Lady Georgiana Halley burst through the drawing room doors. “Did you hear what that man did this time?”
Lucinda Barrett and Evelyn Ruddick exchanged glances that Georgiana could have read from a mile away. Of course they knew precisely whom she was discussing. How could they not, when he was the worst man in England?
“What now?” Lucinda asked, putting down the cards she’d been shuffling.
Shaking raindrops from the hem of her gown, Georgiana plunked herself into the third chair at the gaming table. “Elinor Blythem and her maid got caught in the rain this morning. They were walking home when that man drove by in his coach at full tilt and sent a cascade of street water straight at them.” She pulled off her gloves and slapped them onto the table. “It’s fortunate the rain had just begun, or he might have drowned her!”
“He didn’t even stop?” Evelyn poured her a hot cup of tea.
“And get wet himself? Heavens, no.” Georgiana dropped a lump of sugar into
the tea and stirred vigorously. Men were so maddening! “If the morning had been dry, he would have stopped to let Elinor and her maid ride with him, but for most men, ‘nobility’ is not a state of mind or of station. It is a state of comfort.”
“A state of monetary comfort,” Lucinda amended. “Don’t spill.”
Evie refilled her own cup. “While you two are entirely too cynical, I have to agree that society seems to forgive arrogance when a gentleman has money and power. In the days of King Arthur, inspiring a woman’s admiration was at least as important as the ability to slay a dragon.”
In Miss Ruddick’s optimistic imagination, nearly everything tied into tales of chivalry – but this time she had a point. “Yes, exactly,” Georgiana said. “When did the dragons become more important than the maidens?”
“Dragons guard treasure,” Lucinda said, jumping on the analogy, “which is why females with large dowries can rate almost as highly as dragons.”
“It should be we who are the treasures, dowries or not,” Georgiana insisted. “I think the difficulty is that we’re more complicated than wagering or horse races. Understanding a female is utterly beyond the capacity of most men.”
Lucinda bit into a chocolate tea cake. “I agree. It certainly takes more than a sword swinging in my direction to get my attention.” She chuckled.
“Lucinda!” Blushing bright red, Evie fanned her face. “For heaven’s sake!”
Georgiana sat forward. “No. Luce is right. A gentleman can’t win a female’s heart the same way he wins a . . . a boat race on the Thames. They need to know there are different rules involved. For instance, I wouldn’t want anything to do with a gentleman who makes a habit of breaking ladies’ hearts, no matter how handsome he was, or how much wealth and power he had.”
“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 as an exclamation point.
Lucinda stood and went 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 distribute them. “The three of us wield a great deal of influence, particularly with the so-called gentlemen to whom these rules would apply.”
“We would be doing other ladies a service,” Georgiana said, her anger ebbing as the plan began to take shape.
“But a list won’t do anything for anyone but ourselves.” Evelyn took the pencil Lucinda handed her. “If that.”
“Oh, yes, it will – when we put our rules into practice,” Georgiana countered. “I propose that we each choose some man and teach him what he needs to know in order properly to impress a lady.”
“Yes, by God.” Lucinda thumped her hand on the table in agreement.
As she began writing, Georgiana chuckled darkly. “We could get our rules published. ‘Lessons in Love,’ by Three Ladies of Distinction.”
- Never break a lady’s heart
- Always tell the truth, no matter what you think a lady wants to heart
- Never make a wager over a lady’s affections
- Flowers are nice; but make sure they’re the lady’s favorite kind. Lilies are especially lovely.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Macbeth, Act IV, Scene i
Lady Georgiana Halley watched Dare enter the ballroom and wondered why the soles of his boots didn’t smoke, he was so well-traveled on the path to Hell. The rest of him certainly smoldered, dark and devilishly seductive, as he made his way toward the gaming rooms. He didn’t even notice when Elinor Blythem turned her back on him.
“I really do hate that man,” she murmured.
