Authors: Lyndsey Norton
‘There is more to this than an insult, Lucy.’ Evelyn sighed. ‘I expect you to tell Robert about it.’
‘I don’t need to. He was there and saw the incident and I accepted the Earl’s apology last night at the Black and White Ball.’
‘He’s a very handsome young man, unlike Sir Roger, but I think the Baronet probably has the better manners.’ Evelyn said evenly.
‘But Sir Roger is up to his armpits in debt, whereas the Earl is not.’ Lucy said defensively. ‘I saw how afraid he was of the Duke of Markham and yet he still gambled last evening.’ She shook her head in sadness. ‘It’s a pity some men can’t stop gambling.’ She muttered. She looked at her mother, ‘still, I came to ask if Robert and I can go for a ride?’
‘Yes. It would do Robert good to be away from the house for a while.’ Evelyn said and held out her hand. ‘Just help me up out of this chair and I can go and see Edith.’
Lucy helped her mother up and then she went to her rooms. Lucy only ever wore a riding habit in London or a house party, but at home or here a Bassett Hall, she wore britches. She quickly stripped off her gown followed by the two petticoats and the full corset she was wearing. She quickly found some short stays in her drawer and laced them up in front, manoeuvring her breasts about until they were comfortable and supported. To test this she jumped up and down on the spot and was satisfied that her breasts wouldn’t bounce out of the corset. Over this went a linen shirt and she forced her legs into the tight fitting chamois britches that Robert had bought for her last Christmas. Her highly polished brown riding boots were standing in the wardrobe and she smiled as she remembered opening them on Christmas morning. They were the last present her father had bought for her before he died. To banish her maudlin thoughts, she reached for a lime green silk cravat and tied it elegantly around her throat, closing the neck of the shirt. She had a fine hacking jacket that had been handmade for her in London in a very rich bottle green. It gave her eyes luminescence, accentuating the green and making the hazel more honey coloured than ever. She took the matching gabardine skirt and wrapped it around her waist, tying the tapes over her stomach. She reached in the wardrobe and removed an old tricorn hat, still with her riding cloves inside. She adjusted the hat until it was comfortable and hooked the chin strap under her chin. She pulled on her gloves and picked up her riding crop from the chest of drawers. She appraised her appearance in the mirror and smiled as she realised she looked like a boy!
n she left her room and met Robert on the stairs as he was heading down. ‘Mother is with Aunt Edith.’ She said softly.
‘That’ll be pleasant for her. I’ve hardly seen her this last week.’ Robert murmured and looked at Lucy. ‘Last one to the stables is an idiot!’ Robert whispered and she giggled as they ran down the st
airs, through the servant halls and out of the back door. ‘Come on, you can run faster than this!’ he egged her on and then the race truly began as they ran like a couple of hares to the stables. Lucy had her skirt gathered in her fist and her legs were free to fly. Of course, Robert won as he was stronger and fitter than Lucy. The stable lads had already saddled their mounts as Robert had sent word ahead of them and they were both in the saddle quickly.
Lucy kicked her grey mare into a gallop as soon as she was out of the yard. Within a few yards, her hat was bouncing on her back and the pins fell out of her hair. Robert was always surprised just what a hoyden his utterly proper and decorous sister could become in the saddle. He pushed his stallion to get up beside her and the pair raced neck and neck to the end of the field.
Lucy squealed as her mare flew over the hedge beside Robert’s stallion, which pulled away in front as he had the greater strength and depth of pace. As she thundered along behind Robert, she was being pelted with grass turves and muddy water from the stallion’s hooves. Lucy adjusted her position and laid her face alongside the mare’s neck, to protect it. She whispered in the horse’s ear and waved her crop in its peripheral vision. The mare lurched forward and soon they were neck and neck again. They raced until both horses were blowing. Robert reined in and smiled at his sister.
‘What do you know of the Earl of Buxton?’ Lucy asked softly. She had thought of nothing else in the carriage, how he’d apologised, what his voice sounded like and particularly his arresting lavender gaze.
‘As far as I know he’s an honourable man.’ Robert replied evenly. ‘He keeps his estates in good order and is diligent to the House, according to Uncle Rupert.’ He looked at Lucy and raised an eyebrow. ‘I thought you didn’t like him.’
‘I don’t think I said I didn’t like him, because I don’t really know him.’ Lucy responded absently. ‘Baron Nairn thinks very highly of him.’
‘That in itself is a validation of his personality!’ Robert sighed. ‘Nairn is rather particular about who he calls friend.’
