Monday, August 27, 2012

Salome - Chapter Four

Chapter Four

Salome arrived at her townhouse, her nerves in a tangle, though outwardly she displayed a calm appearance. She fetched her papers and tossed the reins of her horse to the stable lad, a bright young man by the name of Toby, and proceeded into the kitchen where Toby’s mother held reign.
 Irene Tyndall was a widow, but she was still quite a young woman. She was possessed of enough experience as housekeeper and lady’s maid that she would be an asset to any household. Salome felt lucky to have her, especially since her best quality was her ability to keep her mistress’ secrets. She had done so ever since Salome had met her when she visited London for the first time as Hawke Sinclair and required someone to maintain a townhome on her behalf.
When Salome had informed Irene about the possibility of having a coming out in London Society, she had been positively over the moon. Since then, she had been Salome’s primary source of both entertainment and distraction against the weight of her other troubles, seeking out fashion plates and fabric samples for Salome to look at for her much needed wardrobe.
‘Good afternoon, Irene,’ Salome greeted what she had to consider her one and only female friend, though Irene was also her maid. They had long ago dispensed with formalities in her home, though Irene insisted on calling her Miss Salome still. ‘It smells delightful in here. Anything I can help you with?’
‘No, Miss, everything is just about done here. I found a lovely roast at the market, and the spring vegetables are just starting to become available. Merely a simple custard for dessert, though, I can’t have you ruining your lovely figure when you are going to be measured for your coming out soon,’ Irene replied, dusting her hands on her apron. She frowned as she took in Salome’s manly attire, from the dusty boots to the engulfing overcoat.
‘Please, Irene, spare me the lecture. I promise, today was the last day for these clothes, at least for the foreseeable future,’ she forestalled her outspoken maid’s forthcoming comment.
Irene’s mouth snapped shut, biting back her choice words about her mistress’ unfortunate taste in clothing. It was so unladylike she could not help but disapprove. Miss Salome Mercer would put any lady of the ton to shame, even at her worst. Her mistress deserved to be dressed in the finest silks and satins, not breeches and waistcoats.
Salome caught Irene’s mumbled words as she turned away. ‘No man wants to be undoing more than one pair of breeches in the bedroom-‘
Thinking of the Marquess of Elgin’s preferred tastes in companion, Salome begged to differ, but she refrained from shocking poor Irene’s sensibilities and let her laughter trail after as she went upstairs to change. She considered calling for a bath before supper, but decided the morning would be good enough instead.
Salome sat on the counterpane of her bed to remove her boots and wiggled her toes in relief. Irene had laid out a simple afternoon dress for her to don, with all of the appropriate ladies undergarments, leaving Salome with little option but to replace her masculine garments with the light gown instead.
A myriad of thoughts drifted through Salome’s mind as she stripped, and she let her mind wander. She always did her best problem solving when she tried to think of nothing, letting the answers come to her naturally instead.
Salome paused in her undress to glance at herself in the full-length mirror in her room. Now that she had set her sights on her prey, how would Donovan Tremaine, the Earl of Verney, react to her? She was no pale, blonde beauty like his mistress Madeline Latham. She frowned in remembrance of the woman she had seen only from a distance. She had inherited the olive-toned skin and jet-black hair of her mother’s Spanish people instead, highly unfashionable.
Her eyes were a most unusual color, and she knew full well how disconcerting her gaze could be for the unaware. They were such a light green they appeared nearly colorless in some light. Tilted at the corners, and fringed by dark lashes, they were undoubtedly her most distinctive feature, and she knew how to use them to their best advantage. Coupled with her mischievous pink smile and high cheekbones that spoke of well-born breeding, she had set more than a few members of the male sex back on their heels before.
Salome turned from side to side to determine if she could be considered to have a fashionable figure. Long years working at home in Virginia and at sea since her brother’s disappearance had given her a long, lean muscle tone. She was strong and capable, but surely a softer, rounder figure was desired by more men?
Her breasts were high and full, her waist was slim, but she was certainly not a narrow-hipped woman. Irene had told her she had ‘child-bearing’ hips. Was that a good thing? She supposed it was for a member of the peer, who desired first and foremost to secure an heir as quickly as possible. A pert, rounded derriere melded into long, shapely legs.
Salome was not ashamed of her body, in fact, she rather liked it, but would Donovan Tremaine? If he did not, would any of his companions whose names completed the very short list of candidates she had decided would be fit husbands to suit her needs? She very much hoped the Earl of Verney would appreciate her figure.
Sighing, Salome turned to don her undergarments, but not before she was reminded of one decidedly gauche lapse in judgment. Though it would be concealed by her clothing and hidden from casual view, the small tattoo of a mermaid that graced her ribcage would no doubt be noticed by a randy husband. How could she explain that one? Certainly not with the truth, that her ship’s crew had taken her ashore one night in China and in a show of drunken camaraderie, all got matching marks? Alas, not much she could do about it now. Perhaps she could convince her husband it was to commemorate her brother’s memory, as one lost to the sirens of the seas themselves.
A knock on her bedchamber door startled Salome out of her reverie as she completed her toilette, donning soft kid slippers before gliding across the room to open the portal.
‘Miss, there is a gentleman here to see you, something about a horse?’ Irene gave her a questioning look.
‘Excellent, I had almost forgotten! Would you be a dear and fetch Toby for me?’ Salome preceded her maid down the stairs to greet the man she had been promised could secure her a fine mare to complement the black stallion and dapple gray gelding she kept stabled for her personal use.
‘Mr. Blackburn, is it?’ Salome inquired as she opened the front door of her small, but respectable townhouse.
‘Yes, that’s me,’ the gentleman before her bowed politely, removing his hat. He was stunned at the vision of feminine beauty that greeted him. ‘You would be Miss Mercer?’
‘You are correct, sir,’ Salome replied as she descended the steps of her home. She spared not a glance at the man himself, for she only had eyes for the magnificent piece of horseflesh he had come to show her. ‘Oh, aren’t you a beauty,’ she whispered gently, reaching out to stroke the mare’s forehead.
The mare nuzzled Salome’s shoulder and lowered the graceful arch of her neck to seek out any possible sweets from her new mistress. Salome laughed in delight, stroking the sleek texture of the filly’s mane. At that moment, Toby and his mother rounded the corner, and Toby’s eyes grew wide as he took in the sight of the mare.
‘Toby, come say hello,’ Salome called, reaching a hand out to the boy. At twelve years old, Toby was mostly knees and elbows, but he was strong and had proven to be a dedicated stable hand. He shared Salome’s love of horses and had a natural gift with them to boot.
