Authors: Sue Swift
Tags: #Historical Romance" Copyright 2012 Sue Swift ISBN: 978-1-937976-11-8, #"Regency Romance
“No longer than two months, perhaps three.
London becomes quite stifling in the summer, so we’ll go back to Kent.” Anna glanced at Louisa. “By that time, I hope you will have made some new acquaintances, both male and female. We’ll get up a little house party in Kent with your special friends.” Pauline frowned. “Special friends, as in eligible partís?”
“Well, yes, I hope so. But Lou mustn’t be rushed.
She’s only eighteen and has plenty of time to form a connection. Marriage is an extremely important decision. Remember that, girls. When you select a husband you will make the most significant choice of your life. But we will be by your side to help you always.” Anna smiled at Kate, who had been listening. “After Louisa it will be Kay’s turn.” Kate felt her stomach flutter. A home. A husband.
A family. Safety and security. All within her reach, so soon. She lifted her chin. “I look forward to forming an eligible connection quickly. I have no wish to impose upon you for an indefinite period of time.”
“Pish-tosh!” Anna slapped Kate’s knee. “You are no trouble at all, cousin.” Her blue eyes snapped a warning. “We will all enjoy the social whirl. You will be accounted quite a treat, Cousin Kay. Curiosity is rife concerning all manner of things Oriental, whether they be Chinese, Indian, or purely imaginary.” Anna winked at Kate.
* * *
While Anna inspected the entire edifice in the company of the recently engaged housekeeper, Kate, with Pauline and Louisa, explored the small back garden, pleased by what she found. The shrubbery had been recently trimmed and the fountain, while still dry, had been cleaned of winter’s dead leaves and twigs. The herbaceous borders had been weeded and the graceful plot ready for the enjoyment of the family and their guests.
“No large trees to climb,” Kate said critically.
“Surely, cousin, you did not expect to indulge yourself with such pastimes here in London.” Louisa stared.
“I suppose not.”
“Why on earth not?” asked Pauline. “Whatever harm could climbing a tree cause, in London or anywhere else?”
Rolling her eyes, Louisa retreated into the house.
“Reputation,” said Kate gloomily. “The older one becomes, the more one’s conduct is restricted. No tree-climbing, no running, nothing fun or you’re labeled a hoyden. Enjoy your youth, Pauline.” Quinn appeared at the door dividing house from garden, and Kate’s heart gave a hop as she spied him.
Immaculately hatted and gloved, he filled the narrow passage. He carried a short whip, apparently having forgotten to leave it with his equipage. His chocolate brown driving coat suited his coloring remarkably, Kate thought.
Unlike Kate, who felt a certain restraint trapping her voice in her throat, Pauline capered to greet her uncle, giggling with delight. “Uncle Quinn!”
“Hullo, Paul!” Quinn greeted his niece with equal warmth.
Kate tried to repress a twinge of envy. Quinn had the affectionate family she wanted. She admired the genuine connection he maintained with them, surely his most endearing quality.
After hugging Pauline to his side, Quinn fixed his gaze on Kate. His scrutiny, as palpable to Kate as though he’d touched her face with his hand, made her flesh tingle with an unaccustomed warmth. He pressed Pauline’s shoulder, saying, “Pauline, run and find your mother, if you will. I wish to speak with her.”
Pauline scurried inside to do his bidding.
“My ward.” Quinn spoke softly.
Kate raised her gaze to meet his.
He bowed over her extended hand. “Would you be so kind as to accompany me to the park? There are matters I wish to discuss.”
“Very well, my lord.” Why on earth would Quinn need to speak with her privately? She hoped that Uncle Herbert had not located her or made himself a nuisance. Kate quite enjoyed living with the Penroses and did not wish her situation to change. “I’ll get a hat.”
“I’ll meet you out front. The horses are fresh and require walking.” Quinn gestured her through the door into the house.
Without ringing for Bettina as she entered her dressing room, Kate pondered. Did Quinn have an actual interest in speaking with Lady Anna, or had he sent Pauline off on a pretext in order to talk with Kate alone? But a drive with his “cousin” would be unexceptional, even at the fashionable hour of five o’clock.
