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Authors: Emily Hendrickson

Tags: #Regency Romance

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BOOK: Miss Cheney's Charade
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Once introductions were made. Lady Titheridge drifted away, and Emma was on her own.

“You admire the objects our hostess has collected in her journeys?” he gently queried.

“Indeed,” Emma replied with enthusiasm, returning her gaze to the far safer Ming vase on the shelf before them. “I could spend hours here, sketching the beautiful pieces she owns,” Emma concluded wistfully, unmindful of the sharp gaze directed at her.

“I see you are not in the common way, Miss Cheney. Most young ladies prefer to draw a pretty scene if they must. Most choose to spend time flirting.”

Suspecting she had somehow provoked him, Emma tilted her somewhat pointed chin and gazed back with what amounted to a touch of defiance. “I do not wish to draw what others do, unless it happens to be what
I
enjoy. I like to see remarkable things. In fact, I would like nothing more than to view Sir Peter’s mummy....” Then realizing what she had admitted, she hastily added, “Or something equally interesting.”

Mr. Brummell’s eyes gleamed with amusement. “You are not busily hunting a husband, as most young ladies making their come-out do?”

“Mr. Brummell, what a shocking question,” she chided, laughing and wondering why this man had acquired such a reputation for being snobbish. Emma found him utterly delightful. “As you pointed out, I am not in the common way.” She sighed. “Most men do not desire a wife who is other than dutiful and dull, I fear.”

“You would be dutiful, but hardly dull. Miss Cheney,” Mr. Brummell replied gallantly, his eyes sparkling with his diversion in this unassuming, candid young lady.

“Mama says I never put a foot wrong, but she does not know what goes on in my mind, you see,” Emma confided in a rash moment of revelation.

Mr. Brummell chuckled at this droll observation. “Miss Cheney, I predict you will make a wildly successful marriage. I almost envy the man, for you are most tempting in your ingenuous way.”

“Mr. Brummell, I believe you are a monstrous tease.” Emma gazed happily up at the man she had feared to meet. Gray eyes sparkling, she concluded, “I suppose I must rejoin my mama now, for it seems the music is to resume.”

“You enjoy it?” he queried while edging around her in the direction of the door, obviously intent upon making his escape.

“I told you I like the unusual. Although I suspect that Mama finds it a trifle confusing.” Emma flashed a smile at the imposing gentleman before her.

He smiled, then bowed over her hand in his farewell. “I shall make a point to find you a gentleman worthy of your unusual charms, Miss Cheney. They are too rare to go unappreciated.” With that final comment he deftly made his way to his hostess, then disappeared.

“Emma, whatever did you say to that man?” Mrs. Cheney demanded behind the security of her fan after Emma slid onto the seat beside her. “I do hope you made a good impression on him. Everyone must have noticed that he singled you out for conversation, a most unlikely thing for
him
to do. It could be the making of you, girl.”

“Mr. Brummell is very nice. Mama, not at all lofty as I’ve been told. We discussed the pretty things Lady Titheridge has collected.” Of Mr. Brummell’s promise to find Emma a man who was worthy of her, Emma said nothing. She discounted that bit of nonsense for precisely what it was ... vague foolishness.

“I see Sir Peter finally showed his face,” Mrs. Cheney observed from behind her fan, then wafted that lace-and-ivory item languidly before her.

Dismayed that by chatting with Mr. Brummell she had missed meeting the man she most desired to encounter, Emma searched the room until she spotted him.

He was most definitely tall, and that thatch of sandy hair made her long to run her fingers through it, merely to smooth it down, of course. She detected a gleam of impatience in those green eyes. How she wished she could defy convention and leave her seat to cross the room to his side. She would like to find out why people claimed his eyes were so uncommon. And... she would ask to see his mummy unrolled.

He had an interesting face she decided while a flute began a plaintive melody. A second flute joined in a haunting counterpoint while Emma speculated on that intelligent, lean face, the aristocratic nose, and those eyes. If she could but see them most closely. Sir Peter Dancy fascinated her to the point of impropriety.

“Emma,” Mrs. Cheney whispered in a shocked voice.

