Scanning the area surrounding the balloon launching site, Adam looked for Sarah among the crowd. Catching a glimpse of his parents open carriage parked beneath a shade tree, he headed in that direction, and pulled up next to them.
"Adam! Oh, I am so glad you could get here in time. I never realized how many people would show up," his mother said excitedly.
"Yes, well, it seems the population of London is growing Mother, and after all, this is quite a spectacular event," he answered smiling lovingly at her.
They watched as the men prepared the massive balloon for the launching, while parents attempted to keep their children out of harms way as the balloon was being filled.
"Why, isn't that Sarah, over there?" asked his mother, looking off to the side under another crop of trees. There was a group of open carriages filled to capacity with lovely ladies that were just descending and helped by an equal number of fashionably dressed young gentlemen. Sarah was being helped down by the same one that Adam had seen yesterday. The one that had invited her to Gunther's for ices. They were all laughing, apparently enjoying their outing. Adam was thankful that they were off to the side, and in back of most of the hoard of people, where they were not likely to gain attention. Before he turned around to answer his mother, he saw another open carriage pull up next to them, and the female occupant started a conversation with Sally. Sally introduced the others to her.
"Good God!" his father said.
"Bloody Hell!" Adam exclaimed.
Surprised his mother looked at her husband and son, then back at the carriage. "What is the matter? Who is the lady in the carriage? She certainly is lovely . . . well, of course all of them are lovely . . ., isn't that unusual to see so many beautiful young ladies together like that?" she mused.
"That is Harriette Wilson, my dear. She is the notorious . . . uh . . . well, never mind. She is not the type of woman you need know about. Also, Sarah should not have been introduced to her," Lord Lyndmere said grimly.
"Oh dear! I have heard her name before . . . my word, so that is the scandalous woman everyone had gossiped about. She does not look at all like I would have imagined. She looks perfectly well mannered, does she not?" Lady Lyndmere asked.
"It is not her manners that are in question, it is her lifestyle that is objectionable," he muttered.
"But from what I have heard, she was perfectly acceptable to the Duke of Argyle, and the Earl of Craven," his wife answered tartly.
"You are not supposed to know these things! What do you ladies talk about when the gentlemen are not around?" he asked suspiciously.
"Well, talking about needlepoint does become boring," she answered shrugging.
"If you will excuse me, I believe I will take a stroll in that direction and try to remove Sarah from Harriette's presence before anyone takes a particular notice of her," Adam said interrupting his parents.
"Oh do bring Sarah over here, Adam! I would like to try and convince her to accept our invitation to dinner this evening, and maybe we can talk her into moving in with us," his mother said eagerly.
"Yes Mother, I will try," Adam said unconvincingly.
"Adam! Wait . . . look," Lord Lyndmere said, nodding in the direction a few yards from where Sarah was conversing by Harriette's carriage.
A man had roughly grabbed one of the girls by the arm and was shaking her while apparently yelling at her. The others in the group turned to see what was happening, and a few of the men walked over to her rescue. They conversed with the belligerent man, and then with the woman he still held by the arm. Finally they shrugged and said something else to the man before turning back to rejoin their group. The man left dragging the woman with him, still shouting at her.
Adam had recognized the woman as Maribelle. A very attractive, fair-haired,
blue-eyed girl barely twenty, who was flirtatious and overly exuberant
in her passions with the gentlemen visitors. Although he had not dealt
with her directly, he had heard from some of his friends, that she was
a married woman who had run away from her husband and children to have
a more exciting life. He was sure that Lilly, with her sense of justice,
was not aware of her circumstances or she would not have hired her.
Sarah stared wide-eyed at the altercation between Maribelle and the angry man. When she saw Lance and Marcus returning without Maribelle she stared in disbelief that they let him drag her away without helping.
"Why did you not stop him? Call the watchman before he gets away!" Sarah cried anxiously.
"There is nothing we can do, Sarah. That man is Cyrus Watts. Maribelle's husband," Lance answered.
"But . . . but he cannot just accost her and drag her away in a public place!" Sarah said angrily.
"Yes, my dear, he can and has every right to do so. She is his wife, and as such, in the eyes of the law, she is his property to do with as he chooses. Maribelle knows this too," Marcus explained.
