Cut from the same cloth.., p.1
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       Cut from the Same Cloth: A Humorous Traditional Regency Romance, p.1

           Kathleen Baldwin
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Cut from the Same Cloth: A Humorous Traditional Regency Romance


  Cut from the Same Cloth

  Book 3 My Notorious Aunt

  by

  Kathleen Baldwin

  Table of Contents

  Copyright

  Praise for Cut from the Same Cloth

  “…believable characters with realistic traits, humor, and a bit of danger to create a wondrous painting that will linger in your mind's eye long after you finish the story. Terrific!”

  – Huntress Reviews, 5 stars

  “I love these “Aunt Honore” books … wonderful characters.”

  – CleanRomanceReviews.com

  “…a humorous and enchanting tale with intrigue and danger”

  – Romantic Times, 4 Stars

  “…a charming book, with the lightness and freshness of a sunny day in the park.”

  – Rakehell Reviews

  Chapter 1

  Weaving Dark and Light

  VALEN, LORD ST. EVERT, stood at the foot of his father’s bed, clutching one of the massive posts. The candle on the bed table illuminated only one side of his father’s face as he lay on his pillow, eyes closed, his skin pale as unbaked bread.

  His aunt’s gown rustled as she rose from a chair and came to stand beside him. “He’s not well today, I’m afraid.”

  “Well enough.” His father blinked against the candlelight and squinted up at Valen. “So, my errant son finally paid a visit, eh? That is you, isn’t it?”

  “Yes.” Valen shifted uncomfortably.

  “Come here, boy. I want another look at you before I leave this veil of tears.”

  Valen moved hesitantly into the orb of flickering candlelight.

  “Not up there. It’s like peering up at Goliath.” He coughed. “Sit down here, where I can see your face.”

  Valen hesitantly complied.

  His father nodded almost imperceptibly, smiled, as if satisfied in some deep part of his soul, and sighed. “You’ve the look of her. Fiery hair. Golden one minute. Red as embers the next.” He rested for a moment and then pursed his dry lips as he tugged at the coarse linen of Valen’s shirt. “But what’s this? Wandering about the country in your undress again?” Even in his sick bed, Valen’s punctilious parent wore a blue silk coat with a lace shirt underneath.

  Valen glanced down at the cambric shirt with untied laces at the throat and flicked one of the dangling strings. “I’ve been riding. And hardly naked, my lord.”

  “Ha.” His father snorted and settled back to study Valen through narrowed eyes. A moment later, he closed them but resumed speaking as if the combined labor was too much. “I’ve somewhat to say to you. Ought to have said it long ago. Didn’t. Then, you went haring off to that confounded war.” His eyes flew open. “I thought I’d lost you.”

  “Hardly. It would take a great deal more than Napoleon to do me in.”

  “Reckless,” he snapped. “A foolish risk.”

  Valen didn’t answer. This wasn’t the time for old petty arguments.

  “Title. Land. All lost if you had died.”

  “You’ve other heirs.”

  “Brothers, nephews.” He balled a feeble fist and struck the bed beside Valen’s leg. “The land is ours, boy. I see through this care-for-naught gambit of yours. Doesn’t fool me a bit. I know you love every gully, every stalk of grain...” He gestured weakly at the drawn curtains. “Every flea-bitten sheep out there.”

  There was nothing to say. It was the plain truth.

  His father nodded and relaxed. “I’m glad you’re back. It fares better in your hands than ever it did in mine.”

  “You’re still lord of Ransley Keep.”

  His father closed his eyes and made a soundless chuckle, as if Valen had jested. The effort made him cough—a violent spasm racked his frail body so hard that Valen leapt up to help raise him from the pillow. The old fellow held a white silk handkerchief over his mouth. Impossible to miss the blood staining it after the coughing spell subsided. His father, fighting to regain his composure, fastidiously straightened the sleeves of his bed jacket.

  Valen judged the interview had gone on too long. “You summoned me. I pray you, do not leave me quaking with curiosity any longer. I am your servant, my lord.” He inclined his head.

  “Very prettily said. One might almost think you were not mocking me.”

