A Traditional Regency Romance
England, March, 1816
In which a kitten produces mayhem through no fault of her own.
When the sun came out from beneath dense clouds, Izzy Daventry threw her shawl over her
shoulders and set off from the manor across meadows that were still slick from the last
downpour. Within moments, the collection of children commonly known as Izzy’s Urchins
gathered around her, warbling like the first larks of spring, eager to see what adventure she had
prepared for the day.
She had plenty of time before her father arrived from Town. Even though he was expected
by supper, Izzy knew her miscreant parent well. At his best, he wouldn’t arrive before midnight.
And even at that, he would need no more than the mere mention of some Arthurian manuscript
unearthed in Wales, and he would be off in that direction, forgetting he had ever meant to come
Today, she proclaimed to her followers, was the first day of polliwog season. With the
practiced eye of an expert polliwog hunter, Izzy paced along the bank, searching for a quiet pool
with the characteristics for the proper breeding of tadpoles. Finding her spot, she set the children
to searching the water.
“There’s some!” said Tom Watkins, whose eagerness always delighted her. “Oh, Izzy!
There’s lots of ’em! Look here!”
“Ye’re s’posed to call her Miss Daventry, ye nodcock!” Jake Watkins gave his younger
brother a shove. “Move over, ye hog, ye’re takin’ all the room!”
“Jake, mind your manners,” Izzy scolded, knowing she had little effect on the boy. Yet
when the younger girls came closer, even Jake made room. With a manly huff of authority born
of a ten-year-old’s greater knowledge and advanced years, Jake pointed out the elusive creatures
that paddled about by their tails.
Izzy chuckled quietly to herself as she listened to Jake’s explanation of tadpole
development, a verbatim account of the one she had given the previous year. She was proud of
her urchins, and of all the learning she had squeezed into them between their chores and
gleaning. She could never hope to equal the schoolmaster they desperately needed, but she taught
what she knew, be it reading or polliwog-watching.
Tommy, in his enthusiasm, leaned closer to the water. Her suspicions aroused, Izzy
frowned, then spotted Jake preparing to give Tommy a shove. Izzy grabbed his arm and shook
her head at the boy, who looked only slightly chagrined. Jake wasn’t a cruel child, only one
whose mischief was unending. Nor would he think of the danger the icy water posed to his
Intent upon the tadpoles, Tommy had not noticed. He looked up at Izzy, his blue eyes
shining. “Can I have some, Izzy? I mean, Miss Daventry? I could get a jar somewheres.”
“No, Tommy, they’ll die if you take them away.”
“How come they like it in there, Izzy?” asked Judith. “The water’s so cold. I wouldna like
“That’s ’cause ye’re a girl,” snorted Jake. “And ye’re forgetting to call her Miss Daventry.”
Izzy noted Jake’s manly swagger and the haughty way he demanded respect for her, as if in
so doing he acquired some respect for himself. The boy had learned just about everything she
knew to teach him, and needed to move on. It was a shame his keen mind would have no
opportunities for scholarship, but perhaps she could persuade her father to find him an
She turned back to Judith. “As they have never been anywhere else, Judith, I doubt they
know the difference. And if you put them in warm water right away, they would probably die.”
From upstream, Izzy heard sharp shrieks, and turned toward the commotion. Beside the
rocky bank of the roiling stream stood Hank Trumble, who raised something into the air above
Daisy Samples, while the little girl jumped helplessly after it. It was nothing uncommon for
young boys to tease smaller girls, but wherever Hank Trumble went, he took trouble with him,
often more than mere teasing. Frowning, Izzy raised her skirts to step around the muddy bank
and marched toward the squabble.
“Give her back, Hank!” cried the girl. “Hank, don’t ye dare! She’s mine! Give her back!”
Hank dangled Daisy’s yellow kitten tantalizingly close, just beyond her grasp, as Daisy
jumped and clawed at her tormenter. As he spotted Izzy and her troop, Hank’s face brightened
with malicious glee and he flung the kitten into the stream.
With a scream, Daisy dashed toward the water, but Izzy lunged, snatching Daisy by her
arm before she jumped in.
“Hold her, Jake.” She pushed Daisy to the boy.
“My kitty! ” the girl screamed, fighting against Jake’s grip.
Izzy couldn’t let Daisy go into the water. The fragile child would be swept off her feet
Tossing a glare at Hank, Izzy kicked off her slippers and stepped into icy water that tugged
at her ankles as she groped along the slippery stones. She focused on the yellow kitten,
alternately sinking and bobbing as the current swept it closer to Izzy, over the rocks, down into a
deep pool, throwing it up again. Exhausted, the little creature hardly struggled, and soon would
cease its fight. Izzy lunged against the numbing water. In one stroke, she scooped up the kitten.
Cheers rose from the banks.
Then the kitten remembered its terror. With renewed strength and desperate wails, the
squirming mass of thrashing claws hooked its razor talons into her soaked dress and the skin
beneath, and climbed her like a tree.
She clenched the cat against her chest, and fumbled her bare, frozen toes along the
precarious bottom, reminding herself she did this for Daisy, who was obviously more deserving
than this ungrateful wretch.
Suddenly squeezing out of her grip, the kitten clambered up Izzy’s sodden dress to her
shoulder, shredding both fabric and skin as it climbed her hair. Grimly, she pinned the yowling
kitten to her scalp and plowed her numb feet through the icy water, at last reached the calm
shallows. The very second she reached Jake’s outstretched arm, she peeled the screeching cat
from her bedraggled hair and tossed it to him.
Her ordeal at last at its end, Izzy just stood, shivering, letting the soft mud ooze between
her toes. Only one more step to dr y land. Trembling, she shifted one foot. She slipped, shrieking,
tumbling backwards, and landed on her backside in the mud.
Izzy glanced about her in the furtive hope that no living soul above the age of ten had
witnessed her fall, and breathed a sigh of relief on seeing none but the gaggle of children
surrounding her. At least children could be bribed into silence.
They, however, were giggling. She suspected it would take more than the usual amount of
bribery this time.
“Don’t ye know how to wade in a creek, Miss Daventry?”
Izzy looked up to Jake’s cheeky grin. “I suppose you think you could have done better, with
a wildcat peeling your skin off, Jake Watkins.”
“No, ma’am. Not at all.” Jake gallantly extended his hand to help her out of the mud.
“Thank you, Jake.” Izzy rose from the mud, shivering. “Daisy, wrap the kitten in my shawl.
I’d mislike learning it died from the cold after all this effort.”
“Shall I help ye home, Miss Daventry?” Jake asked. His smirking mouth was so wide, Izzy
thought she could probably drive a hay wain through it.
“I shall deal with that, myself. Please see that Daisy gets home without Hank bothering
With a cheerful nod, Jake ran off after Daisy.
Izzy trembled so fiercely, she could hardly walk. Clenching her shuddering jaw so tight it
hurt, she plodded, one frozen foot in front of the other, to the top of the hill and Daventry Manor.
The closest door was near the stables. She didn’t see anybody around, and hoped that meant
no one saw her. With luck, she could reach the steps and be up them before anyone was the
wiser. If word got out, she would never live this down.
She gathered her remaining strength and hurried to the terrace door and turned the knob. As
she pushed, the door pulled away from her hand. There stood Tibbets, his eyes bulging with
more than their customary dismay.
“A small accident, Tibbets,” she replied to his stunned silence, and rushed past him before
he could recover his composure and suggest she not drip on his finely polished floors.
Tibbets followed after her, wringing his hands. “Miss Daventry, perhaps you should avoid
going through the foyer.”
Hardly the time to be fastidious, she grumbled to herself, and trudged toward the stairs. “I
know I am dripping, Tibbets, and I assure you, I am most sorry for the mess, but I am in a bit of
a hurry at the moment.”
“But, Miss Daventry, you really should…”
Muttering, Izzy slogged over the freshly polished pink marble toward the grand staircase in
the foyer, which was much closer to her chamber than the servant’s stairs Tibbets no doubt
wished she would use, but she was too cold to care.
Just as she passed her father’s study with its door ajar, she began to recognize something
unusual in the high pitch of Tibbets’ voice. And in her desperate haste to be warm again, she
barely realized the significance of that open door as she rounded the corner from the corridor to
the grand foyer, and collided, face first, with the handsomest man she had ever seen.
He was also the most shocked gentleman she had ever seen. As he backed away, his
horror-stricken eyes tracked over her dripping hair, muddy gown, downward all the way to her
wet, bare feet, and widened even further at the brown streaks of mud freshly garnishing the
dazzling white breeches of his Coldstream Guards uniform. Jaw agape, he stared at her as if he’d
just witnessed the destruction of England and all that was English.
Izzy had never thought of herself as beyond the pale. But now, as she stared down at her
fingernails and realized there was indeed mud beneath them, she suspected that she had likely
just been labeled as such. She glanced about, seeking support, but her father, for once caught
without words, only stared. So did both of the men in his company.
She decided to make the best of it. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin to a very
proper angle. “Good afternoon, Papa, so nice to see you and your guests. You’ll excuse me?”
With a wobbly smile, she turned and walked away with dubious grace, belatedly recalling
the probable condition of her clothing when viewed from a posterior angle.
“You’ll straighten yourself for supper, girl!”
Papa’s voice carried to her as she took to the stairs, one absurdly elegant step at a time, until
she was certain she was beyond their sight. Then she fled down the corridor to the safety of her
“Devil take it, what was that?” The words were out before Tristan could stop them.
Although the girl was already up the stairs and gone, the image stuck in his mind of soaked,
mud-streaked muslin clinging indecently, revealing just about every asset the girl had.
Particularly the upper ones.
“Not sure,” said his father, whose own gaping jaw seemed to be just recovering. “Been
using her for trout bait, Daventry?”
For the first time since Tristan had met Daventry in London the day before, the man was
struck dumb. That fact, coupled with the word ‘Papa’ from the creature’s own lips, likely meant
Tristan had just been given his first view of Daventry’s only child. And knowing what he now
knew of Daventry, he couldn’t imagine why he’d always pictured the girl as a lady.
“A minor mishap, no doubt,” Daventry said at last. “Girl’s a bit prone to them.”
“I’d say. She is a bit damp,” Trowbridge admitted.
“Damp?” Tristan said, frowning at the brown streaks on his uniform. “Undress whites do
have an uncanny affinity for mud, but I never expected a mud puddle to sprout legs and
personally hunt me down.”
“Now Tris, no call to be so particular. Ain’t as if you never saw mud, what with the
Peninsula and all.”
“That was the Peninsula, and we lived in mud there. This is supposed to be England, where
one may expect some form of gentility.” Bloody Hell. He had spent four hours in a coach with
his drunken father and equally drunken Daventry, both men two sheets to the wind and ready to
hoist the third hours before they reached Daventry’s country seat. And now, here was Daventry’s
incomparable hoyden of a daughter, trouble if ever he had seen it, when all he wanted was peace.
This visit was turning into a nightmare. It was almost enough to send him back to Waterloo.
He squeezed his eyes closed to shut out the sudden rush of bloody images. No, never that.
Tristan hadn’t wanted to come at all, but he’d had no choice, for Daventry had been his
father’s lifelong closest friend. Even after Daventry had left India to assume his deceased
brother’s title, the two had continued their crusty debates over Camelot and King Arthur by mail,
month after month, year after year. Those letters had been the highlights of his father’s life.
He should have known Daventry would be as exasperating as his own father. How else
could they be such fast friends? Like his father, completely irresponsible. Although somebody
ran this manor with obvious efficiency, it certainly wasn’t Daventry. Nor had the man shown the
slightest sensitivity to his daughter, who had clearly suffered a mishap and must be frozen to the
Perhaps Daventry simply knew the girl well enough not to give encouragement to her
No, he was probably right the first time. The man didn’t have the sense to notice. Tristan
shuddered, but he gritted his teeth, determined to be polite.
At least, it was to be a short visit, surely short enough that he could manage to conceal his
problem from this strange family. Nothing had happened for some time, and for all he knew,
perhaps wouldn’t again. And if his own father had not been sufficiently sober to notice
something was wrong with his son, he could hope Daventry and his daughter were no more
observant. With any luck, he’d soon be safely back in his own London town house, and none the
wiser. A solution had to come about sometime.
Izzy burst through her chamber door and slammed it behind her, gasping as if she had been
chased by a bear. Marie, pausing in her puttering about, lifted her eyebrows, shook her head,
called for a hot bath and began stripping the ruined dress from Izzy’s body. As Marie appraised
the garment that she held by her fingertips at as great a distance as she could manage, Izzy felt
chagrined in a way her father could never provoke.
“A pity,” said Marie, and tossed the sodden rag into a corner of the dressing chamber.
Izzy wrapped a woolen blanket about her and huddled in the yellow chintz wing chair by
the fire grate, waiting the eternity it took for the halftub to be filled. Then she slipped into the
gloriously warm water.
“‘Tis a handsome young man his lordship’s brought home,” said Marie, patiently working
the tangles from Izzy’s wet hair while Izzy soaked.
“I didn’t notice,” she answered, knowing Marie would see through the lie. “I didn’t take the
time for introductions.”
“Made a cake of yourself, did you?” Marie yanked the tangled strand, emphasizing her
There was no fooling Marie. “It matters little, as I’m already promised to Mr.
“He’s a mite better prize than that Mr. Landerholme, I’m thinking.”
Izzy frowned at Marie’s usual lack of enthusiasm for her choice. “Mr. Landerholme is the
second son of an earl, you know.”
“Might as well be the twentieth.”
Izzy held her tongue. She and Donald had been promised to each other since they were
children, and she would happily accept him even if he had no chance of inheriting the title.
“Whatever were you about this time, miss?”
There was no point in ignoring her maid’s questions, for Marie would learn anyway. So she
explained about the polliwog expedition and Hank Trumble’s cruel stunt.
Marie shook her head again, no doubt weary of reminding Izzy that proper ladies did not go
hunting for tadpoles. “The cat left you some awful marks, it did. We’ll have a time finding a
dress to hide them. Mayhap, the robin’s egg blue.”
Izzy grimaced as she studied the evenly spaced rakings the kitten had made in its desperate
climb up her body.
“Could’ve been dangerous, miss. The stream’s awful high.”
“Oh, nothing would have happened to me, Marie. The water is not all that deep, except in a
few holes, and I know where those are.” Where the trout are, she thought privately, but this was
no time to mention that other favorite improper activity. Marie looked with special disfavor on
Izzy’s fishing, particularly when she noodled with her fingers instead of using a pole.
Marie huffed. “That Hank Trumble’s as worthless as his father. Your father should get rid
of the both of them.”
For all that Marie had a sharp tongue and was about as respectful as a puppy that had
outgrown its mother, she was a caring person. Izzy tried to remember that. “Unlikely, as long as
Papa finds Trumble useful in the stables,” she replied. “And he does quite well with
Sitting before her dressing table, Izzy watched in her usual amazement as the expert flicks
of Marie’s wrist coaxed a delicate fringe of dark curls in just the perfect places to turn her into
some approximation of a lady. Izzy would have been satisfied merely to tie her hair back at her
neck, allowing the curls to flow down her back. But proper ladies did not leave their hair loose,
and she had a strong desire to amend the impression she had previously given her father’s guests.
The modest neckline of the robin’s egg blue dress, however, did not quite cover the tiny
scratches, and all Izzy’s tugging could not complete the job.
“A fichu, or a shawl, perhaps,” Marie suggested.
Izzy sighed. “No.” There would be no explaining that she was only occasionally a reckless
hoyden, who this time had the best of justification for her actions. She would, therefore, not
explain herself at all.
Marie drew her lips tight, looking patient. “Very well, miss. Try not to make a cake of
Izzy quelled a sudden desire to bury herself beneath the covers on her bed. But she
breathed in slowly, reminded herself that she was to be an elegant lady tonight, and walked with
regal grace down the corridor to the grand staircase that led down to the manor’s foyer.
At the sound of slippers on the smooth marble steps, Tristan glanced up, then away. Almost
as fast as the recoil of a cannon, his head snapped back again. Devil take it! Could that be the
same creature that had dripped her way through here barely an hour before?
The Creature descended in fluid motion, her hand trailing along the brass rail, a pile of dark
curls framing her delicate face. Too slender for his taste, yet he couldn’t stop staring at the assets
he had previously noticed, which were further enhanced by her simply cut blue gown, a gown the
exact color of her eyes. He had never seen eyes quite that color before.
Those mesmerizing eyes met his with an overt appraisal that set him back as much as her
stunning transformation. Brassy chit. Uncontrolled heat rose in his cheeks as her gaze raked over
him. With all the dignity he could muster, Tristan bent over her extended hand, debating just
how much deference such a creature was to be given. Lady, hoyden, baron’s daughter? He
hesitated in mid-bow, perhaps a shade sooner than was proper.
Izzy bit her lip, feeling like she was dying inside. Doubtless the gentleman recalled at the
last second the mud that had previously been lodged beneath her nails. It was to his credit that he
did not altogether fling away her hand, but merely flared his nostrils and dropped it rather
She winced at the introductions. She should have known. Viscount Trowbridge, her father’s
life-long friend, balding, red-faced, and round as a ball. And son, Captain Tristan Trowbridge.
Tall as his father was round, with dark hair and a devastatingly handsome face with features that
ought to be chiseled into Carrara marble.
Just her luck. Not just any old viscount. Good Old Trowbridge, her father always called
him, who had been her papa’s boon companion in his India days, equally as obsessed with King
Arthur and Camelot. Papa had talked so incessantly about the man over the years that Izzy felt
she should have recognized him on sight.
She’d done it this time. Effuse apologies would only make things worse. She just mumbled
her gratitude at finally meeting the man after all these years.
“Now, there’s a gel for you,” said the viscount, chuckling. “Cleans up nicely, Daventry.
Pretty thing, ain’t she, Tris?”
Izzy flinched. She had envisioned a bit more gentility from a viscount, but then, what else
would she expect of a friend of her father’s? After all, neither of the two men had ever expected
to be anything more than soldiers.
The younger man’s cheeks reddened again and he gave a grudging nod, while his father
prattled on. She accepted the older man’s arm to lead her into dinner, and sat across from the
younger Trowbridge, who glared fiercely whenever she caught his eye. Her transformation had
obviously not impressed him.
“Thought we’d go up into the Dales, check out the Pendragon Castle,” said the viscount as
he inspected his already empty wine glass. The footman promptly noted its lack and filled it.
“No, no, no,” Daventry said. “Waste of time. We’ve been there, ain’t that so, Izzy, my
Izzy opened her mouth, but closed it as Papa continued.
“Lots of caves thereabouts, though,” said Papa. “Tales of Arthur’s Hill everywhere. Seems
every dale has its hidden hill with the king and his knights slumbering away.”
“That many tales, there’s got to be something.”
Papa gave a dismissing shake of his head. “Ain’t nothing but a grand pile of rocks, no older
than the Angevins.”
Trowbridge frowned and upended his goblet. “A shame.”
“Didn’t expect much from something so obvious,” said Papa, and drained his own. “No
telling when some fool took it into his head it was Arthur’s. But the fishing’s good, thereabouts.
Izzy’s idea, that. Made the trip worthwhile, after all.”
The captain’s eyelids lifted. “Fishing. More commonly a man’s activity, is it not? Or has
England changed in my absence?”
It was the delicate suggestion of a sneer in his voice that raised her ire. Her lips stretched
thinly over her teeth, but Izzy said nothing. Watching the wicked glint that was forming in his
eyes, she suspected she knew the content of his next question, and that he was debating whether
or not to give it voice. Had she been fishing this afternoon?
The urge seized her to explain not only the manly art of fishing, but the exact process of
noodling- precisely how to dangle one’s fingers into the water so as to resemble tasty worms. But
no. Let him draw his own conclusions.
Now they were discussing Glastonbury Tor. She had been there, too. Papa insisted it must
be King Arthur’s burial site, but Trowbridge wouldn’t hear of it. And just how Offa’s Dike got
into the discussion, she wasn’t sure. This could go on all night. Izzy knew perfectly well the
whole argument was outrageous, but that didn’t bother the two old sots a bit, as glass after glass
of wine slid down their gullets and fueled their debate.
The young captain quietly studied the dregs of wine he swirled within his goblet, sipping
only occasionally. A strange mixture of horror and boredom lurked in his dark eyes. They had a
common dilemma. Perhaps she should give him another chance.
“You are with the Coldstream Guards, Captain?”
His gaze shot up from the goblet as if she had stomped on his toe. “Yes.” Nothing more.
The elder Trowbridge, eyes suddenly keen despite his wine, grinned and thrust out his
chest. “Fought at Waterloo,” he announced. “Peninsula, too.”
“Indeed?” she responded. At least the older fellow would talk. “I understood the duke of
Wellington had very few Peninsula veterans with him in Belgium.”
“There were exceptions,” the captain man grumbled.
Ah. He could talk. “I see. You recall the battle, then?”
He met her question with a silent scowl.
“Was at Hougoumont,” the viscount interjected, and chortled proudly. “Got himself cut up
The captain glared with fury at his father.
“I am sorry,” she said, feeling a sudden stab of empathy, both for the wounds and the
father’s blatant broadcasting. “I understand the casualties were very high at Hougoumont.”
“They were higher at La Haye Sainte,” the man replied tersely. His jaw had a hard set to it.
Indeed, she thought, as the soldiers at La Haye Sainte had almost been annihilated. “Yes, of
course. I did not mean–”
“It is hardly a fit subject for the table, Miss Daventry.”
Izzy stared, speechless. He was scolding her for the topic? She had not raised it. She had
merely made a polite inquiry about his career.
“Tris, there’s no call to be abrupt,” his father scolded, unexpectedly alert.
Izzy gritted her teeth and forced a smile. “It is quite all right, my lord, it is not at all the
thing. But I do hope you are enjoying your return home, Captain.”
He looked as if it was the most inane remark he had ever heard. Izzy opted for silence. He
was certainly not the most congenial man she had ever met.
She returned to the quiet observation of the viscount who was of such importance to her
father, having developed a preference for that man over his son. Izzy focused on the droning
debate and ignored the silent, imperious toad who sat across from her.
Something was wrong here. Something just a shade too typical of her father. She would
have bet all the horses in the stable her father and Good Old Trowbridge were up to something.
Captain Trowbridge stole a wary glance at Izzy, then quickly looked away to re-engage
with his fork. Did he, too, suspect something was in the air?
Beyond the window, the last light of day faded as Izzy watched the parade of courses and
picked delicately at her plate. While their two offspring sat like hostages, the two older men
launched into full-fledged drinking, grew louder, words slurring, and slowly slipped back into
the distant past.
“‘Member when your boy was born,” said Daventry, punctuating his slurred words with a
“Oh that was a day, wa’n’t it?” responded the viscount, just as jolly. “‘Member when this
little one come into the world, too,” he added, and threw a hazy look in Izzy’s direction. “We
used to talk about marryin’ ’em off t’each other, too. ‘Member that, Daventry?”
“Was a grand scheme, too, wa’n’t it? I say, Trowbridge, there’s a thought! Could still do it,
couldn’ we? M’girl’s old enough. So’s the boy.”
Izzy gaped at the captain across the table, who stared back in open dismay. She’d best do
something, fast. “Papa, perhaps you’ve had a bit too much–”
But Papa continued, oblivious to his daughter. “Be a good match, wouldn’ it, Trowbridge?
Just imagine, my little girl a viscountess. Got a good portion, y’ know. Had an aunt left her a
size-sizea–lots o’ money, too.”
Good Old Trowbridge nodded slowly, with a grand and somewhat exaggerated attempt at a
meditative scowl. “‘S’true.” He continued the overblown nodding of his head. “Suit well, I’d
think. Make a grand pair. Let’s do it.”
“Suit well! You cannot be serious, father!” shouted the younger Trowbridge.
“‘S’all right, boy. You’ll come around,” said the viscount, his words sliding together like
they were greased. “‘S’for the best, y’know. Time you settled down. Yes, tha’s the trick,
Daventry! Jus’ what m’ boy needs. Let’s do it!”
Izzy’s eyes grew huge. Her jaw gaped open so far she could not force it shut.
Across from her, Captain Trowbridge had precisely the opposite problem, for his jaw
clenched so tightly that if he’d had a spoon in his mouth, he would have bitten off the bowl.
In which two schemers scheme to outwit the master schemers.
Captain Trowbridge leapt up from his chair so fast, he knocked it backward. But the two
old soldiers continued bantering, belching, and chortling as if neither offspring were even in the
Izzy knew better than to argue with her father when he was in this state. Far better to
out-maneuver him. Her most obvious ally should be the young man across the table, but he
glared futilely at his own drunken parent, not even noticing her attempts to get his attention. So
she would have to do it the hard way, and summon the alliance of the old buddies against him.
She summoned up her calmest voice. “Well, father, while you and Lord Trowbridge have
your cigars, Captain Trowbridge and I shall take a stroll in the garden.”
The captain’s dark eyebrows shot upward.
Izzy glanced at him, hoping he’d comprehend. “Since we are clearly not overly fond of
each other, Captain Trowbridge, we surely have things we must discuss if we are to suit at all.”
“Superb idea, my gel!” said the viscount as he sloped back in his chair and chortled into his
“Take the boy to the garden. Good idea, don’ y’ think, Daventry?”
Papa answered with a contrary chuckle of his own, in just that odd way that told Izzy he
was not as cupshot as he pretended to be. Something was definitely afoot.
Izzy hurried around the table. She reached for the captain’s arm, which he jerked away.
“Come along,” she whispered. “We shall not win this war on their battlefield, where they
have all the weapons.”
His dark eyes flashed with defiance and fury. Yet he didn’t resist as Izzy nearly shoved him
out of the dining room, shutting the doors behind them. Izzy hurried him down the
marble-floored corridor and out the French doors to the terrace.
“Just a minute,” he demanded, stopping abruptly. “This is quite far enough! Do not think
for a moment I am going to be caught in a dark garden with you.”
Izzy hooked his arm anyway and tugged. “It is not far enough by half. They are not nearly
as foxed as they would have us believe, and are no doubt watching every move we make. I shall
not be satisfied until we are completely beyond earshot.”
“I should not be surprised if you are in collusion with the two of them.” But he raced along
“Don’t flatter yourself, sir. I am as anxious as you to avoid this proposed union. But we
shall get nowhere by quarreling. It is useless to argue with a drunk, and as they are obviously two
of a kind, I thought you would know that.”
A flicker of concession softened the distrust in his eyes. “Well, I’ll certainly grant you that
“And since this is no whim of the moment as they would have us believe, it is also not
something they will forget in the morning.”
He shook his head. “Surely it is. They have not seen each other in years.”
“Oh?” She glanced at the man as she picked up the pace. “Have they told you that? “Your
father returned from India almost a year ago.”
The young man stiffened.
“And if our fathers are such fast friends, why have we not met in all these years?”
“I have been abroad, you know.”
“But you did return from the Peninsula last year, did you not? The Coldstream Guards
came home in July, I believe.”
She saw him swallow. “Your point, Miss Daventry?”
“Perhaps you have not considered the amazing coincidence of our names?”
“Our names? If you refer to that absurd nickname of yours, I am certain there is no
relationship at all.” A small shudder occurred along with a minor flare of his nostrils. “It sounds
like–” He clamped his mouth shut suddenly as if shutting off his thought. “Whyever would you
allow such a silly name?”
Izzy flashed a blistering glance over her shoulder as she quickened her pace to lead him
through the formal garden, following the moonlit gravel path as it wound like a silver ribbon up
the hill toward the Grecian folly.
“Precisely what I am trying to tell you, Captain. Has it not occurred to you that I use the
nickname in preference to a much more ridiculous given name?”
“Is your Christian name not Melisande?”
She nodded, and sped along the crunching gravel to the steps of the folly. She sighed her
relief, knowing they were at last out of sight of the expanse of dining room windows.
“By itself, bad enough,” she replied, mounting the steps. “But that is only my first name.
Why might one be nicknamed Izzy, do you suppose?”
The captain hesitated, then followed, squinting one eye suspiciously at her. “Isabel?” he
“Not even close.”
She shook her head.
“Perhaps some form of Elizabeth? Lizzy? Izzy? Though, I warrant I’ve not heard of such.”
Izzy shook her head again, flashing a look of exasperation. “I see you have not got the
point at all.”
“Isolde. You remember Isolde, do you not? Tristan’s lover, if you will recall the Arthurian
legends of which our fathers are so fond.”
Captain Trowbridge stopped cold and stared. His jaw dropped open. His eyes pinched to
match his painful groan.
“It is no accident, sir,” she said. “Nor will they be satisfied with mere marriage. We are
expected to recreate the legend and fall irrevocably, romantically in love. I’ll wager they have
schemed for this day for twenty years.”
The captain leaned his head back far enough to count the stars before he finally snagged a
disgusted breath. “And I’ll wager my father was the ringleader. I suppose we should be grateful
we were not named Lancelot and Guinevere.”
“Indeed, as Guinevere was unfaithful.”
“As was Isolde.”
“And Tristan a philanderer, or just possibly too harewitted to tell one woman from another.
But never mind our namesakes. What are we going to do? Not that I have great objection to you
personally, but I already have an arrangement.”
“An arrangement? What sort of arrangement?”
Izzy caught the faintest hint of a sneer in his tone, but ignored it. “A perfectly proper one.
While ’tis not a formal betrothal yet, Mr. Landerholme and I have intended to marry since we
were children, and I am quite sure he means to ask for me as soon as he has secured a living.”
“A living? You’d marr y a parson?”
“You may scoff if you wish. It will not bother me. He is the second son of an earl, and a
perfectly proper gentleman.”
“And I am not?” He sneered.
Izzy felt her nose wrinkling. “I made no such comparison, but since you have brought up
the subject, I am compelled to admit I do find you uncommonly rude. Mr. Landerholme would
never be so insulting.”
Something odd kindled in his eyes, then just as quickly died. Had the man not even
recognized his own objectionable behavior?
“I too have plans.” he said, more evenly. “Although I had not intended to marry so soon, I
have made my intentions clear to Lord Morrowton’s daughter, Patricia.”
“Perfect. Then why don’t you proceed with that, and rescue us both from this
“It isn’t at all that simple. She is not of an age to marry without her parents’ consent, and my
father disapproves. I have been seeking something more roundabout.”
Izzy almost wanted to laugh at the way the man folded his arms as if he needed to protect
himself from her. Yet she understood, feeling much the same way. She folded her own arms in
Of course he disapproves, since he has other plans for you. I suppose he would cut you off
without a farthing.”
“No, but he is in a position to create misery.”
“But surely there is an income from your commission.”
“There is, and I have a small competence from my grandfather as well, but the commission
barely covers necessary expenses. I would have no choice but to resign and find a more
profitable occupation. A tricky business, you see. But I intend not to be leg-shackled to someone
I did not choose.”
Her nose wrinkled again. “Yes, surely a horrible fate.”
For some reason, he laughed. “But unless father’s feathers were ruffled, once the deed was
done, he’d accept it. I am his heir, and his estate is entailed, although he threatens from time to
time to will all his unentailed property to a distant cousin he dislikes. But it matters little since
Miss Morrowton’s father would never oppose him.”
She nodded glumly. “If only one of us accomplishes the fact, it will do the thing for both.
But Mr. Landerholme cannot marry without a living, and he is dependent upon my father for
that. I cannot see what we can do.”
Izzy pressed her fingers to her lips. “My father is like yours, I think. He’d relent rather than
lose his only child, but to defy him openly would be folly. Once he has his back up, he’s too
stubborn to back down. If they’ve planned this for so long, then their hearts are set. ‘Tis a hard
thing for a man to give up a lifelong dream.”
“Nevertheless, they should make their dreams for themselves, not for us.”
“Oh, I quite agree, but that changes nothing.”
The two of them, arms folded alike, gazed out over the dark expanse of parkland beyond
the folly, contemplating their common doom. But Izzy was not accustomed to letting her father
get the best of her, and did not mean to let him win this time.
“There has to be a solution,” the captain said.
Surely, then, the arrogant captain was equally as good at dodging his manipulative father’s
“Only if we can outwit them, sir,” she replied, “and we shall not do that if we do not work
together. But I cannot imagine how. Wouldn’t it be marvelous, though, if we could manage a
double wedding? Convince them we’ve changed our minds, and that Mt. Landerholme and Miss
Morrowton have likewise fallen in love? Then, switch places at the altar?”
He laughed. An uncommonly enticing twinkle lit his deep blue eyes as moonlight glistened
in his dark hair. Izzy caught her breath.
“A clever thought,” he agreed. “But of course, it would never work.”
“Why?” Izzy knew it wouldn’t. But she had long been accustomed to playing devil’s
advocate to her father’s grand theories of knights and kings.
“Very simply, it would not be legal. Neither you nor Miss Morrowton is of age, so
marriage without your fathers’ consent would not be valid.”
She shrugged. “Well, it was but a silly thought.”
Captain Trowbridge grasped her arm and turned her to face him. Something wicked
gleamed in his eyes. “Not so silly. It still does leave Gretna Green.”
“All the way across England? Surely they’d catch us first.”
“They’d not even chase us if we planned it well.”
What was he thinking? Then the idea dawned in her mind and brightened like the morning
“Oh! If we combine my idea with yours! As they would be thinking you and I had
“And your Mr. Landerholme had eloped with my Miss Morrowton. They wouldn’t follow
because they would believe they were getting what they wanted. But once in Scotland, we would
exchange partners, and return, married where our hearts desire.”
“Marvelous. But it would take much careful planning.”
“Scheming, rather.” He grinned. “In the grand tradition taught by our fathers, which we
have both learned well. Unfortunately, we shall have to become rather fond of each other if we
are to convince them.”
Folding her arms, Izzy mulled over the proposition. “Not just yet, though. We shall have to
come upon it gradually. If we should suddenly emerge from our walk, arm-in-arm like lovers,
they would immediately suspect conspiracy.”
“I suspect I could not manage that, anyway.” Yet despite the mild hostility of his statement,
he smiled at her, a smile so beautiful she thought her heart would stop. Then she remembered his
generally sour disposition. She would far prefer a sweet heart to a handsome face.
They returned along the path with only the crunching of the gravel and song of a nightjar
breaking the silence. When they reached the stone pavers of the formal garden, the tinkling
splash of the fountain joined in.
Just beyond the light of the lanterns on the terrace, Izzy spun around and stopped. “Oh, this
will not do at all,” she said.
Instantly, his brow wrinkled. “Why not?”
“Oh, I did not mean it will not work, merely that we must not yet pretend civility with each
other. We must contrive to fight spiritedly, at least until we arrange for Mr. Landerholme and
Miss Morrowton to meet. Then, when they happen to develop a tendre for each other, we must
then be most upset and seek consolation in each other. It will seem much more the thing, don’t
Izzy led him back up the stone steps to the terrace within view of the dining hall window.
With a piqued frown, he followed her. “I suppose. It would require considerable time for
Miss Morrowton to be in Landerholme’s company.”
“Ah, are you jealous already, sir?” Izzy teased. “But Mr. Landerholme is most trustworthy.”
His brows flipped minutely. “A perfectly proper gentleman, you said. However, I believe I
should put my faith in Miss Morrowton, rather than in some man I have never met, parson or
“I resent, sir, that you imply my Mr. Landerholme is not to be trusted. I have never found
him to be in the least forward.”
“No man is to be trusted, Miss Daventry,” he said dryly. “Surely you have been apprized of
“Then, may I also presume I am not safe in your company?”
“I assure you, you are quite safe. I have not the slightest interest in you.”
His remark stung like a smart slap, but she pretended she felt nothing. “Then we are agreed,
especially as I find nothing of particular interest in you. And as I am quite certain we shall be
thrown together again quite soon, we have no need to make all our plans at the moment. I shall
write to Mr. Landerholme immediately. But for now, I am afraid I must slap your face.”
“What–?” Captain Trowbridge jerked back, too late to fend off the hand that cracked
fiercely against his cheek.
“Terribly sorry, sir, but quite necessary for our audience. It is the most likely thing I would
do, under such extreme circumstances. Excuse me now, but I believe I should next stalk away
with my utterly wounded dignity.”
Even in the dim lantern light, she could see the red mark on his cheek, and his eyes blazed
just as fierily. “Please do, for if there were even the remotest chance that I might be forced to
marry you, I’d wring your neck now and save myself a great deal of trouble.”
“Excellent,” she said, her voice somewhat silkier than she had intended, but her carefully
schooled face showed only intense ire, displayed for her father’s benefit. “Rest assured, sir, there
is not the remotest chance.”
Izzy drew herself up tall and whirled on her toe, to flee the garden in a haughty stomp.
Perfect, lass,” said Daventry. Glowing with triumph, he watched his outraged daughter’s
progress across the terrace.
“Perfect, is it?” protested Trowbridge. “They hate each other! How will you make a love
match from this?”
“I know my Izzy,” said Daventry, beaming. “She loves the sparks as much as she does the
“That’s another reason,” Tristan grumbled as he watched the little termagant, hips swinging
in her indignant stride away from him. His hand rose to cup the flaming cheek. A wave of hot
humiliation flooded him, flushing the rest of his face.
Devil take it! He’d do it! Anything to avoid a union with that spoiled hoyden. Obviously,
the girl was perfectly at ease in such manipulations. No doubt kept that sot of a father wrapped
about her finger, and would do the same for any husband.
Not only that, she was too tall, while no bigger around than a girl half her height. In place
of beauty, she was more elfin, with her odd, pointy ears and round aquamarine eyes.
Tristan and Isolde!
Two halves of a puzzle that fit like hand and glove! Tristan groaned. He disliked
disappointing his father, who thought the sun rose and set upon his boy, but he’d be damned if
he’d marry that shrew.
But as the fire on his cheek cooled, so did his rage. It hadn’t been a personal slap, after all,
merely one for the benefit of the audience. Of one thing, he was certain: the little termagant was
And it had been a dramatic exit, worthy of Drury Lane itself. He’d have to compliment her
on her skill. But on second thought, any proper lady would surely take that as insult. Well,
perhaps he would then.
He winced at his own unfairness. He had to admit she did not deserve his harshness,
despite her obvious faults. He had let his damnable tongue get away from him again. What had
happened to him? He’d once been noted for his composure. He’d always been the captain who
was known for never losing his temper. Now, rage seeped out like wine from a broken jug. Since
You must accept the truth, sir. It is not your fault.
No. He wouldn’t accept Marshall’s theory. He was responsible for his own behavior, and he
simply had to get control of himself. It was a bad habit, nothing else.
Tristan grabbed a deep breath and opened the French doors.
He sauntered into the study, where he endured his father’s merciless teasing, then listened
to a heated, drunken debate over mystical Arthurian origins. When he finally excused himself,
neither of the two older men noticed his departure. He nodded to Tibbets, who waited,
bleary-eyed, for Daventry to give in to the night. Tristan assumed the man was capable of seeing
the drunks to bed.
Sleep was slow in coming. Each time he drifted off, an image came to him of the
raven-haired elf in her obscenely clinging garment, followed by a succession of dreams in which
he struggled to teach the little hoyden some decency, and then one in which he was teaching her
something altogether different. He awoke heated, flushed.
By the time the first pink of morning crept through the crack between the draperies, he had
wakened several times too often. He rose from the bed in a fit of irritation, rather than waste
further hours in a fruitless quest for sleep.
