Honor Besieged

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Theresa Thaleman was spirited, headstrong and lovely. She longed for adventure. When the Duke of Ashford shot her brother, she got her wish. A London Season, the attention of the cynical duke, and a jilted mistress's jealousy. What more could a young lady ask for? Regency Romance by Gayle Buck; originally published by Signet
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Theresa Thaleman was spirited, headstrong and lovely. She longed for adventure. When the Duke of Ashford shot her brother, she got her wish. A London Season, the attention of the cynical duke, and a jilted mistress's jealousy. What more could a young lady ask for? Regency Romance by Gayle Buck; originally published by Signet
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451163615
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/1/1990
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Miss Theresa Thaleman sat in the drawing room, embroidering. The expression on her face was one of utter boredom. Her companion, a worthy lady by the name of Miss Letitia Brown, cast a knowing glance at her charge. She knew that sewing was not one of Miss Thaleman's favorite occupations. As a matter of fact, Theresa cared nothing for any of those accomplishments deemed so necessary to the education of a young lady of breeding. In her seventeenth year, Theresa had quite disappointed her mother by clinging stubbornly to her tomboyish, hoydenish ways. Mrs. Thaleman had quite unreasonably blamed the good-humored squire for Theresa's waywardness.

"As I have perhaps told you before, Miss Brown, there is a want of propriety, I may even say nicety, in the squire that cannot but improperly influence my daughter. Theresa worships her father, as well she should, but he encourages those tendencies of independence that are not becoming in a female. Why, if I had dared to challenge my brothers to footraces or to climb trees in my best frocks, my father would have whipped me within an inch of my life!" said Mrs. Thaleman.

Miss Brown had attempted to give her employer's mind a turn for the better. "Miss Thaleman does dance very prettily," she said quietly.

Mrs. Thaleman's face lighted up. "Theresa does float on a dance floor, does she not? My dear friends do try to disguise their envy when their own flat-footed progeny lumber about like so many graceless hippos, but I am well able to read their feelings, believe me! But I cannot countenance this new dance. The waltz! It is all one hears about. So fast! So daring! Yes, and so scandalous! I will not have my daughter clasped to a man'sbosom and whirled about with such abandon!"

Miss Brown, who, as a lover of dance, had often sympathized with Miss Thaleman's frustration at her mother's old-fashioned notions, made a decided pitch on her charge's behalf. "Perhaps the waltz is all that you say it is, Mrs. Thaleman, but I wonder if Miss Thaleman will not become something of a wallflower when all her young friends have taken up this latest craze." She left it at that, but was satisfied by the startled look in Mrs. Thaleman's eyes that she had pointed out a vastly unpleasant possibility. Mrs. Thaleman would not desire to see her pretty daughter upstaged by vastly inferior dancers.

Miss Brown was recalling this conversation, and its pleasant outcome, as she glanced over at Miss Thaleman. "Miss Thaleman, I am informed by your mother that she has reconsidered her objections to the waltz. You are to begin having lessons next week," she said calmly.

Theresa looked up quickly, amazement in her dark eyes. Miss Brown smiled at her questioning gaze and nodded. Theresa threw aside her embroidery hoop and leapt up from the sofa. "Oh, Miss Brown! It is too, too marvelous! Did she really? I can scarcely believe it." She grabbed Miss Brown's hands and pulled that protesting lady from her seat to dance her about the room. "Dear, dear Miss Brown! I know it can only be due to you! You are a Trojan!"

Laughing and protesting, Miss Brown was finally let go by her exuberant charge. Breathless, she sank down once more in her chair. She tucked back a loosened curl. "You mustn't use slang, Theresa, dear," she said automatically and with as little effect as in the past. Theresa continued to whirl about the room, humming. Miss Brown was startled to discern a pattern to her charge's steps. "Theresa, where did you learn to waltz?" she asked slowly.

Theresa stopped and had the grace to look repentant. "Now, do not scold, dear, dear Miss Brown! I begged and begged Barbara to show me, which she was very reluctant to do, so you mustn't blame her in the least."

Miss Brown had no intention of blaming Miss Barbara Trisham, who was Theresa's best friend and confidante. She thought of Miss Trisham as a very good sort of girl and a good influence on Theresa. But Miss Trisham could be, too, somewhat weak of character when it came time to resist some of Theresa's outlandish notions of fun. "I do not in the least think disparagingly of Miss Trisham. I know very well who is to blame in this," she said with a significant glance.

Theresa laughed gaily and with a pert, saucy look curtsied. "I thank you, ma'am!"

