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Authors: M.C. Beaton,Marion Chesney

Tags: #Historical romance

The Adventuress: HFTS5 (16 page)

BOOK: The Adventuress: HFTS5
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Emily had drunk too much to be aware of what was going on around her, but the earl saw that Rainbird, Joseph, and the two maids, Alice and Jenny, were looking distressed.

After four hours of eating and drinking, the wedding breakfast came to an end.

The guests made their farewells and went out into the windy, rainy street.

The earl smiled at Emily. “Shall we retire,” he said, “and allow the servants to clear the debris?”

“Where to?” asked Emily groggily.

“To our bedchamber.”

Emily squinted at the clock and managed to bring it into focus with some difficulty. “It is only five o’ clock, Fleetwood,” she exclaimed.

“So it is,” he agreed amiably. “Come along.”

Like an aristocrat to the guillotine, Emily followed him through to their bedchamber, which was in the room behind the dining-room on the first floor.

“Now, my love …” began the earl.

From downstairs came screaming and yelling and cursing.

“This is too much on our wedding day,” said the earl irritably. “Am I always to be plagued by badly behaved servants?”

He rang the bell. Emily sat down and looked dizzily out of the window.

After some time Rainbird answered the bell’s summons.

“What,” demanded the earl icily, “is the meaning of all the hullabaloo?”

“It is a domestic matter, my lord,” said Rainbird stiffly. “My apologies to my lord and my lady.”

“Of course it is a domestic matter, since you are all domestics,” said the earl testily.

“Ish that girl, Lizzie,” said Emily drunkenly. “Looked white in the church. Mush see Lizzie.”

“Stay where you are,” ordered the earl, realising for the first time just how very drunk his wife was.

“Now, Rainbird …”

“We had been saving to buy a public house,” said Rainbird evenly. “Although we could not afford a hostelry in London, we could, we estimated, after another Season, have accumulated enough to buy a place in, say, Highgate. Lizzie, the scullery maid, was duped by Luke, Lord Charteris’ first footman, into handing over our savings. Luke said that Lord Hampshire’s horse, at ten to one, would win because the other horses had been interfered with. The horse did run and did win. Luke promised Lizzie that they would only take her share of the winnings and run away and get married. But Luke is the one who has run away, taking our money, and the winnings.”

“How much did you lose?”

“Our savings amounted to three hundred pounds. Luke would have won three thousand.”

The earl gave a silent whistle.

“Poor Lizzie,” said Emily suddenly, and with the perspicacity of the very drunk, she added, “Honour to marry a fisht footman. Great honour. Turned her head.”

“Well, I hope this will be a lesson to all of you,” said the earl heartlessly. “Next time put your savings in a safe place and don’t trust scullery maids with the information.”

“Very good, my lord,” said Rainbird woodenly.

“Lizzie musht have money.” Emily lurched to her feet and grabbed her reticule and began to fumble in it. “Money for Lizzie.”

“We will attend to this matter later,” said the earl crossly. “I shall see Charteris tomorrow and find a direction for this footman. He might call to see his family.”

But Emily had extracted a roll of notes from her reticule and was carefully counting them out. “ Three hundred!” she said triumphantly. “Take it.” She thrust the notes at Rainbird.

“Oh, take the damned money and be off with you,” shouted the earl, losing his temper. Here he was all ready to take his love in his arms, and he was being thwarted by servants’ problems. Servants! How he loathed them.

Rainbird took the money, bowed, and scuttled off.

“Now,” said the earl, pulling Emily towards him and beginning to undress her.

“What are you doing?” cried Emily, beating feebly at his efficient hands.

“Undressing you.”

“Why?”

“To make love to you.”

“Think of the king,” muttered Emily. “Think of the king.”

But he began to kiss her. She swayed drunkenly, feeling her senses reeling.

How he had managed finally to undress himself as well as her during all those kisses was a mystery to Emily. She wondered vaguely whether it were a gentlemanly art, like fencing or boxing. His naked skin against her own fevered body felt beautifully cool.

