"Papa, I don't remember that we had this much luggage in Calais."
Angelique Graham frowned as yet another dock worker appeared, a stack of hat boxes in his arms. With France still torn and wounded by the ambitions of Bonaparte, going about shopping in Paris had seemed rather frivolous to her, but her mother and Baroness Penston had made the most of the opportunity. And as the women had strolled up to the shops at the head of the Dover pier while they waited for the coaches to be loaded, undoubtedly they were intent on making still more purchases.
Thomas Graham, the Earl of Niston, chuckled at her. "I do hope two coaches are enough for us and your mother's things."
Angel smiled. "I know. If we'd stayed any longer we'd need an entire caravan."
Her father guided her a few steps away from Baron Penston, who was busily directing the loading of their respective coaches. "Your mother's already talking about making another trip before your wedding," he said in a low voice. "I believe she has her heart set on you walking down the aisle in a French wedding gown."
Angelique sighed. "If you would let me marry Simon right away, she could have found one this trip."
Niston glanced over at the baron. "Angel, we explained that already. A year is hardly an unusual period of time to wait between an engagement and a wedding."
"But Simon and I want to be married now," she protested. "You know that."
Niston put a hand on her shoulder. "And you know that nine months isn't that long."
"But you won't even let us announce it!"
"We want you to be certain of your decision before we make a public declaration," he soothed.
"You don't think I'll go through with it and you don't want to be embarrassed when I change my mind, you mean," she countered.
He frowned, obviously running out of patience. "We think no such--"
"Well, I won't change my mind," Angelique stated. "Simon and I are in love."
"Thomas," Baron Penston interrupted, "is that yours, or Nora's?" He pointed at one of the packages.
"Yours. I think." Her father stepped over to examine it.
The baron nodded, summoning another dock worker. "I say, boy, that package goes in the other carriage. No, that box, the one over there, by the wheel."
At the sound of dogs barking Angelique turned in the direction of the water, where several schooners were being loaded for the return to Calais. Two dog handlers guided a pack of fox hounds up one of the ramps. A third man stood at the foot of the wooden incline wrestling with another half dozen dogs. One of them, a brown mastiff bigger and bulkier than the lively hounds, was obviously reluctant to board the ship. The handler hit the animal across the back with a knobbed wooden staff. The dog yelped.
With a scowl, Angelique hiked up her skirts and dashed past a cart stacked with squawking chickens and beyond a group of soldiers. Furious, she stalked up to the handler. "Stop that at once!" she demanded.
He straightened to give her a surly look. "What's that?" he grumbled, eyeing her.
"Stop striking that animal! Can't you see it's merely frightened?"
The man gave the dog's leash a hard yank. The animal let out a howl. "The mutt's a watch dog, miss. It ain't supposed to be frightened."
"Fenley!" A well-dressed man leaned over the railing above them. "What's the delay? Get those dogs on board immediately!"
"Aye, milord," Fenley returned. "It's only this blasted brute keeping us." He scowled and raised the stick again.
Incensed, Angel swung her reticule at him. The bag, containing several metal-cast soldiers for her brother, struck him hard in the arm.
"Why, you--!" Fenley protested, raising one hand to ward her off.
"You are not to hit that dog!" Angel snapped.
The mastiff looked up at her and gave one pitiful wag of its drooping tail.
"Is something amiss, my lady?" the man called down.
"Yes! This man insists on beating this poor creature simply because it's afraid."
The man stroked at his moustache. "You must understand, my lady, we sail with the tide."
"That is no excuse for brutality," she returned. The soldiers behind her were exchanging coins, and most of the nearest workers had set down their loads to watch the amusement.
"You are correct. My apologies." The man looked at his handler. "Fenley, give her the leash. My lady, thank you for your concern. I am certain Brutus will be more content in your care than in mine." He doffed his hat. "Good day."
Angelique watched, somewhat stunned, as Fenley untangled the mastiff's leash and handed it over to her. "Glad to be rid of ye, ye stupid mutt," he snarled. The animal growled at him.
The other dogs bounded up the ramp and into the schooner. Angelique looked down at her new charge. "Oh, my," she muttered. Brutus wagged his tail at her.
The soldiers laughed and more coins were exchanged, though she couldn't imagine what they might be wagering on this time. With a grimace she wrapped the leash around her wrist and tugged. Mama and papa weren't going to like this. Her brother and sister had been wanting a dog, though, and they would simply have to understand. Brutus fell in beside her, and they headed back toward the carriages.
Halfway there the mastiff spotted the crates of chickens. With a thunderous bark he was off, dragging Angelique behind him. It was all she could do to stay on her feet. "Brutus, stop!" The dog bounded atop the nearest crate, smashing it open. A dozen chickens exploded out onto the pier, Brutus after every one of them. "Brutus, no!" she yelled.