Sarah bit her lip, and looked in the direction they had gone. "I did not know Maribelle was married, but seeing what an ogre that husband is . . . well, I can understand the reason she ran away"
Lance laughed, "My dear Sarah, Maribelle ran away and left him to take care of four children and a small farm. You can see why the man would be angry! But of course, he should have never married such a young and beautiful girl. Maribelle did not want to be a drudging farmer's wife, she wanted to wear pretty clothes and have men fawn over her. Now that she has been with Lilly's, she has developed a taste for more than mere compliments and enjoys the profits she receives."
"Four children? Why . . . why she cannot be twenty!" Sarah said astonished.
"Lud, that gel had a-babe-a-year since the old goat married her when she'd turned fifteen. After the fourth babe was born, she hightailed it away from him before he could get her pregnant again!" Sally said, shaking her head in disgust.
"I'm surprised she did not shoot the bastard," Rose remarked.
"Do you think Lilly will be able to help her?" Sarah asked. Still, upset over seeing Maribelle dragged away, whether her husband had the right or not.
"I afraid Lilly will not be happy about the situation, but she has no authority to aid a married woman when the husband is involved," Marcus said dryly.
Adam watched angrily as two of the men talked to Sarah, one of them was the blond Romeo he resented. They obviously were trying to calm her anxiety over what had happened.
"By Jove, Son, you had better bring Sarah over to us quickly before something else happens to draw attention to their group," Lord Lyndmere said quietly out of his wife's hearing.
Lady Lyndmere, had missed the altercation, as she had been speaking to one of her friends that had passed by their carriage. Her parasol was tilted blocking her view, and that of her friends, from the area where Sarah stood. Noting this, both Adam and Lord Lyndmere wondered if she had done it deliberately.
"I agree, Father," Adam said wearily, as he headed in Sarah's direction.
The balloon was partially filled when Adam reached them, and Sarah's eyes were wide in wonder as she watched the red and blue silken mass take shape. Adam also noticed that a few of the men with the group had their eyes on Sarah, instead of the balloon. She did make quite a delightful sight, with her red-hair shimmer with gold in the sunlight.
Nudging his way through the group, mumbling apologies, he came up behind her. "A wondrous sight is it not?" he said softly by her ear.
Her heart leaped at the sound of that familiar voice. Taking a breath to ease the fluttering, she turned her head to look up at him. His silver grey eyes were smiling at her. He is not mad at me after all, she thought.
"Come, Sarah, let me take you to a better observation spot. You will be able to see as it clears the ground," he said quietly, so the others did not hear, using that as an excuse to sever her from the group.
"I would like that," she answered still looking into his eyes. Not really caring where he took her, just so that she could be with him.
He casually started guiding her off in the direction of his carriage, then breathed a sigh of relief as they put further distance away from the group and Harriette Wilson. He decided not to say anything yet about the impropriety of Sally introducing her to the infamous demimondaine. It would just make her angry at him, and would undoubtedly send her right back into their company.
Sir Vincent, sat in his carriage with his wife and young daughter, as they watched the balloon taking shape. His attention had been caught elsewhere, when he saw Harriette Wilson's carriage pull in.
He, like most gentlemen of the haute ton were familiar with the sight of the lovely Harriette. When he recognized the men, gathered around her carriage, as the dealers from Lilly's place, along with some very lovely ladies from the same place, he paid closer attention. Especially when he saw the red-haired girl amongst them.
He smiled thinking that this would be more to add in the blackmailing of the Earl of Cranleigh. His relative not only worked in a gaming hell, but knew Harriette Wilson! He looked back at the balloon, and then at his watch. Sir Vincent was impatient to find the Earl and impart the information. His debts were mounting since having to return the money to Lilly, and he needed to recover his finances.
Adam escorted Sarah to his carriage parked next to his parents. Before he reached it, his mother waved. Sarah looked up, recognizing Lady Lyndmere, she smiled hesitantly. She was now faced with the problem of explaining why she had declined their dinner invitation.
"My dear, so good to see you again!" said the Countess cheerfully.
"Good afternoon, Lady Lyndmere," answered Sarah.
"Come sit beside me. My husband and Adam get into discussions, and sometimes I feel that I am out here in the park by myself," she said, giving her husband a speaking look.
Sarah let Adam help her up into the carriage and she took the seat opposite. Glancing over at the balloon, now upright and almost ready for launching, Sarah was amazed at the size of it since it had taken shape.
"Do you really think it will fly?" Sarah asked in wonder.