Singularly silent, he allowed his valet more than usual sway over the choice of clothing,
grumbling almost unintelligible replies to Marshall’s queries and causing the man to give him a
questioning look. But Tristan had been in Marshall’s care for many years, even before the
Peninsula campaign, and trusted him completely. Marshall knew his tastes to perfection.
And all his foibles. It was Marshall who knew those things Tristan hoped no other human
would ever learn. He hardly deserved to be on the wrong side of Tristan’s whiplash tongue.
“Have I always been this way, Marshall?”
“Contentious. I do not think I used to be abrasive.”
“No sir. But I do believe you are getting better. It takes time, you know.”
Better. Tristan shook his head. If anything, he was getting worse. “It has nothing to do with
the head injury, Marshall. A man simply has to control himself.”
“As you say, sir. Enjoy yourself today, sir,” Marshall said, his way of announcing he was
satisfied with his task for the morning.
Tristan nodded absently as he departed the chamber, knowing all too well how unlikely that
Resolving again to be more pleasant, he strode to the brass railed staircase that hugged the
curve of the great foyer wall, and descended the shallow treads to the elegant pink marble foyer
floor. At this same place the night before, he had watched in fascination as the transformed
mudlark floated down, like a goddess descending on a cloud. But it had been the same little
hoyden after all, dressed in the costume of a lady. Almost, not quite, real enough to believe.
He paused at the breakfast room door, silently pondering his inestimably poor luck. The
hoyden was already awake and lying in wait. He should have known.
“Good morning, Miss Daventry. I see you are an early riser. I would have taken you for a
slug-a-bed.” Ah, yes. A marvelous entry. Certain to gain her good will.
She turned an acid smile on him. “A premature conclusion, Captain Trowbridge. This is the
country, sir, and we have an unaccountable affinity for the sunshine, so that we attempt to rise
while we may still see it. How is it you are about so early?”
“Soldiers are also accustomed to rising with the dawn, Miss Daventry. Perhaps you have
heard of what we do?”
In reply, the girl’s gaze raked a path across him before once again looking down at her
“I see you do not approve. One more thing we do not have in common.”
“Again a premature assumption, sir. Wars obviously must be fought, and I suppose
somebody must fight them.”
He gave her a metallic smile. “How kind of you to notice.”
“Are we on stage, sir?” she asked with icy pleasantr y. “If so, I am sure I can summon a
“One never knows, does one?” Tristan finished filling his plate and sat down across from
Miss Daventry. For a short moment, her gaze locked with his, absorbing him in their marvelous
aqua-blue hue, like summer skies. Startled, he quickly broke the contact and concentrated on the
“Ah, I see,” she replied. “The servants. You are right, of course, especially Tibbets. For all
that he is a kind, dear man, he is utterly in the enemy camp.”
This time, Tristan avoided looking up, and continued his careful attention to his meal.
“I expected you to stay up late with our fathers. I believe they did not retire for some hours
“Yes, I heard them.” He had indeed been aware of that odd caterwauling common to
soldiers who had drunk too much in good company. “I stayed about for a while. Left somewhere
in the middle of a debate over whether Arthur was Welsh or Cumbric.”
“And your opinion, Captain?”
“My opinion? Not one that matters, I assure you.”
“But you have one.”
There was an odd little sparkle in her eyes, one that spoke of intrigue and mischief that he
wanted to avoid. But irritation was surfacing again. “I do. I believe Arthur was born, lived, and
died in the fertile plain of Medieval imagination.”
“Heaven forbid, you did not say so!”
“Surely, you jest. I would not be so foolish.”
“Thank Heaven. I would not relish helping Tibbets clean up the remains.”
He cocked his head and glanced her way, before remembering he had meant to avoid
looking at her. He doubted she had ever cleaned up a mess in her life. The coddled chit likely
had servants following her about to avert that very possibility, as they had no doubt done
yesterday when she had come in from whatever pig-sty where she had been wallowing.
Well, he had really dug deeply for that one, hadn’t he? That was about as uncharitable as he
had ever been, and utterly unnecessary. He had just been provoked by the odd dreams of the
night before. He would have never taken this elfin creature into his thoughts in such a way, had
not the subject of marriage been broached. Ah, that was it. He was angry because she had kept
him up all night.
He was not usually so petty.
Or was he? He must try harder. Habits could be broken. He reminded himself they must
work together. “Miss Daventry, I am not at all sure the plan is viable.”
She regarded him narrowly. “Why?”
“You must realize this scheme would damage the reputations of both ladies involved. An
elopement itself is scandalous, but in the manner we propose, doubly so.”
Her eyebrows raised, making her large aquamarine eyes seem even rounder. “Are you
timid by nature, sir?”
“Not at all. But a gentleman must be careful of a lady’s good name, even if she is not.”
“And you hint that I am not,” she said as her nostrils flared just the tiniest bit. “But you are
right, sir, at least as it applies to this situation. You must keep in mind that otherwise you and I
will be stuck with each other.”
“Truly a fate worse than death.”
“Certainly, if one’s true love is given to another.”
“Well, I would not wish to keep you from your parson, what was his name? Landerholme?”
“An excellent memory, Captain. I cannot say what he will think, however.”
“Nor Miss Morrowton. She is a proper lady, not at all subject to odd fits and starts. I do not
believe she will feel as you do.”
Miss Daventry’s nostrils flared again, so widely that if she had been a horse, he would have
been wary of her bite. “Perhaps you should ask her. I suppose you would find it difficult to
imagine your true love taking such a risk for your sake.”
“Now you are being presumptuous, Miss Daventry.”
“Perhaps.” She pushed back her chair and rose. “Well, I must be going, Captain, as I have
plans for the day. I do wish you well. If you have any needs, I am sure Tibbets will help you.”
“Oh? Would you be going swimming again, Miss Daventry?” Now, why in the world had
he said that? If he thought himself petty before, just how did he classify that remark?
Miss Daventry raised her chin so high, she succeeded in looking down her narrow little
nose at him, despite his far greater height. “Perhaps I will, Captain. Would you care to join me?
The water is so brisk and bracing this time of year.”
His blood raced. Perhaps that was why. She flashed a mighty saber of a response.
But it was distance from her that he needed. “I thought of a morning ride, if you would be
so kind as to point me in the direction of the stable.”
“Certainly, as I am going that way.” She pivoted around and strode off as if she expected
him to follow like a puppy.
He did, though hardly in a puppy-like fashion. “Did you plan to ride this morning?”
“Later, perhaps. I have other plans at the moment.”
Miss Daventry marched out into the corridor toward the manor’s rear entrance, but Tristan’s
long-legged stride easily kept up with her.
“A lady waits for a gentleman to offer his arm, Miss Daventry.”
“Indeed, she does, sir,” she replied, and only the barest corners of her lips tipped upward
before she again turned away from him as if he had said nothing at all.
She strode into the stable and halted the first groom in sight. “Trumble, please saddle the
white mare for the captain. I believe she is gentle enough for his needs. And Rapscallion for me.
But the side saddle this time, please. I would not wish to offend the gentleman’s fine
It was twice of enough. “Do not trouble yourself, Trumble,” Tristan responded. I shall
choose my own mount. That bay will be fine.” Tristan turned toward the bay gelding, which
looked to be the friskiest of the lot.
“But you cannot!” Miss Daventry replied, startled. “That’s Rapscallion! He’s mine!”
At last, he’d got the best of her! “Then, I thank you for the loan of your fine animal. And
you, my little mudlark, may ride the white mare. Do try not to get her too dirty.” Tristan pitched
the blanket across the gelding’s back, and quickly smoothed it into place.
The little termagant pursed her lips tightly before speaking. “Very well,” she said. “I
suppose one must appease even the most rag-mannered guest. I shall proceed with my original
plans, as I had intended to walk. The mare will not be necessary, Trumble.” Miss Daventry
flipped her long cascade of hair back over her shoulder as she spun around and stalked from the
“Got nasty habits, that’n,” said Trumble.
“Who, the mudlark?”
Trumble let out an ugly snicker. “Nay, I’m meanin’ the horse, sir. A fine jumper, he is. Lord
Daventry says he shoulda named him Pegasus, ’cause he’d fly if he could. If he sees a fence, and
thinks ye won’t take it, he’ll take it wi’out ye.”
“Have I been suckered, then, Trumble?”
“Mayhap.” Darkness glinted in the sharp eyes.
“We shall see, then,” he replied.
In a short while, Tristan had Rapscallion out of the stable, and headed toward the open
field. Against the fresh new green of the fields, Miss Daventry’s white dress was like a bright
beacon as she descended the hill on the lane leading to the village.
He regretted now that he had made their quarrel public, for Trumble seemed to be the kind
of man who would gleefully use it to her disadvantage. Likely, spread the rumor that Captain
Trowbridge of the Coldstream Guards found her both uncharming and unladylike. Once again he
had let his sharp tongue loose.
Of course they must conspire to spat, but that last had been no conspiracy, and he knew it.
Sometimes the words just tumbled out on their own, when he did not even know they were there.
What had happened to the self control he prized so much?
What was wrong with him, anyway?
In which horses fly and so do lies
Rapscallion jumped the first fence as if he had taken wings. Tristan would have given a
great deal to have such a horse in the Peninsula. He frowned and dismissed the thought.
He made the circuit around the small lake with its willows and beeches, and followed the
path farther down into the valley to the village. Close to the town pump, he again saw Miss
Daventry, wearing a shawl she had not been wearing earlier, in conversation with several women
and a small girl. She laughed and shook her head as the small girl offered up her kitten for
holding. Perhaps she didn’t like cats.
As he passed the small group, he tipped his hat, and she responded with a closed smile
stretched tightly over her teeth. The excited chatter hushed, and the small child with the kitten
watched him with solemn brown eyes.
He rode on, following the path along the stream. Although not as high as it had been when
his father’s carriage had crossed it the previous day, the water still rushed and tumbled over
smooth boulders, here and there swirling, dropping, and falling into dark, churning pools.
At the water’s edge, he saw an odd object, and dismounted to investigate. A pair of brown
slippers, nondescript and well worn, tossed haphazardly beside the bank. He had a fair suspicion
as to whom they might belong.
If she had fallen into the stream, she would hardly have taken time to remove her slippers.
Then she had deliberately gone into the water. And how in damnation did she justify that?
Tristan remounted with the soft slippers in his hand and continued his ride. The longer he
could remain away from Daventry Manor, the better he would like it.
Izzy saw him.
She had intended to retrieve her slippers from the stream bank when she finished her
business with the Samples family, but Daisy had to come first. Izzy had worried most of the
night how the child would fare if she lost her precious kitten.
It surely had not taken him the space of a thought to discern who owned the slippers, and
no doubt he considered himself empowered to return them, along with a lecture of some sort. Did
the man live to humiliate her? Perhaps he’d become bored after fighting Napoleon and had come
to stake out a new enemy.
She did not like him. Did not at all. He could well be the handsomest man on the face of
the earth, and she would not like him one whit better. And she had not the slightest intention of
explaining herself to him. The tropic regions would freeze over and England turn to desert first.
She was greatly relieved when she arrived home and found Captain Trowbridge had not yet
returned from his ride. Whatever he was doing was no concern of hers.
What Captain Trowbridge was doing, however, was of great concern to him, for he was
lying flat on his back trying hard to remember how he had gotten there. As the hazy gray cloud
faded away, he raised his head. Then the pain struck, slicing like a saber slash. He knew better
than to rise to his feet just yet, or he’d be back on the ground, flat. Best to wait until the
fluctuating bands of dull color faded.
As he forced himself to sit, the familiar throb of black and gray washed through his head.
Holding his head between his hands he felt a knot, damp with fresh blood, directly over his scar
from Quatre Bras.
He remembered. He’d been riding that bay gelding, which was now nowhere about. Blast
the luck. If the horse had hung around, he might have remounted and ridden back with none the
wiser. The little harridan would make great fun of this one.
“Captain! Oh, my goodness! What has happened?”
His cursed luck was holding.
“Captain, are you all right? Rapscallion came home without you, and we are all out looking
for you!” Miss Daventry ran up and knelt beside him. “Oh, Captain, you’ve a cut on your head!”
She reached to touch his scalp.
“Don’t!” he shouted. His hand shot up to block hers and shoved it away.
Grimacing, she withdrew her hand and sat back on her heels. “Very well, Captain. You
may tend to it yourself.” She held out a handkerchief to him.
He barely mumbled something he hoped expressed gratitude, touching the handkerchief to
the spot where the pain centered.
“Not too bad,” he said, examining the small blotch of blood on the white linen. “I cannot
say I was not warned, Miss Daventry. Trumble did say Rapscallion has a habit of jumping fences
without his rider.”
“Yes, he is notorious in that respect. However, I thought you would be up to it, or I would
have mentioned it, myself. I do apologize.”
“It is not in any way your fault, Miss Daventry.”
Hearing a cacophony of human voices approaching, Tristan gathered his strength and rose
to his feet, pleasantly surprised by his ability to stay on them. He was equally surprised that no
one else seemed to have actually seen him lying on his back.
He mumbled embarrassing explanations and rode back to the manor on the placid white
mare, feeling like a child on a hobby horse. Miss Daventry rode beside him, looking like a
solicitous nanny, but was blessedly silent. But he knew, even in that instant before he had
stopped her, her fingers had traced the length of that scar across his scalp. She knew where he
had landed, and knew without question that he had not been thrown while jumping. He had
simply fallen off.
Now she would have her revenge. But she could not possibly realize just how damaging
she could be.
Izzy watched as if she were not watching, as Captain Trowbridge mounted the stairs that
took him up to his chamber on the second floor. She had been inclined to follow close behind
him as he went up the two flights of stairs, but his reaction in the field had persuaded her he
would resent it. She had no wish to humiliate him. Really, she did not.
The wound lay atop a very extensive scar that curved around his head as if it had been
horrible and deep. Perhaps from a sword or saber? Surely that was the wound he had received at
Waterloo last year. Something awful twisted inside her. How could any such blow not also be
Perhaps she was mistaken. But why would he refuse to let her tend it? It made no sense.
Of course, not much about him did make sense. And the good captain was not at all fond of
her, and seemed to actually enjoy his role as her antagonist. Yet, his reaction had been quick and
instinctive, as if to conceal something, rather than to avoid assistance.
However, Izzy was also aware of her own tendency toward melodrama, so perhaps she was
simply being over-imaginative, and he merely disliked her thoroughly and wanted to have as
little to do with her as he could. She could oblige him in that. She decided to return to her own
When the children came in the late afternoon, she led them out to the green expanse of the
front park, and down the hill toward the copse with its fine new coat of tiny, bright leaves. Izzy
gave into the temptation to run after them, thinking she might never have such great joy again,
especially if she should end up marrying someone like the sourpuss captain. And a bird in the
hand was always worth two in a bush, was it not?
She did not see Captain Trowbridge again until supper, and was grateful when he appeared,
looking quite well, at ease and almost pleasant, sufficiently so for her to set aside that last
hostility that had passed between them.
But something in his sly, sideways glance communicated that he was up to something. Izzy
As the wine loosened tongues in the early evening, she noticed the conversation had
drifted, or rather, had been subtly led by the captain to the subject of the current Season and the
perplexing question of why Miss Daventry, who was nearly twenty and well above the
customary age, was not currently dancing in the ballrooms of the ton.
“It don’t signify, lad,” said Daventry, whose words were occasionally interspersed with
hiccups. “Girl don’t need a Season. No need to set the mousetrap if she’s already caught the
mouse, if you get my meaning.”
“Well, there’s the end of it, then,” replied the captain with a sniff that approached disdain.
“Surely you realize a girl who aspires to be a viscountess must have her coming out. If she has
not even been properly presented at court, she could not possibly go about in society. No one
would receive her. I could never consider connecting myself to someone of no consequence.”
He looked inordinately pleased with himself, as if he had finally dislodged his neck from
the noose. And had she not glimpsed the conspiratorial gleam in his eyes the instant before his
reply, Izzy would have taken him for a high stickler of the worst order. Excitement surged
through her, even though she had not the slightest notion where he was taking this maneuver.
“Boy’s right,” the elder Trowbridge agreed. Gel’s got to have a proper Season if she’s to be
accepted. Got to acquire Town Bronze, so to speak. Can’t see no other way, Daventry.”
Papa squirmed uncomfortably in his chair, as if trying to figure how he had suddenly got
himself in this pinch, and how in the name of Heaven he was going to get out of it. Izzy knew
her father. The very sight of a ballroom caused him severe dyspepsia. His entire social repertoire
consisted of cards and bottles, with an occasional fox hunt thrown in. Still, he’d snagged a great
fish for his daughter, and was not of a mind to let it slip the hook.
Papa’s brows furrowed deeply. “I ain’t the kind to be leading my girl into Almack’s,” he
protested. “Can’t think of anyone who’d sponsor her. Her mother’s kin is all gone. ‘Course, she’s
got a tidy sum from ’em, don’t you know.”
“Well, that’s it, then,” said Captain Trowbridge. “I cannot possibly consent to this sham.
We certainly have no one to offer, other than Aunt Cecile, and she would never do.”
Izzy watched Captain Trowbridge’s arrogant smirk, which was so perfectly formed she
began to worry if it might be genuine. Surely he didn’t think they would let him off the hook that
“Peaches?” queried the father. “Now, there’s a thought! Boy’s bright, ain’t he, Daventry?”
“Peaches?” Izzy queried. Whatever was the odd fellow up to?
The captain’s eyes widened with horror. “You cannot be serious, father. It would be
courting unmitigated disaster to mix Aunt Peaches with this unrepentant hoyden.”
“Peaches?” Izzy asked again.
“‘Course, my boy, I see your point, but it ain’t that bad. Peaches always wanted a gel of her
own to bring out, bless her heart. She’d love nothing better! I’ll write her right away!”
“Peaches?” She was beginning to feel silly, but a quick flip of his eyebrows told her she
was on the right track.
The younger Trowbridge was quickly on his feet, and his eyes blazed. “I will not consider
it! There could be no worse choice in all of London! I am not willing to marry this outrageous
little mudlark as it is, and now to top it, you mean to have Aunt Peaches sponsor her? We shall
be the laughingstock of the ton!”
It was too much of enough, or would have been, had Izzy not already caught his drift. And
her cue. She stood, dramatically shoving back her chair. “No, you will not, sir, for I have not the
slightest intention of marrying you under any circumstances! Nor to be taken about Town in the
company of a person with such a ridiculous name, which is no doubt an equal to her character.
No, you shall not manage that, on top of your ill-bred tongue. I will not have it!”
“You will not? I’ll wager you have never thought how the ton would receive a female
scoundrel named Izzy?”
“It is at least a name with connection to reality, sir! In any case I shall not be taken to Town
so that I may please an overblown horse’s mouth such as you!”
“Now Izzy, m’dove,” Papa coaxed, “don’t overset yourself. You got to look at the practical
side of it.”
“Practical side of it? Surely, you jest, Papa. There is no practical purpose in so hideous a
“Oddly, I find myself in perfect agreement with you, Miss Daventry!” retorted the captain
with blazing eyes.
“Wonderful! Now, with that settled, I believe I prefer to keep the company of a good book.
Pray, excuse me, sirs!” She spun majestically away from the table and stalked out of the dining
room toward the staircase.
“Just a minute, Miss Daventry! We are not through!” shouted the Captain as he chased
“Oh, we are quite through, Captain. Nothing whatsoever remains to discuss!”
Izzy sped up the stairs with Captain Trowbridge hotly in pursuit. Not until she reached the
first floor and looked down to be sure the audience was out of sight did she turn to him.
“Masterful, Captain,” she said in a low voice.
The magnificent dark blue eyes that had flashed such fire just moments before sparkled
wickedly. “You were born to tread the boards, Miss Daventry. But, ‘horse’s mouth’?”
She shrugged. “If the horseshoe fits, sir. It was perhaps a better choice than other
anatomical parts might have been. Might I ask the purpose of this performance?”
“Tomorrow,” he promised with a wide grin and a sultry hint to his voice that tingled her
spine. “Ride down to the bridge below the village. Good night, Miss Mudlark. Be sure to slam
“Very well, sir. And you, likewise. And, Captain, a piece of advice?”
Izzy raked a studying gaze over him, then raised her nose to a perfectly haughty angle and
graced him with a smile as sticky as honey.
“Take the white mare.”
She slammed her door with a fierce bang. From across the corridor echoed another sound
just like it.
In which an unusual lady lives up to her nickname
Despite Izzy’s piqued curiosity, Captain Trowbridge had no opportunity to explain his
scheme the following morning, for his father ordered him up to London to make arrangements
for Izzy’s coming out. Haste was appropriate, the elder Trowbridge insisted, for the Season was
The two schemers had no time for more than meaningful glances between them before his
departure, but the look in his eye was enough to persuade Izzy to temporarily place her trust in
him. By the following morning, Izzy’s belongings were packed and ready for transportation to
London, and by late afternoon, she had arrived. Their fathers were bent on wasting no time.
Standing at the base of wide, white stone steps, Izzy studied paired doors surmounted by an
ornate fanlight. The stately Georgian townhouse, a full five bays wide, rose to four stories,
colonnaded in majestic Ionic style, with oval windows like elegant mirrors tucked beneath a
She thought herself prepared by her study of the house’s elaborate exterior, but the foyer’s
intriguing baroque plasterwork astonished her. The walls of shell pink damask, trimmed with
gilded frieze and cornice, reached up through a spiraling staircase with fanciful brass balusters to
a huge skylight and a ceiling done in sky blue, adorned with plaster cherubs. Perhaps Captain
Trowbridge had been accurate in his assessment of his already intriguing Aunt Peaches.
Yet even that did not prepare Izzy for the flamboyant woman who now presented herself.
Although clearly no longer young, Cecile, Lady Haverlock, was startlingly handsome. A wide
silver lock of hair at her left temple swept through dark hair almost devoid of any other touch of
gray. And despite her small size, she bore a striking resemblance to the tall captain.
“Oh, my dear, I am so delighted you have come! Tristan, darling, you have not prepared me
adequately at all! She is quite lovely!”
Captain Trowbridge glowered at his aunt, and Izzy could not tell if his frown was genuine
or not. That was the odd bit about their little game. Obviously, however, he had not been
overgenerous in his description of his female adversary.
“Of course, you shall stay with me, as it does not please your father to mingle with the ton,”
Lady Haverlock said.
Izzy blinked, realizing she had lost the train of the lady’s conversation in her momentary
rumination. She vowed to do better. What did she care, after all, what that odd nodcock thought
about her? They had nothing more in common than their grim determination not to marry each
“I am sure your journey has been tedious, and you will wish to rest and refresh yourself.
We shall plan nothing for tonight, beyond supper. Tomorrow, of course, we must begin our
shopping, and Tristan, my love, you must accompany us.”
“I cannot imagine why, Aunt.”
Lady Haverlock laid a hand affectionately on her nephew’s arm. “There is no substitute for
a man’s taste, my dear, especially one who is untainted by fleeting or outrageous whims. Certain
shades of violet and what can only be called a sour green are all the rage, but sadly, I must say,
look hideous on everyone. You shall save us from such an error.”
His nod was like a bow. “As you wish, Aunt.”
His easy acquiescence surprised Izzy, as did the affection that lurked in his eyes behind his
stern gaze, even though his aunt had begun immediately to demand his time, in the company of
his nemesis, in an activity that could easily be considered a waste of time by most men. Izzy did
not know what to make of him. Was this merely part of his scheme? She was merely a player on
the stage, guessing at her lines.
“I believe, my dear, arrangements are being made?”
Izzy looked up, confused, having for the second time lost the train.
This time, however, Captain Trowbridge came to her rescue.
“Please understand, Aunt, that is our parents’ agreement. We are both opposed. I have
agreed only to the Season, not the marriage.”
“I, too,” Izzy added. “I agreed only to come to Town, and that only because my father
finally consented to hire a schoolmaster for the village children, but I would not promise the
The captain=s brows furrowed suddenly as he bored his gaze into her. “Children? What
has a schoolmaster to do with this?”
With a pang of apprehension, Izzy wished she had not let that slip. He might could turn
anything genuine into mockery. But no. She would not hide from his ridicule, no matter how he
might use it against her.
“It is a lack of long standing, Captain,” she replied. “There are some children in the village
who yearn for an education but have no chance to obtain it. My efforts have been meager,
compared to their need. And of course, I am destined to leave the area eventually, so I cannot
teach them forever. I am not ashamed to say, I used our unusual situation to see them get a
“You were teaching them?”
“Just to read and write and such, Captain. The children have so very little time free from
the business of staying alive, you know.”
“Such as? What, besides reading and writing?”
Izzy’s chin lifted and jutted. Let him make fun of her. She did not care. “Simple ciphering.
A bit of history, sometimes. Simpler matters of science, and the like. Spring, for example, is a
wonderful time to teach about the natural world. Some of the children are quite bright, and it
seems a shame to confine them to the hard life of their fathers if they could do better.”
“How very marvelous,” said the lady. “And certainly a clever solution, do you not think,
Captain Trowbridge gave her a tight, hard stare, but followed in silence as his aunt led Izzy
up the stairs.
Izzy turned her attention away from the irritating captain to his more fascinating aunt. She
was completely charming. Why had he feared the formation of a relationship between her and
Lady Haverlock? Or had he? In his backhanded way, he might be instead promoting the
At the second floor chamber she had assigned to Izzy, Lady Haverlock paused, for a
moment looking hesitant. “I am not at all certain I have chosen the right chamber for you, my
dear, now that I have met you. I had another impression of you entirely. Of course, it is not at all
uncommon for men to mistake a woman. They do tend to think we are all alike, you know.”
Izzy gasped as Lady Haverlock opened the door. The walls were covered in a golden
Chinese wallpaper with figures of men and women crossing bridges over winding streams, and
following paths leading to some unknown place beyond. Strange birds flew in the golden sky,
and exotic flowers grew along the paths.
Against the wall stood a green-Japanned chest on high Queen Anne legs, and against the
far wall a delicate bed, with Chinese fretwork and hung with heavy panels of a lush, dark green
“Oh, dear. You do not like it. I shall have the blue room made up for you.”
“Oh, no!” Izzy shook her head, still staring in wonder. “It is past wonderful, Lady
Haverlock! I am too astonished to express my delight! Please do not change for me, for I should
be very sad to be placed elsewhere when I know this lovely room exists.”
Lady Haverlock studied her with an uncertain frown.
“Rest assured, Aunt,” her nephew said, “Miss Daventry is quite outspoken. She would tell
you if she disapproved.”
Izzy tightened her lips, and said nothing. Eventually she would get her chance to talk to
him, so she added his odd statement to the growing list of uncertainties regarding Captain
Lady Haverlock took her leave and Izzy turned to help Marie with the business of settling
in, until she heard the captain clear his throat behind her. She thought he had left, too.
“Would you care to view the rest of the house, Miss Daventry?” His eyebrow cocked in
that curious way that told her something intriguing was on his mind.
“Certainly, sir, as soon as I might.”
“I shall give you a little time to settle in, say, an hour?”
“That would be adequate, sir.”
She nodded to the captain’s aloof smile and watched as he closed the door behind him, then
turned away as if she were unconcerned, and hoped Marie had not seen that quizzical look on his
face. Izzy needed desperately to meet with him, for she had no idea what he expected of her next.
It was odd of her to place so much faith in the man she obviously could not trust. But he was
even more determined than she that they would not be stuck with each other for what surely
would be a painful eternity.
Izzy laid out her necessities on the bed, sighing as she did so. A bit of refreshing was
clearly what she needed.
Izzy indulged in a hot bath, then slipped into a dress of sea green silk with a dark green
ribbon around the flounce, and a broader ribbon as a sash.
Marie brushed out Izzy’s locks and pinned them up with dark green ribbons to match those
of the dress.
Over an hour passed. But the captain still had not come, and Izzy poked restlessly about the
chamber, seeking out mindless tasks to keep her busy.
“Might as well go looking for him, miss,” said Marie, agitated with Izzy’s prolonged
interference in her domain.
“The captain? Of course, I am not at all concerned about him. I believe I shall read a book.”
Izzy sat down with the first book she picked up and fumbled through it to what appeared to
be a good starting point.
“Ain’t you already read that one, miss?”
“Oh, yes, but I meant to read it again. It was most interesting.”
“You said it was awful.”
“Did I? Well, perhaps I’ve grown a bit wiser since then. I believe there were several
passages worth reviewing. I have thought some of writing a novel, myself, you know, and one
ought to study success.”
“Have you, now? You never mentioned it before.”
“Well, I have given it much thought, lately, although I cannot say I am at all ready to
undertake such a venture.”
Marie raised one skeptical brow, and returned to her fussing, occasionally mumbling about
the unorthodox nature of the chamber’s furnishings.
Still, the captain did not come.
Izzy did her best to focus on the novel, but each page was worse than the one before. In
disgust, she slapped the offensive book down on the Chinese table next to the Chippendale chair
in which she sat. “You are right, Marie, the book was perfectly awful before, and still is. I cannot
imagine whatever possessed me to think it memorable. Do I not have some embroidery
“Embroidery? You’ve not done a stitch in the last two years, miss.”
“I did some last winter.”
“Winter before last, I recall. Why don’t you go looking for him?”
“I am not the least interested in the captain, Marie. I merely wished to see the house, and of
course, that can be done later.”
This time, both of Marie’s eyebrows raised, and settled back down into a cynical frown.
Marie returned again to her make-work. Izzy thought it wise for both of them if she would leave.
Izzy shut the door behind her, leaving Marie to her own devices and walked down the
corridor in the direction of the filigreed staircase. Perhaps she could find a library. Or perhaps the
garden. The house sported a small one at its rear, the sort to be found in the finest of townhouses.
Surely, she could find her way to that.
“Oh, there you are, my dear. Did you find everything to your satisfaction?”
Izzy turned to face the intriguing lady with the voice like music. “Yes, ma’am,” she said. “It
is all quite wonderful.”
At that, Lady Haverlock vowed to show her about the house. The voice of wisdom, which
did not speak to her all that often, cautioned Izzy to keep her mouth shut.
Izzy trailed her hand along the curved rail that topped the lacy iron balusters as Lady
Haverlock led her down the staircase, noting the many elegant markings of wealth–showy, yet
oddly just the sort that appealed to Izzy. The lady had undoubtedly done well for herself in her
marriages. Still, Izzy did not think it could be so grand to have been widowed three times.
“It is such a lovely house,” she said at last, having taken in a salon in shades of cerulean
and pink, a wonderfully stocked library which spanned the width of the house at the second
story, and several other rooms of equal magnificence.
“I’m glad you like it, dear. As I have not been going about a great deal lately, the old place
has been allowed to rusticate. I do believe it longs for the excitement of a Season, again.”
Izzy forced a smile. “I am eternally grateful to you, Lady Haverlock, for your kindness. I
would not have had a Season at all, were it not for you.”
“Indeed. You are aware, of course, that your father foots the bill. I am merely the courier.”
“Yes, my lady. But the one is ineffective without the other, and my gratitude stands.”
“You are kind, my dear,” said the lady, smiling, although the smile seemed hung upon her
lips with melancholy. “You are not fond of my nephew, are you?”
Fond? She would admit he was beyond handsome. But fond? Were he a black Osiris,
carved in darkest ebony, he would have been given eyes of brilliant lapis lazuli. But fond? No,
she did not like him, at all.
“No, ma’am,” was all she replied.
“Have you a particular reason?”
Izzy sighed. She had seen from the first minute how this lovely woman doted on her
nephew, and she had no wish to cause her grief. But it would serve no good purpose to
dissemble. “As he also does not like me, I would find it hard,” she said. “And I cannot find his
rude arrogance attractive.”
“Rude arrogance? Tristan?” The woman let out a tiny sigh. “How the war has changed him.
I would have never thought to hear those words about him.”
Izzy’s curiosity perked up again. “How so?” She couldn’t imagine him being any other way.
A wistful smile turned up one corner of the lovely countess’ mouth. “He was always such a
dear. He seemed to enjoy life, then. And it was not easy for him, you see, with his father always
gone. When he came home in ’14, he seemed so confident and strong, even though he had been
in the Peninsula since ’09. But this time–I’m afraid I do not understand him at all.”
“But surely he is not unkind to you.”
“Oh, no, he is not that. But so morose. And reclusive. And he will not discuss it at all.”
“Indeed? When did he return?”
“Not until shortly before Christmas. He was badly wounded at Waterloo, you see.”
Ah, yes. That great scar on his scalp.
“He received a horrible slash across the chest at Waterloo. Marshall, his valet, told me at
one point he had not expected my nephew to live. We were told nothing of the sort, of course.
And Tristan seems none the worse for wear now, though it no doubt pains him still.”
A slash to the chest? But what about the head wound? She had seen its color when her
fingers parted his hair, still vivid pink against the whiteness of his scalp. It could not be old. Had
he withheld knowledge of it from his family? Whyever would he do that? Something about this
was decidedly odd.
“Surely such an experience would adversely affect anybody,” Izzy said. ‘Perhaps I have not
been giving him enough latitude.”
“Oh, no, my dear. He would be humiliated if we cosseted him because of his wound. Men
are like that, you know. And in any event, you must not encourage such unacceptable behavior.
He must learn to live with it.”
Izzy nodded, grateful for the woman’s wisdom. But she also intended to uncover the truth
of that other wound he was hiding.
By the time Tristan had completed the tasks Aunt Peaches requested, he had time only to
go home and refresh himself. He did not return to his aunt’s home until nearly time for supper,
which, at Lady Haverlock’s direction was always precisely at eight in the evening.
Standing in the foyer, he fixed his gaze upon that odd creature his beloved aunt had
accepted so easily to her bosom. He had known they would get on famously. They both flew
with the same sort of feathers.
As the hoyden approached from the downstairs parlour, dressed in shades of green, her
large green eyes (odd, how he had thought they were aqua) opened wide beneath brows that
arched high with her unspoken question. Tristan gaped like a hayseed, mesmerized by her effect.
He took a deep breath and snapped his jaw shut. She was not beautiful. He doubted anyone
would say that. Her gamine eyes were far too expressive, her mouth entirely too curved and
sensual, like the double arch of cupid’s bow. And her elfin ears seemed almost to have a quirkish
life of their own. Still, for a moment there, he could have sworn he was wrong. The color of her
gown became her, that was all.
“Well, nephew, it has taken you long enough. Did you find him?”
“No, Aunt, but then, he is notorious for the best hiding places in the worst hells.”
“And you looked there?”
“In all of them, ma’am.”
“Well,” said she, giving out a sigh, and turned to Miss Daventry. “I am sorr y, my dear. I
had hoped Alexander would join us for supper. But as you can see, the son’s efforts are for
naught. Very well, then, we shall take our supper without him. And your father, as well, for he
also should have arrived for his own daughter’s coming out.”
Miss Daventry winced. “I believe my father does not intend to come to Town until next
“Yes, of course, dear. In any event, you will stay with me. I know Lord Daventry, and in
matters of the ton, he has not the sense God gave a goose. I do not wish to be unkind, but I am
sure even he would agree with us. Now, let us go in to supper.”
Tristan offered an arm to each lady. Miss Daventry’s smile told him she forgave his
transgression. Still, he must find a way to communicate with her. Unlike the two sots they had
for fathers, Peaches would not be fooled by a message sent a single word at a time. He could not
slide a note beneath the tablecloth, for he would sit across from Miss Daventry. Not even a
sideways glance would get past Peaches.
Tristan resolved to spend the evening meal studying Miss Daventry instead. He could not
imagine why his father thought such a loose screw would suit him. While she did contrive to be
ladylike, she was in general too lively. Nor was she pleasant to look upon, for she inspired
turmoil, rather than peace. Even her eyes were as changeable as her quixotic personality.
How could she possibly manage a successful come-out? Inevitably she would do
something perfectly awful, and find herself cut by the entirety of the ton. For all that he was not
fond of her, he did not wish to see her crushed by the weight of society’s condemnation.
Yet she must contrive to fit, at least for the duration of their scheme, and he could not
envision how she would manage. Nor how he would go about teaching her.
He was more concerned about her quick mind. That was quite all right, as far as scheming
went, but if they took too long in their playacting, she was likely to discover more about him,
and that would be disastrous.
Yet she could have already betrayed him, but had not. She had to know he had fallen from
her horse in mid-field for no apparent reason, and she could not have missed noting that ruinous
scar that could mark his downfall. Her very silence told him she sensed its importance.
One word from her, and his future in the Guards was doomed. He had lived for the
Coldstream Guards for six years, six years of cold and sweat, ruined boots and bloody feet, pain,
suffering, and death all around him. Those last two battles–
He squirmed at the thought that anyone as reckless and immature as she should have such
power over him.
Curious, how the very threat made him feel alive. Almost real, again. Almost.
He began to realize only the gentle clang of spoons and forks on china echoing about the
“Miss Daventry,” said Aunt Peaches, “you seem rather quiet this evening. Perhaps your
journey has been too wearing.”
“Oh, not at all, my lady. I prefer to listen rather than talk,” she replied. “I have always
thought one tends to learn more with one’s mouth closed.”
“Indeed,” said Tristan, his mouth twisting in unexpected places, as he remembered
occasions when she had not followed her own advice. “But perhaps it is time we learned about
He watched with perverse pleasure as her green eyes widened.
“I would have little to say, sir.”
“Tristan, do behave. Now, please, Miss Daventry, do tell us about yourself.”
“I cannot think what you might wish to hear. I have certainly not had the experiences of
one who has been on the Continent in the midst of a great war. I have lived in the Cotswolds all
my life, a great deal of that at Daventry Manor. Even before my father inherited the title from his
brother, my uncle made it home for us while my father was in India.”
“And your father returned when your mother died?” Tristan asked.
“Oh, no. My mother died when I was eight. Father did not return until my uncle died, when
I was thirteen.”
He had just forked his meat when she spoke. It didn’t make sense. Tristan returned the fork
to his plate. “I see I was mistaken. I was given to understand by my father that your father left
the Cavalry upon the death of his wife.”
“Perhaps, somewhat belatedly, sir, but that could be said to be true.”
“Who raised you, then?”
“Oh, I have always been in good and loving hands, sir, although their services were usually
Tristan stared blatantly.
Aunt Peaches reached out and patted his hand. “Now, you see, Tristan, you are not the only
one. It seems somewhat the thing these days to leave children to the care of others.”
Tristan gave his aunt a withering glance. “The situation is different, as I at least had the
care of my loving aunt. How can one conscience leave a child parentless for so long?”
“I had my uncle, for as long as he lived, at least,” Miss Daventry replied. “I am sorry,
Captain. I did not realize you had lost your mother, too. As you are the son of my father’s dearest
friend, I might at least have inquired about your welfare.”
“It matters little.”
The countess smiled weakly at Miss Daventry. “For all that I loved my sister, I am afraid
she was not much inclined to motherhood.”
“She was not inclined at all, Aunt. I am fortunate to have had you so close by.”
“Yes, thank you, nephew, although you must not forget it was your father’s idea to purchase
adjoining houses when he went abroad. But you have certainly never been a burden to me. Had I
been blessed with children of my own, I am sure I would have wanted several, but you have
filled my heart most satisfactorily.”
Tristan wondered what Miss Daventry would make of that, and even more wondered why
he felt compelled as he had to share it at all. If he had said nothing, his aunt would not have
spoken so personally. What was it about this exasperating girl that drew things out of him that he
wanted to keep to himself?
“I do envy you, Captain,” said Miss Daventry. “I am sure you have already divined, I am
not close to my father, for all that I love him.”
