Read an Excerpt
By Carolyn Jewel
Copyright © 2004
All right reserved.
Olivia smiled because her role was to be pleasant at all
times, to be at all times agreeable. She must pretend she did
not feel the least bit awkward about being back at Pennhyll
where three days had vanished from her life. A legion of
emotions contributed to her disquiet, starting the moment she
walked into the Great Hall; the fear of those lost days
tangled up with the anticipation of meeting Captain Alexander.
Whatever her anxieties about Pennhyll, she was done avoiding
the past, done with living as if nothing terrible had happened
to her. Something terrible had happened, and she was done with
the pretense. She accepted the invitation because she wanted
those days back. After a year without remembering, she'd come
to believe Pennhyll was the only place she could recover those
For the moment at least, no one here remarked her much. They
seemed content with her role as the spare. She was herself
well-used to a house crowded with guests and even more used to
near invisibility. Old enough now to be a chaperone and with
the distinct advantage of being neither rich enough nor young
enough to threaten the prospects of younger, better-situated
ladies. She was the second-best umbrella, the one no one wants
until the other can't be found. As befitted her status, she
saton a stool equidistant to fireplace and door; the very
outskirts of the gathering but at the ready in case of need.
Snow had forced their luncheon indoors so that instead of a
walk to the lake and a meal served in the crisp January air,
they cowered inside, glad to be out of the sudden damp. Four
of their number fell into the category of parent or guardian.
The rest were younger. Five gentlemen and six young ladies, if
she counted herself, all but Miss Diana Royce from nearby, and
thus well-known to Olivia. Since they knew her they paid her
little attention. Twice touched by tragedy, she occupied a
peculiar position in society. By birth and long family
history, she belonged to the gentry, no one denied that, but
no one of her class wanted to befriend her. The taint of death
and scandal clung too close.
To a man, the fathers held their Madeira and broke rank only
if some feminine request demanded the semblance of attention.
Mothers watched their charges with hawk-eyed stares that swept
the room for signs of attachment, suitable or otherwise. Young
ladies sat by each other with the bachelor gentlemen hovering
near. One of the ladies played the harp well enough to be
ignored. Another hour at least before she could excuse herself
to wander the castle, hoping something would spark a memory.
All the setting lacked was their host. No one had met him, no
one but Lord Fitzalan, who knew the earl before he was an
earl, and his sister, who had met him once some years before.
Lord Fitzalan, unmarried himself, numbered among the young
gentlemen. For a nobleman, he seemed sensible. High-spirited,
a bit vain of his appearance, though not without cause, and
not a dilettante. So far as she could tell, he was the only
man here with more than an ounce of brain in his head.
"Do come sit, Fitzalan." Miss Royce, the viscount's
half-sister, reclining goddess-like on a chaise, lifted
herself on one elbow. "I miss your company here." How, Olivia
wondered, did a nineteen-year-old girl acquire such ennui? The
crowd around her shifted as Miss Royce patted the chaise. Her
chestnut hair and dark, up-tilted eyes just slightly uneven
made Olivia imagine her pining for an Italianate sun, one hand
reaching lazily for another glass of wine or yet another
sun-sweetened grape. What must London be like if girls Diana's
age learned enough of men and their natures to find them so
Fitzalan sat on the edge of his sister's chaise. "I am here,
Diana, your abject slave."
"If that were true, you would have bought me that phaeton I
wanted. Mama said it would flatter me exceedingly."
"You cannot drive a phaeton in Far Caister."
"I can if I am in Town. I would be so fetching a figure in a
phaeton drawn by horses to match my eyes. What do you think?"
Diana touched her brother's arm while her gaze swept the
admiring men, all of whom rang in with enthusiastic agreement.
Miss Royce must have a phaeton. And cattle to match her eyes.
Who could disagree? They'd none of them ever met a girl like
Miss Royce, a natural flirt with the sort of brilliance one
acquired only from a London Season and a Bond Street
"Until I met Captain Alexander, now the earl," Diana said, "I
thought my brother the handsomest man alive." She pointed to
the portrait in pride of place above the mantel. Miss Royce
did have fine eyes. "But, dear James, you're simply not."
"If I changed my mind about the phaeton?"
Her eyes sparkled. "Well, dearest James, since I know you are
not sincere, I must say the same."
Fitzalan mimicked despair, and Diana giggled when he rolled
off the chaise and pretended to lie dead at her feet. A few
fathers or elder brothers looked over but, determining the
cause of the commotion, returned to a heated discussion of the
benefits of double lambing as considered against the health of
the ewes. The viscount turned onto his side and, propping his
head up with one arm, peered past the crowd surrounding the
chaise. "What think you, Miss Willow?"
Olivia, alarmed to find herself addressed, adopted her best
flustered-by-his-attention expression. A woman's loss of
aplomb upon a handsome man's notice rarely, if ever, caused
offense. She liked to think she'd perfected an attitude of
dizzy intensity. "My lord, I've no experience of such
"But your opinion means the world." Fitzalan laughed so that
his teeth showed. "The very universe. Who is the more
handsome? Me or the captain?"
