Leam Blackwood, Scottish earl, is at this moment standing alone in a shadowed alcove near Lady B’s door engaged in an activity guaranteed to make even the most seasoned society matron blush were she to glimpse him going at it.
Like many other men, Leam engages in this activity daily. He does it anywhere he wishes as long as he has a wee bit of privacy. He prefers his own bedchamber, but he sometimes does it out of doors. The wild, untamed outdoors is preferable for most activities to a man with hot Scottish blood thrumming in his veins, but especially this act.
Lady B’s ballroom is definitely not the place for it. She likes to shock her guests now and again, but even she wouldn’t countenance this here.
<squawk!> Scandalous Scot! <squawk!>
I turn a curious eye on the bird.
Scandalous, Albert? Whatever would give you–?
Then I look at where Albert is looking. He’s looking at you, ballroom guests!
OOOOkaaaay then. I can see where some of your imaginations have gone.
All I can say is tsk-tsk.
But only for the moment, of course. After Leam is finished, please feel free to plunge your fertile imaginations into whatever fantasy of a tall, handsome Scottish lord doing something private that you like most. (I’ll plunge right along with you.) In the meantime I will go ahead and tell you the real reason Leam can’t enter Lady B’s pristine ballroom just yet: he is picking dog hairs off his coat. He is also waiting for his knuckles to stop aching.
You see, like many heroes embarking upon Lady B’s ballroom, Lord Blackwood has just come from fortifying his spirits with a glass of whisky and the fine company of his three best friends: two beasts — thus the dog hairs — and one man — thus the sore knuckles.
Allow me to explain. Irish wolfhounds, of course, are longhaired. As for Leam’s best gentleman friend, Mr. Wyn Yale, hitting another man in the jaw actually hurts a man’s hand (whatever the movies make it look like). I’m dying to know why Leam hit Wyn this time, though I’m sure he had ample cause. In any case…
Aha, look, Albert. There are the earl’s canine boon companions now. (His human boon companion, having decided that a slab of raw meat draped across his jaw might be a good idea, has declined to attend today’s ball.)
Leam’s dogs, Bella and Hermes, are not in the ballroom, of course! Dogs that big, Lady B would have a fit. Through the French windows I glimpse them on the terrace. They must have entered through the rear gate.
<squawk!> Wolves amongst the statuary! <squawk!>
You know Lord B has a soft spot for dogs, Albert. He probably let them into the garden while Leam attends the ball.
I press the door open and step out into the crisp winter air. The scrabbling scratch of parrot talons across fine slate follow me. But, oh no, Bella and Hermes have seen Albert.
They launch themselves at him. Holy lobster patty glut! The bird is about to be lunch!
“Bella! Hermes!” I shout. “Halt!”
They come to a quivering standstill four feet from the parrot.
I catch my breath.
Wow. Will you look at that, Albert? Leam has trained them so well. But that’s just like him. A firm hand and fair reward is the best way to handle spirited creatures, he’d probably say. And you know he is really remarkably disciplined himself, too.
<squawk!> Except with the lady. <squawk!>
Isn’t that the truth? With Kitty Savege, Leam has no control whatsoever. (Just the way we like it around here!)
I move to the dogs and let Hermes, the bigger hound, take a whiff of my palm before I stroke him behind the ears. His fur is incredibly soft and he leans into it. Bella looks on unmoved. She’s not interested in anybody else’s caresses. She’s devoted to Leam.
I pause as it occurs to me that…
Albert, what are Leam’s dogs doing here? Why didn’t he leave them at home?
It was a rhetorical question, but the feathers on Albert’s neck fluff like they do when he’s thinking hard. He opens his beak—
A whistle splits the air. Bella’s head snaps up. She bolts off the terrace toward the gate. Hermes bounds after and they disappear down the alley. This can only mean one thing.
Oh gosh, Albert. I think Leam means to take them into Lady B’s ballroom.
<squawk!> Ruh roh.
I pause to consider.
You know, I suppose a man likes to have his friends around him at a time like this. He’s about to see Kitty for the first time in a week. A long, miserable week in which he’s thought of nothing but her and drank a whole heck of a lot of whisky.
<squawk!> Poor sot!
Did you say sot or Scot? Whatever. Come on, pretty bird. Let’s go see what happens.
I open the terrace door and we step inside. Candlelight glimmers off the gowns and jewels of three hundred of the most glittering members of the beau monde. The orchestra strikes up a waltz. Across the chamber I catch sight of Lady B’s first footman turning to introduce the guest now entering.
To my right a lady takes in a short, sharp breath. It’s Kitty. She didn’t expect to see Leam tonight. She didn’t expect to ever see him again…
(to be continued…)
Whisky and dog hairs… A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do! But what about you, lovely guests? What do you do to prepare before going to an important event?
Two special notes today: In honor of Bella and Hermes and all the non-human companions we cherish, I invite any bloggers visiting the ballroom today to drop in at http://smalltownrescue.wordpress.com to learn how you can help raise awareness about pet rescue. And here’s the url for the site on which I found the adorable Wolfhound photo above: http://www.iwfgiftshop.com . Sales from this site go to The Irish Wolfhound Foundation.