Emma attended her mama and lowered her gaze to the fan tightly clasped in one properly gloved hand. When she turned again to find the man who intrigued her so, he was gone. Disappointment flooded through her. How she had counted on talking with him about the mummy and persuading him to allow her to view it. Her latest pin money had gone to buy a book on Egyptian discoveries, with drawings executed by the French artist, Vivant Denon. Wildly exotic, madly fascinating, they made her long even more to see the Dancy collection.

She must see it. But how? She worried her lower lip while contemplating various ways in which to accomplish her heart’s desire.

If only she might trade places with George for an hour or so. What a silly notion. Why, even if some of his clothing might fit her, she would not dare to put it on. Not even to view the mummy.

Or could she?

That thought was so disturbing that she put it from her mind at once. Instead, she concentrated on the strange music drifting about the room and daydreamed about meeting Sir Peter. What a fascinating man he must be, she concluded dreamily.

Once the concert ended, she dutifully followed her mother to make her farewells to Lady Titheridge.

“Pity my nephew could not stay,” her ladyship said to Emma. “I particularly wanted him to meet you. Any young woman who can captivate George Brummell for as long as you did is of more than passing interest. Mr. Brummell has impeccable taste, and I always heed his direction. Would you care to come alone one day to view my precious collection, my dear?”

Emma beamed in gratitude. “I should love above all to be allowed to sketch a number of the beautiful items I have viewed this evening.”

“There is more, you know,” her ladyship murmured in reply. “Come on Monday next. In the morning?”

With a glance at her mama, who couldn’t possibly object to the time or the place, Emma nodded her pleasure, murmuring her thanks in a subdued and proper way.

“Well,” Mrs. Bascomb said when in the carriage on the way home, “you have made a notable conquest this evening, my girl.”

Mrs. Hamley blinked and nodded. “Yes, indeed. Lady Titheridge is of the highest
ton,
and as for catching the eye of Mr. Brummell, well...”

“Wait until word of this gets around, Matilda,” Mrs. Bascomb said to Mrs. Cheney, who was sitting in amazed silence.

“Listening to that horrid music was well worth the pain,” Mrs. Cheney concluded before bidding her two friends good evening.

Once inside their modest home, Emma paused at the bottom of the stairs. “Did you think the music so painful?”

“I should have been far more pleased were you to have met Sir Peter,” her mother grumbled softly.

Emma just smiled and dreamily escorted her dear mama up the stairs to her room. Then Emma wandered down the hall to her own bedroom.

Lighting a candle from the small fire in the grate, she then sought her favorite chair and sank down to contemplate her strange evening. She could not see
how
it would happen, but she sensed that somehow the course of her entire life had altered because of what had occurred tonight. Or was she merely being fanciful?

She toyed with her fan while considering Sir Peter. She was
not
interested in him as a prospective husband. Marriage to a man like him might be rather overwhelming. But she was determined to see that mummy.

Then the idea that had flashed into her mind while at the concert returned. Suppose she borrowed a few clothes from her brother? And suppose she wore them to Sir Peter’s house for the unrolling of the mummy? If she were to stay well to the back of the room and not chat with anyone, just keep quiet and unnoticed, could she achieve her aim?

“Monday, 5th June,” the invitation had read. She sat up straighter. Suppose she gathered up her brother’s clothing and put it into a small valise, men took it along to Lady Titheridge’s on Monday morning. Then she could send a note to Mama that she was remaining for luncheon and the afternoon to view some more antiquities. It might work.

Her mama would be pleased to think that Emma was attracting the notice of an eminent person of the
ton.
As to what Lady Titheridge might construe from Emma’s change, well, that was a problem.

Emma rose from her chair and began to undress. Fanny had not made an appearance, for she knew Emma preferred to be alone in the evening. It did not take her long to undress, don her night things, and pop under the covers to contemplate her grand scheme at greater length.

She would do it, she finally decided. Sliding from under the covers, she took a candle and peeked around her door to the empty hall. Not a soul around. Taking a deep breath, Emma tiptoed along to the next room where her brother resided when at home, which wasn’t very often these days.

Once inside, she swiftly sought dove gray pantaloons, a couple of waistcoats, and a cambric shirt. A darker gray coat looked too big, but perhaps if she wore both waistcoats at once it might work. Then she hunted for a neckcloth. Knowing how difficult they could be, she decided to take several, just in case she made a botch of her efforts. Her last items were a pair of plain black hose and shoes.