The mastiff changed directions to lunge after another bird. Angel spun around, and slammed hard into someone. Startled, she tried to push away, but Brutus bounded behind them, tangling them in his leash and effectively binding them together. Angelique shut her eyes for just a moment. "I'm so sorry," she mumbled into the person's rather broad chest. Her mother was going to be furious.
"In some African cultures, this would make us married," a dry male voice returned.
Angel looked up. His arms reflexively gripping her waist, a tall, lean man with windswept black hair looked down at her with amused emerald eyes. "In other African cultures it would mean we're being prepared for supper," she returned, abruptly less upset than she had been a moment earlier.
The man grinned. "Your dog seems quite determined."
"He's just barely my dog," Angel admitted, tugging at the leash in a vain effort to rein in the barking mastiff.
"I saw," her fellow captive returned. "So is it matrimony, or shall I attempt to untangle us?"
Angel grinned back at him, relieved that he wasn't angry. "Untangling for the moment, I think. We can discuss the rest once we've been introduced."
Green eyes dancing, her rescuer freed the leash from her wrist and then hauled on the braided leather. With a surprised woof Brutus sat back on his haunches, and taking her through two quick turns elegant enough to be worthy of Almack's assembly, the stranger had them free. He released her, then scratched Brutus's head when the canine stood and wagged its tail at him. "I knew there was a reason I should sail back to England today. James Faring, at your service, milady."
"Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Faring," Angel replied, smoothing her rumpled blue muslin skirt. From his dress and manner of speech her rescuer was obviously a member of the peerage, but she was positive he hadn't attended any of the Season's events. She would certainly remember having met James Faring.
"My pleasure," he replied, inclining his head. "After your brave rescue of . . ." He gestured at the mastiff.
"Brutus," she supplied, grinning.
"Of Brutus," he repeated, "it seemed the least I could do to perform my own." He grinned ruefully. "Though I was a bit tardy, I'm afraid."
"No one was killed, or eaten, so I believe you were in time."
He laughed. "If I may ask, what is a young lady of quality doing alone in Dover?"
"I'm not alone," Angel corrected, guiltily glancing about for her father.
"Not any longer." He grinned at her again. "After all, we are practically engaged, are we not?"
"And after such a short courtship," she returned smoothly.
"But a very entertaining one."
Entertaining or not, if one of the patronesses of Almack's had viewed any of this incident she would be banned from the Assembly for life. And aside from that, she remembered belatedly, a lady, and especially an engaged one, did not converse with strange men. "Excuse me. I must be going."
She reached for Brutus's leash, but Mr. Faring shook his head. "Please, milady, allow me to complete my rather pitiful rescue attempt," he requested, and motioned her to lead the way.
"Are you certain?" Angel queried, relieved that she wouldn't have to haul the mastiff across the remainder of the pier.
"It is my infinite pleasure." He fell into step with her, Brutus beside him.
He was limping. "Did I--we--do that?" she queried, dismayed.
James Faring grimaced. "No. That is from a different rescue entirely."
"You often come to the aid of dazed and overwhelmed women, then?" she returned lightly.
"Only ones as thoroughly charming as you. You are an angel, milady."
Angel chuckled. "And how did you know that, Mr. Faring?" she queried, raising an eyebrow.
Mr. Faring looked nonplussed, but before he could respond, Baron Penston and her father arrived. "That's Lord Faring," the baron corrected, extending his hand. "Jamie, it's good to see you. They placed bets at White's on the time and place of your demise, you know."
Lord Faring returned the handshake, but this time his smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "Old Bonie gave it a go at me, that's for certain," he replied. "It'll be good to get home." He glanced over at the line of carriages waiting for passengers at the edge of the teeming pier. "My transportation, however, doesn't appear to have arrived." He grimaced. "Looks as though I'll be hiring a hack."
So he had fought under Wellington. The bulk of the army had returned to England more than a month ago, though, and she couldn't imagine what he had been doing still in France. He wasn't in uniform, but wore a well-cut gray jacket and breeches and a pair of excellent quality Hessian boots, a large paw print currently marring the perfect polish of one of them.
Angel glanced up in the direction of the shops as her mother and the baroness emerged from a doorway and started toward them. She looked down at the happily panting Brutus. Whatever excuse she gave, her mother would still be appalled at her new acquisition and at her subsequent behavior, and no doubt she would hear about her irresponsibility and impulsiveness all the way back to London.
"You must ride with us," she offered brightly, avoiding her father's startled look. Having a guest in the coach would do wonders in keeping her mother's tirade to a minimum.