As Toby admired the mare, Salome turned to Mr. Blackburn. ‘She has all of her pedigree in order?’
‘Indeed, Miss, her line can be directly traced to the Godolphin by virtue of Regulus.’ Blackburn handed a portfolio to Salome for her perusal. She nodded as Blackburn continued. ‘She is a yearling, but she shows good temperament, yet is still spirited. She promises to foal swift children.’ Blackburn smiled fondly at the mare. ‘I hate to admit it, but she is one of my favorites.’
‘I can see why, she is beautiful,’ Salome agreed. The bay mare had the classic lines of the Arabian breed, with the refined head and long, arching neck. Her sleek tail had a high carriage and her legs were long and lean. She had all the markings of a fine racehorse. Of course, Salome had great plans to use the mare and her fine bloodlines to produce just that.
‘Would you mind if we take her back to the stables and get a better look at her?’ Salome asked.
‘’Course not, Miss. She’s yours if you find her pleasing, after all,’ Blackburn replied.
Salome gestured to Toby to take the lead, and he fairly danced with pleasure at the honor. Salome followed behind with Mr. Blackburn, discussing the progress of the mare’s training thus far.
‘She’s broke to a bit and saddle, though if you intend to use her for a carriage, you will have to work with her-‘
‘Oh, no, she’s to be strictly a riding horse, I am possessed of a fine gelding for carriage work. I also have a stallion of Byerley stock I hope to breed her with. Would you like to see him?’
Blackburn’s face lit up like it was Christmastime. ‘I’ve not had the pleasure of working with any of the Byerley line, Miss; it would be a great joy.’
Salome instructed Toby sternly to examine the mare carefully, especially her teeth and hooves as she had taught him as she led Mr. Blackburn into the stables to admire her stallion.
‘This is Aucassin, and his mate out there will be Nicolette,’ Salome declared proudly. She laughed at Blackburn’s raised brow.
‘I know, I know, French names are not likely to be popular, but their story was always one of my favorites as a child.’
Blackburn nodded his head as Toby entered the stables, leading the mare behind him.
‘She’s fit as a fiddle, Miss Salome,’ Toby declared. Nicolette tossed her head at the compliment. Aucassin nickered in excitement as he spied the bay mare, and Nicolette responded in kind.
‘It looks as though they approve of your matchmaking, Miss Mercer,’ Blackburn declared.
Salome instructed Toby to see Nicolette settled in her new home as she led Mr. Blackburn outside to settle the matter of payment. She was paying a premium for her prized mare, but if her plans succeeded, she would have the best pair of breeders possible to start her very own horse farm. She always demanded the best. Salome was very pleased, and she saw Mr. Blackburn off with a genuine smile and a wave goodbye.
Irene joined Salome and Toby in the stables to admire Nicolette. The maid was leery of horses, but her son was enamored of them, so she tried to relax for his benefit. Salome put an arm around Toby, who looked up at her with shining eyes. Putting on her best serious expression, she met Toby’s wondrous gaze.
‘Now Toby, I would like to discuss something very important with you,’ she began.
‘Oh, Miss, I will take very good care of her, just as I do the others-‘ he started.
‘Of that I have no doubts, but listen closely to me,’ Salome said. Toby nodded.
‘It is my hope to start a stud farm, breeding the very best racehorses in all of England, and God-willing, America too. Would you do me the honor of becoming my stable master?’
Toby’s mouth gaped in shock, as did his mother’s.
‘Do you really mean it?’ He asked.
‘Yes, I really mean it. You and your mother have worked very hard for me for years now, and I would like to repay you, more than just providing you with a living and a roof over your head. I take care of those people who prove loyal to me,’ Salome stated with conviction. ‘Of course, this means a great deal more responsibility. You must take over Nicolette’s training and learn to handle Aucassin as well. You will have to learn all about horse racing and breeding, and how to deal with other grooms that may come and go. Do you think you are up to such a task?’
‘Oh, yes! Yes, I will do whatever is necessary,’ Toby solemnly vowed.
‘Very well, then it is settled, Master Tyndall,’ Salome grinned. ‘Now see that everyone is settled and come in with us to supper.’
Toby rushed off to do his mistress’ bidding, and Salome turned to see Irene’s eyes filling with unshed tears. Irene was unused to such magnanimity on the part of her betters, as Miss Mercer clearly was.
‘Come now, Irene, I’ll have none of that,’ Salome said, taking her maid’s hand in hers. She patted it gently as she strolled beside the other woman to re-enter the house and prepare for supper. ‘I meant what I said about rewarding loyalty. For the past few years, I have been without family, and you have provided me with what I have been lacking. You remind me to be humble and thankful for the small blessings I have in this life, and I shall never forget that. God willing, tomorrow my family will increase in size should my Aunt accept my plea to sponsor me this Season, but I will always take care of you, fear not.’
Irene could only nod in emotional appreciation for the stout-hearted Miss that had suffered so much in recent memory, but still managed to maintain her kindness. With a muttered prayer of thanks, Irene vowed to help her mistress until her dying day, and that was not something she took lightly.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Salome - Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Salome had spent all morning poring over the stack of files that divulged so many secrets she had to wonder if there were truly any respectable men in all of London. The few men who seemed devoid of lecherous behavior and questionable morals were, to put it mildly, a bore. She tried to console herself with the fact that she had not actually met a single gentleman in person.
Still, she had to come to a decision about one of them, so her desk consisted of two piles, those she had not read yet, and the few she had labeled Potentials. The floor beside her chair, on the other hand, was littered with her discards. How she would ever be able to look at some of those men in the face should she encounter one of them over the next weeks, knowing the secrets they kept? She would just have to cross that bridge when she came to it.
Amongst her castoffs, there were:
Harmon Endicott, Baron of Denbigh – an unfortunate penchant for gambling left him currently destitute and living on credit. This was the downfall of many that ended them in Salome’s rejection pile.
Jonas Braithwaite, Viscount of Rothes – barely into his thirties, yet he had been wed and widowed four times already, and all of his previous wives were wealthy heiresses. Coincidence? Salome would rather avoid the possibility of her eminent demise, thank you very much.
Christian Neave, Marquess of Elgin – wouldn’t his father be disappointed that Christian was more interested in the footmen than the maids? Then again, Salome had a penchant for wearing breeches, perhaps that might garner his interest- Egads, what was she thinking?
Humphrey Edmonstone, Duke of Melville – shared an unfortunate love of the sorts of depravity that would make even the Marquis de Sade blush. Though Salome was virginal in body, she was no innocent in terms of knowledge of what took place in the marital bed, but truly, the idea of some acts listed just made her shudder in disgust.
