Click on image to enlarge.
by Elizabeth Mansfield
Description: His Woman Of Affairs Jane Douglas had a sharp wit, a brilliant mind, and an extraordinary knack for numbers. As financial advisor to Lady Martha Kettering, she was able to provide for herself, her sister and her mother. Jane had resigned herself to a quiet life in the country, in service. Viscount Luke Kettering was a Corinthian: self-confident, elegant, with a talent for all the manly arts, and a penchant for taking risks. He was admired by his peers, yet his constant requests for funds to settle his gambling debts caused his mother deep concern. He eagerly accepted her challenge to give him control of his inheritance if he could prove to be financially responsible. All he had to do was act prudently for one month. He did not factor in one detail--that Lady Martha's financial advisor would be overseeing his accounting for the month--and that he was--a she!
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 2000
eBookwise Release Date: November 2011
9 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [330 KB]
Reading time: 202-284 min.
* * * *
No one who watched Lord Kettering smile and exchange pleasantries with his acquaintances as he descended the long stairway of Brooke's club would have guessed that he was churning with torment inside. Indeed, his close friend, Taffy Fitzgerald, who knew that the occurrence upstairs in the gaming room must have disturbed him, could detect no outward sign of perturbation. The fellow's amazing, he thought in admiration as he followed the Viscount Kettering down the stairs. Such control! Such sang-froid! It's extraordinary!
Theophilus "Taffy" Fitzgerald was not the only one looking admiringly at Lord Kettering. A good number of the younger set on their way up the stairs (fellows who thought it dashing to begin their gambling just when the older men were giving up) and several of the elderly gentlemen reclining on their easy chairs in the lounge down below gazed at him enviously. Lucian Hammond, Lord Kettering (Luke to his intimates), was an outstanding example of the group of young men known as Corinthians, and thus he attracted deferential glances not only from those who aspired to the group but to those who'd outlived it. To be called a Corinthian required a self-confident carriage, an elegance of dress, an insouciant manner, a talent for all the manly arts (like boxing, riding, fencing, and cards), and a penchant for taking risks. But the final gloss--the embellishment that all but a very few of that select set could consistently achieve--was a sportsmanlike disregard for the outcome of those risks. In all of these qualities, Lord Kettering was known to excel.
As he descended the exquisite staircase of the highest-stake gambling club of London in the wee hours of the morning, after having spent most of the night at one of the green-baize-covered gaming tables, he showed not a sign of weariness or disrepair. His dark hair was in the perfect state of calculated disarray; his face (kept from being too handsome by a square jaw and lean cheeks) glowed with the healthy ruddiness of a man who spent a good deal of time outdoors; the points of his collar were as stiffly starched as they'd been when he set out eight hours earlier; the tight-fitting breeches that covered his muscular legs were uncreased; and his boots still had the unblemished gleam they'd had when his valet's gloved hands had pulled them on. It's no wonder, Taffy thought, that everyone throws him those envious glances. Nature and breeding had given Luke every advantage. Taffy himself, even though Luke was his best friend in the world, was often envious. Two stone heavier and four inches shorter than his friend, he'd have given much to have Luke's tall frame and slim hips.
"I say, Kettering," someone shouted from the depths of an armchair near the fireplace of the front room, "is it true that Moncton bested you again?"
Luke, not slowing his progress toward the doorway, waved his arm in the direction of the query with a dismissive gesture. "It only means, Foster, that I'm lucky in love," he said with a laugh.
It was not until he'd stepped out of the club into the darkness of St. James Street that Luke's smile died away. He even permitted himself to rub the bridge of his nose before setting off down the street. Taffy recognized the gesture as a small but certain sign of distress. "Why did you do it, Luke?" he asked as he fell into step alongside him.
"Let Monk get away with cheating you." Luke threw his friend a quick glance "You saw him cheat?"
"Yes, I did. The great Sir Rodney Moncton palmed an ace. Why did you let him get away with it?"
Luke frowned. "I suspected it, but I wasn't certain. I didn't actually see it. I suppose you think I'm the worst damned cod's head that ever was."
"Yes, you are," Taffy said in solemn agreement. "You should've been on the lookout."
"Do you think I don't know that?" He shook his head in self-disgust. "Damnation, I can't explain why I let him get away with it."
"Do you think your reluctance has something to do with Dolly Naismith?"
Luke stopped short. "Of course not. What has she to do with it?"
"I've often thought you feel guilty about her."
"What on earth do you mean? Guilty of what?"
"You stole her affections when she was under his protection, didn't you? You know she's the reason Moncton hates you so."
"I didn't steal her. She came to me of her own volition. So why should I feel guilty?"
Taffy shrugged. "I'm only theorizing. You've bested him on horseback, you've bested him in fencing, and you've bested him in amour. In short, in everything but cards. Perhaps you couldn't bring yourself to destroy this last prop to his self-esteem."
Luke studied his friend with a look of amused respect. "Bless me, Taffy, but you sound positively professorish. I've never before heard you 'theorize' on people's hidden motives. You have depths I never expected. I'm impressed."
Taffy colored with pleasure. "Ain't so deep," he said deprecatingly. "It was obvious you had to have a reason for letting yourself fall into debt to the fellow when you suspected he was cheating."
At the word debt, all amusement faded from Luke's eyes. "I must have turned jingle-witted. Betting two hundred pounds when I was already down a monkey."
"Good God!" Taffy stopped in his tracks. "Do you mean to say you owe the fellow seven hundred?"
The actual sound of the total debt made Luke wince. "And how I'm to pay the damned makebait I just don't know," he muttered glumly.
"I could lend you sixty," Taffy offered. "And Ferdie Shelford can probably raise the rest...."
"More than six hundred? I doubt it. Thank you for the offer, Taffy, but it doesn't really help. I'd have to pay both of you sooner or later."
"That's true. I can only spare it till the end of the month. I know you don't like to do it, Luke, but I'm afraid you'll have to ask your mother again."
"I know. Dash it, the very thought twists my innards into knots."
"I don't see why, old fellow. It's your own money, after all."
"It doesn't feel like mine when I have to ask permission like some deuced schoolboy begging for a raise in his allowance."
"Your father must have been a dastard to have left your inheritance so tightly tied up," Taffy muttered.
"No, he wasn't," Luke admitted honestly. "He believed I had so much to learn about managing money that it would take until I was thirty-five to be fit for the responsibility. And if he could have seen the idiotic way I behaved tonight, he would have felt himself completely justified."
Taffy nodded wisely. "Fathers always believe their sons can't manage money."
"But it seems he was right in my case." Luke kicked at a pebble, overwhelmed with self-loathing. "If I could let myself be manipulated by Monk so easily, perhaps I deserve to be treated like a schoolboy."
"Perhaps you ought to give up cards."
"No, not yet I've bested Monk on horseback, with the foils, and on the cricket field, but when it comes to cards, he makes a Tom Doodle of me."
"Only because you let him cheat," Taffy pointed out.
"Tonight, perhaps. But I have no reason to believe he ever did it before." He sighed deeply. "Once, just once, I'd like to..." But he didn't finish the sentence.
The two men walked on in silence. When they reached Taffy's digs, they shook hands. "Are you sure you don't want to borrow my sixty?" Taffy asked.
"Yes, I'm sure. But thanks for the offer, old fellow. As much as it pains me to do it, I shall have to write to Mama." He turned to depart for his own house. "I only hope she doesn't ask me why I need it," he tossed over his shoulder as he walked away. "If I have to tell her, she will think her son a complete ass. And so I am."
"Yes, there's no denying it," his good friend called after him. "That's just what you are. A complete ass."