Miss Pymbroke's Rules
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by Rosemary Stevens
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Proper Miss Verity Pymbroke would never rent out her townhouse to Lord Carrisworth, a rake known for his wild parties and one who keeps twins as his mistresses! But she doesn't count on the schemes of two matchmaking neighbors and a determined cat in this lighthearted romance. Book Two of the Cats of Mayfair. Regency Romance by Rosemary Stevens; originally published by Fawcett Crest
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 1997
eBookwise Release Date: February 2011
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [267 KB]
Reading time: 167-233 min.
"I make it a rule never to fancy myself in love," Miss Verity Pymbroke stated matter-of-factly in response to Lady Iris's odious suggestion that she marry. With unshakable composure, she raised her cup to her lips and took a sip of hot tea.
Seated next to each other on a dark blue satin settee opposite Verity were two older ladies, immediately recognizable as sisters, though their appearances differed.
Lady Iris was outfitted in the fashion popular in her youth, complete with powdered white wig, white paint, highly rouged cheeks, and a small black patch by the corner of her lined mouth. Other than this eccentricity of dress, Lady Iris was a pattern of practicality compared with her sister, Lady Hyacinth,
That lady, often concerned overmuch with her health, sat wrapped in a mound of heavy shawls, which served as protection against an imaginary chill in the room. She appeared much shocked at her young friend's proclamation. "Verity, dear, how can you say such a thing? The gentlemen are so attractive. We females are helpless against their appeal and cannot resist falling in love with them. Why, I recall many occasions in the past where my genteel upbringing battled with my lustful passion for the gentlemen. The lure of love always prevailed, I assure you."
Embarrassed by this bold assertion, Verity nevertheless found herself suppressing a smile. She suspected Lady Hyacinth's amorous adventures were products solely of the lady's imagination, but kept her own counsel on the subject out of respect for her kindly, if fanciful, neighbor.
Had Verity believed for a moment Lady Hyacinth's past had been one-tenth as lascivious as the lady declared, she would have been appalled.
"I have yet to meet a gentleman who could sway me from my convictions of what is proper behavior for a lady," Verity responded piously.
Lady Hyacinth absently raised a hand to her head and patted a red curl of a hue unknown to nature. "I confess I cannot understand you, dear child. Furthermore, it appears to me that what Iris has suggested is the only possible solution to your difficulties. There is no way other than marriage for a lady of good birth to be comfortable in the world, unless she has financial independence, which you do not."
Unable to remain silent any longer, Lady Iris rapped her cane on the floor, causing the teacups on the table to rattle ominously. She barked, "Ye gods, Verity, I said you should marry, not fall in love. And as for pretending the two go together, I say stuff and nonsense! Don't let Hyacinth put her wishful notions in your sensible head. I was married for thirty years, and I tell you I doubt I saw my husband above twice a twelve-month. It was an arrangement that suited us both. Can't even remember his face, now that he's been buried, tombed, and grassed over these eighteen years past."
Turning her head to glare at her sister. Lady Iris continued with the outspokenness admired in her generation. "What do you know of marriage, Hyacinth? I take leave to point out you've never been married, and you're perfectly content, aren't you?"
Lady Hyacinth promptly clasped her hands to her ample bosom in a gesture of distress, her lined face a picture of anguish. Her sister's thoughtless reminder that she remained a spinster at the rather advanced age of two and sixty was like a knife wound to her romantical heart.
Gasping for breath, Lady Hyacinth managed to utter, "Oh, I am having palpitations. Merciful heavens, how cruel you are, Iris."
Alarmed, Verity set her teacup down and rushed to Lady Hyacinth's side. She reached over and picked up a vinaigrette from a small table next to the settee and offered it to the older woman. "Oh, please, calm yourself. I know your sister did not mean to hurt your feelings."