The list of unacceptable candidates went on and on. Salome marveled at the level of information and detail E.J. Lindsay was able to gather in the extremely short time-frame he had been given. She would have to send his investigative agency a bonus.
Of course, there were a few seemingly normal and perfectly suitable possibilities, giving Salome hope, so she continued reading until she heard the sound of the bell announcing a visitor in the front room. She stood and walked with silent tread to the small vent she had installed near the floor of her office, which allowed her to listen in on business conversations without sacrificing her privacy.
Salome barely restrained a gasp when she overheard John identify the newcomer. The Earl of Verney, what could he want with Kestrel Shipping? Without a doubt, she recalled the handsome noble from the Regent’s Ball. His devilish good looks had sent her heart to pounding in her chest, and she had to remind herself to breathe.
Careful not to make a sound, Salome crept back to her desk and shuffled through the files until she found what she sought. The Earl of Verney’s name had been the last she had added to her list that night, not just because she found the man handsome, but simply because the crowd had labeled him as American and that had intrigued her. An American Earl, what were the odds?
Settling on the floor, she opened the file, keeping one ear attuned to the conversation next door. Good, John had come up for a ready explanation for his presence at St. James the other night. Better, the Earl seemed to accept the ruse.
She had already been aware of the new Earl of Verney, just as John was currently explaining to Donovan. It did indeed pay to know what other Americans in London were about, especially when they came into positions of such prominence as the Earl had. The file in front of her confirmed everything she already knew, and expounded further on the Earl’s activities since assuming his title.
Donovan Tremaine, Earl of Verney – Twenty-nine years old, son of Sheridan Tremaine and one Mary Tremaine, reported to be of Native descent.
Probably Nottoway, considering his home was in Virginia, thought Salome. His looks certainly are darker than the usual Englishman. So were her own, though that was attributed to her mother’s Spanish origins.
Owner of Tremaine Shipbuilders, Norfolk Virginia, founded by Sheridan Tremaine, supporter of the Colonial Revolution. Company maintained via proxy. Profitable, though not prosperous. Interesting, a Royalist turned Patriot. Salome could not help but wonder about the Earl’s true loyalties, as John echoed her thoughts in the other room.
Inherited title of Earl of Verney 1808, through the death of great-uncle, having died without issue. Donovan Tremaine, sole male descendant, no siblings. Small family, Salome thought. How sad.
Arrived in England 1809, number of properties (see list) sold to relieve debts and taxes owed to the crown. Assets remaining: manor house and surrounding estates, Amersham. Townhouse, London, 14 Berkeley Square. Var. investments (see list). Not wealthy, but solvent. Salome consulted the referenced lists and nodded, silently approving Donovan’s choices in investments.
Memberships: Brook’s Gentlemen’s Club, Jockey Club Requisite men’s activities, but at least he likes horses.
Close Relationships: Derek Armitage, Viscount of Mountrath (see file), Gyles Montgomery, Earl of Newburgh (see file), Anthony Kirby, Earl of Delorain (see file) Interesting. Salome’s brows knitted together. She had come across those names previously in her reviews, and all gentlemen had made it into her Potentials pile.
 Mistress: Madeline Latham, Baroness of Vaughan (widow) Now that will not do, thought Salome, before wondering where exactly that thought had come from.
The rest of the Earl of Verney’s file was full of anecdotes regarding his time in Parliament (Whig Party, liberal reform votes) Of course, he was American, smiled Salome.
In all, Donovan Tremaine was a perfectly suitable candidate to be a Potential. Salome turned her full attention on the conversation next door, wishing she could see the Earl’s face once again, from a closer vantage. Was he truly as handsome as she had recalled?
All of the gentlemen she had placed on her list as suitable matches had been passing attractive, at least as far as she could espy from her place across the street at the Regent’s Ball, but it had only been Verney that had made her pulse stutter.
Salome shrugged it off as it being a side-effect of his exotic dark demeanor and his scorn of fashion. Long hair, indeed. No one wore their hair like that anymore, preferring instead the shorter ‘Brutus’ look. She thanked heaven that wigs and powder were going out of fashion, they had always disgusted her.
As Salome continued to listen to the conversation on the other side of the wall, she smiled at the deft way both John and the Earl handled their respective situations. She could hear the enthusiasm as Verney discussed his ship designs, and promised to send his proposal forthwith. From a strictly business perspective, it was a sound idea, an American shipbuilder contracted to increase Kestrel Shipping’s fleet, custom tailored for their needs. Salome wondered what he would think when he saw some of the specifications she required.
After Donovan left, John waited a circumspect amount of time before knocking on Salome’s door. In the event the Earl needed to return for anything, it simply would not do to discover her hiding in the back room.
‘I take it you heard all of that?’ John inquired.
‘Most of it. I trust you to handle my affairs accordingly,’ Salome replied. ‘I have been busy perusing all of this information.’
‘Of course,’ John crossed his arms in front of him. ‘Any luck?’ He nodded at the papers scattered about the room.
She gestured to the pile on the floor. ‘See that this all gets burned, nothing but trash, the lot of them.’ She retrieved a few files from the remainder. On top, John read Donovan Tremaine’s name.
‘Perhaps you should take the back stairs, in the event the front door is being observed,’ John suggested.
‘And another coat and hat,’ Salome retrieved a dark blue greatcoat and a wide beaver hat from an armoire she kept in the office for just such an instance. Throwing a thick scarf around her shoulders, she added, ‘Wouldn’t want the Earl of Verney to discover me now, would we? That would really upset things. Have the others sent round to the townhouse, please.’
 Salome climbed the set of stairs that led to John’s apartments and an outside stairwell that leading to the alley behind the row of shop fronts. From there, she would be able to return to the stables and retrieve her horse without anyone who might be watching the front door to connect her slight figure with Kestrel Shipping. This was a technique she had often employed to protect her identity, with great success.
‘So what now? Will you be returning soon?’ John asked as he followed her upstairs.
‘I think I shall be rather busy in the coming weeks, but I will send you word,’ Salome replied. ‘I will be paying a visit to my Aunt in the morning, and if all goes well, will be preparing for the Season.’
She tried hard not to roll her eyes. The thought of all the socializing she would be forced to endure irritated her. The polite smiles, the attention to fashions, and heaven forbid the dancing! She had not danced more than a country reel in years. She was not looking forward to the trial she was faced with, and all to find a husband! It was nothing short of ridiculous.
‘And the Earl’s proposal?’