“He seems to be a bit vague in the business of relationships.”
“I suspect the friendship he has had with your father over the years is the best he has ever
done in that respect. I am glad he has that.”
“You deal with it rather well.”
“I have had rather a long time to deal with it. I would not wish to live the remainder of my
life in a pout.”
She could not have startled him more if she had come up from behind and poked him in the
“Yes, I suppose you would not,” he agreed.
“When did you lose your mother, Captain?”
“Ten or so years ago. She was stabbed by an angry lover, who then escaped abroad.”
Now it was Miss Daventry who stared, with her jaw aslack. In an odd sort of way, that
“Please do not fret, dear Aunt,” he said, his mouth twisting in a wry smile. “Miss Daventry
and I have made a custom of shocking each other. It was my turn. In any case, I would rather she
heard it from us, than behind our backs.”
Aunt Peaches forced a smile. “And I suspect that helps to explain to you, Miss Daventry,
why he disapproves of frivolous females such as you and me.”
“I do not disapprove, Aunt.”
“I suspect you do.”
“No. I merely wish to marry someone more–” His restless eyes swept toward Miss
Daventry, increasing his discomfort. “More settled. Circumspect.”
“More boring,” said Peaches.
Miss Daventry cleared her throat rather loudly. “You must understand, Lady Haverlock,
your nephew and I utterly support each other in this matter. If we have parents who do not
understand our needs, perhaps that cannot be helped, but we will not bend to their demand.”
Aunt Peaches laid her fork across her plate. “Are you quite sure?”
“We have nothing whatsoever in common beyond two pickled fathers. I cannot imagine
whatever we would do with each other.”
A sudden and ver y vivid image flashed in Tristan’s mind of what he would like to do with
her, which he quickly quelled, recalling that she was not at all the sort of woman he wanted.
Think of Patricia.
“Am I to understand, then, that you will not marry my nephew, despite that I sponsor your
“No, ma’am, and if you should feel the need, I release you from all obligation, utterly
“Splendid,” said Aunt Peaches with a wide, triumphant smile. “We shall have great fun!”
“Peaches and cream, to be sure,” grumbled Tristan. But he wondered if it might be better
described as a tiger unleashed.
In which the gentleman takes a hint from Shakespeare
and makes an inappropriate appearance
She was beginning to feel as if she had stepped into a hornet’s nest.
Izzy beat on her pillows, trying to make them into a suitably soft pile to cradle her head.
She wished she’d had the foresight to bring her own more familiar ones. So far, she had tossed
upon the bed repeatedly for nearly an hour, examined every curve and crevice in the cornice, and
studied all the fretwork on the tester. And while she could find nothing unacceptable about the
bed, it simply did not feel right.
Now she had not only that nodcock, Captain Trowbridge, to concern her, but his puzzlingly
delightful aunt as well. Add to that, her father, and his. And what might Donald have to say
about all this?
Donald. Poor Donald, she had not thought about him at all. Perhaps he had not gotten her
letter. Worse, perhaps he had. He might be already on the road back to Daventry, in a fit of pique
to protect his true love, unaware that her father had packed her off to Town to stay with a total
>True love=, of course, was not altogether accurate, although they were admirably suited
to each other. Donald was kind and stable, dependable. Not at all like this loose screw her father
had taken the trouble to foist upon her.
And he was fine enough-looking. Donald, that is. Certainly did not look as if a tempest
brewed behind his eyes. He never would insult her. Never! And most certainly was never
arrogant! Well, hardly ever.
She couldn’t imagine why she kept thinking about him! The captain. He was not worth a
wasted thought. She pounded her fist against the topmost pillow again, and threw herself down
on it in disgust.
shadow crossed the curtain. Izzy froze.
A faint clang, metal striking metal. Izzy sat bolt upright, rigid, fists gripping her covers.
Burglars, that was it! They knew she was fresh from the country, would have not the
slightest idea how to protect herself. Her scream stuck in her throat. Her legs rooted themselves
to the bed. What would she do? Just lie there and let them take everything?
“Miss Daventry, let me in.”
The nodcock himself. Relief flooded through her, along with a measure of indignation. Izzy
jumped to the floor and scrambled to the balcony door, throwing on her yellow wrapper as she
“I most certainly will not! You cannot come in here!”
“Let me in,” the whisperer hissed.
“You have lost your wits! I shall not! How did you get up here, anyway?”
“You’ve forgotten, I grew up here. Open the door before my aunt hears.”
She had not the slightest idea why she did, but he slipped in as quickly as the door was
freed of its jamb.
“You lackwit! What if my maid had been here?”
“She’s already asleep in her garret room.”
“You are utterly improper, sir, and to think, you accuse me of being unladylike!”
The nodcock graced her with a supercilious smile. “Gentlemen may be improper, Miss
Daventry, and it is all the same to everybody. I would be thought dashing. But you, by the very
act of opening your door, would be unpardonable.”
“Then I insist you leave, or I shall scream.”
“Oh, do calm yourself, Miss Daventry. I have only come to inform you, and haven’t the
least designs on your body.”
“I should hope not.”
“Good. Now, please listen. I cannot stay here all night.”
“I am relieved at that.” She drew her wrapper tighter.
“You may expect Landerholme to call on you tomorrow.”
“Donald? How did you contact him? I am quite sure I did not give you his direction.”
“Simple, really, as your father is likely to say most anything when in his cups.”
She certainly couldn’t contest that.
“Your true love is in agreement with our plan, although with some reservations. Miss
Morrowton is, as well. I must say, I am somewhat surprised, as she is quite stable and mature,
and not at all given to odd fits and starts.”
“I see,” she said icily. “Then if all things go well, we soon will be rid of each other,
altogether. And I shall have a perfectly happy life with Mr. Landerholme, who is also not given
to odd fits and starts.”
Why should it matter to her if he compared her to perfect Patricia? Yet she wished that she
had never mentioned her teaching project, earlier in the afternoon. She supposed a true lady
would never associate with such dirty, ragged urchins and no doubt he thought her efforts only
one more odd fit.
Certainly, she was glad she had never told him about the kitten. He would not think even
the rescue of a child to be worth a true lady’s attention. Imperious toad.
The toad continued. “We need them, of course, or our plan is unworkable, so it seemed
better for us to come to Town, since both of them are here. The Season will give us opportunities
we could never have in the country. And you will find my Aunt Cecile quite compatible. She has
tendencies much like yours.”
“Oh, I do hope not, sir. I worry that your heart could not stand the two of us.”
“It will be strained, for all that I love my aunt dearly. But she manages to get on in society,
and you would do well to learn from her. And I must admit, your only true crime is in having a
father who is in such disastrous collusion with my own.”
“You are too kind, sir.” Izzy’s mouth wiggled impishly at its corners in her hearty attempt
not to smile.
The nodcock grinned and touched her cheek. “Oh, you must not smile at all, Miss
Daventry. We are not at all near the point in our little plot where we may like each other.
However, as my aunt has promised to knock our heads together if we do not behave, I think we
may be more circumspect.”
Her mouth opened, but before she could blurt out the obvious question, he answered it.
“Yes, she would do it. I spent far more of my youth in her care than in my mother’s. So you
see, I am quite under her thumb.”
“Ah. I see. What will be next, then?”
“I have arranged to have Landerholme and Miss Morrowton meet at Gresham’s ball in a
“Ah, you have been busy, sir. And will you share our secret with your aunt?”
His grin grew wide, very much like that enchanting one he had shared with her the night
they had hatched their plot. “In that regard, we are in great danger, for she is a wonderful snoop,
and is not at all in sympathy with us, despite what she might say. I am persuaded she is deeply in
league with my father.”
“Very well. I shall do my best to be circumspect. Moderately so, at least.”
Tristan opened the door and stepped out onto the balcony. “Good night, Miss Mudlark.
And do try not to let any more strange men into your bed chamber.”
“Not to worry, sir. There are none stranger than you.”
She watched, amazed, as he flipped himself over the edge of the balcony. Thinking him
surely impaled on the rose bushes below, she peered over the railing to see him swing from the
lower balcony to the stone wall that ran between the two gardens of the joined townhouses. She
turned away, fearing to see more of his daring acrobatics, and locked the door behind her.
The worst part, he thought, as he helped the two ladies into the carriage, was that he was
actually beginning to like her. That only made her more dangerous. They would be together a
great deal, once Landerholme and Patricia were introduced, and she was far too clever to let any
small slip on his part pass her by. He would have to try harder to keep her at a distance, all the
while giving the appearance of a rapidly budding romance. A nasty tightrope to walk.
And Aunt Peaches was like a fox loose in the rabbit warren. He hated to deceive her, for
she was the one person who had always been his anchor. She was far more a parent than either of
those two who had spawned him, neither of whom had much noticed his existence before the age
of twenty. Which, of course, meant that his mother had hardly noticed him, at all, for she had
died shortly after his eighteenth birthday. And infamously.
That was precisely the thing that irritated him about the little hoyden he now escorted
around Town. The self-centered desire to satisfy whatever whim demanded satisfaction. She was
simply too immature to recognize that life was not a game. But to be fair, she was young, not yet
old enough for true maturity, whereas his mother had grown old without ever growing up. Even
as a very young child, he had been more the adult than she.
The carriage rumbled over cobblestones making a subtle squeak that not even the best of
carriage-makers had been able to find. He leaned back against the hard-padded squabs, enjoying
the easy banter that flowed between the two women.
“I am much impressed with Madame Violette,” said his aunt, talking more to the lively
young woman at her side than to him. “She has a touch of lightness to her designs that will work
well with your height. And she has no notions of making a girl look like one of those hot air
balloons. Of course, I do not know that she is actually French. It is all the rage to affect the
accent, since the end of hostilities, and they have come over from Paris in droves.”
Miss Daventry glanced at him. He wished she had not, for he had rather liked the solitude
of being only an observer.
“Did you follow Napoleon to Paris, sir?” she asked.
He stiffened. “No.” His voice was terse, clipped. Devil take it. Couldn’t she leave the
“He could not have gone to Paris, dear,” said Aunt Peaches, and her eyes warned Miss
Daventry of thin ice.
“Oh. I do beg your pardon, Captain. I did not think.”
Well, the best defense had always been a good offense. “Perhaps you did, Miss Daventry.
You were probing.”
“I did not mean–”
“I do not care to discuss it, Miss Daventry.”
Her smile was more of a wince. “Of course, Captain, it was my error. I was impertinent. I
“However, you do not hide your curiosity.” Damn him, now. He could have left well
She met him, eye for eye. “I will not deny my curiosity, Captain. But I do not wish you to
share what you do not wish to share. As you have hinted, it is none of my affair.”
“Indeed, it is not.” He sighed. “Very well, Miss Daventry, ask your questions.”
“I do not wish to intrude.”
“Yes you do. Ask.”
“Tristan–” begged Aunt Peaches, but when he gave her his hardest glare, she pursed her
“Very well, sir. Were you at the ball?”
“Was it grand, sir?”
“As far as balls go, no. But you must remember, the duchess had to make do with rented
quarters. Allow me to see if I can fill in the gaps of your curiosity, Miss Daventry. Like many of
the officers, I left immediately upon Wellington’s announcement. But as we had expected a
coming engagement elsewhere, our regiments were packed for travel, and we had no time or way
to change to battle dress. We marched south, and the Guards regiments engaged Ney at Quatre
Bras, where we fought a bloody but indecisive engagement. Am I correct so far, Miss
“To my knowledge, sir.”
“Good. Because that is what happened. Napoleon had engaged Blucher, while expecting
Ney to keep us busy. But we withdrew, and held Hougoumont on Wellington=s right flank.
Blucher’s very brilliant retreat allowed him to rejoin Allied forces, and so the war was won. Is
that satisfactory, Miss Daventry?”
“As far as a history lesson, generalized but accurate.”
“But not what you seek to know.”
His nostrils flared, and his heart raced. He could have left it alone. Why didn’t he? “And
what would that be, Miss Daventry?”
He could not discern what it was he saw in her eyes, only that they were clear and
“I expect that when you wish to, you will tell me, Captain.”
He felt her gaze as if it burrowed beneath his skin, devilishly close to everything that still
hurt. “No, Miss Daventry, I will not tell you, because it is none of your affair.”
“Tristan! How uncommonly rude of you!”
“No,” said Miss Daventry, and she reached out to pat Aunt Peaches’s hand. “It is quite all
right, Lady Haverlock. I have been intrusive, although not, perhaps with words. I apologize, sir. I
shall keep my distance.”
That last hit him like the concussion from a cannon. He had thought himself so clever to
fend her off with his ill humor, but she had known exactly what he was doing. He felt exposed,
as if she had sliced him through with a saber and revealed the hollow man inside. The man who
had lost control of himself, who hid in dark corners alone to protect even darker secrets.
He was being absurd. She was no Valkyrie, come to do battle with him for his soul. She
was a woman, and a rather ordinary one, at that. Yet she made him feel alive, with her war of
wits. Against his will, he sought her out, eagerly, repeatedly, armed with that nervous energy of
battle that makes great men from small, frightened ones.
He knew he had not truly needed to seek her out last night. But he had hungered all day for
the duel that gave him life, and it had eluded him. He wanted to feel whole again, strong,
healthy, even happy, and he didn’t know how. He had forgotten everything, except how to fight.
Perhaps, there was something to be learned from her, after all.
“No,” he said. “You are right, aunt. I was abominably rude. It is I who apologize to you,
She side-stepped his surprise thrust, then she smiled. “There is no need, Captain. As you
can see, I am not wounded.”
So she did recognize the duel. Perhaps his wounded soul might be safe in her hands,
providing she did not learn of the worst wound, and betray him accidentally.
Almost as soon as the carriage stopped, with door opened, and the step down, he was out
and handing the women down. The small shop run by the woman calling herself Madame
Violette, who was more likely to be Violet from an impoverished genteel family, was cloyingly
redolent with the perfume of that flower.
As the ladies milled about the salon, listening to Madame’s suggestions, offering their
needs, Tristan wandered through the stacks of fabrics, fondled lace with a dandy=s delicate
touch, then took up a stack of pattern cards. Now and then, he glanced toward the willowy
creature who was the object of the day’s expedition, considering her in her bland, lemon-colored
At length, he chose three cards, one a morning dress, another a riding habit, and the third,
for evening. “These,” he said tersely, and placed them in Madame’s hand. When the little hoyden
gasped, no doubt in reaction to the amazingly low decolletage of the evening dress, he did not
even snicker. Strange that the objection came from the same creature who had stood brazenly
before him not two weeks before, mud-covered and so dripping wet that he could see every
curve of her body beneath the transparent muslin.
Her reply was simple. “No.”
His, a match. “Yes.”
“Tristan, don’t you think it’s a bit–”
“It plays off her best asset, Aunt. Other than those eyes which cannot decide whether to be
blue or green. I have it in mind that she shall look her best, and I thought we were in agreement
Miss Daventry was blushing. In flaming pink. He was amazed. He had won this battle
without even realizing he had been fighting it. He turned back to the bolts of shining silk, letting
his gaze rove over them until it was arrested in its path by a bolt of a gently warm violet. He
studied Miss Daventry and then the silk. He pulled it from the shelf.
“Oh, no, Tristan! That is one of those awful colors I mentioned. No matter that it looks so
fine on the bolt, absolutely nobody can wear it!”
“Miss Daventry will be the exception that proves the rule.”
The dressmaker’s assistant took the bolt from him, unwound a length, and draped the soft
fabric over Miss Daventry’s shoulder.
Lady Haverlock stepped back next to her nephew. “Oh, my goodness!” she said, almost
He had expected her changeable eyes to turn to amethysts right in front of him. He stared,
transfixed, as they instead became deep, alluring emeralds.
His heart tripped the rapid tattoo of an assault. Cold, hard fear slammed into him. She was
not beautiful. She was not. But she was alluring beyond belief.
Tristan turned his back.
Think of Patricia.
In which the lady makes some effort to become circumspect
and the gentleman finds a small piece of his lost heart
Tristan stood beside his Aunt Peaches surveying the ballroom. The hoyden was being
brought out in the best of style. “So, it is a crush, aunt. One hardly dares attempt a dance. I am
astounded how much you have accomplished in so short a time.”
“Yes, so it is, and no small thanks to you, Tristan dear, to have actually dragged both
Daventry and Trowbridge to attend. However did you manage it?”
“I threatened to sign up for India.”
“Ah. I am surprised your father didn’t have a fit of apoplexy, after the way he handled
He didn’t, although Daventry worried me for a bit. I am amazed, myself. They stayed
around for, oh, what? Half an hour? No doubt they have already found the card room and
substantially reduced the supply of brandy. Just as well. Perhaps they’ll keep their scandalous
selves away from the main arena.”
“Oh, do behave, Tristan.”
“I? Have no fear. If I wish to be disparaging, it will not be where others may hear it.”
But the hoyden, that was something different. Tristan glowered in her direction. She was
uncommonly childish. She danced as she walked, bouncing with each step like a girl escaped
from the schoolroom. She sang when she spoke. Or, perhaps her voice could be said to be more
like the fine, clear tones of a bell choir, chiming out the words. Entrancing, but not becoming of
a lady. And her eyes glittered flirtatiously with every new experience. Tristan had grave
He had to admit, she looked the part of a lady, in her delicate white dress that flared gently,
disguising her altogether too curvaceous body. Aunt Peaches had certainly chosen the right
Tristan had spent most of the last three weeks patiently enduring the company of his aunt
and the little minx, selecting the best colors, the most flattering styles, even attending to her
proper coiffure, all with his own plan that if their grand double elopement failed, she might snare
some other poor fellow. One way or another, he was going to get rid of her.
But how was he to persuade some poor fool of her consequence when she danced like a
child at hopscotch? He had watched her, led out for her first dance, as she curtseyed to her
partner almost as a pantomime, and he wanted to throttle her. No sense of decency, whatsoever.
She promenaded with enthusiasm, balanced with pointed toe, and skipped to the allemande.
Skipped! He could have been watching her dance around the Maypole! Had she no sense of what
she was doing to her consequence?
Obviously not. Now in the third set, she laughed and bounced about, albeit gracefully. But
her elaborate coiffure, so perfect for the evening, was beginning to slip. With each step she took,
each bounce she made, it slid down toward her shoulders. He groaned to himself, and wanted to
hide his face in his hands. It was the longest set he had ever watched.
He thought it would never end. At last, the young man who was her escort, laughing with
her, paraded her about the room, radiating enormous pride. Tristan would see to it that the fellow
didn’t dance with her again if he could not be more circumspect.
But she was no sooner back to her place beside his aunt, when the next fellow came
“You must go and repair your hair immediately,” he said, frowning as heavily as he dared.
“It will do no good,” she said, laughing. “It will just come down again.”
“You cannot go about at a ball with your hair tumbling over your shoulders. Tell her, Aunt,
as she will at least listen to you.” Tristan glowered at the young man who had expected his turn,
until the fellow melted back into the woodwork.
“Come along, dear,” said Peaches. “He is quite right, I’m afraid, and it falls farther by the
minute. We shall see if we can make do.”
Of course they could make do. It wasn’t as if they didn’t both live here.
Shortly, they returned, with Miss Daventry’s silky dark hair pinned in a more or less
upward sweep, nearly as grand as the previous creation, and surely just as doomed. At the sight
of him, her small nose rose high in the air.
He growled. “Perhaps if you would dance a bit more sedately, you would not have such a
“Only a sourpuss like you would think it such a disaster. Don’t you ever have any fun?”
“Life isn’t all fun, Miss Daventr y.”
“Of course, it isn’t. But this is just a ball, sir. We are not fighting a war. And dancing was
made to be fun. Come along, Captain Trowbridge, surely you could break that solemn pact you
have with grim propriety long enough to enjoy a dance.”
She reached for his arm, and before he could stop himself, he jerked away. The implication
was not lost on her, although he was sure he hadn’t meant it that way. Still, as he watched her
withdraw, he thought it for the best. But it would be a long evening, if this continued.
She was immediately claimed by Mr. Bottleworth. She squared her shoulders as she smiled
and curtseyed. Glancing back at him, she whispered distinctly, “Sedately, Captain.”
This time, with her narrow little nose elevated just so, she took each step with dainty,
aristocratic precision. A bit too precise, in fact. And from the smiles all about as that set moved
along, he suspected he was not the only person who noticed that fine distinction between
exaggeration and the proper thing. He seethed silently through the long cotillion, until that
scamp, Bottleworth, returned her to her place.
“You will cut off your nose to spite your face, Miss Daventry. This is your come-out, and
you are ruining it for yourself.”
“And why is it so great a concern of yours, Captain?”
“Only the sooner to be rid of you, my dear. Ah, but look. Here comes your beloved Mr.
Landerholme to your rescue. Perhaps you will not feel so inclined to spite him.”
At the sight of the man, her face became radiant, with a smile that took all her face for the
making of it.
Tristan thought he might become sick.
Oh, yes, most definitely ill.
Landerholme nodded abruptly to him, had a warm smile for Aunt Peaches, and then led off
Miss Daventry for her first waltz, grinning wider than a hyena at the ‘Change.
Well, there was that, at least. The man had known her since childhood, and if he could
tolerate her all that while, perhaps he could subdue her to civility. He was perfectly happy to let
the man have a shot at it.
But damn the man! He was nearly as outrageous in his boisterous country style as the little
hoyden, herself! Tristan had never seen a waltz delivered in such a bouncing manner. Not only
that, he held the girl intolerably close. Well, perhaps not intolerably, but certainly closer than the
proprietary limit. Just what sort of parson was he, anyway?
“Tristan, dear, whatever is the matter with you tonight?”
He had forgotten his aunt was so close. “Nothing, aunt, only that I fear your charge makes a
cake of herself.”
“Oh, nonsense. She is quite the toast. It is merely her nature to be exuberant.”
“It is not at all the thing.”
“Pooh. That was last year, darling. Blondes and cynics then. All quite a bore this year. She
is a refreshing change.”
“She could do with a little more reserve.”
“Perhaps. But if you expect it, you will be disappointed. You must not fret so much,
Tristan. Izzy will be fine.”
Tristan eyed his aunt with suspicion. Aunt Peaches had mellowed considerably since her
own outrageous coming out some thirty year s before, and it was she who provided the social
hook that brought many of the ton within Miss Daventry’s reach. He hoped their memories
weren’t terribly long, for Peaches had set them on their collective ear more than once.
“Izzy, is it, now? If you must be so familiar, she does have a proper name.”
“Oh, surely, you jest. Of course I shall be so familiar. I am quite fond of her. When did you
become so stuffy, darling?”
Before he could select a suitable reply, he heard a heavy, deep voice behind them.
“Trowbridge! By God, lad, it’s good to see you! Didn’t know you were even on your feet,
Out of the darkness that was within his mind came the voice, the last thing he recalled from
the battle at Hougoumont.
Smoke, burning flesh and buildings, acrid sulphur. “Damn you, man, don’t you die on us.”
Tristan pinched his eyes tightly to shut away the horror, and looked up to see the man who
had held Tristan in his arms like an injured child, as consciousness slipped away. Tristan’s
sagging spirits instantly lifted.
“Major Hollowell! ‘Tis truly a pleasure, sir!” Tristan quickly introduced his aunt, Miss
Daventry and her escort, as well, for they returned from their promenade at that same minute.
“This the girl you’re marrying, Trowbridge? I say, what a beauty! ”
Dark heat rose and invaded. Miss Daventry paled and her eyes pleaded in silent horror.
Landerholme glared at him.
“No, sir, there is no commitment. Miss Daventry is under the sponsorship of my aunt for
“Odd,” said the major with a puzzled frown. “I just saw your father in the cardroom, with
Daventry, too. They seemed quite certain.”
This time, Miss Daventry came to the rescue. “They delude themselves, sir. Long time
friends, you know. Fathers can be so hopeful. The captain and I are good friends, and wish to
keep it that way.” And she flashed Tristan a wicked smile that dared him to contradict her. He
was almost proud of her.
“Oh, do forgive me, Miss Daventry, I did not mean to cause you embarrassment.”
“Oh, not at all, sir. I am sorry you were misled.”
But the major smiled down upon the hoyden as if he viewed an angel. “Disappointing, I
must say. Of course, if you should change your mind, Miss Daventry, I assure you, Captain
Trowbridge is a fine man and a distinguished officer. We thought we’d lost him at Hougoumont.
Was quite the hero there, and at Quatre Bras. Remind me to tell you sometime, if he will not.”
“Thank you, Major Hollowell, but I’m sure the captain will get around to it someday. Of
course, I am not at all surprised by your revelations. Character often speaks for itself.”
Tristan swallowed at an odd lump that hung in his throat. She could have taken that
opportunity to humiliate him, especially so soon after their sharp words. She had not. Perhaps
she was learning proper public behavior, after all. Or, perhaps–
Perhaps he was wrong.
Tristan hardly listened as the major excused himself and promised to call. He expected that,
for Major Hollowell, seeing him looking so hale, would want to know when he would be
returning to the regiment. But that was not what was on his mind.
She could so easily have ruined him. She’d had two clear chances, so far. Her dislike of him
was obvious enough. Furthermore, he deserved it. He could not recall a time when he had treated
a lady with so little respect. Mud, or no mud.
The terrible part was, he had no idea at all why he reacted to her the way he did. It was not
merely the verbal sparring. That did not account for cruelty. She made him angry, angry at the
frolicsome way she came upon life. But why? Was there really anything wrong or indecent about
the way she danced? Nobody else seemed to think so.
Everyone else smiled at her. He alone scowled.
If only Patricia would come. She should have been here hours ago. He had not seen Patricia
in a while, although he had been by and left his card. She was a good choice for a wife, a careful
person who did not rush into things, who had waited patiently through Belgium and even now
was in no hurry. He had not shared with her his fears. And she politely had not asked.
But, uncertain as he was about his future with the Guards, Tristan wished he could wait.
His small competence and half-pay were not enough for a family. He would be entirely
dependant upon his father’s quixotic ways. No matter that he loved his father; that would be
intolerable. His future was even cloudier, for men like his father tended to live forever, and
spend every farthing in the process. So it was not at all certain there would be anything but a title
left to inherit, anyway.
If only he could wait until his other problem resolved itself, but that would only play into
As if in answer to his tortured thoughts, Miss Patricia Morrowton and her father Lord
Morrowton were announced. “On stage,” he whispered into Miss Daventr y’s ear, and directed her
attention to the arrival.
“Oh, here is your Miss Morrowton, Tristan, dear.” Aunt Peaches said. “Come along, we
must greet them.” And just as if she were party to the conspiracy, Aunt Peaches guided the whole
of them toward Lord Morrowton and his daughter, saving Tristan the worry over his opening
lines. The tightness in his chest eased when he saw the warmth that passed between the two
young women, as if it came naturally to both of them to like each other. Landerholme also fit in,
openly expressing his appreciation of both Patricia and Miss Daventry. Tristan was the only one
who seemed out of place.
“Miss Morrowton, will you do me the honor of your first dance of the evening?” That came
out of Landerholme’s mouth, not his. Tristan’s jaw nearly gaped before he stifled the awkward
And she accepted. Without even looking his way for his approval. Oh, but of course,
Patricia knew her lines, too. She was a careful woman, not one to be caught off guard.
Of necessity, the next line was his. “Miss Daventry, if you will?”
He had to face two highly arched eyebrows before she parted with an enticing smile that
told him he would not be rejected.
A waltz again, of all things. But it could be turned to advantage. An opportunity to speak
privately without having to hop over balcony railings.
“I did not expect him to act so swiftly,” Miss Daventry said, in a voice so soft he almost
didn’t hear her.
“Nor did I. I was opposed, you recall, to mixing this occasion with your coming out.”
“Yes, I do recall, sir, but all will be well on that account, I am sure. Donald is circumspect,
in the manner you prefer.”
“A very proper gentleman, I believe you said.”
Tristan placed his hand very correctly at her waist as she daintily lifted the side gore of her
skirt in very proper waltzing fashion. He would not hold her indecorously close, as that other
most proper gentleman had done. But she was close enough, he could smell the piquant
sweetness of rosemary lingering in her hair. She moved to the music as if they were a part of it
together, drawing him despite himself into the magic mood that surrounded her.
“What are we going to do, Captain? If our papas have told Major Hollowell, they are
undoubtedly broadcasting their version of events to everyone who comes near.”
Oh, yes, that. “If we are careful, we can turn it to our advantage,” he replied. “Let them
continue to broadcast their illusion, while we continue to deny it. It will only serve to make the
next step more believable.”
“The step which Mr. Landerholme has just initiated.”
“Precisely. But now, Miss Daventry, we must give to our audience the clear impr ession that
we are enjoying our little dance.” And he was enjoying it, savoring every second, considerably
more than he had intended. There was something about the feel of her that was surprisingly
“Terribly sorry you must sacrifice yourself so, Captain Trowbridge. I am sure it is
“Difficult? What is difficult? Oh, the dance.” Well, might as well admit it. “No sacrifice at
all, Miss Daventry. You dance quite well.”
He might have tickled her and she would not have looked more surprised. Her large eyes,
almost turquoise beneath the glow of a thousand candles, flicked up to catch his own. And he
couldn’t stop that little quiver of his lips as they stumbled between amusement and stern
“Are you ill, Captain?”
“Not at all. Why?” He used his hand at her waist to propel her into an outrageous sweeping
curve, astonishing himself in the process. Whatever had made him do that?
She gasped. “I can never predict what you will do or say.”
He suspected that was more or less complimentary to him. He could not say what it was,
himself, only that suddenly and inexplicably he was caught up in the music along with her, and
just as unexplainable, feeling oddly alive. It was almost painful, this feeling, like sensation
returning in sharp jabs to a numbed and injured wound. And that same part of him that urged him
to break and run before she burrowed beneath his skin, cried stay, stay and feel what you have so
long been denied.
“You do not think they are doing it up too brown, then?” she asked, and the very sound of
her voice jarred him back.
“They seem to be within respectable bounds. But you must not forget, we are expecting to
use gossip to propel our little farce. I have warned you that it could become uncomfortable.”
“Yes, of course.”
Of course she would not be comfortable watching her beloved Donald dance away with a
beautiful woman in his arms. He had no such worries about Patricia, who was to be trusted
completely. But he could understand that little quiver of fear Miss Daventry expressed over the
many ways in which their plan could go astray.
It must not, of course. But he no longer felt that compelling force that had held him so
aloof from her.
He had been wrong. And surprisingly, that felt good. And he knew what he must do,
although he had no inkling how to go about it.
In which the mysterious gentleman becomes even more enigmatic
and the lady harbors dire suspicions
Wearing her new sea green day dress, Izzy stood in Lady Haverlock’s peach-colored salon
to receive the callers who arrived to greet her the day following her come-out.
“I cannot think when I have seen so many callers,” remarked Lady Haverlock. “Lady Jersey
has pronounced you a diamond, you know, and has promised us vouchers. And I’ll wager a
certain nephew of mine is having some difficulty chewing those words he is going to have to
“Please do not be harsh with him, Lady Haverlock. He means well. We simply do not suit,
for we have nothing in common.”
At that moment the nephew in question entered the room, as stern as ever. And as
beautifully resplendent in his bottle green coat and ivory silk waistcoat as he had been the night
before with all the gold lace and fringed epaulets on his dress uniform. Yet something was
different. What was it?
His shoulders had always been broad and square, yet now seemed broader, straighter, as if
a load had been lifted from them. And although he did not smile, that disdaining wrinkle that
usually spanned his brow was gone. Of course, one could carry this speculation too far. Perhaps
he had merely absorbed enough brandy the night before to have brightened his mood this
morning. No. It usually didn’t work that way. A grump would be more to the natural order of
things, had that been the case.
She chose to give him a smile so properly correct that he could not possibly criticize it, and
let it go at that. After all, she was occupied in the very social rituals he so prized.
And she was enjoying this morning ‘at home’ every bit as much as she had relished the
evening before. Already she had more invitations than she could possibly honor, and had found it
necessary to put off several young men to the following week.
“Good morning, Bottleworth.” Captain Trowbridge nodded with a stiffness to both his neck
and voice. Izzy recalled how he had given that young man such a forbidding frown the night
before, that she had expected the younger man to quail and run. But Bottleworth had held his
ground. She wondered what would be the next move.
“Good morning, Captain,” Bottleworth responded, as he drew himself up tall, quite
ignoring that the captain had several inches more in height. “Quite a lovely ball last night, don’t
you think? Our Miss Daventry was quite the belle.”
“Indeed,” said the captain.
Izzy wrinkled her nose. My, how generous of him.
“Oh, yes,” Bottleworth beamed. “And she’s promised to drive out with me this very
“Can’t. She’s already promised to drive out with me.”
Izzy whirled on him, sputtering her indignation. “You–you–” Then she remembered the
plot and took a slow breath to calm herself. “You may be right. Yes, I have forgotten. I am
terribly sorry, Mr. Bottleworth, it did slip my mind. Surely we may drive out another time.”
Mr. Bottleworth pouted as he nodded his head, clearly not knowing if he had been
humbugged or not. “Thursday afternoon, then, perhaps.”
“Yes, that will do, Mr. Bottleworth. I do apologize for the confusion.”
“Certainly, Miss Daventry. Quite understandable.” He smiled prettily but took his leave
Izzy glared at the imperious toad, who looked uncommonly smug and pleased with himself.
He’d best have good reason, that was all she had to say.
Izzy dressed herself in a violet pelisse of precisely that color he had chosen for the evening
gown she had not yet worn. Perhaps it was to please that impossible man, but she could not
fathom why. And she hurried back down the stairs where he waited.
Whatever it was he had to say, he was not quick about it.
Captain Trowbridge handed Izzy and her maid into his carriage, commenting on nothing
beyond the lovely spring day and the number of people who were taking the afternoon to enjoy
it. Izzy returned a patient smile. Perhaps it was due to Marie’s presence, for he knew Marie’s
reliability was entirely dependent on what she considered was best for her mistress. And Marie
had no interest at all in promoting a marriage to Donald.
Nor did he follow custom and take his carriage through the park, where in the previous
weeks he had driven several times with her and his aunt. That, he had said, was for the purpose
of being seen. Apparently that was not his motive now, for he halted the carriage on Knights
Bridge, and turned to her.
“Will you walk with me in the Gardens, Miss Daventry? Or perhaps you might prefer along
“I am perfectly content with either choice.”
He glanced at Marie with narrowed blue eyes, confirming Izzy’s suspicion. He most
definitely did have something on his mind, something that depended upon the exclusion of
“Kensington, then,” he decided. “And as we shall remain within your maid’s sight at all
times, she will have no need to exert herself.”
Not one of the three of them viewed his decision as one born of kindness. Certainly, Marie
was not fooled, and no doubt saw it as an opportunity to further her matchmaking plans, for she
was half in love with the captain, herself. Oh, how she would fuss when she finally discovered
Captain Trowbridge was the very model of amiability as he handed her down from the
carriage and took her arm. “Without question, Miss Daventry, that is my favorite color for you.”
“Thank you, Captain. Your taste truly is flawless.” Izzy glanced back at the carriage and
decided they had gone far enough that Marie could not hear. “However, I do not believe flattery
is your purpose today. I cannot help but suspect that some other motive lies behind this
“It is not enough merely to wish to enjoy a fine afternoon?”
“For that, you embarr assed me in front of Mr. Bottleworth?”
“He is not at all suitable for you. I’d think you would realize that.”
She jerked her arm from his hold. “Suitable? Sir, I have made my intention to marry Mr.
Landerholme, and no one else, quite clear. Nevertheless, I recall it was your idea that I develop
proper social ties.”
“Bottleworth is not a proper social tie.”
“Precisely what is wrong with him? He is the son of a viscount, and your social equal, for
“I have never met a person higher in the instep than you, Captain Trowbridge. You could
well be a royal duke, for all your pomposity. Let us return. I have no wish to continue to enjoy
this fine day.” Izzy spun around on her toe, ready to walk all the way back to Lady Haverlock’s if
“We’ll go to Vauxhall tomorrow night.”
She would not give him the satisfaction of turning to face him. “You may. I believe I will
seek out my favorite book for companionship.”
“Landerholme and Miss Morrowton will both be there. On stage, Miss Daventry.”
Izzy tossed her head as her nostrils flared. “Well, thank you. It is a relief to realize you had
something more in mind for this excursion than a set-down.”
“I did not mean it that way, Miss Daventry. You forever mistake my meaning.”
“Then perhaps you would care to clarify,” she said, folding her arms. “Particularly, sir, you
might clarify why you feel you have the right to order my life, as I have not turned out to be
quite the pariah you predicted.”
“No, you have not, although I am only concerned for your well-being, Miss Daventry. I
concede you have been well received.”
She folded her arms across her chest so tightly that her shoulders hunched.
Izzy only half-turned her head at the sound of her name, her jaw set in rigid resentment.
“I am aware that I was unfair to you last night.”
“Only last night?”
“Perhaps I have been abrupt other times as well.”
“Dear God, deliver me from arrogant men.”
“However, I cannot explain it. Something about you seems to make me want to fight.”
“And you are again unfair, sir. I do not make your choices for you. You choose your own
behavior, not I.”
“However, you surely must admit that you often behave in a childish manner that you know
Izzy whirled about, ready to launch her fury. “You, sir, are an ass.”
His eyes grew huge with astonishment. “A what?”
“A smaller, stupider, and more arrogant member of the horse family. Biblically known as
“You cannot imagine what the use of such language elsewhere would do to your
consequence, can you?”
“I shall leave my consequence to be judged by the rest of the ton. And if they prove to be
like you, I shall happily hide myself in the country for the rest of my life.”
Now, it was he who turned away. Had her jab struck home? She had thought him immune
“Teaching village children?”
She saw that he held his head just high enough for pride, just low enough for pain. What
had she said wrong?
“Yes. I would find that quite enjoyable. Whatever is the matter, sir? Should a lady not
lower herself to mix with the unwashed?”
“Miss Daventry, I am trying to apologize.”
And she had just stomped on him, hadn’t she? Well, why not, to an apology that more
closely resembled a slap in the face?
“Perhaps you should quit before you put yourself further behind, then, or you may find
yourself apologizing for your apologies all night.”
His face mouthed wr yly. “It was rather clumsily done, wasn’t it?”
“I’m certainly glad you were not that clumsy last night, or my feet would be too sore to
walk today.” She took a step toward him, coming almost abreast of him, and her voice softened.
“I am aware, Captain, that you find my behavior childish, when I thought it merely enjoyment of
the occasion. I probably do not understand you any better, for I cannot recall ever having met a
gentleman of any age so solemn. Or so sad.”
As he faced her once more, she saw far more than sadness, an ancient ache, tortured,
twisted. But why? Some other wound far deeper than that which showed on the surface?
“Miss Daventry, I know I have not been fair. I do not know why I feel so compelled.
Nevertheless, the apology is genuinely given. Will you not accept it?”
For a moment, she caught the anxious gaze of his deep blue eyes, begging for pardon,
seeking a truce. If she could just hold this moment a little longer, it might be worth all the trouble
he had been so far. But she was not one to forgive grudgingly. Her lips began first to turn up
impishly at their corners, then spread quite beyond her control into a wide smile.
The captain broke into that exquisite grin that had so intrigued her the first day they had
met, then happily took her arm again. “Come, then, let us return to enjoying the fine day. Shall
we go down to the Serpentine?”
