Lady Lyndmere was excited with the prospect of shopping for her new daughter-in-law. They brought along two footmen to carry the packages, as she and Sarah went into every store on Bond Street picking up items of necessity befitting the new Viscountess.
Sarah was amazed as she watched the footmen become loaded down under the cumbersome packages. Every now and then, the carriage would pull up alongside, and the men would store the parcels inside, then continue their discreet pace behind the ladies. She wondered if there would be room for them in the carriage when they were ready to return to the house.
"Why Lady Lyndmere! How very nice to see you again, we have missed you at our little gatherings on Wednesdays," gushed the well dressed, middle-aged lady. She was tall, boney, with a haughty countenance. During this greeting she surveyed Sarah suspiciously. Her daughter, standing nearby, was about the same age as Sarah, but sadly resembled her mother. The woman had hopes of making a match between her daughter and Lady Lyndmere's extremely wealthy and eligible son, the Viscount Townsend.
"Good morning Lucinda. I do apologize for not attending your Wednesday get-togethers, but I have been so wrapped up in my charity organizations. I am sure you have heard me mention them. How the poor unfortunate widows and orphans need our help? But then, of course you would know about them, for I do believe it is your husband that has lead the voting against all financial aid proposed in Parliament," Lady Lyndmere smiled sweetly, hiding her ire.
"Oh, I vaguely recall his mentioning something about it, but he tends to shy away from political discussions in my presence, you know," she answered. Flustered, the woman changed the subject. She was anxious to stay on the good side of Lady Lyndmere no matter what her husband did in Parliament.
"My word! It seems you have been doing quite a bit of shopping!" she said eyeing the loaded carriage as the footmen added more parcels.
"Yes indeed! I am helping Lady Sarah replenish her wardrobe. The place she lived in had burned down, and completely left her without a thing to wear," Lady Lyndmere said, then with a gasp, added, "Oh dear! I have forgotten my manners! Lucinda, I would like you to meet Lady Sarah, a recent newcomer to London."
Lady Lyndmere then turned to Sarah with an amused twinkle in her eyes.
"Lady Sarah, I would like to introduce you to the Marchioness of Dansbury, and her daughter Lady Katherine,"
Lady Lyndmere watched the look of surprise cross Sarah's face before she curtsied and greeted Lady Dansbury. When the Marchioness had turned to her daughter, Sarah smiled at Lady Lyndmere. Now she understood the sarcastic greeting when the two women had met. This is the wife of Lord Dansbury that was giving Adam's father so much trouble in Parliament.
"You say your place was consumed by fire? Oh my dear how dreadful! I do swear, this town is becoming quite negligible in protecting our property! They really do need a better system for fighting the fires that constantly break out around London. Speaking of fires, did you hear of the fire destroying that disgraceful place the other day? Now that was a fire that was a welcome sight as far as the ton was concerned," Lady Dansbury said smugly.
"My husband, Lord Dansbury, has been speaking out against that horrible club since it had opened. You know how he feels about things like that. So immoral!" she said with a hand to her breast, and a shudder of disgust.
Sarah turned her head, putting her fingers to her lips to keep the smile from her face. If the woman only knew that her pompous husband had been at the place during the fire, literally caught with his pants down, she would have fainted.
"Well, you may have thought the place immoral, Lucinda, but that destructive fire put all the employees out on the street. Heaven knows we have enough homeless people already!" Lady Lyndmere said.
"I won't argue the fact they are homeless, my dear, but I still say it's a Godsend the place burned down!" the arrogant woman said, then turning to Sarah, "And what about you, Lady Sarah, are you staying at a hotel now that you no longer have a home? Or have you found new lodgings? I know with the season in full swing, it must be hard to locate another resident," she said, digging for more information about this young woman.
"Well, I...," Sarah stammered, wondering how to answer this woman, when Lady Lyndmere put her hand on her arm, halting her.
"Why Lucinda, did I not mention it? Lady Sarah is staying with me. You see, she is engaged to my son, Adam," Lady Lyndmere said happily, watching the shocked look on the Marchioness face and the deflated one on the daughter's.
She made a hasty excuse to Lady Dansbury, and taking hold of Sarah's arm, Lady Lyndmere continued on down Bond Street.
"Oh dear, she did not look happy with that news!" Sarah said as they made their way into another store.
"But what a pleasure it was to make the announcement!" Lady Lyndmere laughed.
"You don't know how many times that woman went out of her way to visit me, on one pretense after another, just to bring her daughter along . . . hoping that Adam would be there. As if my son had ever given that girl a second look! Why with all the beauties of the ton vying for his attention, he would scarcely have considered Dansbury's daughter, especially knowing how his father felt about the man!"
Seeing the apprehensive look on Sarah's face, she added, "And, my dear, you don't know how happy I am that he has chosen you! He could not have done better, if I had picked you out for him!" she said warmly, giving Sarah's hand a squeeze.
