“And a gentleman should realize that a lady has a mind of her own, for goodness’ sake.” Evelyn set down her teacup with a clatter, surprised that the conversation she and her friends had begun on the manners of men had become so . . . earnest. She thought she’d accepted that all males were impossible, but from the ruckus in her heart, obviously she wasn’t happy about that fact.
Lucinda Barrett and Lady Georgiana Halley were right in their witty criticisms, as they usually were, and damn it all, she, too, was tired of being walked all over by every cravat-wearing member of humanity. Proper behavior for men. It almost seemed an oxymoron, but clearly someone needed to do something about their arrogant, self-involved ways.
Lucinda stood, going to the desk at the other end of the room. “We should write these down,” she said, pulling several sheets of paper from a drawer and returning to hand them out. “The three of us wield a great deal of influence, particularly with the so-called gentlemen to whom these rules would apply.”
“And we would be doing other ladies a service,” Georgiana said, her expression growing more thoughtful as her own frustration eased.
“But a list won’t do anything for anyone but ourselves.” Still skeptical at the enormity of such a task, Evelyn took the pencil Lucinda handed her, anyway. “If that.” “Oh, yes, it will – when we put our rules into practice,” Georgiana argued. “I propose that we each choose some man and teach him what he needs to know to properly impress a lady.”
“Yes, by God.” Lucinda thumped her hand on the table.
Evelyn looked from one of her friends to the other. Her brother would likely scold her for wasting her time in frivolity, but then he didn’t have to know. Perhaps he would stay in India forever, and leave them with one less scoundrel to reform. She smiled at the thought and pulled her blank paper closer. Truth be told, it was nice to feel as though she were doing something productive, whatever small use anyone might make of a list.
Georgiana chuckled as she began writing. “We could get our rules published. ‘Lessons in Love,’ by Three Ladies of Distinction.”
- Never interrupt a lady when she’s speaking to you, as if what you have to say is more important.
- If you ask for an opinion, expect to receive one, and don’t make fun of it
- Gentlemanly behavior isn’t just opening doors; to make an impression, you have to be concerned over a lady’s needs at least as much as your own
- Don’t assume, when a lady wants to take up a task or a cause, that it’s just a “hobby”
Evelyn sat back and looked at what she’d written, blowing on it to remove the excess pencil lead. There. That should do it. Now all she needed was a victim – or rather, a student. “This is fun.”
In law an infant, and in years a boy,
In mind a slave to every vicious joy,
From every sense of shame and virtue wean’d,
In lies an adept, in deceit a fiend;
Vers’d in hypocrisy, while yet a child,
Fickle as wind, of inclinations wild;
Woman his dupe, his heedless friend a tool,
Old in the world, though scarcely broke from school.
Damaetas, Lord Byron
One year later.
“I really wish you wouldn’t make such a fuss about it,” Evelyn Ruddick said, taking a step away from her brother. “Lucinda Barrett and I have been friends since we came out together.”
Victor closed the distance between them again, his tone clipped and annoyed. “Be friends at some other soiree,” he returned. “Her father doesn’t even have a vote in the House, and tonight I need you to chat with Lady Gladstone.”
“I don’t like Lady Gladstone,” Evie murmured back, stifling a curse when Victor clasped her arm, preventing her from sidling away again. “She drinks whiskey.”
“And her husband is an influential West Sussex property owner. Putting up with a little inebriation is a small price for a seat in the House of Commons.”
“You only say that because she won’t be breathing on you. Victor, I came here tonight to dance, and to chat with my fr–“
Her brother lowered his dark eyebrows. “You came here tonight because I escorted you. And I only did that so you would be able to assist me with my campaign.”
They both knew she’d lost the argument before it began; she frequently had the suspicion that Victor allowed her to debate him only so he could put her in her place more often. “Oh, faddle. I liked it better when you were in India.”
“Hm. So did I. Now go, before one of Plimpton’s cronies gets to her first.”
Pasting a polite, friendly smile on her face, Evelyn strolled past the fringes of the crowded dance floor in search of her brother’s latest source of possible votes. In all truth, Lady Gladstone’s choice of liquor wasn’t all that troublesome. Thirty years younger than her husband, the viscountess had worse habits than whiskey. And Evelyn had already heard a rumor that one of the worst was in attendance this evening.
Lady Gladstone sat amidst the scattering of chairs arranged in a shallow alcove to one side of the orchestra. Emerald green silk clung closer than paint to her much-lauded curves as she lounged, her head tilted to one side. indecent as the sight seemed in Lady Dalmere’s conservative ballroom, the man who leaned over her shoulder, his face so close to her ear that dark brown hair brushed her burnished gold curls, was even more unsettling.
For a moment Evelyn contemplated pretending that she hadn’t seen anything and walking away, but that would only give Victor another chance to call her foolish and empty-headed. So instead she stood there until she began to feel like a voyeur, then cleared her throat when she couldn’t stand it any longer. “Lady Gladstone?”
