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Late April, 1817the London home of Lady Cicely Hawthorne
'I, for one, am disappointed that you do not seem to be any further along with finding a bride for Hawthorne, Cicely,' Edith St Just, Dowager Duchess of Royston, gave her friend a reproving frown.
'Perhaps we were all being a trifle ambitious, at the start of the Season, in deciding to acquire suitable wives for our three grandsons?' Lady Jocelyn Ambrose put in softly.
The three ladies talking now had been aged only eighteen when they had shared a coming-out Season fifty years ago and had become fast friends, a state of affairs that had seen them all through marriage and their children's marriages. They now had their sights firmly set on the nuptials of their errant grandchildren.
'Nonsense,' the dowager duchess dismissed that claim firmly. 'You had no trouble whatsoever in seeing Chambourne settled'
'But not to the bride I had chosen for him,' Lady Jocelyn pointed out fairly.
'Nevertheless, he is to marry,' the dowager duchess dismissed airily. 'And if we do not see to the marriage of our respective grandsons, then who will? My own daughter-in-law is of absolutely no help whatsoever in that enterprise, since she retired to the country following my son Robert's demise three years ago. And Royston certainly shows no inclination himself to give up his habit of acquiring a mistress for several weeks before swiftly growing bored with her and moving on to the next.' She gave loud sniff.
Miss Eleanor RosewoodElliestep-niece and companion to the dowager duchess, glanced across from where she sat quietly by the window with the two companions of Lady Cicely and Lady Jocelyn, knowing that sniff only too well: it conveyed the dowager duchess's disapproval on every occasion.
But Ellie could not help but feel a certain amount of sympathy towards Lady Cicely's dilemma; Lord Adam Hawthorne was known by all, including the numerous servants employed on his many estates, for being both cold and haughty, as well as totally unapproachable.
So much so that it must be far from easy for Lady Cicely to even broach the subject of her grandson remarrying, despite his first marriage having only produced a daughter and no heir, let alone finding a woman who was agreeable to becoming the second wife of such an icily sarcastic gentleman.
Oh, it would have its compensations, no doubt; his lordship was a wealthy gentlemanvery wealthy in-deedand more handsome than any single gentleman had a right to be, with glossy black hair and eyes of deep impenetrable grey set in a hard and arrogantly aristocratic face, his shoulders and chest muscled, waist tapered, legs long and strong.
Unfortunately, his character was also icy enough to chill the blood in any woman's veins, hence the reason he was known amongst the ton as simply Thorne!
Hawthorne's cold nature aside, Ellie was far more interested in the dowager duchess's efforts to find a bride for her own grandson, Justin St Just, Duke of Royston
'Adam is proving most unhelpful, I am afraid.' Lady Cicely sighed. 'He has refused each and every one of my invitations for him to dine here with me one evening.'
The dowager duchess raised iron-grey brows. 'On what basis?'
Lady Cicely grimaced. 'He claims he is too busy '
Edith St Just snorted. 'The man has to eat like other mortals, does he not?'
'One would presume so, yes ' Lady Cicely gave another sigh.
'Well, you must not give up trying, Cicely,' the dowager duchess advised most strongly. 'If Hawthorne will not come to you, then you must go to him.'
Lady Cicely looked alarmed. 'Go to him?'
'Call upon him at Hawthorne House.' The dowager duchess urged. 'And insist that he join you here for dinner that same evening.'
'I will try, Edith.' Lady Cicely looked far from convinced of her likely success. 'But do tell us, how goes your own efforts in regard to Royston's future bride? Well, I hope?' She brightened. 'Let us not forget that a week ago you wrote that lady's name down on a piece of paper and gave it to Jocelyn's butler for safekeeping!'
The dowager duchess gave a haughty inclination of her head. 'And, as you will see, that is the young lady he will marry, when the time comes.'
'I do so envy you, when I have to deal with Adam's complete lack of co-operation in that regard ' Lady Cicely looked totally miserable.
'Hawthorne will come around, you will see.' Lady Jocelyn gave her friend's hand a reassuring squeeze.
Ellie, easily recalling the forbidding countenance of the man, remained as unconvinced of that as did the poor, obviously beleaguered Lady Cicely.
