Sir Roger's valet expertly finished the intricate knot of the cravat, while Roger stared into space thinking about this evening. In less than an hour he would see Anne again, and his feelings were mixed as to what to do about it. What he really should do, is just make her an offer, and take her upstairs, thereby resolving this ache he had for her. When he tried to vision himself leaving her afterwards, he knew it would be impossible. The worst part is, that he cannot imagine how this one girl has put him in such a position.
"There, Sir Roger," the valet said stepping back to admire his work. Finished with the cravat, he reached for the coat that Roger would be wearing. "Shall I have them order your coach now?"
"Yes, I will be down in a moment," Roger answered.
He went to the table with the decanter of brandy, and filled a glass, feeling he would need fortification before seeing Anne tonight. Staring into the glass, he thought about his life, and what he had accomplished since leaving the army when the Peninsular war ended. There has been nothing accomplished. I have wiled away my days with nothing more important to think about other than my own amusement. This baronetcy I have inherited has brought me a steady income, one that does not require my efforts as it is well managed, and an entrance to the ton activities.
Now he would freely admit he is bored with everything, except the prospects of seeing Anne again. He could picture them together sitting by a fireplace in the evening, and her by his side as his wife. Wife . . . if it were only possible. Shaking his head realizing he would never survive the scandal it would cause. He would be ruined . . . unless he left the country as so many others have done. America . . . that is where everyone has been going lately. He has heard of the many advantages with the new land available, and fortunes to be made. Emptying his glass, he refilled it once more, and another thought came to him.
He had land in America . . . in Virginia there was a plantation that a great-uncle had bequeathed to him years ago. He had always received an income from it, so it had been doing quite well, even during the war between Britain and the States that had started two years ago. Suddenly he was sure of what he wanted.
It is time to make a change in my life before I am too old to do anything about it. If I stay here, I can just see myself still continuing to attend the London Season year after year, and probably married to someone I cannot stand to be near. I do not want to end up like that. Now in a more cheerful mood after making his decision, he whistled as he went down the stairs to his awaiting carriage.
Roger was the first to enter the club that evening, and he went straight to Anne. She was sitting on a sofa talking to two of the other girls when he entered the parlor. Looking up at him, she smiled brightly, making him feel that there has been no sun out today until now. He hastily crossed the room and took her hands in his, then remembering others were there, curiously watching his actions, he bowed to them and asked to be excused as he took Anne off into the corner they had occupied last night.
"Will you marry me?" Roger blurted out anxiously.
Astonished Anne looked at him with wide eyes. This wasn't happening. A member of the peerage was asking her to marry him. Then realizing that he could not, she came to her senses.
"Thank you, Roger for asking me, but you know that is quite impossible," Anne answered with a sad smile.
"Yes! Yes it is possible!" he said excitedly, "I have figured it all out. We will go to Gretna Green tonight, get married, then I will make the travel arrangements to leave the country. We could go to Switzerland for a while then perhaps tour Italy. When this war with the United States is over, we'll go to America. There are negotiations for peace going on already, and it shouldn't last much longer. I have a plantation in Virginia where we will live. You would like to go to America, would you not?"
"America! Oh Roger, do you really mean it?" Anne asked, still afraid this wasn't happening.
"I definitely mean it, for I have thought of nothing except you since I left here, and I know that I do not want to live my life without you. I love you Anne. I have never been in love before, and I know this is sudden, but there can be no other solution. I will not take you as a mistress, nor will I give you up, and leave you here to a fate that I cannot even contemplate! We cannot live in England, for it will be too much of a scandal. By Jove, I am ready for a new adventure, and what better way to start it, then with a woman I adore, and in a new country?" he said enthusiastically.
Throwing her arms around his neck, Anne started to cry. Roger was holding her, kissing her on the temple, whispering words of endearment, when he felt a hand on his shoulder in a painful grasp.
Pulling them apart, Karl easily lifted Roger from the sofa.
"We will have none of that here. You have made her cry," still with his hand holding Roger's arm, Karl looked at Anne.
"Did he hurt you?"
"N..no he didn't hurt me. He asked me to marry him!" she answered with the tears still running down her rosy cheeks.