Miss Brown sighed. She had often thought that Miss Thaleman's unspoilt good nature and her outgoing ways were a very dangerous combination. Already there were those who considered Miss Thaleman of a flirting nature, when she was nothing more than an innocent. "You are incorrigible, Theresa." She neatly folded up her completed mending and rose to her feet. "I am going now to consult with Mrs. Higgins. Pray be so good as to finish that piece I have given you. I should like to show an example of your progress, such as it is, to Mrs. Thaleman this evening. I must earn my keep, you know." She spoke the last with a flicker of a smile.

Theresa hugged her companion swiftly. "You are priceless and you know it, Miss Brown. And so I shall tell Mama if she dares to say otherwise. I shall show her that you have persuaded me to wear a corset. That shall win her over!"

"If you must, but I pray not over dinner," said Miss Brown dryly. Miss Thaleman laughed at that and promised to finish the hated embroidery. Miss Brown left the drawing room, satisfied that the task would be done. Miss Thaleman was not a shirker of duty once she had given her word.

Theresa picked up the embroidery hoop. Sighing, she resigned herself to an awful morning. She pushed the needle willy-nilly through the linen and stabbed her finger. "Oh!" Hastily she dropped the hoop and put the wounded finger in her mouth. Theresa glared at the offending embroidery. It was simply no use, she thought rebelliously.

The drawing-room door opened. A young man, obviously inclined toward the dandy set, entered. The Honorable George Bennett wore starched shirt points that aspired to hide his high cheekbones. His wasp-waisted coat was padded ridiculously wide through the shoulders. His cravat was intricately tied, but it was his bane that it yet failed to reach the peak of perfection of the Corinthian set.

"George!" Theresa rushed out of her chair, her ill humor forgotten. She flung her arms heedlessly around her cousin's neck.

Her beloved cousin broke her grasp, saying peevishly, "Dash it, Teri! Never grab a fellow that way. Look what you've done to my neckcloth. It isn't nice to muss up a fellow's efforts." He turned to the mirror over the mantel to inspect the damage.

"I am sorry, George. It is only that I have not seen you in months and I have been so bored," said Theresa, her face stricken as she watched him twitch and poke at the cravat.

George's frowning expression dissipated. He was fond of his younger cousin and could not long remain angry with her. "It is not so bad, after all. No need to come the tragic on me, my girl. I know you didn't mean it. What have you been up to this morning? When I arrived last night I was immediately informed by the squire of a new addition to the stables. I quite thought you would have been down inspecting the new mare."

"I have been doing embroidery," said Theresa flatly.

George stared at her with incredulity and revulsion. "No! What the devil do you want to do that for?"

"I don't wish to do it. It is Miss Brown's idea, so that she may show Mama that I am improving," said Theresa, making a face.

"It sounds a waste of time to me," said George frankly. "You've no knack for it, or for anything else, if it comes to that. You'd do much better to throw it over and come out with me to see the mare."

Theresa was sorely tempted, but shook her head. She picked up the embroidery hoop that had fallen to the carpet in her impetuous greeting and sat down on the sofa with it. "I've promised Miss Brown to finish it, George, and so I shall." She gave a huge sigh.

"Why ever did you tell old Brownie that? Mighty cork-brained of you, my girl," said George, turning once more to the mirror to inspect his appearance. He flicked a mote of fluff from his sleeve.

"Mama has agreed to allow me to take lessons in the waltz," said Theresa, industriously plying her needle.

George turned, his brows rising. He whistled in low amazement. "So Brownie came through for you, did she? Now I understand about the embroidery."

"Yes, I felt that I owed Miss Brown at least that much. So you see, George, that I must finish it even if it kills me," said Theresa. She paused to look critically at the stitches she had set. They were not as smooth as Miss Brown's, but she shrugged. Even her mother could not expect perfection from one of her lack of talent.

Looking at his cousin, George was suddenly struck by her appearance. With the embroidery hoop in her hands, her posture appeared perfectly demure. She wore her dark hair in the latest cropped style, and her saffron gown was very prettily finished with lace. The sunlight coming in the window highlighted the fresh lines of her cheek and slender neck. "Do you know, you have changed. It is almost frightening. At this moment you look the very picture of a quiet, well-bred young lady. I am not certain that I like to see my hoyden cousin appearing so grown-up," George said.

"Oh, George! I may look different, but that is mostly Miss Brown's doing. I am still the same inside," said Theresa with a saucy grin.

He laughed and shook his head. "I don't know, Theresa. I suspect that those trappings must rub off on one. You may become a lady despite yourself."

Theresa threw the embroidery hoop at him. He ducked, but not quickly enough. "There, now! So much for your theory! My aim has not been the least bit affected, George Bennett, and neither has the rest of me," she said, tossing her head.