“It would be delightful, Captain Trowbridge.”
This time, she offered him her arm, which he took, looking quite pleased with himself.
“Mind you, Captain, I do not expect enormous changes of you, or of me, only that we
should treat each other pleasantly and respectfully, as we are to spend a great deal of time in each
“I am more than tired of fighting, Miss Daventry. I have done little else for so many years,
yet I seem to know how to do nothing else.”
“It must be a difficult change. Was it so terrible, sir?”
“Might we keep to pleasanter topics, Miss Daventry? As we have just managed a modicum
of respect for each other?”
“But, was it? I cannot really know from reading newspaper accounts which make war seem
more like the movement of little lead soldiers than of men.”
“War is always terrible, Miss Daventry. But I wish to talk only of pleasant things today,
despite that I have led you into this topic. Perhaps we could talk of the patterns the clouds are
making. They are always so fascinating, with those whiffs that look like ostrich plumes.”
“Papa says they foreshadow rain.”
“They do, perhaps by tomorrow. They…” He stopped cold. A faint horror lurked behind his
Izzy stared, puzzled.
He seemed almost frozen in place.
He turned toward her, some unnamed, feral apprehension in his face. His hand rose to his
scalp and combed through hair that had until that moment lain in a Brutus cut of perfect
“We must go,” he said abruptly.
“Go? But we have just–”
“I have forgotten something of drastic importance. A pressing engagement. Please, I am
sorry, but we must hurry back.”
“Well, of course, if you think–”
“I do apologize, but we really must hurry.” He pressed his hand on her arm to persuade her.
Izzy hurried along with him. The brisk pace did not bother her, odd though it was. But he
had asked for her trust, in a way, and she felt obliged to give it.
“It is just as well,” he said, “for we have gone so far that your maid must be scolding
herself for allowing us so much freedom.”
“I doubt it. She is not a particularly good chaperon, in that she is somewhat more forward
thinking than I am.”
His mind seemed already far ahead on whatever thing it was that he was about to miss.
There was nothing for it, then, but to hurry along, hoping for an explanation she already sensed
would not come.
Whatever had brought on this sudden desperation? A forgotten assignation? But why not
say so? She discarded visions of mysterious spies. He was not a traitor, and the war was over,
anyway. Ah! A mistress, perhaps with three little urchins clinging to her skirts? One sideways
glance confirmed to her the great unlikelihood of that, for mistresses, especially those with
children, required attention for their upkeep, and hermits were a bit short on that quality. A duel?
No, duels were always fought at dawn. Everybody knew that.
They arrived back at the carriage in far less time than they had taken going, and he quickly
handed her and her maid into the vehicle, then took up the ribbons. Something desperate lurked
beneath the pleasant, reassuring smiles he tossed her way.
The grays pulled out with a jerk that would have embarrassed a gentleman who prided
himself on his driving ability. When he pulled around another carriage too tightly, causing the
wheels to scrape hubs, she began to worry. She had never seen him drive with incaution before.
“Perhaps there is something I could do to help.” She hoped he didn’t notice that unusual
quaver in her voice.
“You can’t. Kind of you, but there’s nothing for you to do. I simply must hurry.” But he
slowed the team. Probably thought he was frightening her.
Within minutes, the carriage pulled up before the portico of Lady Haverlock’s home.
“You need not see me to the door, Captain, for surely we are friends enough that you can
trust me on my own that far.” And she became alarmed as she realized he was actually
considering her suggestion. It was totally unlike him to contemplate such a breach of etiquette.
“Of course not.” He assisted Izzy and her maid from the carriage and escorted them to the
door. A strange wildness prowled about the corners of his eyes.
“I do apologize again, Miss Daventry. Will you please inform my aunt that I will not be
coming to supper?”
The words were hardly out of her mouth before he departed the steps, nearly at a run. She
watched as he dashed up the steps to his own door two at a time.
“I’m thinking he’s a strange one,” said Marie, where before, one would have thought Marie
believed he had won the war all by himself.
“I’m sure he has good reason, Marie. And it would be as impolite of me to pr y into his
affairs as it would be for him to share them offhandedly with me.”
She did do her best to appear unconcerned, but even her fingers, as they wrapped about the
curving brass handrail, shook slightly as she ascended the stairs.
Lady Haverlock would be in the library this time of day. Izzy turned at the first floor to
cross to the rear of the townhouse, where the library spanned the width of the house.
“Izzy, is that you, dear? Tristan?”
“Just me,” Izzy replied. “He has already gone.”
“Really?” The lady’s eyebrows rose lightly. “Then, did you have a nice drive, dear?”
“Oh, yes. Quite nice.” Izzy ambled up to the span of windows on the library’s south wall,
looked out over the garden, past the wall, to the garden next door. She saw the lad who was
Captain Trowbridge’s tiger lead the team and carriage into the carriage house.
“He asked me to say he will not be around for supper.”
“A pressing engagement, he said.”
Lady Haverlock swung her legs gracefully off the ottoman where she had been resting
them and rose to come and stand by Izzy at the window. “Do you suppose he is finally venturing
out of that hermitage of his, on his own accord?”
“I cannot say, ma’am.”
Lady Haverlock’s gaze followed Izzy’s to the carriage house next door. “So, he is back to
being mysterious, again.”
Indeed. When had he stopped? She wondered what sort of engagement would not require
the use of his carriage? Despite that she had made an agreement with herself to give him her
trust, she had an awful suspicion something was wrong.
She had heard of the terrible wounds soldiers had suffered at Waterloo. Heard of how they
died, and how the few who lived had been given treatment. She wondered how much laudanum
he had been given, to bear his wounds? How much he might still require?
Barring that, just what was Captain Trowbridge up to, anyway?
In which Vauxhall becomes a stage and the players learn their lines
It was not what Tristan was up to that was the problem, but what he was down to. For, once
again, he found himself flat on his back and trying to recall just how he had got there. This time,
at least, he was safely on his own bed with a damp cloth draped over his forehead. Marshall
tugged at his boots.
“With us again, sir?” Marshall gently turned Tristan’s face to the side, checking his head for
Tristan remembered his desperate grab for the bedpost in a futile attempt to support himself
before the great gray and red waves of pain had rolled over him and toppled him once more.
“At least this time I saw it coming.”
“And the little miss, did she see it, too?”
Tristan released an exasperated breath. “No. But she has to know something is wrong. I
doubt that she still thinks me merely ill-tempered.”
“Perhaps you should confide in her, then.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Marshall, what am I supposed to tell her? ‘Pardon me, Miss
Daventry, but I am about to have a fit of the vapors=? Just what do you suppose she’ll think of a
man who faints like a lady too tightly laced?”
“One need not be so dramatic, of course, sir. ‘Tis not precisely fainting.”
“In just what precise way is it different, Marshall? Have you a better word? Spells,
“You deal with yourself too harshly, sir. This is hardly of your own making.”
“That does not make it any less demeaning. Don’t you understand? Nobody must know. If
the word gets out to Hollowell, I’m finished with the Guards. Eventually they’re bound to go
away, if we can just keep it quiet.”
“Yes, sir, I understand. Happens, I don’t agree.”
“Of course, you do not. You would as soon have me give up the colours.” Devil it, did he
have to do this to everybody he cared about? Marshall of all people did not deserve to be on the
cutting side of his ill humor. He raked his fingers through his hair, pushing back the wet cloth.
“Sorry, Marshall. I do not mean to speak ill to you. I wouldn’t even be alive, if it were not
“Oh, no offense is taken, sir.” As Tristan tried to rise onto his elbows, Marshall gently
pushed him back to the bed. “I shall have you up in no time, Captain, if you will just rest now. I
have some laudanum here.”
“I told you I don’t want any more of the stuff. The pain will go away by itself if we just
leave it alone.”
“We’ve tried that, Captain, and it is only prolonged. And how long has it been? A month?”
“To the day.”
“Ah, yes, while we were at Daventry Hall. One cannot become addicted, taking it only
once a month.”
“All the same, I want no more of it. Bring me some of that Scotch whiskey instead.”
Marshall nodded smartly and left to fulfill the request. Tristan sank back into the pillows.
In the days and months following Waterloo, Marshall’s careful ministrations had been all that
had kept him alive. In the makeshift hospitals, the few surgeons available had been
overburdened, and their patients died faster than they could sew them up. When the fever had hit,
it had been Marshall who stood by him, patiently bathing him to cool him down, and urging bits
and dabs of food and broth on him. Tristan doubted he would have found the strength to survive,
if it had not been for the doses of laudanum Marshall had scrounged to provide for him. But it
had almost been more painful getting off the stuff. Marshall didn=t understand that.
He could never forget that time. In ways, it was far worse than the battle itself had been,
listening to men moaning, knowing that when they stopped, it was because they were dead.
Believing he was as doomed as they.
And yet, somehow surviving, when he should not have. Knowing men like Russell and
Radcliffe died all around him. The very enormity of it was still beyond his ability to deal with it.
Now, he only wanted to get back to living. If only he could.
They had come to Vauxhall Gardens, accompanied by Lady Haverlock, to join a small
group of newly made acquaintances. Izzy was aware that the captain had wangled the invitation
largely because of the fairly loose chaperonage, something that fit well with their scheme, but
should have, nevertheless, conflicted with his over-rigid sense of propriety. She wondered if he
recognized that contradiction, but just had special rules to justify it. Certainly, as he had assured
her several times, she was perfectly safe with him, as he had no designs on her person.
Izzy looked about her, watching impatiently for the appearance of Donald and Miss
Morrowton. As the captain nudged her elbow, Izzy followed his gaze to the gate, where she
watched several young women, including Miss Morrowton, enter the garden. Behind them, next
to a woman of middle age in black, was Donald.
She smiled as Donald took her arm, but they seemed to have little to say beyond the usual
For a time, the entire group of friends strolled together, then stopped to dine on the
infamous chicken and meats so thinly sliced, Izzy wanted to hold a piece up to the light to see if
she could see through it.
Mr. Bottleworth sat on her left and giggled in her left ear, just at the moment Captain
Trowbridge leaned to whisper in the right one.
“Take a second glass of wine,” he said.
Izzy frowned at the strange fellow.
“Or pretend to.”
She then realized the likelihood that such would be noted by just about every person in
their company. And, no doubt be remarked upon later as a possible contributor to the events that
were about to unfold. She motioned for a second glass, surreptitiously noting the eyes that
The loose structure of their plans for the evening bothered her, although she approved of
the flexibility this method of planning provided. Seeing that the captain came from a military
background, she supposed he was accustomed to a quick change in battle plans. Yet, even
knowing the whole thing had been planned ahead, even knowing the scheme was as much hers
as theirs, she felt an odd qualm strike her as she watched the event unfold.
“Miss Morrowton, perhaps you would care to stroll the garden with me,” said Donald.
“But of course, Mr. Landerholme,” the girl replied, giving him an enchanting smile that
further exacerbated Izzy’s unease.
Captain Trowbridge frowned visibly enough for anyone to interpret, then gave Izzy a
similar invitation, and she responded with a smile equally as broad, and, she hoped, enchanting.
She tossed a querying glance at Lady Haverlock, who nodded her approval, all the while trying
to appear stern. Izzy repressed a giggle. Strictness was utterly beyond that lady’s capacity.
“It is all going marvelously,” Captain Trowbridge said when they were sufficiently alone.
“Yes, I am sure,” she replied. But there was still that nagging doubt in her voice.
“I see that you are still concerned.”
“Everything is so open-ended,” she said, wrinkling her brow.
“It does present a difficulty. However, I have found I can rely on you to improvise, and in
the process, provide a much better script than we could have written beforehand.”
“I cannot tell, sir, whether I should take your remark as a compliment or not.”
“As you will, Miss Daventry. It certainly was not meant to be derogatory. I believe, at the
rate we are going, we shall have you married off to your true love in no time at all.”
“And you, as well, Captain. I am sure you will be relieved.”
“And you will not be?”
Would she? “To tell the truth, I have never been all that anxious to marry. I had always
thought one should achieve a certain level of maturity and knowledge first.”
“But I thought you believed yourself suitably mature. Did you not object to being
“Oh. That is not the same thing, at all. However, I am almost twenty, and, well, there are
things–Well, there are things a lady ought to know first.”
His eyebrows raised in mock surprise. “Are there, Miss Daventry? And what would those
She had seen him twinkle with mischief before, but he fairly brimmed with it now. What
fun he could make of her, if he chose. Or, what fun he might be, if he would only allow it of
himself. Would he turn what she said against her? Or would he, for even just a moment, allow
himself a little joy, a little fun? Well, so what if he did? Or didn’t? She decided to pursue the
subject, anyway, as it was a matter of extreme curiosity for her.
“To be quite honest, Captain, I am afraid I have only the slightest notion how one goes
about performing the expected duties. I am not even sure how one goes about a proper kiss. So I
cannot see how I shall avoid making an utter cake of myself on my wedding night.” Izzy felt
dark crimson, rising in a band of heat upward from her neck all the way to the tip of her scalp.
To his great credit, the captain did not so much as utter a snicker.
“I am sure you will do yourself credit. It is, after all, a hurdle human beings have
successfully negotiated for thousands of years.”
“But, how shall I know, when I have not the slightest experience in that regard? I detest the
thought that I might muff the whole thing.”
“Experience in a bride is not considered admirable, Miss Daventry.”
“Oh, of course, I understand that, Captain Trowbridge. Such should not be obvious, at least.
But, how is a lady to know she will like the experience if she has no chance to make
“I really do not think you should pursue your inquiry. A man expects he shall have to do
some teaching on the occasion of his marriage, and in fact would be quite overset if deprived of
“Are you quite sure, sir? It seems utterly unfair. It does appear, after all, that gentlemen
have ample opportunity to practice.”
Captain Trowbridge almost choked on his laughter.
“Yes, Miss Daventry,” he said, when he could finally find himself capable of speech again,
“I will concede that it is unfair, and that gentlemen do indeed have somewhat more opportunity
to practice, as you put it.”
As he spoke, he led her off the path into the stand of trees beyond the third arch where they
would await their friends. He faced her, merriment dancing in his eyes, sparkling as brightly as
the pinpoints of light from the myriad lanterns strung along the walks. “Now, tell me, little
scamp, just what is it you want to know?”
Izzy’s instincts were instantly at war, wanting both to flee and to probe for more, as the
captain fingered the dark ringlet that trailed over her shoulder.
“It is not,” she stammered, “that I am so little, Captain, but that you are so uncommonly
“Perhaps,” he replied, while a strange array of smiles played across his face. “And that has
nothing to do with the subject at hand. Just what is it, my dear, that you want to know?”
“I suppose that is the problem, that I do not quite know what it is I want to know, and that I
find the whole thing quite confusing.” Extremely confusing. His eyes were like smolder ing coals,
both dark and burning. She no longer felt safety in his presence, but dark and alluring danger, as
if the Devil himself had come to get her. Maybe he had.
She grabbed a trembling breath, to compose herself. “I think,” she stammered, as if mere
flimsy words might maintain a distance between them, “a lady might at least like to know how to
kiss, without making a cake of herself.”
“Do, you, little scamp?”
The back of his hand dragged across her cheek. She felt the oddest sensation, as if she
needed to turn her face into his touch.
“I say, Trowbridge, aren’t you getting ahead of your lines?”
Captain Trowbridge jerked as if he had been shot. “Oh, it’s only you, Landerholme,” he
replied, as he moved away from Izzy and readjusted his composure. “Thought I’d add a little
authenticity, should someone else come along.”
“Authenticity, is it? Well, you’d best be sure you don’t add too much.”
“Now see here, Landerholme!” Captain Trowbridge took an aggressive step toward
Donald, who did not budge from his spot.
“Donald!” Horrified, Izzy cried out.
“Tristan!” exclaimed Miss Morrowton.
The two men eyed each other, then the ladies. They stepped back. Whatever had gotten into
Izzy folded her arms, as she glared at both Donald and Captain Trowbridge. “I cannot see
how we will accomplish a thing if the two of you choose to bicker. And the two of you will ruin
it all, if you are not careful.”
“I do mean it, Donald. I, for one, have no intention of marrying someone who has so little
trust in me.”
“Now, Izzy, it’s not you I distrust. It’s–”
“It is all the same thing, Donald, for if you assume Captain Trowbridge will do anything
untoward, you also assume I will allow it. And I will not have it.”
“Certainly,” agreed Patricia. “And we are wasting what little time we have. If we do not get
about our business quickly, someone is likely to come looking for us.”
“Very well,” said the captain with a huff. “We must get to it. We must contrive to convince
the audience that something has happened. I suppose we could engage in a loud argument. It has
worked for Miss Daventry and me before.”
“Not at all the thing,” replied Donald, shaking his head. “If it were done too brown, we
would create scandal, instead.”
As if to punctuate Donald’s statement, a high-pitched chime, like the sound of a tiny golden
bell, rang nine times.
“What the deuce is that?” the captain demanded, startled by the intrusive sound.
“Donald’s watch,” Izzy and Patricia said together.
“Heirloom,” Donald added. “From my grandfather.”
“Devil of a distraction, I’d think. How can you deal with it, going off at all hours like that?”
“One becomes accustomed to it,” Donald replied, stroking the gold-cased watch in his
The captain’s reply was an exasperated frown.
Patricia ignored that new trend in the conversation, and steered them back to business. “But
we must surely say something, if we are to get our point across,” she argued.
“Perhaps not,” Izzy objected. “We are approaching the problem from the wrong angle. We
should suggest, without giving any details. Let them fill in for themselves.”
Donald looked skeptical. “That doesn’t make sense, Izzy. How?”
“We will say nothing at all. Nothing. Simply state nothing is wrong. Everything is fine.”
Donald shook his head, and the frown furrowed more deeply. “I don’t get it.”
Izzy smiled patiently. He was a dear, but he was not always the brightest candle in the
bracket. “We return in pairs, as we came, but stiffly. Very formally. And silently, not speaking to
each other. Not merely that the captain and I do not speak to the two of you, but also do not talk
to each other. It will certainly be noticed, and the more curious members of the group will probe.
But we will all continue to insist everything is just fine.”
Patricia gasped as her eyes grew wide with admiration. “Oh, how marvelous! Perfectly
perfect! But, not anything at all, Izzy?”
“Well, perhaps a smile, such as one Captain Trowbridge when he has it in his mind that he
will grimly do his duty, if even God be damned by it.”
Tristan’s smile turned upside down and his dark brows turned into a waffled furrow. “I do
not do such a thing.”
Patricia giggled into her perfectly gloved hand.
With a startled blink, the captain re-arranged his face into something more amiable, and
then the corner of his mouth began to twitch into a real smile. Izzy kept her amusement to
“I don’t get it,” Donald repeated.
“Simple,” Captain Trowbridge said, and gave Donald a patronizing smirk. “Nothing
heightens a gossip’s interest more than speculation, but with no details. They will draw their own
conclusions, yet will have nothing more to go on than silence. I agree, it is perfect in
accomplishing our intent, while causing the least harm to reputations. I am awestruck, Miss
Daventry. I would have never thought of anything so subtle.”
“Thank you, Captain. Are we agreed?”
Donald mumbled with a grudging nod, quite the opposite of Patricia’s elated one.
Captain Trowbridge merely twitched his mouth in that way he had that seemed to mean
nothing, yet made one wonder. “Then, after tonight we are on our own, until we are able to
determine the time to leave. Landerholme, you will not need to visit Miss Daventry, and in fact,
probably should not. I will, of course, happily arrange for any covert communication you care to
“And you and I, Miss Daventry, will have to become more familiar, a first-name basis, I
“If you call me Melisande, I shall not answer you, sir. Nor, for a fact, speak to you at all.”
His eyes narrowed to match his thinned, haughty smile. “A tempting thought. Very well,
Izzy. You shall have it your way.”
“There, sir, you see, you did not choke.”
“Nor has lightning struck, I concede. Now, you will say mine.”
Izzy began to choke and cough, and following that, pasted on a mock mask of horror. “Oh,
sir, I think I shall faint.”
“Say it, or you will have to marry me,” he responded, looking comically villainous with his
haughty eyebrows arched a bit too high.
“Very well.” She coughed again, as if choking on it. “Tristan. There, I have said it.”
Patricia giggled. Donald glowered, clearly seeing no humor at all in the situation.
“Excellent,” said Tristan. “Shall we proceed?”
In which the gentleman discovers it’s not absence
that makes the heart grow fonder
As he reached the coach with his aunt and Miss Daventry, the impact of his moment alone
with Izzy in the garden hit him.
He had gone utterly, totally, and verifiably insane. That crack in his skull the previous June
must have let his brains seep out all over the Belgian countryside.
He had actually almost kissed her, had been within a fraction of a moment of committing
the most impossible, most devastating act of his life!
And utterly without reason, too. She was not at all like his lovely Patricia, whose
golden-blonde hair and classical features suited him so perfectly. Unlike Patricia, this rascal’s
otherwise willowy proportions were distressingly interrupted by ample breasts. Her dark curls
never stayed in place. Even her eyes could not be counted on, and would change color even as he
watched. There was nothing proper about her.
And all that said nothing of her odd fits and starts.
Of course, he had not really wanted to kiss her. He had merely been drawn in at an odd and
All right, she was intriguing. Charming, even, if one liked mudlarks. But he did not want to
Calling himself back from his reverie, he suddenly discovered he had actually lost track of
the conversation between the two women who sat across from him in the carriage. In his attempt
to remain aloof and heighten the impression that something had happened, he had allowed his
mind to roam.
Izzy. He’d best get used to it, for he would be using it to exclusion if he expected anyone to
believe they were forming a tendre for each other. He would look beyond odd if he persisted in
addressing her so formally as Miss Daventry, when half the ton had already taken up the
She had become one of those mysterious sensations known as incomparables, whose
intriguing individuality happened to hit the social scene at just the right time. He saw no other
explanation for it. If she had come out the year before, or even the year still coming, she would
as likely be a misfit. She had become, instead, bafflingly popular.
“One can deal with aspersion in a number of ways,” his aunt was saying.
He wondered what had brought up that subject, although it certainly was one on which his
aunt was well qualified to speak. He listened with interest.
“One can hide from it, of course, but that leads only to further disaster, as does any attempt
to explain oneself. Or one can ignore it.”
“‘Tis said, the memories of gossips only last to the next juicy tidbit,” Izzy replied.
“Oh, do not believe it, my dear, although it is true they tend to lose interest as soon as some
is introduced. But they do not forget. One’s indiscretion is merely stored away for
future use. But if one is sufficiently endearing, they will forgive anything.”
Aunt Peaches glanced his way, as she had done several times before, doing her best to
appear not to have done so. But now, she noticed his new interest in their small talk. “Tristan,
darling, is something amiss?”
She had asked the question three times before. He should be delighted, he supposed, for
this was precisely the result they had sought. Yet, even though his answer would be totally
truthful, he knew he deceived her, and regretted the necessity.
“No, Aunt. Nothing is amiss.”
“You are unusually quiet.”
“A failing of mine, sometimes.”
“I suppose. You, too, Izzy, my dear. Although I see you make the effort, you are usually
more conversational than you are tonight.”
“A long day, ma’am.”
The way Aunt Peaches tensed her lips told him she was unconvinced. That was what they
wanted, was it not?
He truly hoped his aunt was right, and this little imp would be endearing enough to be
forgiven her coming transgression. Interestingly, Patricia would also benefit in that case, for
society would be unable to forgive one lady without granting the same pardon to the other. But
all of them would have to accept a certain amount of tarnishing of their bronze when the extent
of their scheme became known. He worried about both ladies. He did not want them hurt.
Izzy seemed invincible, or at the least, capable of holding her own ground. Her disdain for
things elite was unnerving. He would never want to be leg-shackled to one so unpredictable,
someone who might at any moment bring down humiliation on a husband or family by some
foolish or impulsive choice.
And Aunt Peaches was right, that society did not easily forget. His own mother, Peaches’
sister, had left an indelible stain on him that only the very young did not recall.
Peaches herself had been a mischievous muddle, always getting herself into pinches. But it
had been a very different sort of thing. Her scrapes had been of an innocent, adventurous nature,
with no malice, no careless cruelty. And she had been one of those incomparable, mystical
creatures that had enchanted the ton. One so endearing that they would forgive anything.
And Izzy was like her, not his mother, as he had feared on their first meeting. He was glad
he had thought of Peaches to sponsor her.
Tristan had done the pretty quite carefully tonight, knowing that the very precision in
which he carried out his tasks, his clipped politeness, emphasized in his aunt’s mind that an
intriguing event of mysterious nature had occurred.
“Good night, Aunt, Miss Daventry,” he said he as he left them at their door. And he was
aware that their eyes were trained on him as he descended the stone steps and turned toward his
Tristan paused outside the gate, studying the home that had been his since his mother’s
death. How fortunate that his grandfather had had the foresight to protect it from his mother’s
extravagance. Still, even with the small competence from his mother’s estate and his
commission, he would be hard put to support a family.
He dreamed odd dreams as he slept, dreams of an elfin creature that enchanted him, led
him where she would, while he followed, willingly, no, not willingly, helplessly. For he was
beyond any control of his own, and did not even seemed to mind.
He dreamed of kissing the elf, dreamed of much more than that, if he would be truthful
Yet, when he woke, he once again told himself he had no desire to kiss her, nor to hold her,
nor anything else. It was merely because he was constrained by the current situation.
“Good morning, Captain,” said Marshall, who was preparing the morning ritual. “I trust
your evening went as planned.”
“Even better,” Tristan replied. He stared at the mirror, wondering that the turmoil inside
him did not show. “I suspect I shall soon find myself married to Miss Morrowton and put a
period to my father’s machinations.”
“Then you’ll be selling your colours, sir?”
“That would never do. Miss Morrowton has her heart set on being a Guardsman’s wife.”
And he would need the blunt.
Marriage to Patricia would undoubtedly ease his current errant disposition. She was a
perfectly proper lady, who would do her duty. And she would provide him with that stability he
had always sought, but that had somehow eluded him.
Yet, he wondered what Patricia would say when she learned of his debility. That she had
shown little interest in his injuries was surely attributable to her lack of knowledge about a man’s
body, and to the fact that she had been told very little about how close to death he had come.
“She will be accompanying you on campaign, then, sir?”
Tristan frowned. That was another thing he had not worked out. Places like India, where he
had been born, or the West Indies, were no place for a woman, where diseases flourished, and
the heat withered gently born women. The sun made them old before their time. And women
who had babies were often faced with primitive conditions that frequently marked them for
death. No. A perfect woman like Patricia could not be subjected to such awful conditions. She
deserved to remain in her safe world, within the boundaries of the ton. She deserved something
more than a soldier for a husband.
Yet, he didn’t want for himself a life like that of his parents, with years of separation, of
children raised fatherless. Of a mother grown silly with boredom. Of a father turned to drink out
of loneliness. But he was a soldier. If he stayed with the Guards, that was what he could expect:
that, or the risk of losing a wife to all the dangers of a primitive land.
Yet, if he sold out, he would become once again dependent on his unpredictable,
controlling father. Then he would not marry Patricia at all. His father would see to that.
“Your nephew awaits in the library, my lady,” said Fitch as he took both ladies’ pelisses,
bonnets, and gloves. Izzy slid a glance sideways to see how Lady Haverlock would react.
“Does he? Any particular business, did he say?”
“Your nephew does not ordinarily confide in me, my lady.”
“Try not to take it to heart, Fitch. He rarely confides in anybody. Well, I meant to go
straight up and dress, but I shall look in on him.”
Izzy’s pulse quickened as she followed Lady Haverlock up the staircase to the first floor
library where the captain awaited. She wondered what new wrinkle Tristan had concocted this
It was not the man she awaited so eagerly, but the quickness of his mind. She had long ago
decided that, while he was more than fair to look upon, he was not at all what she sought in a
husband. True, they had, of late, become passable friends, but she could not imagine living with
such a person. He was as morose as dead winter’s leaden skies. Or, when not that, then falsely
pleasant. And although she had seen some softening in his brittle soul, she must not forget he did
not like her. She was merely the means he used to gain his own ends.
His eyes sought out hers as the two women entered the room. One who didn’t know better
would think them clear, honest. Only Izzy knew the true extent of his devious nature. But as hers
was a match for his, she could hardly cry unfair.
“Good afternoon, nephew,” said Lady Haverlock. “I did not expect to see you before
evening. You have not forgotten the dinner party at Sheldon’s?”
“No, Aunt. I have just come by to see if Miss Daventry would favor me with a ride in the
Before she could answer, Lady Haverlock spoke. “Oh, well, if that is all you are about, then
I shall be about my business. I thought to take a short nap before dressing.”
Izzy obscured her thoughts with a bland smile as she watch Lady Haverlock proceed on her
journey upward to her second floor chamber.
“Today is Thursday,” she said. “You may recall, I have promised to ride out with Mr.
“Bottleworth can wait.”
“But of course, he cannot. As he was so rudely treated when last he was here, I could not
conscience doing so again.”
“Surely you realize that such things delay our plan.”
“Surely you realize that should we seem to grow overfond of each other too quickly that it
will appear so very unnatural.”
“We do not have a great deal of time to play with.”
“We have all the Season to play with.”
Instead of replying, Tristan looked past her shoulder to the door behind her.
Izzy turned around just as her papa came into the library. Papa! In the exciting shuffle of
the Season, she had nearly forgotten him.
“Mornin’, my dove,” said Papa, an unusually wide grin in his florid face.
Izzy dashed to his open arms. “Papa! Oh, it is good to see you! But it is hardly morning.”
“O’ course it is, my dove. We’re in Town, now, darlin’, and it’s morning till four o’clock.”
“I did not expect you back so soon, Papa. Did you not say you would be gone till May?”
She glanced at Tristan. They had, in fact, counted on the two fathers to be off, minding
only their own hare-brained pursuits.
“That I did, my dove,” said Papa, and a great rolling chuckle shook his round belly.
“Trowbridge and me, though, we thought to come and see how you are doing. Seems to me, the
two of you are getting along fine. Finally given up on that Landerholme boy, have you?”
“Now, Papa, don’t start that again.” She saw Tristan step back behind her father, his eyes
speaking silent volumes that Izzy immediately comprehended. She had to get rid of Papa, and
“Although,” she continued, as if she had not paused, “Donald and I have determined we do
He must have heard the news, already, she realized, even though that little
occurred just last night. Word must have spread like a raging torrent after a storm.
“Splendid! Then, we got work to do. First, we got to see to notifications, ain’t that right,
Only a minute wince gave away Tristan’s discomfort.
“However, Papa, the captain and I have also decided we do not suit.”
Tristan now let out a breath of relief.
“Not suit? O’ course, you suit. The perfect match, I tell you. What’s the matter, son? You
don’t still favor the Morrowton chit?”
So he did know. Well then, they would once again turn their fathers’ connivings around.
“Miss Morrowton and I have also determined we do not suit. But it does not signify. Miss
Daventry and I find ourselves at odds more often than is comfortable.”
Papa chuckled as he gave his daughter an affectionate pat on her back. “You’ll get used to
it, lad. All women are like that. There’s some as hides it better than others, is all.”
Izzy didn’t like the direction the conversation was taking. Edging in between the two men,
she took Papa by the arm and leaned against his shoulder. “Oh, Papa, it hardly matters, now that
you are back in Town. You surely do not know what you have been missing. It’s ever so exciting
here, and I have so many beaus!”
“Beaus? You ain’t to have but one, girl. I told you that.”
Tristan interrupted. “Nevertheless, Miss Daventry stands a chance for a much better match
Papa shook his head so hard, his jowls jiggled. “Ain’t so, son. The two of you was made for
Literally, Izzy griped to herself. Yes, she would not put it beyond him if he had deliberately
seen to her conception precisely for that purpose. “But of course, there’s plenty of time for
wrangling later, Papa. We must get busy, if we are to obtain invitations for you on such short
“Invitations?” His face began to lose its color.
“But of course! Now that you are here, we shall have great fun. There is a dinner party
tonight, and I am sure Lady Haverlock will want you to come along. Tomorrow night is
Cunningham’s ball, and I have waited forever for it. You simply must be there!”
The florid tinge of Papa’s face faded until only his nose remained pink. Izzy took heart.
“I could not conscience going without you, now that you are here. And the next afternoon,
oh, there is something marvelous every night, except Sunday, of course, and almost every
afternoon, we–” She rattled on her litany of social affairs, pleased to see it was having the
“Now, Izzy, dove, you know I ain’t one to do the pretty.”
“Oh, but it is only because you are not accustomed to it. You really must practice your
social graces daily, if you are to truly learn to enjoy them. Now, I am sure we can–”
“Uh,” stuttered Papa, “I ain’t plannin’ to be around, girl. Got to leave real soon. Tomorrow,
that is. Yes, tomorrow. The lad’s papa and I got to go to, uh, Oxford. Oxford, it is. There’s a new
manuscript. Well, not new, o’ course, it’s old, is what it is. Got to see it, right away.”
“Oh? About what, Papa?”
“It’s, uh, uh, Lancelot, it is. Very important, don’t you see? Been lost, all these years.”
“Oh.” Izzy trailed off her voice, hoping it sounded genuinely disappointed, sufficiently to
cover her elation. “But you will come back, won’t you? The Season is in high flower, and I am
told it has not been so fine in many years. You cannot miss it, Papa.”
“Oh. Uh, got to get back home, then. Them new foals, don’t you know. There’s some as
show great promise. You understand horses, don’t you, lad? Take lot’s of watching, don’t you
Tristan put on his mask of mild disdain. “Of course, sir, but I believe your daughter has the
right of it. It would add some consequence to her Season to have her father about.”
“Oh, I know, I know. But I ain’t able to do it, just now. Mayhap, a month or so.”
“But, Papa, the Season will be practically over by then.”
“I know girl, but a man’s got t’ live up t’ his responsibilities, don’t you know. Well, got t’ go,
girl. Can’t stay. Be back soon, I’ll warrant. Month or two, at most.”
Izzy cast her gaze downward, looking appropriately disappointed, she hoped. “Yes, Papa. I
shall see you then.”
As the color began to ooze back into his face, Papa nodded solemnly, and turned for the
doorway. Izzy thought he would surely break into a run as soon as he was beyond their sight.
“I am astonished,” Tristan said, and his eyebrows rose in high peaks. “I would never have
thought of that.”
“Oh, yes, you would. I learned it from you.”
“Oh, do not play innocent with me. I am onto your wiles.”
“The mudlark who sings like a nightingale, and carps like a crow. Amazing.”
She lifted her eyebrows high above her haughtily raised nose. “I must dress for my ride
with Mr. Bottleworth. Do entertain him while he waits, won’t you?”
Chapter T en
In w hich the best laid plans of mice and men oft gang awry- –
and just as oft, don’t
“You got to do something.” Daventry paced through the thick cloud of pipe smoke in
Trowbridge’s study under Trowbridge’s watchful eyes.
“Me? Why me?”
“It’s that boy of yours that’s the problem, I can tell. Got some funny ideas. Thinks he’ll find
himself a wife that won’t talk back. Tried to tell him, but he wouldn’t listen. Got to set him
Trowbridge shook his head. “‘Twon’t do no good. The boy don’t listen to me. He makes up
his own mind, always has. That aunt of his spoiled him that way. Not that I resent her, you
understand. The boy needed someone like her, what with his mother being –Well, you know
how she was. No. Telling him ain’t the way. Sit down, Daventry. You’re making me nervous.”
Daventry did no more than lean against the desk top. “They just need a little push, is all.”
“You said that before. But it ain’t going to work. Trouble is, you see, the boy’s too
stubborn. The only reason he’s gone this far is, he knows the estate’s not entailed, and he’s afraid
I’ll leave it to his second cousin instead of him.”
“It’ll work. They’ve just got to spend some time together. You didn’t see ’em like I did,
when they didn’t know I was there, yet. There’s something there, I’ll tell you.”
“Well, that’s something, I suppose,” Trowbridge agreed with a nod, and took a puff from
“Got to get them some time alone, together.”
“You’d do that to your daughter?”
“Oh, no, ain’t nothin’ like that. My Izzy’s not that kind. Had a proper raising, she did, best I
could hire. They just need some time to get to know each other better, that’s all. They’re already
friends, don’t you see. Seems like only yesterday, she was slapping his face. Ah! I have it! A
“House party? At the height of the Season?”
“It’s been done.”
“Oh, no doubt. But it ain’t the thing.”
“No, it ain’t. But there’s got to be someone who’d do it.”
“But nobody you know. Give over.”
Pouting, Daventry pushed away from the corner of the desk where he had been sitting.
Soon, he was pacing again.
“The seashore, then. That’s it! We could take ’em to Brighton, say, put ’em on a boat, and–”
Trowbridge shook his head. “Sit down, Daventry.”
Daventry looked as if he’d been caught filching biscuits. But he plopped himself into a fat,
overstuffed chair. “Got to do something,” he grumbled.
“Look, I know what you mean. I can’t let my boy marry the Morrowton chit. They just
don’t suit. She’s a beautiful thing, though. Easy to see how he got off on the wrong road. But he’s
been blue-devilled since he come home from Waterloo, and damme if the gel hasn’t even
noticed. No, he’s got to have someone with fire. I knew your gel was the right one, the first I saw
“First you saw her, she was covered with mud.”
“That’s what I mean. Ever figure out what that was all about?”
Daventry shrugged. “Never can say, with that girl.”
“You see? It’s what he needs. Keep him too busy for the dismals.”
“And they’re both too stubborn to realize it. Got t’ do something, I tell you.”
Again, Trowbridge shook his head. He drew a long draught on his pipe. Seeing as it had
gone out, he laid it aside. “It’s in better hands than ours, so we’d best just leave it lie. I’ve got the
utmost faith in Peaches.”
“Well, there’s nothing for it, but to go,” said Peaches as she tapped her finger against the
paper she had just refolded.
“Oh. Yes,” she said, as if she had just noticed that her nephew and charge were in the
library with her. “My cousin Gertrude, second cousin, the one who has never been well.”
“I’m sorry, I do not recall her, Aunt.”
“Oh, yes, of course, you do not. She has never been one to socialize.”
“I do hope she is not too ill.”
“Ill? Oh, no. Terribly sorry, I did not mean to mislead you. Her only daughter is marrying.
She wants a very small wedding. That is the way she is, you know.”
“Oh, I see. So, you must attend the wedding,” said Izzy.
“I am terribly sorry, my dear. I did not wish to ruin your Season.”
“Oh, stuff and nonsense. It has all been such a whirl, I shall be glad for a respite. Of course,
if I must attend to some affair, I am sure Tristan will oblige. Properly chaperoned, of course.”
“Mrs. Kittlington will do.”
“Ma’am?” Izzy asked. She knew the widow who occasionally played the role of duenna.
Too blind to see her own fan in front of her face, desperately in need of an ear trumpet and
always dozing off.
“A perfectly adequate chaperon in my absence, and I believe she is available. Well, we
have a week to prepare ourselves. I think I shall have a wee nap before supper.”
Tristan watched Aunt Peaches leave the library, suddenly looking weary. She had not
seemed tired before. He sniffed the odor of another manipulation.
“It’s my father’s doing,” he said as he passed over the letter to Izzy’s hands.
“Oh, do not claim all the glory. You know my father to be equally as devious.”
“My father knows all my aunt’s relatives. But yes, they are equally guilty. An opportunity
to throw us together.”
“Indeed. Papa no doubt went straight to your father when he left here. But what shall we do
“As we have before. Take advantage of it.”