At this statement, Lady Hyacinth made a sudden, remarkable recovery and glowered around Verity at Lady Iris. Her voice took on a superior tone when she said, "You know I could have married anytime I pleased, Iris, but I could not settle on just one gentleman. Now that my health is so uncertain and I must remain here . . . well, I daresay it suits you since you desire company and the only gentleman who ever looked at you was that fusty old man you married because no one else would have you."
"Damn your eyes!" Lady Iris shouted, raising her cane above her head as if to strike her sister.
Lady Hyacinth, having successfully goaded her and knowing full well Lady Iris would never harm her, assumed a triumphant expression at her sister's display of anger.
"Ladies!" Verity exclaimed. She edged her way to sit between the two women on the settee and grasped a hand of each--one plump and one thin. "Do I need to remind you of the importance of a harmonious relationship among one's family members?"
Lady Iris rolled her eyes.
Lady Hyacinth sighed with resignation.
Both sensed one of Verity's high-minded sermons on "Treating One Another As You Wish To Be Treated Yourself" coming on. They knew once Verity got started on what she considered to be her "moral duty," little could stop her.
Verity stood up and turned to face the ladies. She threw back her head in a noble posture and lectured. "Each of you needs the other above anyone in this world. You must value your connection and not allow petty feelings of jealousy or competition to loosen family bonds. How I miss my own dear sister, Louisa."
Distracted momentarily from her purpose, Verity's gaze turned toward the sunlight shining in through the tall windows of the drawing room. Her voice took on a wistful tone. "I have written Louisa several letters begging her to come home from Portugal. Her heart must yearn for the consolation that only a sister could give her during her time of grief."
Lady Iris seized the opportunity of Verity's digression to return the conversation to her young friend's plight. "It's been two years now since Louisa lost her husband in the war, and she still hasn't torn herself away from all those soldiers to see how you fared. Not even when your mother, God rest her soul, passed away last spring. Verity, you've got to stop thinking Louisa will come home and share your financial difficulties."
"Yes, Verity dear," Lady Hyacinth said with something like a sniff. "Take it from one who knows. Having to rely upon a sister for one's bread can he lowering for a delicate constitution."
Lady Iris scowled at Lady Hyacinth. "Hmph. It hasn't kept you from eating Cook's scones. And as for your stomach being fragile, I say fustian. I never knew anyone who could pack away the food--"
Lady Hyacinth interrupted her, saying hotly, "If you knew anything at all about current fashions. Iris, you'd know the Regent himself prefers plump ladies."
Verity experienced a moment's worry that the sisters were working themselves up to another quarrel.
But Lady Iris refused to give her sister the satisfaction of reacting to her taunt and instead directed her attention to Verity. "If you do not contemplate marriage, then according to the intelligence your man of business imparted this morning, you will shortly be under the hatches."
Verity could not repress a shudder at the truth of these words. She sighed heavily. Although he did not stir any romantic feelings in her, there was one man she might marry.
If only her friend, Mr. Cecil Sedgewick, would propose, she mused. She could easily envision a life spent with that worthy gentleman.
They would devote their days to good works. Evenings would be spent quietly conversing by the fire. They would be content to grow old together, and Verity need never fear the life her mother had endured married to a despicable rake.
Absent from their lives for many years, her father had returned from a dalliance in France only to further betray his wife. This brought on a decline that eventually led to her death last year, allowing her wayward husband to return to the continent sans a care for his daughter.
Alas, Mr. Sedgewick had never mentioned marriage. No doubt, Verity decided, his mind was far above it. He devoted his time to expounding on moral purity hoping to impress the bishop, for he earnestly hoped the bishop would award him a position.
What Verity didn't realize was the deep hurt inside her caused by her father's careless treatment of his family had put a fear in her of all gentlemen. This fear took the form of a moralizing and prudish nature in a previously outgoing and cheerful child.
Picking up her reticule, Verity spoke in a low voice, "Yes, you are right, my lady. If you will excuse me, I must go home. I shall work in my rose garden and try to think of a way out of my difficulties."
