes she had so carefully prepared the night before. The feel of the rich, velvety paper against her fingertips was reassuring. She had spent her last carefully hoarded shillings on that paper, hoping its quality would convince her client of her professionalism. Cautiously she pushed aside the pots of paint and powder that covered the tiring table and laid out her charts. Only then did she trust herself to reply. “The stars command nothing,” she said. “They merely describe your character. It’s the choices you make that determine your fate.”

The actress snorted. “Spare me your sermons! You sound like a governess, not an astrologer,
and you look like one, too. Where is your turban? Where are your veils?”

Eliza fought down her dismay as she glanced at her second-best gray merino gown. Surely this woman didn’t expect her to dress like a Gypsy.

“Well—” The actress’s voice softened. “Perhaps I am being too harsh. With Madame Esmerelda gadding off to take the waters I have no choice but to rely on you. His Lordship will be here any moment. So tell me quickly, what must I do? Madame Esmerelda would have already given me my answer, not these mealymouthed excuses.”

“And have charged you three times the fee,” her dresser muttered behind her. “Give Miss Eliza a chance. She may not look the part, but she told my Henry such things about his past as no one could have known. And she predicted to the very day when he would be hired on at the counting house.”

Violet sighed. “You do have such a way with hair, Harriet. I suppose it’s worth humoring you.” She turned back to Eliza. “Perhaps I spoke too quickly. But the matter is pressing. So answer me this: Should I go to Brighton with His Lordship or stay in London to play the leading role in
A Rake and His Conquests?”

As Eliza took one last look at the nativities of the actress and her lord, she was glad she had taken such pains with them. No blots disfigured the circular maps of the heavens she had drawn so carefully the night before. The costly black ink she had used made the spindly planetary symbols stand out clearly against the creamy tint of
the paper. And despite the actress’s harsh glare, the ancient symbols still spoke to her. Her confidence restored, she bit her lower lip as her Aunt Celestina had so often admonished her not to do and said, “You are very close to achieving success in your profession. Jupiter, the greater benefic, is poised to enter your House of Public Fame. But it is a poor time for matters of the heart. The Lord of the House of Love is conjunct with Saturn, the greater malefic, which spoils whatever it touches. So you shouldn’t leave the theater for any man.”

Violet’s eyebrow lifted quizzically. “You say I will achieve success in my profession, but from what you’ve just told me I wonder if you understand what exactly my profession
is.”

Eliza directed her gaze toward the gaily-colored costumes that filled the dressing room. “Do you not earn your bread by acting in this theater?”

Violet laughed. “If I had to live on what I earn here, I’d have starved to death by now. You
are
an original, and a country miss, too, I would wager. How long have you been in London?”

“Why, these two months.”

Violet leaned back against the tiring table. “Two months in the city has not been enough time to rub off all your country notions. Would your advice to me differ if you understood that I earn my bread by keeping His Lordship happy? Would that change your prediction of my success?”

Eliza blushed as the full import of the actress’s words struck home. Had she made a complete fool of herself?

“What do the stars tell you if that’s the case?” the actress pressed on. “If I give in and go with him and help him carry out this wild scheme of his, will he make me his wife?”

So
that
was what she wished to know. As usual, the question asked was not the question the client wanted answered. But Eliza’s heart sank. Violet would not like what she had to say. “I can’t see him marrying you,” she said softly. “The connection between the two of you is a Third House matter. It is one of business, not of love. Besides, the aspect is separating. Whatever the relationship was, it is coming to an end.

“And there is more.” Eliza hurried on, wishing to get past the unpleasant facts as quickly as possible. “You have Saturn in the House of Children and Venus in the House of Illness. You could not give this lord of yours an heir, and a lord must have an heir. Any marriage between the two of you would end unhappily.”

Violet turned pale. “Who’s been telling you my secrets? How did you learn of my misfortune?”

“No one told me anything. I can read it from the chart.”

Violet wheeled around to face her dresser. “You told her, you little snake. You gave away my secrets so she could pretend to tell my fortune.”

“I told her nothing!” Harriet protested, shrinking back from her mistress’s upraised hand. “I just passed on the information she asked me for, just the birthdays you gave me and the times and places of your births.”

“A likely story.” Violet sniffed, then she turned back to face Eliza. “You’ll have to do more to prove to me you aren’t just a clever fake.”

Eliza picked up the actress’s chart and held it up to her face to hide her consternation. It had never occurred to her to pump a servant for information before reading a nativity. There was no need. The information was all there on the chart—in the numbers and symbols so full of meaning to anyone who, like herself, had spent years learning how to interpret them. It was intolerable to be accused of trickery precisely because she had been so accurate.

But she would have to tolerate it if she were to earn the guineas she needed so badly to save her father from debtor’s prison. This was the first client she had found after months of searching. If only she had realized that a paying client would be so different from the villagers of Bishops Ridley who had always consulted her Aunt Celestina when they were worried their husbands might be straying or their children might die of the summer’s bloody flux. They had known her aunt from childhood, so there was no need to convince them that her prophesies could be trusted. But as proficient as she had been at predicting their futures, her aunt had been a respectable woman. She would have known no more than Eliza about the life of a woman like this.

The actress glared at Eliza with calculating eyes. She was so golden, so blonde, so beautiful, and so sensuous. How could Eliza not have
realized she was this nameless lord’s mistress—a woman paid to supply him with sexual pleasure? Still, she ought to have guessed it. Had she not been told that in London women of dubious virtue were the
only
ones willing to pay to learn what their horoscopes might tell them?

But even so, there must be something in these horoscopes she could use to win back her client’s trust, something more promising than her blasted hopes of marriage. Catching sight of the heavy gold bracelet that sparkled on one of Violet’s elegant wrists, Eliza remembered one of her aunt’s adages: “If love is lacking, look for money,” and of course, there was money in abundance on Violet’s chart. She brightened.

“I can see you have already risen from great poverty to riches,” she said. “And your fortune will continue to grow if you invest your money carefully. The strength in your chart lies in your self-reliance. Not on the help of others.”

“Without the help of others, I’d still be selling flowers in the Haymarket,” Violet retorted. “How could I possibly get by without the help of men like His Lordship?”

At least this was a question Eliza could answer with ease. Pointing to the pie-shaped segment of the chart that described such matters, she said, “The Lord of your House of Wealth is Mercury. It stands in the Third House, where it is naturally strong. That suggests you could earn more wealth by investing in something of the nature
of Mercury—some method of improving local travel, perhaps. A scheme of building roads—”

“There’s that canal Sir Thomas has been going on about,” the actress interrupted. “He’s told me he could make me rich if I let him put some small part of my savings in it, but I thought that was only flummery.”

BOOK: Lord Lightning
10.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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