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His Mistress By Morning
By Elizabeth Boyle
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Elizabeth Boyle
All right reserved.
May 9, 1810
An Ordinary Wednesday, or at Least One Presumes So
If one were going to define what gave a family that air of prestige amongst their peers, set them apart in the bustling ton, first and foremost you would list those admirable qualities of respectability, social standing, and, most importantly, wealth.
Of course none of those things described the Earl of Walbrook or any of his five children--with the possible exception of the earl's eldest son and heir, Sebastian Marlowe, Viscount Trent.
But we'll get to him in a moment.
Luckily for the Marlowes, they rarely noticed their pariah status in Society. Snippy mentions in gossip columns were of no interest to them. And if they had a host of detractors, they had one very enthusiastic admirer.
Miss Charlotte Wilmont. She thought them the most glorious family in London.
Why, their cluttered house on Berkeley Square, which housed the odd objects that the earl sent home from his travels, the leftover stage sets and costumes from the countess's numerous private theatrical productions, Griffin's scientific experiments, Cordelia's Roman treasures, and Hermione and Viola's collections of neatly clipped fashion plates from The Ladies Fashionable Cabinet, was more oddmuseum than house, but it felt like home to Charlotte.
Even now, standing in the middle of the foyer, awaiting her best friend, Lady Hermione, and dreading the terrible news she had to tell her, Charlotte couldn't help but feel a sense that she, plain and ordinary Miss Wilmont, belonged here.
She could just imagine what her mother, Lady Wilmont, or Cousin Finella, with whom they lived, would say about that. Especially when faced with the ornately carved chest that stood front and center in the entryway, decorated as it was with a rather large male fertility statue standing tall and erect atop it.
The ebony phallus would have been banished to the dustbin at Cousin Finella's. Feeling a little bit guilty for even casting a curious glance in its direction, Charlotte forced her gaze over to the silver salver beside it, piled up as it was with mail and notes and calling cards for the family.
Envy tugged at her heart over the sight of such a friendly pile--for no one invited her to soirees and parties, called upon her cantankerous mother (for good reason), or sent lovingly penned letters expressing whatever it was one put into such tidings.
Surely Charlotte didn't know. No one had ever sent her a letter.
And atop it all sat the most coveted missive of all--an invitation to Lady Routledge's soiree.
Though Hermione had spent the last month expressing dread over having to attend the upcoming event, Charlotte knew her dear friend would have been positively distraught not to be invited. For Lady Routledge's annual evening had launched any number of young ladies from veritable obscurity onto that very coveted pedestal, the most sought after title a girl could attain: that of Original.
But to do that took a lady of some talent--able to sing, perhaps a dab hand on a pianoforte, or possess the composure to give a stirring and dramatic reading. Not that such a lack of proficiency didn't stop any number of hopefuls from getting up (or more to the point, being prodded up by their anxious mothers) and giving a rather, ahem, memorable performance.
Having had only lessons from Cousin Finella on the pianoforte, and neither an elocution or singing lesson, Charlotte would rather die than get up before the assembled ladies and lords, gossips and dandies, and make a cake of herself. So perhaps it was a good thing that society had forgotten Sir Nestor Wilmont's spinster daughter.
She was about to turn away from the overladen salver when a note peeking out from beneath the stack caught her attention, a tiding written in a neat feminine hand and addressed to The Right Hon. the Viscount Trent.
Sebastian, Charlotte sighed. Hermione's older brother and the heir to the Walbrook earldom.
Even as Charlotte rose up on her tiptoes and tried to spy some sort of indication who this missive was from (not that she couldn't make a very educated guess), the door from the back of the house swung open.
She straightened immediately, and to her horror, none other than Lord Trent himself strolled into the foyer. He was lost in thought and didn't even notice her as she shrank into the nearby curtains.
With his arrival, Charlotte went into a deep blush and that tongue-tied inability to sputter out any word that could be deemed intelligible.
Oh, bother, Charlotte, she chided herself, say something, anything.
What was it Hermione always said?
Truly, Charlotte, if you would but talk to him you would discover he is as dull as they come. Mother swears her real son was snatched away at birth and Sebastian left in his stead, for no child of hers could possess such a sensible nature!
A sensible nature? How could Hermione pronounce such a virtue as if it were a sin? Charlotte wondered as she peered out from the shadows of the curtains.
Certainly Sebastian's sensibility was one of his most endearing characteristics in her estimation. He'd taken over the family accounts and properties at an early age--just after his father had departed for his South Seas adventures ten years earlier. While the viscount's peers and friends had spent the last decade gadding about, Sebastian had kept the Marlowes afloat with careful management and a tight purse over his mother's and sisters' propensity for shopping.
Why, just look at what had happened to Charlotte and her mother when her own father had died! There had been no one to manage things, and as a result they lived with Cousin Finella.
And when Hermione exceeded her pin money, or one of Griffin's scientific experiments went awry and left half of Mayfair shaken from yet another explosion, or Viola brought home yet another stray dog, did Sebastian ever complain? Did he harangue them with lectures? . . .
Excerpted from His Mistress By Morning by Elizabeth Boyle Copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Boyle. Excerpted by permission.
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