“Go, you mean?”
“They will be expecting us to spend the time getting to know each other better.” He
carefully avoided mentioning just how they were expected to get to know each other. Nor did he
mention what he thought of her father for willingly compromising his own daughter. But he had
not thought highly of Lord Daventry from their first meeting.
“Instead,” he added, “it will be the perfect opportunity for us to leave, for there will be no
one around to notice.”
“And therefore, no one around to feel obligated to come looking for us,” she finished.
“Exactly, but remember, they want us to grow fond of each other, not merely to marr y. So
they would not force us to the altar on the merest pretense. But as this means Aunt Peaches is in
league with the enemy, we shall have to be exceedingly careful.”
“I am sure they think of it as terribly romantic. But yes, I do see your point. Then, we will
not be closely watched.”
Tristan shook his head, again thinking of Daventry’s neglect of his daughter. She was rather
remarkable, considering how little attention her parent had given her. “We are agreed?”
“Then I shall meet with Landerholme tomorrow.”
“Yes, of course.” Izzy gave out a small sigh that she seemed not to notice, and looked out
the window at the rain that pelted the green leaves of the garden’s tall elm trees.
“Having doubts again?”
“It is a bit daunting,” she admitted. “I had not really expected something so soon. I’d
thought June, or perhaps July.”
“Rather stay and enjoy the Season?”
“No, it’s not that.”
“I have been thinking. I have seen so very little of Donald since we were children. He’s
always been off at school, or whatever. I feel like I don’t really know him now. I must admit I am
a little frightened.”
“Do you mean to say, little mudlark, that he has not even kissed you?”
“Well, of course not. He isn’t that sort of fellow.”
“Ha. Mayhap, he doesn’t know what to do, either.”
“Well, I’m certain that he–Well, surely, he must.”
Something about her drew him the way a moth is compelled to seek the flame. He came up
beside her, so close he could almost feel the warmth of her body, enveloping him like a warm
blanket on an icy day. Her eyes were sea green and solemn.
“You have been in the country most of your life, Izzy. Surely you have drawn some
inferences from that.”
“How? I do not get your meaning.”
“Have you not observed animals in the act?”
“Oh, of course, but that does not signify.”
“It doesn’t? Actually there is very little difference.”
“You are bamming me, Tristan. I would allow, if humans had four legs, such might be
possible, but as they do not, well, it simply cannot be.”
“Of course, some adjustments must be made.”
She shook her head. “It makes no sense.”
“Don’t worry. It will.”
Again, she sighed.
“Still think you’ll make a cake of yourself?”
The reply choked in her throat, so she only nodded.
He was close to her, so close his breath ruffled her hair. “Izzy, it won’t be that bad. Believe
me. Close your eyes.”
“Are you going to kiss me?”
“Maybe. Close your eyes.”
Izzy closed her eyes and puckered her lips, waiting for that magical touch. He laughed. Her
eyes popped open.
“Not like that,” he said. “You look like a freshly caught perch.”
“But I thought that was what I was supposed to do. You see? I really will make a cake of
“If you do that, you will. He’ll know you for a neophyte, for sure. Just close your eyes,
Izzy. Forget all those things you’ve heard, and just feel.”
One more time, she closed her eyes, this time standing with her face tilted up toward him.
The tip of her pink tongue appeared momentarily, to wet her lips.
He raised a finger to meet her lower lip, grazing gently over its length. At the touch, her
eyes opened in surprise.
“You are not cooperating, girl. Close your eyes.”
She did, this time allowing her lips to part intuitively, letting their natural graceful shape
curve in their own sensual way. He had planned only a chaste and gentle kiss, the kind a girl
ought to have for her first one. But now, as his lips closed in on hers, he understood, finally, that
he had been lying to himself.
This was something he had wanted to do for a long time.
In which a secret is betrayed, and then betrays in kind
Something about her felt so right. Something in the way she fit in his arms, something
about the pliant softness of lips that parted eagerly to meet his. He had meant it to be chaste. But
a new fire, from ancient past as much as from the moment, burst forth. Something that had long
been missing, something that brought him back from the void where he had been imprisoned.
Treacherous need fought him for control. But a girl deserved a first kiss that did not
frighten her. And she was, after all, a girl destined to marry another man.
He ended it far too soon, far too late. When her eyes opened to meet his, they were wide
and solemn, as if the playfulness had been stolen from them. A piece of her innocence was gone,
and he had taken it.
“Is that it, then?” she asked.
“It? Well, no. It’s only one kind of kiss, and there are many different kinds.”
His body jerked abruptly, protesting, as he withdrew from her. He needed to get out of
there, and fast. He needed, in fact, to be locked up where he could not get at her.
“I’m sorry. What did I do?”
He was sure the irony twisted visibly on his face. “Nothing. You did nothing wrong.”
Nothing wrong, perhaps, but not precisely nothing.
“I don’t understand.”
“Men are more affected by such things than women.”
Izzy put her fingers to her lips, as if she still felt the kiss that had been there. “I cannot see
how. I can think of nothing else that could be so powerful.”
She might not. But he could. He drew her again to him, this time with a wildfire burning in
him, a whirlwind raging all about, as his lips descended once again to claim hers, as if they might
belong to him, to him alone. And she again, perfectly giving, pliant, accepting.
But her lips did not belong to him. Nor did she. He forced the separation between them,
feeling as if he tore himself in half.
Tristan took a deep, ragged breath. “I think it would be prudent of me to take my leave,
now,” he said.
He turned abruptly, and strode through the door, down the stairs and as far away from her
as he could go.
The carriage jarred over a bump, jostling Izzy and Lady Haverlock against each other.
Izzy adjusted her oddly fitting pelisse which seemed always to pop open at embarrassing
places. She determined to get rid of it at the first opportunity. Give it away to the nearest urchin,
if she must. Then she tugged at the low neckline of her gown that also made her feel uneasy,
wishing she had never allowed him to talk her into it.
She did not know what to make of him. But then, she never knew what to make of him. He
was wearing his mask again, cold and aloof. There would be no pleasing him tonight.
Sometimes, she wondered why she cared. He seemed so much like a jungle of sentiment,
void as the universe at the same time. Perhaps that was why he was so good at cunning, that he
had nothing inside him. Nothing real about him, only an empty shell that played at being human.
She caught his eye. He turned away. Well. She did the same. He would do the pretty with
exquisite form as he always did, but he himself would be far away, if he was anywhere at all.
Once inside the magnificent foyer of the Cunningham mansion, Izzy shed the hated pelisse,
to reveal for the first time the evening dress Tristan had chosen. He gawked in horror at her
ample bosom, which he had previously called her best asset, very possibly wishing he had never
seen that pattern card. No doubt he was acutely mortified at her nakedness. Izzy squared her
shoulders, determined it would not signify, for she saw many dresses every night that bore far
bolder necklines. No matter what he thought, she would hold her head high.
He announced he would have the waltz and the supper dance. She wished he had not. Mr.
Bottleworth came immediately and requested his obligatory limit of two dances, ignoring
Tristan’s glower utterly. Others laid their claims, and very quickly, her night was full.
When Lady Haverlock spotted friends and moved away to chat, Izzy said to Tristan,
without turning in his direction, “I do wish you would tell me what I have done.”
“You’ve done nothing.”
As if she believed that.
She danced with Mr. Bottleworth, returned. He had stood and watched with an impassive
mask covering his face. He could have danced, if he wished, for there were many young women
who sat in their chairs with pained anticipation etched on their faces, who would have eagerly
welcomed the opportunity. But he did not.
She danced with Lord Birstall. Then Lord Letton. Tristan might as well be carved of
marble, except that he breathed.
Had her kiss been so terrible?
Then, the dance was his, and it was a waltz. He danced so perfectly, as he did everything
else. A tear crept into her eye, and she did not know why. She wanted the waltz to go on forever,
yet wished it would abruptly end, and end her misery. The waltz came to its conclusion in its
own time, and he tucked her arm around and under his, led her on a perfect promenade, and she
could not summon more than a thin, brittle line for a smile. At length, he left her in her place,
with a perfect bow, and brought her the glass of champagne she had requested. All so very, very
But Izzy was not one to endure misery in silence. “You cannot fool me, sir. I know a cold
shoulder when I feel one. You are being unfair.”
“Life isn’t fair, Izzy.”
“I do not expect it to be. But as you profess to be a gentleman, you should be.”
She saw, then, his eyes, seething like hot coals. “You are a spoiled child, Izzy. You cannot
stand for one moment not to be the very center of the universe.”
She flinched, flailed by his cruel words. Her lips drew tight over her teeth. She wasn’t
going to let him bring her to tears.
“Excuse me,” he said. The clipped words sliced like a knife. He spun on his heel and
walked with a keenly honed, elegant grace, past those who sat and talked, out through French
Wherever he might go, let him go. She didn’t need his heartlessness. Mr. Bottleworth
stepped up to claim his second dance, and she gave him a metallic smile as he led her out. But
she watched the French doors.
Again back in her place, deserted by both the lady and her nephew, Izzy began to seethe.
No, she would not roll herself out like a carpet for him to walk on. Before Letton came to claim
his dance, she was gone, past the watchers, and out through the French doors. Let the
She saw him quickly, at the balustraded stone railing that wrapped around the narrow
terrace, leaning into it, and looking very much like a drunk about to be sick. She knew the look.
She’d seen her father drunk, often enough.
Was that it, then? Had he been sneaking drinks all night? But she could not imagine when.
It made no sense. She almost left, but then renewed her resolve.
He heard her as she stepped close, and looked up. “Leave me alone, Izzy.”
“You have certainly become rag-mannered, tonight,” she retorted.
“Leave me alone,” he repeated with a threatening growl.
For a moment that seemed to stretch on to hours, she wavered, both wanting to attack and
needing to retreat.
“Very well, sir. If you wish to be left alone, I shall do so. Enjoy your miser y!”
Something trembled in her chest as she turned, but she set her jaw and lifted her chin,
determined to make as graceful an exit as she might. Why should she care about him? He was
An odd, guttural whimper penetrated through her haze of misery, followed by a groan. She
He collapsed to his knees, his hands locked onto the stone rail, as if he were clinging to it
for his life.
“Iz–Oh, God, Izzy!”
Izzy dashed to him, caught his head as he fell backward toward the paving, his massive
body limp, like some giant rag doll, heavy as stones.
“You’re not drunk! You’re sick!”
His breath was like searing rags. His head swayed.
“Tristan, let me go get someone.”
“No,” he gasped, and his wild eyes rolled. “No,” he said in a softer voice that oozed and
trembled as he gasped for air. “No, Izzy, please. Don’t let anyone know.”
This was what he was hiding. Whatever it was. Not a seizure, for she’d seen those. Nor was
he drunk or drugged. But his legs seemed not to obey him, and he looked like he was about to
lose consciousness, but he was fighting it, and not doing a particularly good job of winning.
“All right, then. Let me help you up.”
“You’ll just fall with me.”
“Nonsense. I’m stronger than you think.”
“Just wait a minute.”
His ragged breaths began to smoothe, become more even. He leaned his head against her
shoulder. “Izzy, I’m sorry.”
She understood what he meant, but it was no longer important. “Never mind that. We seem
to have other problems at the moment.” Izzy cradled his head against her body with one hand,
holding fast to him with the other arm to prevent his falling, and feeling like a mother rocking a
When he raised his head again, she could tell that it was time. With her arms wrapped
snugly about his chest, she urged him to his feet.
“Back up to the wall,” she instructed. “You can rest on the railing, with the wall to support
Although he seemed to be regaining strength, she still supported most of his weight as she
guided him backward until his back rested securely against the dark bricks. He groped for the
stone railing and sat on it. Still, she did not let go, for he seemed unable to balance himself.
“I didn’t mean it, Izzy,” he said. And the words seemed clearer, less a patch of garbled,
“I know. You should let me go for help.”
“No, Izzy, please,” he moaned.
“All right, then. We’ll figure it out.” All he needed right now was to rest, and be safe from
falling, surely, for his strength seemed to be returning.
“Is this what happened when you fell off the horse?”
He only nodded, and so jerkily that she suspected it caused him pain.
She recalled that odd day when he had taken her out to Kensington Gardens and had given
his awkward apology. It might have been that day, too. She decided to reserve her questions for
later, when he was better equipped to deal with them.
“You look a fright,” she said, and combed her fingers through his hair in a futile attempt to
restore the beautiful shape it had had just a short time ago. Marshall would no doubt despair if he
saw his handsome employer, now. But then, Marshall probably knew all about it.
“I cannot imagine how we are going to get you out of here.”
“In a minute.”
His breathing was slow and even. Then that must mean the attack, whatever it was, was
ending. He raised his head. His dark eyes seemed to glow with the horror of Hell. But his
strength was returning.
“Devil take it. Someone’s coming.”
From the French doors came voices, mixed male and female, growing louder. She had been
too engrossed to hear them.
“Oh, no!” He would be discovered. No one could doubt he was ill if they saw him.
“Up!” she commanded him, dragging him to his feet. The people were almost close enough
to see them. She couldn’t allow that. But there was no time to get away.
Bracing him against the wall with her body, she grabbed his face and brought his lips down
to meet hers in her best approximation of a passionate kiss. Fortunate thing, those lessons.
As if jolted by lightning, he responded, folding his arms about her. From behind her she
heard a shocked gasp.
“Oh, my heavens!” said a female voice she did not recognize.
Tristan’s best glower over her shoulder did the remainder, and the couple behind her
hurriedly departed. Well, he needn’t worry about her reputation any longer. It was now in shards.
But one did what one had to do.
Tristan leaned his cheek on the top of her head. “Izzy, you shouldn’t have done that.”
“Well, it is too late, now, isn’t it? Can you stand?”
“I–Yes.” And he at last took his weight on his own feet.
“What shall we do now? You cannot go back in there, looking like this. They will think I
have ravished you.”
“Women don’t ravish, Izzy.”
“Well, this time, they’ll think it. We must contrive another way.”
“In a minute. I’ll be all right in a minute. I could go down the stairs to the garden.”
“Is there a way around the house? If you can manage to get around to the front entrance, I
can call for the carriage. This won’t happen again, will it?”
“No. The coach will probably be near the house in front. I can walk around.”
“That’s good. Can you walk now?”
At his grim nod, Izzy felt the pain of his humiliation. A soldier prided himself on his
strength, daring, cunning. And he had been robbed of all of those, this night, exposed for the
weakling he thought he was. She had to protect him from further exposure, no matter what.
She took his arm as if merely out for a night walk in the garden, and he eased himself down
one stair at a time. But at the foot of the steps he told her to go back.
“I must see to be sure you are in the coach. Otherwise, I would not know where to look for
“I’ll be there, Izzy. I have only to find Hervey.”
“I must see it,” she insisted. “I have been so utterly turned around since I have been in
“I can make it, Izzy,” he growled.
“Of course. But what if he is not there?”
“I’ll have him sacked, of course. Give over, Izzy. He cannot be far.”
There was nothing for it. “Very well. I shall fetch your aunt and call for the coach. Surely,
you will find him before we send for him. If not, I shall send him to fetch you.”
He walked unsteadily away from her, to head down that paved walk that led around the
mansion. She faced down a strong urge to follow after him. But she must not. His pride was now
at stake. And she knew a lot about a man’s pride. She had watched her father for years. But only
when he was out of sight did she finally climb the stone steps and go back through the French
She felt like every eye was on her. No doubt she was right. She had made no secret of
going out there.
Lady Haverlock was easy to locate, for she had not left the chair where she had been before
Izzy had gone out the French doors. Izzy forced herself to slow her pace. The less fuss, the
better. She came upon the lady, surprising her, and leaned to whisper in her ear.
“We must go immediately, Lady Haverlock. You may say I have the headache.”
Lady Haverlock hesitated, her lovely mouth agape. “Oh, but of course, my dear. Let us get
you home for some rest.” She quickly nodded her farewells, and took Izzy by the arm. “Whatever
is it, my dear? You look perfectly hale to me.”
“The other member of our party,” she whispered back.
In the foyer, Izzy called for their coach while Lady Haverlock called for their pelisses. Her
feet demanded movement, but she would not allow it.
“Will you tell me what this is all about?” Lady Haverlock whispered.
“I am not at all sure yet, ma’am.”
“Tristan. He has been rather odd lately, has he not?”
“An understatement, ma’am.”
At last, she saw Hervey bring the distinctive grey coach, pulled by a team of grays, to the
front circle. She had to contain herself to keep from dragging Lady Haverlock at a run. What if
he was not there? What if he were someplace along the walk, unconscious from another fall?
But he was there. She knew immediately when she heard Lady Haverlock’s gasp as she
entered the coach.
“Hello, Aunt,” he said. He sat, or rather, crouched, into the corner of the squabs, looking
even more disheveled than he had when Izzy had left him.
“Oh, goodness, Tristan! Whatever has happened? Are you all right?”
“No, as I am sure you can see, I am not.”
“What has happened? Have you fallen?”
“You might say that. Might we discuss this in the morning?”
“Well, of course, dear, if you insist.”
“I’m afraid I must insist this time, Aunt.” He let out a relieved sigh and closed his eyes.
Izzy nearly jumped out of her seat, before bringing her urge to protect him under control.
He must be exhausted, but he did not want help he did not have to have.
Neither woman was able to persuade him not to escort them to their door. Izzy did not
really try. But he stopped her before she entered their door, and grazed his fingers across her
“Good night, scamp,” he said.
In which the gentleman learns beauty is as beauty does
And honor is more than glory earned in battle
Tristan folded the newspaper and laid it on the morning room table. At least the incident
had not hit the papers. But what came next? If he did what was right by Izzy, he would be forced
into revealing his secret. If he didn’t–But there was no question of that. He could not let her
reputation go to ruin.
And it certainly was not her fault, although she had made a poor choice, at great risk to
herself. She had only wanted to protect him from exposure. He winced. It was a strange feeling,
that a mere slip of a girl would willingly sacrifice her own regard to protect his male honor.
He didn’t even know why. He had only begged her to protect his secret, and on that alone,
she had virtually given up her entire future. It was a kind of integrity and courage he had never
considered a woman might have.
He had, in fact, never thought of women as being much more than children, and had
assumed they, as a group, were more or less like his mother, who had been interested only in
whatever gave her pleasure at the time. They, he had always thought, gave birth, then turned
their offspring over to be raised by others less fortunately born.
Oh, there were those, like Aunt Peaches, who were more kindhearted and responsible.
Now, he realized, he had even placed Aunt Peaches in that same category, despite all she had
done for him. But like Izzy, her frivolous nature was more an illusion than reality. Like Izzy, she
found life full of joy. That did not mean that she was irresponsible.
Peaches was anything but irresponsible. She had taken him in as a hurting, lonely child,
and given him all she could. And he had given back only his patronizing male disrespect.
He had done the same thing to Izzy. And she did not deserve it any more than did his aunt.
What she did deserve was his trust.
So. He had a lot of bridges to rebuild.
Izzy always took her morning chocolate in the library with Lady Haverlock. It was her
favorite time of day, a time to look out over the garden and enjoy the new colors of the morning,
to feel the warm sunshine that poured through the windows and cast latticed shadows on the
polished wooden floor.
It was a time when they usually planned ahead for the day, talked about what had gone on
the night before. But not today. Today, neither brilliant sunshine nor fresh blooms brought on by
yesterday’s rain seemed to inspire them.
Lady Haverlock probed delicately, without putting Izzy’s promise to the test, but her
The silence hung like a dark, tenuous cloud.
“The rhododendrons are lovely, this morning, Lady Haverlock,” Izzy said.
“Yes, they grow lovelier every day,” Lady Haverlock replied. Her lyrical voice had a
plaintive note to it.
Lady Haverlock took a few more stitches on her embroidery, then gazed out the window.
Considering the pace at which it proceeded, she might have been working that particular piece
for twenty years.
When the clip of boot heels resounded in the corridor, Izzy and Lady Haverlock sat up
abruptly, trading anxious glances, and focused on the library door.
“Good morning, Aunt Peaches, Miss Daventry.”
Even though they were expecting him, both women jumped at the sound of his voice. Izzy
could see the relief in Lady Haverlock’s face, as if she had feared her beloved nephew would
never emerge again.
“Good morning, Tristan, dear,” Lady Haverlock said in her sing song way. “Are you
feeling quite the thing this morning? Have some chocolate, dear.”
“Thank you, Aunt Peaches, I am quite well now, but I will pass on the chocolate.” His dark
blue eyes had a different look to them, now. Clear, not clouded with distant pain, sad, yet
somehow at peace.
“We must talk in a little while, Aunt, but I would like to settle things with Miss Daventry
first, if I may.”
“Of course, dear. But I will be waiting, you understand.”
“The garden, Miss Daventry?”
The devastation she had seen the night before had vanished. Nor was there that look of the
hunted animal she had sometimes seen.
“Yes, of course,” she replied, feeling oddly tentative as she reached out to take the hand he
held out to her. Strange, that this touching of hands felt so much more intimate, even than the
kiss they had shared the day before.
He led her all the way to the garden wall, where a stone bench sat amongst rhododendrons
in brilliant red bloom, but he seemed torn between standing and sitting. Exhaling a large gulp of
air, he leaned into the brick wall, arms folded over his chest.
“You deserve an explanation,” he said simply.
“Only if you wish to give it.”
“I have not treated you well at all, Izzy. I find it hard to believe you can even be kind to
She shrugged. “Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it is not.”
“You must have guessed most of it, by now.”
“Yes. Well, at least you are not an opium addict, as I thought for a while.”
“An opium addict? Well, actually, you were not far off with that assumption, either. There
was a time when it was close to being true, I’m sure. There’s little else that deals with pain. Are
you sure you want to hear this? It’s an ugly story.”
“I expected it to be. Yes. I wish to hear it.”
Tristan crossed his arms and breathed deeply. “It was true, I was wounded at Hougoumont,
as you have been told. But two days before, at Quatre Bras, I took a slice in the head with a
saber. That’s the scar you found on my scalp. I saw nothing but a dead French officer, but as I
walked past him, he rose up and swung his saber. Russell, my sergeant, cut him down, but the
Frenchman’s blade still made contact.
“I don’t know why I wasn’t killed, Izzy. A saber can slice entirely through a man’s skull.
But Russell reacted quickly enough to take the force out of the man’s stroke.
“It didn’t seem all that bad, at the time. I felt worse the time I was kicked by a horse.
Marshall sewed it up for me, and I was back with my troops the next day as we retreated toward
Mont Ste. Jean. Sergeant Russell, of course, thought no officer had the sense to take care of
himself, and was afraid I’d fall off the horse, so he tied me on.”
“And you’ve been falling off horses ever since.”
His smile twisted snidely in response. “The one time only, actually. The next day, the day
of the big battle, we held Hougoumont through the entire battle, even though we suffered one
assault after another. But we thought we were lost when they broke through the gate. Before we
could force it closed again, a number of Frenchies broke through and were trapped inside. I was
facing them, ready to fight, and suddenly I couldn’t keep my balance and blacked out. They
hacked me up rather thoroughly. Again, it was Russell that saved me. But he didn’t last the day.
He was blown apart by Ney’s horse artiller y, as were a lot of my men. I was no longer conscious,
so I learned about it later.”
He threw his head back and bit against his lip, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. She
wanted to throw her arms around him, ease the pain. But she knew she must not. She stepped
closer to him and took his hand in hers.
“To get to the point, no one gave the head wound much credence. They didn’t expect me to
live anyway. There weren’t enough field surgeons, and men were dying all around us. There were
not even enough men to carry the injured off the battlefield, even when they could be reached. It
was Marshall who kept me alive after the battle, and I really don’t know how. Everything healed
rather well, eventually. But these spells keep coming back.”
“What are they?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. They are not even always the same. It usually starts with
a severe pain, then I lose my balance, get weak, then black out. I usually wake up again after a
few minutes, and the pain lasts a few more hours, up to a day. I can deal with the pain, but I can’t
control the blackouts. Lately, though, there has been more time between the pain and the
blackout, so I have been able to identify them as they are coming on, in time to do something
“But why do you have to hide it?”
Tristan leaned his head back against the wall. “If the word gets out, I would lose my
commission. I had hoped the problem would go away before I had to return to the Guards. But I
think I hoped in vain. I see no alternative now but to tell Major Hollowell.”
“But why? Can you not wait a little longer?”
“But the truth is, Izzy, I must do it sooner or later, for I am unfit for duty, and would
therefore be a risk to my men. I could not bear that any more of my men died because I was
incapacitated… My mind is made up on this.”
He took her two small hands between his broad ones, and fixed her gaze with his solemn
eyes. “Izzy, I am sorry for the things I said to you last night, and all the things I’ve said to you in
the past. I truly am. From the beginning, I jumped to conclusions about you that were both wrong
and unfair. I really cannot say why I did, but it seems although I called you immature, you do
somewhat better than I do in that respect.”
“I am afraid I do not understand it, either,” she replied, shaking her head. “I cannot think
why it makes you so angry when I am having a good time. It seems as if you believe I do not
deserve to enjoy life.”
“I suppose I do resent it that you, and all of England, were laughing, playing, dancing at
balls, when all around me my men were suffering and dying.”
“I cannot think what I could have done about that.”
“You couldn’t have, of course. It just seems so unfair. They are dead. They will never
laugh, or dance again. They will never come home, Izzy.”
So that was it. Izzy folded her arms in mockery of his pose and raised her chin haughtily.
“And who are you, sir, to have come home without them? How dare you live, when they are
“Isn’t that it, Tristan? That you think you have no right to be alive?”
He did not answer, only stood and stared at her, as if he were guilty of some horrible crime.
Then, she was right.
“They cannot come home, Tristan. But it is not your fault.”
But he shook his head. “Russell saved my life twice, but he was killed, and I was not there
to help him.”
“Yet you spurn his gift as if it were meaningless. He gave you your life, even at the cost of
his own. Don’t you think he would want you to treasure it?”
Tristan hung his head sadly. “There were so many of them, Izzy.”
A flicker of something bright shone in his eyes. “I don’t know. More than ten thousand
British troops. Then there were Belgians, Dutch, Prussians, not to mention French.”
“Tristan, could you really have done anything to save them?”
“Perhaps. I don’t know.”
“While you were wounded and unconscious? Doesn’t that sound a bit unreasonable?”
“But I shouldn’t have been wounded. I should have been watching more closely.”
“Then, it could also be said that Sergeant Russell was at fault for the entire thing, for if he
had done a better job, moved sooner, you would not have been injured, and then you would have
been around to save his life later.”
“Now, that sounds unreasonable to me.”
“Of course it is, equally so. I may not know much about war, Tristan, but I know enough to
realize not very many soldiers have the luxury of stepping out of the way in time, before a
Had he been a smaller person, Izzy might have placed a comforting arm around his
shoulders, but they were too high for her to reach. Instead, she reached beneath his arms to circle
his chest with her arms. She laid her cheek against his chest as she felt his arms come around her.
“I think, my friend,” she said, “that you have suffered a terrible loss, and you have not
finished grieving. I should have understood that. People do become almost unaccountably angry
when someone they love dies. And they blame themselves even when they could have changed
“I know. I should put it behind me.”
“Not until it’s finished. That’s something you really cannot hurry or cast aside until it’s
For a few long moments, he merely held her, and let his hand stroke over her hair. Then, he
set her back from him, but held his arms at her shoulders. “Now, love, there are things I want to
know. Izzy, tell me what happened the day we met.”
Izzy stiffened. She hadn’t expected that. Somehow, it was easier to deal with his troubles
than her own. But he had trusted her, so why should she fear trusting him? Only a flicker of a
sideways glance served as her answer.
His solemn face warmed, and he studied her with an odd look of curiosity. “I have never
quite quizzed out how a lady managed to get herself into such a fix.”
Her resentment grew. “I thought you had decided I am not a lady. I told you. I fell in.”
“And of course, had the foresight to remove your slippers, but not your stockings.”
“I’m afraid I must shock you once again, Tristan. I was not wearing stockings.”
“You did not fall in. You went in.”
“Very well. I went in.”
“And that is what I find beyond my imagination.”
Izzy flared her nose, recalling the several times she had thought him probably without any
imagination to be beyond. But such an unworthy thought was not based on what she had
observed recently. He now sought some way to break out of that rigid cage that contained and
smothered him. But did she dare give him another weapon to use against her?
“I want to know, Izzy.”
Once, he had branded that nickname as too atrocious to speak aloud. Now he used it with
ease, almost affectionately. Did it mean he truly cared? Could she really trust him, as he had just
trusted her? She had always been secretly adventuresome. Surely, it was a risk she could bear.
“Very well. It was to rescue a drowning kitten.”
“A kitten?” A dubious frown closed down around his eyes. “Cats do not usually make a
habit of swimming in streams.”
“When nasty little boys throw them in, they can swim better than any dog you’ve ever seen.
But this one had no chance against the current. She was much too small.”
“I saw that stream, Izzy. You could have been killed.”
She shook her head. “Very unlikely. It is not above my knees at its worst, except in certain
deep holes. And I know where those are. And if I did not go in, Daisy Samples surely would
“She is the owner of the kitten, and barely five years old.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you?” she sneered. “I cannot recall you asking, or for that matter, providing so much
as an opening that was not accompanied by an insult.”
“Did you think me so crass as to not care about a kitten and a little girl?”
“How could I know? You seem to care about nothing but your own interpretation of
propriety. And I am perfectly aware that true ladies do not do such things.”
“Perhaps so,” he said, his smile lop-sided. “Most ladies would never do what you did. But
perhaps you are something more than a lady.”
She had become far too accustomed to that other side of him, that sneered when her hair
slipped its moorings, or disdained the bounce in her step or the music in her voice. She turned
away, uncomfortable with the mix of things stirring within her.
But he turned her back to face him, and again brought her into his arms.
“Izzy.” He stroked the long hair that flowed down her back. “I’ve had a lot of friends in my
life, Izzy, but I’ve never had one like you.”
“Well, I suppose that’s something.”
“Yes. It is.”
Hearing the clip of boot heels on the paving stones, Izzy looked down the path and saw
Major Hollowell and Lady Haverlock approach. Tristan sighed and released her from his arms.
“Well, the time of reckoning has come.”
“Can you not wait until you are more certain?”
“I’m tired of living a lie, Izzy. It has hurt too many people. And besides, he will demand an
explanation. It was Major Hollowell and his wife who interrupted us last night.”
In which honor and love collide
Tristan knew by the grim set of Hollowell’s jaw that the man would demand satisfaction for
the compromised girl. Tristan was prepared to give it, but persuading Izzy could be another thing
entirely. He wished Hollowell had given him more time, for he had not yet managed to broach
that subject to her. She might not even realize its necessity yet.
“Good morning, Major,” he said evenly. “I am grateful that you could come.”
“Good morning, Miss Daventry, Captain. I am glad you sent for me. But I am sure you
realize I would have come, in any event. I presume you have been about your duty as a
“We’ve not had quite enough time for that, but you can be sure it will be done. However,
there is more to the story than you realize, and it must be told first, both to you and to my aunt,
who, I am afraid, has also been kept in the dark. Shall we return to the terrace, where everyone
may sit comfortably?”
Once back on the small terrace, and with his audience seated on the white metal chairs,
Tristan began his story again. Having told it once, it seemed to come more easily the second
“So you see, sir,” he concluded, “when she heard you coming, and knowing I was unable to
stand without help, Miss Daventry attempted to cover up my infirmity by giving the impression
of a romantic engagement.”
“I find it a bit difficult to comprehend that a lady would willingly compromise herself in
such a way, Captain.”
“I’ve learned Miss Daventry gives little thought to her own welfare in such situations. She
has been known to disregard her dignity for the rescue of small kittens and children, as well. And
while I wish she had not run such a risk for my sake, it is not surprising to me, for she has a
Major Hollowell rose from the chair where he had been listening intently, and paced about
on the paving stones.
“This explains a great deal. I saw you stagger and fall at Hougoumont, and thought you had
“Yes sir. I remember you coming to me. But I blacked out again, anyway.”
“After the battle, no such wound could be found. I was puzzled about that, as I did not see
how any other of your wounds could have accounted for that.”
The major’s face twisted into a thoughtful frown as he clasped his hands behind his back
and continued his abrupt style of pacing, pivoting sharply several times before he began speaking
“You are correct, of course, that you cannot consider holding a command, at least under the
pressures of a campaign. This is a tricky situation, however. If a man loses a leg, the solution is
obvious. He is not, and will not be, fit for duty. But the only thing obvious in this situation is that
we cannot tell what will happen, given sufficient time for recovery. And it is altogether possible
that under peacetime conditions, you might function adequately, even this early in your
“But should war break out,” Tristan countered, “I would find myself obligated to resign,
and my men would face combat with an unfamiliar officer.”
“That is true,” said the major, “and there is always a risk of hostilities. But sometimes risks
must be taken. And I would be put to it to find a replacement as competent as you.
“All of the Guards Corps suffered heavy losses, especially at Hougoumont, including many
fine officers. I doubt, Captain, that you appreciate just how elated I was to see you alive and
apparently well when I returned from Paris. When last I saw you, I thought you hadn’t a prayer.”
Again, the major resumed his precipitous to-and-fro pacing, as if he had not expected a
reply to his declaration, then stopped suddenly and folded arms across his chest.
“It is too early, Captain. We shall give it another six months and assess your progress
again. I shall expect you to keep an accurate account, so that we may speculate on your future
with some assurance. Of course, in the event of renewed hostilities, I would require a more
“Your men must be told. I will inform them that you continue to suffer the ill effects from
your head injury at Quatre Bras, but with sufficient time for recovery, may return to us in the
future. Is that satisfactory?”
“Yes sir, thank you.”
“Now, Captain, on the other matter?” The major fixed his eyes upon Tristan in a manner
that made his meaning clear.
Yes. He had expected that. Hollowell would never allow such a slur to a young lady’s
name. Tristan understood his duty. What surprised him, however, was that he found himself not
merely willing, but very nearly eager, to perform it.
But Izzy had other ideas.
“Major Hollowell,” she said, and jumped to her feet as a punctuation to her words. “Surely
you must realize he had nothing to say about that. The initiative was all my own.”
“It makes no difference, Izzy,” replied Tristan, “and it is time we discussed the matter,
anyway. Privately, of course.” Turning again to his commanding officer, Tristan decided he must
further clarify things. “Unfortunately, as she is the most stubborn of creatures, I can make no
“I insist that you be persuasive, Captain. This is not a light matter. You are fortunate, in
fact, that it has gone no further than Lady Hollowell and myself, and I believe she can be
persuaded to allow you to come to the right decision.”
Izzy’s face grew so pale, he feared she might faint as she absorbed the impact of
Hollowell’s statement. She would not faint, of course. Izzy was prone to altogether different sorts
of fits and starts. But if ever anything had threatened the success of their scheme, this was it.
The implication was clear. He was to make the correct decision, as determined by Major
Hollowell, and see to it that Izzy did as well.
Surely they could use this to advantage, however, if they thought it out.
There were now, it seemed, few restrictions being placed on them, so certain was everyone
that a marriage was in the offing. It had been her idea in the beginning, but Izzy was starting to
feel uncomfortable with it. Not that Tristan was anything less than an enjoyable companion. He
smiled, laughed, played jokes on her. And she loved every minute of it.
But it was a lie. She looked at Lady Haverlock’s cheery face, knowing it was the lady’s
sincere faith in the obvious fact that her nephew would soon be coming up to scratch that gave
her that look. And as Izzy whirled about the ballroom in Tristan’s arms, she saw a sea of beaming
faces, of those who watched yet another turn in the wheel of tradition, who saw themselves
growing older as they watched the younger folk repeating the cycle of life, going where they had
Once, Izzy had looked upon the social whirl as simple frivolity. Now she saw it was the
wheel ever turning, with life ever renewing itself. That was what they cheered. A new love
forming and growing, renewing their faith in humanity.
And it was a lie. As happy as Tristan might seem, or even be, he did not love her. He loved
Patricia, and Patricia loved him. And, Izzy having learned to care about him, wished happiness
for him. She could not come between them.
She could not say she had ever really loved Donald, although she had never denied it on the
many occasions when Tristan had mentioned her ‘true love’. She and Donald had once been
children playing by the brook and dabbling in a future fantasy. Perhaps love would come with
Yet, when she was with Tristan, her heart demanded something more, something grand and
beautiful, all-encompassing, the way she had felt when Tristan had lowered his lips to capture
hers. Would she ever have that with Donald?
It really mattered little, for all the others were happy with the plan. And she could not allow
Tristan to be pushed into a marriage with her when he yearned for Patricia.
Very well, then, on with the plan. She would have this short time with him. And she would
hold her secret to her heart for the remainder of her life. It would be enough, because she would
make it be enough. With that thought, the smile come back to her face.
She could not quite get over the difference in Tristan. The precision with which he made
his perfect bow to her at the waltz’s end, his graceful moves as he offered his arm for escort,
were the same movements he had always made. She could detect no nameable distinction. Yet, it
seemed so different now. That grim obligation was gone, replaced by something rather akin to
happiness or delight. Perhaps, that was it. He had at last let go of that hideous burden he had
carried on his shoulders for so long. And she could not help but return his joyous smile.
“You have no escort for the next dance. Shall we walk in the garden? We will be in good
Izzy smiled at him. By that, she knew he referred to Donald and Patricia, who had arrived
just before the waltz had begun. The time to escape was fast approaching. He escorted her to the
far side of the ballroom where their opposites awaited. A moment of pleasantries established
their continuing friendship to those who had speculated on a permanent split, and they walked
out onto the terrace and down among the fragrant roses. What a turn that would give the
The garden was gaily lit with lanterns swinging in the balmy air, well-occupied, and not a
place for trysting this night. Nor did it give adequate opportunity for their need to private
conversation. But Donald and Tristan had planned it this way, to mitigate the final outcome. If
they continued hostility between the two couples, the men had reasoned, people might look more
harshly on the switch when it came about.
“I don’t like it,” Donald mumbled at the first opportunity to speak, shortly after the third
matron had gushed effusively over the ‘darling couples’. “They think us far too cute. That could
make for a very difficult reckoning when we return.”
“Agreed,” said Tristan. “The sooner done, the better, I think. Perhaps we might have it put
out soon after we leave that we have merely assisted each other. They will not look upon it
kindly if we have taken a two weeks’ journey entirely in the company of the other’s sweetheart.”
“Oh, I disagree,” Patricia put in. “The whole idea has been to get the two of you safely
away before you can be caught and returned. Your father will be on your trail immediately if he
learns the true nature of the game.”
“And mine, as well,” added Izzy. “No, we will just have to explain when we return. And
they will have to accept it. But it might be better if we actually could switch immediately after
“We’ve tried to work that out, Izzy,” said Donald. “But there are several things that stand in
the way. We cannot coordinate departures that closely, and you and Tristan must have as much
time to get away as possible. Further, if someone does come after us, and you are with Tristan,
they might actually allow you to continue on your way. If you are with me, well…”
Izzy sighed. “I suppose we have thought it out as well as we might. And, all in all, I am not
truly bothered about all that. I suppose I am bothered more to be deceiving people.”
“Of course, you are, as you are so kind-hearted,” Patricia replied. “But there is no other
way if we are to live up to our promises to each other. I do understand, Izzy, I feel much the
same way. But we must do what we must do, as you said to me.”
