She knew they were
gossiping about her. As soon as Carlotta Ennis had glided into the
sedately gay Pump Room, the snickering women's voices had risen to a
crescendo. Never mind them, Carlotta told herself as she
regally strolled to procure her cup of the medicinal water.
While she waited
for the attendant to fill her cup, Carlotta heard a distant female
voice. “Will you look at how low her neckline plunges!”
No doubt, Carlotta
was the subject of such outrage. The lady under discussion stood up
straighter and tugged at the bodice of her purple velvet gown, a sly
smile playing at her lips as her neckline fell even lower. Flaunting
convention had always been as much a part of Carlotta's persona as
the velvety timbre of her seductive voice.
She took her water
and began to drink. Surely the water would do her good. She had not
been here—nor anywhere in this watering city—since the
unpleasantness with Gregory.
“Nasty tasting, is
it not, Mrs. Ennis?” a gentleman's voice asked.
She swallowed the
water, silently agreeing with the man's accurate description,
returned her cup to the liveried attendant, then turned her gaze
upon the gentleman who had spoken to her. It was Sir Wendell
Anthrop. She guessed him to be roughly three decades her senior—in
his mid fifties. What he lacked in hair he more than made up for in
“Yes, it is quite
revolting,” she answered, “but as I have been in poor health of
late, I thought it would do me good to drink the abominable
She felt his eyes
sweep over her from the top of her head to the tip of her toes, with
a perceptible lingering over her full bosom. “I am sorry to hear
you've been unwell, Mrs. Ennis,” he said, his steely eyes pensive.
“I knew the Assembly Rooms have seemed wretchedly empty without
you.” He moved closer, possessively placing a hand on her elbow.
“May I have the pleasure of walking with you this morning?”
It was a welcome
sign. A man of decent birth was not ashamed to be seen with her. It
would do her good to allow Sir Wendell to see her home to Queensbury
Before they left
the Pump Room they strolled the lofty chamber from one end to the
other, Sir Wendell pausing frequently to speak with acquaintances
who icily ignored Carlotta's existence.
It had not always
been this way. Not so very long ago she had been as vital a part of
Bath society as the Master of Ceremonies himself. Women vied to
befriend her; men made fools of themselves to attract her attention.
And Carlotta had thrived on their adulation.
Despite the drone
of voices and the soft orchestra music, Carlotta and Sir Wendell
were easily able to converse on banal topics, such as the fair
weather and the actors performing at the theatre.
After leaving the
Pump Room they joined the flow of people funneling onto Milsom
Street. The streets were far more full than the last time she had
ventured out—when Gregory had been with her. But, then, this was the
season for Bath. That is why Sir Wendell was here. He could afford
residences in several cities. Unlike Carlotta who was forced by
pecuniary circumstances to live in Bath year round. She craved the
shops and the assemblies and theatre—all of which were far cheaper
in Bath than in London.
As they strolled
along Milsom Street she avoided looking at the milliners and mantua
maker shops where her accounts were sadly in arrears, fearing the
shopkeepers would recognize her and run from their establishments,
demanding that she settle her bills. She read the sign for Bingham
Butchers and colored, remembering the extent of her unpaid bill
there. At least Peggy, her cook/housekeeper/maid, was the one who
had to patronize the butcher. Bless poor, devoted Peggy.
Carlotta and Sir
Wendell turned on to George Street and spoke again of the weather
and mutual friends and the musicians who were performing in the
“It would give me
the greatest pleasure if you would accompany me tomorrow evening to
the musicale,” he said, giving her hand a firm squeeze.
A pity Sir Wendell
was old and fat. Though not in the least attractive to her, he was a
man of consequence in Bath. Allowing him to escort her in society
would reintroduce her in an agreeable manner. “The pleasure would be
mine,” Carlotta said, gazing at him through heavily lashed eyes.
Perhaps the man
could even be her savior from economic woes. Despite that she was
not attracted to him, she could entertain the idea of being married
to Sir Wendell. As the wife of such a wealthy man, she would be able
to pay off all the tradesmen she owed, she could help Gran—and best
of all, she could bring her little boy to live with her at long
last. Yes, she could marry the man for incentives such as those. She
knew better than to hold out for love. Her love had been lavishly
spent on a man who wanted no part of it.
appeared to puff up with self importance and proceeded to regale her
with trivial observations of Bath. She caught herself not attending
his words, for each street brought memories of Gregory. Thank God he
had gone home to Sutton Manor. She did not think she could bear to
see him with that young wife of his.