She made one last heroic attempt to think of King George, and then wound her arms about her husband’s naked back and floated off in a red mist of sensation. She cried out in alarm at the pain of losing her virginity, but then heard only his voice telling her how beautiful she was. At times Emily was able to wonder whether it was the amount she had drunk that was making the room reel or whether it was all the delicious kissing and caressing.

She finally floated off to sleep while the earl held her tightly, dizzy with gratitude for this naked, passionate wonder that was his new bride, and not knowing how very nearly King George had ruined his wedding night.

“So,” said Rainbird grimly after the staff had finished their evening meal, “the money is back and there are to be no more rows and recriminations. We have all—understandably—been hard on Lizzie. That is, with the exception of Joseph. Why you, Joseph, were shouting and screaming and hitting the girl when
you
were the one who lost money before this on gambling, I fail to comprehend. Do eat something, Lizzie. I feel you have been punished enough. And, yes, I am sorry I soaped your mouth. Had I not been so rushed and busy, I would have taken the time to find out what was bothering you.”

“Ungrateful, that’s wot she is,” said Joseph passionately. “Slut!”

“Joseph, I am warning you,” said Rainbird, “that if you say one more hard word to Lizzie, I shall personally take you out and thrash you.”

Joseph relapsed into silence but continued to growl at the pathetic, crushed figure that was Lizzie. That Lizzie could even
look
at another footman with him around was an outrage.

Lizzie found her voice at last. “Please, Mr. Rainbird, I want to go to church,” she whispered.

Lizzie was Roman Catholic and went to church at St. Patrick’s, Soho Square, unlike the rest of the servants, who belonged to the Church of England and infrequently attended services at the Grosvenor Chapel.

“Very well,” sighed Rainbird. “But don’t be too long.”

Lizzie threw her shawl over her head and slipped out of the servants’ hall.

“I don’t know what come over our Lizzie,” mourned Alice.

“She’s a clever wee girl and better at her learning than the rest o’ ye,” said the cook. “Stands tae reason she gets fed up being treated like dirt.”

“We don’t treat her like dirt,” said Jenny hotly.

“We pushed her around a bit wi’ all the fuss o’ the wedding breakfast, and me worse than any o’ ye,” said the cook regretfully. “The idea o’ marrying a first footman is a big step up for her. Ah, well, it jist goes tae show what happens when the ladies don’t keep tae their rightful stations in life.”

“I hope nothing bad happens to our new countess,” said Rainbird anxiously. “Soon she’ll be leaving here and there will be nothing more we can do to protect her.”

Lizzie scurried through the dark and windy streets. The rain had stopped, and ragged clouds scudded high above over the chimney tops.

She felt her disgrace keenly. How could she ever have imagined that a first footman would stoop low enough to marry her? Joseph’s cruelty was like salt in a wound. He had been worse than the rest.

During the wedding breakfast, Lizzie had been unable to bear the suspense any longer and had called at Lord Charteris’ town house next door and had asked the butler, Blenkinsop, if she might speak to Luke.

“No, you might not,” had said Blenkinsop awfully. “He rushed in here waving poundses and poundses and was most coarse and rude to me. Said he was going out of town on the next stage. Good riddance, I say.” Lizzie had trembled and demanded to know which stage the footman had taken, but Blenkinsop had replied he neither knew nor cared. When she had returned to her own kitchen to be berated for leaving by a furious Angus, it had struck Lizzie that she had been gulled. Although she had tried to believe Luke would come back for her, she knew in her heart of hearts he would not. That was when she had broken down and confessed all.

Trying to blot out the memory of that humiliation, she hurried faster, and was relieved when she could leave the dark streets behind and plunge into the sanctuary of the church.

Lizzie trembled at the very idea of making her confession. Instead, she prayed long and hard for forgiveness and for a return of the humility that had once kept her cheerful and content.