Izzy gave Patricia a grateful smile, grateful in more ways than she could tell her. Patricia
was a fine lady, and she loved Tristan. She would take good care of him.
“Nor can we leave on the same day, Izzy,” Donald added. “You must leave on Monday
night, if you are to have the optimum time before you are discovered. But we must wait until
Wednesday, when Lord and Lady Morrowton go off to Brighton.”
Donald’s watch chimed twelve. And Tristan grumbled at the irritating sound. Donald
beamed with superior pride at Tristan’s agitation.
Izzy sighed. They were willing enough co-conspirators. But she doubted they would ever
On Monday following, Tristan and Izzy stood on the white stone steps of Lady Haverlock’s
townhouse and watched her coach drive away. The lady waved and blew a kiss from the coach
window, as the coach turned south toward Surrey and the home of her second cousin, where she
would spend the coming two weeks in wedding preparations.
Tristan didn’t believe it for a minute, and knew Izzy didn’t, either. A little research had
confirmed that Cousin Gertrude, although very much a recluse, had no daughters. No sons,
either. She’d had a childless marriage of two years’ duration, and had remained happily widowed
for thirty-seven years. But neither Tristan nor Izzy objected to the mild deceit.
The plan was simple, set to follow an early soiree to which they had committed themselves,
and carefully worked around Mrs. Kittlington’s habit of dozing off early. By morning, when their
absence would be first noted, they would have journeyed a good thirty miles. And when Marie
and Mrs. Kittlington first began to wail over the mysterious disappearance of their charge,
Marshall would console them with the stor y of the runaway marriage, and with letters to be
imparted to all who would worr y. Tristan smiled to himself thinking how carefully Izzy had
chosen her words to her father, neither telling a lie nor giving away the plot.
Tension and eagerness stretched tautly between them that evening. Under Mrs.
Kittlington’s watchful, if somewhat near-sighted gaze, Izzy descended the curving staircase to
greet him, wearing a gown that shimmered between azure and sea green, reminding him of her
Without a word, he went to her and removed the strand of pearls from her neck. From a
box, he produced a replacement, a golden chain with a strangely beautiful array of aquamarines,
amethysts, and peridots arranged in patterns like summer flowers. He had seen the necklace that
afternoon, when, in an odd and perplexed mood, he had wandered into an unfamiliar jeweler’s
store. Immediately he had thought of her and her enchanting eyes of many colors. He had no
explanation for what he had done. He simply had bought it.
Startled, she mumbled a garbled thanks as he leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on
her forehead. Perhaps it was his way of expressing his own gratitude for her kindness, for the
sacrifice she had made for him. Perhaps it was, well, he didn’t know what it was. But he could
not let the fondness he had come to feel for her go unexpressed.
Once inside the coach, she breathed out a heavy breath that she must have been holding
from the minute she had descended the stairs. “You didn’t have to do that, Tristan.”
“Perhaps not, but it reminded me of your eyes. Are you ready, then?”
“Hmf,” said the dour Mrs. Kittlington, whose ears were nearly as deaf as stones without the
ear trumpet which she refused to bring on social occasions.
“Yes,” Izzy said, “I am ready.” Her large eyes shone like light jewels, speaking the things
she dared not put in words.
“Do you still have the headache?” he asked, to match the cover stor y she would have given
to her chaperon. “It is still not too late to back out.”
“Yes. But everyone is also counting on me. I should not like to think I failed my friends.”
Yes. He must remind himself that however fond he might be of her, she didn’t want to be
stuck with him. Ver y possibly, she still found him only tolerable because she needed him to help
her marry Donald. But he had known that, all along. It was only recently that it had begun to
He owed her that much, and a great deal more.
“Did you finish your shopping today?” she asked.
“Yes. I found everything I needed.” And a few other things she hadn’t asked for, on the
off-hand chance she might need them. They had decided she was to take nothing that might give
them away too soon, so Tristan had arranged for a traveling wardrobe to be made up by Madame
Violette, which he picked up himself, to avoid the discovery which might have occurred, had it
AAnd the items for Marshall?”
He nodded. “And I found a nice coach robe, since winter is coming.” He held forth the robe
for her inspection, not mentioning the little down pillow he had stuffed in the boot for her…
“Oh, a Cashmere. How lovely, Tristan.”
He smiled, wanting to tell her about the clean sheets Marshall had insisted on packing since
one could never tell about the quality of public inns. Of course, at that point, Tristan had to insist
he stop, or he would have packed the entire household. It was difficult enough to persuade
Marshall to stay behind as it was.
At the soiree, she played her part with perfection, even to answering compliments about the
unusual necklace. He amplified upon it, saying he envisioned having ear bobs made to match. No
one commented directly to them about his aunt’s absence, thus heightening in Tristan’s mind the
extent to which the expectation of marriage went. Well, they were right, but they were wrong, as
well. Odd, he thought, that he felt a little sad about that. But there was his promise to Patricia.
In the crush, they passed slowly up the broad staircase on one side of the entry, wended
through an entire floor of rooms, pressing along with the crowd, nodding, greeting, seeing, being
seen, finally coming full circle and passing down the staircase on the other side. They spoke to
their hostess before departing along with the flow of the crowd. It was the perfect event from
which to launch their escapade.
Hervey, being quite accustomed to such affairs, had kept the coach in place in the long
chain of coaches that now circled back to once again gather their owners and take them on to
some other similar crush. But Tristan’s coach was different, a town coach fitted unobtrusively for
traveling. It had two trunks beneath the baggage curtain.
Having left the soiree and once again inside the coach beside her chaperon, Izzy rubbed her
temples and frowned. “Perhaps you are right, Tristan. The headache is returning, Perhaps we
should go home.”
He rapped on the top and imparted the direction to Hervey.
Less than two hours later, Izzy slipped out the back door, through the garden and into the
“Well, my dear,” he said, laughing to himself at the odd, uncertain way her eyes sparkled.
“I am sorry to say, you are about to be ruined. Shall we be off?”
With only a second’s hesitation, Izzy nodded. He gave her a reassuring smile, and just to
seal the bargain, leaned forward and gave her a kiss, this time on her lips.
Once beyond Mayfair, the coach picked up speed.
“What do you think Major Hollowell will do to you for this?” Izzy asked Tristan.
“He could cashier me.”
“Do you think he will?”
“No,” he said, although he was not at all that certain. If it just hadn’t been for that kiss. “It
will be all right.”
She seemed not to be relieved, but sat beside him with a very artificial smile upon her face.
“We won’t be followed this early in the game,” he told her. “We appear to have done a
reasonably good job of chasing our fathers back to the country, so they will not learn for a few
days. I’ve kept a traveling dress out of the trunks, so that you may change. If you like, I’ll have
Hervey stop. I’ll ride atop with him, for a while.”
“Oh, no, you needn’t.”
“But it would be best if you are not seen in evening dress. We don’t want to create
memorable impressions when we stop for fresh horses. And you will want to rest. You could do
that better in something more comfortable.”
So, she agreed. Tristan loosened the tiny buttons running down the middle of the gown’s
back, judiciously avoiding the silky skin beneath the fabric. And he removed himself and rode
atop until she announced she was finished.
But then, there were still the hooks on that dress, which required fitting into unusually tight
loops. He had always been better at unfastening hooks than fastening them, but he thought it
better not to mention that.
Soon, she lay down across the rear seat beside him, pillow at her head, and robe across her.
After a few minutes, she sat up again.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“No. I suppose I am not yet ready to sleep.”
“I don’t believe you, Izzy.”
“Well, of course, there is nothing wrong. Everything is going absolutely right.”
“Ah. Then, what is wrong is that everything is much too right. And you find yourself
speeding down the road to matrimony somewhat faster than you had intended. Still think you’ll
make a cake of yourself?”
“Well, to a point, yes.”
“Trust me, Izzy. You’ll do fine.”
He could not resist a small laugh. “All right. What is the question?”
“Well, I–What does–I mean, how can I–Oh, never mind.”
“Out with it, Izzy.”
She tried again, stammering about awkwardly. So it was not kisses that concerned her.
“How can a girl tell, well, what does a man do when he–What does–”
“Well, does he say something?”
“As a rule, I would say a gentleman would not be so blatant to a lady. But there are still
other ways a man can let a lady know of his interest.”
“Well, do you know how to tell when a man wants to kiss a lady?”
She looked even more perplexed. “No. I suppose not.”
“Perhaps he might look at a lady overmuch, catch her eye more often than might be polite.”
“But that is so terribly ambiguous. He might mean something else entirely.”
“Yes, he might. But then, he might arrange to be a little closer to her than she finds
comfortable. Perhaps touch her, discreetly, of course.” He raised a finger to caress across her
cheek. Her large aquamarine eyes widened, reminding him of an early spring day.
“If he should put an arm around her, at her shoulders, of course, he would indicate a desire
to possess her. Or he might finger a lock of her hair,” he added in a vaguely faraway voice, and
he caught a small, dark tendril between two fingers and his thumb.
“Are you teaching a lesson? Or is this because you want to?” And her lips parted just
enough to show the tip of her tongue that darted out to moisten her lips.
“Both,” he answered. “It is a lesson, in wanting.”
The arm that encircled her at her shoulder drew her close, within a hair’s breadth of his lips
that searched a trail across her cheek until finding hers. “This,” he whispered between nibbles at
her lips, “this is how you know a man wants to kiss you.”
This was not a chaste kiss. It was a kiss lit with fire, fueled from a desire that had been
burning within him from the moment he had watched her descend the stairs that evening. It
wasn’t wise. Not at all. No more prudent than the way he held her, nor the way his hand made its
way down her back.
He had to stop it, stop it now. It had never been his nature to be beyond his own control,
and he would not allow it, now. But it was almost painful to pull away from her.
“Now, do you know?” he asked, his voice a ragged murmur.
“Yes.” Her voice was no more than a faint sound like the purring of a cat.
“Lie down and sleep, now. It’s going to be a long night.” He fluffed the small down pillow
and laid it beside his thigh. Shyly, she lowered her gaze and lay down on the pillow, pulling the
soft carriage robe over her.
But although he might have of necessity given up the kiss, he now permitted his hand to
come to rest on her silken hair, which he brushed tenderly with his fingers. It was going to be a
long night, a very long night.
And a ver y, very long trip.
In which our bold gentleman and intrepid lady discover
there is more than one way to catch a fish,
and more than one fish to be caught
Cecile, Lady Haverlock, known to all her kin except Second-Cousin Gertrude as Peaches,
frowned and tapped her fingers against the letter she held in her other hand.
“Whatever is it, now, Cecile?” asked Gertrude, sniffing impatiently. “I declare, you have
been all atwitter from the moment you arrived.”
“They have eloped.”
“Your beloved nephew and his Patricia? Well, I am not surprised, having been ignored all
“Tristan and Izzy.”
Gertrude sat back in her chair and clapped her hands together. “Well. There you have it. All
your fretting has been for naught. Whatever is the matter, now?”
“I am not at all certain, Gertrude, except that I can see no reason they should go to all the
trouble to elope.”
Gertrude’s bulbous eyes brightened. “Can you not? But of course, there can be but one
reason. And you shall not persuade me you are so naive as not to know it.”
“Well, of course. I’ll not deny the attraction between them is there. Any fool can see it.
Except them. And that is what is so odd. And even if they were in a hurry, so to speak, they had
but to say the word to their respective fathers, who would have gladly given permission for an
immediate wedding. I tell you, Gertrude, something is rotten in Denmark.”
“And I tell you, you worry too much. For heaven’s sake, C ecile, you have what you wanted,
do you not?”
“I suppose. But I think perhaps I should return to Town. I am uneasy about this.”
“Of course, you may do as you wish. But if you asked me, I would say you should leave
well enough alone.”
Lady Haverlock said nothing more, but stood with her hands meshed together before her,
occasionally tapping one finger against the back of the other hand.
Past Lancaster, the turnpike began to climb into the hills.
Bouncing along for hours at a time in a closed coach was boring. Even with the handsomest
man in all England sitting beside her (and particularly so when he chose to doze off), there was
only so much one could say, only so long one could admire the landscape.
Izzy reached into the valise Marshall had packed for her, and removed a small volume with
a worn cloth binding, which she had brought along for herself. Camilla was a book she had read
once before, and she had thought it entertaining. Perhaps when she had picked it up once again at
the lending library, she might be more able to comprehend those more puzzling passages now,
the ones with odd innuendos that didn’t quite make sense. She glanced over the top of the book at
her drowsing companion, and hoped he would, for a short while, stay that way.
Izzy didn’t happen to notice the exact moment when her mind strayed away from the pages
which explained none of those coils that worried her. While her eyes scanned meaningless pages,
her mind dwelt on the lingering sensation of that last kiss and the odd way it had reverberated
through her body. She couldn’t describe it, except with an odd combination of words that made
no sense at all when put together. Buzzing, echoing, like the warming glow from a glass of wine,
that flowed all the way down to her toes and back up again.
Still, she could not reconcile the way she felt when he touched her with what she had heard
about those things about which ladies were not supposed to converse, but which they did
anyway, in most roundabout terms. ‘Just ghastly’, was the way one newly married bride had
explained it, as if that adjective gave a vivid and complete portrayal. Yet another had said ‘quite
pleasant, actually’, and again stopped short of providing more information than ‘you know’.
But she didn’t know, and that was the problem. For all that innocence was proclaimed to be
a virtue, she found it a wearisome burden. She didn’t need to actually do it, for heaven’s sake, but
whatever could be the harm in sharing a bit of information?
Only Tristan had treated her queries with some honesty, had neither been shocked, nor
made fun of her, beyond a small bit of simple teasing. She felt safe with him in a way she had
never felt with any other person. And she thought that odd, considering the skeptical way she had
viewed him when they first met.
“What are you reading?”
She jerked free of her reverie, wondering how long he had watched her without her
knowing. “Nothing important,” she said, knowing he would tease her when he saw the title.
“Read it to me.”
“Oh, you would not be interested. It is quite boring, actually.” She closed the small volume
and bent down to return it to her valise.
“But I would like you to read it, anyway. What is it about?”
“Geometry,” she said, and wondered whatever had possessed her to make such a claim.
“Geometry? I did not realize you were a student of Mathematics.”
“Oh, I am not, really, but I might need it if I should find myself teaching children again. I
only meant to brush up a bit.”
His slaty blue eyes narrowed and his mouth quivered at its corners the way it did when he
was up to mischief. “Read it, anyway,” he insisted.
“Well, it is just about triangles and curves and the like. A very dull read, aloud. I cannot
imagine why you would be interested.”
“But as I am, surely you could oblige me.”
He lunged for the book, which she barely snatched away in time as she launched her
fiercest glare at him. He sat back and folded his arms, his eyes lit with that mischievous glint.
“Well, if you insist. It says here, uh, the sum of the two sides squared equals the square of
the hypotenuse. There, now are you satisfied?”
“Oh, I might be, if that were correct. However, it would more correctly read, the sum of the
two squared sides of a right triangle equals the square of the hypotenuse.”
“Oh. Well, I must have got it wrong. I’m afraid I shall never excel at Mathematics, even if I
did nothing else but study it. Well, there surely must be something more appealing to do.” Izzy
endeavored once more to slide the embarrassing book into her valise. “When shall we reach our
next stop, do you think?”
“Let me see it.” Laughing, he lunged across her lap, groping for the little novel as she
swung it out of his reach. But his long arms outreached hers, and she shrieked a shrill cry
somewhere between desperation and laughter as he pinned her to the seat with his shoulder and
snatched the book from her struggling hand.
“Ah,” he said, “now let us find out what is so fascinating about Geometry. ” And his tongue
came out to lick over his lips while he held her off with one hand and flipped through the pages
with the other. “Oh, Pythagoras, how you have changed! Why, my dear, I do believe this is
indeed about curves and angles, but I am afraid they are the variety that were much beyond old
“Give it back,” she demanded, and grabbed at the book, knowing her cause was already
lost, and she, defenseless against the subtle pressure that pushed her downward onto the seat.
“For example,” he continued, utterly ignoring her demand, “he has no formula for this
curve,” and he nibbled playfully at the juncture of her shoulder and neck. “Nor this,” said he, as
he ran his tongue within the shell of her ear.
Izzy squealed with delight as a shiver ran up her spine. “Let me try that,” she said, and
pushed against him as she tried to rise.
“Uh, no.” Looking as if he had just been slapped, Tristan rose suddenly away from her, and
tugged at his waistcoat which had risen unacceptably beyond his waist.
“Oh, but of course, I must,” she insisted. Although she hadn’t quite puzzled out the cause
for his abrupt change, she knew she had just gained the upper hand. She continued, her impish
grin spreading. “How else shall I know I’ve got it right?”
“It wouldn’t be a good idea, Izzy. And I’m quite certain you will have no trouble on that
“Enough for you to say, but I must be certain for myself.” She rose up on her knees on the
seat and probed with her lips that little amount of flesh exposed above his high collar, and
finding that portion of his garment putting her at a distinct disadvantage.
But he didn’t act like he wanted her to stop. Like he had done, she found the graceful arcs
of his ear delicious to the tip of her tongue.
He gave forth a pitiable groan before he drew her into a tight embrace and captured her lips
in a deeply thrusting kiss. That same strange shimmer of excitement penetrated her, rolling like a
tumbling ocean wave breaking at the shore. This was what she had wanted. Oh, yes, had wanted
for far longer than she had known what it was.
And it had a name. Lust. Pure and carnal lust, and she loved it.
His eyes had the depth of the darkest, most fathomless ocean as he straightened himself and
took a hard swallow that she saw bob in his throat. Gone was that playful mirth she had seen
only minutes ago. “We’ve got to stop this, Izzy,” he said in a ragged whisper.
“I thought you were doing rather well.”
“Kind of you to say so. But you will not convince me you do not understand what is going
“Of course, I do. You are merely attempting to educate me in the necessary preliminaries.”
“Preliminar ies? Izzy, it is much more than that. I’m afraid it affects me somewhat more
than that. And it makes me quite dangerous. Do you understand?”
She hadn’t thought of it quite that way. She had never thought he had the slightest interest
in her. Had he not made her the recipient of his jokes and insults? Had he not called her friend?
Friend, not lover?
Oh, yes, she understood. He was alone in a closed coach with one particular woman day
after day, until even she became attractive to him. But not enough so that he would ever follow
through with his attraction. Not that she would allow it, anyway. How dare he think she would?
How dare she tr y to fool herself? She wanted far more than just his kisses. Wanted him to
want her. But of course, he wanted Patricia, and was merely putting up with her, trifling with her,
to pass the time away.
She straightened herself to a verisimilitude of a flagpole. “Very well, sir. I should not wish
to cause you discomfort. I shall become the very soul of propriety for the remainder of the
He chuckled. “Izzy, you could never be the soul of propriety. It isn’t in you.”
“But of course, I can, sir. You merely cannot make the distinction between impropriety and
“You say that I have no sense of humor, then? And I say you cannot manage to be entirely
proper for one single day.”
“Simple enough. To begin with, sir, you must move to the forward seat of the coach, for as
you know, a gentleman must never sit beside a lady not his mother, sister, or wife.”
“Very well, scamp, I will move, just to please you.” He shifted to the forward seat, but the
annoying smirk never left his face. “Perhaps, we should put it to the test. You shall have one day
in which to prove yourself to be the Soul of Propriety.”
“And you shall have one day to establish yourself a Man of Humor. And what is to be my
prize when I win?”
“If you win, my dear,” he corrected. “What shall it be? Perhaps a Bible, beautifully bound
in Moroccan leather?”
“I have one, sir, which as a Soul of Propriety, I read daily. No, I think not.”
“Then, perhaps an over-large fichu to cover that daring neckline which no Soul of Propriety
“One which you chose and had made. But of course, sir, except that I think my
handkerchief will be quite adequate for the purpose.” She arranged the handkerchief from her
reticule in a manner which clearly disappointed him.
“Ah, I have it. Pattens for your slippers, so that you may stay out of the mud.”
“Thank you, sir, but again, you are too late, for I already have them as well. No, I think I
should prefer a trout rod.”
“A trout rod? Never say, you are a fisherman, uh, woman! Souls of Propriety do not fish for
trout. Female ones, that is. Ah, but I must mistake you. For if you have no rod, how, pray tell,
have you been fishing? Never say you are a noodler!”
“How did you–”
He folded back into the squabs, racked with peels of laughter. “Izzy, Souls of Propriety of
either sex do not noodle for trout!”
“Well, of course, they do not. However, I was not a Soul of Propriety then, and I have only
to pass one day as such, to win my prize. I’ll wager you do not even know how to noodle.”
“Having once been a child of adventurous spirit, I most certainly do. You stick your hand
in the water, and wait for a fish to come along, then grab it.”
“Oh, it’s much more complicated than that. You’ll never catch a fish, if that’s all you do.
They’re much too clever.”
“Well, perhaps you should instruct me, scamp.”
“It’s quite challenging. I doubt you’re up to it.”
“A challenge again, so soon? We have not yet resolved the last one. But I shall accept, and
ver y likely, catch more fish than you will.”
“But not today, sir, as Souls of Propriety do not noodle for trout.”
“But you see, you have already lost, by dint of your company, for if there is anything a
Soul of Propriety does not do, it is to elope with a man not her intended.”
“Is that so? But if there is anything a Soul of Propriety does do, it is to remain true to her
beloved, though she may be put to sore temptation for the sake of said intended.”
“How very fortunate you are to be traveling with me, and not another man, who would
surely take advantage of you in such a tempting situation.”
She flipped her eyebrows haughtily. “But I would never be so indulgent of another man.
You should feel honored by my trust.”
“Hardly honored, my dear. Perhaps frightened is the word you meant to use.”
“Never say you are frightened of me! I do not believe it.”
“Not of you, love. But you should not trust me any more than any other man.”
“Huh. Perhaps we should go back to discussing noodling. It is no doubt a safer subject.”
“A decent idea, for a change, as we have established that I have no humor and you no
propriety. Shall we, then, at the first suitable stream we find?”
“And poach, as well? I should say not.”
“When we are high enough in the mountains, there will be none to object. Or, are you
perhaps afraid you are not up to the challenge?”
“Very well, sir, I accept the challenge.”
His conceited smile as he leaned back once more into the comfort of the leather squabs
would have been irritant enough, she thought, if she did not know his teasing was merely the
result of his boredom and a more decorous way to spend their time than the burst of passion that
had so suddenly erupted. But she was onto that line, and supposed she should appreciate that he
chose such an innocuous way to protect her from himself. Or more to the point, from herself. For
she was the one goading him.
She did not like to think that he found her only passingly interesting, or that when Patricia
re-entered the picture, he would lose interest in Izzy entirely. But she needed to be practical. No
sense in living the rest of her life in a pout over the rejection of one man. And Donald was a
perfectly passable man to choose for a husband.
Odd, when she considered it, that she had not thought of Donald in days, not since long
before this journey had begun. Even without her conscious realization, her attention had been
entirely diverted to Tristan, to his needs, wants, desires. She found herself asking, first, what
would Tristan think, feel, want? And that was something she would have to make certain would
change, for it was entirely undesirable in a wife that she should spend her every waking thought
on another man.
But not now. Not until they reached Carlisle. She would not give him up until then.
They fell into quiet once again, until the coach bumbled over a small stone bridge and the
stream that poured out of a wide, but steep-sided valley.
“There,” she said, pointing up the valley. “I’ve been up there before. Papa took me, once,
and there is a wonderful stream.”
“To Kirkby Lonsdale? Why should we do that? We can make Kendal by nightfall, Izzy.
We’d have to turn around and come back, and we’d lose time.”
“I know. But there is a road, of sorts, that goes through. And we needn’t go all that way. I
am sure it is only a bit up the road. We could ask. But if you want noodling lessons, there could
not be a better place. We could ask, couldn’t we?”
“Well, I see no harm in asking, but we cannot consider it if the road is not passable. We
could not take a chance on getting stuck.”
“But just think of how difficult it would be to find us if we changed our route.”
“Just think how difficult it will be for Landerholme to find us. Have you forgotten why we
are making this trip?”
Actually, it did keep slipping her mind, but she felt it best not to say so.
Tristan soon abandoned his argument and requested Hervey stop at the next inn, which they
found barely a quarter mile up the road. There, the keeper of the coaching inn gave reluctant
advice on the situation toward Kirkby Lonsdale. Yes, the road went through. Yes, it was
passable. Yes, it was rough in places. And yes, inns of a more or less acceptable nature could be
found along its route.
But no, it was not a good shortcut. If one wanted an interesting diversion, he informed them
in his barely understandable regional dialect, perhaps it was all right. But it was definitely off the
Tristan conferred with Hervey, who expressed opposition to the unaccountable whim. He
conferred with Izzy, who could hardly wait to get up the hill. Then he went back and took
another look at the forbidding looking, rutted road. The risk was too great.
“But it is so lovely, Tristan! We could go only a little way, couldn’t we?”
It was decided. They would go only a little way, until they found that suitably babbling
brook. Then they would come back and continue their journey on a more sensible road to the
Within minutes, Tristan’s straining frown expressed his regret at giving in to her, when the
macadam gave way to dirt ruts, and the coach jarred hard against its springs as it bounced over
potholes and trenches in the narrow road. Izzy’s assurance that the road would not grow worse
quickly proved unfounded.
At least the weather was bright and warm, and they were in no danger of becoming mired
down in mud. If they just didn’t break an axle, they would manage.
“You said it wasn’t very far.” Tristan’s brow folded into a dark frown.
“Well, I am sure it is only a little way, yet. We shall be there in no time.”
Up the valley she guided them, and easily found the marker. The road became, at times, no
more than two ruts with a grassy strip between as the chasm steepened on one side, and rose to
great height on the other. Izzy directed Hervey to drive farther up the deep valley, turning once
again into the vale she remembered.
Close to the confluence of a small stream with the bigger, broader River Lune, Izzy and
Tristan debarked from the coach and followed the rugged little stream’s winding path up the
valley. Soon, she found her spot.
Tristan viewed her with all the skepticism suitable for a noodling adversary. “Are you quite
sure?” he queried.
“An excellent spot, if I ever saw one,” she assured him. “Of course, as the challenged, I
shall go first.”
“Be my guest, my dear,” he said, with a sweeping bow.
She found her first objective, a shady place with a large, more or less flat rock beside a
quiet pool, and eased herself down onto the cool sandstone grit, lying face down. For a few
moments, she remained motionless. Then she moved her arm with exquisite slowness until her
fingers grazed the surface of the quiet water, and stopped. Waiting. Then, just as slowly she slid
them into the cool water.
“Izzy, I don’t think–”
She turned her head to see him standing on the flat boulder beside her.
“Shh!” Once at the full extension of her arm into the water, Izzy closed her eyes and
attuned herself to the feel of the water, again keeping herself perfectly still. Then she wiggled her
fingers. Then stopped. And wiggled again.
“Wouldn’t it be better –” He crouched down at her side.
“Shh!” she insisted. “You’ll scare the fish.”
“Fish can’t hear.”
“Shh!” The sound of her voice was by itself almost loud enough to frighten away the fish.
She held very still for what seemed interminably long, then wiggled her fingers again. Something
in her internal senses told her King Trout was growing curious and approaching.
“They can’t hear underwater, Izzy.”
“Will you be quiet?” She hissed her irritation to him, just at the same moment she felt the
fish brush against the dangling hand. Hastily, she closed her fingers around the fish, knowing as
she did it, that she had moved too soon. With a loud whoop, she rose from the rock, trout
squirming in her hand, flipping mightily, until it fought its way free of her grasp, through the air,
and hit the water with a splash. With a flash of silver, it was gone.
“Saboteur!” she yelled, and faced him with vehemence.
He laughed. “It is hardly my fault if you cannot hold onto a fish. Now, it’s my turn.”
Izzy stalked off the rock and back to the rocky bank. “Be my guest, sir, if you think you can
trick King Trout into your hand, after the disturbance you caused!”
“I caused? You are the one who dropped the fish. Fish can’t hear underwater.”
“Oh, do you think so? Then I suggest you put your head in the water, while I yell at you!”
Another laugh rumbled through him. “I have no doubt you would take that opportunity to
push me all the way in.”
“The thought appeals.”
“So of course I shall not oblige you. Now move aside, my dear. I’ll show you how it’s
“Be my guest.”
Effusing great personal assurance, Tristan moved further upstream, where he found a spot
similar to the one she had chosen. He removed his boots and coat, and rolled up his sleeves
before stepping onto the flat boulder.
Izzy observed that his technique was not remarkably different from hers, for he also
attempted to sneak up on the trout. Then, he was disturb-able, too.
With an absurdly innocent expression, Izzy prodded at the gravel with the toe of her boot,
here and there locating a pebble of the right size, and bent to pick it up, until she had a handful of
the small stones.
In an aimless fashion, she lobbed a pebble in his direction. With a plunk, it hit the stone
platform where he lay, and rolled to the edge. She hefted another in the air, and it bounced off his
leg. A third, a fourth, and a fifth hit the stone and then the water, as if each had taken flight of its
own accord and just happened to land in his vicinity.
Tristan looked up from his intense concentration, and his lofty expression quickly
transposed into a frown. Surely he had not believed she would not seek vengeance? Of course, he
had not. In fact, he had deliberately encouraged it. And in this event, Izzy was not at all opposed
to giving him what he wanted. She saw to it that the next pebble bounced off the rock and
plopped into the water.
“Stop it, Izzy.” He readjusted his body to reach deeper into the water, and gave her a mock
glare. “You’ll chase them away.”
“Pitching rocks, my dear. You needn’t protest your innocence. It is not the fish spitting at
“Are you quite sure? But then, you are very likely correct, as you no doubt have chased
them away yourself.”
“Ha. As you speak, King Trout nibbles at the noodles.”
She pitched another pebble, gently, but carefully aimed to catch him in the very center of
his back. He yelped, but he already had a firm grip about the trout’s middle. As he raised it into
the air triumphantly, and rose to his feet, the large brown trout flapped in his hand in a valiant
effort to free itself.
“Ha! You see, even your interference could not defeat the champion!”
“Champion! We shall see.”
Tristan strode forward with his prize, but the fish made a massive final effort to free itself,
so that Tristan had to take hold with both hands. He didn’t notice the water he had splashed onto
the small patch of dried mud, and onto which he stepped.
One foot, then the other, went out from under him, and King Trout flew through the air,
back to the freedom of the stream. And so did Tristan, although he probably was not thinking of
it in those particular terms. To him, it likely seemed more of an unpleasant sogginess that
First startled, then horrified, Izzy next began laughing in a loud howl, as she watched him
take an unexpected seat in knee-deep water and mud.
“What?” she asked between wild giggles. “Do we have another mudlark?”
“Don’t be silly. I have far too much dignity for that.”
“I believe you shall have to scrape rather deeply to find your dignity, right now!” She
laughed again, but then reached down to give him a hand out of the water.
It was a mistake, and she realized it abruptly.
In which two rotten apples and a peach discover something else that smells
With one swift yank, he pulled her down atop him, shrieking as she fell. Water bounced
about them, and enclosed them in its cold, startling embrace. Izzy wriggled free, rolling over
onto her knees, and took off from a racer’s crouch across the dale, the huffing of his breath
almost at her ear.
“Come back here, scamp!”
He snagged her about her waist and swung her in a wide arc, scooped up her legs and
folded her into his arms. Her willful arm found its way around his neck, steadying herself against
the dynamic awkwardness of the embrace. Tristan sank to his knees and laid her down on the
cool grass and last year’s leaves beneath the branches of a grove of ash trees. If she had wanted to
escape the trap he had laid for them, she could not, so tightly was she pinned by his body. But
she was hungry for the taste of his lips again, for the wild, tingling pleasure he aroused in her
with his touch. As he lowered his lips, slanted to join with hers, a magnificently uncivilized
moan escaped him.
All his lessons so far had not prepared her for this, for the wild rush of pleasure that
flooded through her in waves with the silken caresses he lavished on her breasts. She had never
thought she might wish to have a man touch the bare flesh revealed by the scoop of her neckline,
never dreamed she might wish for even more, wish to be bared entirely to his touch. The torrent
of passion that raced through her jolted her, tore a surprised cry from her lips.
Perhaps she had shocked him with her unladylike cry. He bent over her with wild eyes,
eyes of a stranger she had always known, always waited for. Chest heaving, he rolled away from
her onto his back.
She sat up and turned away from him, mortified. She had shocked him. Shocked herself, if
she would be truthful about it. She was rather certain ladies did not make such vulgar noises,
even under these rather extreme circumstances. From the beginning he had made it clear she was
no lady, and now she had given him the ultimate proof. She bit at her lower lip to keep from
embarrassing herself further.
“Let’s get back, Izzy. We’re wasting a lot of valuable time.”
He stood and walked to the rock where he had left his boots and coat.
Her head seemed to tremble with her humiliated nod as she rose and knocked the dead
leaves from her dress. She started down the hill ahead of him, and would have made a point of
holding her head as high as she could, except that she discovered it could not be held high
enough for the intended purpose. In fact, anything higher than a snake’s belly seemed beyond her
abilities for the moment.
But she couldn’t. She stumbled faster along the path that roamed through the rocky dale
beside the stream.
“Izzy.” Beside her, he jumped over rocks in the trail, for she gave him no purchase on the
narrow path. “Izzy, stop.”
She couldn’t. She could not stand for him to see she was about to cry, and if he did see her,
she knew she would not be able to contain the tears.
He jumped ahead of her and blocked her path. She tried to force her way around, but he
had her in his grasp, and her struggles were useless against his superior strength.
“Izzy don’t cry. Please don’t cry.”
An overwhelming bout of tears burst forth. He folded her into an inescapable embrace as
tears rushed forth, despite all her efforts. He said nothing, only kept her tightly in his arms. When
at last the torrent abated, she managed to sniffle out a few words. “I’m sorry,” she said in a
“Sorry? For what?”
“I didn’t mean to disgust you. I am so hare-witted.”
His low, throaty chuckle echoed in his chest. Now, he was laughing at her, and there was
not a thing she could do about it.
“Izzy, that is not at all the problem here. In fact, it is quite the opposite. We are to be just
friends, after all, and we still have a very long way to go. But you aren’t offensive, sweetheart.
Whyever did you think that?”
“I made those awful noises, and all.”
“Not awful, Izzy. Not awful, at all. Now, listen to me. If you truly want to please your
husband in your marriage bed, don’t try to be a lady at the same time. There are other times and
places to be a lady, but not there. That’s a place to express your love, not to be dainty.”
“Ah. You thought a lady is not supposed to feel passion, did you? I wish I knew who
started that nasty rumor, for he has caused an untold amount of misery. But, love, if you don’t
remember anything else I say to you, remember that. Just be the wonderful, loving, giving,
person you are, and everything will be all right. You will see.” He snuggled a kiss into her hair.
“But we must hurry along now, or, come dark, we shall find ourselves still in the middle of
nowhere. I don’t particularly relish sleeping in a coach seat, do you?”
Izzy shook her head, but she could not quite bring herself to look up to his face. Despite
herself, she yielded to the gentle pressure of his fist that lifted her chin so that her eyes must meet
his, and to the sweet, tender kiss he gave to her lips. “You are a very special friend, Izzy. I shall
hate to give you up.”
Well, she didn’t want him to give her up. But she didn’t seem to have any choice. He
wanted to marry Patricia, and so he would very willingly give her up for that. It was time she
stopped being so calf-eyed and recognized the truth. He would never think of her as anything
more than a friend. And why was she being so silly about it, anyway? She had told herself she
would allow the enjoyment of his company for this short while, and that was all. She merely hurt
herself with her romantic daydreams.
He took her hand. Then, hand in hand they walked down the hill, where Hervey waited at
the bridge with the coach. Once at the bridge, she went down to the stream’s edge and splashed
the cold, fresh water on her face, then smiled up at him. She was ready, now.
“Wake up, you dunderheads!” Peaches poked with her cane at the soused and snoozing
gentlemen who were sprawled about in Trowbridge’s study. “Come alive, if that is possible.
Although, as I think of it, I doubt either of you has been out of the pickled state long enough to
look alive in years.”
Alexander rose from the sofa with a jerk. “Peaches! What?” Daventry, who had been
stretched out face down across Alexander’s desk, sat up with exquisite slowness, holding his
head as if it might topple from his neck at any moment.
“Good Lord, Peaches! Whatever are you doing here?” Alexander asked, rubbing his
temples. “Oh, but of course, you’ve come to congratulate us on our successful venture. We have
been celebrating, you see.”
“Oh, that is quite obvious, Alexander. However, you celebrate amiss.”
“‘Course not,” objected Daventry. “They’ve eloped, ain’t they? They’r e on their way to
Scotland to be married.”
“Married, yes, but not to each other.”
“‘Course they are!”
“Wait, wait,” Alexander interrupted. “What’s this you say, Peaches? Not to each other?”
“Lord Elban’s son Mr. Landerholme has also eloped with Miss Morrowton.”
“Good, good! That’s good. Gets ’em both out of the way!” said Daventry.
Peaches shook her head. “On the contrary. They may have already switched.”
“Switched?” yelled the two men together.
“Switched. My very word.”
“But why? Thought they was doin’ just fine with each other.”
“A very elegant sham.”
“Wait, Peaches,” said Alexander again. “You mean to say Tristan and Izzy have been
shamming us so that we would believe they eloped together, when they both fully intended to
elope and marry with–”
“With Miss Morrowton and Mr. Landerholme, respectively. Exactly.”
“Whatever makes you think that?”
“Oh, Alexander, for Heaven’s sake, pull yourself together and think. Whyever should they
go all the way to Scotland when they need only ask your permission? They would only go that
far if they were doing something of which you did not approve.”
Daventry and Alexander groaned in unison, their eyes rounding in widened horror.
“Ah. I see the light has dawned at last. Well, come along. They have an enormous head
start on us. If we do not stop them, the scandal that will ensue will be monumental.”
“It will?” asked the chorus.
“Of course it will, John Daventry. Have you not thought what people will say about both of
those girls? To elope with one man and marry another? An elopement they will forgive, but not
“That ain’t nothing, compared to a bad marriage,” Daventry added, rubbing his eyes. “I ain’t
one to pick my daughter’s choices, for the most part. I let her do as she will. But Landerholme
ain’t no decent match for her. He’s not got the brains or the spunk. Oh, I’ll grant he’s not a bad
lad, just not right for my Izzy. I ain’t wanting a marriage for her like her mother and me had.”
“Quite so,” said Alexander. “But I don’t see what we can do about it now. They left days
“If they took the mail, it would be too late. But they took Tristan’s coach, so they will be
stopping every night. If we leave immediately, we may be able to catch them in time.”
Daventry’s face wrinkled into a frown. “We ain’t got time for a coach. No hard feelings,
Peaches, but you’ll just slow us down.”
Peaches’ eyebrows raised high. Indignation flared her nostrils. “Slow you down, John
Daventry? Let us see if you can catch up to me.”
With that, she swirled majestically and swept from the study. The men followed and
watched as she strode out through the front door, down the steps, and swung herself up onto a
man’s saddle. She did not even look behind her as she rode away.
“She’s going to ride, is she?” Daventry asked as the two men scurried along behind her. “A
woman can’t do that! All the way to Scotland?”
“Odd,” said Alexander. “Thought you knew Peaches. Might be wise if we hurry, if we don’t
want to be left behind.”