‘Forward it to me when it comes, I will maintain the townhouse, even if I am removed to my Aunt’s, so the trail will stop there. It does have promise, I look forward to seeing what he prepares,’ Salome said. She took John’s hand in hers and gave it a firm shake.
‘Wish me luck, then, I’m off. I think it’s time I got to know the Earl of Verney a mite better than he ever expected,’ she said. With a wry grin and a flash of her bright, unusual eyes, Salome was gone.
John shook his head and returned downstairs to rid the office of all traces of Salome’s work and presence. He wasn’t sure if his employer had stated herself quite correctly. What he could be certain of was that she did not need his wishes for luck. If he had guessed correctly, John should direct his thoughts towards one Donovan Tremaine instead. In the years he had known Salome Mercer, when she set her mind to something, come hell or high water, it was achieved. Now, it would seem to all appearances that she had set to mind to acquiring the Earl of Verney as a husband.
He whistled cheerfully to himself. In fact, forget wishes, Verney would need nothing short of prayer to help him now.

Salome left the alley and strolled across the street to the stables. Spying Donovan’s carriage at the corner, she smiled inwardly and nudged her collar up higher about her face. How predictable men are, she thought. Arriving at the stables, another coin tossed high got the same boy from that morning’s attention, and he rushed to get her horse ready.
When it arrived, she secured her papers in one of the saddlebags and swung a leg into the saddle. An impish thought occurred to her, so instead of directing her horse directly towards Town, she turned in the opposite direction, which would take her dangerously close to the Earl of Verney’s vehicle. She urged her horse into a canter, at the same time using one free hand to wrap the woolen scarf about her face before she passed him. A block later and that much closer to her temporary home, she at last let out a peal of laughter. Things were going very well thus far.

Donovan waited, watching the door of Kestrel Shipping closely. Time passed slowly, but he kept his mind busy with his designs and other things of note. At one point, he noticed a slight figure approach the stables and wait for his mount. He pondered briefly that the man’s small frame would make for an excellent jockey. He admired the rider as his horse’s gait changed into a canter, little knowing that the same rider he watched was none other than the very figure he was supposed to be looking for.
The sun lowered in the sky, and at last Donovan was forced to admit defeat. As he had presumed, no wayward secretary returned to fetch his fine overcoat and hat. John Bowles appeared briefly, locking the door behind him as he fetched supper from the tavern on a corner further down the street, but no one else made an appearance.
Drat, Donovan thought to himself. I am such a gudgeon. Of course, John Bowles would have rooms above his employment! Certainly, those apartments would have a rear stairwell leading to the alley and out at another location. Sinclair could have left the building at any time, and Donovan would never have been the wiser.
Feeling quite the dunderhead, Donovan signaled to his driver to return to his townhouse on Berkeley Square. He was tired, ill and hungry, so perhaps a trip to his club was in order. Worse still, since he had dismissed Madeline a week ago, he was feeling sorely in need of a woman as well. However, his fingers itched to commit to paper his ideas for new ships, and he was not inclined to find a woman to pay for one night’s companionship, so he settled for staying at home for the evening instead.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Salome - Chapter Two

Donovan Tremaine descended the steps of his carriage and looked about his surroundings. It was invigorating to be near the London Docks; it reminded him of home. Even after two years in England, since that fateful day an unknown solicitor arrived on his doorstep in Norfolk, Virginia to inform him that he had inherited the title of Earl of Verney, England would never truly be his home. The idea of being a nobleman had seemed absurd at the time, but curiosity and an odd sense of responsibility had led him to look into the matter.
He arrived in London to find the Earl’s affairs in disarray; properties largely in debt, a Parliamentary seat to fill on behalf of constituents he had never met, and then there was the matter of Society. Donovan had easily settled into the role of business manager as he took care of the estates, and had even made a few friends through connections in Parliament and acceptance at the prestigious men’s club, Brooke’s. No, it was the very idea of the ton, and their stodgy ways that Donovan found intolerable to deal with. He likened the aristocracy to a sea full of sharks, ready to devour a person whole.
It was upon the advice of his new friends that Donovan found himself a mistress, one Madeline Latham, the widowed Baroness of Vaughan. She was well schooled in the required norms, had entrée to the best social events, not to mention a healthy sexual appetite. Donovan had often found her too demanding of his time, but she tolerated his ‘colonial’ ways because it delighted her to be the object of attention. Landing the new, handsome, and scandalous Earl was the achievement of a lifetime in her mind.
Donovan strolled the boarded walkway, looking for the establishment he had been directed to, and a smirk twisted his lips as he thought of Madeline’s displeasure when he had informed her that he would no longer be requiring her ‘services’ as his mistress after the Regent’s ball the week before.
‘But darling, whatever do you mean?’ she had implored, attempting to use her feminine wiles to no effect. He had seen all of her tricks and was immune to her persuasions.
‘Try to listen more carefully, darling,’ Donovan had drawled. ‘Our association is at an end, simply put. I have already arranged for your things to be removed to your townhouse. You are not exactly without means of your own, and I am quite sure you will find another to take my place in no time.’ He had turned away from her pleadings with a casual shrug.
‘But I love you,’ Madeline had declared, saying the only thing she could think of to appeal to his softer feelings.
Donovan had turned on her with a sneer. ‘Do not try that with me, Madeline. We both know the only person you love is yourself. Consider instead that I am doing you a favor. It is the start of the Season, and there are other bachelors with larger pocketbooks and more important titles than mine. You will be fine. It is time that I moved on.’
Madeline had gaped at him. ‘You don’t mean-‘ she gave a harsh laugh. ‘Are you meaning to say you are looking for a wife, now?’
Her statement had taken Donovan by surprise, and he faced her again. Though it had been impressed upon him the importance of finding a suitable spouse so that he might secure an heir to the Verney line, he had not considered for a moment that he was ready for such an undertaking. The previous Earl had been woefully inept for such a simple matter, which was the only reason Donovan himself was taking up the reins of the title, but he was only twenty-nine. Surely he had plenty of time to consider the possibility. Then again, if a suitable lady were to present herself-
Donovan shook his head at such thoughts. None of the fair English roses he had been presented with had stirred an inkling of emotion in him. Most were far too meek, their breeding instilled in them too deeply. Those that were more outspoken were either too bookish or at worst, bound to end up in another man’s bed. No, if Donovan Tremaine were ever to take a wife, she first and foremost would need to be loyal, but preferably with a little more spark, and more interests than the latest fashions. He again longed to be back in America, where women spoke their minds and cared more about the fabric of a man’s character than the size of his wallet or what title they might sport.