The viscountess lifted dark eyes to her. “Saint, it seems we have company,” she tittered, her voice a breathless giggle.
The form leaning over Lady Gladstone’s shoulder straightened to his full height, and startling gray eyes took their leisure sweeping the length of Evelyn to her face. She couldn’t have stopped her blush if her life depended on it.
All young ladies mindful of their reputations made a point of staying well away from the tall, jaded, and devilish handsome Marquis of St. Aubyn. If not for her brother’s political ambitions, Victor wouldn’t have allowed her anywhere near Lady Gladstone for exactly that reason.
“My lord,” she said belatedly, gathering her wits enough to dip in a shallow curtsy, “good evening.”
He gazed at her for another moment, his wicked, sensual mouth turning upward in the faintest of cynical smiles. “It’s still too early to tell.” Then, without another word, he turned on his heel and strolled away toward the gaming rooms.
Evelyn let out the breath she’d been holding. “That was rude,” she muttered, once he was out of earshot.
Lady Gladstone chuckled again, her own cheeks flushed – and not from the warm room, Evelyn decided. “My dear Miss Whoever You Are,” the viscountess murmured, “Saint doesn’t have to be good, because he’s so very . . . very, bad.”
Well, that made no sense. She hadn’t barged in, though, to debate the merits of poor behavior. “I am Evelyn Ruddick, my lady,” she said, curtsying again. “We attended the Bramhurst Christmas soiree together, and you said I might call on you in London.”
“Oh, dear me, I am too generous, sometimes. What was it you wanted from me, Miss . . . Ruddick?”
Evelyn hated this part, mostly because it always entailed lying. And she detested lying. “Well, first of all, I wanted to tell you that your gown is absolutely the most splendid creation I have ever seen.”
The viscountess’s lounging curves became even more pronounced. “How very sweet of you, dear.” Full lips smiled. “I would be happy to recommend my dressmaker to you. I’m certain you and I are of nearly the same age, though your . . . bosom is less . . .”
Obvious, Evelyn finished silently, hiding her scowl. “That would be most kind of you,” she said instead. Though she would have rather swallowed a bug, Evie went closer, taking the seat beside the viscountess. “I had heard,” she continued in a more conspiratorial tone, “that you are greatly responsible for your husband’s political success. I . . . am somewhat at a loss as to how to assist my brother, Victor, in the same arena.”
Lady Gladstone’s distant expression warmed into one of calm superiority. “Ah. Well, first, of course, you must know the right people. That’s–“
”Where is he?” Round, soft face red as a beet and his prominent eyes protruding even more than usual, Lord Gladstone huffed toward them, planting his feet squarely in front of his wife. “Where is that scoundrel?”
The viscountess straightened, obviously in a belated attempt at innocence. “Whom are you looking for, my love? I’ve been having a coze with Miss Ruddick, here, but I’ll happily help you search.”
Wonderful, Evie thought, as the viscount’s eye-popping gaze turned in her direction. All she needed was to become involved in one of St. Aubyn’s infamous scandals. Victor would never allow her out of the house again – even if this was actually his fault.
“You know damned well who I’m looking for, Fatima. You, girl, have you seen that scoun–“
”Evie! There you are!” With her usual splendid timing Georgiana, Lady Dare, swooped up to their group and grasped Evelyn’s hands. “You must come settle an argument. Dare insists that he’s right, when we both know that he never is.”
Evie settled for nodding at the Gladstones as Georgie towed her to the safer, less scandal-ridden part of the ballroom. “Thank goodness,” she exclaimed. “I thought I was doomed.”
“What in the world were you doing with Lady Gladstone?” Georgiana asked, releasing her.
She sighed. “Ask Victor.”
“Ah. Your brother’s trying to take Plimpton’s seat in the House, isn’t he? I’d heard a rumor.”
“Yes, he is. It’s so . . . aggravating. He’s spent most of the last five years out of the country, and he still never even asks my opinion about anything or anyone in London. He just sends me to chat with whomever he deems most useful.”
Georgiana’s expression became more thoughtful. “Hm. Well, siblings weren’t precisely what we had in mind, but you might make Victor the object of your lesson.”
“Absolutely not,” Evie answered, shuddering. “I’m waiting for Lucinda to take her turn, first. And besides, as close as you came to maiming Dare, I’d probably end up murdering Victor.”
“If you say so. In my experience, though, the object of your lesson may just choose you.”
“Ha. Not as long as I’m being charming and empty-headed for Victor’s silly political friends. They wouldn’t dare be anything but polite. Heavens, someone might scowl at them.”
Lady Dare laughed and took Evie’s arm again. “That’s quite enough of that. Come on and dance with Tristan. You may even kick him, if you’d like.”
“But I like your Tristan,” Evelyn protested, grinning and thankful for good, apolitical friends. “He scowls from time to time.”
Georgiana’s smile softened. “Yes, he does, doesn’t he?”
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