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A Gentleman's Honor
The Bastion Club
Montrose Place, London
March 15, 1816
"We've a month before the Season begins, and already the harpies are hunting in packs." Charles St. Austell sank into one of the eight straight-backed chairs around the mahogany table in the Bastion Club's meeting room.
"As we predicted." Anthony Blake, sixth Viscount Torrington, took the chair opposite. "The action in the marriage mart seems close to frenetic."
"Have you seen much of it, then?" Deverell sat beside Charles. "I have to admit I'm biding my time, lying low until the Season begins."
Tony grimaced. "My mother might be resident in Devon, but she has a worthy lieutenant in my godmother, Lady Amery. If I don't appear at her entertainments at least, I can be assured of receiving a sharp note the next morning, inquiring why."
There were laughs -- resigned, cynical, and commiserating -- from the others as they took their seats. Christian Allardyce, Gervase Tregarth, and Jack Warnefleet all sat, then, in concert, all eyes went to the empty chair beside Charles.
"Trentham sends his regrets." At the head of the table, Christian didn't bother keeping a straight face. "He didn't sound all that sincere. He wrote that he had more pressing engagements, but wished us joy in our endeavors. He expects to be back in town in a week, however, and looks forward to supporting the six of us through our upcoming travails."
"Kind of him," Gervase quipped, but they were all grinning.
Trentham -- Tristan Wemyss -- had been the first of their number to successfully achieve his goal, the same goal they all were intent on attaining. They all needed to marry; that common aim had spawned this, their club, their last bastion against the matchmakers of the ton.
Of the six of them as yet unwed, gathered this evening to share the latest news, Tony felt sure he was the most desperate, although why he felt so restless, so frustrated, as if poised for action yet with no enemy in sight, he couldn't fathom. He hadn't felt so moody in years. Then again, he hadn't been a civilian, an ordinary gentleman, for years, either.
"I vote we meet every fortnight," Jack Warnefleet said. "We need to keep abreast of events, so to speak."
"I agree." Gervase nodded across the table. "And if any of us has anything urgent to report, we call a meeting as needed. Given the pace at which matters move in the ton, two weeks is the limitby then, the ground has shifted."
"I've heard the patronesses of Almack's are thinking of opening their season early, such is the interest."
"Is it true one still has to wear knee breeches?"
"On pain of being turned away." Christian raised his brows. "Although I've yet to ascertain just why that would be painful."
The others laughed. They continued trading information -- on events, the latest fashions and tonnish distractions -- eventually moving on to comment and caution on individual matrons, matchmaking mamas, dragons, gorgons, and the like -- all those who lay in wait for unsuspecting eligible gentlemen with a view to matrimonially ensnaring them.
"Lady Entwhistle's one to avoidonce she sinks her talons into you, it's the devil of a job to break free."
It was their way of coping with the challenge before them.
They'd all spent the last decade or more in the service of His Majesty's government as agents acting in an unofficial capacity scattered throughout France and neighboring states, collecting information on enemy troops, ships, provisions, and strategies. They'd all reported to Dalziel, a spymaster who lurked, a spider in the center of his web, buried in the depths of Whitehall; he oversaw all English military agents on foreign soil.
They'd been exceedingly good at their jobs, witness the fact they were all still alive. But now the war was over, and civilian life had caught up with them. Each had inherited wealth, title, and properties; all were wellborn, yet their natural social circle, the haut ton -- the gilded circle to which their births gave entrée and in which their titles, properties, and the attendant responsibilities made participation obligatory -- was an arena of operations largely unknown to them.
Yet in gathering information, evaluating it, exploiting it -- in that they were experts, so they'd established the Bastion Club to facilitate mutual support for their individual campaigns. As Charles had described it with typical dramatic flair, the club was their secured base from which each would infiltrate the ton, identify the lady he wanted as his wife, and then storm the enemy's position and capture her.
Sipping his brandy, Tony recalled that he'd been first to point out the need for a safe refuge. With a French mother and French godmother intent on encouraging any and all comers to bat their lashes at himboth ladies were aware such a tactic was guaranteed to make him take the matter of finding a wife into his own hands without delay -- it had been he who had sounded the warning. The ton was not safe for such as they.
Set on in the gentlemen's clubs, hounded by fond papas as well as gimlet-eyed matrons, all but buried beneath the avalanche of invitations that daily arrived at their doors, life in the ton as an unmarried, wealthy, titled, eminently eligible gentleman was these days fraught with danger.
Too many had fallen on the battlefields of the Peninsula, and more recently at Waterloo.
They, the survivors, were marked men.
They were outnumbered, but they'd be damned if they'd be outgunned.
They were experts in battle, in tactics, and strategy; they weren't about to be taken. If they had any say in it, they would do the taking.
That was, at the heart of it, the raison d'être of the Bastion Club ... A Gentleman's Honor. Copyright © by Stephanie Laurens. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.