Donovan had not bothered to give Madeline a response, leaving her to wonder what his plans for the future were. What business of hers was it if he did decide to marry? He had no intention of maintaining a mistress as well as a wife, if such were the case, and he certainly wasn’t about to marry her. Donovan believed wholeheartedly in the sanctity of marriage, his own dearly departed parents had been a prime example.
Dismissing his line of thought, Donovan spied the sign declaring the site of Kestrel Shipping. He had been directed to this particular business simply because it was owned by a fellow American. He still had interests to maintain back home, after all. Hopefully, one day, he would see Norfolk again.
The bell over the door rang, and John looked up from his desk. His eyes grew wide with surprise as he encountered the dark stare of none other than the Earl of Verney, recognizing him from the night of the Regent’s Ball, when he had followed Salome’s direction to look out for her as she conducted her ‘research’.
Donovan’s eyes narrowed as he recollected John’s large frame as well. When the man stood to greet him, even his tall frame seemed diminished next to the big man. Surely it was a coincidence that the same man he had seen across the way was now standing before him, reaching for his hand.
John recovered from his surprise quickly. It was a good thing he was able to think on his feet, it was one of the qualities that his employer, Salome Mercer, valued in him.
‘The Earl of Verney, if I am not mistaken,’ John shook Donovan’s hand and motioned for him to remove his hat and mantle. ‘To what do I owe the distinct and genuine pleasure of encountering a fellow American here in London today?’
‘You know who I am?’ Donovan enquired, looking about the space. He noted a greatcoat, far too small to fit the giant’s frame, hanging from a hook on the wall and raised a brow. Could it be possible that the mysterious Hawke Sinclair was actually in the same building? He knew that Sinclair’s ship was in port, but there had been no reported sightings of the enigmatic figure.
‘Of course, of course,’ John gestured to a comfortable chair, waiting for Donovan to be seated before returning to his own rest. ‘Who has not heard of the young American Earl? I tell you, it has been a matter of great interest for all Americans abroad. Imagine, out of nowhere, being plucked from your life and declared a member of the aristocracy overnight!’
‘Yes, it has been quite a matter of discussion for many, I am afraid,’ Donovan schooled his features into one of passive disinterest.
‘Indeed, I was just discussing with Mr. Sinclair last week in fact, that we should make your acquaintance. I am John Bowles, by the way, I see to all operations of our London office here for Mr. Sinclair.’ John breathed a silent sigh of relief, hoping he had explained the Earl’s sighting of him at the Ball. He distinctly recalled how the perceptive Donovan Tremaine had picked him out of the crowd. It wasn’t like he blended in very well. He just hoped that Salome’s cover had been sufficient to disguise her in the dark beside him.
‘Is Mr. Sinclair available?’ Donovan gestured to the coat and hat hanging behind him.
‘Oh no, that belongs to our secretary, he stepped out just a moment ago to acquire some luncheon,’ John explained. ‘Mr. Sinclair rarely comes to the office.’
‘Your secretary left his coat and hat behind?’
‘Yes, well, you know how it is, we Americans rarely stand on ceremony amongst our fellows,’ John laughed. ‘The gentleman is rather forgetful, anyhow.’ John hoped Donovan would accept his explanation, and as the man in question relaxed in his seat, it appeared that he had.
‘It is quite unfortunate I was unable to catch Mr. Sinclair himself. I was hoping to discuss a matter of business with him,’ Donovan ventured.
John straightened in his chair, placing his large hands on his desk. ‘Mr. Sinclair has entrusted me with all matters of business on his behalf, as proxy. He is quite a busy man, you know, and has other affairs to attend to beside this small shipping firm.’
Donovan raised a dark brow again. ‘You do yourself an injustice. I would say that since Mr. Sinclair’s acquisition of Kestrel Shipping two years ago, you have increased your number of offices worldwide threefold, as well as doubling the size of your fleet of ships.’
John whistled, impressed. ‘You have done your research, then.’
‘I make it a point never to proceed in business matters without being fully informed,’ Donovan replied.
John could not restrain a laugh. He sounded as serious as Salome did. Of course, they were both accurate on that point in many respects. ‘Indeed. Then you have much in common with Mr. Sinclair. It is my understanding that you yourself have managed to turn around your own holdings here in England after many years of neglect from the previous Earl, as well as maintaining your shipbuilding company in Norfolk, and at quite a distance from home.’ He leaned back, allowing Donovan time to absorb that fact that he was well informed about the Earl as well.
‘I am impressed at your knowledge about my affairs,’ Donovan replied testily. It was no secret that he had worked hard to increase his fortunes in the last few years.
‘Yes, well it does pay, especially in these tense times between our nations, to be up to speed on what our fellow Americans are up to here in England,’ John ventured.
Donovan digested the subtle tone John employed. He was curious about the implications the man suggested. Could it be that Mr. Sinclair was working to gain knowledge about the British, right under their noses? If so, a partnership could be beneficial to them both. He would need to be careful about his approach here. He opted to bring the discussion back to his reason for coming today, leaving all innuendo aside for the moment.
‘I am more curious about Kestrel Shipping’s plans for further expansion,’ he began. ‘Of course, if you continue at your projected growth, I cannot help but wonder how you will increase your fleet to fill the demand for your services. Especially in a political climate between England and the Continent that requires both speed and dependability from your ships.’
John laughed again. ‘Not one for subtlety, eh? Wondering who does all that shipbuilding for us?’
Donovan relaxed, smiling at the amiable giant. He waited for John to expound further.
‘Well, at the moment, we do not have a dedicated shipbuilder. We have acquired most of our current fleet from smaller companies that are finding it difficult to grow. Of course, we face stiff competition from the likes of the East India Company and such. Though I am unaware of any plans Mr. Sinclair has to reach such a large client base, we do hope to be able to provide exclusive services for American interests at home and abroad,’ John said. ‘What are you suggesting?’
Donovan leaned forward. ‘My father built his business from scratch, arriving in the colonies shortly before the Revolution. Of course, any Patriotic shipbuilder in time of war was able to turn a profit constructing ships for the fledgling American Navy, and we continue to do a brisk business in that arena.’
‘It must be difficult to separate your American and British interests,’ John hinted.
‘Of course, as the son of a Patriot, late removed from England, I have garnered some censure,’ Donovan hedged. ‘However, since the two nations are currently at peace and nearly twenty years of American Independence past, I think people are warming up to me.’
John smiled genially, saying nothing. He waved a hand for Donovan to continue.
Donovan leaned back, folding his hands together in front of him. ‘It is a matter of great importance to me that I secure steady work for my employees in Norfolk by producing ships that can increase our nation’s reach. That being said, I feel that we have similar interests, and would like to discuss the possibility of an exclusive contract to build vessels for Kestrel Shipping.’
