The Earl of Diamonds


The next few days were filled with morning calls, shopping, and tours of the city. The duchess enjoyed watching Elise's delight in everything she viewed. They took Anthony to the Exchange to see the wild animals, but he seemed to prefer the ducks in the lake.

The same afternoon Raynhurst brought home the mare, Elise's new riding outfit was delivered from the modiste.

"Perfect timing, you can change and we'll go for a ride in the park," he said.

"Oh Stephen, my own horse! I will hurry!" she said racing up the stairs.

It seemed only a few minutes to Raynhurst, before Elise descended the stairs in her stunning, deep blue velvet outfit with the hat plume of the same color, curved around the one side of her face. It took his breath away as he watched her, and he felt aroused as their eyes met.

"You are stunning, my love. I will have a hard time keeping the young bucks at a distance," he teased, as he led her out the door.

The mare was gentle and easy to handle as they rode into Hyde Park, along the Serpentine and onto Rotten Row.

The Park was crowded at this time of the afternoon with carriages, curricles, and high perched phaetons' along with the riders on horseback. Moving at a slow pace, Raynhurst introduced his wife as they passed by the curious elite.

Coming from the opposite direction, Lady Simpson, in a bright green outfit, moved her horse to an advantage point of passing near Raynhurst.

"Hello, Raynhurst, it has been awhile since we . . . met," she said in a silky voice and a seductive smile. She glanced at Elise. "Is this the wife I have heard so much about?"

Raynhurst, stiffened at the hint of a relationship between Caro and himself.

"Yes, this is my wife, Countess Raynhurst. Elise, this is Lady Caroline Simpson, a former acquaintance of mine," he said coldly.

"Former! Oh dear! You make me sound so ancient, when I am only five and twenty!" she teased in a coquettish manner, as she acknowledged the introduction to Elise, with a nod.

While Lady Caroline made idle conversation, she continued to throw in double entendres, with a knowing smile. Elise looked up at Stephen's stern countenance, and realized the woman was agitating him on purpose.

"Congratulations on your marriage, Countess. You know, you have broken many hearts in London, by taking away a most eligible catch like Lord Raynhurst!"

"I am pleased to have met you, Lady Simpson, and yes, I feel very fortunate that Lord Raynhurst chose me as his wife . . . over all the ladies of London," Elise answered in her most gracious manner, while moving her horse a little, as if to leave.

Raynhurst, relieved that she was not upset over Caro's insinuation, said in a calmer tone. "If you will excuse us now, Lady Simpson, we have an early engagement this evening."

They urged their horses on past Lady Simpson's, and continued their ride. When they were further along, Raynhurst said, "I am glad she didn't distress you, with her ill-mannered behavior."

"It might have been because she is a little jealous of me. For as she said, I did remove you from the eligibility list of the ladies," she said teasingly.

"Thank you, my love, for being so understanding," he said, as he reached out for her hand.

At the south gate to the park, Cedric waited for Lady Simpson as she rode toward him.

"Did you make your first sally, my dear?" he quipped, as he turned to ride beside her.

"Yes. I flirted with him outrageously, and made insinuating remarks, but she did not seem to get upset in the least!" she said frowning.

"Cheer up, tomorrow night at Almack's, I will ask her to dance, and tell her all about my dear cousin," he promised.

Lady Jersey greeted them as they entered Almack's. She welcomed the dowager duchess, then Raynhurst's mother and Aunt Emily, before turning to Elise and Raynhurst.

"You look lovely, my dear. You have caused quite a stir in our midst since you appeared at the theatre. I am sure you will not lack for partners, and of course, Lord Raynhurst has my permission to lead you in your first waltz," she said as she left them to greet the next guests.

When Elise looked at him quizzically, Raynhurst explained that the young ladies entering the Season for the first time, were not allowed to waltz until they have received permission from a patron of Almack's.

"What an odd rule!" she said astonished.

As the young men began to make their way toward them, Raynhurst steered her off to the side. At the thought of another man holding his wife, even on the dance floor, he realized how possessive he was becoming. Swallowing the resentment building in him, he stopped and introduced her to Viscount Lindley, and his cousin Cedric, who stepped in front of him blocking their way. Within minutes, as others came by, her dance card filled, leaving the first waltz, and another one for her husband.

When the first waltz began, Raynhurst escorted Elise away from her admirers onto the dance floor.

"Oh, Stephen! I am so nervous, I have never danced like this before," she confided.

"You will dance as graceful as you look," he assured her, as he put his arm around her waist, mindful of the proper distance to keep, even though she was his wife.

As they whirled the length of the room, her confidence increased and she smiled up at him "I love you, Stephen,"she whispered.

"I love you, my adorable wife," he answered with the love reflected in his eyes. "I would much rather be holding you somewhere else, beside this crowded dance floor."

"Tonight in our room you can hold me, all night long," she teased.

"Then let us leave as soon as possible, he said, smiling down at her with desire.