‘What about the Duke of Markham?’ Lucy asked the question she really wanted an answer to. She saw Robert tense up, straightening his shoulders and shuffling his backside in his saddle.
‘I don’t think Markham is a subject we should talk about.’ He muttered.
Lucy pulled her horse to a stan
dstill and climbed down. She led the mare to a gorse bush, tied her up and then started to walk down the lane. Robert sat on his horse and waited. Lucy thrashed the hedges with her riding crop as her frustration overflowed. ‘She tells me to stay away from him and then doesn’t explain why!’ she shouted and swiped at the hedgerow again. ‘IT’S REALLY BLOODY ANNOYING!’ she shouted even louder. Robert watched her horse’s ears twitch as he patiently waited for her to finish her tirade. He knew Lucy well enough to know she would never swear so coarsely in front of somebody else. Robert had been her sounding board since she was old enough to talk. She turned on her heel and stomped back to him. ‘Why did she tell me to stay away from Markham?’ she demanded. ‘Why did Buxton take all my waltzes and then tell me the last person I needed to waltz with was Markham?’
Robert threw his leg over his horse’s neck and slid from the saddle, kee
ping the reins in his hand. He pulled Lucy to his chest and held her tight. ‘Do you have feelings for Markham?’ he asked softly.
‘No.’ Lucy whispered. ‘I’m not sure I even like him and I certainly don’t trust him,
but nobody will tell me why I shouldn’t.’ she almost sobbed.
Robert sighed deeply and squeezed her a little harder. ‘Markham is a rapist.’ He murmured.
‘What does that mean?’ Lucy asked and looked up into her brother’s face. He was astonished to see the innocence of his sister shining in her green and gold eyes. He felt a frisson of doubt that he should tell her, but there was a part of him that was happy that it would be him and not some strange man that would tell her the facts of life. He released her and tied his horse beside hers. He held out his hand and she took it.
‘Do you know what happens between a man and a woman in the bedroom?’ he asked and squirmed when she solemnly shook her head. ‘Have you studied anatomy?’ She nodded and blushed. ‘Then you know the difference between a man and a woman?’ She nodded sheepishly. ‘Well, to make this as simple as possible and man’s part fits into a woman’s passage.’ He said and she stared as her brother flushed.
He watched the expressions flit across her face; fascination, wonder, followed by a frown and ending in confusion. ‘I can assure you it is a most pleasurable event as long as the man makes you ready for it.’ Robert dug his finger into his cravat and tried to loosen it.
‘Is it like the horse’s mating?’ she asked innocently.
‘Yes, but less cold.’ He sighed and slipped his arm around her shoulders and started walking, feeling the need for movement. She was rigid with tension. ‘It can be many things, wonderful or horrific, depending on your partner and the amount of emotion involved. Men don’t need emotional involvement to have sex.’ He continued, ‘but women do. If your feelings aren’t engaged it can be a painful experience.’ He shook his head. ‘Mother should be explaining this to you, not me.’
‘She won’t tell me anything.’ Lucy said her frown still furrowing her forehead. ‘So what is a rapist?’
‘A rapist is a man who takes a woman without asking for permission.’ He said and sighed again.
‘Do mean like asking a brother or father?’ She asked softly.
‘No.’ he shook his head solemnly. ‘I mean grabbing some unattended lady off the terrace at a ball, dragging her into the undergrowth, ripping her clothes off and cramming his man part into her passage even though she is probably struggling and terrified beyond belief.’ He said harshly and she felt his hand tighten on her shoulder.
‘Do many men do that kind of thing?’ she asked in horror.
She had a vivid picture of a very drunk Buxton dragging her off the stone bench at Fotheringay’s ball, tearing her gown off, cramming his man part into her womanly passage and she felt a distinct throb from her nether regions.
‘It happens regularly in the lower classes and there are enough supposed gentlemen who would take advantage of the housemaids, but Markham is the only noble I have ever heard of doing it to a lady.’
He sighed again ‘That’s why mother would tell you to avoid him and why Buxton would take all your waltzes.’ He stopped and turned her to face him ‘He’s right. The last man you need to waltz with is Markham. He was one of the reasons why both Richard and I attended your season. There was absolutely no way I was going to let Markham anywhere near you and mother made sure we didn’t accept too many popular invitations.’ He tucked some loose strands of hair behind her ear. ‘I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to either ruin you or rape you.’ He said softly, ‘and he would have done.’ He frowned. ‘When did you meet him?’ he asked abruptly.