"That's right," the baron seconded helpfully. "Thomas's got a good team. Better than a bloody hired hack." The stout man glanced over at Angel's father. "Damn me and my manners. Just so surprised to see you alive, lad. This is Thomas Graham, the Earl of Niston, and his daughter, Angelique. Thomas, Jamie Faring, the Marquis of--"
"James," James Faring, the Marquis of Something, interrupted with a grimace. He shook her father's hand. "And we've met, I believe?"
"Several years ago, yes," Angel's father intoned. "Never had a chance to convey my condolences about your father. He was a good man."
The marquis nodded. "Yes, he was. Thank you."
Niston glanced over at his daughter. "Saw what happened. Thank you for assisting my Angel." Despite his words he didn't look pleased, and Angel wondered whether it was Brutus or her invitation that had put him out of sorts.
"My pleasure." The amused smile returned to Lord Faring's lips, and to his eyes. "So you are indeed an Angel."
Her mother and Baroness Penston had reached them, yet another stack of packages in tow. Her mother's look of trepidation at their new acquaintance was even more pronounced than her father's had been, and Angel wondered for a moment if the marquis would get her in more trouble than the dog was likely to.
Lord Faring nodded at the women and stepped closer to Angel. "If you'll excuse me," he said, apparently sensing that his welcome was less than assured, "I'd best be on my way." He offered the end of the leash to her, his eyes catching hers as their fingers brushed.
Angel's father cleared his throat. "My daughter is correct. You would be welcome to accompany us," he offered. "As Penston said, while my horseflesh might not measure up to your standards, my coach is considerably more well-sprung than a hack."
"Your team is splendid," Angel cut in indignantly. She had helped pick them out, after all.
Her father smiled. "But we are speaking to a man who owns one of the finest stables in England." He motioned at the marquis. "My lord?"
"I, ah . . ." Lord Faring glanced over at Angelique and gave a slight smile. "I would be grateful." He gestured behind him. "Just let me get my bag."
"I'm surprised he's even standing," the baron muttered at Faring's back as the marquis limped back toward the end of the pier.
"Why do you say that?" Angel asked.
"His position was overrun at Waterloo," Penston answered, "and he was mad enough to stand his ground. First rumor was that he was dead, second was that he'd live, but he'd lost an arm and a leg. Devil's own luck, that one."
The baron and baroness headed for their carriage, while her father filled in her mother about Angel's rescue of Brutus and helped them both into their own coach. Without coaxing, Brutus jumped in and lay at her feet. Lady Camellia Graham glared at the animal, then, obviously feeling there was something more pressing that needed her attention, turned on her husband. "Thomas, I can't believe you offered that man a ride to London in our carriage," she snapped.
Niston leaned up into the coach. "He saved Angel from being dragged all over Dover, Cammy."
That sent Camellia's gaze in her daughter's direction. "That's right, young lady. I don't know why we bothered to hire that endless string of governesses for you when you can't seem to remember for longer than two minutes how to behave like a lady. I shudder to think how Simon Talbott would react to seeing you like this. Now perhaps you understand why we insisted you wait a year before your wedding, and why we've refrained from announcing the engagement. That . . . dog must go. And this outrageous behavior must stop."
That hardly seemed fair, and there had only been seven or eight stuffy governesses, not an endless string, as her mother frequently exaggerated. "Simon wouldn't mind. And Brutus--"
"A lady does not yell, nor does she fling her reticule, or her skirts, about for the world to view," her mother cut in.
"What was I supposed to do, then?" Angel protested.
Lady Graham glared at her daughter. "Nothing."
"Nothing?" Angelique repeated incredulously. "That deuced--"
"Angel!" her mother admonished.
"That awful man," she amended unwillingly, "was hitting Brutus."
"That is beside the point," her mother returned, ignoring Angel's exasperated expression. "When a lady is given a choice between being involved in a scandal and doing nothing, she does nothing."
"I did not cause a scandal," Angel retorted. "I saved a poor, frightened dog."
"And conversed with a man to whom you had not been introduced. You might have been ruined."
Angel rolled her eyes. "The marquis thought I was right in acting, so there's no harm done."
Her mother scoffed. "Oh, yes there is. You've put yourself in debt to a gentleman of extreme ill repute."
"But who is he?" Angel entreated.
"The Marquis of Abbonley."
Angel blanched. With that lean build and those fascinating emerald eyes, James Faring had looked like a hero out of some romantic fable. She'd had no idea who he truly was. No wonder her parents were so dismayed. "The Devil?" she whispered.
"Exactly so," her father answered, frowning. "The Devil himself."
"But he's . . ." Angel trailed off, realizing that her life had just become a great deal more complicated, "he's Simon's cousin."
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