They had finally returned to the road to Kirkby Lonsdale early that morning, having
boarded for the night in a rough little inn of frightening quality, necessitating the use of the fine
white sheets Marshall had sent along. Though Izzy had done her best to stifle her complaints, she
breathed great relief to be off the tooth-jarring, rutted track that had passed for a road. The relief
was clear on Tristan’s face as well, for he seemed to fear such things as broken axles and lost
wheel tyres even more than she.
If truth would be told, Izzy had lost her zeal for the border of Scotland. If they suffered a
delay, well, they would have more time together. She had even briefly entertained a fantasy that
their angr y parents would catch up to them and force a marriage on the spot. It was, after all,
Tristan with whom she had spent the last few days, not Donald. But she had very quickly
squelched the errant thought, for she wished him happiness, and he would be happy with none
other than Patricia. Still, she could not bring herself to be in any great hurry.
He had been unusually quiet since the noodling expedition the day before. She supposed he
was wrapped up in worrying about whatever was his latest worry, as that was his wont. She had
seen few women who could surpass him in the business of worrying. What might it be now? She
speculated on a variety of possibilities. The weather up on the fells was looking decidedly rough,
and if they hit upon another stretch of road such as they had followed the day before, at the same
time a storm struck, they would quickly be hopelessly mired. They should not have taken this
road, and he had argued that from the start. He had said this morning that, even with good
weather, they had lost two days. Now, evening bore down upon them, and they were still miles
from their destination.
He had been leaning back in that exact spot since the last change of horses, staring at
nothing, sometimes, looking at her with a puzzlingly wild stare. She had seen it some time
before, but she couldn’t place it, nor interpret its meaning.
“Your eyes don’t look right,” she said, at last.
“Terribly sorry, Miss Daventry. They are the only pair I brought with me.”
“Don’t be silly. You know what I mean, and you’re hiding something from me. I’ve seen
you look like this before.”
The strange expression suddenly turned wild, feral. His neck, she saw suddenly, was rigid,
his jaw set hard. Then she knew.
“Oh, dear. It’s one of those things again, isn’t it?”
The lump in his throat bobbed as he tried to swallow it. She wasn’t going to let him deny it,
and he had obviously figured that out. At last, he nodded stiffly.
“Well, not to worry,” she said. “Marshall has given me explicit instructions. I am fully
prepared for it.”
“But of course. I am afraid he viewed our escapade with as much trepidation as we
expected from Marie, and it was only with the greatest of effort on my part that he was willing to
let us go off alone. I’m afraid that, like Marie, he views the both of us as utterly incompetent in
the care of ourselves.”
“I believe a cold cloth is next.” She rose and called to Hervey, who stopped at the next
stream to wet the cloths she took from her valise. Then, returning to her seat, she said, “and of
course, you should lie down.”
“I do not need to lie down.”
“Perhaps not. But I wonder if we might avert calamity this time?”
His stubborn streak showed in the way the muscles of his jaw tightened and flexed. She
smiled sweetly, and placed the small pillow in her lap. “Here,” she said, surprising herself with
the silky, seductive tone.
“And you will not stop until I do, will you?”
“Of course, not. I am under the strictest of orders.” She patted the pillow, and smiled again.
With a futile groan, he lay down across the seat, with his head on the pillow. She had
thought it would work to quote Marshall. It was rather like pulling rank, she supposed, but a
woman had to use whatever weapons she could find.
She touched him with affection, with tender strokes that feathered through his hair, circled
gently at his temples. Although his eyes were closed, his face began to draw together in a frown
that looked frighteningly like pain. Was she hurting him, but he did not want to say so? She lifted
her hand away.
“Don’t stop,” he whispered.
Oh, she wanted to hold him, to somehow soothe away the pain. If only there really were a
way. But there was so little that worked, Marshall had said. And he would not take the
laudanum, though Marshall had sent it along, just in case. She had something better, anyway.
With some help from the servants, who invariably seemed to her to be the ones who knew such
things, she had hunted down an apothecary who sold her the Syrup of Wild Lettuce, and willow
bark for a tea. The syrup, he had said, was as good as opium, but without the danger of addiction
that Tristan so feared, and the willow bark was good for just about any sort of pain.
She returned to the tiny, tender touches, and waited impatiently until Hervey stopped the
coach near a small bridge to soak the cloths.
“Here’s a few, Miss Daventr y,” said the small fellow. “He looks bad, don’t he?”
“It will pass, Hervey,” she said to reassure the man. “But we should stop for the night as
soon as we might.”
“‘Tis comin’ on night, anyway, miss. I ain’t one to cross the fells in the dark.”
The coach rattled on a few more miles, and finally came to a stop at Middleton. Izzy looked
out the coach window, to see the sign of the Two Swans, one black and one white, with necks
intertwined. A stiff wind caught the sign and swung it back and forth, squeaking with each
swing. Hervey came round to the door and opened it. He gave his reclining employer a worried
“‘Tis a nasty night acoming, miss,” said Hervey. “The wind’s off the fells.”
That, she supposed, meant a storm was coming, but as they had had so many lovely days,
she supposed she shouldn’t begrudge the weather its changes.
“Go fetch the innkeeper, Hervey, I think it would be best if we had a bit of help.”
“I can make it,” Tristan insisted, and pushed himself to an upright position.
As she moved to assist, he held up his hand to stop her. Belatedly, she remembered her
own painful advice to his aunt Instead, she stretched her lower lip over her teeth and accepted
Hervey’s hand to help her out the coach door. With hooded eyes, she stood by, ready to move if
she must, as he stepped down onto the stone path that led to the inn door.
Hervey was in a better position to help than she, canny servant that he was. She suspected
he had spent many years carefully studying his employers, learning when to interfere and when
to leave them alone. This time, he allowed his employer to work his own way past the inn door
he held open, and call for the innkeeper himself.
“No, I am not particularly well,” Tristan snapped at the innkeeper’s frown. “We require two
rooms and an accommodation for my coachman. And quickly. My companion will wish supper,
but I am sure I will not.”
The very nature of his tone expressed his pain, but only Izzy knew of the risk he took, if the
weakness should suddenly come upon him as it had in the past.
“Aye, m’lord,” said the large, ruddy-faced man, “ye bein’ tired an’ all. Just take thisself up
t’stairs.” He pointed the way, and Izzy took the lead, the innkeeper bringing up the rear.
Tristan was not fooled, and glared first at her, then the innkeeper, who nevertheless caught
her surreptitious nod and grasped the situation.
Once settling Tristan on the bed, where he sat and glared at the wall, she removed the bottle
of the strange Syrup of Wild Lettuce, touted so thoroughly by the apothecary. His strained eyes
“Syrup of Wild Lettuce,” she said triumphantly. “I am somewhat ahead of you, this time.
The apothecary promises it is not in the least dangerous, and is very good at relieving pain. I
have taken great pains to corroborate his advice, and all quite successfully.”
“Oh, no, you don’t!” He backed away as far as he might without leaving the bed.
“Oh, come now, Tristan, you surely cannot be afraid of a little medicine. It surely cannot
taste that bad, and it is infinitely better than the laudanum Marshall sent.”
“Aye, m’lord, ’tis a common one. Oor folk use it. Had it m’self.”
Tristan did not seem to be up to the translation.
“Couldn’t hurt, lad,” the man urged.
With a suspicious frown, Tristan reluctantly accepted the spoonful of syrup, and wrinkled
both nose and mouth at the taste.
“Two,” said the innkeeper.
Izzy gave the innkeeper a quizzical look, but then nodded her agreement.
Grumbling, Tristan accepted the second spoonful, but quickly held up his hand to ward off
the potential of another.
“Now, if you will just lie down, Tristan, I am sure we can see to everything else.”
He started to tug at his boots, but the innkeeper, seeing his futile efforts, managed the job
for him, before leading Izzy out and back down the stairs.
Only then did Izzy notice the men gathered in the common room of the coaching inn, and
realized she did not want to sup with an inn full of local people who could hardly understand a
word she said. Instead, she decided to ask for a crust or two to take along, for she didn’t want to
leave Tristan alone.
Before leaving the common room, however, she managed to persuade the innkeeper’s wife,
Mrs. Thorpe, to set the willow bark to steep, so that she might have it available, should Tristan
Then Mr. Thorpe took her aside. “He’s lookin’ nae so well, lass,” he said.
“Not to worry. It will pass. But to be sure, I must not leave him alone until he is well.
Marshall said I must not. His valet, Marshall, who did not come with us. He is quite ill when he
has these spells, but reluctant to admit it. There is a nice chair in the room, and I’m sure I shall be
“Doest ye think ye should?” asked Mrs. Thorpe.
She smiled. “I think I must, Mrs. Thorpe, though I know he will raise a terrible fuss in the
morning. But as you see, he will present no problem till then.” She took a slice of bread and
small chunk of cheese for her supper, before hurrying back up the stairs.
The small room was at the head of the stairs, and faced out toward the stable. She could
already hear the nervous neighing of horses which sensed the beginnings of the coming storm, in
the angry flashes and rumbling thunder.
She knocked and called to him before entering.
Alarmed, she pushed open the door, and saw that he lay, face up, and spread-eagled upon
the bed, without a stitch of clothing.
In which Aft Gang Awry meets Murphy’s Law
Izzy ran to the bedside. She should never have left him. No matter that she had thought it
would be all right for a few minutes, Marshall had known better, and made her promise.
“Tristan. Tristan, wake up.”
Not an eyelid flickered.
“Tristan, wake up.”
He was breathing, at least. And his pulse seemed steady. Perhaps the loss of consciousness
was inevitable, and they had done nothing to ease it, after all. Or perhaps she shouldn’t have let
the innkeeper persuade her to give him two spoonfuls instead of the dose the apothecary had
prescribed. But Mr. Thorpe had seemed so certain.
Had she poisoned him? If only Marshall were here.
She ought to cover him up. He would not be happy at all, if he woke and found himself
bare to the world, especially with her in the room. But he was no lightweight, and he lay spread
out across the covers. Well, he had never exactly made things easier for her.
As Izzy moved closer, she spotted the pink scar that crossed his chest, bulging, here and
there ragged at its edges, yet straight in its vicious path. It was just like Peaches had described to
her. She reached out tentatively and touched, and when he did not move, she traced its course,
feeling the hard ridges on the bone where the line crossed two ribs. At the least, it must have
damaged his ribs enough to raise scar tissue on the bone. How had he lived? By God’s grace?
Marshall’s persistence? Perhaps, his own unwillingness to give up?
Did it still pain him? He never complained. But then, he would not. She would have never
known about the wound to his head, had she not made the discovery accidentally.
He would probably be incensed if he knew the way she was surveying his body. But it was
a beautiful body. She liked the way his muscles bulged and ridged beneath the thin covering of
skin, admired the darker color of his face, neck, hands, against the paleness below the waist. She
could picture in her mind his muscles rippling in the heat of the Peninsula sun, performing some
vague task that soldiers and their captain might do in their struggle to win a war.
Across his thigh ran another, lighter, more jagged scar, that had a twisted look at one end,
as if the muscle had been torn beneath. Did it pain him when he walked? She had never seen a
sign of a limp. And through his right arm, a white, round scar. She lifted his arm, to find what
she had expected on the opposite side, a more jagged version of the one in front. Again, she had
never noticed any sign that the arm pained him. Was that what it was like to fight a war? To have
one’s body ripped apart, and before it mended, to have it ripped apart again?
She didn’t want him to go back. Not now, not ever. She didn’t want him to ever be hurt
again. But she had nothing to say about it. However hideous it might seem to her, for some
reason she could not fathom, it was the life he had chosen.
She wondered what it would be like to be wife to such a man, and never know when he
might be blown to pieces by grapeshot. Still, she thought, if he were hers, and this was what he
wanted to do with his life, she would find a way to deal with it.
What was she thinking? If ever there had been a waste of her energy, it had been in
dreaming about him. She was nothing to him, beyond a friend. He had even said as much.
She had surprised herself, however, by avoiding looking at the more sexual parts of his
body, even though they were in blatant view. She had thought he would rather resent that.
Resent? He would be furious! Still, she reminded herself, he had been the one to strip down
while she was gone. She’d only had chaste thoughts of covering him, when he had been unable to
do it for himself.
She laughed. What a bouncer!
Now that she had the opportunity for observation, though, she thought the organ seemed
rather flimsy, and hardly adequate to do the job. How was it supposed to–No, it simply did not
make sense. There must be something she had not been told.
Well, she needed to find a way to get him covered, before he awoke and caught her in her
clandestine investigation. An uncomfortable heat rose into her face.
Izzy pushed at his shoulder to roll him to one side and tugged on the patchwork quilt, then
rolled him the other direction, and pulled some more. With considerably more effort, pushing
and tugging, she managed to shift the quilt from beneath his hips, and then the remainder was
easy. She snuggled the quilt and sheet around his chest, and stood back to admire her effort.
He let out an unearthly grunt, and rolled over.
“Oh, thank you,” she said with a sneer. “Of course, a bit sooner would have been more
Now what was she supposed to do? She could sleep in the chair, as she had earlier
proposed. But for the moment, she was still a bit fearful of his condition. Perhaps it would not
hurt to lie down beside him for a little while, keeping a hand on his chest to be sure he still
breathed, until she was sure he would be all right.
Of course, he would be just fine. He was merely sleeping off the effects of the syrup, and
sleep was good for him. Marshall had said so. But then, she couldn’t be sure. She had not been all
the way through one of these things before.
And a few days hence, you will never be with him again.
Izzy folded the garments she found in an inelegant pile on the floor. Then she kicked off
her slippers, pulled back the cover and slid beneath it. After all, she did have all her garments on.
Then, moving carefully so as not to wake him, she slipped her arm around him, for comfort, of
“Izzy,” he mumbled, and rolled over on her, pinning her to the bed.
Izzy wiggled, but could not even slide sideways. She pushed at his shoulder, and his arm
wrapped around her. If she wiggled any more, she might find herself squashed by his huge body.
“Oh, well,” she sighed. She smiled and snuggled closer, before closing her eyes. She let the
last rumblings of thunder lull her to sleep.
“Izzy! What the devil?”
Izzy jerked awake. Tristan propped himself up on his arms, above her, staring at her as if
she had poisoned him. He might even feel like she had, considering.
“Good morning,” she said with a shaky smile. “I hope you’re feeling better.”
“What the devil are you doing in my bed? Have you not got the sense God gave a goose?”
“Well, you were not at all conscious, and of course I was a bit worried, and you did roll
over on top of me, and it was rather hard to move–”
“Izzy, I haven’t got a thing on!”
“Well, yes, I know. That’s why I thought it best to cover you up.”
“You–Izzy, will you get out of here?”
“Well, I suppose, if–”
“Ungrateful slug.” Izzy threw back the covers, heedless of the fact that she exposed goodly
parts of him in doing so, and reached down for her slippers and her valise.
“Next time, stay in your own room!” he shouted after her.
“Under the circumstances, it would have been a delight!”
Mrs. Thorpe stood in the stairwell, her mouth agape.
“I told you he wouldn’t like it,” Izzy said, stomping down the corridor. “Not to worry. He’s
always cross as crabs in the mornings. As I think of it, he’s always cross as crabs.”
Izzy huffed her way down the hall to the room where she would have slept, where she
stripped off her rumpled garments and hastily wriggled herself into a traveling gown of violet
muslin, rather more despite his liking for the color than because of it.
She had done what she had done, already knowing he would be furious when he woke. So
why was she so overset about it? Hadn’t she just better accept the consequence and be done with
it, now? She might hope he would appreciate her efforts in his behalf, but she needed to
recognize the remoteness of that possibility. Izzy could not remember a time when she had been
so moonstruck, nor felt so foolish for it.
She really was in need of that good, hard jolt from reality.
The moment Izzy stomped out the door, Tristan sat up and girded himself with the
Devil take it, but how was he going to survive this trip? They were still two days out of
Carlisle where they hoped to meet Donald and Patricia, and far off the beaten track. It wasn’t
enough that she was the object of his obsessive thoughts all day long and far into the night. No,
she had to crawl into his bed with him, when he had not a stitch on.
And, exactly how had he got that way? He remembered a few clumsy, ineffectual tugs at
his boots, and fumbles with buttons that had suddenly become the size of small ants in his
awkward fingers, and that was all. Had she–Oh, surely not! He must’ve done it himself. She had
just covered him up. All! Oh, good God! Well, if she’d still retained any curiosities about men
now, then she possessed considerably less imagination than he’d believed she had.
Tristan picked up his carefully folded garments from the chair by the chimneypiece and
fumbled shaking fingers through buttons on shirt and trousers, and yanked on his boots. He
blundered his way through a poorly tied cravat, thinking nasty thoughts about the uselessness of
that particular piece of male attire.
But by the time he jerked his coat into place, he felt his anger cool. That was just Izzy,
kind-hearted, giving, loving Izzy, who either gave no thought to her own best interest, or calmly
discarded it for the benefit of someone else. He doubted it had anything particularly to do with
There had never been anyone like her, and in only a few more days, he would have no
more time with her. No hare-brained excuse in the world would suffice, once she married
Landerholme. This time was his time, that she generously shared with him. He didn’t want to
waste it being angry with her. But anger was the only thing that kept her at a safe distance.
He had to manage it, somehow. He just couldn’t imagine how that would be.
He made another half-hearted attempt to straighten the cravat, sighed to himself, and pulled
the door shut behind him, pausing when he heard the voices of Izzy and the innkeeper’s wife drift
down the hall from that open room.
“Oh, no, Mrs. Thorpe, you mustn’t think that of him. I’m quite sure he is perfectly adequate
and knowledgeable in that regard, although I’m sure Mr. Thorpe would be quite capable of
instructing him, of course. He is trying so very hard to do the proper thing, and as you can see, it
is rather difficult, as I have no sense of propriety at all. He has said so, many times.”
“Dust’e think so? Weel, ’tis a right thing ye’ll be marryin’, I’m thinkin’. Ilse, Mr. Thorpe
wouldna let’e stay there.”
“You must not forget he was ill last night.”
“Aye, but he’s a mite too parfit, this mornin’.”
“He has an excellent sense of propriety. He is very protective of my reputation, even if we
have eloped. You mustn’t worry, Mrs. Thorpe.”
So, Mr. Thorpe was going to educate him on the ways of the world, was he? Tristan
chuckled all the way down the stairs, thinking of ways to overset them all. Perhaps a walloping
big kiss, in front of all of them? No, it would make a liar out of her. He couldn’t go that far. He
could play the naive, effeminate fellow of Mr. Thorpe’s perception. No, that would only further
encourage the man.
With a resigned sigh, Tristan realized he just needed to do the right thing and apologize for
embarrassing her. He could always tease her later, when she need blush only for him. With that
thought, he dashed down the stairs and found Mr. Thorpe and his daughter bustling about the
“Morning, Thorpe,” he said cheerfully.
Thorpe nodded, keeping a careful eye on him, while covertly moving between Tristan and
his daughter. Interesting, he thought, wondering just what the man was thinking, now.
“We must be on our way shortly,” he continued. “Has Miss Daventry eaten?”
“The lady bein’t doon yet, sir.” He whooshed away his daughter with a quick swipe of his
hand, and the girl skittered back to the kitchen.
“Aire ye well, then, sir?”
“Much better, thank you. I’m sorry to have troubled you. But I am quite the thing today,
and anxious to be on the road again. We shall have to hurry along, however. We have lost a day
or two along this route, yet I cannot say I am sorry. ‘The countryside is quite wonderful, Mr.
The ruddy-faced man beamed. Tristan made the quick assumption that Thorpe was very
much a patriot of the dales. “Aye, ’tis a fine place, i’tis. Ye’ll be goin’ t’Gretna?”
“That’s the plan.” Tristan saw it coming, and decided he was not really up to a confidential
lecture. Time, he thought, to head it off. “Though, between you and me, Thorpe, I’m in an
uncommon hurry to get there, if you get my meaning.”
Thorpe wrinkled his bushy grey brows in a puzzled look, as if having a bit of trouble with
the translation. Then he brightened, as the thought cleared its way through the haze of dialect.
“Oh, aye, sir. T’be sure! In a hurry, be ye? She’s a fine lass, she is, dust’e think? ”
“The best,” Tristan replied.
It seemed to satisfy Mr. Thorpe, who gave Tristan a wink and hearty laugh, every time he
caught his eye. So, he guessed, Thorpe must have sent his daughter from the room so they could
have one of those man to man talks.
Izzy came around the lower corner of the staircase glancing tentatively in his direction, no
doubt expecting him to bark at her again. He smiled and rose from the bench to welcome her.
“Good morning, my dear. You’ll forgive my ill humor this morning, I hope.”
“I’m glad you’re better,” she said, and he thought she looked like sunshine, itself. That was
what she had brought back to him. Sunshine. Laughter. Love.
“I explained to Mrs. Thorpe last night. I hope you didn’t mind too much. We have been
talking of some of the old country remedies. She told me when folks around here have a pain
they can’t cure, go to a cave down in Deepdale. It’s called Thirsk Hole, and a hob lives there.”
“Really. And what does this hob do?”
“He cures things.”
“Izzy, I suspect I am not ready for another one of your cures. A typhoon could not have laid
me flatter than that last, whatever it was.”
“Well, it did work, you must admit.”
“Worked, did it? Now, how can we tell, since I was out cold all night? The object is to stay
conscious, you recall.”
“Well, yes, I’m sure the willow bark would have done, but there was no time to prepare it,
as it takes about two hours to steep. Mrs. Thorpe has bottled it for us, however, so we may have
it if we should need it again.”
“Willow bark.” Tristan narrowed his eyes.
“Oh, yes. And it was a physician who discovered it, so you mustn’t think it is merely a
nonsensical folk remedy.”
“I believe I’ll pass. That syrup was bad enough.”
“Really, Tristan, you must admit, you were in sore need of something. Of course, I
probably should not have given you that second spoonful, although Mr. Thorpe seemed so
certain. We have considered thoroughly, though, and reached the conclusion that perhaps my
syrup is more strongly prepared than that used by the country folk.”
“So you doubled the dose. You could kill a person that way, Izzy.”
She winced. “Well, I must admit I was a bit worried, at first. But you really were all right.
Just a bit, well, asleep.”
“My dear, I need to make it clear to you that I wish to remain alert and conscious, no matter
how much the pain. That is why I refuse to take Marshall’s laudanum. So, you might as well
pitch both away. Do you understand? And we shall not be hunting up any hobs for cure-alls,
“But Tristan, it is only a little ways. And how can you be sure it doesn’t work if you do not
“Deepdale is not just a little ways, Izzy. It is not even on our way. Have you forgotten why
we are making this trip?”
“Of course I have not, but surely we could afford a bit of time. It is not as if they might find
us on this road, as we are off the beaten track.”
“Perhaps you forget that they do not need to find us, only to get there before us. No, and
that is final. I am putting my foot down.”
“Are you sure this is the right place?”
“Well, of course, I cannot be positive, having never been here before, you know, but surely
it must be. It has all the right markers, and this is Deepdale, I am almost certain.”
Tristan paused in their upward climb to watch the persistent little scamp in her ascent ahead
of him. There was something undoubtedly appealing about the swing of her hips beneath the soft
muslin fabric as she continued her push upward toward the cave above them.
“And it’s the only cave we can find. Mr. Thorpe did say it was quite visible from the road.”
Of course, visibility might mean an entirely different thing to someone who had lived in the
area all his life. “Izzy, you don’t even know this valley is Deepdale.”
“It must be. It fits the description.”
He knew better than to argue with her. She was determined, both to visit the hole and to
find a cure for him. She probably didn’t believe in the hob’s cure any more than he did, but she
would not pass up the smallest opportunity. And the day’s delay would give him one more day to
be with her. In fact, if it were possible, he would see them spend the rest of their days wandering
about these hills.
Izzy stopped just short of the hole’s jagged entrance, regarding it with a curious frown.
“Must be it,” she said. “It looks just like Mr. Thorpe described.”
It didn’t to Tristan. In fact, to him, the only resemblance lay in the fact that it was a hole in
the ground. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this, Izzy.”
Izzy flashed one of her more dazzling smiles at him. “Surely, it cannot hurt, especially as
we’re already here.”
Tristan let out a defeated sigh and hefted the coiled rope over his shoulder. He struck a
spark and lit the carriage lantern, which he then handed off to her, and followed her through the
Once they were inside the opening, the cave expanded to a volume beyond the ability of the
puny carriage lantern to illuminate it, jutting off into darkness here and there, and warping into a
wild fantasy of shapes that danced in the unnatural light. Both of them stood, awestruck with the
strange sight, and for several moments silently turned about, trying to take in the horrible wonder
“Well, if we’re going to do it, let’s get on with it,” he finally said, and in so doing, broke the
enchantment. He thought she nodded, but in the dim glow from the lantern, he could not be sure.
In the poor lantern light, Izzy stepped forward gingerly.
It could hardly be called a path. It was merely the lowest or most accessible point, and
sometimes, hardly even that. Thorpe had said one needn’t go in very far, although his description
of what they should do once they got there was rather obscure. It didn’t seem to matter much. So
he groped along behind her while she climbed over a low ridge that lay in their way.
“Here, take the lantern,” she said. “I need both hands for a moment.”
He took it, and waited for her to negotiate the narrow passage before joining her. As she
disappeared from sight, he began to feel a bit uneasy, and climbed up to the ridge to illuminate
her path. He arrived just in time to see her hand vanish below the lip.
A rush of sliding gravel. Izzy screamed.
“Izzy! ” he screamed after her, and scrambled over the lip of the ridge. “Izzy! ”
He couldn’t see anything within the lantern’s range. He couldn’t hear anything but the
hollow echo of his own hideous cries.
“Izzy! Izzy, where are you? Answer me!”
Somewhere from the black void below him, he heard the faint, whimpering sound,
“Izzy? Where are you, love? Are you hurt?”
“Not much, I don’t think. I can’t see you. It’s so dark, Tristan.”
“Don’t move, honey. I’m coming down.”
“No!” The sharpness of her voice echoed like bouncing knives through the dark cavern.
“No, you can’t. It’s only a little ledge, and then it goes off. I can’t tell what else.”
Tristan surveyed his surroundings for anything that might be useful. If he could just find a
place to tie the rope, maybe he could pull her up, but he didn’t see anything practical. It would
have to be something that wouldn’t break beneath her weight, something to stop her fall, if he
should lose his grip.
“I’ll go for help,” he said.
“No, don’t! Please don’t go! It’s so dark down here.”
Was she so frightened that she would panic before he could get her out? She had never
been put to a test like this, before. No, he couldn’t leave. He had to find a way, and quickly.
In which the gentleman discovers it takes more than shining armor to be a true hero
Izzy needed the lantern far more than he. The darkness would be terrifying her. But if he
sent it down to her, then he would not be able to see to get her out. He didn’t even know how far
she had fallen, or whether his rope would be long enough.
“Izzy, listen sweetheart, I’ve got to know where you are before I can do anything. I’m going
to send the lantern down to you, but then I’ll have to bring it back up. And I might have to go for
help, anyway. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” came the meek reply. He had never heard her so frightened before. He had, in fact
never known her to be intimidated by anything.
“Tell me as soon as you can see it,” he said. He tied the lantern to the heavy rope and
lowered the rope into the hole, slowly working it around bulges in the rock, and trying to keep it
from swinging or catching as it went down.
“There it is,” she called back. “I can see you, too.”
But the light hung between the two of them, and she was still beyond his view, in the utter
darkness beyond the lantern.
“Tell me when you have it.”
“I have it,” she replied, almost as soon as he had spoken, and he felt the rope slacken. So,
she wasn’t very far down.
Her gasp was so loud it was almost a scream.
“What is it, Izzy?”
“It’s huge! Oh, Tristan, it’s enormous!”
“The hole! It must go down forever!”
“I’m coming down!”
“No, there’s no room!”
He could see the lantern, along with a vague outline of her, against the steeply sloped wall,
and everything black beyond her. He thought he could exploit that wall of rock that slanted down
between them. It would take a portion of her weight off the rope, and give her purchase for her
“Izzy, I’m going to pull the lantern back up. I’ll measure the rope to see how far down you
are. I don’t think it’s very far, so maybe I can get you up without going for help.”
He did as he had said, and found the rope he had expended to measure out only about
twenty to twenty-five feet. Again, he looked about him, hoping to find a safe place to anchor the
rope, but saw nothing within the rope’s reach. He would have to be the anchor, himself. Or leave
her to get help. She was safe for now, if she did not move.
“Izzy, I’m going to need help. I won’t be gone long, I promise.”
“Sweetheart, I have to. It won’t be safe to pull you out, alone. You don’t want to fall farther,
“No! Please, Tristan!”
But he could see no other way. Even then, if he tried to haul her over the rocks, he might
knock her off the rope. On the other hand. . .
“Izzy, can you climb up a rope if I put knots in it?”
“Yes, I think so. How far is it?”
“Maybe twenty feet. Are you sure you’re not hurt?”
“Bruises and scrapes is all. I can climb it, Tristan.”
Tristan knotted the rope with knots three feet apart and dropped it down. “Can you find it?”
“No. Yes. There it is.”
“All right. Don’t start up until I tell you.” He tied the rope securely around his waist and lay
face down in front of the gaping cavern, with the knot pressing into his stomach, and instructed
her to begin her climb.
He felt the rope jerk against his middle as she applied her weight. Then almost
immediately, it lightened. “Izzy?”
He startled at the sound of ripping fabric.
“It’s all right, Tristan. I couldn’t climb with my dress in the way. I want to tie it out of the
Again he felt her weight on the rope. He grasped the rope tightly with both hands, for
added security. Yes. He would be able to hold her weight without being pulled in after her. But if
he should slip… Well, then he would not allow that. Somehow, he would pull her up out of the
The pull of her weight jerked each time she moved upward from knot to knot. He had put
eight knots in the rope, and had already counted four jerks, each jerk a sign of her progress.
Then the movement stopped.
“Izzy?” he called into the strange, dark silence.
“Coming. I can see the light. And you.” Her voice sounded eerily calm, as if she were
doing nothing more exciting than examining pebbles in a stream.
“You’re not tiring, are you?”
“No. I can make it. I just don’t want to make any mistakes.”
He didn’t want her to, either. But her voice was close, and the hollow sounds that had
surrounded it now seemed below her. She came within the dim glow from the lantern, just inches
away. “Come on, sweetheart. Just a little farther. You can do it.”
The knot at his waist slipped, suddenly riding up his chest. He threw his weight atop it, and
doubled his grip. “You’re almost here. Just a little bit more.”
Izzy reached up for the next knot just as the rope slipped again. She cried out, slipping
again, and the loop about him caught like a steel band tightening around his chest. Desperately,
Tristan lunged forward, and caught her wrist, gripping for all his life.
“I have you now, honey. Keep coming.”
She stood with her feet on the last knot, while Tristan grabbed her other wrist. He rose to
his knees, lifting her up with him. Her feet found the lip of the cavern and she stood, at last, at
the top. Izzy threw herself into his arms, wracked with trembling sobs between gasps for breath,
as if she had not breathed all the way up. Only seconds before, she had sounded calm and
“It’s all right now, love. You’re safe, you’re safe.” But he was shaking as badly as she was.
“It’s so dark down there. And I was right there on the edge! I could’ve fallen all the way in,
only I didn’t! And–”
“And you didn’t.” His heart twisted like a rag wrung dry as he clutched her to him. “You
didn’t, Izzy. You’re safe now. Let’s get out of here.”
She seemed unable to move, but he couldn’t wait another minute. That hole had nearly
become her tomb, and he had to get her out of there, before the cave had another chance. Gently,
he urged her forward, step by step, until she was walking again, shuffling each foot slowly ahead
of the other, testing warily, before committing her weight to it. Beyond the lantern, he could see
the white glow of brilliant day, and encouraged her as she persisted in her slow progress toward
Outside the cave, her strength fell away like limp rags, and she collapsed in his arms. He
stopped to sit upon a rocky shelf and cradled her in his arms, swaying slowly, and uttering sweet
and gentle sounds of comfort. She calmed gradually, preparing herself to rise and leave behind
the terror of the cave.
“No more caves, love,” he said. “No more cures.”
“But we haven’t even tried the willow bark, yet.”
“All right, we’ll do the willow bark, but that’s all, you understand? Nothing more.”
Izzy clutched the torn dress closed as they descended the hill. Hervey removed her trunk so
she could change clothes inside the coach. Even then, her fingers shook too hard, and Tristan
fastened her ties for her.
Tristan had had enough of the Dales and their rough, steep, and winding roads. He’d had
enough of caves and storms. Izzy was just too darned likely to lure him in to some other
hare-brained time-waster, and perhaps something even more dangerous than the last expedition.
And although he might have wanted to forestall her coming marriage to Donald, he was not
willing to let her take any more outrageous risks.
Yes, he knew why she did. She rarely, if ever thought of herself. She would risk just about
anything for someone else, and he wasn’t going to let her do that for him. Not again. So he sent
Hervey toward the road to Kendal. Izzy burrowed into his arms, and was amazingly quiet. Soon,
she was asleep, but now and then, she gave a startled jerk that jarred her back awake.
“We’ll need two rooms,” said Tristan to the innkeeper, while a very quiet Izzy stood beside
“‘Ere’s nobbut one,” the sour-faced man replied.
Only another hour and they would have reached Kendal, but a storm was approaching, and
they had barely made it out of the hills to the pike. Tristan dared not take the coach farther. “We
need two rooms.”
“‘Ere’s nobbut one.”
“Then, perhaps, there’s another inn.”
The man shrugged. “‘Ere’s nobbut one.”
“There must be something else.”
The man shrugged again, “Suit thisself,” he said, and turned as if to leave them standing
“We’ll take it.” Christ, why had he said that? There must surely be something else near. He
turned to Hervey, who also shrugged.
“Ain’t likely, in these parts, Captain. Better take what ye have.”
“It’s all right, Tristan. We’ll make do,” Izzy said.
Oh, they’d make do, he was sure. He had no fear of that. He was afraid they might make
They left behind the unkempt, apathetic innkeeper and followed his plump wife up narrow
stairs to a tiny chamber with barely room for the bed and a gateleg table and two chairs, one
slatted and one wing-backed, near the chimneypiece. Izzy pulled back the heavy blankets. The
sheets, at least, were snowy white, and possessed very few patches. She gave the innkeeper’s
wife a crisp nod of acceptance which the woman seemed to ignore.
“You’ll have supper brought up?” Tristan asked, although it was clear the woman was to
take it as an order. She replied with little more than a nod, before she turned away and left the
Tristan had decided early in the journey that he would do as little as possible to attract
attention. Just as he had avoided wearing his Guards uniform, he now refrained from calling
upon aristocratic connections for better service, despite that he wanted better for Izzy after her
traumatic escape from the cave.
She made no complaint. She had not cried. But as it was not in her nature to be
complaining, he could not be sure if the terror of the event was truly passed. And he could see
the bruises forming on her arms, along with some fairly vicious scrapes. He had little doubt that
her legs had similar marks. And there was a small scrape on her left cheek that was forming a
bruise beneath it. It terrified him to think how close he had come to losing her.
But how was he going to manage to stay an entire night in the same room with her? It had
been hard enough that morning, to wake up and find her there, in the bed beside him. Only the
sudden shock had prevented a calamity. Now, he was not only fully conscious, but extremely
aware of her presence. And her need to have him close was no less strong than his to keep her in
his arms. But his intense desire for her magnified and deepened with each passing moment.
He knew what was going to happen. He was going to go insane that very night, driven over
the edge by unrequited passion.
While gloomily contemplating his fate, Tristan was surprised by a knock at the door, and
even more astonished to discover the innkeeper’s wife, not having brought supper, but what
appeared to be a small crock of salve, which she said was to apply to the lady’s injuries. This she
said with a vehement glare in his direction.
He was instantly aware of the implication, although it had never occurred to him before. He
had never hit a woman, and truly believed he never would, but there would be no convincing this
“Oh, Mrs. Snorr, how kind of you. I did the most foolish thing, going into that cave. I am
lucky to be alive, I’m afraid.”
“Huh,” huffed the woman. “Ye dinna need to tell me, ma’am. ‘Tis a sad thing to be wed to
such a man.” Again, she threw Tristan a malignant glare that even Izzy caught.
“Oh, no, Mrs. Snorr, it’s not his fault, truly. It was mine. I was the one who insisted in
going into that cave, you see–”
“Don’t bother, love,” Tristan said, turning away from Mrs’ Snorr’s sneer. “I believe her
mind’s made up.”
“But you would never–”
“Doesn’t matter, love. You and I know, and that is enough.”
Turning to the frowning Mrs. Snorr, whose lips were drawn together in a tight purse, he
continued, “Thank you for the salve, Mrs. Snorr. Will it be for the scrapes or the bruises?”
“Perhaps you would also heat the willow bark tea Mrs. Thorpe made up. It will do for you
as well, will it not, Izzy?”
“Perhaps. It might. I am not sure what all it is good for.”
Mrs. Snorr removed the bottled tea along with her indignation, and Tristan began breathing
again. But now, he was immersed back in his dilemma. Now, even worse than ever, for he would
have to take the responsibility for applying the salve.
This he did, while she sat in the slatted chair by the gateleg table, first to the more obvious
places on her cheek and arms. Then he had to override her protests, which were not for the sake
of modesty, but more because she disliked the fuss he was making over her.
“Must be done, love,” he said gently, and knelt beside her chair. “Your wedding night will
be coming up soon. And you don’t want to look a sight, then, do you?”
Reluctantly, she raised the skirt and bared the long dark bruise that had formed on the left
thigh. He doubted the salve would do it much good, but perhaps it would be soothing.
It hurt him to look at it, to think that she had risked herself for his sake. But that was the
way Izzy was, and she would not stop being that way because he feared for her. Nothing would
change that part of her. And he admired it, deeply, ardently. As he admired her. Loved her.
He leaned his forehead against her thigh, letting the yearning engulf him.
Yes, loved her. That was what made the coming night so hard. He loved her, desired her,
desperately, hungrily. For days, his imagination had been going wild, his dreams tormented. He
could not trust himself, asleep or awake. And he had no place to remove himself to safety.
Supper came and went. Izzy’s gaze followed his every movement, her beguiling aqua eyes
sending a confusing message. Did she fear he would molest her? No, the opposite, for he knew
she would give him whatever he asked for. What, then, was this careful vigil she kept over him?
He looked away to avoid her gaze. It was as if he wore his guilty thoughts like a robe of blazing
“Do you want to share the bed?” she asked.
He jerked back from his thoughts. Had she read his mind? That was exactly what he
wanted, and the very last thing he dared allow.
“No, of course not,” he replied.
She chewed at her lip. “Well, I cannot think what else we shall do.”
“I’ll go to the stable. The coach seat cannot be all that bad.” Not at all, to curl all six feet of
his frame onto a bench seat less than four feet wide.
“No,” she insisted, and the pleading edge of her voice cut through him.
Don’t leave me alone! It was dark down there!
He heard the thought as clearly as if she had
spoken it aloud. He couldn’t leave her. He knew how those things were. Every time she closed
her eyes, she would be swept back to that dread hole, dark beyond all knowing, darkness with the
smell of death on its breath.
What was he to do?
“We could take turns,” she suggested next. “The wing chair doesn’t look too
And pass the night, watching her as she slept. For he would not sleep. “I’ll go for a walk, I
think,” he replied, for he thought he could not take the intimacy even a minute longer. She was
too close, and he too desperate.
