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.

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