- Title: Sir Sham/A Season For Scandal
- Author: Marian Devon
- Released: 1998-10-31
- Pages: 297
- ISBN: 0449004406
- ISBN13: 978-0449004401
- ASIN: 0449004406
Lucy Haydon's matchmaking scheme was a grand success--the dashing Mr. More was smitten by her fair sister. Then More's odious sycophant, Mr. Drury, formed a tendre for Miss Lucy, who was certain he harbored some ghastly secret. If only he weren't so handsome--or his kiss so very unsettling!
A SEASON FOR SCANDAL
Though Lord Dalton, the biggest catch in London, set his sights on Sylvia, it was her cousin Jenny and her clever tongue he could not seem to escape. Jenny was determined to protect sweet Sylvia from this rake's attentions--and could not fathom how those attentions had suddenly turned to herself. . . .
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. "Oh blast!"
"Lucy! Your language! What would Papa think?" The vicar of Waring's youngest daughter turned a shocked gaze upon her next-older sister.
"Well, he ought to think I've shown remarkable restraint. My skirt's caught on this blasted thorn hedge."
The hedge was possibly serving as a prickly retribution. It had been Lucinda Haydon's dawdling that had made them late, her choice to take the shortcut to the hall.
"Wait, let me undo it!" Camilla's entreaty came too late. There was a sudden rending sound, followed by an even more heartfelt "Oh blast!" Both sisters stared aghast at the lilac sprigged muslin. Even in the fading twilight there was no mistaking the large, right-angled tear halfway between the ribbon bow, tied just beneath the shoulder blades, and the bottom ruffle of the evening round dress. It flopped limply open to reveal the petticoat beneath.
"Oh Lucy!" Camilla's tone was as censorious as it ever got, an echo of one of their father's mild reproofs. "I did say we should have gone round through the gate. Now we'll have to go back so you can change, which will make us twice as late than if we'd gone the proper way in the first place. And what our aunt Tilney will have to say doesn't bear thinking on. You know how she values punctuality. I wouldn't put it past her to write Mama all about it."
"Well, if she was all that eager for our presence, she could have asked us to dinner instead of having us show up afterward like common hired musicians." The hedge might have served as a substitute Lady Tilney, judging from Lucy's glare.
"But Aunt explained all that." Steeped in Papa's Christian charity, Camilla shed the kindest possible light upon Lady Tilney's snub. "There weren't enough gentlemen to go round. Besides, it would have looked most odd for us to be there without Papa, and our aunt knows how much he hates to go out socially without Mama along to carry the conversation. Oh, do quit staring at that poor hedge as though it were to blame. Come on. We must hurry."
Lucy ignored the entreaty but stuck to her train of thought as she almost absentmindedly began to break off some of the longest, sharpest thorns. "Fustian! Our aunt Tilney would not have invited us this evening at all if she hadn't thought the gossipmongers would spread it all over the neighborhood that she was afraid you'd cast poor Ada in the shade. Not that Mr. More's going to be smitten by our cousin anyway, but with only antidotes invited and us glued to our instruments in the corner, she can always hope. Pity the hall doesn't boast a musician's gallery that she could stick us in." She broke off a final thorn with an emphatic snap.
In the interest of time Camilla abandoned the homily on cattishness that Papa might have expected her to deliver. Instead, she asked her sister whether she'd taken leave of her senses, just standing there, picking off bits of hedge when they should be running for home as fast as their satin slippers and narrow skirts would permit.
"No need for that." Lucy proffered a half-dozen black thorns on the palm of a slightly pricked white kid glove. "Here. Pin me."
"You're funning, aren't you?" Camilla's voice held more hope than it did conviction. Even Papa had been known to say that Lucy had a touch of the hoyden in her makeup. "Lucy, you can't be serious. You can't arrive in our aunt's withdrawing room in a gown held together with black thorns!"
"Why ever not? It's better than having the torn part flapping behind me like a banner and most likely ripping worse. Besides, I can cover it up with Mama's shawl." She demonstrated by shifting the triangle of Norwich silk she wore round her shoulders to the crooks of her elbows, allowing it to dip down far enough to hide the offending tear.
"T-that looks ridiculous." In her nervousness Camilla was reduced to giggles. "N-no one wears a shawl across her bottom."
"Gypsies do. Oh well, I collect you have a point." Lucy sighed and reshouldered the borrowed garment. "But come on, pin me. Thorn me? Then walk close behind me when we get there. After that I'll be sitting on the tear all evening anyhow, and unless one of the blasted things sticks me and I shriek, no one need ever know."