Although relieved that Lady Lyndmere liked her and if she had been able to, she could not have picked a better woman for a mother-in-law, but Sarah was still amazed that Adam had picked her instead of one of these beauties his mother mentioned, especially the wealthy, titled ones. The thought of how Richard had changed his mind about her, and married someone else still weighed heavily on her mind, even though it was five years ago.
At one store, Lady Lyndmere stopped in front to talk to another friend, and Sarah idly observed the other shoppers while she waited. Feeling as if someone was staring at her, Sarah glanced around, until her eyes focused on a carriage parked across the street. A chill of fear went through her, when she recognized the carriage as her grandfather's old Berlin coach with the scroll work around the windows and a crest on the door. That coach had belonged to the Cranleigh's for years, long before she was born, although her father had never taken it out of storage during the time he had been the earl.
Bertie, the new Earl of Cranleigh, was gawking at her from the window of the coach. She quickly turned away and moved closer to Lady Lyndmere. What was he doing here? Was he following her? Should she tell someone? Sarah felt foolish as it dawned on her that he must be waiting for his mother while she browsed in one of the stores. Breathing a sigh of relief, Sarah concentrated on Lady Lyndmere and her friend's conversation.
Returning to the town house, and alighting from their carriage, Lady Lyndmere directed the footmen to carry the packages up to Sarah's room. Sarah and Lady Lyndmere talked excitedly of their purchases while ascending the steps to the house. Engrossed in their conversation, Sarah was unaware of the old coach that slowly passed the house.
When they entered the foyer, the butler handed Sarah a note, stating it had just been delivered by a messenger prior to their return. Curious as to who would be writing to her here at Lord Townsend's place, Sarah opened it immediately.
18 Half Moon Street, MayfairSarah smiled as she read the letter, she was glad Sally would not be going back to work for Lilly, and hope she would find a much more suitable job as Gayle had with Lance and Marcus.
I have returned to the city today, and have moved into this lovely house. It is beautifully furnished, and has a butler and housekeeper. I am so thrilled to finally have a place of my own! If you have time, please come for a visit tomorrow afternoon.Sally
"Good news dear?" Lady Lyndmere inquired.
"Yes, a friend has just moved into a new house today, and invited me to visit tomorrow afternoon," she answered.
"Is it here in Mayfair?"
Sarah looked again at the letter, "It is at . . . uh . . . oh here it is . . . number 18, Half Moon Street."
The butler made a choking cough behind her, as he recognized the address of his master's love nest.
"Are you all right?" Lady Lyndmere asked turning to him in concern.
"Beggin' your pardon, Milady, something caught in my throat," he said embarrassed.
"Perhaps you best take care of it, Grenby, we won't be needing you now, we'll be upstairs in Sarah's room. Come dear, I'm anxious to see what we acquired today," said Lady Lyndmere, putting her arm through Sarah's as they headed for the staircase.
Adam peaked through the open door of Sarah's room, where his mother and Sarah were unwrapping and draping dresses over the chairs, sofa, and bed. He watched Sarah smile with delight as she held a shimmering pale topaz, brocaded-silk dress up to her shoulders, while she stood in front of the full length mirror. The afternoon sun beaming through the window created a spotlight of golden light on Sarah's auburn hair, and added to the burnish of the exquisite dress held against her shapely body. Adam leaned against the door frame with his arms folded, enjoying the view of the lady who will be his wife in another two days.
"Are you sure there is anything left in the shops?" he teased.
Startled the women looked up in surprise. Sarah blushed as she hastily laid the dress aside.
"My dear boy, we have only touched on the necessities! Just wait until after you are settled into married life, and we really decide to do some serious shopping!" his mother said with a twinkle in her eyes.
"I guess that will give me a two-day reprieve," he said, walking over to Sarah, giving her a quick kiss, and slipped his arm around her waist. "You'll look lovely in that topaz dress" he whispered in her ear.
"What do you mean by two days?" Sarah inquired.
"I have the special license, but the St. George Church will not be available for the ceremony until the day after tomorrow. I reserved it for a morning ceremony. Do you approve? Although, I wish it were right now," he said still with his arms around her.
Sarah looked up at him, and at the desire in his silver grey eyes, nodded in agreement.
"Well, that will give me time for a few arrangements," Lady Lyndmere said thoughtfully.
"Mother! This is to be a quiet service with just father and you as witnesses. When we leave for the country, you can make all the announcements you like. But not until then," Adam reprimanded.
"Well, I do not understand why you . . . "
"I think you have forgotten, Mother, Sarah's cousin, the Earl of Cranleigh, had just died in a scandalous manner. All of your friends in the ton have undoubtedly heard by this time, of Cranleigh's involvement in the fire and the murder of Sir Vincent. In fact, when I send the wedding announcement to the paper, I intend to mention Sarah's parents, and emphasize that the relationship to the recent Earl of Cranleigh replacing her father, is a very, very distant connection. I do not want a bunch of gossiping old biddies cornering Sarah with a lot of questions.
"Oh dear! I have completely forgotten Cranleigh!" Lady Lyndmere said flustered.