'Oh, do let's talk of other things!' Lady Jocelyn encouraged brightly. 'For instance, have either of you heard the latest rumour concerning the Duke of Sheffield's missing granddaughter?'
'Oh, do tell!' Lady Cicely encouraged avidly.
Ellie added her own, silent, urging to Lady Cicely's; the tale of the missing granddaughter of the recently deceased Duke of Sheffield had been the talk both below and above stairs for most of the Season, the duke having died very suddenly two months ago, to be succeeded by his nephew. The previous duke's granddaughter and ward had disappeared on the day following his funeral, at the same time as the Sheffield family jewels and several thousand pounds had also gone missing.
'I try never to listen to idle gossip.' The dowager duchess gave another of her famous sniffs.
'Oh, but this is not in the least idle, Edith,' Lady Jocelyn assured. 'Miss Matthews has been seen on the Continent, in the company of a gentleman, and living a life of luxury. Further igniting the rumour that she may have had something to do with the Duke's untimely death, as well as the theft of the Sheffield jewels and money.'
'I cannot believe that any granddaughter of Jane Matthews would ever behave so reprehensively,' Edith St Just stated firmly.
'But the gel's mother was Spanish, remember.' Lady Cicely gave her two friends a pointed glance.
'Hmm, there is that to consider, Edith.' Lady Jocelyn mused.
'Stuff and nonsense,' the dowager duchess dismissed briskly. 'Maria Matthews was the daughter of a grandee and I refuse to believe her daughter guilty of anything unless proven otherwise.'
Which, as Ellie knew only too well, was now the end of that particular subject.
Although she knew that many in society, and below stairs, speculated as to why, if she truly were innocent, Miss Magdelena Matthews had disappeared, along with the Sheffield jewels and money, the day of her grandfather's funeral.
One day laterHawthorne House, Mayfair, London
Do not scowl so, Adam, else I will think you are not at all pleased to see me!'
That displeasure glinted in Lord Hawthorne's narrowed grey eyes and showed in his harshly patrician face, as he heard the rebuke in his grandmother's quiet tone. Nor was she wrong about his current displeasure being caused by her unexpected arrival; he had neither the time nor the patience for the twittering of Lady Cicely this afternoon. Or any afternoon, come to that! 'I am only surprised you are visiting me now, Grandmother, when I know you are fully aware this is the time of day that I retire to the nursery in order to spend half an hour with Amanda.'
His grandmother arched silver brows beneath her pale-green bonnet as the two faced each across the blue salon of Adam's Mayfair home. 'And may I not also wish to visit with my great-granddaughter?'
'Well, yes, of course you may.' Adam belatedly strode across the room to bestow a kiss upon one of his grandmother's powdered cheeks. 'It is only that I would have appreciated prior notice of your visit.'
He scowled darkly. 'My time is at a premium, Grandmother, nor do I care to have my routine interrupted.'
'And I have just stated that I have no wish to interrupt anything,' she reminded him quietly.
'Nevertheless, you are' Adam broke off his impatient outburst, aware that his grandmother's unexpected arrival had already made him four minutes late arriving at the nursery. 'Well, you are here now, so by all means accompany me, if you wish to.' He nodded abruptly as he wrenched open the salon doormuch to Barnes's surprise, as the butler stood attentively on the other side of that doorfor his grandmother to precede him from the room.
'You really are the most impatient of men, Adam.' Lady Cicely swept past him into the grand hallway, indicating with a nod that her paid companion should wait there for her return. 'I do not believe even your grandfather and father were ever as irritable as you.'
Adam placed a gentlemanly hand beneath his grandmother's elbow as he escorted her up the wide staircase, in the full knowledge that Lady Cicely's overly fussy natureto put it kindly!had irked his grandfather and father as much, if not more, as it now did him. Nevertheless, his grandfather and father were no longer with them, leaving Lady Cicely alone in the world but for himself and Amanda, and so it fell to Adam, as the patriarch of the family, to at least attempt kindness towards his elderly relative. 'I apologise if my abruptness of manner has offended you,' he said.
His grandmother released her elbow from his grasp to instead tuck her hand more cosily into the crook of his arm. 'Perhaps as recompense you might consider dining with me this evening.?'
