The Scandalous Lady Mercy(8)

By: Maggi Andersen

The shadow that had darkened his eyes, faded, and he appealed to her with a sudden, charming smile that drew her gaze to his white teeth and sculptured lips. “But heaven preserve us, London is crammed with poets and novelists who should never put pen to paper.”

Initially charmed by the resonance of his deep voice, she took herself to task. He was belittling everyone’s right to freely express themselves. And he dismissed a women’s role as little more than being an adjunct to men.

“Jane Austen’s novels are extremely well written,” she said having read them all twice. “She was a favorite of King George.”

“I have not read them, but I stand corrected.”

She wished his smile wasn’t quite so appealing. Before she could challenge him further, the music slowed. When the dance ended, he smiled down at her as he escorted her from the floor. “An interesting topic. I trust we can discuss this at another time.”

Still smarting from his disdain, she had little desire to do so. “I wouldn’t wish to bore you, my lord.”

“I doubt you could.” He bestowed another of his charming grins as he led her back to her mother.

Mercy resisted returning his smile. She still bridled at his arrogant dismissal of untried poets. One must begin somewhere after all.

Moments later, Charity came to join her. “Are you enjoying your first ball? Is it everything you hoped for?”

“It is…” Mercy glanced around to see where Northcliffe had gone.

Charity’s gray-blue eyes studied her. “But?”

“Lord Northcliffe just partnered me for the waltz.”

“Surely he didn’t upset you?”

“Not exactly, but he was disparaging.”

Charity glared into the throng. “What did he say?”

“He was scathing about new writers and poets.”

Her sister shook her head with a slight smile. “Then you must not dance with him again.”

“I very much doubt he’ll ask me. Anyway, he would not be a supportive husband. Not like your dear Robin.”

“I have every hope you’ll meet a wonderful man like Robin, but don’t be in too much of a hurry, dearest. The Season has just begun.”

Mercy frowned and fiddled with her fan. “Northcliffe must think me young.”

Charity laughed. “Well you’re not exactly in your dotage, are you?”

“I wished to appear sophisticated, like…some ladies here.” Mercy chewed her lip thinking of the lady who’d gone out on the terrace with Lord Northcliffe.

“Sophistication comes with age and experience, and if accompanied with charm and wit, is excessively entertaining. But innocence and fresh beauty have its own appeal. Just be your delightful self, dearest. Men will fall in love with you in droves.”

Mercy didn’t want droves of men. Just one very special one. Had she driven Northcliffe away? He’d left the ballroom immediately after their dance. Tomorrow, she and Mama were to go to Mrs. Bishop’s musicale where her daughter was to perform a selection of Irish airs. Mercy wondered if he would be as contemptuous of untried musicians. She hoped he would attend, she’d enjoy giving him a set down, but only if Miss Bishop was in good voice.

Chapter Four

WITH A SMILE of welcome, the gatekeeper tipped his hat as Grant rode his horse through the massive wrought iron gates bearing his family crest. The long drive bordered by ancient elms led across a bridge over a rushing stream guarded by a pair of lichen-covered stone lions. Through the trees in the park, Thornhill appeared, towering over the landscape.

Grant remembered spending a good deal of his boyhood here, riding, hunting, and fishing when home from school and then university, as his parents were often in London due to his father’s parliamentary obligations.

At the stables, after Grant greeted the groom, he left his horse in his care. He made his way around to the front of the sprawling stone mansion while pulling off his leather gloves and removing his beaver hat.

Their butler, Elliston helped him out of his greatcoat. “Good to see you, my lord,” he said, his smile transforming his features. “You’ll find the duke and your father in the drawing room.”

In the great hall, the enormous painting of the house as it was one hundred and fifty years ago, still hung in pride of place, and on the west side was a large mural painted by Sir James Thorn. Grant breathed in the familiar smells of old timber, beeswax, and a floral bouquet from a large flower arrangement placed on an oak pier table. He climbed the broad staircase to his chamber to wash and change. Suitable attire was kept here for his visits. It always seemed like coming home, he seldom stayed at his father’s manor house. He heaved a sigh. This homecoming was tinged with sadness, a funeral awaited them.