Lady Iris had been watching the play of expressions across the young girl's face. She rose to place her veined hand on Verity's arm. "Stay a moment, gel. I have another idea."
Lady Hyacinth stood as well, and she and Verity looked at Lady Iris expectantly.
Lady Iris took a deep breath and began. "I've thought of a plan that will benefit us all. I have heard how difficult it is to lease a house for the Season, especially now when it's already March. And a house at a desirable address, which South Audley Street most certainly is, would fetch a prodigious sum. Verity, you must hire your townhouse out for the Season. You may come and live with Hyacinth and me."
Lady Iris saw the protest rising to Verity's lips, and she squeezed the girl's arm gently. "Wait, before you say a word. I know your rule about accepting charity, but pray, listen a moment."
Cleverly, Lady Iris appealed to Verity's righteous nature. "You will be helping us, as well as yourself, because we shall expect you to pay us a small amount for living here. And Miss Woolcott may return to the country as she has wished to do this age."
Verity's brows had drawn together in consternation at Lady Iris's scheme, but at the mention of a way she could not only help her two friends, but could please her old governess too, her countenance lightened. "It may answer."
Lady Hyacinth gasped aloud. "Oh, do say yes, dear Verity. While it is most pleasant having you reside next door, why, to be in the same house shall be the coziest thing imaginable. Besides, think of the money you will have even after you pay us part of the leasing income. And I assure you that any sum you give us will be most welcome. Iris can be somewhat of a spendthrift, leaving me in doubt sometimes whether I shall be able to pay for my patent medicines. That awful man at the apothecary has refused me any further credit--"
"Enough, Hyacinth!" Lady Iris commanded her sister. Glancing sidelong at Verity, she said, "Naturally, if you feel you could not bring yourself to reside, even just for the Season, with two cantankerous old women like Hyacinth and me, we'll understand."
Verity gave each lady a quick hug. "Don't be ridiculous. I would adore staying with you. You must know how much I rely on your kindness and friendship."
Both older ladies beamed.
"But where will we find a respectable family to lease the house?" Verity asked doubtfully.
"You leave that to me," Lady Iris said, leading her to the front door. "We may not find a family but perhaps a lady and her companion, or even, er, a gentleman."
Verity whirled around to state firmly, "I must make it a rule that whoever it is be of a virtuous mind."
"As you wish, Verity," Lady Iris said with unaccustomed meekness just before closing the door on her young friend.
"This is so exciting," Lady Hyacinth declared, rubbing her hands together. "I must go upstairs and decide on a bedchamber for Verity so the maids can begin airing it at once. You cannot know how devastating dust can be to one's respiratory system."
Lady Hyacinth trailed up the stairs in her bundle of shawls, leaving Lady Iris to return to the drawing room.
Out from under the settee a beautiful silver-gray cat emerged, blinking her slanted blue eyes at the increased light. Around the top of her head was a ring of pure white fur, giving the impression of a crown. She placed her front paws forward and indulged her fluffy, long-haired body in a good stretch.
"Well, Empress, she's agreed to my plan ... or what she knows of it," Lady Iris said, arranging herself on the settee.
The cat wound sinuously against the lady's skirts.
Reaching for a saucer and the cream, Lady Iris poured a tiny amount of the rich liquid for the purring cat and placed it on the floor.
"Now all that needs to be done is to convince Carrisworth to move out of his house and into Verity's. A small task, indeed," Lady Iris stated, sarcasm lacing her gruff voice.
Having devoured the cream, Empress began the dainty task of washing. Licking her paw thoroughly, she used it to clean around her whisker pad.
"After that," Lady Iris said with a yawn, "it will be simple enough to bring the two around to my way of thinking. Verity needs someone like my cousin's grandson. A man who'll keep her from being so serious. And Carrisworth ...."
Lady Iris leaned back to rest her bewigged head on the back of the settee and paused in her strategizing to consider his lordship. "Let us just say that many a rapscallion has been brought to mend his ways by the love of the right lady. Yes, the two will balance each other agreeably, Empress."
