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Authors: Elizabeth Boyle

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

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BOOK: Stealing the Bride
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Penham leaned over toward Temple. “Is this Cordell a bad sort?”

“Bad?” Temple snapped before he knew what he was doing, breaking out of his characteristic sunny disposition. “You haven’t heard of

“I-I-I didn’t know,” Penham stammered, returning to the earl’s side and looking as if he wished himself back at his poor country estate with only the adoring company of his hunting dogs and his ill-tempered mother, the Dowager Marchioness of Staverly.

“I admit I’ve been reluctant toward your suit, lad,” Lamden said to the young man. “But if you will bring her back, stop this travesty before it is too late, I will gladly give her to you.”

“But, my lord,” Nettlestone protested. He straightened his bottle-green jacket and rose up on his toes so he looked the seated earl in the eyes. “What of my proposal? ’Tis well known the lady favors me over Penham here.”

A tide of laughter trailed after this ridiculous boast.

And Nettlestone, never overly witty enough to realize that he was making himself appear ridiculous, glanced up, his bandy chest puffing out and stretching his yellow striped waistcoat to the point where the buttons threatened to burst their threads. “I say she does. She favors me over Penham. And I daresay I’m the better man for her.” He turned back to Lamden. “I’ll fetch her back for you, my lord. I’ve the best set of cattle in town and the fastest curricle. I’ll be on the Manchester road before Penham here can even summon a hack.”

Penham ruffled at this declaration. While he was only a second son and unlikely to inherit since his brother already had five sons to his lusty credit, Harry’s Penham lineage made him as eminently qualified as a prospective son-in-law as Nettlestone.

But Nettlestone had the younger man on one point—the baron was a better horseman. Whereas he irritated all he met in Society, for some reason the hoof-and-cloven set found him irresistible. No one was his equal in getting an impossible amount of miles from even the worst set of nags.

It had once been bet that Nettlestone could get more miles out of a Jersey cow than Penham could his brother’s best Barbary Arab.

As the two men began to argue the matter, Lamden’s walking stick once again brought order to the chaos, pounding on the floor thrice, then a fourth time, before the two men ceased their bickering.

“She must be saved. Someone must bring her back. Just return my dearest Diana. And the man who saves her shall have her as his bride.” Lamden sighed and shook his head with a sad air of resignation. “Just get to her before Cordell steals her across the border.
Steals more than he deserves

Penham and Nettlestone nodded in complete understanding. The two rivals glowered one last time at each other before they shot toward the door, tripping and scrambling their way like a pair of terrier pups. Well-wishers and compatriots tossed their coats and hats forward, then followed them into the street, cheering encouragement.

The noise and excitement brought patrons from Brook’s, as well as Boodle’s, outside. Soon St. James looked like a Monday afternoon at Tattersall’s.

Temple stood at the window and watched as the two suitors shot hasty orders to their drivers before setting off for Highgate and then on to the Manchester road.

A long unheard voice nagged at him.
Do something.

Unconsciously he shook his head, ignoring the need to follow its unwanted advice.

Demmit, Diana. You’re a headstrong, willful bit of baggage. What trouble have you found your way into now?

Nothing that was any of his business, he decided, turning from the raucous display. To his surprise, he spied his cousin, Colin, Baron Danvers, stepping out of the shadows from across the room.

Of all his relations, Colin was his favorite, so he grinned at the sight of him, having thought him well out to sea on another of his clandestine voyages for the Admiralty.

At that moment Lord Oxham stopped by Temple’s side. The tall, narrow man sniffed and shook his head as he glanced in Colin’s direction. “I say, it’s a fine turn of events when a man who should be swinging from the end of rope is as rich as Midas just because he has a talent for piracy and thievery.” He turned his back to Colin, giving him the cut direct.

“Piracy and thievery, well, I never!” Lord Bethel, another of Temple’s set, added in agreement.

“I fear I will have to extend Lord Danvers the courtesy of my company,” Temple told them. “One may choose his friends and companions, but I fear family is another matter.”

“Bah,” Lord Bethel spat out. “I don’t see how he dare show his face here. Dirty business and its cowardly ilk have no place at White’s.”