Karl shocked, not having had to deal with this situation before, let loose of Roger's arm and looked at him as if he had lost his mind.
"That's right, Sir. I had asked her to marry me. Do you think I should talk to Madame Monainge about a settlement?" Roger asked, confused as to how to proceed with negotiations for Anne's release from here.
"In any case, you will talk to Miss Lilly," Karl said firmly, taking Roger's arm again and leading him to her office. The other women excitedly crowded around Anne to hear what she had to say.
Karl gave a quick knock on the door of the office before opening it, dragging Roger with him.
Startled Lilly looked up at this unusual entrance.
"What is going on?" she asked looking at Roger's flustered expression at being dragged down the hallway in tow by this bulky giant.
Straightening his waist-jacket and cravat, Roger ran a hand through his rumpled hair, then clearing his throat he said in a dignified manner, "Madame Monainge, I have come to negotiate with you for the release of Anne from her contract with you. I have asked her to marry me, and I would like to remove her from your establishment immediately. I will pay you whatever amount is necessary to obtain her release."
Lilly looked at the handsome young man, who was trying hard to have an austere demeanor. She could tell he was as nervous as a student called before the head master.
"How do I know you intend to marry her? How do I know you will not take her away and treat her badly?" Lilly asked, testing him for his sincerity.
"Never would I treat her badly. Why, I love her! I do not even want to make her my mistress, for that would be too demeaning. She deserves nothing less than the sanctity of marriage," Roger answered, indignant at the suggestion of his ever hurting Anne.
"Well, I must say this is an unusual request, and one that I have not dealt with before," Lilly answered thoughtfully. She was relieved to know that Anne would be removed from the temptation of becoming like the other girls who had already been ruined.
Looking up at Karl, she said, "Bring Anne to me," then turning to Roger, she said, "You may sit down and tell me what is your name, and how you intend to support Anne. That is, if she is willing to accept your offer."
Roger breathed a sigh of relief, sat down heavily on the chair, and began to tell Lilly about his plans for his future. He has crossed the first bridge on his new adventure. The next step was making sure he left here with Anne.
Anne entered with Karl, just as Roger had completed explaining to Lilly of his intention to move to America, and saving Anne from scandal.
Lilly watched as Roger and Anne exchanged a look. A look that was unmistakable as to how Anne felt about him. Seeing to her satisfaction that this would be the best for Anne, Lilly decided to approve Roger's request.
"If you are planning on leaving here and heading directly to Gretna Green, you will need a traveling coach and outriders for protection. Do you have them?" Lilly asked.
"I had not thought to bring them with me, but yes, I can have them here within an hour. I will have my coachman deliver a message to my home, and have the necessary arrangements taken care of, but I prefer to stay here with Anne until she is ready to walk out the door with me. I do not want to take any chances of some man approaching her," Roger said anxiously, reaching for Anne's hand. This close to removing her from here he was not about to take a chance of something going wrong.
Lilly was pleased at his devotion to Anne. Then smiling she said, "Since she is permitted to take gentlemen to her room, you may accompany her, and help her pack."
"But I do not have to pack, Miss Lilly. Do you not remember I did not have anything when I arrived? All the clothes I have been wearing belong to you," Anne answered.
"My dear, the things you have, belongs to you now. You may consider them a wedding trousseau. Actually, you may have to do some shopping, for Lord only knows what they wear in America!" she said, reaching into the top desk drawer and pulling out a binder. Opening it, Lilly proceeded to write out a draft. Handing it to Roger she said, "Consider this as Anne's dowry. She has been part of our family since her arrival, and I believe she should have what is due a member of a family."
Roger and Anne both looked at the generous amount in amazement. Looking at Lilly in bewilderment, Roger said, "But . . . am I not suppose to be purchasing her contract from you? We have not come to that discussion as yet."
"Anne has no contract. She is here because that is what she wanted to do at the time. She is free to do whatever she likes, and it seems she would like to marry you," Lilly answered.