The cat paused in her ministrations to gaze at her mistress with an oddly thoughtful look.
"But how do I wrest Carrisworth from his home? 'Tis a puzzle," Lady Iris muttered before drifting off into a light sleep.
Empress took a last glance at the slumbering lady before she slipped through an open window and escaped into the Mayfair streets.
Later that night over in Mount Street, Peregrine Rolf, the seventh Marquess of Carrisworth, was entertaining guests. The occasion was his thirtieth birthday. His town-house overflowed with all manner of persons, whose greatest common interests appeared to be a love of strong drink and the pursuit of pleasure.
Damsels of the Fashionable Impure, fueled by free-flowing champagne, and scores of drunken young bucks evoked an atmosphere that would make a Cyprian's ball seem like a church meeting.
Although his neighbors were long used to his lordship's fondness for parties, even they had closed their windows and drawn their curtains against the raucous noise and indecent sights.
"By Jove, I would have wagered a monkey this was to be a quiet celebration, Perry," Sir Ramsey "Randy" Bertrand goaded his friend. "Perhaps a simple party of three."
Lord Carrisworth, rather the worse for copious glasses of champagne, lounged in a striped chair. He languidly raised his quizzing glass to study a passing female whose gown had fallen from her shoulders, leaving her charms blatantly displayed.
His lips spread in a devilish grin before he responded to Sir Ramsey. "Have you been visiting the print shops in Bond Street, Randy?"
"No need to. The caricatures of you and the twins are all over town. You cannot be surprised. Even you have to admit putting Monique and Dominique under your protection was bound to set tongues running on wheels."
Lord Carrisworth raised one dark eyebrow. "Being a gentleman, I admit nothing."
"A gentleman? That's rich." Sir Ramsey let out a shout of laughter.
The marquess joined him in his mirth. But what Perry was really not admitting, not even to Randy, was the exact nature of his relationship with the twins.
Monique and Dominique had taken the theater by storm one month earlier upon their arrival from France. Sixteen-year-old identical twins with golden blonde hair, cornflower blue eyes, and luscious figures, their innocence had immediately captured the interest of Lord Armstrong and Lord Davenport, aging lechers with large purses. The two lords had argued loudly at the clubs as to which gentleman would have which of the girls first.
Listening in disgust, Perry had not been able to bear the thought of the young girls being used by the smelly old rogues. In a show of altruism that shocked even himself, he had promptly made them both a very generous offer, which was quickly accepted, and established them in a house in Half Moon Street.
He then sat back to savor the resulting outrage amongst the ton. What he had not done was anything more than keep up the pretense that they were his mistresses by escorting the girls to the Park or the Opera. The reality was that he considered them no more than tiresome children.
Sir Ramsey tossed off another glass of champagne. "Where are the fair charmers this evening?"
Waving a manicured hand in a careless gesture, Carrisworth replied, "I have given my servants the night off, so I shall no doubt call upon the twins later to, er, help me out of this tight-fitting coat."
More masculine laughter followed this pronouncement.
Neither gentleman noticed when the silver-gray cat hurried past the entryway of the drawing room.
Empress eased her way into the deserted kitchens. No tantalizing smells were in the air. No cook was bustling about, ready to stop her work for a moment to hand the pretty kitty a treat.
The cat made her way over to where the scullery maid usually slept on a straw mat in the corner. The girl's absence left Empress without anyone to pull a string or an old ribbon across the floor in a much-loved game of chase.
Her whiskers turned down, Empress left the kitchen to stalk off into a deserted anteroom. A single branch of candles, placed on a table by the window, provided a soft glow of light. The cat crossed the room and hopped up onto the table. Placing one dainty foot in front of the other, she padded across the smooth wood surface.
Unfortunately for the marquess, the branch of candles was placed perilously close to the edge of the table near the draperies. A flick of the cat's tail sent the candles to the floor.