‘Yesterday. Sir Roger Colbourne had been paying his addresses and Markham accosted him affecting an introduction
, and then last night at the ball he asked for a dance.’ She sighed. ‘Mother and he whispered for some time, while Buxton and Baron Nairn filled out my dance card between them.’ She smirked suddenly. ‘I think the Duke was quite put out that Buxton took all the waltzes.’ She laughed suddenly and he watched the tension ease from her shoulders.
They both heard the thunder of hooves and looked up to see one of the grooms galloping along the lane. ‘I think we should remount.’ Robert murmured. ‘This doesn’t look good.’ He waited as Lucy heaved herself into the saddle and sorted her reins. Robert climbed onto his stallion and turned his head towards the groom as he skidded to a halt, both himself and the horse panting. ‘Yes, what is it, Deacon?’ he asked the groom as he sorted his reins.
‘Forgive me, my lord, but Mrs. Hastings requests your presence at the Manor.’ The groom looked shocked to the foundations. Robert felt the colour drain from his face as he watched it drain from Lucy’s.
‘No.’ she whispered and the groom nodded.
‘I’m sorry, Miss Lucy, but yes.’ He uttered. Both Robert and Lucy kicked their horses into a gallop and left the groom trailing on his blowing horse. Once in the stable yard, both left their horses to the grooms and ran back to the Manor.
already dressed in black silk and waiting in the main hall for them. Lucy dropped back and allowed Robert to greet their mother first. Evelyn curtsied and addressed him formally. ‘My Lord. I regret to inform you that the Earl has passed away.’ She sighed and took Robert’s hand. ‘Rupert didn’t regain consciousness, so there were no last words from him. The doctor said his heart just stopped working.’ She pulled Robert’s hand to her cheek and looked up at him with tears in her eyes. ‘Mrs. Egerton and some of the older maids are laying him out and I have sent for a local carpenter to make a coffin for him.’
Robert opened his arms wide and scooped both his female relatives into his embrace. He squeezed them both and smoothed his palms up both of their backs. ‘I will send for Richar
d and Benjamin.’ Robert muttered.
Wilfred decided to attend the first ball of the
so called as it only lasted the few weeks between the opening of Parliament and the Christmas break. He arrived at the ducal mansion in time to accompany his sister and mother. Higgins opened the door and bowed him into the foyer.
‘Good evening, My Lord. Your father is in the study and has requested your presence.’
‘Thank you Higgins.’ Wilfred said calmly and handed over his hat, gloves and cloak. He strode sedately to the study door and tapped softly. He heard his father’s voice and opened the door.
‘Ah! Wilfred. I’m glad you’re here. I have a proposition for you.’ Roderick De Lacey said brightly to his son. The Duke was standing in front of the fireplace, his hands behind his back under the tails of his evening coat.
Sitting in the fireside chair was the Earl of Glyndebourne, Richard Allen.
‘Do I need a drink to accompany this proposition?’ Wilfred asked and sauntered over to the sideboard where the decanters were.
He unstoppered the brandy and then glanced over his shoulder at his father to see him exchanging shoulder shrugs with the Earl. A tremor of disquiet shivered up his spine as he gently poured some of the amber nectar into a snifter. He dropped the stopper back into the decanter with a clink and lifted the brandy to his nose to savour the bouquet. He rolled the glass between his hands to warm the spirit and give himself time to assess what his father could possibly want. He turned around, leaned his buttocks against the sideboard as he took his first sip of brandy and crossed his ankles. He folded his free arm across his chest as he raised his eyebrows and waited. There was no point in making it easy for his father. He had a distinct feeling this conversation would be about matrimony.
‘Son?’ The duke began softly. ‘You’re not getting any younger and I am concerned about the succession.’ He sighed, ‘and
Richard and I have decided that you should marry his daughter Imogen.’ The Duke almost gabbled it out in his haste to get it said. He looked at his son evenly and held his breath. The last time the Duke had tried to organise a marriage for his son, Wilfred had exploded into a rage and he hadn’t seen him for two years. He had had to stand by and watch as his son threw himself from one debauched courtesan to another, gambled half his inheritance away and lost nearly all his friends. Only Nairn had remained loyal and had often been there to pick up the pieces or usually the excessively intoxicated Earl and deliver him to his townhouse for his valet to deal with. Roderick de Lacey paid a large stipend to his son’s valet to take care of him.
Wilfred continued to lean against the sideboard, giving the appearance of being relaxed even though ev
ery muscle in his body was taut. The thought of marrying the insipid and spoiled Lady Imogen Allen was enough to make him toss up his rather fine dinner on his father’s desk. He calmly kept his eye contact with his father as he took another sip of his brandy. He remembered the last time his father had tried to do this and he did not want to lose control again.