She fought back
tears when she saw the tea room where Gregory had taken her for
refuge during blustery winter days. How she had loved to sit there,
warming her hands around a cup of steaming brew, and gazing into his
honeyed eyes. She grew weak just remembering the effect his crooked
grin had on her. Surely it was a sin to love a man as totally as she
had loved Gregory. Even Stephen Ennis—the husband whose son she
bore, the man who had given her his name and earned and deserved her
ceaseless love—had received but a trickling of the affection she
later laid at Gregory Blankenship's shrine.
“I believe this is
your residence,” Sir Wendell said.
She had not
realized they had reached Queensbury Street, and to assure herself,
she looked up to see the familiar little row house. “Thank you, Sir
Wendell, for seeing me home.”
The man grabbed her
hand much as a thief would steal a chop of mutton. And he held it
firm, his eyes devouring her bosom. She was uncomfortable and wished
she had a shawl to drape over her breasts. Before Gregory she never
would have been visited by such shame. She allowed a stab of anger
at herself and of resentment toward Gregory.
“I must say I was
happy to learn that Blankenship has left Bath and taken up residence
at Sutton Manor for I've always had a tendre for you, Mrs. Ennis.”
began to drum madly as he squeezed her hand even harder and leered
at her with a lecherous grin. “That is too kind of you, Sir
Wendell.” Why did she say that when the man repulsed her? Avoiding
contact with his puffy green eyes, she set one slippered foot on the
first step to her house.
His grip on her
hand tightened. “You know I am a very wealthy man.” He moved closer
and spoke in a husky, low voice. “I'm noted for my generosity,
especially to the women I . . .ah, protect.”
flipped. The despicable man wanted her for his mistress! She had to
get away from him. Her other foot now moved to the first step.
His gaze was once
more on her bosom. “I am prepared to settle you with five hundred a
year, my dear Mrs. Ennis.”
She twisted her
hand free and whirled around, fairly flying up the steps, not
deigning to reply to the obnoxious man.
“How dare you turn
your back to me!” he shouted. “All of Bath knows you were Gregory
Blankenship's fancy piece!”
She came to an
abrupt stop and turned to face him, anger flashing in her eyes,
scorn in her voice. “You, sir, are not Gregory Blankenship.” Then
she turned back and hurried up the steps.
matter,” he bleated viciously. “Is five hundred pounds not enough?
How much did Blankenship pay for your services?”
Despite the tears
which blurred her vision, Carlotta's hand found the knob, and she
shoved the door open, slamming it behind her and hurrying up the
stairs to throw herself on her bed for another good sob. Thank God
Gran wasn't here to see her shame.
She had only cried
twice in her life: when Stephen Ennis died and when Gregory
Blankenship left her. But during the year since Gregory left she had
turned into a watering pot. She not only had lost the man she loved
recklessly and hopelessly, she had also lost her last semblance of
* * *
James Moore, now
the Earl of Rutledge, was born under a lucky star. From his earliest
days he had known it. He had been a great favorite with his nurse
and had been blessed with good health. His strong body had not only
resisted disease and infirmity but also gifted him with uncommon
skill in rugby and cricket and any manner of gentlemanly sports. His
extraordinary abilities distinguished him through Rugby, Sandhurst
and in the Light.
He had been the
only young man in his lodgings at Sandhurst not to succumb to a
deadly fever that claimed many of his classmates. When he was a
soldier in the Peninsula, his noble Captain Stephen Ennis saved
James from almost certain death—at the cost of his own life. From
Waterloo, he emerged unscathed. While later serving in India, he
received the news that an uncle, whose existence he had been unaware
of, had died and left his fortune and title to James.
At the age of seven
and twenty James, whose father had been a gentleman farmer of modest
means, found himself master of Yarmouth Hall. Now, he settled back
in a comfortable leather chair, propped his boot-clad feet on the
massive Jacobean desk, and surveyed the jewel-toned leather volumes
that stacked row upon row two full stories up to the paneled wood
ceiling far above. Bindings of red, emerald green and lapis blue
wrapped around the cavernous room. James wondered how many of them
his uncle had read.
A shadow darkened
the west doorway, and he turned to see Adams.
“Your lordship has
a visitor,” the tall, stiff, gray-haired butler announced.
The lord quickly
dropped his feet to the Turkey carpet, hoping Adams had not
witnessed his uncivilized behavior. James was not at all used to
having a butler or to being master of any place, much less a
four-hundred-year-old ancestral home of nearly one hundred rooms. He
was not sure how he was supposed to act. And truth be told, he was a
good deal intimidated by the overbearing butler. A haughtier man he
had never beheld.