And she had the look of a woman slapped.
“Get into bed. I’ll not be gone long. We’ll think of something.”
He did not wait for her reply, and left the small chamber with more haste than he intended.
The weather had grown heavy once again, and he could smell the coming downpour. Christ,
what was he going to do? He had never wanted a woman as badly as he wanted her, now.
She truly did not understand his dilemma, he was certain. She had often said to him she did
not understand the doings between men and women, and he had not gone to great lengths to
explain. Now, if he could not find a great deal more control, she was in very real danger of being
shown all that she wanted to know.
Tristan walked the narrow cobble-stoned streets of the tiny hamlet, noting very few lights
were still visible. The inn seemed almost an anomaly in such a tiny village. He kicked at loose
cobbles, walked to the far end of the one lane that ran through the village, and returned, just as
the first large globules of rain splattered down on the pavement. Perhaps he had calmed himself
enough to go in.
Izzy had crawled beneath the covers, but sat and watched silently as he returned to the
small room and plopped down in the winged chair beside a warming fire. He had not realized
just how chilly the storm had made the air outside until he felt the fire’s welcoming heat.
“I cannot sleep, anyway,” she said to him. “It would make more sense for you to take the
“You would not worry if you saw some of the places I slept on campaign.” He decided to
turn the chair more toward the fire, and less where he could see her. He did not want to see her
eyes, full of confusion and hurt. He knew what she needed, and he dared not give it to her.
Sweet Izzy. She was the loosest screw he had ever encountered. He could not imagine how
he could ever manage a marriage to her. Yet he could not imagine how he would live a life
She tossed about with the pillows several times, and the old rope bed creaked with each
movement, for she would be still for a few moments, then begin her tossing all over again. He
was not going to sleep, either, he could tell, for every part of him was excruciatingly aware of
every movement she made.
Izzy sat up abruptly. “I cannot understand why you insist on sitting in that chair when there
is a perfectly acceptable bed.”
A simple and relatively practical statement. But he saw a different message in her eyes.
Hold me, I’m afraid. I need you to chase away the dark. But he was afraid too, and he could not
“I’m going for a walk,” he said abruptly, and again rose to stride rapidly to the door.
“But you just–”
“I know. I’ll be back.” He had the doorlatch in his hand, and opened the door.
“But it’s raining.”
This time he did not even reply, but sped from the chamber, down the narrow staircase,
past the noisy townsfolk gathered in the public room, and through the door.
The clouds roared and dumped their fury. Tristan stood in the middle of the narrow cobbled
street and raised his face to the storm, wanting the comforting downpour to dampen the
frustration of passion, begging the storm to cleanse him of that burden.
He had to do something, for he didn’t think he could resist the temptation much longer. But
It was not merely lust that drove him. In the beginning, he had not even considered her
beautiful. He supposed she was not now, either, but she had become beautiful to him. And his
desire for her had grown slowly, insidiously, as had his love, and he could not tell where one
ended and the other began.
She had given him so much. She had brought him back to the world of the living, nursed
his pain, nurtured and warmed him, taught him to laugh, to love, again.
And that was it, wasn’t it? She had given him back his desire to live, and in so doing, had
opened him up to the love he could not now deny.
But she belonged to Donald. She meant to marry him, and always had. All this had been
done for that reason, and he had no right to destroy it for her. Was it such a big thing, then, to
return to her a piece of the kindness she had given to him?
He doubted that her trauma from the accident in the cave was any less frightening to her
than the injuries he had received at Waterloo had been to him. And she needed him to hold her
and comfort her, not to take more away from her.
He had thought himself beyond control, did not even know how he had found the courage
to leave, but somehow, he had. Before, he had been thinking only of himself and his own needs.
But the problem involved more than just him. And he cared for her too much to waste her honor
on his own frivolity.
The drenching rain had soaked him through to his skin, but he had not noticed it. He was
ready, now. Ready to give back to her what he had been given. And for her, the cost could never
be too great.
Tristan walked into the inn through the scarred old oak door, past the watchful eyes of the
innkeeper and his regulars, and trudged up the narrow old staircase.
Once inside the cheerfully warm chamber, he removed coat, shirt, and boots and folded
back the sheets, all the while watching her eyes follow him. Eyes that were deep, fathomless
pools he could drown in, that solemnly observed his every move.
Without a word, he slipped beneath the covers and pulled her close to him. With one finger,
she traced the path of the long scar that traversed the width of his chest, then rested her hand atop
He could have whatever he wanted from her. And he had only to take her, and he would
have Izzy, have everything he wanted, for Landerholme was not the sort of man who would be
willing to take a bride who had been despoiled by another man. If he married Izzy, he could keep
his commission. His father would be pleased. He would have everything.
Except a bride who wanted him for a husband.
No matter how uncomfortable the night, he understood now that he would not take from
her what he knew she would so willingly give. But he would not deprive himself of this one
night with her, which he would always hold precious in his memory.
And he said, in the darkest, most secret reaches of his heart, where he knew she could not
hear him, I will love you forever.
In which the plans of men, if not mice, have clearly gang awry
“Izzy! Izzy, are you in there?”
Tristan jerked from his sleep at the sound of Landerholme’s voice, and rolled to the floor
with a loud thunk before he realized what he was doing.
“Izzy! What’s that noise? Izzy, are you there?”
As Tristan scrambled to his feet, Izzy leaped from the bed, her hands to her mouth. “Uh,
yes, Donald, we–I’m here. It’s nothing, really, only that, uh, Tristan has bumped his head against
the. . . chair.”
“Tristan! What the devil is he doing in there? Izzy? Do you hear me?”
“Well, it’s, well, there was only one room, so we had to share. It is quite all right, Donald.”
“All right? Izzy! Trowbridge? Let me in this instant, do you hear?”
“Now, Donald,” said Patricia’s soft, conciliatory voice, “you must calm down. Surely, you
“Understand? Are you as empty in the cockloft as the two of them?” The pounding on the
door resumed. “Do you hear me, Trowbridge? This instant, or I’ll tear your head off!”
“Oh, do calm down, Donald,” Izzy retorted, trying to sound calm, herself, as she yanked at
her gown so hard she nearly tore it. “Tristan, if you will, please, go out so that I may dress,” she
“To that madman?” he whispered, as he threw on his shirt and coat.
“Well, of course, you cannot expect me to dress before you,” she said loudly. Then she
whispered, “Have you a better idea?”
But he hadn’t. He jerked on his boots.
“Of course, you cannot, Izzy,” said Patricia. “I shall come in to help you. I am sure
everything is quite all right.”
Izzy thought she could actually hear Patricia’s eyes glaring at Donald.
Tristan motioned Izzy back to the bed and directed her to pull the covers up high before he
turned the key. The door burst open almost in his face.
“Now, see here, Trowbridge–” Donald rushed at Tristan, who was ill-prepared for the
assault, for he had not yet begun to fasten the studs on his waistcoat.
“Donald, stop it!” shrieked Patricia, who dug her fingers into Donald’s jacket in a futile
effort to pull him off. “Donald, how can you be so unreasonable? You are allowing your
imagination to run away with you!”
“I should think even you could see what is going on here, Patricia. Look at her! She’s still
in the bed.”
“Well, you don’t know that he–And besides, when you compare–Well, Donald surely you
must admit there is no–”
“Be quiet, Patricia,” Donald said. “Izzy, you get up from that bed immediately!”
“Of course I shall not, Donald. I shall not dress in front of any man not my husband!
Whatever has gotten into you? Have you no faith in anyone?”
“Well said, my dear,” Patricia added. “Now, I shall help you dress so that we may be on our
way as soon as we might. And you, Donald Landerholme, had best settle yourself and stop being
so priggish. You have, after all, been in my company steadily for a number of days, and the very
same things could be said of you.”
Patricia pushed Donald through the door and slammed it before she realized Tristan had not
exited the chamber. “Oh, terribly sorry, Tristan,” she said. “I cannot say whatever it might be that
has overset him so.”
Tristan’s eyes rolled. “He is merely being possessive. Men preparing to marry are a bit that
“But of course, you are not.” Patricia smiled in that comfortingly sweet way of hers and
patted his arm.
He grimaced in return. “I’ll leave now, and try not to be murdered until you ladies come to
“Oh, dear. I promise, we won’t be long.”
When the door shut again, Izzy emerged from the bed along with her half-removed gown
and the shift she had dragged beneath the covers with her. Patricia’s golden brows rose.
Izzy gulped. “Well, of course I jumped up from the bed immediately when I heard the
shouting and began to dress, but Tristan insisted I cover myself. I was not thinking of his
sensibilities at all.”
Patricia’s face relaxed into her naturally pleasant smile. “But of course you did. Donald is
merely being possessive, as Tristan says. If he would simply think, he and I have been thrown
too much into each other’s company by this journey, as well. Oh, dear! Where have you been to
be so scraped up?”
Izzy wriggled into the shift Patricia had lifted over her head, recalling the sliding fall she
had made in Thirsk Hole. It was easier to think about it now. So she managed a brief
explanation. “It was my fault entirely. And if you would have the truth of it, since then, I have
been so frightened that I haven’t been able to let him out of my sight. So of course he stayed with
me last night. He was too kind to leave me alone in my fright.”
Patricia hummed as she examined Izzy’s bruises. “I suppose it might have been worse.” She
lifted Izzy’s sea green traveling dress over Izzy’s head and down. “I wouldn’t ask while Tristan is
around, but is he still having those spells?”
“Yes, one the other night. He was so ill, Patricia, I was really worried, but all turned out
“I do wish he had told me before. He seemed so ill-tempered, and I did not like him nearly
so much as when we first met last year. I suppose he will give up his commission, then.”
“Perhaps he will not need to. Will it matter to you?”
Patricia shrugged. “Oh, I always thought it dashing to be a Guards officer, and romantic to
be an officer’s wife. But I suppose it will not be all that important. And I did promise myself to
him, after all, not his uniform.”
Izzy cocked an eyebrow. Something did not set right. “Do you mean, if you had not
promised yourself to him, you would not be marrying him?”
“Well, who can say?” Patricia replied, while her fingers quickly did the small buttons at the
back of Izzy’s dress. “I don’t feel as if I really know him, now. It seems the man I thought I knew
has turned out to be a different man. I suppose that doesn’t make sense.”
“But it does. I thought much the same of Donald, although we’ve known each other since
we were children, but we have not been in each other’s company much at all for several years. I
cannot credit this awful behavior of his, for I have never seen the like in him.”
“Perhaps it is evidence that he loves you.”
“Perhaps it is evidence that he has gone queer in the attic.”
Patricia stepped back and surveyed her success as a lady’s maid. “Oh, I hardly think so. I
own, he fears you might actually have a tendre for Tristan. And I must say to you, although I
could never say such to Tristan, Donald has been much led into temptation, of late. Now that I
think of it, I wager that is precisely what bothers him. He believes Tristan has behaved in a like
“He was not untoward, I hope.”
Patricia hesitated, and her face turned a surprising pink. “He did explain to me that men
have a somewhat different outlook on such things than ladies do.”
“Oh. He taught you how to kiss.”
“Oh my! How did you know?”
“I cannot think the education will hurt us,” Izzy answered.
“I should hope not. But let us hurry along, before they are at it again. I do think they have
been antagonists from the beginning.”
Izzy stuffed the last of her possessions into her valise as she spoke. “They certainly have
not gotten on as we have. There, I am ready.”
Downstairs in the public room, Donald and Tristan glared at each other over their steaming
pottery mugs. Nothing on their plates had been touched.
“Ah, coffee!” Patricia gushed. “Do you know, Izzy, I have been most surprised. I was led to
believe these hills were so primitive that I would never see a cup of coffee, but we have not
missed a cup even one morning, have we, Donald?”
Donald grumped a reply, and took an inelegant swig of the stuff.
“May I pour for you, my dear?” Izzy asked Patricia, who responded in her most affable
tones. She accepted the cup and gave the two gentlemen a charmingly affected smile which went
Izzy ignored the unappreciative gentlemen, and chatted merrily with Patricia, who seemed
to be of like mind.
“What happened to your face, Izzy?” Donald asked, frowning like an overbearing parent.
Izzy’s hand raised to her cheek, for she had momentarily forgotten the small scrape. “I took
a bad fall, but thanks to Tristan, I am quite all right. Have you noticed how beautiful the country
is here about? We have spent a little time exploring it.”
“Devil take it, Trowbridge, I expected you to take better care of her.”
“I am not that much under his control or yours, Donald. The accident was entirely my
“Unfair, Izzy,” Tristan interrupted. “He is quite right, I should have never allowed you to
go into the cave.”
“Cave? What cave?”
Izzy swallowed. “Well, you see, Donald, it really is quite simple. I wanted to find a cure for
Tristan’s malady, and–”
“In a cave? Surely, you jest!”
“It is a local legend,” said Tristan. “There’s supposed to be a hob in the cave that cures
“And you believed that?”
“Of course not,” retorted Tristan. “But Izzy wanted to try it, and I saw no harm, especially
as we were still some days ahead of you. But it is entirely my fault, and I should not have
allowed it, as she was in my care.”
Izzy’s gaze shot up to meet his. In his care? He should not have allowed it?
“In any event, there is no reason for concern, Landerholme,” Tristan announced, looking
away and sipping again. “There is nothing between Izzy and me. The plan, and nothing more.”
Izzy stared. Tristan focused on his cup. He had slept the night with her, holding her in his
arms, and it was nothing to him. But what had she expected, that he would suddenly discover she
was his one and only love?
Well, she’d asked for that hard slap of reality. She just hadn’t understood it would hurt so
much. She set her jaw, bit at her trembling lip. “He is right, of course, Donald. There is nothing
between us.” She took a deep breath that rattled through her chest like the hiss of wind through
the trees. “Absolutely nothing.”
She saw his eyelids flicker and nothing more.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, this is absurd,” interrupted Patricia. “I’d as lief leave the whole
bunch of you here, than to continue this way. We shall never accomplish our purpose if we are
forever at daggers drawn.”
Izzy lowered her head. “Certainly, you are right, Patricia. Of course I should not have been
so sharp. Tristan has been nothing but kind to me.”
“And precisely what does that mean?” Donald demanded.
“Don’t answer him, Izzy,” Patricia insisted, laying a hand on Izzy’s arm. “He’s just trying to
rake up the mud again.”
Izzy expected to see steam emitting from Donald’s ears any minute. She had never thought
him hot-tempered before. But then she had to admit he did have cause for concern.
They ate the remainder of their light repast in relative peace, for neither man spoke a word
more than necessary. Soon, Hervey announced the coach was loaded and ready to proceed, and
the men assisted the ladies inside.
Izzy found herself sitting beside Donald, hands neatly folded in her lap. She had grown
ver y comfortable with Tristan after nearly a week in his company, and Donald seemed a stiff
stranger to her. But that was not the problem.
The problem was that Donald was altogether too close to being right. She was guilty in her
heart of Donald’s accusation, if not in actuality. Tristan was the innocent one. But if Donald
refused her now because of what he believed she had done, Tristan would be honor-bound to
marry her, despite that he loved Patricia. And no one would be happy. She had to do something.
The coach rattled along over the macadam pike and the air inside the vehicle grew stuffier.
Donald glared. Tristan’s jaw was set like an iron trap. Patricia studied the seams of her tan kid
gloves as if she searched for minute flaws. Several miles passed, and no one spoke. What could
she do? Somehow, she had to persuade Donald of his error.
“Donald, I do not think we should enter into a marriage with all this animosity between us.”
Donald glared, glancing back and forth between Izzy and Tristan. “Are you crying off,
“Of course not. I simply do not wish you to have such a dim view of us, uh, me. It was all
in innocence, after all.”
“Really. It does not appear to be so innocent.”
“Oh, come now, Donald,” said Patricia, “it really is no worse than–”
“Do be quiet, Patricia. You’ll have them assuming things.”
“And why not? You certainly are, ” she retorted.
“Indeed, why not?” Tristan demanded. “How shall we know you didn’t do precisely the
“Donald,” Izzy insisted, “I do not wish for you to be sidetracked from this. As I said, it was
all in utter innocence. I merely wished to learn how to kiss, and Tristan was kind enough to
The instant she heard Tristan groan, Izzy knew she had made a mistake, which was a flash
of a second before Donald’s rage exploded. Yelling words more or less familiar to Izzy, he rose
from his seat, cracked his head on the low coach ceiling, yelled again and grabbed Tristan’s coat
“Donald!” screamed Patricia, and she jumped to pull him away. “Stop it! Stop it this
instant! You are being an utter hypocrite! They have done nothing we haven’t done!”
Tristan’s blue eyes transformed to black rage as he interpreted the implication of Patricia’s
words. “You lying blackguard! Hervey! Stop this thing!”
“I’m lying?” yelled Donald.
The coach lurched to a halt as Tristan yanked Donald out the door, and Donald caught him
a clip on the chin. Tristan landed on the dusty road, but jumped to his feet, and the two squared
off as if they were at Jackson’s.
Izzy screamed. Patricia screamed. Donald hit Tristan, and Tristan slugged back. Izzy
looked at Patricia, who looked at her equally as helplessly, tears running down her cheeks.
“Let’s leave,” Izzy said.
“Leave? But where?”
Izzy didn’t care. Anywhere but here. Anywhere that didn’t require seeing Tristan battle for
Patricia’s honor while pretending Izzy’s was of no concern.
“Into the coach,” Izzy said. “Come along, Hervey, let’s leave.”
“But, miss!” Hervey’s eyes widened.
“What do you think they’ll do if we refuse to watch and drive off? They’ll quit, of course.
Come along, let’s go.”
Neither Patricia nor Hervey needed more convincing. Hervey leaped to the box while Izzy
and Patricia climbed into the coach.
“Spring ’em, Hervey!” shouted Izzy, fighting back tears she didn’t want anyone to see.
Hervey cracked the ribbons and the coach jerked into motion. Patricia peered behind them
out the window, her lips drawn thin and trembling. “Are you really sure we should do this, Izzy?
Oh, it’s all my fault.”
“Certainly it is not, Patricia. They are the ones scrapping like two dogs over one bone.
They need a small walk in each other’s company to cool down. We’ll stop down the road a bit.
But we must not give them the notion that we tolerate such abominable behavior.”
Besides, Izzy didn’t want to see either of them just now.
“No, it is my fault. Oh, I am so–, oh, Izzy, I should never have let him–”
“No-o-o,” Patricia wailed.
But Patricia sobbed and wiped her eyes, and refused to say anything more.
Izzy didn’t have a good feeling about this. She had not, after all, given Donald cause for his
suspicion. Nothing more than sleeping in the same bed with his rival. You don’t suppose he
might have noticed that?
Donald was not precisely empty in the cockloft. And he would certainly make a better
husband than that nodcock. She was determined she would make it up to him. She would be the
best wife he ever could have. She could not love him, but she would give him everything else she
Donald deserves to be loved, too.
But there was nothing she could do about that. Besides, that had never been part of their
agreement, which had never extended beyond practicalities.
But you don’t want to marry him.
That was upwards of enough. Izzy shut off the curious internal argument. Perhaps they
should stop the coach and wait at the next posting inn. She signaled to Hervey, who gladly pulled
the team to a halt. No doubt the man was certain he was about to be sacked.
It was Tristan’s coach, after all.
Tristan caught a clip on the chin when he stopped to stare as the departing coach flinging
up clouds of gray dust in its wake. He staggered backward before catching his balance again, and
held Donald at bay with one arm.
“You blithering nodcock!” he shouted. “Take a look! They’re driving off without us!”
Not until that moment did Donald pull himself out of his fury to recognize their mutual
quandary. He stared at the departing coach, jaw slack. “Leaving us! But they can’t! It’s your–”
“My coach, yes, and my man. But it does appear to be happening, doesn’t it?”
Izzy was leaving him. This time he’d really done it. But did it really make any difference?
She had said it as clearly as she could.
Wasn’t that what she wanted? She’d looked like he’d slapped her. Didn’t she understand, he
just said that for her sake? So she could marry this bird-witted cawker?
“Do what you want, Landerholme,” he said, dusting off his coat. “I’m going after them.”
Tristan broke into a run in the dusty trail of the coach, and Donald ran after him. But the
coach had already rounded the next curve and disappeared.
“Ah, devil a bit!” he said, spitting out the dust he had breathed in. “Damn, you,
“Damn me! You didn’t find me in bed with your betrothed!”
“But you were, weren’t you? Deny it, Landerholme! Go ahead. Patricia almost said as
much. The difference between you and me is, I didn’t do anything and you did.”
“What a bouncer! You expect me to believe that?”
“You will on your wedding night. Not that I think she should marry a jealous fool like you.
She deserves better.”
“That so? Well, Patricia certainly deserves better than you. I intend to do everything in my
power, in fact, to see to it she doesn’t marry you!”
“Thoughtful of you, Landerholme, now that her reputation is totally ruined by our little
escapade. Precisely who do you have in mind for my replacement?”
Donald, who had thus far confronted Tristan with glaring eyes as well as fists and words,
turned away, and stomped ahead of Tristan.
Tristan stopped in his tracks. So that was where it lay!
“By God, Landerholme, you have the gall of a brass monkey! Just what do you intend to do
“Don’t you ring a peal over me, Trowbridge. I’ll do my duty. You can be sure of that.”
“Do your duty! Never gave a thought that Izzy might want something more than that?”
Donald glared, but set his jaw as he stomped along.
Tristan stopped cold, fists planted at his hips. He almost laughed aloud. He wanted to
marry Izzy, but Izzy wanted to marry Donald. But Donald wanted to marry Patricia. But Patricia
wanted to marry him. A coil of truly monumental dimensions!
In which our dauntless Tristan and Isolde at last overturn
the ancient myth and discover. . .
Time heals all wounds. . . Or is it, time wounds all heels?
All Tristan could see in the distance was a cloud of settling dust.
“Go after them, he says.” Landerholme slapped disgustedly at the dust on his trousers,
whirled around and stalked back toward the inn. “As if we have half a snail’s chance of catching
Tristan’s legs might be decidedly longer than Landerholme’s, but he had to work to catch
“At least they haven’t given up on us,” he replied.
“Oh, do say.”
“They’re headed north, aren’t they? Not a lot of point in going to Gretna if they don’t mean
to be married.”
Landerholme sneered. “Since when did you become the ray of sunshine?”
Just now. Just now, something had come to him. He didn’t want to marry Patricia. All this
time, he’d thought her the perfect bride, pretty and docile, circumspect. Utterly proper and as
stable as Westminster Bridge. And he didn’t want her.
He wanted Izzy and all the quixotic wildness that went along with her. He had been dead
when he met her, and she had brought him back to life. He didn’t want to go back to that. He
could live with blackouts and headaches. He could live with anything if he just had Izzy. Any
life without her was just too bleak to contemplate.
And Landerholme wanted Patricia, Tristan was sure of it. There had to be some way to
make this work.
“I didn’t, you know,” he said, striding along beside his raging companion.
“The devil you say.”
“It really doesn’t matter, of course. Even if you decide to believe me, you’ll always
Landerholme glared at the road and stomped on.
“But I have kissed her a lot.”
Tristan thought any second now, steam might emit from the man’s ears. He suppressed a
grin. “You’re not precisely the sort of fellow to tolerate another man’s poaching, are you?”
The glare turned to fury as Landerholme spun to face him. “And you’re not?”
Tristan shrugged, careful not to let his elation creep onto his face. “Oh, I suspect I’d deal
with it better than you, but I don’t intend to.”
“The devil! You crying off, Trowbridge?”
“Probably exactly what you’d like, considering you’re at least as guilty as I am. But that’s
not the point.”
“If you’ve got a point, get to it.”
The devious smile was getting harder to hold back. “You, I could understand, but it’s not at
all like Patricia.”
Landerholme’s face was getting redder. “I didn’t force her, if that’s what you mean.”
“Precisely my point. A careful, proper lady like Patricia would hardly be found in the bed
of a man toward whom she had no regard.”
“Of course not. What’s that got to do with it? It’s you she wants to marry.”
“More like she feels obligated to marry me. If she really wanted to marry me, she would
never have considered sharing a bed with you. Sorry, Landerholme, but I suspect you are her
choice, not me.”
Landerholme stopped cold, staring at Tristan as if he had a snake chewing at the tip of his
“You do love her, don’t you?”
“You’d better, because you’re going to marry her.”
“Me? You’re not? I mean–What about Izzy?”
The fly in the ointment. Izzy had wanted Landerholme for her husband since she was a
“Of course I’ll marry her,” Tristan said. She’d marry him, all right. He knew that. But she
really didn’t have any choice now.
“And you have the gall to tell me nothing happened.”
Tristan didn’t know why he ought to explain, but somehow it felt important. “She was hurt
and frightened, Landerholme. If you’d seen that hole she fell into, you’d understand. She landed
on a ledge twenty or so feet down, but the hole was so deep, we couldn’t see the bottom even
with a lantern. She came out so terrified she could hardly stand. I couldn’t leave her alone.”
Landerholme stared for what seemed an eternity before he finally sighed and looked down
at his dusty boots. “Poor Izzy. I’m glad you were there. She is rather prone to that sort of thing,
Tristan nodded at the obvious.
Landerholme grimaced. “I’m afraid I did take somewhat the opposite tack, although I was
not particularly thinking of it at the time. I suppose I did think you’d cry off.”
“Well, I should not want Izzy to marry someone who really wanted to be married to
someone else. She deserves better than that. I’ll do my best to make it up to her.”
“Make it up to her? What the devil do you think she was doing in your bed, then,
Tristan frowned. “I just told you.”
“You told me what you were doing. But Izzy is just as honorable as Patricia is proper. Do
you think she’d have a man in her bed she didn’t love? She’d die first.”
Tristan stared. He hadn’t thought of that. Izzy loved him?
Him, the curmudgeon killer of sunshine and other bright and wonderful things?
Izzy loves me!
He wanted to run down the road and grab her and pull her into his arms. He wanted to
shout it so loud it would echo through the hills like a carillon on Easter morning.
“Do you love her?”
Did he love her? Let Landerholme and Patricia have all that staid propriety. All he wanted
“Well? You love her, don’t you?”
“Till England kneels at France’s feet,” he said. “Come on, Landerholme. We need some
Within minutes, the ostler saddled two horses and the two men rode out. The coach must be
five miles away by now, but Tristan had every intention of catching up quickly.
Izzy sat on a wooden bench in front of The Bell Inn on the edge of Kendal, her arm around
Patricia, who had not stopped sobbing since they left the Two Swans. Poor Hervey stood beside
the coach and its fresh team, wringing his hands, sure his employment was at an end. And Izzy
was beginning to get a very bad feeling about everything. She should never have seized the
coach. Perhaps Tristan would never forgive her.
And nothing could make him love her, anyway.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
And neither Tristan nor Donald had taken the trouble to come after them. That could mean
they didn’t care. Or it could mean she had guessed wrong and they had murdered each other after
They wouldn’t, would they? It was not like them, either of them. Was it?
From down the pike, the roar of hoofbeats echoed and grew louder. Izzy sat up straight.
Another coach, no doubt, but…
“Izzy! Look! It’s them!”
Patricia jumped up, quickly wiping her eyes with the edge of her shawl. Izzy screamed as
she raced over the cobblestones, crying out for Tristan. Patricia, running apace, screamed for
Tristan sprang from his horse just in time to catch Izzy as she flew into his arms.
“Oh, you’re all right!” she cried, and hushed only long enough for Tristan’s lips to cover
hers. “Oh, we were so worried!”
“You were worried! Are you all right, love?”
“Just a bit dusty, is all. Oh. Tristan, I am so sorry, I know I shouldn’t have–”
Izzy’s throat went dry as she cut off her words, as sharply as if a knife she’d hacked them
with a knife. Guiltily, she glanced at Donald, whose dark brown eyes returned her gaze
solemnly. Without a second thought, she had run to the wrong man.
“Oh, dear,” Izzy said. “I can explain, Donald. You see…” Grimacing, she eased out of
Tristan’s arms and started to move toward Donald.
But Donald had his arms full of Patricia. “I don’t think so, Izzy. I’m afraid there is an
altogether different kind of explanation.”
“Oh, dear.” Horrified, she turned back to Tristan. She had really made a muddle of it this
time. “Really, Donald, there is a reasonable explanation. I’m sure.”
“Maybe not,” said Donald, and pointed to a group of three riders working their way up the
pike toward the inn.
“Oh, no, not now!” declared Patricia.
“I’m afraid so,” murmured Donald, with a small smile on his lips.
“Peaches,” said Tristan.
And Viscount Alexander Trowbridge. And papa.
Izzy’s secret dream had come to life, to devastate everyone.
Tristan almost laughed out loud. Hardly a point in running for the border now. Nor did he
want to. He was going to marry Izzy; he’d made up his mind to it. His last doubt had fled the
minute she had run to his arms.
Of course, there was that small detail about Izzy’s consent, and she did still seem to be
rather ambivalent about it, but he simply couldn’t accept that she might prefer Donald over him.
She had run to him, not to Landerholme.
Tristan gave Izzy’s hand a squeeze while Peaches rode up with their respective fathers. Izzy
looked up to him, confused astonishment on her face. Ah. Now, he understood. Izzy, who had
always been one to sacrifice herself and her wants for the good of others, did not believe he
cared for her. And so she was prepared to step aside once more for the sake of his happiness.
And no doubt for what she believed was Donald’s and Patricia’s as well.
Even if it did put him back under his father’s thumb, he was going to marry Izzy. He
squeezed her hand again and gave her a smile, the kind he hadn’t worn in a very long while.
But wait! There was a way. A way they could all have the love of their hearts, and to
declare independence as well. And even better, to rescue his patrimony from its ultimate
destruction in his father’s neglectful hands.
He had known for years that his father had never wanted the title, and had little interest in
the estate itself. All he wanted, and Daventry too, was to hare about the countryside, chasing
myths and rumors of myths. Why not let them?
Tristan watched the trio of riders approach. Daventry, surprisingly, the most agile of the
three riders, was the first to dismount. And if he was not mistaken, Tristan thought the man
seemed to look somewhat slimmer, and even a bit clearer in the eyes. Sober? An odd thought.
Perhaps the ride across country had been beneficial. More likely, a few days in the sweetly
iron-clad company of his aunt had done the trick. No matter. Tristan began to contemplate the
delicious prospect of the failure of their grand scheme.
Daventry assisted Peaches from her saddle. Odd in itself, since Daventry had no head for
niceties. Peaches and his father strode with Daventry to where Tristan and Izzy, and Donald and
“Izzy, m’dove!” said Daventry, his voice an odd mixture of shouting breathlessness. “It ain’t
too late, is it? You ain’t married, yet, are you?”
“No, Papa,” she replied, and Tristan could no longer tell if she was sad or glad for the fact.
“Good, good!” said Daventry. “Got to do this thing right, girl. And it ain’t right you should
marry Landerholme, don’t you see? He ain’t at all what’s good for you. You got to see that, girl.”
Izzy bit her lip. “Papa, I am grateful for your concern, I really am. But I am not the only
one here whose heart you are tampering with. It’s bad enough you think you can choose who I
am to love. But Tristan has his feelings, after all, and there are Donald, and Patricia to consider,
too. It’s not fair you should determine their happiness, too. Can’t you see that?”
“To be sure, girl. It ain’t so much I’m telling you who to love, m’dove. It’s just you ain’t got
the sense to see that what’s good for you is right under your nose. You can’t marry Landerholme,
girl, you just can’t. You and young Trowbridge have got real sparks for each other. We all seen it
from the beginning. Don’t know what we got to do to make you see it.”
“Well, that wasn’t real, Papa. We contrived to fool you, you see, as you were so determined
to force the marriage. But Tristan doesn’t love me, and he doesn’t want to marry me. It’s not fair
Peaches, who still looked as if she had merely taken a turn about Hyde Park, rather than a
hell-for-leather ride across England, interrupted. “Why don’t you ask him?” she suggested. “You
should let him speak for himself.”
“That’s the way of it, ain’t it, Tris?” said his father. “Tell her. The girl ought to ask, at least.
Let you speak for yourself.” And then he winked, a completely unprecedented occurrence that
left Tristan momentarily stunned into silence. He was, of course, not beyond recovery, and even
the discovery that his father did actually, for once, understand his son, did not slow him down.
“Go on, Izzy, ask me,” he said, his exhilaration blatantly out of control.
He could see in her eyes as the color shifted from blue to green, the very moment when she
decided to take the risk. And her mouth hung half open, paused at the very beginning of a word,
as if to question whether she ought to let it loose or keep it chained inside her.
“Want to marry you?” He felt like shouting. “Yes. I do, love. Of course, you’ll have to
dispense with these odd fits and starts, immediately. Can’t have you haring off about the
countryside all the time, you know.”
“Odd fits?” The color of her eyes shifted again. “As if you were entirely innocent of them,
yourself! You are a loose screw, sir.”
“A loose screw needs a nut to hold it in place, my love. And you are, without question,
Her face glowed warmly with the love for him he had wanted so long to see. But then the
worry etched its way through it again, that one part of Izzy that had to be certain everyone else
was happy before she would be willing to claim happiness for herself.
“Donald?” she asked, turning to that life-long friend with the hesitancy born of her concern
for him. “Donald, I’m sorry. But I don’t want to marry you.”
But if she looked for disappointment, she did not find it. For Donald held onto Patricia’s
arm and flashed Izzy a tender smile. “It’s all right, Izzy. I don’t want to marry you, either. Not
that there’s a thing wrong with you; there certainly is not. And I will always love you as the dear
friend you are. But somewhere along the way, I fell in love with Patricia, you see, and that is
another situation entirely.”
Izzy’s eyes grew bright and moist. “Are you sure?”
“And you, Patricia?”
A little tear trickled down from Patricia’s reddened eyes. “I think you’ve quizzed me out,
“Well, yes, but I’d like to hear you say it.”
“Very well. I love Donald, and I should very much prefer to marry him. Now you’ve asked
everybody else. Should you not ask yourself?”
Once again, Izzy turned to Tristan, her eyes a puzzling anxiety. What was it she wanted?
What was missing? Oh, yes. How stupid of him! He must have flummery for brains!
“I love you, Izzy,” he said in a soft whisper.
Tristan had long since become accustomed to Izzy’s indecorum. Still, what should have
been no great surprise nearly knocked him over, when she bolted into his embrace.
“Oh, I love you! I love you!” she returned.
“I love you, Izzy,” he whispered again, and snuggled small kisses into her hair. “But we’re
not through yet. On stage, love.”
Izzy’s aquamarine eyes popped wide open before settling instantly into a pleasant, almost
innocent smile, as Tristan released her from his embrace.
Ah, yes. His own Izzy. He could count on her. Thus reassured, he took in and released a
relaxing breath, and opened the scene.
“Well, now that is settled, we can begin to plan for our future. I have been considering this
for some time, but I can see now is the time to carry it out. As the best opportunities seem to be
in the Americas, I think we shall emigrate, as soon as we can arrange it.”
“Emigrate?” shouted the entire remainder of the company.
“Of course. I can see no other way.”
But son, you can’t do that. You’re my heir! I was never serious about your cousin. Never
was! Just wanted to scare you, is all!”
“I know that, father. But you must accept the truth. You have not been the most able
manager, you know. And if things go on as they have these last two years, there will be nothing
of my patrimony left. No, I think it much better that we get about the business of providing a
living for ourselves as soon as we might, and America or Canada seem to have the best potential.
Or Australia, perhaps. Not much down there now, but there will be.”
“Australia?” Now only Trowbridge and Daventry comprised the chorus, for Peaches had
quietly stepped back, with a sly smile on her closed lips. Donald and Patricia, familiar enough
with Tristan and Izzy’s contrivings, merely watched, as if they had sat down to a play in Drury
“Well, perhaps not Australia, although it is intriguing, it would be a precarious choice. And
it is uncommonly hot. No, I think the Americas offer the best opportunities, these days.”
“You can’t mean it, boy!” Daventry protested. “You got to stay here! Why, there’ll be
grandchildren, and you wouldn’t want to deprive ’em of their heritage. And not to have
grandfathers? Izzy, m’dove, talk some sense into the boy!”
Izzy frowned greatly. “Well, Papa, you must see it makes great sense. And we certainly
could not count on a farthing from Daventry Hall, for you have not been an exceptional manager,
either. No, I am afraid he is right. There will be nothing left for us when you have run through it
all. And the saddest part, Papa, is that I don’t think you even want to manage your holdings. It is
such a waste. And simply too discouraging to see it all go to ruin from neglect.”
Daventry sputtered. Trowbridge stared. Peaches stood silently and smugly behind them.
“Well, of course,” said Daventry, when he recovered his tongue, “We was thinking of
turning it all over to you, anyway, wasn’t we, Trowbridge? Yes, that we was. We was just talking
as how nice it’d be not to have the worries of managing and things. But you’re a good man with
those things, boy. Ain’t he, Trowbridge?”
Tristan’s father, however, had no opportunity to answer before Daventry launched in again.
“That’s it, boy, exactly what we was talking about. Give you the managing of the estate. And
Daventry, too, for that matter. It’s not entailed, you know. M’brother never got around to that.
Been thinking of retiring, both of us. Ain’t we, Trowbridge? Sign it over, all of it. Ain’t that what
we said, Trowbridge?”
“Exactly,” agreed his friend.
Tristan kept his mental smirk well hidden behind a solemn frown.
“We don’t want no more’n a living, son. Give us time to do our research. And all the rest
would be yours.”
Tristan shook his head. “It wouldn’t be legal, father. You could take it back any time you
wished, and it would all be wasted effort. And worse, we would have wasted our opportunity to
build something for ourselves.”
“Well, then, we’ll make it legal. Make you trustee. Yes, that’s the trick, Daventry. We’ll
make him trustee of both estates. Ain’t that a good plan, Peaches?”
Peaches nodded, and the corners of her mouth twitched against her solemn smile. “A good
plan, Alexander. But you’d best follow through with it, for I am sure they are quite capable of
seeing to themselves without your largesse. This little escapade is ample evidence of it. And
now, don’t we have a wedding to see to?”
“Two weddings,” corrected Donald, Patricia, Tristan and Izzy.
“In Gretna Green,” Izzy added.
The inn was the best Gretna Green had to offer. He had wanted it that way, for her.
Tristan dropped the doorlatch into its bracket, and turned the key in the lock, before he
crossed the chamber to take Izzy into his embrace. Her damp hair smelled of rosemary, tangy
and sweet, and fresh from her bath. He trailed a line of kisses across her cheek, while he
permitted his hands to roam in places he had never allowed before.
“Izzy, my love,” he purred, mingling silken words with nibbling kisses at her ear.
“Remember all those questions you asked?”
“Yes.” Izzy was finding places she could kiss, as well.
“Are you ready for the answers?”
Izzy separated herself from him by barely a few inches, but he felt it like an abandonment.
She cocked her head to one side as she studied his face, and then smiled coyly.
“Well, I am not so sure. Don’t you think we should wait a bit?”
A rapid succession of shock waves rolled through him, beginning with surprise and
disappointment, then passing through frustration, and stopping just short of mirth, as he reached
the sudden realization that he had once again been humbugged.
“Nary a chance, scamp,” he said. He swooped her into his arms and tumbled onto the bed
with her, enveloping them in their first true lovemaking.
And so the lovers, Tristan and Isolde (and Donald and Patricia) were married and lived
happily ever after. Subject to a few odd fits and starts.