This time I will speak as a man instead of a petulant boy!
He mused. A picture of Lucille Hastings flitted through his brain and the thought of marrying somebody else turned his stomach even more.
It dropped like a mortar into the quiet of the study, but even Roderick could hear the total conviction in his son’s voice.
‘No? What do you mean? No!’ his father
shouted, his face reddening with embarrassment. He stomped over to stand behind his desk making Wilfred hide his smirk.
The position of power
he thought coldly.
‘I mean no.’ Wilfred said cordially, but didn’t offer an explanation, just as his father hadn’t asked if he minded.
‘I could cut you off without a penny!’ Roderick roared and thumped his fist into the centre of the desk.
‘Do so. Then you can give your title and mine to Roger!’ Wilfred snapped, swallowed the last of his brandy
, placed the glass carefully on the tray and walked to the door. Before he could turn the handle the Earl asked the most pertinent question.
‘Why?’ Glyndebourne said softly.
‘Because I have already selected the next Countess of Buxton, not that she knows it yet, and I shall probably be spending the next year courting her.’ Wilfred slammed the door behind him as he left. His mother was standing in the hall. She was a mature version of Caroline, with her blonde ringlets and flashing green eyes.
‘Do you need commiserations or congratulations?’ she asked softly.
‘Neither, as I didn’t accept his machinations.’ Wilfred said with a sigh. ‘I think you will need to smooth the ducal feathers, mother.’
‘I tried to tell him you wouldn’t just kowtow to his will.’ She shook her head and smiled gently at her son. She lifted her hand and placed it on his cheek
. He placed his hand over it and closed his eyes. ‘What is wrong with Imogen Allen?’ she asked softly.
‘Nothing I suppose.’ Wilfred responded and opened his eyes. ‘But I don’t love her.’
‘Love is a commodity that you cannot afford, Will.’
‘Don’t you love father?’ he asked in surprise. His eyes searching her beautiful face.
‘No. Our relationship has never been about love, only expedience.’ She said rather coldly and she flushed as she looked over his shoulder. She removed her hand and turned away. He watched his mother elegantly glide back to the front of the house. He turned to find his father standing behind him.
‘Did you ever love mother?’ he asked with a frown and he was shocked to see his father solemnly shake his head.
‘It was an arranged marriage.’ His father said softly. ‘I came to respect her and she trusted me.’
Wilfred felt as if his perspective had gone out of kilter. ‘Everything was a lie.’ He said harshly. ‘The happy family doesn’t exist, except in your children’s minds.’ He sighed deeply. ‘Do yourself a favour father and don’t tell either of my sisters that yours is a loveless marriage, for they will be destroyed by it.’ He looked sternly at his parent, ‘and don’t, for the love of god, try to arrange marriages for them like you have done for me. I’m busy trying to steer them in the right direction and I don’t want your heavy hand spoiling my attempts!’ the fury he felt was like a living thing and he knew if he didn’t attend the ball with
his sister he would just drink himself into oblivion.
As Wilfred stormed away, Roderick raised his hand as if to stop him. There was so much he wanted to tell Wilfred, but he never seemed to get past the first question, before they were arguing. Richard Allen patted him on the back. ‘I wish I could talk to him, instead of argue.’ Roderick muttered.
‘He’s like you, Rod. You have to talk to him as if he was you.’ Richard Allen said softly.
‘And how the hell do I do that!?’ Roderick spat as he turned a frigid expression on his friend, who shrugged his shoulders ruefully.
Lady Wentworth’s ball was always the first of the
. The carriages blocked the roads off Berkley Square for most of the night. Wilfred was quiet in the carriage with his mother and Caroline. It was a lot to assimilate and he was thinking back over his childhood for tell-tale moments that would reveal his parents deception. He couldn’t pull one event to mind, so he came to the decision that his parents were accomplished actors that could feign love and happiness where none existed.
Caroline looked from her mother to her brother, instinctively knowing that something was wrong, but not really brave enough to ask what.
Evangeline De Lacey was unsettled by the events of the evening and she wished her stupid husband would stop trying to get her son married off. ‘He doesn’t mean any harm, Wilfred.’ She said firmly. ‘He wants to see you settled.’
‘He wants me shackled to somebody of his choosing.’ Wilfred snapped. ‘But I said no and anyway, I already have someone suitable in mind.’