‘Now that is an interesting proposition,’ John replied slowly. ‘One I feel certain Mr. Sinclair would find intriguing as well. Do you have any original designs you could present for me to share with him?’
‘I have a portfolio of a few ideas that might prove useful for your consideration. I would be happy to have them delivered to you forthwith,’ Donovan was delighted at the prospect.
‘Of course, I am sure that you would agree, any designs would need to consider not only cargo size, but as well as a sizeable defense, from pirates and the like,’ John said.
‘Yes, of course, pirates are a nuisance,’ Donovan agreed. That and the Royal Navy’s pressgangs. Both men were careful not to mention the British penchant for dragging American sailors off their own vessels to become sailors in His Majesty’s Service. ‘All of my designs take defense, as well as speed and maneuverability into account.’
John mulled this over for a moment. He knew some of Salome’s future plans, which had been somewhat derailed by her circumstances here in London. Regardless of the outcome in that arena, she would want to see them come to fruition. Kestrel Shipping, owned as it was under the pseudonym of Hawke Sinclair, was the only prospects she had, aside from a considerable dowry that was hers to keep, if she failed in her mission to find a suitable mate. Her other property would be forcefully taken from her if she did not. Though John hoped that would not be the case, he considered it his responsibility to look after her interests. Of course, Salome herself would say that it was not really her interests, but her brother Nathan’s.
‘I think we may be able to come to an agreement, though I cannot promise exclusivity at this time. If you would put together a proposal, I would be happy to present it to Mr. Sinclair for consideration,’ John said as he came to his feet. He reached his hand out to Donovan to indicate their meeting was at an end.
Donovan rose to stand as well, taking the firm grip John offered. ‘I had hoped to discuss the matter with Mr. Sinclair personally,’ he said hopefully. There was no doubt in his mind that Hawke Sinclair was a shrewd businessman, and his appointed man served him well.
‘Mr. Sinclair does not meet with any clients personally,’ John said. His face became impassive, brooking no argument. It was apparent he considered the matter closed.
‘In that case, I take my leave, Mr. Bowles,’ Donovan said. Though disappointed for the time being, he was satisfied that his proposal would be genuinely considered, though he had a few niggling notions at the back of his mind that begged to be examined.
As the Earl of Verney left the offices of Kestrel Shipping, the foremost was the thought that from all appearances, Hawke Sinclair had the inclination and the resources to build his own personal navy. Which led to his next thought- Could that mystery figure be leaning towards the idea of privateering should things between America and Britain come to a head?
All in all, there was much to be considered when it came to Sinclair and Kestrel Shipping, and how much he was willing to involve himself. Donovan ordered his driver to pull around the corner so he could observe the front door of the establishment. He did not for one minute believe John Bowles’ story about an absent secretary. He would be willing to make a bet at Brooke’s this very instant that Mr. Hawke Sinclair was inside that building.
He tried to turn his thoughts to new ideas for fast and efficient ship designs as he waited. At last, he was relieved to have something other than the idea of marriage and women, which had consumed him earlier in the day, to think about.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Salome - Chapter One

Chapter One

Though much of the city still slept, the London Docks were already bustling in the early grey fog that commonly preceded dawn. Ships were being unloaded, vendors were setting up wares, and the air was filled with the sound of carts rumbling over cobblestones, and the curses of their drivers and passersby. Through this hubbub, a caped figure rode astride a fine gray gelding, coming to a stop in front of the stables that served the needs of the many clients and business owners of the various warehouses that lined the street fronting the docks.
A wide-brimmed hat and the high collar of the mantle hid the features of the rider, who gracefully dismounted with a light bounce of the feet. Tossing a coin to the stable boy who rushed forward to fetch the reins, the rider strode away with a graceful gait. Tall black Hessian boots, polished to a high shine, resounded on the wooden planks that served as a walkway beside the busy street. These same steps came to a halt outside a small building whose sign proclaimed it the offices of Kestrel Shipping, and the rider stepped inside.
As the bell mounted over the door rang, John Bowles looked up to greet his visitor. He smiled as he recognized his employer.
‘Good Morning, Sinclair,’ he said with a grin.
With a flourish, the mysterious figure removed the wide-brimmed hat, and a tumble of black curls descended about Sinclair’s shoulders. Had anyone cared to give the rider outside any real scrutiny, they might have noticed a form more slender, feet more delicate, and certainly features more feminine than even the most foppish dandy. However, the woman standing before John Bowles knew that all too often, casual viewers only took in what their eyes perceived, a smallish figure of a man, clad in buff breeches and long coat, not the woman who wore them.
‘Morning, John,’ she said with a grin.
For all that London knew, Kestrel Shipping was owned by the very private figure known only as Hawke Sinclair. In reality, the name was nothing but a convenient moniker to hide the truth, that Sinclair was really a woman whose true name was Salome Mercer. Women of her time were usually relegated to the drawing rooms, but necessity dictated that Salome take on all aspects of the business that had been started by her brother Nathan some years before.
John lifted a package from his desk and held it before him as Salome removed her coat, revealing a loose white shirt and dark waistcoat. Not even the manly attire she wore could hide the luscious curves that made up her body.
‘This arrived for you earlier by courier,’ John said as Salome took the package from him. ‘It is marked E.J. Lindsay. I presume it contains the information you were looking for.’
Salome grinned, and the delicate features of her face were transformed as her red lips curled into a smile. Despite her choice in garb, there was no doubt that Salome Mercer was a beautiful woman. Her long black hair curled about her as it escaped from the loose braid she wore, and her eyes lit up with a calculating gleam. The pale skin of her cheeks glowed from the cold morning air, and John never failed to be amazed at the startling color of her eyes. They were a pale green, nearly colorless, though they could darken to a brilliant peridot when Salome was stirred to emotion.
‘Excellent,’ Salome declared, tucking the package beneath her arm. ‘How are the invoices coming?’
‘The usual shipments of tobacco and hemp from Virginia arrived yesterday. The crew experienced no problems during transport, so I expect the inventory to be complete by this afternoon. There are a couple of new contracts for you to look over, but things are still tight across the Continent. We can continue to charge a premium for shipments to Britain’s allies as long as Napoleon remains in power,’ John replied.
‘Well, that continues to be good for us for the time being,’ Salome replied distantly. She smelled coffee, and poured herself a cup from the pot John had close to hand. Her thoughts were already occupied with her future plans, which all hinged on the contents of the parcel she had yet to open. ‘Carry on, then,’ she said quickly as she stepped inside her office and shut the door behind her.