“Yes, perhaps,” Temple agreed, all the while casting a discerning glance at the cup in Bethel’s hand—filled to the rim with illegal French brandy. It was good to know the man knew where to draw the line on not associating with “dirty business.”

“Besides,” Oxham muttered. “You were about to share with us your secret for tying that infamous cravat of yours.”

Temple took a preening stance. “I wish I could, my friends. But my cousin’s money has a way of coming in handy when I am short on blunt. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll see if he is inclined to buy me a drink or two…and perhaps loan me something for my tailor. Elton informs me the man is becoming rather insistent about my bill, despite the fact that I am a walking advertisement for his services.”

The gentlemen all laughed, but once Colin stepped into their midst, their good humor ended and en masse they moved away without so much as a word.

Other men might have taken such a slight to heart, but Colin’s court martial and subsequent disgrace nine years earlier had made such occurrences commonplace, and he barely spared the departing fops a glance.

Instead, he caught Temple by the arm and steered him to a quiet and secluded corner. “Are you going after her?” he demanded.

Temple smoothed his wrinkled sleeve. “After whom?”

“Diana, you witless lout. How can you stand idly by and watch her be married off to one of those…those…”

“Idiots?” Temple offered.

“Yes, idiots.” Colin frowned. “How can you?”

Once again that needling little spark of conscience prodded him. He ignored it, just as he intended to ignore his cousin. “Might I remind you, the lady wouldn’t be in this spot if you hadn’t allowed your betrothal to her to go awry.”

Colin had the decency to flinch at this accusation, but any guilt he might have felt didn’t last very long. “You know that isn’t what happened.” On the eve of the baron’s wedding to Lady Diana, Colin’s conviction for treason had been made public. The lady had cried off—quite vehemently—not that anyone had questioned her hasty decision.

However, Colin had always maintained that there was another reason for her sudden reversion of affections…

Temple groaned. “Don’t start down this path again, cousin. The lady is not suited for me, and I am certainly not suited for her.”


Temple held up a hand to stave off any arguments. “Diana has the luck of the devil. She’ll land on her feet like a tabby cat. We both know her only too well. She’ll probably have Cordell sober and knitting socks for orphans before they reach Northamptonshire.”

Colin gave a grudging nod to that notion. There was no arguing the lady had bottom and nerve to spare. The scandal at Almack’s and her escapades in Hyde Park were proof of that.

“So enough of this,” Temple said, pulling up a chair for Colin and then one for himself. “Tell me what brings you back to town so soon.”

Colin remained standing. “I don’t believe this. You aren’t going after her?”

“No.” He let his tone ring with a firm measure of finality to convince Colin of his resolve not to get involved where Lady Diana Fordham was concerned.

Reluctantly, Colin took his seat, and Temple changed the subject immediately. “Now tell me what has you back in port so soon. I thought you were bound for Spain again.” He waved for a bottle to be brought over, then leaned back, stretching out his legs in front of him and folding his arms over his chest. “Let me guess—you discovered your devious wife stowed away again and had to bring her back. Now there is a task for the stout of heart.”

“No, Georgie is safely home. Actually, I was in France and happened upon some disturbing information. I came home immediately to—”

Temple sat up in his seat. “Is this about Orlando’s murder?”

Colin’s youngest brother, Orlando, had been murdered two years earlier, and there were still more questions than answers surrounding the circumstances.

His cousin shook his head. “No, it is something entirely different. In fact, I asked Pymm to meet me here.”

Temple’s brow arched at the impending arrival of the Foreign Office’s disreputable spymaster. “Pymm? Here? It must be dire indeed. Especially if you got him to come to the hallowed halls of White’s rather than meet him in that wretched hellhole he loves so much in Seven Dials.”

Colin shuddered. “So you’ve been to the Rose and Lion, have you?”

“Only once when I was green and foolish,” Temple confessed, grimacing at the memory. “I still can’t believe you enticed Pymm to come
. You know he never mixes with the
unless it is an absolute necessity.”

“Actually, I suspected I’d find you here as well. I wanted to ask if either of you had heard rumors about—”

“There you are.” A sharp voice interrupted Colin’s question.

Temple spared a glance over his shoulder. There was no mistaking that dirty, ill-tied cravat, or the rumpled and stained coat. “Pymm, my good man, would it hurt you to simply find a decent tailor?”