Evangeline inhaled sharply. ‘Will you tell me her name?’ she asked in surprise.
‘No, Mother. You will find out when I’ve had a chance to ask the lady concerned.’
‘But the settlements will need your father’s approval.’ She said, dread evident in her voice. Caroline again looked from one to the other.
‘There won’t be any settlements, because this will n
ot be a marriage of convenience, especially for the Duke!’ Wilfred said harshly as he folded his arms over his chest and turned his head to look out at the street.
‘Wilfred?’ Evangeline tried again, but Wilfred just shook his head. As far as he was concerned the matter was closed.
He tried to visualize Lucille Hastings as she had been at the Black and White Ball and he was surprised that a peaceful calm descended over his roiling emotions as he remembered what she felt like in his arms as they danced. He recalled the sparkle in her eyes as she accepted his apology and his heart tripped at the thought of courting such a beauty.
Wilfred had bedded some of the most beautiful women of the
, most of who were already married to aging or unloving partners. He knew husbands only strayed when they were not happy with their wives and vice versa. A happy and contented wife seldom looked for an amorous encounter outside of her marriage. He tried not to speculate how many mistresses his father had had, or whether his mother had ever taken a lover to relieve her frustration. He definitely tried not to think about whether he or his sisters were the product of such an assignation and that made him look at Caroline. She was so beautiful and looked so much like their mother that he actually tried to see any resemblance to their sire. Of course, he and Eleanor were so similar to their father that he would question whether his mother actually bore them, but he certainly remembered her swollen belly before both of the girls arrived. That also gave a possible answer as to why there were so many years between him and his siblings. There were twelve between him and Caroline and fourteen with Eleanor. It was a distinct possibility that his mother denied his father after he was born and found herself a lover and Caroline was a product of that liaison. He closed his eyes and berated himself for fanciful musings.
You will drive yourself into madness with this line of reasoning! Accept there is no love between your parents.
The carriage jerked to a halt and the door opened quickly. Wilfred stepped down and turned to help both of the ladies down. He offered his arm to his mother just as Baron Nairn arrived and offered to his sister.
‘Lady Caroline, I’m delighted to arrive at the same time. May I escort you inside?’ he asked with his usual aplomb.
‘Thank you, my Lord. It would be an honour to accept your company.’ Caroline murmured with a coy smile, before resting her gloved hand on his forearm.
Footmen arrived to take cloaks and the major domo introduced them loudly and clearly.
‘The Duchess of Dovedale, the Earl of Buxton, Baron Nairn and Lady Caroline de Lacey.’
‘Why do I come last?’ Caroline said with a pout.
‘Because we all outrank you, my dear!’ Howard said with a dashing smile, ‘even a lowly Baron like me has more rank than a Duke’s daughter.’ He sighed dramatically. ‘A woman’s lot and all that!’ he finished and patted her hand.
‘So if I was an Earl in my own right, I would outrank you?’ she ventured and received a winning smile from the Baron.
‘You would indeed, Lady Caroline.’
Wilfred saw his mother and sister deposited with the other chaperones and charges. Howard smiled engagingly at all the tittering girls as they asked about beverages and soon they were stood in the refreshment room waiting for brandy and lemonade.
brandy didn’t even touch the sides as he tilted the glass back and gulped the contents down his throat.
‘Something wrong?’ Howard asked as the last time he’d seen Wilfred guzzle brandy had been after his
father had tried to arrange a marriage for him and Wilfred had lost it completely and thrown his life into chaos.
Wilfred almost choked on his brandy in his efforts to blurt out his troubles. ‘I’ll say. That blasted Duke has tried to shackle me to…’ he looked cautiously about the room, ‘…
’ he whispered in horror.
‘Good God!’ Howard blurted then up ended his glass too. ‘She’s got a face like a horse!’ He sniggered. ‘So what did you tell his graceness?’
‘I told him no.’ Wilfred admitted immediately.
Howard raised an eyebrow. ‘Just that?’ he gasped. ‘
Wilfred smiled then. It was a full on beaming smile that Howard hadn’t actually seen for years, at least not since they left Cambridge. ‘Just that. No!’ Wilfred laughed then. ‘I thought he was going to have an apoplexy!’
‘Didn’t he ask you why?’ Howard asked indignantly.
‘No, only Glyndebourne did. So I told him that I had already selected the next Countess of Buxton and would be spending the next year courting her.’
‘Lucille Hastings, by any chance?’ Howard ventured.
‘Yes,’ Wilfred sighed. ‘She is so beautiful and I’m afraid I’m already in love with her.’