The evening continued on with Elise enjoying her first night of dancing. Toward the end, and the last waltz, Cedric claimed his dance.

"I believe I have the pleasure of this dance, My lady," he said gallantly.

Elise turned and smiled, "I believe so. You are Stephen's cousin, are you not?" she asked as he steered her to the floor.

"True, our fathers were brothers. We more or less grew up together, Stephen and I," he answered as the music started.

While they danced, he casually remarked, "I guess now that you're here in London, you will make a big change in Raynhurst's life."

"How do you mean?"

"Oh, his lifestyle for one thing. Raynhurst was quite the rogue, you know," he chuckled. "I never thought I'd see the day a woman would tame him."

With a wary look at him, she said, "Stephen seems to be happy, I do not know what he was before I met him."

"Of course, I am sure he is happy" he said in a placating manner. "It's just hard to picture him settling down into married life . . . well, the past three years . . . and to give up all of his lov . . ." pausing, he continued, with a look of chagrin, "I mean after being a bachelor for so long."

Elise listened uneasily, as Cedric carried on about Stephen, and did not like the way the conversation was going. She looked to the side of the dance floor where Stephen was watching them intently.

When the dance was finished, and without any further conversation, he led her back to Raynhurst.

"You have a lovely wife, Cuz, a welcome addition to the family," he said, and making his bow to Elise, he walked away.

"What did he say to you?" Raynhurst asked sharply.

"Why, nothing much, he talked of your days before going into the army, and when you returned. He mentioned that . . . he was surprised . . . that you would get married," she answered awkwardly.

Angered at Cedric for causing her anxiety, he hastened to reassure her he was very happy being married.

"Elise, my life was nothing before you came along, you believe that don't you?" he asked as he led her to where his mother, and the others were waiting for them.

"Of course, Stephen. You have shown that in every way possible since we've been together," she said smiling at him, as his words erased the doubt that Cedric's words had formed in her heart.

Elise arose early the next morning to take Anthony for a walk in the park. It seems she had been so busy, she felt she neglected him and made a vow to herself she would take him for a walk every day.

Standing in the hallway, she leaned down to straighten Anthony's jacket collar, and before she finished, he giggled pulling away, and ran toward the door. "Hurry, maman," he called looking back over his shoulder.

Just then, Martin, had opened the door to a visitor, and Anthony charged right into him.

"Whoa, Mate! You don't attack a British Sea Captain like that. They may fight you back!" he said with a husky chuckle.

Picking Anthony up, the tall brawny man with the golden beard, held him with both hands and looked him in the eye, "What's your name Mate?"

Awed at the big man, with wide eyes he said, "An-tahny."

The man with twinkling eyes, looked over at Elise, who was staring in astonishment. Suddenly, with a gaping look on his face, he said, "By God! You're the spittin' image of Eleanor!"

Still holding Anthony, he walked over to her, with a big grin, "You must be Elise . . . I'm your Uncle Michael."

Elise, elated, reached out to touch his arm, "Oh, I am so glad you came. Grandmother said you might!"

Turning to Anthony, who had his eye on Michael's beard, she said, "Anthony, this is your Uncle Michael."

Anthony reached up and stroked the beard, with fascination, and said "H'lo, Unka My-ka."

Which brought a roar of laughter from the big man, and a rush of servants at the noise.

"Let us go into the breakfast room. Have you eaten, yet?" she asked still with her hand on his arm. She was as thrilled as Anthony, with her Uncle. He was ruggedly good-looking, with a tan face and lines at the eyes from squinting in the sun. He looked every inch a Sea Captain.

Asking one of the servants to inform the Duchess she had company, they went into the breakfast room.

Michael was thoroughly enjoying Anthony's company and settled him on his lap. The Spanish-Indian girl, Michael had loved for ten years in Mexico, had died in a raid on her village, when he was away at sea, and their six-year-old daughter had died with her. Since then he had no interest in love, or getting married. Being an Uncle was as close as he would get to children now, and he never saw his brother, Edward's only child, Marissa, who he's heard is a frail, quiet girl of fourteen.

Raynhurst walking into the breakfast room after his morning ride, looked at the Naval Captain, sitting at the table, and couldn't miss the striking similarity between Elise and her grandmother.

As Elise introduced her uncle to Raynhurst, it was evident that there was an immediate rapport between them.

Michael's mother was ecstatic to see her son, and cried as he hugged her. The Duchess reprimanded him for not coming home more often, and wished he would leave the navy and stay close by.

Emily had walked in with Marion at that time, and was impressed at the striking appearance of the Sea Captain. Michael greeted them, and they were surprised, not having recognized him. "You two charming ladies forgot how I used to step on your toes, when we danced at all the parties," he laughed.

"I did not forget! You ruined a pair of my best dancing slippers," Marion quipped.

"You were a most gallant gentleman as I remember, and I thought you were an excellent dancing partner," Emily said with a smile.

"Well, I tried, but since both of you were spoken for at the time, it was hard to make a good impression" he said, pretending hurt feelings.