It took mere minutes for the flames to spread.
At the first cries of "Fire!" the Marquess of Carrisworth instantly sobered. His shouted instructions for everyone not to panic went unheeded as people scrambled for the stairs leading to the hall.
"Help me get everyone out, Randy! I'll look for anyone upstairs," Carrisworth called to his friend and barely waited to see if the man was capable of complying with the request.
He had to push his way through his panicked guests into the hall. On the landing he grabbed a young man and ordered, "Have the Watch notify the Sun Fire Company."
Hoping furiously his man of business had paid the premiums so the fire company would not let his house burn to the ground, he turned and raced up the stairs. Thick smoke blanketed the hallway and burned his lungs with each breath he drew. He searched for anyone still in the house.
He found three amorous couples secluded in bedchambers and alerted them to the peril. Shepherding them downstairs, he noted grimly that the drawing room he had vacated minutes before was engulfed in flames.
Out on the street a crowd had gathered. "Harkee, even the Quality has their troubles," a voice said in the darkness.
With relief he saw the men from the fire company had arrived and were working to control the blaze. Thankfully, everyone had escaped unharmed.
Lord Carrisworth worked alongside the firemen until at last the fire was out. While he had been struggling with the flames, he had not been able to assimilate the damage done. Now, he entered what was left of the hall and looked with a mixture of shock and horror at the charred black walls. The once magnificent mahogany table, whose polished surface had always held a bowl of fresh flowers, was reduced to a pile of ashes at his feet.
"Ain't safe in here, your worship," a man's voice warned. "You're Lord Carrisworth, ain't you?"
Staring at what was left of his family townhouse, the marquess nodded. "What of the upstairs?"
The fireman shook his soot-blackened face sadly. "I'm sorry, milord." He wiped his brow with a dirty handkerchief. "You've got yerself a pretty mess, but the house'll hold up. I'd figger on six months o' work, though, to put it back to rights. Can't tell you how many fires I've put out that got started by an overturned candle."
Carrisworth's gaze swung to the man's face. "An overturned candle?"
"That's what it was, milord. An accident, to be sure." Tugging at his forelock, he prepared to take his leave. "Well, you won't be needing us any more this night."
After the man left. Lord Carrisworth went outside to stand on the stone steps. The crowd had dissipated. He spotted one of his footmen walking with a halting step toward him.
"My lord! What 'appened?"
"As you can see, my townhouse has been heavily damaged by fire. When the other servants return, board everything up. Exercise caution, though, I do not want anyone injured. When the house is secure, everyone is to go to Duxbury House. I shall bring you back to Town after the repairs have been made."
The footman was young and unsure of himself in front of his master. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he asked, "My lord, when you say, er, everyone is to go to the country, do you mean even Mr. Wetherall?"
A long-suffering sigh escaped the marquess's lips. "Devil take it! No, I am sure I do not. Tell Wetherall I shall engage a room at Grillon's, and that he may meet me there. I daresay he will deliver me a rare trimming for this night's work."
The footman bowed his way back down the steps and hurried around to the rear of the house.
Carrisworth remained where he was. What a birthday celebration, he reflected wryly. For a moment, he closed his eyes and thought of the paintings of his father and mother and of his ancestors, which hung upstairs. What had become of them? Not that he cared a snap of his fingers for the portrait of his mother. But the others ... probably burned beyond repair, he decided with a twinge of self-disgust.
The Watch called out the hour---three o'clock. The night was clear and crisp. The stars shone down as if their brilliance was just for Mayfair.
Suddenly, a plaintive wail sounded from the direction of the marquess's feet. "Miaoooow."
His lordship opened his eyes, looked down, and swore roundly. Then, he recognized the cat. "Good God, Empress, is that you?"
"What are you doing wandering around outside at this hour?" He bent down and picked up the animal. Examining the paw Empress had been favoring, Carrisworth muttered, "Lady Iris will have my head if you have hurt yourself during this cursed fire."
