A Seduction in Winter

October 2015

Chapter 1

Revised, edited, copy-edited, first round proofing, not final so still subject to change.

 

He was here. Honora reread the list again to be sure she’d not conjured his name from hopes and wishes. She hadn’t. The Monarch, with Lieutenant Lord Leoline Marrable on board, had arrived from Bombay one week ago today. After seven years in the Navy and three years employed with the East India Company, he was in England again. In London. Not that their paths would cross, but London!

The door behind her opened and then closed. Honora slid the paper under the collection of pages that took up most of the desk where she sat. When she was not working one of the pages or creating a new one, she kept the lot of them in a wooden box, at present set away on the top section of her desk.

“Papa.” Her father removed his hat and coat. “A good morning’s work?”

“Indeed yes.” He unwound his scarf and draped that over the back of a chair. “I’ll warrant there will be snow tomorrow.”

Thanks to the increase in commissioned work and in other paintings sold over the last two years, they had better quarters at the Morin Hotel than for their previous stays in London. Two bedchambers, naturally, but a larger parlor and a dining room for meals if they brought them upstairs. They were on the fourth floor this year, a savings of two flights.

“Yes, Papa.” In addition to the record keeping and accounts, she did much of the detail work for his commissioned projects. “Shall I send Gilman to fetch our luncheon, or did you eat downstairs?” The tavern attached to the hotel made an excellent roast beef and an even better duck. Both were favorites of her father’s.

“I’ve eaten thank you.” He came into the parlor where she spent most of her day when she was not at the studio with him. He wandered to the table where she’d left the newspapers she’d read front to back. She took care not to turn her face too much toward him. He picked up the morning Times she had carefully refolded earlier in the day and brought it to a chair by the fire. “I shall dine out tonight.”

“Noted.” She slid her secreted page from underneath the others. He kept a mistress at another hotel on Manchester Square. Papa supposed her to be unaware of this fact. “You are at home until then?”

He snapped open the paper. “Yes, I think so.”

She picked up her scissors and cut the notice from the paper, to be added to her album of clippings about Lord Leoline. She’d kept track of and recorded the ships to which he’d been assigned and the actions and battles he’d seen while he was in the Navy. She’d gathered all the descriptions of engagements involving those ships she could locate and transferred the information to her project. Over the years, she had amassed a thick stack of neatly clipped articles and hand transcriptions of his naval battles, interspersed with illustrations of her own in pen and ink or watercolor. Some of her drawings were inventions of her imagination, others came to life on the page from facts gleaned of his battles and the ships he’d sailed on.

The project, born of idle hands and no particular goal, had become absurdly elaborate. She would be the first to admit that. Illustrating or decorating the pages had become a way of passing the time. She ought to put away the pages for good now that he was back in England. There was little reason for him to remember her, if he remembered her at all, but she would never forget the day he’d come to her rescue. To him, she could only be a child who had briefly intersected with his life. She’d, however, had grown attached to her private homage to his bravery.

She pasted the section containing the notice of the Monarch’s arrival onto a fresh sheet of paper and beneath that wrote the words, “The Hon. Lieutenant Lord Leoline Marrable, Lord Wrathell.”

She drew a border and curlicues around his name. He was a marquess by courtesy. The new Debrett’s was published and contained the recent amendments to the line of succession for the dukedom of Quenhaith. She did not dare clip pages from their copy of the peerage, but she’d copied the text pertaining to the Marrables onto pages of her own, suitably decorated with the family motto and coat of arms.

Pages of the Times rattled, and she sent her father a questioning glance. He coughed once and said, “I’ll need you at the studio tomorrow to finish off Mrs. Rosen.”

“Of course.” Some years ago, after he’d been accepted into the Royal Academy, he’d made arrangements for the use of a fellow artist’s studio in other Duke Street, which arrangement had brought them to London every winter since, for the stated purpose of exhibiting his work and obtaining and finishing commissions. While they stayed in Town, he found it convenient to have his mistress across the street instead of the other side of Bury St. Edmunds.

She evened out the curlicues around Lord Leoline’s name. They had been born on the same day five years apart, on December the twenty-fourth, a fact she had discovered from Debrett’s. He had been born in Lincolnshire at Marrable Gate, his family’s country seat, whilst her birth had occurred in Elderford, the village attached to the ducal estate.

“Papa,” she said when he put down the paper. “Did you know Lord Leoline is in London?” She amended that quickly. “I mean, Lord Wrathell.”

“No.” He nodded with approval. Lord Leoline had always been a favorite of his.

Since he was sitting to her right, a fortuitous arrangement of the parlor, it was easy to prop her left elbow atop the desk and lean her cheek against her forearm.

“I suppose it’s to be expected given the tragedy of his brother,” her father said.

“Yes.” She recognized his restlessness. He would stay an hour or so longer before he made an excuse that would take him to the other side of Manchester Square. She wished she’d left more work on Lord Wrathell’s papers, for she would have an evening alone to do exactly as she liked.

“There’s a young man who’s made a good account of himself.” His gaze lingered on her, and she made sure not to move. His pity made her heart ache. The disgust she sometimes saw in his face when he caught a glimpse of her face pierced her heart through. “When did he arrive, do you know? I ought to pay my respects.”

“From the notice, a week ago Tuesday.” Because she rarely went out except for solitary walks, she filled the hours of her day with reading, sewing, and writing letters to the editor that she tore up as soon as she had fashioned a suitably scathing reply. If she wasn’t at her father’s studio, she was here reading every newspaper, magazine, or book to be found. Gilman collected broadsheets and pamphlets for her enjoyment. She had an excellent collection of them. There was little she did not know about London, or politics, or much of anything to appear in the papers.

“A week, you say. Well.” He fiddled with his watch. “I wish him well. I truly do.” From necessity she was expert at keeping herself at angles that did not disturb him. When they dined together, she often ended those meals having eaten nearly nothing. “He’s in residence in Queen Anne Street, not Marrable House.”

He tapped a finger on the table beside him. “No reconciliation between him and his father?”

“I do not know.”

“Pity if not.”

She shrugged one shoulder. Lord Leoline&emdash;Lord Wrathell, she must remember that&emdash;had joined the Navy against his father’s wishes. Their estrangement was the stuff of legend and, in a strange twist of fate, she was likely the only person besides Wrathell himself who knew the reason for the altercation between Lord Leoline’s elder brother and him that had caused the rift with his father.

“They must reconcile now he’s the heir.”

“I suppose they must.” The duke did not know the true reason for the disagreement between the brothers. Lord Leoline would never have betrayed his brother. Nor her. He would never have mentioned her to his father.

She wondered if he was still handsome. Perhaps the beauty of his youth had not survived maturity. His elder brother had not retained his good looks. He’d gone to fat and lost a great deal of his hair. Lord Leoline had been fair to his brother’s striking dark hair, though both possessed the same piercing gray eyes. Whatever Lord Leoline looked like now, she would always remember him as tall and handsome, forever eighteen years old, and the bravest man who ever lived.

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