Her mind whirled and twirled through the possibilities like a spinning top. For the umpteenth time she reminded herself to stop her ruminations in regard to her guardian, his acts, and his motives. He continued to be a mystery and would remain so. As she tied the yellow grosgrain ribbons of her chip-straw hat beneath her chin, she told herself to cease her inappropriate interest in the Earl of Devere.
She looked out her window to see Quinn’s tiger walking the black horses harnessed to the Earl’s curricle. Kate decided to wear a spencer. Driving in the open equipage, even in the sunny spring day, could bring a chill.
Despite the clement weather, a pall hung in the air from the thousands of fires lit for cooking and heating in the metropolis. Unaccustomed to the sight of garbage in the street, to say nothing of the human pollutants, Kate tried not to wrinkle her nose or cover her ears. London overwhelmed her.
She closed the window before leaving the room for the drive with Quinn. Whatever must he want?
As she approached the marble-floored foyer, she heard her guardian and her hostess in conversation.
“I declare, Quinn, this house has never shone so brightly.”
“Harper,” Quinn said, with a complacent tone to his voice. “A jewel, is she not?”
“You must thank her for me. If you could give her this vail…” Entering, Kate saw Anna press a coin into Quinn’s hand.
“I shall. And, no, you may not have her under any circumstances.”
Anna stepped back, a look of mock surprise on her face. “My dear brother, I am shocked—
shocked!—that you would think that I am so treacherous as to attempt to steal your servant.” Kate tried not to laugh. She knew full well that Anna would like nothing better than to hire Quinn’s paragon of a housekeeper. Indeed, Anna had expressed such a sentiment more than once.
Quinn raised his brows. “I am all in favor of reasonable vails, sister mine, but a gold sovereign?
This would not be in the nature of a bribe, would it?”
“Certainly not.” Anna affected a demeanor which reflected both good humor and mild huffiness.
A neat trick, thought Kate. She made her arrival known by clattering her heels on the marble a bit more loudly than necessary.
“But here is Kate,” Anna said. “It is most unseemly to quarrel about servants in her presence.” She smiled at Kate. “So you drive with my brother in Hyde Park at five? You will indeed be quite the thing.”
“If I am all the thing it is because I shine in the light of Devere’s reflected glory,” Kate said, laughing.
“Indeed not,” Quinn said. “I am graced by your presence.”
“Is it wise to take Kate to so public a place?” Anna asked.
“Town is yet thin of company. There’s no danger, Nan.” He offered Kate his arm to lead her from the residence. He guided her up into the curricle, then sat beside her. He took the reins from his tiger. The horses plunged forward, restive. Quinn controlled them as his tiger hopped onto the back of the curricle.
“I must say, it is a relief to be addressed by my own name,” Kate said. “The constant pretense has become a strain.”
“I am sorry, Kate, but we will have to continue the charade a while longer. And you must stay close to home.” He drove through Berkeley Square to Mount Street.
Kate swallowed. “What has happened?”
“Carrothers has traveled to Somerset to, er, dispossess your uncle and his spawn of your property.”
“Gillender House? They went to Gillender?” Anger infected Kate’s soul. She could not bear to think of Herbert and Osborn in her home.
“Indeed they did. We received a missive from one Tompkins in that regard.” The curricle crossed Park Lane, evading the cross-traffic.
“Tompkins has been our butler for an age, since my father’s day.”
“He seems to be quite a responsible fellow, but not Badham’s equal. He was unable to eject the Earl even after an appeal to the local magistrate.”
“That’s an outrage!” Kate’s fists clenched, gripping her reticule.
“Yes.” Upon entering the park, Quinn slowed the pair. Taking the reins into one hand, he awkwardly patted Kate’s fists with the other. “But not to worry, sweet Kate. I’ve sent Carrothers off with all the proper documents. We’ll have them sent off in a trice.”
“Will they come here?”
The horses set off while Quinn answered, appearing to consider his words well. “I don’t know.
That would be logical. But then again, I thought they’d come directly to London and enlist the help of the Bow Street Runners. Badham has not yet come to town, so we’re still several steps ahead of him.”
“In what way?”
He smiled at Kate. Although concerned about her future, she could not help but be cheered.
“We have applied to the House of Lords for help and he has not. We have hired the Bow Street Runners and he has not.” Quinn, slowing his pair, bowed to a passer-by.