At the marquess's touch, the cat gazed at him innocently with wide blue eyes and began purring.
Unmindful of the picture he presented, his lordship cradled Empress in his arms and started down the steps. Dispensing with the use of a coach, he walked in an easterly direction, turning left when he reached South Audley Street.
The cat shifted position in his arms, causing a shower of hairs to land on his lordship's coat. Lord Carrisworth spared a moment imagining Wetherall's reaction when the valet found cat hairs clinging to what was now his master's only coat.
But, there was nothing for it. Lady Iris's pet must be returned to her at once. The marquess knew his grandmother's dear cousin often spent wakeful nights, and he did not want her to discover Empress missing at this hour.
Lady Iris was indeed awake when the marquess arrived on her doorstep. Not wishing to disturb the butler, she answered the door herself. "Carrisworth! Empress! Here's a pretty kick-up!"
She swung open the heavy door, her gaze taking in the marquess's disheveled appearance. Soot stains marred his fine burgundy-colored coat, and his cravat appeared grayish. A streak of black ran across his jaw. Even in all his dirt, though, Lady Iris thought him wickedly handsome.
Transferring the cat to Lady Iris's outstretched arms, Carrisworth bowed low. "Lady Iris, I am afraid injury befell this unfortunate creature at my townhouse. Examine her left front paw, if you please."
Lady Iris grasped Empress's paw and gave it a cursory glance. "Seems fine. What the devil happened?"
"It pains me to say it but my townhouse nearly burned down this evening. An overturned candle, I am told. Luckily, no one was hurt. I was entertaining--it was my birthday, you see."
"An overturned candle," Lady Iris muttered weakly. She shot a disbelieving look at the cat in her arms.
Empress met her gaze for a guilty moment, then struggled out of her mistress's arms and scampered away in the direction of the kitchen.
"Surely, nothing so dramatic was necessary," Lady Iris shouted after her. Then she turned back to the marquess, who gazed at her quizzically.
The older lady pulled a woolen shawl tighter about her shoulders and said briskly, "You must stay the night with Hyacinth and me, Carrisworth. I'll call a maid to make up a room."
The marquess stayed her with a hand. "My lady, I would not put you to the trouble. Besides, I have left orders for my man to meet me at Grillon's."
"I forbid it," Lady Iris declared. "I'll send a footman with a message for your servant to join you here. You are family and will remain where you are. I've a perfectly good bed upstairs."
Lord Carrisworth's eyes twinkled merrily. "Lady Iris," he drawled with mock severity. "You shock me."
"Oh, cut line, you naughty boy," she reprimanded, pleased with his sense of humor. "Come along up to the drawing room. Bingwood will bring you a glass of port while your room is being prepared."
The marquess was too weary to make any further protests and allowed Lady Iris to shepherd him upstairs. It wasn't every day one lost a home and turned thirty in the bargain.
In addition, he'd remembered Grillon's was terrifyingly respectable. He shuddered at the thought of lodging there.
Yawning, he decided he was better off staying with a couple of kind, old eccentrics. What could possibly happen here?
The next morning dawned sunny, but cold. The Marquess of Carrisworth awoke at ten, his unshaven face pressed down on an unfamiliar lacy pillow. The events of the previous evening came rushing back, and he permitted himself a groan.
"Just so, my lord," Mr. Wetherall agreed in frosty accents. He stood by the door, his sparse, elderly frame rigid with censure.
Please, God, Carrisworth prayed, not a scold before breakfast. He unwound his naked body from the bed. Nightclothes were abhorrent to him.
Adopting a cheerful manner while the valet helped him into a dressing gown, he said, "I trust you were comfortable last night, Wetherall. I shall have a shave and go downstairs to thank our hostesses. Then we shall see about arranging someone to put the townhouse to rights."
Mr. Wetherall produced the shaving supplies, and after the marquess was seated, meticulously began his task. "May I inquire if we shall be sending for Weston before you venture out, my lord? I have brushed your only coat, ridding it of all the animal hair that somehow found its way onto the surface, but if you would permit me to say so, its condition is not in keeping with your lordship's customary elegance."