  For a tenuous moment, they sat in silence, gauging one another. His father inhaled deeply. “I’m about to stick my spoon in the wall. You—” He jabbed a finger in the air at Valen. “—will be alone. This time, I’m leaving. No one will be left for you to bedevil. If you run off on some foolhardy escapade, you won’t be punishing anyone but yourself.”

  Valen didn’t like the direction the conversation appeared to be taking. “Now there’s a quandary. Perhaps, I shall be forced to take up bedeviling Aunt Honore.”

  Honore thumped him on the shoulder. “Oh, do be serious.”

  “I am always serious.”

  “Ha. Hardly.” She arched her brow. “Impetuous, I would say, and obstinate. Rather like your grandfather.” His aunt knew how to fly straight down a man’s throat and claw out his liver.

  Valen flexed his jaw before composing his answer. “If I knew precisely which pint of blood I owed to that pompous old goat, I would gladly open a vein and drain it out.”

  “He was not an old goat.” She glared at Valen. “You never knew him.”

  “I never wished to.”

  “Stop!” His father wheezed.

  Valen and Honore abandoned their quarrel.

  Lord Ransley propped himself up on one shaky elbow, wagging his finger at his son. “That’s the point. It’s over. I suffered more than you will ever know for not standing up to him. And your mother...” He collapsed back against the pillow and closed his eyes.

  Valen studied his father’s hand as it lay flaccid against the bed sheets, bulging veins pulsing erratically under the translucent skin. He looked away, squinting up at the dark corners of the ceiling where death hovered.

  Lord Ransley took a deep breath and threaded up more words. “Hear me out. I’ve only one request.” He paused, his chest rising and falling as if he had just run up three flights of stairs. Despite his struggle, he gazed steadily at Valen. “Find a wife. One you can love. Have children. Not just to carry on the wretched title, but to occupy that unruly cavernous heart of yours.”

  Valen struggled to remain calm. “That, my lord, is more than one request. Indeed, it sounds as if it is a lifetime of requests.”

  “Nevertheless—”

  “Very well then, if you insist. I’ll take the milkmaid, shall I? Oh, but no, we know how that old story goes, don’t we? Rather sadly. What then? The London season? All the finest little peahens ready to strut past and lay down the goods for money and a title?” He stood and raked his fingers through his hair, scraping the wild mess back from his forehead. “I don’t know how you can possibly expect—”

  “Nevertheless, I do expect it.” His father waved his hand, dismissing any arguments. “It is my dying wish.”

  Valen tempered his voice. “You’re tired. We will discuss it tomorrow.” He turned to go, but Lord Ransley grabbed his arm with surprising strength.

  “There may be no tomorrow.” He wheezed. “If God permits me into heaven, I shall hold your mother’s hand, and we’ll look down on you with joy. Try to understand. You’re the best part of our lives. Find a wife, son. Make a child who can fill your heart with hope.” He glanced up at Valen, let go, and fell back against his pillows. “And dread.”

  In the silence Valen’s heart turned into a runaway cannon ball, crashing into his lungs, th
udding down on his stomach. “Damn,” he whispered, flexing his jaw. Too much. It was all too much. He’d come home. That should be enough.

  He backed toward the door. “If this great peal you are ringing over my head is any indication of your health, I don’t expect to hang crepe this age. You should be resting instead of sermonizing me. I bid you goodnight, Father. I’ll come to you in the morning to see if you have any more grand requests to make before I ride out.”

  He strode out of the room feeling like a great awkward giant. In the hallway, he thumped his forehead against the wall. His fists tightened into useless hammers. Every muscle in his body tried to pull itself inward. What good is it to have a man’s body, a man’s mind? And yet, crumple like a child. He cursed again.

  Through the open door he overheard Aunt Honore’s voice. “Drink this.”

  “Did you hear him?” His father’s breathy excitement whistled through his congested throat. “Did you?”

  “I’m not deaf. I heard a great deal.”

  “He forgot himself. Called me—” He chuckled softly, falling into another coughing spasm. “Father.”

  Valen frowned. So, he had. And it had not been nearly as painful as he had anticipated.