“Pray, who is it?”
“A Mr. Jonas
Smythe.” Without saying another word, Adams conveyed his distaste
for the unfortunate Mr. Smythe.
“Show him in,”
The Bow Street
runner had not been expected back so quickly. It had been less than
a week since the man had been hired. James stood and greeted Mr.
Smythe, then asked Adams to close the door. As Mr. Smythe had done
at their first meeting, he lowered his stooped-over frame into a
chair facing the desk James sat behind. “Have you a report so soon?”
“Yes, milord.” The
bearded man withdrew a small notebook from the pocket of his red
vest. “I believe I have all the information you requested.”
anticipation heightened as he watched the man thumb through the
Mr. Smythe leafed
through a few sheets of paper to refresh his memory, then spoke
without consulting his notes. “Let me jest give ye the the lay. Mrs.
Ennis stays year round in Bath on a right respectable street,
Queensbury by name. Seems like a dull sort of place. I'm from Lunnon
meself, and I like a bit 'o bustle.” He looked down at his book once
more. “Well, like I was tellin, she rents lodgings in a town 'ouse.
The rub is the lady can't get the dibs in tune. She owes everyone,
gov'nah. Quarterly income won't cover. 'Tis only sixty pounds. Too
bad Mr. Ennis was put to bed with a shovel.”
James was almost
relieved to hear Carlotta Ennis was in financial difficulties, for
that meant he could have the pleasure of assisting her. It was a
small price to pay for what her husband had done for him. And until
James was assured of the happiness of Captain Ennis's family, he
could never sleep well in his silken canopied bed at Yarmouth Hall.
“Tell me,” James
said, “did you see Mrs. Ennis?”
Mr. Smythe looked
up from his notebook, snapping it shut. His pudgy fingers twirled
his moustache, and his drooping eyes glimmered. “As fine a looking
woman as ever there was.”
Yes, that would be Carlotta Ennis. “I thank you for the
information, Mr. Smythe. My man of business will settle your bill if
you will have my butler direct you to the morning room.” James
pulled the bell rope.
The runner stood
and handed James several pages of paper from his notebook. “'ere's
the official report with all the proper documentation, yer
Once the man was
gone, James perused the report. How different Carlotta Ennis's life
would have been had Captain Ennis lived. And it was James's fault
she was a widow. He felt bloody bad about it. He always did when
Lady Luck smiled upon him while trampling another.
Oddly, as he read
the report he thought he smelled lavender, Carlotta Ennis's scent.
It was as much a part of her as her glossy black hair. He vividly
pictured the captain's elegant wife. Lavender and purple gowns of
the latest fashion had softly molded to the smooth curves of her
taller than average body, scarcely covering her full breasts. She
carried herself so regally, she seemed almost ethereal. Her rich
black hair—seldom covered with bonnet or hat—swept back, with wispy
curls tumbling about her perfectly chiseled face. He'd always
thought her cold, perhaps because she brought to mind a statue of a
Roman goddess. Even her smooth skin reminded him of flawless
polished marble. Only her smoky lavender eyes showed any warmth.
He was somewhat
piqued that the report had not mentioned the son she bore in
Portugal in eighteen-twelve. For it was the boy who troubled James
the most. The poor lad would be raised without a father. The corners
of James's mouth tugged downward as he remembered his own fatherless
childhood. He had been the only one in his class at Rugby who had no
male parent to visit him on Father-Son Day. But it was not that one
day every spring which blemished his otherwise satisfactory
childhood. It was not having a father to teach him the ins and outs
of riding and shooting and angling, or to teach him the correct way
to tie a cravet. It was having to become the man of the family when
he was but four years of age. It was his self-imposed sense of
isolation that permeated his childhood. He was different. He had no
papa. Who could expect him to know what other lads—lads who had
James turned his
thoughts once again to Captain Ennis's son. James wanted to buy the
lad's first horse and teach him to ride. They could go angling, and
he would instruct the boy on how to shoot. If the little fellow
needed help with his Latin or his sums, James wanted to be the one
to provide it.
He pulled the bell
rope again, and when Adams appeared he told him to inform Mannington
to pack his things. “We go to Bath inside the hour.”
Surrendering an arm
or leg to a sawbones would have been more pleasant than facing
Captain Ennis's widow. For she knew James's insubordination had
caused her husband's death.