Sir Vincent surveyed the crowded room at Lady Kingsley's ball until he found his quarry. The Earl of Cranleigh stood in an alcove with two other gentlemen in deep conversation. Making his way around the edge of the room until he was within distance to approach at the time their conversation ended, Sir Vincent then waited, sipping his drink, casually observing the dancing couples in the ballroom. Twenty minutes later, the gentlemen began to disperse and Sir Vincent moved to intercept Lord Cranleigh.
"Ah, Cranleigh, how nice to see you again," he said smiling.
"Sir Vincent," Cranleigh said with a curt nod, eyeing the corpulent man with contempt.
"I would like to have a private chat with you, my lord. Shall we step out onto the terrace a moment for some air?" Sir Vincent said ignoring the arrogance of the man.
"Sorry, not tonight. Maybe some other time. Now if you will excuse me, I have to find my wife," he answered coldly as he started to walk away.
"I am sure you will find this quite interesting, and informative. Especially since it is something that could cause you a great deal of embarrassment," Sir Vincent smirked.
The Earl of Cranleigh stared at him a moment, then motioned toward the open terrace door. When they were a distance from the nearest person on the terrace, he turned to Sir Vincent.
"Get it over with. Say what you have to say," Cranleigh said sharply.
"You have a young relative named Sarah, I believe," Sir Vincent said, noting the alert interest in the Earl's eyes, he continued. "Well, the young lady has found employment at a Gaming Hell," he laughed as he watched the shock look on the Earl's face.
"Where? Which one?" Cranleigh demanded.
"Oh no, that would be too easy. I wouldn't want to give you that information . . . yet. After all, with a rich little tidbit as this, I wouldn't want to just give it away. If you get my meaning," he wasn't about to tell Cranleigh she was only working in the office. Let him think she was selling herself, all the more he would want to keep it quiet. Sir Vincent had inquired and found out her parents were dead and Cranleigh had taken over their estate.
"How do I know it's true, if I cannot find her?" Cranleigh asked suspiciously.
"It is true all right. You know it is true if I know her name. Oh yes, she is a pretty redhead. She came here from the country, and found herself a cozy little shelter. Some people are going to wonder why you hadn't offered her a place to stay, especially since you took back her deceased parent's estate. They will wonder why you let an attractive young female relative go off to work like that . . . to such a degrading job. Can you imagine how your standing with your fellow Tories would suffer if this information happened to leak out?" Sir Vincent said shaking his head sadly.
"I did offer her a place! I planned for her to wed my son, but she disappeared in the night before I could . . ." Cranleigh stopped, realizing he said too much.
"Marry your son? As I recall, your son doesn't have too much up here" he said tapping his temple. "No wonder the chit skipped out," he sneered. "You were always having to pay to get him out of one mess or another over the years, not counting how many scrapes with the country genteel over his weird sexual advances to their daughters."
"How did you hear about that?" Cranleigh demanded.
"I make it my business to keep on top of gossip. You never know when it will come in handy . . . even old gossip."
"What do you want? I assume this is leading up to some form of blackmail," Cranleigh said anxiously.
"I have not decided whether if would be more profitable to let you make me an offer or . . . accept an offer from the newly ambitious Tory member, Lord Dansbury. He would love to see you wrapped up in scandal and take over your good connections in the House of Lords. For now, I will let you think about how much it's worth to you. Good evening your lordship," Sir Vincent said with a curt bow, and left the terrace.
Cranleigh lit a cigar and stood in the shadows on the terrace, thinking of how to handle the situation. His plans for Sarah were completely ruined with this information. He had planned to have Sarah marry his son, Bertie, in name only, while he had Sarah for himself, and together, they would produce a son, a new heir for his estate. He then planned to have Bertie committed to the asylum, keeping Sarah on the estate for his own pleasure with their child. Everyone would think it was his son's child he was so concerned about, and his wife would remain on his other property out of his way. Now that Sarah is working as a whore in some gaming hell, he would not be able to use her in his plan. He would never touch her now, he thought with revulsion, remembering in his youth going to his first brothel. Whores are filthy and carry diseases.
Now he would have to get rid of Sarah, if he did not want anyone else to know she was related to him. First he had to find her before Sir Vincent could do any damage, and that meant sending out some of his men to check all the gaming houses, especially the ones where Sir Vincent had frequently been seen. It had to be recent or he would have used this information sooner. Cranleigh ground out his cigar, tossed it into the shrubbery, then returned to the party.
