The regency romances, p.96
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       The Regency Romances, p.96

           Laura Kinsale
 

  “Do you want me to keep him here or post him to Gravesend? Or perhaps I should just wrap him up and mail him directly to Newgate.”

  Geoffrey gave her a look of banked fire. “It’s no joke, Roddy. No joking matter at all.”

  “No!” she burst out. “And who dragged us into it?”

  He flushed. “I never meant for you to be involved,” he said in a low voice.

  “Nor poor Mary either,” she added bitterly. “I suppose you think you have her safe and innocent, and never think what would happen to her if you should be—” She bit her lip. “Well, never mind that.”

  “Roddy—”

  “Never mind!” She was tired of talking. Even before he spoke, she felt the headache coming on that always did when Geoffrey tried to explain his political ideals. He was already marshaling reasons and imperatives to convince her of his rightness. She stood up, closing the conversation by dragging at the bellpull. “You should go now, if you wish to avoid Lady Iveragh. She’ll be down for luncheon any moment.”

  He stood frowning at her, robbed of his explanations as she walked vigorously forward, spreading her hands to shoo him as if he had been a stray chicken. He went, secretly a little intimidated by this new and commanding side of his young friend. Roddy stood in the hall and watched him leave, his figure just as tall and dashing and romantic as it had always been, and wondered how she had ever imagined she could live with Geoffrey for the rest of her life.

  Guns.

  They hanged people for less than guns.

  She took a deep breath and turned to Minshall. “Come into the withdrawing room. I need to speak to you.”

  The majordomo followed Roddy without hesitation. Minshall, along with Martha, had become one of Roddy’s conquests. They were people she liked, even beneath their surface: good, honest, uncomplicated folk. She’d had a whole stableful of such admirers at home in Yorkshire. She knew exactly how to charm them, and didn’t mind using her knowledge, since she wanted very much for them to like her, too.

  She turned as he closed the door. “Lord Cashel has brought me news of some urgency. Do you know where I can find Fae—” She stopped, catching in time Minshall’s opinion of informal address before the staff, and finished, “my Lord Iveragh?”

  She had expected to cause some discomfort with the question, since she was fairly certain that if Faelan hadn’t elected to tell his wife exactly where he was going—except into Hampshire and Dorset—then he probably hadn’t given the majordomo a detailed itinerary, either. But the amount of discomfort that welled up in Minshall’s kindly mind was far more than she’d anticipated.

  The manservant didn’t think Faelan had gone into Hampshire at all. Minshall’s thoughts went instantly to Faelan’s departure. North, he thought. No valet and no baggage and heading north.

  Roddy might have discounted that oddity as merely the direction of some errand Faelan intended to perform before he left London, but Minshall knew better.

  The dowager countess had told him that Faelan kept a house in Islington.

  The particular purpose of this house brought a faint blush to Roddy’s cheeks. Mrs. Northfield figured prominently in the majordomo’s thoughts, and he was most anxious to protect Roddy from any hint of his suspicions. He said in answer to her inquiry, “I believe I can locate him, my lady. What message shall I transmit to His Lordship?”

  Roddy hesitated. Faelan might have met his mistress at this mysterious house in the past, but Roddy was certain he hadn’t gone there for that purpose now. Liza Northfield, Roddy was sure, had been honorably retired.

  Perhaps he had gone to Islington to meet a business associate, or to collect important papers. Her father was always dealing with papers of one sort or another. Men, Roddy knew, took a great delight in creating documents and carrying them around and about to be signed and discussed and amended. Faelan’s lack of baggage was a bit more inexplicable, until Roddy had the happy thought that perhaps he intended to pack up whatever clothing he had kept at this house and remove it for good.

  “I’m afraid I must speak to him myself,” she told Minshall.

  “Then I shall send to him to return immediately.”

  “No.” Roddy looked Minshall straight in the eyes. “Just tell me where you think he is.”

  Pelham Cottage, came her answer, as clear as words. Aloud, he said, “I’m really not certain exactly where Lord Iveragh might be, my lady. I can only send a boy to inquire in the direction I believe His Lordship has gone.”