  One month later, Valen stood at the bottom of Lady Alameda’s, his Aunt Honore’s, marble staircase in Mayfair, waiting for her to descend. He relished her expression when, at last, she joined him in the entry hall.

  The nearer she came, the wider her eyes opened. “Surely, you jest?”

  Valen adjusted the lace at his sleeve. “I never jest.”

  “Then check the mirror. You look a right buffoon.” Honore planted her hands on her hips. “A rather large buffoon, at that.”

  “Really?” He glanced down in mock confusion at his trousers. “I was quite pleased with the effect.”

  “Rubbish! I’ve never seen an ensemble more at odds with itself and its wearer. Ghastly. I vow, I never even noticed you had freckles before seeing you in this awful shade of—” She tweaked the sleeve of his coat. “What is it? Dull gold or dung green? And these lapels, Valen. They’re large enough a goose might use them to flap around with. It’s an atrocity. Where is that valet of yours? He ought to be drawn and quartered. I’ll sack him straightway.”

  “Don’t have a valet.”

  “You do. I distinctly remember hiring one.”

  “Had to send the poor fellow packing. Kept crying like a babe every time I disagreed with his choice of coat. Or for that matter, the choosing of any garment. Stumbled across a fellow from my regiment the other day. Hired him as batman. He’ll be along tomorrow.”

  “A soldier! Now see here, Valen. This is London, not some muddy battlefield. You need someone who—” She stopped and narrowed her eyes at him. “Oh, I see. Having a bit of fun, are we? Poking your finger in society’s eye? Throwing down a challenge for Brummel and his ilk, eh? Silly me. Here I thought you were in London to find a wife.”

  “So I am.” His voice held a sharper edge to it than he had intended.

  She tilted her head. “Precisely what sort of gel did you intend to attract? A lisping little dodo bird?”

  “Perhaps someone who is not blinded by ridiculous fashions.”

  She sneered. “More likely, a young lady who is blind altogether?”

  “You have your stratagems, Aunt. I have mine. Shall we arrive even later at Lady Sefton’s? Or would you care to be on our way?” He held out his arm.

  Honore crossed hers stubbornly and refused to budge. “What? With you looking like such an outlandish fribble? I’m not at all certain I wish to introduce you.” She tilted her nose upward. “Goes against my sensibilities.”

  Valen gauged her mood and launched his counter maneuver. “Ah, but your sensibilities will stand aside, I think, for your brother’s sake.”

  “Not fair.” She pressed her lips together and frowned at him, staring hard, as if his plans were etched on his forehead and she might decipher them if she concentrated. At last, she sniffed and looked away. “He’d cock up his toes straightway, if he saw you rigged out in those gadfly togs.”

  He’d won. Valen tried hard not to smile. “No doubt. But, a gadfly? Hardly. Perhaps, you mean a popinjay.”

  “Precisely!” She waggled her hand at his trousers, as if she might wave them away.

  He took her hand in his, calmly laid it over his arm, and patted it.

  “This is lunacy.” She fumed, but didn’t pull away. “Madness.”

  He smiled fondly at her. “A family trait, or so I’ve been told.”

  She exhaled loudly and trudged beside him to the carriage and on to Lady Sefton’s garden breakfast.

  Lady Elizabeth Hampton held court in a lush garden, reveling in the attention the ladies were giving her. And the gentlemen, well, what could be more gratifying? Each one was like a piece of fruit set out for her inspection. This one was too fuzzy. This one not plump enough in the pocket. This one too old. She fanned herself gracefully and smiled. Everything was going exactly as she had planned.

  Then, fate took an evil turn. A horrifying creature walked under Lady Sefton’s rose-covered transom, and Elizabeth nearly choked on her own saliva. Her fan fell from her fingers. As her courtiers scrambled to pick it up, she jumped to her feet to make certain she was seeing the interloper correctly.

  For the briefest moment, she forgot herself and frowned. The voice of her former governess tapped Elizabeth’s shoulder. Frowns beget wrinkles. Ladies must refrain from such destructive expressions.

  “Egad,” she muttered, losing control of herself entirely after obtaining a full view of the problem.

  Handsome Lord Looks-Like-A-Cherub handed her the fan. She took it and attempted to say thank you, but egad was the only utterance stumbling from her lips.

