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Forced to assume a false identity, "John Bates" journeyed to the new Earl of Hythe's home to uncover a murderous plot. There he found Elinor Dalrymple, sister to the newly ensconced earl and mistress of his seaside estate. At first glance, John dismissed her as merely a staid spinster. Yet once she let down her hair, sweet Elinor transformed into a beautiful butterfly — and a feisty damsel who was dubious of his devilish rogue persona. Suddenly John's ...
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Forced to assume a false identity, "John Bates" journeyed to the new Earl of Hythe's home to uncover a murderous plot. There he found Elinor Dalrymple, sister to the newly ensconced earl and mistress of his seaside estate. At first glance, John dismissed her as merely a staid spinster. Yet once she let down her hair, sweet Elinor transformed into a beautiful butterfly — and a feisty damsel who was dubious of his devilish rogue persona. Suddenly John's carefully orchestrated masquerade was crumbling . . . under his own desire to reveal his true self to Miss Dalrymple!
Kasey Michaels is the recipient of the Romantic Times Award for Best Regency Writer.
"Have you heard the news?"
Lord Blakestone lowered his newspaper to glare overtop it at the excited young man who had dared to intrude on his peace. Heaven knew he got precious little of it these days. "I read the news when I require an infusion of knowledge, Hopwood," he told the fellow in crushing tones meant to depress this increasing familiarity that was fast making Boodle's coffee room too common for words. "If I wished the day's happenings bellowed at me, I would sit in my own house and let my wife's dear, beloved mother natter me to death."
Hopwood was instantly cast down, but he was by no means to be counted out. He'd come directly from Bond Street, where tongues had been wagging 19 to the dozen, and he'd be damned for a dolt if he was going to allow this chance to elevate his consequence here at Boodle'—a club he had stumbled into because of his parentage, and not his own standing or even inclination—to be stomped on by a pompous blowfish like Blakestone. "But—but I just heard. It's the most incredible thing! Lord Hythe is dead!"
Blakestone tossed his newspaper to the floor in an untidy heap, grumbling something about the servants being reminded to take better care when pressing the pages so that they would refold themselves automatically when the dratted thing was no longer required.
After venting his spleen on both the hapless newspaper and the overworked Boodle's servants (who were undoubtedly at that moment boiling coins somewhere in the bowels of the club so that the members should not have to smudge themselves by handling dirty money), he lookedup at Hopwood and inquired shortly: "I don't believe it. Wythe? Wythe's dead?"
Hopwood shook his head vigorously. As audiences went, Blakestone appeared to be a poor choice. "No, no. Not Wythe. Hythe."
"Don't correct your betters, you miserable scamp. I say, Freddie!" Lord Blakestone called to Lord Godfrey, who had just entered the coffee room. "Have you heard the latest? Dreadful news. Wythe is dead."
"No!" Lord Godfrey ejaculated, pressing a hand to his chest, as if to be sure his own heart was still ticking along normally. He and Wythe were much of the same age. "How did it happen?"
Lord Blakestone waved an arm imperiously, summoning a servant and ordering another, freshly pressed, newspaper. "Damned if I know, old man. What do I look like, Freddie? A bleeding newsboy? Ask this puppy here. He seems to be hot to spread the gossip. Finally!" he groused, snapping the freshly pressed newspaper out of the servant's hand. "Took you 12 seconds too long, my fine fellow. You'll never get ahead in life lollygagging, y'know."
Lord Godfrey turned to Hopwood, who was leaning against a heavy mahogany table and most probably wondering what he had done to deserve membership to a snake pit such as Boodle's. "Corny says to ask you, whoever you are. So? Well, speak up, young man. What happened to Wythe? I saw him just last week at Tatt's, full of piss and vinegar as ever. Dead, you say? How'd it happen? Apoplexy? He was getting on, wasn't he—at least 10 years my senior, I'm sure."