Adam stiffened as he easily recognised Lady Cicely's less-than-subtle attempt at coercion; he hesitated to call it actual blackmail, although he could not help but be aware of his grandmother's recent attempts to introduce him to suitably marriageable ladiessuitable according to Lady Cicely, that was. Adam was having none of it. The ladies. Or the marriage. 'I have to attend a vote in the House tonight, Grandmother.' After which he fully intended to retire to his club for the rest of the evening, where he hoped to enjoy a few quiet games of cards and several glasses of fine brandy.
'Then perhaps tomorrow evening?' Lady Cicely pressed. 'It is so long since the two of us spent any time together.'
Deliberately so, on Adam's part, since he had realised what his grandmother was about. He had absolutely no interest in marrying again and his life really was now such that he had little time for anything other than his responsibilities to the House of Lords and his many estates. The dinners and balls, and all the other nonsense of the Season, held no interest for him whatsoever.
'We are together now, Grandmother,' he pointed out practically.
'But not in any way thatnever mind.' Lady Cicely sighed her impatience. 'It is obvious to me that you have become even more intransigent than you ever were!'
Adam's mouth tightened at the criticism. Well-deserved criticism. But his grandmother knew the reason for his intransigence as well as he did; having been married for over two years, and so been dragged along as his adulterous wife's escort to every ball, dinner, and other society function during the Season, and to summer house parties when it was not, Adam now chose, as a widower these past four years, not to attend any of them. There was no reason for him to do so. Most, if not all, of society bored him, so why would he ever choose to voluntarily put himself through those days and evenings of irritation and boredom?
Even so, he instantly felt a guilty need to make amends for the tears he now saw glistening in his grandmother's faded grey eyes. 'I may be able to spare an hour or two to join you for dinner tomorrow evening'
'Oh, that is wonderful, Adam!' His grandmother's tears disappeared as if they had never been as she now beamed up at him. 'I shall make sure to serve all of your favourite dishes.'
'I said an hour or two, Grandmother,' Adam repeated sternly.
'Yes, yes,' she acknowledged distractedly, obviously already mentally planning her menu for tomorrow evening. And her guest list. Some of which would no doubt be several of those eligible females Adam wished to avoid! 'How is the new girl working out?'
'New girl?' Adam's mind had gone a complete blank at this sudden change of subject, not altogether sure he understood the meaning of his grandmother's question; surely Lady Cicely could not be referring to the woman he had briefly taken an interest in the previous month, before deciding that she bored him in bed as well as out of it?
'Amanda's nursemaid.' Lady Cicely clarified.
Adam's brow cleared at this explanation. 'Mrs Leighton is not a girl, Grandmother. Nor is she Amanda's nursemaid, but her governess.'
'Is Amanda not a little young as yet for a governess? Especially when you know as well as I that society does not appreciate a blue-stocking'
'I will not have Amanda growing up to be an ignoramus, with nothing in her head other than balls and parties and the latest fashions.' Like her mother before her, Adam could have stated, but chose not to do so; the less thought he gave to Fanny, and her adulterous ways, the better as far as he was concerned!
'and you never did explain fully why it was that you felt the need to dispense with Dorkins's services after all these years?'
Lady Cicely was slightly out of breath as they ascended the stairs to the third floor of the house where the nursery was situated.
Nor did Adam intend explaining himself now. Having the nursemaid of his six-year-old daughter make it obvious to him that she was available to share his bed, if he so wished, had not only been unpleasant but beyond acceptable. Especially as he had never, by word or deed, ever expressed a carnal interest in the pretty but overly plump Clara Dorkins.
Now, if it had been Elena Leighton, Amanda's new governess, then he might not have found the notion of sharing her bed for a night or two quite so unpalatable
And where, pray, had that particular thought come from?
Since the death of his wife Adam had kept the satisfying of his carnal desires to a minimum, considering them a weakness he could ill afford. And, whenever those desires did become too demanding, even for his now legendary self-control, he only ever indulged with those ladies of the demi-monde whose company he considered he could stand for longer than an hour, possibly two. Less-than-respectable ladies, who expected nothing more than to be handsomely paid for the parting of their thighs.
Adam had certainly never so much as thought of forming an alliance with one of his own employees, hence his hasty dismissal of Clara Dorkins two weeks ago.