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Authors: Lyndsey Norton

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BOOK: Pride and Retribution
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As the dance began she
looked up at him and asked. ‘How long have you known the Earl?’

‘Buxton?’ he asked in surprise, ‘since our first day at Eton together.’ He laughe
d gaily. ‘He and I used to duck ink blots in Latin.’

‘You have remained firm friends?’ she enquired
with a faint smile.

‘We have and he’s the best friend a man could have.’ He looked her in the eye, ‘probably a lady too.’

‘You are loyal, Sir.’

‘I know what he did, Miss Hastings, but he had had an awful day and shouldn’t have gone out that night. He was so foxed he didn’t even know what day of the week it was.’

‘As I say, you are loyal to your friend.’

‘He would be loyal to me, Miss Hastings. Of that I have no doubt.’
He gave her what could only be described as a beaming smile.

She turned the topic to more mundane things and the dance proceeded apace. She discovered he was a lawyer by inclination, but didn’t have a practice. He used his knowledge of the law within the House of Lords.

‘I wasn’t supposed to be the Baron, you see. Like a lot of other nobles, the war took my brother.’ He smiled at her. ‘He died at Talavera, after I told him not to go. But he never would listen to me and I’m stuck with the Barony, when I don’t really want it. I was happy living my life in dissolute reprobation, and then suddenly he was gone and I was a Baron!’ he smiled brightly to let her know he wasn’t still angry about it all.

Cuthbertson was actually quite entertaining company and he led her laughing back to her mother, bowed and took his leave. Lucy barely had time for a sip of her lemonade before Buxton appeared. He bowed to her mother and then to her, before offering his hand. He looked as if he thought she was going to refuse him and spit in his eye, so to prove that she was a lady, she calmly placed her gloved hand in his and allowed him to lead her out. They faced each other calmly.

‘Thank you.’ He said softly as he held out his hand for her to take.

She carefully placed her fingers in his palm and rested her other hand on his shoulder. ‘Why would you thank me?’ she asked the top button on his ivory waistcoat.

‘You could so easily have said go away.’ He smiled, placing his other hand on the small of her back, ‘and this way I can make a proper apology for my reprehensible behaviour at our first meeting.’ He took a deep breath and they started to dance.

She was astonished at his proficiency. He was like poetry in motion and she found herself swept away on a cloud of joy. He danced divinely and she smiled before they had taken a dozen steps. She didn’t need to think about where to step, she just stepped and it was heaven.

‘Then I think I should hear your apology.’ She said and finally looked up into those unsettling lavender eyes.

‘Yes.’ He smiled again. ‘I am so dreadfully sorry for importuning you like a common courtesan, Miss Hastings and if I hadn’t been well and truly foxed, I wouldn’t have done it.’ He had stared her in the eyes. ‘But I saw you sitting there in such ethereal beauty and I couldn’t resist sitting beside you.’ He sighed again. ‘I’m sorry, I just opened my mouth and words erupted and I didn’t even realise I was offending a lady.’ He laughed mirthlessly. ‘I got what I deserved and you must allow me make restitution for your gown. I still have the lace, if you would like to have it back?’

‘Why have you kept it?’ she asked, fascinated.

‘Because it sits on my mantle as a reminder not to get too foxed and if I should, go home before I do something I’ll regret in the morning.’

‘Why were you so foxed?’ Lucy asked innocently enough, but Buxton couldn’t possibly tell her everything in one dance.
He shook his head sadly.

‘I’d had a very bad day and a friend of mine had been hurt.’

‘Was that Harriet Saunders?’ she asked and looked at him so guilelessly. ‘Sir Roger mentioned her this afternoon and I wondered what really happened.’

‘Maybe one day I will tell you.’ He turned her across the floor. Lucy caught a flash of peacock blue and
turned her head to see the Duke of Markham and Sir Roger talking, but the Duke was watching her dance. She didn’t like the look in his eyes, he reminded her of a predator and she shivered, making the Earl frown.

‘The Duke is watching us.’ She looked up at his eyes. ‘Why did you take all the waltzes?’