"Five your junior," Lord Blakestone corrected heartlessly, turning the page to check on the latest news of Napoleon Bonaparte's bloodletting on the Continent. "You're looking pale, Freddie. It's all that running about you do with that warbler from Covent Garden. Not seemly in a man your age — nor smart, now that I think about it. Best sit down before you join Wythe below ground."
Hopwood felt an almost overwhelming urge to pull at his hair and scream, or possibly even throw something—Lord Blakestone's dusty wig was the first object that came to mind. "Not Wythe, sir—Hythe. He was young, in his prime. I was just taking the air on Bond Street when I heard the news. He was lost overboard from his yacht in a storm or something. Near Folkestone, I think."
Lord Godfrey subsided into a burgundy leather wing chair, glaring impotently at Lord Blakestone, his agitated brain taking in information only as it pertained to him. "A yacht? I didn't know Wythe could afford to keep a yacht." As he couldn't show any real anger toward Lord Blakestone, whose social connections were considerably powerful, he directed his fury at a man who could no longer hurt him. "Y'know what—bloody stingy, that's what Wythe was. A yacht! Never took me up on the thing."
Goaded, or so he felt, past all bearing, Hopwood opened his mouth and shouted—just as a half dozen worse-for-liquor gentlemen sitting in the dirty end of the room exploded in mirth over some joke or other: "Not Wythe, you feather-witted old nincompoops! Hythe! Hythe!"
While neither Lord Blakestone nor Lord Godfrey paid so much as a jot of attention to the red-faced young man bellowing ridiculousness within four feet of their ears, they were attracted to the sounds of merriment across the room, and immediately longed to join in the fun. Looking back and forth to each other across the table that separated their matching burgundy leather wing chairs, the two lords scrambled to their feet, knowing their gossip would be a sure entry to the group.
As they walked toward the small gathering of gentlemen, they called out in unison, "Have you heard? It's all over town. It's the strangest thing. Wythe's dead!"
"Not Wythe, you paper-skulled asses.Hythe! Alastair Lowell, 14th Earl of Hythe, and a damned fine gentleman." Hopwood pushed the discarded newspaper to the floor and collapsed into Lord Blakestone's abandoned chair, giving up the fight. "Oh, what does it matter anyway?" he soothed himself. "The fellow's still dead, ain't he?"
* * *
A memorial service was held three weeks later at Seashadow, the Hythe seat in Kent, with several of the late Earl's friends making the trip down from London in the fine spring weather to pay their respect—although it was rather awkward that there was no body to neatly inter in the family mausoleum.
"His bright light lies asleep with the fishes," the vicar had intoned gravely upon mounting the steps to the lectern, these depressing words heralding an hour-long sermon that went on to graphically describe the water fate of Alastair Lowell's earthly remains until a none too discreet cough from Miss Elinor Dalrymple—sister of the new Earl—caused the man to reel in his tongue just as he was about to utter the words "putrid flesh" for a seventh time.
The number of fashionable young ladies of quality (as well as a colorful spattering of beautiful but not quite so eligible women) among the mourners would have cheered Alastair Lowell no end had he been privileged to see them—and so said his friends as they paid their respects to the new Earl and his solemnfaced sister before hastily departing the crepe-hung chapel for some decidedly more cheerful atmosphere.
"Made a muff of it," Leslie Dalrymple, the new Earl, said tragically, watching from the portico as the last traveling coach pulled out of the yard, leaving him to deal with a dining room piled to the chandeliers with uneaten food. "Ain't congenial, y'know. Never were."
"Nonsense, darling," Elinor Dalrymple consoled her brother, patting his thin cheek. "You were all that is gracious, and your eulogy, although understandably brief, as you had never met our cousin, was everything it could be. The late Earl, rest his soul, merely attracted those of his own, irresponsible ilk—considering that it is rumored our departed cousin was deep in his cups the night of his fatal accident. Doubtless they're all off now to carouse far into the night, toasting their fallen friend and otherwise debauching themselves."
Excerpted from The Dubious Miss Dalrymple by Kasey Michaels. Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted September 24, 2011
Posted April 16, 2011
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