“Beg pardon?” Lord Luxley loped by her, the country dance sending him spinning and leaping in a circle with her at the center.
“Nothing, my lord. I’m only thinking aloud.”
“Well, share your thoughts with me, Lady Georgiana.” He touched her hand, turned, and vanished for a moment behind Miss Partrey as they wound through the line again. “Nothing pleases me so much as the sound of your voice.”
Except, perhaps, for the gold clinking in my purse. Georgiana sighed. She was becoming far too jaded. “You are too kind, my lord.”
“That is an impossibility where you are concerned.”
They circled around again, and Georgiana scowled at Dare’s broad back as the scoundrel strolled out of sight, probably to go smoke a cheroot and drink with his blackguard friends. The evening had been so pleasant before Dare had intruded. Her aunt was hosting the soiree, so she couldn’t imagine that anyone had invited him.
Her dance partner joined her again, and she favored the handsome, golden-haired baron with a determined smile. She would just have to put that devil Dare out of her thoughts. “You are energetic tonight, Lord Luxley.”
“You inspire me,” he said, sounding winded.
The dance came to a close. While the baron dug in his waistcoat for a handkerchief, Georgiana caught sight of Lucinda Barrett and Evelyn Ruddick, standing with their heads together at the refreshment table. “Thank you, my lord,” she said to her partner, curtsying before he could offer to take her on a stroll around the room. “You’ve exhausted me beyond recall. If you’ll excuse me?”
“Oh. I – of course, my lady.”
“Luxley?” Lucinda exclaimed from behind her ivory-ribbed fan as Georgiana joined them. “How did that happen?”
Georgiana gave in to a genuine smile. “He wanted to recite the poem he’d written in my honor, and the only way to stop him after the first stanza was to agree to a dance.”
“He wrote you a poem?” Evelyn looped her hand around Georgiana’s arm and led the way to the chairs lining one side of the room.
“He did.” Grateful to see Luxley select one of the debutantes as his next victim, Georgiana accepted a glass of Madeira from one of the footman. After three hours of quadrilles, waltzes, and country dances, her feet ached. “And you know what rhymes with Georgiana, don’t you?”
Evelyn wrinkled her brow, her gray eyes twinkling. “No, what?”
“Nothing. He just put ‘iana’ after every ending word. In iambic trimeter, yet. ‘Oh, Georgiana, your beauty is my sunlightiana, your hair is finer than goldiana, your–‘”
Lucinda made a choking sound. “Dear Lord, stop that at once. Georgie, you have the most astounding ability to make gentlemen do and say the most ridiculous things.”
Georgiana shook her head, pushing a goldiana curl out of her eyes as it came loose from one of its ivory clips. “My money has that ability. Not me.”
“You shouldn’t be so cynical. After all, he did go to the effort of writing you a poem, awful or not,” Evelyn said.
“Yes, you’re right. It’s very sad that I’ve become so jaded at a mere four-and-twenty, isn’t it?”
“Are you going to choose Luxley for your lesson?” Evelyn asked. “It seems to me, he could stand to learn a few things – namely about how dim women aren’t.”
Taking a sip of sweet Madeira, Georgiana smiled. “To be honest, I’m not sure he’d be worth the effort. In fact--” A movement by the stairs caught her attention, and Dare reentered the ballroom, a woman on his arm. Not just any woman, she noted with a slight scowl: Amelia Johns.
“In fact what?” Lucinda followed her gaze. “Oh, dear. Who invited Dare?”
“Not me; that’s for certain.” Miss Johns couldn’t be above eighteen years old – a good twelve years younger than Dare. In years of sin, though, he surpassed her by centuries. Georgiana had heard rumors that the viscount was courting someone, and with her family’s money and her pert brunette innocence, Amelia was no doubt the target, the poor thing.
Dare took both of Amelia's hands in his, and Georgiana gritted her teeth. The viscount said something brief and, with a jaunty grin, released the girl and strolled away. Amelia's face flushed, then paled, and she hurried from the room.