John shook his head as Salome disappeared from view. The large blonde man had been her constant companion for nearly two years now, since the disappearance of her brother at sea and the upheaval caused by it. He knew what Salome was about, and though he could not wholly approve of her methods, he had to admit that her actions were shrewd. Not many women in her position would take such steps to secure their futures, but Salome liked to be prepared for all possible outcomes. Despite his towering frame and hulking appearance, John had a soft heart, and Salome was like a daughter to him. He would not like to see her hurt in any manner.
Salome tried to steel her nerves as she settled into her deep leather chair. The package before her was substantial, and she had no doubts that the files contained within would be as thorough as she had requested. E.J. Lindsay was the most competent investigator she had ever employed, though she had never met him in person. In Lindsay’s line of work, discretion was a necessity, and Salome knew firsthand that privacy was a premium in many instances.
Taking a deep draught of the hot coffee, Salome considered the chain of events she was about to put into motion. Two years ago, her older brother Nathan had mysteriously disappeared on a routine trip to the Caribbean. His ship had returned with a report that Nathan had gone ashore to complete delivery of goods and secure a return cargo, but he had never returned to his ship. Coincidentally, a British frigate had left port around the same time, and Salome had been convinced that her brother had been impressed by the Royal Navy. She had launched inquiries, but they had come to naught. If Nathan Mercer had indeed been captured by the British and forced aboard one of their warships, no one was admitting to it.
Nathan’s affairs had quickly unraveled, and Salome met John Bowles during that time. Though she was Nathan’s sister, and familiar with the workings of the shipping business he had worked so hard to build, she had been denied the opportunity to purchase Kestrel Shipping when it was put up for auction. Nathan was not married and had left no heir to take over his interests, not even a proxy to allow Salome to inherit in his absence. She was only a woman after all, and with no spouse of her own to speak for her, she had been forced to sit idly by as Nathan’s possessions were auctioned after he was declared officially lost at sea six months after his disappearance.
With John Bowles’ help, Salome created the persona of Hawke Sinclair, using her own personal assets to purchase what was left of Kestrel Shipping, and had been continuing the operation of the business until she could find out what happened to her brother. Thus far, her search had come up empty-handed. The British government would never admit to taking a legitimate American citizen and forcing them into service aboard one of their ships. She had been held off with stories of pirates and unfortunate accidents, and been told to accept the inevitable. For all intents and purposes, Nathan Mercer was dead. Salome refused to believe such nonsense, and continued on.
Salome could have been content, she knew, if only recent developments had forced her into a new and decidedly more difficult dilemma. Nathan and Salome had lost both of their parents by the time she was sixteen. Nathan was of age at the time and took on the care of his young sister, but at the same time wanted to make his own way in the world. The Mercers owned a large plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, growing tobacco and hemp, and it had been left to both siblings equally. With Salome’s blessing, Nathan had sold his share of the property to his sister and made his way to the sea, where he began Kestrel Shipping. He was a natural and was quickly making a name for himself, up until his disappearance.
After the auction of Kestrel Shipping, Salome took to sea and left the care and operation of the plantation to her overseers. The property would run well in her absence, given the care that her father had taken.
 Never one to believe in the subjugation of another human being, Anthony Mercer had decried the usual operation of large properties, which dictated slave labor. Instead, he went out of his way to use his meager funds in the beginning to buy strong slave laborers, whereupon he gave them the opportunity to purchase their freedom through work. A strong sense of loyalty and trust was built between the Mercer family and their employees, and the former slaves were given a share in the profits of the plantation. There was no way any of them would trade their freedom by running the plantation into the ground through neglect.
However, Salome had been so concerned with her brother’s interests instead of her own, that she had been completely taken by surprise when she reached her majority on her twenty-first birthday last December and was apprised by her father’s attorney of the full conditions of her father’s will. She had raged at the time, uselessly, that she had not been apprised of his terms before now, but there was nothing to do about it.
Anthony Mercer had always hoped Salome would find a love match and marry on her own, allowing her time before his conditions were put into motion, and perhaps she would have, had Nathan not disappeared before then. Salome had been far too preoccupied to worry about such things as finding a husband. Indeed, she cared not if she never did. She was content to live out her life on the plantation, and there was always Nathan, whom she had no doubt would one day settle down, leaving her with plenty of nieces and nephews to dote on.
It was not that she was opposed to the idea of marriage; Salome’s parents had been deeply in love. In fact it was the depth of their commitment to each other that told Salome she would not need to settle for companionship or material comforts to make a match. It was simply that she found it impossible to be attracted to any of the men she met. Fiercely independent and intelligent, Salome could not find it in her to allow any man to be anything but her equal, especially when it came to marriage.
Thus it was that she was so outraged when she was informed that her father’s will demanded that she be wed by her twenty-second birthday, or her inheritance would go entirely to Nathan, who would then be responsible for her. All well and good, but Nathan was gone and without him, she stood to lose everything. The plantation she loved would be auctioned, the funds placed in trust for her care. These developments were what brought her to London now.
Before coming to America, Anthony Mercer had stood to inherit a wealthy estate. Instead, he had fallen in love with a woman deemed unacceptable by his family and been disinherited when he married her. Salome knew her father had sacrificed everything for love, but he had maintained a close relationship with his sister, Alexandra, who had made a good match with a Duke. Once, long ago, Salome remembered her father telling her that his beloved sister had promised to sponsor her in London Society. It was the hope that her Aunt would honor that promise that Salome hoped for now.
With her Aunt’s sponsorship, Salome could be introduced and have a Season, which as everyone knew, was the best possible hope she had to make a match before her birthday. She would not be unprepared, though. Before presenting herself on her Aunt’s doorstep to request that she fulfill her promise, Salome intended to be fully informed of all her possible prospects. Thus it was that last Friday night had found her beside John Bowles outside St. James palace, spying on the aristocracy and making a list of the most eligible bachelors Society had to offer.
Salome had forwarded her list to E.J. Lindsay and given the investigator one week to compile files for each one, so that she could determine her best possible match, even before she met any of the gentlemen in question in person. One could never be too careful in such matters, she reasoned. The more she knew about her possible suitors, the better. Salome thrust aside all thoughts of love and approached the matter of finding a husband with the same acumen she used in all her business affairs. She could only hope to find someone who would be willing to let her have her own interests, and not bother her too much.