  “Oh.” Roddy forced herself to sound disappointed. “That seems unlikely to answer. Perhaps it would be better simply to wait until he returns.”

  “If it’s a matter of urgency—”

  “Oh, ’tisn’t that important,” she said, and then added in a confiding voice, “I’ve a notion Lord Cashel exaggerates a bit sometimes. I’ve known him all my life, and I have an idea this is just one of his little teases. We’ll wait until His Lordship returns.” She strolled to the window and made a great show of looking outside. “It’s another lovely day, is it not?” She gazed a moment, and then turned back to the majordomo with an air of sudden decision. “Have the phaeton brought round, Minshall. I’m going for a drive.”

  Three hours later, with Martha for a guide, Roddy was on the turnpike to Islington. She had no expectation of finding Faelan at Pelham Cottage. After all, his purpose had been to look at cattle in Hampshire and Dorset, and he had promised her he would return within four days. He would hardly have loitered about Islington with such a demanding schedule as that before him.

  What she did hope was that he might have left word of his next destination at the cottage. Trotting up the pretty tree-shaded street that bordered the banks of New River, she slowed the phaeton in front of an inn and came to a stop.

  Martha—who considered being chosen above Jane to accompany the young mistress on this expedition an honor akin to a seat in Parliament—jumped down cheerfully to obey Roddy’s request for directions. A few minutes later, replete with lemonade and instructions, Roddy sent the horses again to a trot. The phaeton rolled on through Islington village. Just past Hybury Place, a lane branched right, as the potboy had predicted, and at the end of it a neat stone house sat amid trees laden with unplucked October apples.

  As if their arrival had been awaited, a groom ran out to take the horses. She felt his shock of surprise as he glanced up at Roddy. ’Nother lady? His brow wrinkled in disgust. Be havin’ a dashed great harem in there.

  The groom’s dark musings gave Roddy a moment’s pause. She suddenly wanted to hang back, to question and explore before mounting the steps of Pelham Cottage. But Martha was already bouncing up the gravel walk to ring the bell. Roddy glanced dubiously at the groom, who had turned his full attention to the horses, and then followed Martha.

  The front door opened a crack before they had reached it, and then shut again in their faces.

  Bewildered consternation radiated from behind the solid oak. A lady! Oh, me—oh, Lor’—oh, Father in Heaven, what’s to do?

  Martha beat enthusiastically on the door knocker, but whoever was standing in the entry had no intention of opening the barrier again. The only answer was a renewed surge of agitation from the other side. Martha raised her sturdy hand to knock again, but before the brass clashed against the door, the hidden personage behind it had an inspiration. One of Miss Ellen’s friends, the unknown servant decided, and swung open the door.

  A young and pretty maid peeked from behind the heavy oak, and lost some of her newfound composure when she could not recognize Roddy’s face.

  Martha stepped into the silence. “’Tis Her Ladyship, the Countess of Iveragh,” she declared loudly, thinking with scorn that this flighty little thing hardly knew her business. “You’ll be letting us in?” Martha added, with scathing sarcasm.

  Instead of obeying, the young maid simply froze in horror. Martha used this opening to give the door a violent push, which took the maid hanging on to it stumbling back into the entry hall.
>
  “Your Ladyship.” The little maid dropped into a curtsy and simply stayed there, too terrified even to rise. Her mind was an agitated litany: Miss Ellen, poor Miss Ellen, oh, what’s to be done now? The countess, the countess herself—Oh, she’ll be here to ruin us, this lady; she’ll be makin’ Miss Ellen a fine spectacle, draggin’ her home by her heels. And me job—Lor’, me job’s gone for good, helpin’ Miss Ellen run away—like I’ll go to prison, or be flogged to an inch…

  Before Roddy could say a word, the girl began to cry. She was so far past rationality that in the face of all appearance and logic, she did not even question the notion that Roddy was Faelan’s mother. To the maid, there was one Countess of Iveragh, and one only.

  Another presence, a burst of female eagerness, distracted Roddy from the maid’s frenzy. She looked up to see a young woman in an elegant morning dress descending the stairs. In her flurry of excitement, the girl still had the sense to concentrate on holding the rail on the narrow staircase, and as she bent to watch her feet, her dark, crimped hair shone with deep oily highlights in the latest fashion. She looked up as she neared the bottom step. Her eagerness dissolved into surprise.