Already several of the members were casting disparaging glances in their direction at this latest unwanted addition to Temple’s coveted table. Given his shabby appearance, they probably assumed Pymm was a bill collector who’d managed to slip past the watchful eye of White’s imperious doorman and was even now dunning the marquis for his long unpaid tailor’s or greengrocer’s bill. As a courtesy to Temple, they edged away from his table, staying a respectful distance from his unwanted guest—besides, most of them had their own credit problems, and they might well be next on this man’s list of those up the River Tick.

“Tailors! Bah,” Pymm said, waving a hand at his favorite, and at times most exasperating, agent.

For if the truth were told, it wasn’t Temple’s gadding about town that the Duke of Setchfield found so objectionable. What galled him to the core and had been the bane of their relationship for over a decade was that Temple chose to risk his life and limb, as well as the continuation of the Setchfield dukedom, in the secret service of his King and country. Instead of basking in the luxury his grandfather’s goodwill could provide, the marquis took assignments that had sent him into the battlefields of Spain and the very dark and ohso-dangerous heart of Paris.

“I daresay I didn’t know you held membership at White’s,” Temple said, “for if I had I would have invited you down here more often.”

Pymm glanced around and shuddered. “My membership was a gift some time back from the prime minister. Hardly something I sought out. In truth, I’ve never been here. Don’t like to make myself a familiar sight, if you know what I mean.”

Temple wasn’t surprised at his superior’s lofty connections. “Well, you should drop in more often. Why, if you’d been here just a half an hour earlier, you would have witnessed the spectacle of the Season.”

Pymm nodded at a passing waiter. Before telling the man what he wanted, he asked, “Who’s buying?”

Colin raised his hand.

The man grinned and ordered a rare and expensive bottle of port.

“As I was saying, you’ll never believe what happened,” Temple continued.

Pymm’s gaze rolled upward, as if he doubted that any excitement at White’s could offer something of interest to him. “Sir, I have neither the time nor the interest in the falderal that makes up the wasted hours in this place,” he said, as the waiter arrived with a tumbler and the bottle. Pymm filled his glass to the very rim and made no offer to share.

Not that Temple expected him to. “You wouldn’t be saying that if you’d seen the state Lamden was in.”

” Pymm sputtered. “Here?”

“Thought that might interest you. Him being one of your old cronies and all. In quite a lather too.” Temple leaned back, enjoying the rarity of relaying a piece of information to Pymm that the man did not already know…or suspect. “Apparently his daughter has run off with Cordell.”

“This is a disaster,” Pymm wheezed, struggling to catch his breath. He grappled for his glass, and hastily brought the drink to his lips and took a long, deliberate draught, as if he hoped it were an elixir to make some nightmare fade into oblivion.

“Oh, it gets worse,” Temple told him. “Lamden sent Pins and Needles after the happy bridal couple. Pins and Needles? Can you imagine two more useless fellows to send after your errant daughter?”

“He did wh-a-a-at?”

Pymm looked about to be overcome with apoplexy, but that didn’t stop Temple. He grinned and leaned forward. “He sent Lord Nettlestone and Lord Harry Penham after Diana and Cordell. What a lark!”

Temple’s superior turned positively bilious.

Colin crossed his arms over his chest, glaring daggers at his cousin as if he were a child caught stealing tarts.

Ignoring the censure aimed in his direction, Temple instead relished the rarity of besting Pymm. However, his joy at the other man’s discomfiture didn’t last very long. For after a few moments, Pymm’s eyes narrowed, a look of pure intent erasing the man’s queasy appearance.

As he turned his sharp gaze on Temple, the marquis knew he was about to pay the piper for thinking he could best the Foreign Office’s legendary spymaster.

“Damn Lamden!” Pymm said, his voice low and full of anger. “He always was a hotheaded fool. ’Tis why he spent most of his career here in London and not in the field. Especially after…after…well, never mind that.” Pymm’s nose twitched and he took a quick, nervous sip from his glass, and then frowned when he realized the tumbler was empty. “I had hoped to see this matter handled with some delicacy. See the girl fetched home, quietly, discreetly,” he said as he reached for the bottle.

BOOK: Stealing the Bride
9.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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