Salome took out a sheet of paper and began to list the qualities she was looking for in her mate. Not too old or too young and impressionable. She required someone without a penchant for too much gambling, she would not stand for someone to risk her inheritance over a game of cards. Someone who was hard-working, cared for his interests, and not in debt. Salome chewed thoughtfully on the end of her quill as she tried to consider other requirements of her husband. When she could think of no further reason for delay, she opened the package that would help her decide her future.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Salome - Prologue

March 1, 1811 London, England
The crowd outside St. James Palace was still rather impressive, despite the slight chill in the air. Though the official start of the London Season lay a few weeks away, the newly appointed Prince Regent’s ball drew crowds of commoners in droves to view the spectacle of the aristocracy as they arrived for the event. There was no better way for those who could not afford expensive fashion plates to view the latest in fashionable attire for the ton than to mill around the edges of St. James Park whenever an event was hosted at the Palace. Uniformed guardsmen lined the drive to protect partygoers from the crowd, but they could not still the conversation that filled the air.
Despite the jostling, a pair of dark figures stood steadfast, eyes upon every figure that descended from the line of carriages. The larger of the two stood calmly, his arms crossed before him and presenting an imposing figure, garnering enough space so that the shorter spectator standing slightly behind him could remain undisturbed. This smaller figure was heavily cloaked from the cold breeze and prying eyes. The deep cowl of his hood rose and fell regularly as he eyed the carriages and their occupants, then lowering to scribble notes furiously into a small notebook.
The crowd took little notice of the curious figures in their midst. It was not uncommon for gossip reporters to hang about in mobs like this one, making note of who was whom amongst London’s elite, and the popular responses about them. Though the aristocracy took little care for what the populace might think of them, it was great fun for the general population to comment on their dress and their choice of companions.
Such was not the case for the pair of observers, though the smaller one making notes took care to listen to the muttered comments around him. It served his purpose well to be thought a gossip hound, but the truth behind his motives was far more devious. However, the running commentary provided by the crowd around him provided useful information as well.
‘Oh, look, there is the Lord and Lady Castlereagh-‘ someone noted the famed Patroness of Almack’s.
‘That color is just hideous-‘ another said about another noblewoman.
‘Of course, he would arrive with her, an engagement is expected soon-‘
‘That dandy!’
The commentary ranged far and wide; speculation about affairs and marriages, political bias, the lack of polish on someone’s boots. All was carefully noted by the cloaked figure. The line of carriages continued and began to slow, and the crowd began to disperse. The giant looked down as the hooded figure nodded and began to turn away, when one last carriage pulled up. The mob grew excited once more.
‘There he is, that half-breed-‘
The tone of the audience had certainly changed, attracting the attention of the pair of observers, who paused to see whom had arrived. The coat of arms on the side of the carriage indicated it belonged to the Earl Verney.
‘Thought that old goat died,’ someone said.
‘And with him the title, but they found an heir in America somewhere,’ replied another.
The two figures exchanged glances and moved back to their previous position to get a better view.
‘Some nephew, his father married one of the natives in the colonies, and supported the Revolution-‘ the rest of the words could not be made out in the press of people.
‘Been here two years now, trying to get some decency-‘
‘Failing, look at the trollop with him-‘
‘Handsome devil, he is, though, ain’t he?’
The smaller one tried to get a better look at the mysterious Earl Verney, but the carriage was blocking his line of sight. When it finally moved out of the way, all that could be seen of the Earl was his backside. Dark hair wore unfashionably long and unpowdered was pulled into a queue, but nothing could be seen of his face. The woman beside him that someone had referred to as a trollop was clad in a diaphanous cloud of blue, her blonde hair pulled high on her head.
As though sensing the crowd’s interest in him, the gentleman turned towards the mob in the park, at last revealing his face. His tanned visage was indeed handsome, with high cheekbones above a square jawline. His face was impassive, his lips a thin line as he scanned the press of faces briefly. Then, he did something wholly unexpected. He raised a hand and actually waved, acknowledging the crowd of onlookers! His previous serious demeanor relaxed into a wicked smile, flashing teeth that shone even and white, even in the dim light.
The crowd roared, loving the attention bestowed upon them. American half-breed or not, such behavior by one of the peer was just not seen.
‘Oh, that cheeky devil!’ a woman laughed, waving back enthusiastically.
The blonde woman on his arm scowled as she looked back at the crowd, tossing her curls imperiously. She tugged at his coat sleeve to try and regain her escort’s attention.
‘Really, Donovan, what are you doing?’ she pressed.
Donovan Tremaine, Earl Verney ignored her for the moment as he continued to scan the crowd, his rakish smile never wavering. From the corner of his eye, he noted a large man standing just behind the row of guards, dwarfing them with his size. Focusing on the giant, he became aware that the man was staring impassively at him. He lowered his arm, though his smile never wavered. The giant looked briefly downward, nodding at a hooded figure beside him. Something passed from the smaller man to the larger one, though he could not see what it was, and all his senses went on alert. Donovan could not make out a face in the deep cowl, though light briefly glittered off a pair of pale eyes as both figures turned away, blending into the crowd. At last, he returned his attention to his companion.
‘If one hopes to gain the support of one’s constituents, it is best not to ignore them,’ Donovan replied, his American accent gruff.
‘This isn’t Amersham, Donovan, and no one in that mob is one of your ‘constituents’,’ replied the blonde beauty beside him, her face twisting into an unattractive sneer. ‘Things are done differently here than they are in the colonies. Those people-‘ she waved vaguely behind her as they moved toward the Palace, ‘are not your equals. You are one of the ton, now, and you are expected to behave as such.’
Donovan scowled, his countenance darkening. ‘The United States of America,’ he stressed between clenched teeth, ‘ceased to be colonies nearly twenty years ago. And my presence amongst the peerage does nothing to change my philosophical views about my fellow man.’ He wondered to himself why he continued to dally with Madeline Latham. The beautiful widow had proven useful in gaining entrée into the upper echelons of Society in his early days as Earl, and was always a willing bed partner, but her snobbishness was a hindrance. He would have to think seriously about finding a new mistress this Season.
Madeline shrugged at Donovan’s history lesson as they entered the receiving line. ‘Save the philosophizing for your men’s club. This is a party, and I would like to enjoy myself. Seriously, Donovan, you can be such a bore sometimes,’ she said.
Donovan returned her nonchalant gesture. It was pointless to argue with Madeline, at any rate. He turned his mind to other things, but his thoughts kept returning to the mysterious figures in the crowd outside the Palace. It might amount to nothing and a mere coincidence alone that the pair seemed so fixed on him, but he was still considered a newcomer, and bound to be of interest to many. Still, considering some of his more clandestine activities, he would have to be careful in his conduct for the time being.