  Her fingers closed around the exquisitely patterned silk of her overdress, and with her other hand she rapped the wretched fan against her thigh. “Impossible,” she whispered.

  An attentive young man with hearing too keen inquired as to what might be impossible? Elizabeth remembered herself, smiled genially at her swains, and bid them excuse her. Their downcast countenances bolstered her spirits somewhat. They inquired what they might do for her. How might they ease her alarm? Elizabeth reconsidered her predicament. With four gentlemen circling around her, at least for the moment, she needn’t flee Lady Sefton’s gathering. Although she was taller than two of the gentlemen, she might hide quite admirably in their midst.

  But, drat it all, she came here to be seen, not to be cloistered away in a remote corner of the garden. No, it would not do. She must think of a strategy. Where was her brother when she needed him?

  Lord Looks-Like-A-Cherub guided Elizabeth back to the bench under the walnut tree, expressing concern over her sudden pallor. Lord Pointy-Nose-But-Has-Thirty-Thousand-A-Year began reciting a poem to cheer her up. Sir Blah leaned against the tree and flicked at the windswept wings of his hair, warning Pointy-Nose not to make a cake of himself. Elizabeth lowered her fan to her lap and smiled up at them, trying to look maidenly and helpless while planning how to murder the monstrous oaf who had ruined today’s hard won entrée.

  “You’re very kind.” She beamed at them. “What a lovely poem.” She fanned herself and lowered her lashes in Lord Pointy-Nose’s direction. “I daresay you have completely restored my serenity.” She let her fan flutter to her breast. “How clever you are to have committed to memory the entire sonnet.” He reddened at her praise, and she felt certain he would call tomorrow morning. “I especially enjoyed the part about the birds singing so sweetly.” Surely, in so syrupy a poem, the fellow had recited something about birds.

  Given this modest encouragement, he rehearsed again the stanza about trilling larks and morning dew. Sir Blah rolled his eyes heavenward. Thank goodness, her brother charged into the circle and interrupted the tedium.

  He greeted the other gentlemen. “You won’t mind if I take my sister away for a moment, will you?” At their protest, he reassured them. “I promis
e to bring her back.” He teased them for ignoring all the other young ladies, who must surely be pining for their attention. Before long, he had the lot of them laughing and giving her up without a second thought.

  Nobody could refuse Robert. He was as genuine and warm as she was calculating and hard, twins and yet opposites. What she wouldn’t give to have his effortless congeniality, his naive confidence. While she must laboriously study every social tactic and female ploy available, Robert merely grinned and jibed his way into everyone’s heart.

  The wretch.

  Robert pulled her to her feet and tucked her hand under his arm. When they were out of earshot, he leaned close. “There’s someone you must meet. Absolutely first-rate fellow. Tip-top.”

  “That tells me nothing, Robbie. How many pounds a year?”

  “No. It’s not like that.” Robert halted and turned to her. “He’s my friend. That’s the point, isn’t it? I want you to meet him, not bag him and drag him home to bail us out.”

  “Oh, I see.” Elizabeth glared at Robert as he continued down the path, tugging her along behind him. “Begging your pardon, but I thought we had a plan. A rather important one.”

  “You have a plan. I’m simply your dubious pawn, my dear. St. Evert has nothing to do with all that. Best of men.” They rounded a perfectly sculptured hedge. “Met him on the continent. I’d trust him with my life. Ah, here he is.”

  She came face-to-face with the monstrous oaf and forgot to breathe.

  Chapter 2

  I’d Rather Be Dyed

  ELIZABETH HAD SEARCHED all over Piccadilly for this red silk. The shopkeeper called the color smashed strawberry. A perfect red, embroidered with white lotus blossoms delicately outlined in black, with dark green stems, and leaves curled artfully in the background. Only one obscure length of the unique silk in all of London, and she had found it.

  Immediately, she had visualized the possibilities. And she’d been right. The red silk, against a stark white bodice and underskirt, was captivating. She’d used just the right lines, in a devilishly clever composition, forcing the eye to travel exactly where Elizabeth wanted it to go.

 
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