The sisters, only fifteen months apart in age, had never appeared closer than when they entered the spacious withdrawing room of Tilney Hall (which tried to ape the Prince Regent's Oriental taste with a profusion of beechwood furniture posing as bamboo) under the censorious eye of the Dowager Lady Tilney. To her nieces' relief, her ladyship did not see fit to terminate the conversation she was engaged in with several other mothers of marriageable daughters whom she'd included in the company. It was far too satisfying to find her opinion shared that Mr. Carnaby More, besides being a tulip of fashion and handsome beyond the raptures of report, was also the soul of amiability and not above his company in the least. And it was most edifying to learn that his friend, Mr. Drury, who'd come down from London with him, was of no consequence whatsoever and that it would be a waste of time for any of the young ladies present to try to fix his interest. She did, however, direct a speaking glance in her nieces' direction
as the two Misses Haydon scurried, in tandem, toward the harp and pianoforte, banked so as to be almost hidden by tall baskets of cut blossoms in the corner of the room.
If any among the company were aware of Lady Tilney's stratagem to keep her nieces tucked out of sight, they would have been hard put to blame her. It was understandable that her ladyship had grown desperate since her daughter's engagement had been broken off in such a shocking manner. And it was generally acknowledged that the Haydon girls, in spite of their straitened circumstance, were formidable rivals for their cousin, especially Camilla, whose large blue eyes, flaxen hair, dainty features, and flawless complexion had inspired more secret sonnets from fledgling Byrons and more envy in the breasts of her female contemporaries than any other young lady in the whole of Sussex.
True, while there was a striking resemblance between the vicar's fourth and fifth child, Lucinda did not quite meet her sister's diamond-of-the-first-water standard. Her hair was darker by at least a shade. Her eyes, more gray than blue, not only defied being described as "limpid pools," but generally seemed to see too much by half. Even so, it was generally conceded that Lucy Haydon could be just enough out of the ordinary to attract a certain type of gentleman whose tastes might be the least bit eccentric. Their aunt was merely looking out for the best interests of her own daughter by trying to keep the sisters as inconspicuous as possible. A lesser personage would have seen to it that they remained in the obscurity of the vicarage. But perhaps their cousin Nigel, Lord Tilney, would not have countenanced that kind of slight. No, it was far better just to distance the vicar's daughters from the guest of honor, for it was a documented fact that Mr. Carnaby More hadn't the slightest need to dangle after an hei
ress unless he simply chose to and might be susceptible to their charms.
Mr. More was, in fact, a nabob, the owner of one of the most prosperous estates in Sussex. That he had not so much as visited that estate since inheriting it from an uncle some five years before had been a source of considerable vexation to his neighbors. Now that he'd finally seen fit to leave his London haunts to inspect his property, it was hoped he might be persuaded to settle on it. Lady Tilney had been the first to cast out a lure toward that result. Other hostesses planned to follow her example.
While her fingers moved skillfully upon the ivory keys of the pianoforte, Lucy peered at Mr. More through the foliage as he and the other gentlemen, their port consumed, entered the withdrawing room to join the ladies. She soon concluded that all the attention being lavished upon him would prove a waste of time. Though Mr. More was apparently exuding all the considerable charm that early reports had credited him with, he appeared to have far too much town bronze to be at home for long in a bucolic setting. Lucy was not familiar with the revered name of Weston, but she recognized immediately that no provincial tailor had cut the perfection of his blue, long-tailed coat. Nor had she ever seen so intricate a cravat as the one now being covertly studied by several rural young men with secret longings to become pinks of the ton.
As the gentlemen began to distribute themselves around the room, Lucy reached out a foot and shifted a floral basket to gain a better view. She suppressed a grin at the deft way in which her aunt intercepted her guest of honor, leaving his friend as second prize for Mrs. Elliot and her daughter, who had placed themselves strategically near the door hoping to establish a claim to Mr. More's attention. Lady Tilney's smile of triumph at these disappointed rivals caused Lucy to giggle and repeat a measure she'd just played, forcing poor Camilla on the opposite side of an enormous arrangement of hollyhock to clap both hands upon her harp strings till she could find her place again.
After this mishap, Lucy dutifully concentrated upon her music for some thirty seconds. Then her attention wandered back to observe the scene. Several of the more determined females had drifted over to join their hostess and the honored guest where they were admiring the Reynolds portrait of the late Lord Tilney above the fireplace. Lady Tilney's efforts to push Ada into the conversation were soon thwarted by a determined miss who proceeded to ply her fan in time to some animated anecdote right under Mr. More's aristocratic nose. Lady Tilney gave her daughter speaking looks. But her message seemed doomed to remain undecoded.
Now if Mr. More were only a horse, L...