I haven’t got time for a ball tonight.
You see, they require a lot of work. Hairstyles and makeup and dresses that tend to be a magnet for food, red wine, and Albert droppings. I’ve got Christmas decorations to take down at home, thank you notes to write, and a book due in February. Honestly…I’m not sure how the haute ton made time for balls and Parliament during the Season. Though, I assume the combination has something to do with the fact that men can pretty much wear the same outfit to every major black-tie event of their lives, and women have to spend a fortune of time and money on new dresses for the same.
A-hem. But I digress.
Tonight, I’m headed for the card room. There’s one at every proper ball, and if the rumors are correct, while Lady B is playing her part as one of the doyennest of doyennes of the Beau Monde, Lord B is a man who not only enjoys a good round of ecarte, but also enjoys winning a good round of ecarte. Interestingly, we’ve never met the Lord in question…which leads me to believe that he likes his cards rather more than most.
I’ve made it through the ballroom, thanks to the excellent distraction capabilities of my fellow authoresses (Gaelen brought a legion of heroes with her, thankfully), and I’m just through the door on the far side where I’ve seen any number of aristocrats head once they’ve deposited their wives or sisters or wards or whomever in the ballroom and danced their required quadrilles, and I can smell cheroot smoke and scotch — a guaranteed sign that I’m in the right place for action.
“Beaufetheringstone,” one loud voice booms from beyond an open door. “Damned if I don’t love your lady’s fetes. You’ve the hottest tables in London.”
“You could give those bastards at The Angel a run for their money,” a second voice chimes in and I freeze, pressing myself against the wall. They’re talking about my Angel. My bastards.
A heavy chuckle sounds from inside. “You only like my home because because you have a chance of winning here, Densmore.” Lord B! He speaks! I resist the urge to poke my head around the door jamb and have a look at the elusive master of the house. ”Everyone knows that you haven’t an ounce of luck inside The Angel.”
“That’s because the tables are fixed there,” Densmore pouts.
“Watch it. If Bourne hears you suggested such a thing, he’ll toss you and your membership out on your arse.”
“I don’t care.”
“Of course you do. The place is run by the coldest, hardest bastards in England…but every one of us wants in.” There is a general murmur of agreement from the gentlemen in the room.
“Speaking of Bourne,” A new voice pipes in and I’m eager to hear what he has to say about my new, elusive hero who is every bit as cold, hard, and dastardly as these men think. “Did you hear what’s happened with Needham? Turns out he’s attached Falconwell to Penelope Marbury’s dowry.”
“The girl tossed over by Leighton?”
“That’s the one.”
“Bourne won’t like that.”
Ha. That’s the understatement of 1831.
“Miss MacLean!” Lady B’s words are sharp and high pitched and very close. They surprise the heck out of me. “Have you lost your way?”
I turn to her, head shaking. “No, my lady, I was simply…” I trail off. There’s really no decent explanation for why I am here.
“Have you lost your way?” She repeats firmly. “I can only imagine you have, as there is no reason whatsoever for a young woman of good breeding to be here…so close to a gentlemen’s card room. And you are a young woman of good breeding, are you not?”
I hesitate, briefly wondering if she’ll leave me alone if I deny the accusation.
“Are you not?”
Damn. “Yes, my lady.”
“Then you have, indeed, lost your way.”
“I was curious about Lord B,” I defend myself. “We haven’t met him and…”
She sniffs and–if possible–straightens further. “You shan’t tonight, either.” She points down the hallway, to the glittering ballroom beyond, where I see Katharine chatting up a tall Scotsman. “There is a quadrille beginning. And I have just the partner for you.”
I let her push me down the hall, away from the most interesting room in the house.
Why do you think Lady B is keeping Lord B such a secret? We know he loves her desperately, and that he’s got great legs…what’s the deal?