Well, that blasted well made one thing clear. Georgiana stood, facing her friends again. “No, not Luxley,” she stated, surprised at her calm determination. “I have a different student in mind – one in serious need of a good lesson.”
Evie’s eyes widened. “You’re not thinking about Lord Dare, are you? You hate like him. You barely speak to him.”
Across the room Dare's deep laugh sounded, and Georgiana’s blood heated to near boiling. Obviously he didn't care a fig that he'd wounded a young girl's feelings -- or worse, broken another heart. Oh, yes, he badly needed a lesson. He was the reason they’d made the lists in the first place. And she knew the exact lesson she intended to teach him. In fact, she could think of no one better qualified to deliver it than she. “Yes, Dare. And, obviously, I'll have to break his heart to do it, though I'm not certain he even has one. But--“
”Shh,” Evelyn hissed, making a cutting gesture with her hands.
“Who has one what?”
Her spine stiffening at the low drawl, Georgiana turned around. “I wasn't talking to you, my lord.”
Tristan Carroway, Viscount Dare, looked down at her, his light blue eyes amused. He couldn't have a heart, if he was able to smile that charming, sensuous smile right after reducing another woman to tears and flight.
“And here I was,” he said, “only approaching to tell you how remarkably lovely you look this evening, Lady Georgiana.”
She smiled, seething inside. Now he was complimenting her, while poor Amelia was without a doubt in some dark corner, weeping. “I did choose this ensemble with you in mind, my lord,” she said, smoothing her silk burgundy skirt. “Do you truly like it?”
The viscount was no fool, and though his expression didn't change, he took a half step back. She hadn't brought her fan along tonight, though Lucinda’s was in easy reach if she changed her mind about cracking him across the knuckles.
“I do, my lady.” His sweeping glance took her in from head to toe, leaving her with the unsettling sensation that he knew whether her shift was silk or cotton.
“Then this is the one I'll wear to your funeral,” she said with a sweet smile.
“Georgie,” Lucinda murmured, taking her arm.
Dare lifted an eyebrow. “Who says you'll be invited?” With a devilish grin, he turned on his heel. “Good evening, ladies.”
Oh, did he ever need to be taught a lesson! “How are your aunts?” Georgiana asked his backside.
He stopped and, with a slight hesitation turned, around. “My aunts?”
“Yes. I don't see them this evening. How are they?”
“Aunt Edwina is quite well,” he said, his expression wary. “Aunt Milly is recovering, though not as quickly as she would like. Why?”
Ha. She had no intention of explaining the reason behind her question. Let him wonder until she had the details of her plan figured out. “No reason. Please give them my compliments.”
“I will. Ladies.”
As soon as he was out of sight, Lucinda released Georgiana's arm. “So that's how you make a gentleman fall in love with you. I'd wondered what I'd been doing wrong.”
“Oh, hush. I can't simply fall into his arms. He would know something was afoot.”
“How are you going to accomplish it, then?” Even the usually optimistic Evelyn was skeptical.
“Before I do anything else, I need to speak with someone. I'll tell you what I can tomorrow.”
That said, Georgiana went in search of Amelia Johns. Dare had vanished, but she kept an eye out for his tall form anyway. One of his more annoying traits was that one never knew when or where he might turn up.
Drat. That reminded her that she’d forgotten to ask him whether he’d been invited this evening or had bullied his way into her aunt’s Hawthorne House party.
A thorough search revealed no sign of the pretty young debutante, and with a preoccupied frown Georgiana went to find her aunt and resume her hostess duties. Being Aunt Frederica’s live-in companion came with both certain privileges and responsibilities, and spending the evening being charming when she would rather have gone upstairs to plot was one of the latter.
Making Tristan Carroway fall in love with her was risky for more than one reason, but it was a lesson he badly needed to learn. He'd toyed with one heart too many, and she would make certain he never did it again. Ever.
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