  Who on earth—? The girl stopped uneasily on the lowest step, a beautiful doe-eyed vision, taking in Roddy’s expensive clothes and maid in one glance. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I’m afraid you must have the wrong house.”

  From somewhere out of the depths of shock, Roddy found her voice. “This is Pelham Cottage,” she said slowly. She stared into the other girl’s lovely dark eyes, and felt a rush of furious jealousy that was like nothing she had experienced over Liza Northfield. “Miss Ellen Webster?” she asked, in a voice that wanted to shake with rage.

  The young woman stiffened. “Who are you?”

  Very deliberately, Roddy said, “Faelan Savigar’s wife.”

  The revelation had all the impact she could have wished. Miss Ellen Webster stood immobile, her mind unable to cope with the announcement. Wife, she thought in horror. Wife. Then her hand tightened on the banister. “You’re lying,” she hissed. “Leave here at once.”

  Roddy eyed her coolly. “I think ’tis you who should leave. I’m afraid my hospitality doesn’t extend to tolerating Faelan’s mistresses.”

  “Mistress!” Miss Ellen flew down the last step and grabbed Roddy’s arm. “I’m no more his mistress than you’re his wife! Get out, before he finds you here, or I shan’t answer for the consequences!”

  Roddy pulled free of the other girl’s grasp. “Nor I,” she said.

  Her coolness increased Miss Ellen’s panic. “Get out!” she cried, while her maid curled into a ball on the floor and sobbed harder. “Get out!”

  Roddy laughed. Out of the searing pain of this new betrayal sprang a malicious mischief, a need to antagonize this girl with the lovely face and ugly thoughts. “Is he expected so soon? I’ll wait, then.”

  She started for the stair.

  “You can’t!” Ellen clutched at Roddy’s arm again. “He’s going to marry me!”

  Roddy stopped.

  Ellen’s mind was near hysteria. He’s coming, she was thinking wildly. His note—the money. He’ll come to me. Not her, not her—He’ll marry me—

  Roddy whirled on the other girl. “You’ve had a note from Faelan?”

  Ellen stood back, her lips pressed together in mulish silence that shouted Yes to Roddy.

  “What did it say?”

  Meet him. Money. Elope. “I’ve had no note,” Ellen snapped. “And I wouldn’t speak of it to you if I had. I want you out of this house, else I shall have you thrown out.”

  Roddy stared at her, focusing her talent full on those delicate eyes. “What did the note say?”

  Ellen set her full lip against speaking, but her mind couldn’t help reviewing the lines she had memorized in her joy. My Darling little girl, my love…fortune enough now for us to be happy together…whatever you wish shall be yours… Through Ellen’s eyes, Roddy saw the bold, familiar F.S. in signature. Happy together, Ellen thought again, with a hazy image of Faelan kissing her: a chaste, virgin’s kiss that was nothing like what Roddy knew of him. Happy together. And rich.

  Roddy had fallen from a horse once, flat onto hard-packed ground. This was what it had felt like—her ears rang and she could not get her breath, could not think or feel or move. Martha took Roddy’s hand, murmuring words that made no sense to her. “Come away, mum, don’t pay that slut no nevermind.” It might have been spoken in words or might have been Martha’s thought. Roddy was too stunned to know the difference. She followed Martha in a numb silence, out the door of Pelham Cottage and down to where the groom still waited in helpless puzzlement, not even knowing what to do with the horses.

  It was only when she was seated again in the phaeton that she remembered why she had come. She sat still a moment, feeling the smooth leather between her fingers and the light, restless tugs of the horses at their bits.

  Damn him, she thought. Let him hang.

  She was still in that mood three days later when he returned to Banain House.

  She’d reasoned, in that time, that he was not actually planning to elope with Miss Ellen Webster. Perhaps Miss Ellen Webster had been led to believe so, but Roddy did not think Faelan was so stupid as to hope that Roddy’s father would stand by and allow his son-in-law to abandon his wife and still keep her money.

  And it was the money Faelan needed.