All this was said while the valet's left eye twitched convulsively. The marquess knew this signal of disapproval from long experience.
The Marquess of Carrisworth was not a man to tolerate insolence from his servants. In fact, he could be quite demanding. It was, therefore, ironic that the oldest family retainer, the one he could not dream of pensioning off, would be most prone to speaking his mind to his master.
The valet paused in his work, holding the razor at what the marquess thought was a menacing angle. "Also, if I may be so bold as to remind your lordship, all of my clothes were ruined in the fire as well."
Lord Carrisworth waved a hand impassively. "Naturally, you will have whatever you require. If you are finished, I should like to dress and go downstairs."
Mr. Wetherall lowered the razor, but his eye twitched violently. "My lord, perhaps a tray sent up to your bedchamber until a new coat has been procured--
"Oh, I am not so stiffly on my stiffs with the Ladies Iris and Hyacinth. Family, you know."
Thus, some minutes later, the marquess was in the dining room clad in the reprehensible coat and pantaloons from the evening before, helping himself to a generous portion of kidneys, ham, toast, and eggs.
Lady Iris was the only other person at the table. Lady Hyacinth never left her bed before noon.
Wise enough to wait until his lordship had put away a large portion of his breakfast. Lady Iris at last deemed it time to march forward with her plans. "How long do you guess it will be before you can inhabit your house, Carrisworth?" she asked in a deceptively casual tone.
The marquess took a sip of coffee before replying. "The man from the Sun Fire Company estimated several months."
"As bad as that, eh?"
"Yes. But you may be at your ease. I shan't impose on you that long, Lady Iris. I shall look for lodgings or maybe a house--"
A large crocodile smile creased Lady Iris's face, making the star-shaped patch she wore by her mouth rise halfway up her cheek. "Upon my honor! Nothing was ever more providential. The lady next door finds herself in straitened circumstances and wishes to let her house. It will be the very thing. I'll just fetch my shawl and we'll call on her immediately before she--that is, before the house gets away."
Lord Carrisworth had no opportunity to form a reply before Lady Iris abruptly picked up her cane and left the room. He helped himself to a rasher of bacon and wondered idly what maggot the lady had taken into her head.
Walking up the steps of the townhouse next door, his lordship felt decidedly sour on the idea of living in such close proximity to Lady Iris.
His previous meetings with his grandmother's cousin had been brief and infrequent. Now, he saw she showed an alarming tendency toward being a managing female.
He avoided the type assiduously. He could just imagine her reaction to his choice of friends--male and female--not to mention his parties. And, leasing a house directly from what he assumed would be another aged lady fallen on hard times, one who would make all sorts of stipulations to their agreement, was not a pleasant thought.
Some excuse for not taking the house would have to be found.
The butler who answered the door informed Lady Iris and the marquess that Miss Pymbroke was working in her garden and escorted them through a prettily furnished morning room. Opening the glass doors that led to a walled garden, he bowed and withdrew.
Lord Carrisworth saw a female dressed in a serviceable gray gown bending over to retrieve a basket brimming with freshly cut roses. A worn chip-straw bonnet hung down her back on a blue ribbon.
She stood up slowly, turned around, and faced her visitors.
The startled marquess drew in his breath sharply. "Manna from heaven," he murmured.
A single shaft of sunlight beamed down directly onto the lady's head, giving her a halo. Although her brown hair was ruthlessly scraped back into a severe knot, golden lights danced from its clean, shining surface. Her velvet brown eyes appeared huge in a delicate face notable for its perfect ivory complexion. A straight little nose and a beautifully shaped mouth, a mouth that his lordship thought positively begged for kisses, completed her angelic appearance.
Lord Carrisworth leaned against the doorframe, crossed one booted foot over the other, and smiled lazily. He would take the house ... and the lady.