She spirited her booty back to her room and wondered where to conceal it all until Monday. Finally she found a valise large enough to hold the clothing and settled under her covers with a wildly fluttering heart.

She would do it. All she had to do was manage to slip out of the house with her little valise, plus her drawing pad and pencils, without detection. That meant evading the pompous Oldham, who guarded the front door with gimlet-eyed fervor.

The following day when she was able to lock her door without suspicion from Fanny, Emma pulled the valise out and tried on the garb filched from her brother’s wardrobe and chest. She studied her reflection in the looking glass and grimaced.

She and George resembled each other as siblings often do, but was it enough? George slouched just a bit, which was fortunate for Emma. Even though it went against her grain not to stand properly straight, the slight difference in height could be excused that way.

Then she wondered just how well Sir Peter knew George. She plunked down on the edge of her bed, staring at her reflection across the room.

That might prove to be a problem. She couldn’t recall her brother mentioning Sir Peter, but that was hardly surprising, for George was uncommunicative at best. Witness his dreadful lack of letters while away. Poor Mama sighed every day when the mail did not bring a letter from him.

Well, she wouldn’t say a word to anyone while inside the Dancy house. She would keep to the rear and be as inconspicuous as possible.

It would work. She would make it work.

The next few days dragged for Emma. She daydreamed more than usual, and her drawing pad acquired several well-done sketches of the elusive Sir Peter—done admittedly from a distance and memory. But Emma was very good at what she did. She possessed an uncanny eye for detail, as Mrs. Bascomb had observed. And she had caught the impatient gleam in Sir Peter’s eyes, the tousled sandy hair.

Emma was pleased she had purchased a set of colored pencils with her latest pin money from Papa. She added the color to her drawing and felt it most lifelike.

On Monday she dressed with great care for her visit to Lady Titheridge’s house. She escaped with the valise, slipping from the house when Oldham was otherwise occupied.

It proved to be wonderful. Her ladyship ushered Emma into one room after another, explaining where she had found her precious treasures and promising Emma she could come again to record more of her things.

When she viewed Emma’s first drawing, she gasped with delight. “My dear, you are extremely talented. Oh, why could not Peter have stayed to meet you the other evening. You are precisely what he has been looking for—a talented pencil.”

Emma had never thought of herself in that light, but merely murmured something vague in reply.

When it came time to leave, Emma sought out her ladyship, hesitantly placing her valise on the floor at her side. The sparkle of amusement lurking in Lady Titheridge’s eyes encouraged Emma to speak.

“If you please, ma’am, I would like to change my clothes before I leave if I might.” Emma stopped, hesitating before revealing more. Her ladyship’s mouth curved into a delightful smile, and Emma plunged ahead. Gazing confidingly at her ladyship and feeling as though she’d made a splendid friend, Emma continued, “You see, I plan a little trick on a friend”— Well, he might have been a friend had he stayed to meet her— “and wish to wear some clothes belonging to my brother.”

“A charade? What fun,” replied the adventuresome Lady Titheridge. “Of course,
I
shall help you.”

 

Chapter Two

 

Evelyn, Lady Titheridge, had spent years traveling the world and possessed a wonderful sense of adventure. That she was not in the common way became even more evident when Emma saw what enjoyment her elegant ladyship found in assisting Emma to rig herself out in George’s clothing.

“Now, my dear, let me see how you look. Hm, you will most assuredly require a bit of padding, and those shoes are not at all the thing with your slender feet. It would never do for them to fall off while you mount the stairs! I shall see if my abigail can find something more fitting.” Her conspiratorial smile gleamed a moment before she flitted from the room.

Emma studied herself in the cheval glass and had to agree with Lady Titheridge. She definitely needed padding here and there.

Within moments Braddon followed her mistress into the small bedroom where Emma anxiously awaited them. The sturdy maid studied Emma, then set to work. She deftly inserted sheets of cotton wool into Emma’s shirt front, then tied the neckcloth over that into a most elegant and simple shape after helping Emma into the two vests. These contributed to the bulk and added just enough to Emma’s girth.

BOOK: Miss Cheney's Charade
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