"Well, my boy, I wasn't expecting to see you back here this evening. Three times in two days is a new record for you!" Adam's father said cheerfully as he handed him a brandy, and settled back into his favorite chair.
"You needn't remind me, Father, that I have not been a dutiful son," Adam answered, sipping his brandy.
"I've just been going over some issues coming up in the House of Lords," his father sighed. "I wish I could interest you in sitting in more often. With that arrogant, power-seeking Tory, Lord Dansbury there, the Whig Party has been having a hard time getting a majority vote. Your mother is raving mad ever since Dansbury has been protesting against the money spent on the charities she has been helping. In fact, Dansbury also mentioned the other day, that he thought the new place on Jermyn Street was a disgrace, and should be shut down. It wouldn't surprise me if he is just upset because he lost at the tables there."
"He has taken a stand against Lilly's place?" Adam asked surprised. Most of the men he knew, appreciated the convenience of having an exclusive place like that available, especially in walking distance of White's and Brooks's Clubs.
"He has taken a stand against everything that is not showing a profit for the Tories. I'm glad he wasn't in power during the Peninsular war, or he would have denied sending any supplies to our soldiers," his father answered, taking another gulp of brandy.
"Indeed! Since I was one of those soldiers, and the supplies that did get through to us were inadequate," Adam agreed.
"Now about this problem of Sarah's," his father continued, changing the subject that always upset him. He hated the thought that his only son and heir had gone to war, and he had worried until Adam had returned safely.
"I told your Mother about Sarah's background, and where she is staying. She reacted as I had suspected she would, indignant about the injustices of the world. I swear, if she had her way, she would sit in the House of Lords right next to me! She is probably the person we need to go against Dansbury," Lord Lyndmere chuckled, shaking his head.
"I am sorry to say, but Sarah refused to come here tomorrow, and sends her apologies. I didn't handle it well. I told her to pack her bags and I would bring her back here to stay. She is a stubborn wench that can't see the danger she's in," he said gloomily.
"Is there more than what you had already mentioned?" his father asked curiously.
"Well, yes. You know when I told you about the scene in Lilly's office, I did not know the whole story. It turned out that the dealer with the injured hand, was caught cheating, and was in league with a customer. Sarah was the one who found them out, and reported it. They had taken about seventy-thousand pounds which Lilly and her cohorts had convinced the guilty parties to return. From what I witnessed with the dealer's smashed hand, it was with a little strong-armed pressure. You know that if these men were unscrupulous enough to cheat, they certainly would not hesitate to seek revenge, especially for such a large amount," he said, finishing his brandy and reached for the bottle to refill his glass.
His father stared at his glass for a moment, then said, "You said that this new gambling hell was an exclusive place that charged a high fee for entry. The customer, the one you just mentioned, must be well heeled to afford it, and may very well be one of our own ton members."
"Quite possible. Most of the gentlemen I have seen there, I have seen at White's," Adam answered.
"In that case, I would think this could be doubly dangerous. This person would not only be upset over the money, but also of the possibility of being exposed as a card cheat. Does he know about Sarah?" the Earl asked.
"I would imagine, considering the dealer knew her. I did explain that to Sarah, but the silly chit does not listen, and thinks she is perfectly safe where she is!" Adam said angrily.
Lord Lyndmere had never known his son to get worried or upset over any woman, and he was beginning to think that Adam might be more interested in her than he wants anyone to believe.
"Are you going to see her again?" Lord Lyndmere asked.
Adam jumped to his feet in frustration, and started pacing.
"That's another thing! She is planning to go with some of those employees tomorrow afternoon to watch the hot-air balloon ascension . . . with gaming hell dealers and whores . . . right out in public! Thousands of people will be in that park. I told her she can't do that . . . she should not be seen with people of that caliber . . . that her reputation would be ruined. And what does she say? She calmly tells me that I forget she is also an employee," he complained.
The Earl smiled to see his son this agitated over a woman's behavior. Maybe he is finally getting over sowing his wild oats, although he did deserve that chance, since he came back from the Peninsular war. For a while he was afraid his son would become too wild the way he had been carrying on with his drinking, gambling and womanizing. This girl might be just what he needs.
"You did not answer my question . . . are you going to see her again?"
"Of course I am! I promised Roger, didn't I?" Adam said, astonished his father should ask. "I have to get her out of there. Tomorrow evening I intend to have a talk with Lilly. I suppose I will have to go to the park in the afternoon to make sure she doesn't get in any trouble," Adam sighed, sitting back down and picking up his glass.
"Yes, I agree. Sarah might run into that ex-dealer and his accomplice at the park. What do you think about your mother and I attending the balloon ascension? I know she had mentioned it the other day," his father asked.