"I saw him today!" Sarah said in a frightened voice.
"WHAT!" Adam said looking at her astonished.
"I mean I saw the new Earl . . . the son, Bertie, the half-witted, crazy one when we were out shopping this morning," she said with a shudder. "He was staring at me from the old Berlin coach, belonging to my Grandfather."
"When was that? You didn't mention it," Lady Lyndmere asked slightly disappointed. She wanted to see what this man looked like.
"I would have, but at the time, you were talking to your friend. While waiting for you, I looked up, and there he was, parked across the street. At first I thought he was following us, but then I decided he must have been waiting for his mother to come out of one of the shops. By the time we left, I had put him completely out of my mind," Sarah said, shrugging, not wanting them to know that she had worried the whole trip back to the house.
Adam noticed how Sarah seemed to get upset every time the son was mentioned, and wondered what had caused it. She had told him of Cranleigh's plan for her to marry his son, but there seemed to be more to it, that caused her uneasiness.
"Has he ever bothered you?" he asked suspiciously.
"Once . . . he tried . . . but I escaped him and locked myself in my room. That was the night I ran away from my home," Sarah said quietly.
"I'll kill the bastard if he ever touches you!" Adam said angrily, pulling her closer. As he held Sarah, Adam's anger melted, and he wanted to divert her attention from the thought of Cranleigh.
"Since you now have this lovely dress," Adam said, nodding toward the topaz creation, "I think you should show it off. Don't you agree, Mother? Are you up to attending the theatre tonight?"
"Oh Adam, I would love it!" Sarah said eagerly, pushing Bertie from her mind.
"You are inviting me too, are you not Adam?" his mother teased.
"Of course, Mother. You and father are always included. After all, Sarah will need you to tell her who's who at the theater, and inform her of all the latest on-dits," Adam laughed.
The late arrival of Adam's father from a Parliament meeting delayed their arrival at the theatre, but they were in time for the curtain going up on the first act. Adam was relieved they were able to slip into their private box without having to pass through the appraisal of the ton. After his mother informed him that she told Lady Dansbury of his engagement, he was sure they would be hounded with questions this evening.
Sarah was enthralled with the play, and the colorful costumes and scenery. She was surprised at the size of the theater and how crowded and noisy it was, as if no one cared about the actors performance. The audience seemed more interested in what was going on in the boxes than on the stage. She noticed quite a few of their opera glasses had turned her way and were aimed at Lord Lyndmere's box.
When the lights went on for the intermission, Lord Lyndmere excused himself to step out, and Adam offered to bring back refreshments for Sarah and his mother. While the men were gone, Lady Lyndmere whispered behind her fan to Sarah, telling her the latest gossip of various members of the haute ton sitting around them.
The curtain behind them parted, and a gentleman stepped through. Glancing up at the man, Sarah was startled to see it was Richard. Not having laid eyes on him in five years, she was surprised at the change in him. Now dressed as a dandy, he wore a high-pointed shirt collar poking into his cheeks, an intricate cravat that seemed to strangle him, and a brightly colored waistcoat. His face was beginning to show the dissipation from over indulgence in liquor.
"Hallo, Sarah. I thought I recognized you," he said, taking her hand to his lips. "How lovely you look tonight, but then you always were a beautiful woman."
Smelling the strong aroma of alcohol, Sarah realized he must be drunk. Pulling her hand away, she introduced him to Lady Lyndmere who was eyeing him with disdain.
"Have you been in London long, my dear? Perhaps I might take you for a ride in the park some afternoon. We could talk over old times," he said leering at her, and rudely ignoring the Countess.
"I don't think so, Richard. For one thing I am engaged to Lady Lyndmere's son, Viscount Townsend. And for another reason, there are no old times to discuss, I have nothing to talk to you about. So if you will please, leave . . . "
"I should have married you, you know" he said, oblivious to her answer, and swaying on his feet, "It was a mistake to let you go. I had always loved you . . . not Emily."
"No doubt you're saying that because you have gambled Emily's money away!" she said angrily, and seeing the startled reaction, and his face pale at the remark, she guessed no one else knew of his gambling, and the only reason that she knew, was because of his markers.
Unnoticed Adam had returned, and was surprised to see this drunken miscreant confronting Sarah.
"I believe it's time you returned to your seat," Adam growled, taking Richard's arm, intending to steer him out of the box. Startled, Richard turned to protest at the interruption, but when he looked at Adam's silver-grey eyes blazing with fury, decided it was best to make his exit.
After Richard's departure, Adam looked at the relieved faces of his mother and Sarah.
"Should I even ask where he came from?" Adam enquired with amusement.
"No, he is not worth even thinking about!" Sarah said taking Adam's hand and squeezing it. "I'm just glad that you came back when you did, but then, you do have a habit of coming to my aid," she teased.
"I will always be there when you need me," Adam whispered, as the
lights lowered for the next act. In the dark he brushed her cheek with
a kiss, sending shivers down her spine.
* * * *
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