‘The last man you need to waltz with is Markham.’ He said and looked down into her eyes. He was astonished to see they were bottle green, with a wide band of honey gold around the pupil. She had an oval face, with delicate features and as he looked at her lips he felt hot desire spike through him. It was a shock to realise that he wanted this girl with his very soul, not just his body. That was the one defining thing he had tried to ignore and deny these last few months. He swallowed and tried to lick his suddenly dry lips. ‘He’s dangerous for a young lady. The last debutante he took out on the terrace was discovered in the undergrowth with her clothes torn off, her eyes blackened and his bastard growing in her belly.’ He spoke quite harshly and she was surprised to see a look of pain cross his face. He sighed. ‘Unfortunately, no-one can prove that it was Markham. He swore on oath that he left the girl on the terrace for a moment and when he went back out she was gone. He’s like a slippery eel.’

‘Can you not catch him in the act?’ She asked warily. ‘I’m sure it would be asking a lot, but surely there is a woman who can entice him into a set trap. If he does that kind of thing regularly, then he should be stopped.’

‘More than one father would agree with you. My own sister was under intense scrutiny by me when she made her bow and if I hadn’t insulted her, I wouldn’t be here now.’

‘How did you insult her?’ she asked. ‘You didn’t ask her to suck.....?’ she left the sentence unfinished
and turned her face away as her cheeks flamed.

He flinched and scowled. ‘Don’t
remind me of what I said!’ he begged and squirmed. ‘No, I told my sister that if she ate any more cream éclairs she would get as fat as Elizabeth Colbourne.’

‘What a hateful thing to say!’ Lucy said in horror.

‘I’m afraid, yet again I had imbibed too much of my father’s excellent brandy and just spoke my mind.’

‘I actually meant about Elizabeth Colbourne.’ Lucy said with a smile.

‘Under all those frills, she really is quite rotund.’ Buxton said with a curl of the corner of his mouth. It quirked up, drawing her attention to his full lips and she suddenly had a dry mouth and needed to wet her lips. He saw her tongue steal out and was almost overwhelmed with the desire to kiss her thoroughly. Just then the waltz came to a conclusion and Lucy was reluctant to step away. Buxton released her, bowed as he held out his hand and led her off the dance floor. They were on the other side of the ballroom, so Buxton had the opportunity to walk her around the room. Gently he placed her hand on his arm and softly smoothed it with his own. ‘You haven’t said whether you forgive me or not.’ He asked softly.

‘I haven’t, have I?’ she said coyly and smiled at him with such promise that his heart began to pound. ‘Yes, I think I can forgive you
and as you say, I did slap you at the time. I would be a poor excuse for a lady if I didn’t accept it, when it was so graciously given.’ He laughed in relief.

‘I was fortunate to know yo
ur father....’ The Earl said to change the topic, they had been walking quite slowly and abruptly they were interrupted by a footman bearing a silver salver. In the very centre lay a missive.

He bowed deeply. ‘Miss Lucille Hastings?’ the footman asked her and she nodded dumbly. He gave a half bow and extended the salver for her to take the letter.

‘Thank you.’ she said distantly and waited until the footman had moved away. Scrawled across the top of the direction was the word URGENT. She ripped the seal open and unfolded the stiff vellum.


My dearest Lucy,


Come at once to Dunston Bassett. Bring mother and Tim with all speed. I do not expect Uncle to see out the night. He took a fever a couple of days ago and it has yet to break.

Please Lucy, I need you.


In haste, you
r loving brother,

Robert Hastings.


Lucy’s heart rose into her throat before she had got to the final line and she let out a strangled gasp of dismay.

‘My dear Miss Hastings.’ The Earl took her elbow. ‘You have gone exceptionally pale. I hope it’s not bad news?’

‘The worst.’ She muttered and looked up at him. ‘My Uncle has a fever and Robert writes to bring mother at once.’ She crushed the letter in between her hands and looked across the ballroom at her mother, chatting happily with another dowager.

‘Steady.’ Buxton said quietly, but firmly. ‘If you dash about everyone will want to know what’s wrong and that will just make you a target for gossip.’ He smiled at her and was surprised to see her lip tremble. ‘Just take my arm and we shall return to your mother sedately.’