George rubbed his head where the wooden frame had caught him a smart clip. "Quite," he said ruefully. He bent to pick up the embroidery frame and glanced at the design as he took it over to his cousin. "I do not mean to wound you, Teri, but I cannot quite make out what these are."

"Those are roses," said Theresa with dignity. She took the hoop but set it aside on the sofa. She was tired of embroidering and she promised herself that she would finish it later. "Michael wrote to me and so I know you were to visit at Oxford. Now, tell me how you found the twins. I have not seen them for ages."

"Well, you shall soon enough. They are coming down from Oxford," George said.

Theresa stared at him in dismay. "Oh, no, they have not been given the sack again! Mama will frown ever so hard. What is it for this time?"

"I believe there was a heated discussion on the merits of permitting donkeys in the classroom," said George. "The twins naturally took the unpopular view that any jackass had a perfect right to enjoy a classical education."

Theresa went into a peal of laughter. "That is just like them! And Father will not be able to say a word about it, for that is just what he is constantly telling the aldermen who begrudge the wages of a tutor for the poorhouse children. But with you to fuss over, even Mama will be less inclined to kick up a dust over Michael and Holland."

"That is one reason for my being here," said George. He laced his fingers about his knee and leaned back on the sofa, wearing a faint grin.

Theresa eyed her cousin. She knew that certain turn of his mouth when he was well-pleased about something. "George, what is it? What have you done? Pray tell me! I am about to go mad, what with lessons and decorum and ... and ... oh, everything!"

"I suppose it cannot hurt to let you in on it," George said slowly.

"Pray do not tease me, George!" begged Theresa.

Her cousin was unable to stand against her entreaty. "Oh, if you must know, the twins and I have thought up some very good sport while they are home, but you must promise not to tell a soul about it," George said with a significant glance at the closed door.

"You know that I would not!" Theresa said indignantly.

George leaned toward her and dropped his voice. "You know that there are always grand panics at Rusland Park, and grand visitors too? Well, for a single night Holland and Michael and I are going to masquerade as highwaymen. We shall give some of the guests a scare, I'll warrant!"

Theresa's eyes widened. "Oh, George," she breathed. Her eyes began to shine. "George, might I--"

When he saw the light of excitement in her eyes, George regretted that he had said anything. "No, you may not," he said firmly.

"Why ever not? I can ride and shoot as well as any one of you!" exclaimed Theresa.

"You are a female, dash it! I am sorry, Theresa, but there comes a time when the line has to be drawn. And this is one such time."

There was a mutinous set to Theresa's chin. "I shall do as I please. I will not be set about so by convention and so-called accomplishments! I do not wish to be a lady!"

George took hold of her clenched hands. He said gently, "But you are a lady born, my girl. Nothing can change that."

Her hands trembled in his. Her eyes appealed to him. "But it is not fair, George. You know it isn't. You and the twins have such larks, and I must spend my days at such drudgery. You do not know what it is like with Miss Brown always at my side, unless I can somehow slip away to go riding. I do like Miss Brown, of course! But it is not as though she and I share the same likes and dislikes. Why, I believe she actually cares for that French poetry she rattles off to me."

George laughed and released his cousin's hands. "Perhaps she does, Theresa. At Brownie's age, reading French poetry must be as much romance as she is ever likely to find."

"That is unkind, George. Miss Brown is quite nice-looking, even if she is too old to marry," said Theresa. She realized that she had been led off the point. She took a deep breath. "George, I shall be a highwayman. You cannot stop me, you know."

"Oh, yes I can. I shall make a clean breast of the thing to the squire before ever Michael and Holland come home," George said.

Theresa stared at her cousin. "You do not mean it, George." She saw the implacable determination in his eyes. "Really, George, you make it very difficult for me! You know that I could not cut up your fun."

"Then you must promise me that you will not try your hand at it, Teri," said George. When she gave a reluctant nod, he smiled and gave her a swift peck on the cheek. "There's a good girl. I am going down to the stables. Are you certain that you do not wish to join me?"

Theresa glanced down at the embroidery hoop. She sighed and shook her head. "I should stay and finish my stitching. Then it will not hang over my head all the day."

George shrugged and rose. "I shall see you next at dinner, I expect. I intend to try out the mare's paces." He left the drawing room, hardly aware of the upsurge of emotions that he had raised in his cousin's breast.

"Damnation!" said Theresa roundly. She was not at all repentant to have used a forbidden word, and she almost wished that her mother had heard her. "How I wish that I had been born a boy!" She picked up the embroidery and stabbed her needle viciously into the linen.

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