“Yes, Lady Kate. Don’t refine upon the matter, I beg of you. Everything that could possibly be done for your safety has taken place.” Quinn guided the curricle past a stylish coach complete with postilions uniformed in pale blue and cream, apparently to match the equipage before which they rode. An elderly lady, in an old-fashioned, powdered wig, waved her fan from the carriage at Quinn, who bowed in response as the woman stared at Kate.
Kate lowered her eyelids demurely while restraining a giggle. The lady apparently set great stock in complementary colors, since she was bedecked in cream and blue like her coach. She looked as though she were about to fly away on a cloud. The manes and tails of her creamy-hued horses, braided with blue ribbons, seemed absurd and affected to country-bred Kate. She sighed inwardly.
Would there ever come a time when she would feel comfortable in the whirling throngs of London?
Quinn, having reached the Serpentine, slowed the horses to a stop. He handed the reins to his tiger.
Alighting, he reached for Kate. “Come, let us walk.” She allowed him to assist her from the curricle, but lost her balance on the small step and fell straight into his arms.
Quick as a flash, he clasped her about the waist.
Her feet dangled above the ground, but she’d never felt so safe…or so threatened. Quinn’s scent, spicy and compelling, enveloped her. He held her so closely that she feared her ribs might not survive the experience intact.
“Kate,” he said, looking down into her face. He sounded curiously breathless.
She couldn’t tear her gaze away from the heat in his chocolate brown eyes. Loosening his grip, he let her body slide down his. From top to toe, Kate tingled with heat and desire. She grasped his shoulders. She didn’t want to let him go.
A shout from Quinn’s tiger tore them apart. She stumbled back, away from Quinn, regaining her balance as he steadied her. Looking about, she realized that the intimate moment had gone unnoticed by the fashionables parading through the park; no one seemed to be watching. Even Quinn’s tiger was busy with the horses. Good. She had no desire to be labeled “fast” months before she planned to make her debut.
“My dear Kate. Are you feeling quite all right?” Quinn’s voice had again returned to the bantering drawl he customarily affected.
“I think not, my lord. I am touched by a strange dizziness.”
“P’raps the fresh air will help.” He offered her his arm.
She took it at the elbow, feeling like a fool. How did he have such an effect upon her usually calm state of mind? This must stop, she told herself. She took a deep breath. A close call, that. What would she have done if he’d tried to kiss her?
As they walked, she became thunderstruck by the realization that she wouldn’t have minded at all.
Looking at Quinn’s mobile mouth, she wondered what he would have done if she’d kissed him.
Kate distracted herself by examining the park.
Although spring had come early this year, Hyde Park’s flower borders had not yet come into their own. The odd daisy and crocus flowered underfoot, and she stepped around them. She had already seen that natural beauty rarely showed its face in London.
Another fashionable equipage, this time a landaulet, pulled up alongside Kate and Quinn. Its red-haired occupant leaned out to blatantly scrutinize Kate, who stiffened
. I will never become accustomed to
Kate thought the woman rude, but both the redhead and Quinn behaved as though nothing were amiss.
“Devere.” The woman inclined her head and extended a hand, as majestic as a queen.
She cut Kate. Quinn raised a brow.
“Good afternoon, Lady Bertha,” he said politely.
“May I introduce to you my, er, cousin, Kay Tyndale, lately come to visit us from India?” He sketched a bow at the woman’s outstretched hand without releasing his hold on Kate. “Kay, this is Bertha, Lady Staveley.”
“Lady Bertha,” Kate said, loosening her grip on Quinn’s arm. She had not realized that she clutched him tightly, a most improper action.
Quinn failed to take the hint, and Kate was powerless to free herself. She would not engage in a tussle.
“A pleasure, Miss Tyndale,” said the lady. “Do come call upon me while you are in Town. Devere knows the direction, of course.” She cast a languishing glance upon Quinn.
Kate glanced at her guardian. Quinn’s cheeks had flushed. She bit the inside of her mouth to keep from chuckling at his embarrassment.
“Good day, Lady Bertha.” Quinn stepped away from the landaulet. The carriage drove away, but not before its occupant winked at Quinn.