"Oh yes, my dear. Lately, they have been successfully launching them quite often. Only a few accidents have occurred that I know of, such as not clearing the trees and getting tangled in them," Lady Lyndmere said, then glancing back at Sarah's group of friends, observed Sally and Harriette laughing together. She decided her curiosity was too much, so she ventured to ask Sarah about them, even though she knew her husband would be angry with her.
"Your friends seem to be enjoying themselves," she said casually bringing up the subject.
Sarah glanced over at them and smiled. "Yes, they are."
"Tell me Sarah, what was your impression of Miss Wilson?" she asked, and ignored her husband as he muttered something to her.
"Miss Wilson?" Sarah asked bewildered.
"Yes, the lady in the carriage talking to your group, especially to the one in the apricot and white striped dress," she answered looking back at the group.
"Oh! Yes, Sally was introducing us to Harriette Dubochet," Sarah laughed. "She seems to be a very nice lady . . . a good sense of humor. Sally used to live next door to Harriette when they were young . . . Sally is the one talking to her now. She was telling us about Harriette's father being a clockmaker, and had his shop at the house. There were fifteen children in the family. Can you imagine? Fifteen! Just like our King George! Sally was saying how she was an only child, and so excited to have so many children next door to play with her. She was teasing Harriette about the things they used to do when they were young. Anyway, Sally was surprised to see her, as they had not seen each other in years . . . and . . . oh! Look! It is getting ready to take off!" Sarah said, pointing excitedly at the balloon. The crowd began to cheer as it slowly rose from the ground.
Adam was relieved to know the women had not been discussing their occupation. Perhaps Sally did not know of Harriette's reputation, he thought. He was glad he had not said anything about the impropriety of the introduction. Sarah would not have known what he meant, and then there would have been another misunderstanding between them. He turned his head to watch Sarah as her eyes followed the ascent of the balloon. Her rose-tinted lips were parted as she tilted her head further back watching its progress. His eyes traced the graceful curve of her neck, down to the swell of peaches and cream flesh above the low-cut neckline. It amazed him that for a redhead, not a single freckle marred her skin.
Wrenching his eyes away from Sarah, Adam caught his mother watching him with a smug smile. Flustered he turned his attention back to the balloon. Knowing that look of his mother's, he could only surmise she is developing her matchmaking plan, and he did not want her to think he was interested in that way about Sarah.
After all, he is only doing Sir Roger a favor, and he had no intentions of getting involved. He glanced back at Sarah, as she watched the balloon in awe, reminding himself again, that this indeed was just a favor to his friend Roger.
When the colorful balloon drifted from sight of the park spectators, the crowd began to disperse.
"I had better return to the others. They will be leaving soon," Sarah said as she looked over to the group still gathered together in friendly conversation.
"Do you not think you might change your mind, and come to dinner this evening? We would dearly love to have you, and Adam could escort you," Lady Lyndmere coaxed.
"Well, I . . . you see, it would be inconvenient for him to pick me up and return me to the . . . to where I live," she stammered, embarrassed to tell Lady Lyndmere where she lived or that she had nothing to wear for such an occasion.
"Nonsense, he lives close by your place, I am sure. Do you not Adam?"
"Yes, Mother . . . quite close, and it would be no trouble at all to escort Lady Sarah . . . if she accepts your invitation," he answered as he held Sarah's eyes with his.
Fascinated by his silver-grey eyes that seem to will her to do his bidding, Sarah murmured her acceptance to the invitation. Adam reached up and helped her from his parents' carriage, then waved them a good-bye with a promise to see them this evening.
"Come, I will drive you over to your friends so you may tell them you will be with me," he said, taking Sarah's elbow and guiding her to his carriage. This time he was going to be very careful not to ruffle her feathers. Otherwise, he would never get her away from Lilly's place.
Sir Vincent entered Brooks's Gentlemen's Club and casually strolled through the club, looking for the Earl of Cranleigh. He spotted him in a quiet corner reading the paper as he sipped his drink.
Taking a chair next to him, Sir Vincent said in a low voice, "Happened to see that lovely relative of yours this afternoon. She was in a cozy conversation with the ever popular Harriette Wilson. Did you know they were close friends?"
Startled, the Earl looked up, then narrowed his eyes as he glanced around to see if anyone was within hearing distance.
"I'm sure your telling this to me for a reason. Get to it," Cranleigh answered coldly.