Now here was a fine predicament. If she chose Tiern-Cope,
she'd insult Lord Fitzalan and vice versa. Drat the man. She
wrung her hands. "Pray, my lord, do not rely on my opinion in
anything to do with fashion."
"Let us say this once that we shall."
"I am sure Miss Royce would look exceedingly well in a phaeton
the color of her eyes." There existed a perilously fine line
between the meekness she wanted to project and outright
satire. From the tilt of Fitzalan's head, she'd just crossed
"My dear Miss Willow." Fitzalan grinned. "My dear, charming,
lovely, exquisite Miss Willow. For all that our gentlemen's
pride will be trampled like so much dirt beneath your feet, I
hope you will not disagree with my sister. She would be
utterly cast down to discover you do not share her opinion of
Olivia let her eyes go still. Why did the only man here with
any intelligence have to single her out? She did not want to
be noticed. Second-best umbrella status suited her just fine.
The Far Caister girls might not have Diana's polish, but
several, Miss Cage in particular, laid claim to some measure
of beauty. Why didn't he banter with Miss Cage? "To be sure, I
have yet to meet a gentleman who isn't handsome or a lady who
Fitzalan sat up. "What a useful opinion to have."
"But," said Miss Cage, the green-eyed brunette Olivia thought
most likely to give Diana some competition, "what of Captain
Alexander? The earl?" Miss Cage hadn't been five minutes in
the company of Miss Royce before she, too, possessed the same
air of boredom. The world bored her. The very breath in her
lungs bored her. Julia Cage always had been a quick study,
with an ear for music and language.
"Well," Olivia said, "It's my opinion all men look handsome in
a uniform." She'd discovered during her stint as a governess
that men liked to be admired. If they did not feel obliged to
flirt, all the better. Disinterested interest suited a woman
of her status. She'd never attracted much notice for any
reason but her hair. Long ago, she'd realized the color put
off most men. Red was simply not the fashion for a lady of any
age. Men who weren't put off by her awful copper curls didn't
want her-Miss Olivia Willow-they wanted what they imagined her
hair signified. Thus, though she might seethe inside,
impatient, annoyed or even on the edge of laughter, she'd
learned to reflect a calm and dainty mendacity. Men soon met
only the disappointment of their perceptions.
The viscount frowned, looking at her from under half-lowered
lashes. "Yes, yes. But, Miss Willow, what of the good
She let out a breath and did her best to appear addlebrained
by his notice of her. She supposed it was at least a little
true. Lord Fitzalan was, indeed, well-favored, with exquisite
manners and, despite his rank in life, not at all a terrifying
man. "He's sure to be very handsome. The young ladies find him
quite the beau, I'm sure. So dashing. A hero of the waves."
She leaned forward, eyes wide and disingenuous. "I've followed
his career, my lord, he cannot help but be handsome, I am
"The fashion, then, is for naval men."
"I'm sure I don't know, my lord."
He jumped to his feet and strode, hands clasped behind his
back, to the fireplace where he stared at the portrait for
fully half a minute. The other men, seeing his attention
elsewhere than his sister, closed in on Diana. With that,
Olivia ceased to be the moment's center of attention.
Relieved, she left her stool and walked to a sidetable on
which there sat a stack of drawing paper. Attract as little
notice as possible, that was her motto. Second best umbrella
and all that.
She was nervous about meeting the captain. The earl. Lord
Tiern-Cope. Would he appear tonight? Her head throbbed along
the scar hidden by her hair, a point of blossoming pain, a
familiar sensation but sharper now than usual, and constant
since her arrival at Pennhyll. Andrew used to love reading his
bother's letters, always with a titillating pause while he
skipped over or rephrased some passage not suitable for a lady
to hear without redaction. And now that brother was here.
Captain Alexander at Pennhyll.
The voice came soft and unexpectedly, and she nearly jumped
out of her skin because she'd let her thoughts stray to the
new earl and lost track of her surroundings. "Lord Fitzalan."
His eyes flashed the color of flint. "Forgive me if I startled
"I don't know what's got into me." The intensity of his regard
unsettled her. She put down the papers and let her eyes go
blank. "Have you ever been absolutely convinced someone is
about to leap at you from the shadows?" She felt she'd missed
her mark, something she did not often do. To be convincingly
vapid, a woman needed not just empty eyes, but a breathless
He grinned. "Every time I walk a London street at night."
"For that you may have some excuse." Fitzalan studied her and,
too late, she realized she'd spoken more frankly than prudence
required. When dealing with the nobility, it paid never to
forget one's place, however familiar they deigned to be. Never
presume too much.
"And your excuse?" he asked.
"A nervous constitution." She fluttered her hand just above
her chest so the viscount would imagine she felt her nerves
just now. "A failure of my sex, I suppose."