  Roddy had known that, but she seemed to keep forgetting it. She let him lead her on and cajole her, kept playing with him a game at which he was a master and she was a dupe.

  The same as Miss Ellen Webster. Poor Miss Ellen Webster. Much as Roddy hated the girl, she would not have wished on her the ruin that Faelan must have in mind.

  Even the dowager countess knew. She worried and fretted and thought of Ellen constantly. As constantly as Lady Iveragh thought of anything. She never seemed to get very far in her logic. Roddy avoided her mother-in-law to the point of rudeness, eating in her own room and spending hours in the garden, keeping her barriers firmly in place. At night she lay awake until she was certain Lady Iveragh had taken her medicine and lay in dreamless sleep.

  By the time her husband returned, Roddy was exhausted. She’d been lying in bed, trying to stay awake and escape the dowager countess’ dreams by reading the most riveting book she could find in Faelan’s library. But Volume Three of Theory of the Earth; or, an Investigation of the Laws Observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe did not help much to keep her from drifting into the countess’ nightmares and tumbling back. She jolted out of one to find the demonface turned tender and smiling as Faelan leaned over and touched her cheek.

  “You’re up late, little girl,” he said softly, and eased the fallen book from her hands as he sat on the edge of the bed.

  Roddy just looked at him. She felt her insides all knotted up and hurting, and knew nothing would come out of her mouth but a sob if she tried to speak.

  He tilted his head. “You’ve been crying.”

  It wasn’t true; she hadn’t been, but at his words the tears welled up and made his face go to a blur of shadow and candlelight.

  “Roddy,” he said, and moved to take her in his arms.

  “Don’t touch me,” she cried. “And don’t lie. Please don’t lie to me anymore!”

  He sat still, watching her. She realized she was probing wildly with her talent, but there was nothing there to guide her.

  After a moment, he said, “Tell me what’s happened.”

  “You know. She must have told you!”

  He frowned. “I’ve just returned. I’ve spoken to no one.”

  Liar! her mind cried. I hate you! But she drew in a great, shuddering breath and spoke. “Geoffrey came. About the guns. I needed to find you, and I—I asked Minshall. He…told me about Pelham Cottage. So I went there. I went there, and I found…” She bit her lip, and said in a whisper, “Ellen Webster.”

  He turned his h
ead at the name. Just a little. Just enough for Roddy to be certain that it meant something.

  “Ellen Webster,” he repeated softly. His lashes lowered, and he stared into the shadows, frowning faintly. “Darkhaired? And beautiful?”

  “Very beautiful,” Roddy said. Her voice was harsh and crisp, but it broke a little on the last syllable.

  “Yes. I remember her.”

  “Remember her! Oh, God—” Roddy couldn’t contain a sob. “Faelan—”

  He glanced at her sideways. For a moment she read nothing in his face. Then his eyes focused on empty space with the arrested intent of a man hearing distant music. Like a shadow the change came, the darkness she was growing to know too well. His lips curved upward a little, into the grim smile of one of Lady Iveragh’s dream-demons. When he looked at her again, his eyes were the blue of flames dancing deep in the hottest fire.

  “Miss Webster. She was at this…Pelham House.” He stood up, a sudden, violent move that belied the controlled tautness in his voice. He moved from the bedside to the dressing table and stood, staring at himself in the mirror. “I suppose you found that I’ve had a lover’s correspondence with her, and she was expecting me to carry her away.”

  No regret. No remorse. “Do you think nothing of it?” Roddy cried. “To lie to me? To her? To ruin that poor girl, for your own…” Her lips twisted in disgust. “Did you enjoy her, Faelan? Have you told her the truth yet—that there’ll be no elopement and no wedding and no money? Or do you plan—”

  “Roddy,” he said. “I warned you of this.”

  She had opened her mouth to add more bitter words. At that, she closed it.

  Yes. He had warned her. And she had not believed him.

  She hid her face in her hands and moaned. It was as if something had died. Something had: all her faith, all her hopes. She had gambled and lost. The Faelan whom she loved did not exist. There was only this silent man who offered no justification or reason for what he had done, who only said, “I warned you.”

 
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