"I know Mother would enjoy it, except if you happen to see Sarah there, with her fellow employees, I think you should steer mother in the opposite direction," Adam laughed.
"True, she would insist on meeting Sarah's friends. I wouldn't be surprised if she did not ask to see their place of work . . . to improve the working conditions," his father answered with a smile, envisioning his wife on an inspection tour of the place.
"Believe me . . . this is no sweat shop! These girls have it a whole lot better than any other brothel I've seen . . . I mean I have heard it is so . . . from others," Adam finished lamely.
His father choked back a laugh, as he concentrated on his glass of brandy. "Well then, I suppose I will see you at the park. I will tell your mother not to expect Sarah for dinner tomorrow evening. Although, I doubt she will accept no for an answer. You do know that she is back into her matchmaker roll again?" looking at his son, with amusement.
Adam sighed, "Yes, I imagined she would be, especially when I voluntarily bring a girl here to meet you. Tell Mother that she might as well save her time and energy, for you know how I feel about marriage."
"You have no interest in this one?" his father inquired.
"I told you . . . I am doing a favor for Roger. You know he was my best friend, and he has done me favors time and again over the years."
"I doubt if he has ever volunteered to be responsible for a girl for you," his father chided.
"He would if I had asked him," Adam said, as he rose from his chair. "It is time I left . . . when you start on the subject of love and marriage, then we have exhausted our tête-à-tête."
His father nodded solemnly before rising to see his son to the door, and silently cursed the woman who had made Adam so bitter toward love.
Sarah tossed restlessly in her bed, feeling guilty for the way she
had treated Adam that afternoon. He had been so nice taking her to meet
his parents, and offering her a place to stay, even going so far as to
help financially. Then she treated him so badly by arguing with him. She
thought he might kiss her, before Sally and Nicole came along. If she would
only learn to control her temper. The more she thought of the things she
said to him, and how better she should have handled it, only frustrated
her more. Sarah doubled up her fist and punched her pillow, before covered
her head with it trying to go back to sleep, still wondering if he would
want to see her again after the way she acted.
When Sarah dressed for the day at the park, she took extra care choosing something to make her as attractive as possible. Thinking of being in the company of the other female employees of such beauty, she felt she needed to at least make herself feel pretty. She chose her pale yellow jaconet with embroidering on the bodice, and pinned her curls up, leaving wisps of curls surrounding her face. Finally satisfied that was the best she could do, she went down to the first floor to meet the others.
Walking into the parlor, her heart sank when she saw how beautiful the other women appeared. Their clothes were expensive and it showed. All were dressed in the first stare of fashion that would definitely turn heads as they walked through the park. They greeted Sarah, expressing their delight that she was joining them. Unknown to Sarah, the women were all admiring how lovely she looked, and envying the sweet innocent aura she portrayed, while the men were re-evaluating their chances of a flirtation with her, in spite of Lilly's warning them off.
At that moment Lilly walked in with Jacques, followed by Karl, Enrique, Charlie and Mrs. Kirby.
"Before you leave for your outing, I would like to make an announcement," said a radiant Lilly, claiming their attention.
"Jacques and I are to be married."
Exclamations of approval and congratulations filled the room, as they gathered around to individually extend their well wishes.
"Shall I open a bottle of champagne?" asked Marcus.
"Good idea, I would like to toast my future bride," said Jacques as he pulled Lilly close with his arm around her shoulders.
Marcus hurriedly returned from the basement liquor room, where the champagne had been kept cool to be used this evening, and poured each a glass.
"To the first and last love of my life, who I will cherish until my dying day," Jacques said softly, as his eyes held Lilly's.
All raised their glass in salute as they sipped their drink, then began the questions on when and where the happy occasion will take place.
"We decided on next Sunday. Jacques and I would like to be married in our beloved France. We have not been back since having to leave because of Napoleon. We will take the packet from Dover to Calais, get married in a nearby Church, and return the following day. If we leave late Saturday night, we can catch the first packet leaving in the morning. We should be back, hopefully Monday evening, if everything goes according to schedule. I am sure you will be able to manage, if we close the table Jacques would be working, and even though you have been short one dealer because of Jason's leaving, you were used to that since he had only been here such a short time. I will advertise for two new dealers immediately. We will have two spare rooms on the fourth floor as Jacques will be with me on the third. That will take the strain off of the rest of you."
After agreeing it will all work out, and assuring Lilly not to worry, they said their good-byes and left for the park.
* * * *
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