Fitzalan gave her the sort of look a man expecting eggs for
breakfast might give a bowl of cold porridge. Leaning against
the table, he took up the sheaf of drawings, shuffling through
them until he found hers, a sketch of a plate of grapes. In
the conviction that no one would actually study her effort,
she'd added a rather comical face in the shadow of one of the
grapes. "These look good enough to eat."
"Ah, but just behind is your sister's most admirable
portrait." Olivia brought out Diana's drawing and set it atop
her own. "She took your likeness quite well," she tittered.
"Miss Royce is an accomplished young lady. You must be so very
proud of her."
"I do hope," he said softly, switching hers back to the top,
"that around me you will not pretend you are an empty-headed
She widened her eyes in hurt insult. "I've never thought of
myself as a clever woman, but I'm sure I'm not empty headed.
Most assuredly, I am not a bluestocking. No, indeed, my lord.
I never read a thing, unless I am certain my soul will be
improved." The lie came off her tongue with guilty ease. "I
can't imagine what you mean to imply."
He touched the shadow with its lolling tongue and devil horns.
"I think you can."
Blast. He smiled, slowly, and she could not help thinking it
wasn't fair for an already handsome man to be twice as
handsome just because he smiled.
"Can't you, Miss Willow?"
She sighed. "I am undone."
"Not yet," he murmured. Before she could make sense of the
remark, he grinned at her. "Fear not, I promise to keep your
secret." He examined Diana's sketch. "My nose isn't that long.
Nor my eyes so small. And my chin is far more manly."
"Fishing for compliments, my lord?"
"Shamelessly." He lifted his eyes. "Am I having any luck?"
"There are more than enough young ladies here who, I daresay,
would be more than happy to tell you they find you exceedingly
"Do you agree with them?"
"As indeed you are."
"Oh, much better, Miss Willow. As to the likeness of our brave
and doughty captain hanging there above the mantel, I want
your opinion." He put down the sheaf of papers. "And mind you,
nothing less than unadulterated truth. I've not my sister's
scruples about opinions unshared."
"Accepting as true the brothers closely resemble each other, I
find the subject rather harshly painted."
"But, of course," he said, eying Olivia while he once again
studied the painting, "when this portrait was done, he was
still a lieutenant and understandably concerned with advancing
"Which he did in exactly the manner suggested by his
A girlish voice called out. "Lord Fitzalan? You simply must
come here and explain why your sister may not have a phaeton."
"A moment, Miss Cage." Fitzalan's attention returned to
Olivia. "And that was?"
"With fierce determination."
"Can you tell his temperament from a portrait? Mere dashes of
paint upon a canvas?"
She lifted a hand toward the portrait and found the gesture
blocked all but her view of the painted eyes. "That is not the
face of anyone much at home with a smile."
"You consider yourself adept at reading a gentleman's face?"
Olivia smiled. "I do."
"What do you read in mine?" Perhaps because he was aware their
conversation was no longer private, he struck a pose. "Be
brutally honest." He winked. "Lie if you must."
"Amiability, my lord." She laughed because she could not help
her amusement. "Nothing but amiability."
Fitzalan staggered. "Amiability?"
"Assuredly so." By habit, she fell into vapidity, but she did
not like it as well now that Fitzalan knew the truth.
His eyes rolled toward the ceiling. "Damned by faint praise."
"My lord," said Olivia, lowering her voice. "Don't be
petulant. You know very well you are as handsome a man who
ever walked this earth. I'm sure the young ladies are
breathless when they are about you."
"But not you?"
"I'm not young, my lord."
Briefly, his eyes darkened to a rain-cloud gray. "You've drawn
my character accurately enough for, truly, I am amiability
itself. You'll never know a man more amiable than I, as I mean
for you to discover. Now, Miss Willow, what do you read in
that face?" He pointed to the painting.
She approached the portrait. She, too, clasped her hands
behind her back. Dark hair, the captain had, but not black. He
wore a naval officer's uniform. Gold buttons sailed down one
side of his coat and his shirt lace foamed over wide lapels. A
cocked hat tucked under one arm showed black trim. His eyes
gazed ferociously forward, a clear, pure blue, so clear she
wondered at not seeing through to the wall behind. She turned
sideways so as to see the viscount. "Oh, quite a lot, my lord.
Andrew loved to tell of his brother's adventures. Indeed, I
feel I know him well, having heard so many tales of danger and
Miss Cage walked over and twined her arm around Fitzalan's,
boldness she'd learned from Diana, who, when she deigned to
rise, often made use of the gentlemen in such a manner. "What
can you tell from the face?" she asked.
"Consider the strong cheeks."
"It's a very handsome face," said Miss Cage.
Fitzalan glanced at Olivia.
"Yes, I admit he is handsome."
"But?" said Fitzalan. He patted Miss Cage's arm.
"Notice how his cheeks angle toward his temples." Olivia
spread her fingers, measuring the distance. "The nose forming
a fierce line between his eyes. The unyielding mouth and
Excerpted from The Spare
by Carolyn Jewel
Copyright © 2004 by Carolyn Jewel .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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