‘Yes.’ She said distantly, as if the world had suddenly changed again for her. He could see grief in her eyes already. She placed her hand on his arm, but he felt her fingers clutch at him.

‘Your brother said he has a fever, not that he is already dead.’ He placed his hand over hers to give her support. ‘Panic will serve no purpose.’

‘I know, but I can’t help it.’ She gasped again
. ‘It is so close to father’s death.’

‘Then you must pray that he will rally.’ Buxton said firmly.
Sedately they walked back to Lucy’s mother and she bravely handed the missive to Evelyn. She read the note and like Lucy went pale, but there was no panic.

‘We must leave at once.’ She replied in a calm voice. ‘Where is Timothy?’ she asked looking around the ballroom.

‘I will find him, Mrs. Hastings. Please do not hurry away, I shall be back directly.’ Wilfred said calmly, bowing and turning away.

He covered the ballroom quickly with his long strides and found Timothy in the card room watching the Duke and Sir Roger playing Faro. Wilfred shook his head at his cousin’s recklessness and approached Timothy. ‘Mr. Hastings. Your mother has need of you.’ he said softly in his ear. Timothy turned to face him and looked up quizzically so Wilfred beckoned him away from the busy table. ‘Lucy has received a letter from your brother to the effect that your Uncle has taken with a fever. I believe she wishes to leave.’

‘Oh! God!’ burst quietly from Timothy’s mouth. A testament that he was in male company. ‘Robert will be frantic.’ He went to move off, but Wilfred grabbed his forearm to restrain him.

‘No panic.
Walk sedately and remain calm. Your mother won’t rush, but I imagine she is already on her feet.’ And sure enough, as they looked over the ballroom, Evelyn and Lucy were strolling away from their seats to the stairs. Timothy and Wilfred intercepted them before they got there and Wilfred offered his arm to Lucy. ‘I’m sorry Sir Roger isn’t here to assist you, but he’s losing more money to the Duke of Markham at Faro.’

‘He had just won a rather large hand.’ Timothy said gleefully.

‘But Markham will win it all back again, because Sir Roger cannot leave the table, even when he’s ahead.’ Wilfred explained. ‘He is appallingly deep in debt. It is so bad that my father has assumed the running of his estates, to stop him from selling them off.’

‘It must be terrible to be so afflicted.’ Evelyn said calmly as they went down the stairs. Timothy sent a footman to fetch their carriage and Wilfred helped them into their cloaks.

He took Lucy’s hand. ‘I would like to thank you for accepting my apology. You will never know just how much it matters to me.’ He gently kissed the back of her fingers.

‘I would like to thank you for a pleasant waltz. It was truly enjoyable to dance with such a fine exponent.’ She smiled graciously and turned to find Evelyn eyeing them speculatively.

Wilfred escorted both ladies out to the carriage and waited as they climbed in, followed by Timothy. As the door closed and the coachman flicked his whip, Wilfred raised his hand and watched the carriage start off up The Parade. He didn’t go back inside the Assembly Rooms until the carriage had vanished from sight. He sighed and turned around, climbed the stairs and went to the card room. As he predicted Sir Roger was now losing, so he took up station behind his cousin and offered him moral support. This gave him a front row seat as he watched the game continue and much to everyone’s surprise, Sir Roger started winning again. Wilfred watched Markham’s face and was not in the least bit surprised that the Duke’s eyes were expressionless and cold. He had a square cut, angular face, with a florid complexion, a large roman nose and full, fleshy lips. His rather large hands handled the cards expertly. There was a part of him that wondered if the Duke was actually cheating, but it was a difficult thing to prove and embarrassing to make the accusation without proof. It was a long and protracted game which numerous people joined and left, but eventually Sir Roger won the day for a change.

‘As per the terms of the wager that pile of gold was against your debt to me.’ Markham said genially. ‘As you owe me nearly a thousand guineas, you can give me half of that against your debt.’

Wilfred looked at his cousin, who looked back and waited for Wilfred to agree or not. It was a good deal, so Wilfred nodded solemnly. Sir Roger sat and carefully counted the gold on the table and gave half over to the Duke.

BOOK: Pride and Retribution
8.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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