Sir Vincent had every intention of recovering at least the same amount he had lost because of this redhead, and whatever else he could get from the Earl.
"The reason is . . . I should think it would be worth fifty-thousand pounds to keep Lord Dansbury, or your opponents in the Whigs from finding out . . . not to mention the ton."
"You're out of your mind . . . I don't have that kind of cash!" the Earl said angrily.
"Come now, you do have the young lady's estate you took from her, plus your own estate, and that lovely town house here in Mayfair. I am sure you would have no trouble obtaining a mortgage or selling any one of them. I will give you until tomorrow evening, and if I do not hear from you . . . well, you know what will happen to this information," Sir Vincent chuckled.
"Yes, I'm well aware . . . meet me tomorrow . . . at the Oxford Street gate of Hyde Park. It will have to be late as I have an engagement with the Prime Minister tomorrow evening. Say, around midnight . . . and I will bring you the money. Now, tell me where I can find her," Cranleigh growled.
"Oh no . . . not yet. I will tell you where she is tomorrow when I exchange the information for the money," Sir Vincent said as he rose to leave. "Have a pleasant evening, my lord."
The Earl of Cranleigh simmered in barely concealed rage as he watched Sir Vincent stroll away. He had his men looking at every gambling hell and brothel in London to find a whore named Sarah, but without success. He would have to meet Sir Vincent tomorrow and give him the money to get the information. He smiled as he thought of the surprise he would have for Sir Vincent after the exchange.
Sarah rubbed her forehead trying to ease her headache as she stood in front of the closet surveying the sparse wardrobe it contained. Then with a disheartened sigh she turned away and sat down on the bed. All her clothes were daytime clothes for casual wear, not to mention being outdated and out of fashion. There wasn't anything even remotely close to being appropriate to wear to dinner tonight. The thought ended as quickly as it came, of asking one of the girls if she could borrow one of their gowns, when it dawned on her that it might very well be one they had worn when entertaining Adam one evening and he would remember it.
Why did she not just tell him no, she thought. Ever since he had dropped her off to change, she realized how utterly stupid she had been to accept. He was not interested in her other than trying to help her, and she did not want to be helped. She would rather he felt she was attractive, and wanted to be in her company . . . maybe court her, but that was impossible. He was so handsome and no doubt many beautiful women were trying to ensnare him into marriage. Also, they would have large dowries to entice any gentleman.
Sarah was miserable and angry. Why did he ever come in the office that day and put his arms around her . . . why did he have such devastating eyes that made her melt when she looked at him . . . why did Roger have to ask him to keep an eye on her as if she was still a child and didn't know how to take care of herself? Sarah's headache intensified with her anxiety, and she rose to get a cool damp cloth to easy the ache.
When Mrs. Kirby came in an hour later to let her know a gentleman was waiting for her at the back door, she was surprised to see Sarah asleep with a wet cloth over her eyes.
"Oh my, Miss Sarah, are ye ill? There's a gent downstairs awaitin' fer ye," she asked concerned, as she touched Sarah's shoulder.
Pulling the cloth from her eyes, Sarah looked at her bewildered at first, then remembering that Adam planned to pick her up, she sat up too quickly and felt dizzy. Holding her hand to her head she groaned, "I forgot. I must have fallen asleep. I had such a headache."
"Ye not be looking well, Miss. I'll be sending 'im on 'is way, then I'll be back with some powder fer yer 'eadache."
"Yes, I guess that's best. There is no way I would ever be ready to go now," Sarah answered, easing her head back down on the pillow, and closing her eyes. She was grateful that she had an excuse not to go after all, even though she regretted not being able to see him.
Mrs. Kirby hurried back down the stairs to inform Adam of Sarah's condition. When she finished telling him, he frowned thoughtfully, then thanked her curtly and left.
All the way to his parents house Adam upbraided himself for wasting his time on a stubborn girl who cannot see that she needed help. He did not believe she was ill, but had made an excuse not to go with him. At this thought, he was incensed, for he had never had any female break an engagement with him.
Well, she need not make any more excuses, for he had other things
to do. She can stay where she was for all he cared. He had tried to do
what Roger had asked of him, he convinced himself. Now he just had to tell
his parents, and after seeing that look in his mother's eyes this afternoon,
he was glad that he wasn't going to be a victim of any matchmaking scheme
of hers tonight.
* * * *
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