Best Laid Schemes

Overview


"Girls grow into ladies, dearest. It happens all the time."
"That is not a lady, madam. That is Sibyl Cameron."

So says Tarquin Rome, a rather stiff, superbly handsome earl who has been harassed by this irrepressible mishap-prone chit since boyhood. Why then would his mother invite Sibyl to his artfully planned house party?

Why, indeed. The lofty earl is hardly likely to notice that the beautiful Sibyl is no longer in pinafores and ...
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Overview


"Girls grow into ladies, dearest. It happens all the time."
"That is not a lady, madam. That is Sibyl Cameron."

So says Tarquin Rome, a rather stiff, superbly handsome earl who has been harassed by this irrepressible mishap-prone chit since boyhood. Why then would his mother invite Sibyl to his artfully planned house party?

Why, indeed. The lofty earl is hardly likely to notice that the beautiful Sibyl is no longer in pinafores and pigtails—especially since he has invited three Incomparables from which he will choose his bride. But when embarrassing and awkward moments transpire at his gathering, Tarquin can only blame Sibyl. Which hardly explains his increasing desire for her company—and her affection. . . .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780449002346
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/29/1998
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 196
  • Product dimensions: 4.21 (w) x 6.89 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Read an Excerpt



Tarquin drummed his fingers against the arm of his chair. It would not do
at all to engage his mother in a conversation about the values of either
literature or the collection of it. Her idea of a good debate was winging
an endless series of nonsensical questions at him. "My books are rather
like everything else in this house. Rather like the house. I possess them
during my lifetime, admire their glory, then pass them on for the next
earl to possess and enjoy."

"You take that responsibility very seriously, don't you, dearest?"

"Of course I do." It was galling to even consider it otherwise. "I will do
everything in my power to keep the line going."

"Everything?"

"To be sure. I could do no less."

The countess brushed several crumbs to the floor, ignoring her son's
scowl. Then she neatly folded her napkin and linked her hands in her lap.
"I am so very glad to hear you say so. May I assume this upcoming event
will be the last of your shopping parties?"

"Shopping parties, madam?"

"Exhibitions, then. Less vulgar."

Tarquin was appalled. "We are hosting a house party, Mother. We have done
so several times since the Season ended."

The countess's mouth thinned. "No, Tarquin, we have not. You have arranged
to conduct several endless affairs that have amounted to no more than
exhibitions for you to examine potential brides. And which have amounted
to nothing!"

"You cannot expect me to choose a wife without proper deliberation,
surely." The very concept was unthinkable.

"I do not, dear." His mother's face softened for a moment. "I want only
for youto be happy. But"--the steel returned to her eyes--"the time has
come for you either to make your choice or commence with another year of
bachelorhood. I will not play hostess any longer to a train of simpering,
cooing misses whose attempts to prove themselves the most beautiful, the
most accomplished, the most sporting young ladies in the realm run the
staff ragged and turn the house quite upside down. It is exhausting,
Tarquin, and it is a thumping bore!"

Stunned, he leaned back in his chair. "I had no idea you felt this way."

"Of course you did not. I happen to be the most sporting lady in the realm
and have tolerated your endless deliberations because it is time for you
to wed, and because I love you. You are a big boy now, nearly
one-and-thirty, and quite capable of coming to a decision."

Some of the vinegar went out of her then. "Sweetheart, you have managed to
reduce the field to three. To that end, we will be having Lady Theresa
Wardour, and the Honorable Misses Caroline Reynolds and Elspeth Vaer with
their respective mamas, papas, maids, and quite possibly pets. Do you
think you will be able to make an offer to one of them within the next
fortnight?"

"One of the pets?" Tarquin asked blandly.

"Well, bravo, dearest. You actually made a jest." The countess returned an
equally bland smile. "Well?"

Tarquin looked at the clock. A quarter past. Their teatime was over. "I
will not be rushed in this decision, Mother. But if it sets your heart at
ease, I will promise to make every effort to settle upon one of the young
ladies during their visit."

"Thank you ever so much, Tarquin. I may die in peace now."

He shot her a look, but she was one of the few women of his acquaintance
who could indulge in biting sarcasm with the expression of an angel. "Try
not to expire before next Tuesday, Mother. We have guests coming, and I
wouldn't have the slightest idea in which rooms to put them."

"Very good, my love. You have now graduated to witty." The countess rose
and, when he followed, reached up to pat his cheek. "Do something for me,
if you will."

"Certainly."

"Avoid the haircut this week."

Tarquin scowled down at her. His valet had trimmed his hair each Wednesday
for the past ten years. "For heaven's sake, why?"

"You are too severe, dearest. You might frighten off your young ladies
before you have the chance to choose among them. Besides, you used to have
the most charming little curls above your ears when you were--"

"Mother."

"Oh, very well. But you will forsake the shears for a fortnight?"

He sighed. "I will consider it, though since our lovely trio has not been
frightened off to date, I think the concept absurd."

"I know you do, dearest." The countess stroked the rigidly controlled
black wings above his ears and sighed. "One more thing. I have invited a
companion for myself."

"Oh?"

"Lady Leverham."

Tarquin closed his eyes briefly, counted five. "Mother, she is--and I say
this with the utmost respect--a menace."

"Nonsense. She is my oldest friend and charming company."

"She prattles."

"She is a lively conversationalist."

"She pries."

His mother smiled. "I do so love a good bit of gossip. I get none from
you."

Tarquin gave up. It would be wholly uncivil to do otherwise. "For your
sake, I will be happy to welcome her."

"You are a good boy, Tarquin, if hopelessly stuffy." The countess breezed
toward the door. "By the way," she said over her shoulder, "she will be
bringing Galahad."

"The monkey? Oh, Mother." He gritted his teeth, trying not to remember
what the blasted creature had left inside his boots on its last visit.
"Very well." He would simply remember to keep his chamber door locked.

"And Sibyl."

This time, Tarquin allowed himself the faintest of groans. "Must she?"

"Of course, dearest."

"God give me strength. Sibyl."

The celebratory Egyptian cheroot had suddenly lost its appeal.

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