At last, much comforted, she rose, feeling stiff, for she had been kneeling a long time, and made her way out, standing in the entrance to the church and adjusting her shawl about her head.

The rain had come on again and was drumming down on the muddy streets.

“Pardon me, miss,” said a soft voice behind her. “May I take the liberty of offering you my escort? I have an umbrella.”

Lizzie swung round. A neat, dapper man was standing behind her.

“I do not know you, sir,” said Lizzie nervously.

“I shall introduce myself. Paul Gendreau at your service. Valet to milord, the Comte St. Berlin.”

Lizzie bobbed a curtsy. “Lizzie O’ Brien,” she said shyly. “Scullery maid.”

He nodded and began to crank open his umbrella with a gadget in the shaft.

“I give you good evening, sir,” said Lizzie, “but I am perfectly well able to go home by myself.”

“Not in this rain,” he said calmly. He held the umbrella over their heads.

Lizzie glanced at his face. She could only see the gleam of white teeth and the shine of a pair of eyes.

The rain strengthened, glittering rods of water drumming on the cobbles of the square in front of them.

Lizzie gave a little sigh. Surely nothing worse than the treachery of Luke could happen to her again so soon.

She meekly fell into step beside her new friend.

Chapter
Eleven
 

The cruellest lies are often told in silence
.

—Robert Louis Stevenson

 

The announcement of the earl and Emily’s wedding appeared in
The Morning Post
the next morning.

The wedding couple was awakened by the noisy arrival of Mrs. Otterley. Her raucous voice rose and fell as she berated Rainbird and demanded to see her brother
immediately
.

Soon there came a scratching at the bedroom door, followed by Rainbird’s apologetic voice explaining Mrs. Otterley was in the front parlour, waiting, and refused to leave.

The earl sighed and kissed Emily. “I shall get rid of her,” he said. “Do you wish to rise and dress? Are you hungry?”

“Yes, Fleetwood,” mumbled Emily, suddenly shy at the sight of his naked, muscled body as he climbed out of bed.

“I miss my valet,” he said. “But there is no room here for extra servants.”

“Will your sister be very angry?” asked Emily.

“Yes, but she will not be allowed to come near you.”

After he had donned his small-clothes, he pulled on a damask banyan, that three-quarter-length easy coat which for two centuries now had been considered suitable for undress, thrust his feet into slippers, and made his way downstairs.

Emily got up, feeling languid and slightly unwell. She put on her night-gown and wrapper and went up to her old bedroom on the next floor, where most of her clothes were still kept.

Her husband’s luggage and clothes were lying about the room. He had obviously decided to use the upstairs bedroom as a dressing-room.

Emily was taking a morning gown out of the wardrobe when she saw he had placed a pile of manuscript and letters on the desk. She walked over to the desk to check if it was still locked. It would be too awful if Fleetwood found the incriminating papers.

The desk was locked. She glanced idly down at the manuscript and then felt herself go cold.

The name “Emilia” caught her eye. She turned over the pages with a sinking heart. It was quite obviously notes and a first draft of that wretched book. There could be no other explanation. Her husband, the Earl of Fleetwood, had written that horrible book. And yet he had married her, which proved he did not know the secret of her birth, and had not used her as a model for his Emilia.

But what if he ever found out? The contempt in that book for the upstart Emilia had been savage.

Emily sat down suddenly and buried her face in her hands.

Yesterday, her ambition to be a countess had been all that mattered. Now she only wanted his love, and the thought of losing that love was more terrifying than the thought of losing her title.

From downstairs rose the steady complaint of Mrs. Otterley’s voice, punctuated by the masculine rumble of the earl’s, and then Mrs. Otterley could be heard crying.

“I can’t go on with this deception,” thought Emily wildly. “I just can’t. Can there be one slim hope he might forgive me?”

She washed and dressed. She heard the street door slam.

The earl climbed the stairs to their bedchamber. There was a short silence and then Emily heard him ascending the next flight.

BOOK: The Adventuress: HFTS5
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