Thanking Lilly profusely, they left her office. Holding Anne's hand tightly, to make sure she did not disappear from this dream he felt he was in, Roger took her with him to deliver the message to his coachman, then they returned to Anne's room on the second floor to pack her clothes. The other women, happy with this new development, supplied the portmanteau for her use. While they were packing, he remembered Sarah was still here, and asked Anne if she had met her.
"Oh yes, she is very nice, and everyone likes her," she answered.
"Then you think it is safe if she stays and works here?" he asked doubtfully. Since he was leaving for America, he did not know what to do about Sarah, and began to feel guilty for having forgotten about her.
"I do not think there is anything to worry about. Lilly will take care of her. She is not allowed down on the main floor in the evenings. After working all day, she retires to her rooms at night. So I doubt that she will come in contact with any of the customers," Anne assured him.
"I am glad you told me, I would hate to think she would be wandering around the gaming tables in the evening," Roger said relieved, although even to envision Sarah doing that, was unthinkable. He would have to ask Lord Townsend to do something to insure Sarah was safe.
They finished the packing and Karl informed them the traveling coach had arrived. Lilly stood by the door to give Anne a hug before she left, wishing them well, with a promise from the happy couple to write.
Roger paused before leaving, and said to Lilly, "Sarah Prescott is a good friend of mine, a neighbor who I had grown up with, and I would appreciate it if, at any time she should need help, you would contact Viscount Adam Townsend. I will write to him and let him know that you might be in touch with him. He has met Sarah, and he will honor my request."
"I will keep that in mind, but you need not worry about Sarah, she is well protected, and as she is not acquainted with anyone in London, there should not be a risk to her reputation," Lilly answered.
When Viscount Townsend arrived back at his town house on the following morning, he was handed a letter that had been left by Sir Roger's footman the night before. He opened the letter as he walked up the stairs, casually skimming through it, stunned he came to a complete stop, and sat down on the step to read the letter.
Adam,Adam stared at the letter another minute, then slowly rose, and continued up the stairs to his room. He could not believe Roger would do such a thing. Yesterday, he had thought that Roger had too much to drink and would come to his senses after he had time to think about it. Now his best friend is married and leaving England. The thought of not seeing him again, after all the good times they had, put Adam in a depression. He sank into his favorite chair, and closed his eyes.
Sorry I didn't get to see you before I left, but I could not wait until you returned. For the first time in years I feel alive! Last night I realized how bored and useless my life has been lately, and could not continue that way since I met Anne. By the time you read this, Anne and I will have been married in Gretna Green. We plan on traveling to Switzerland and then Italy for a honeymoon until we are able to sail to America. (Yes! That's right, America!) I did not want Anne to face any sort of condemnation from my family, or the ton, so I thought it best to just stay away. (That is not cowardly, just practical!)
Do me a favor, my friend, and keep and eye on Sarah at Lilly's place. I told Lilly to get in touch with you, if ever Sarah should need help. I know I can count on you to see that she stays out of trouble, and please try to get her away from there! Do this favor as one you owe me from Spain, when I helped you out of that predicament with the peasant girl's father. I hate to bring that up, old friend, but I am really worried about Sarah, and you are the only one I know I can rely on to keep a promise.
Wish me happy (even though you must think I am crazy!) And do come to America sometime to see us. I will write to let you know of our location when we reach Virginia.
Always, and forever your friend,
His mind dredged up all the happy times he and Roger had spent together, in the army, at White's, with the four-in-hand club, at Tattersall's bidding against each other for a prime thoroughbred. Then he remembered the last morning together when they ran into his friend, Lady Sarah, in Lilly's office. How she had nearly jumped into Roger's arms from delight at seeing him. He thought of her lovely red hair and the green eyes . . . and the way she felt in his arms when he came up behind her . . . her innocent look of surprise when she turned around.
Adam opened his eyes and sat straighter. Roger is right. She does
need looking after to keep her out of trouble. This evening I'll talk to
Lilly, and make some arrangement to accept responsibility . . . it can't
be as her protector . . . Lilly will get the wrong idea. He envisioned
being her protector, and that was a delightful fantasy. He shook his head,
to clear his thoughts, knowing that was not at all a good thing to think
about. Adam got up and rang for his valet to bring some hot water.
* * * *
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