The Scandalous Lady Mercy(6)

By: Maggi Andersen






Chapter Three





AS SOON AS Grant returned to the ballroom, Alethea had halted his progress, curtseying low before him. He gritted his teeth and shepherded her out through the long windows onto the terrace, sensing by the light in her eyes that she was gearing up to embellish the simmering scandal.

When a footman closed the doors behind them, the volume reduced to a low hum. The air was heavy with the threat of a storm, which seemed appropriate, for Alethea’s mood meant trouble.

She reached up to trail a finger down his chest. “Northcliffe, you never intended marriage, but why can’t we continue as before?”

She neglected to mention the large roadblock to such an occurrence, her dalliance with Lord Fallowbrook while Grant had been out of town.

“It would not do, my dear,” he said. “I thought we’d ended this amicably. What has happened since?”

She gazed down at her hands. “I have suffered some unexpectedly large debts.”

Her intention to snare Lord Fallowbrook must have failed. “Allow me to settle them for you.”

Her big eyes widened. “You would do that?”

“Certainly. But this will be the last of them, and I want a promise from you that you’ll behave discreetly concerning our past liaison, Alethea.”

She shook her head with a moue. “You don’t trust me.”

“You make that difficult.”

When Grant returned to the ballroom a grueling half hour later, he boiled with anger. But the anger was directed at himself rather than Alethea, who after all, with her love of drama, only behaved as she always did. Why did he get involved with the widow? He knew the answer to that, but it did him no credit. He felt jaded and looked forward to a respite from London, with its tarnished beauty, deceptions, and temptations. His father was staying at his family’s country seat, Thornhill, with his grandfather. The sad news would have reached them. Grant could do little to ease the suffering of Nat’s widow, Jenny, and their four children, but he welcomed the chance to find the murderer.

Grant glanced over to where Gunn escorted Lady Mercy from the dance floor. Again, her fresh beauty struck him. A desire to draw near seized him, as if all the sadness of Nat’s violent death could be eased for a brief time by a pair of blue eyes unclouded by deception. Locating Black where he stood in conversation with his contemporaries, Grant walked over to him. He drew the colonel aside. “There’s something you can do for me, if you will.”

Black nodded. “If I can.”

“You are well acquainted with Lord Baxendale; I believe?”

“I am.”

“I’d like an introduction to his daughter, Lady Mercy.”

A smiled tugged at Black’s mouth. “I’d be happy to. But I confess I’m surprised to find you need my help with that.”

Grant winced. “I am slightly de trop in polite circles.”

Black laughed. “Then I’ll be delighted.”

As they walked in the direction of the Baxendale family, a disturbance erupted in the crowd.

Black elbowed his way through with Grant following.

“Miss Fury fainted,” a matron gushed, madly fanning the young fair-haired woman on the floor with her ivory fan.

A man pushed his way through those crowded around her. He knelt beside her. “Catherine, are you all right?”

“Yes, Ambrose.” She put her hand to her forehead. “It’s just that…” Her eyes were huge in her white face. “Can you take me home?”

“Mr. Fury will take care of his sister,” the matron explained, as Fury helped the distressed woman away, his arm around her waist. “It was so unexpected! We were just discussing the latest ondits and she was suddenly overcome.”

*

Violet Blenkinsopp and Lady Amelia Frankston sat with Mercy beside the potted palms while their mothers talked a few yards away.

“I’ve only had one dance,” Violet confessed.

Amelia wrinkled her nose. “I danced one of the country dances, but it hardly counts as it was with Cousin Rupert.”

Mercy noticed Amelia had a rim of unsightly hair on her upper lip, and Violet’s brown locks lacked luster. She had just the right lotions to assist them. Perhaps her pimpernel water face wash for Amelia, after the use of her depilatory unguent. The rum and rosewater hair rinse would work wonders for Violet’s hair, and the elderberry paste would darken and better define her brows and lashes.

Mercy had been forced to put aside the development of her skin products and her book on the subject for the busy London Season. She fingered the tiny scar on her chin, the result of a failed experiment with exploding wax. That she might help improve a lady’s appearance and make her more confident was exhilarating. But might it be better to wait to suggest their use until she was better acquainted with her new friends? While she deliberated, two gentlemen crossed the floor in their direction.