Michael explained to Elise and Raynhurst how they all used to see each other years ago, when Eleanor was with them. Eventually everyone settled into a comfortable conversation, and while they talked, Michael stole frequent glances at Emily, noticing how lovely she still looked, and wondered if this time he might make an impression.

After that first night of dancing, the rest of the week was filled with the rounds to musicals, routs, balls, and soirees. Some of these they attended two or three in one evening. Michael, in his Captains's uniform drew a lot of attention from the ladies, but he spent his time with Emily, as they renewed their acquaintance, and enjoyed dancing together.

Elise met so many people, and observed their admiration of Stephen, as she watched him conversing with a group of men. Now and then the remark of Cedric's would enter her thoughts, and she would worry if Stephen was truly happy being married. She remembered her grandmother reading the letter from Lady Hughes, about the mistresses Stephen had, and how he never went with the marriageable girls. Elise wondered if he had given them up now that he was married.

After breakfast each morning, Raynhurst and Michael went for a ride in St. James Park, while Elise and Anthony, along with her abigail, Agnes, walked to Green Park.

Raynhurst enjoying Michael's company, had a long discussion of the war they fought, and of the countries they had seen. When they slowed their horses to a walk after a hard gallop, the conversation continued amiably. Michael, feeling he knew Raynhurst well enough now, brought up the subject that had been bothering him this past week.

"I am not much for listening to the ton gossip, for I could care less what goes on around here," he said frowning. "But, it sort of worries me when I am hearing about someone in my family."

Raynhurst glanced at him warily, feeling that this is going to be about the bracelets.

"Well, I like you a lot Raynhurst, but I have come to love my niece as if she were my own daughter. I'd hate to see Elise get her heartbroken."

"What are we talking about? You haven't said what the gossip is about." Raynhurst prompted.

Taking a deep breath and letting it out in a whoosh, Michael said, "What I heard, if I am putting it together correctly, is about a whole bunch of diamond bracelets you have passed out to a string of mistresses. Then there is something about them being stolen, and one of your light skirts getting murdered, and you fighting a duel over somebody's wife . . . and all this is recently, since you married Elise," he said, looking at him to deny it.

Raynhurst paled at how it sounded when put altogether like that. It made him look like the worst kind of depraved scoundrel. This was the sort of gossip he would never want Elise to hear.

Shaking his head in resignation, he said, "What you heard is sort of an exaggerated truth. Yes, I did give out diamond bracelets. I had twenty-five made, and all but five have been given out before I had met Elise. She has the one with the number twenty on it. I had given it to her, quite unintentionally when I was drunk, at the time we met. Then I didn't see her for three years, and I gave out two more since I came back from the war, but those were before Elise came back into my life."

"As for the bracelets being stolen, yes they were. So far, the Bow Street detective has counted six. And yes, a girl has been murdered for her bracelet. And yes, someone challenged me to a duel, but that was not true of an affair with his wife for I have never met her. As it turned out, it was a mistaken impression due to some anonymous note given to him. Fortunately, the duel wasn't fought because he fled the country."

Looking Michael in the eye, he continued, "And Yes! I love Elise and would not hurt her or break her heart. I cannot imagine anything worse than her hearing of all this."

For a few minutes, with only the sound of the steady rhythm of the horses' hoofs in the dirt, they rode in silence.

Then Michael grinned, turned to him and said, "Well, my nephew-in-law, 'tis a relief to know that you are no longer an immoral, womanizing, scoundrel."

Raynhurst letting out the breath he'd been holding, said with sincere candor, "You don't know how much I appreciate that!"

Riding along again, Michael brought up the same theory Sir Harry, and Mr. Davidson had.

"It sure sounds like someone's out to bring you down. Not only with what is going on, but with the gossip too. There's no way that Elise will not hear about it," he mused.

"You don't think I'm not worried? Every time I see someone talk to her at these nightly events, I watch her expression to see if she had been informed.  I should take Elise, and Anthony, to my estate until this is over."

"That would be a good idea.  If she hasn't been there yet, that would be a good reason. Anthony would have more room to play, too," he agreed, adding with concern,  "You know, you really should tell her before she does find out."

"You're right. I will tell her before we leave for the Hollingsworth Ball, this evening," Raynhurst promised.

"I have to leave this afternoon, so I will not be going with you tonight. My ship will be leaving for America next week, and I need to be back in Bristol for the cargo loading," Michael said.

"Have you told the Duchess you are leaving?" Raynhurst asked.

"Not yet, I just received the message before we left this morning," he answered.

"I know Elise and your mother will be upset that your visit was so short. Also, I believe my Aunt Emily will not be too happy at your leaving. You seemed to have added a little interest to her life," Raynhurst teased.

"Your Aunt Emily is a fine woman, and I intend to write her often so she will keep that interest," Michael answered with a confident grin.

"I have enjoyed your company, Michael, and it has been nice to unload some of my troubles. We will miss you," Raynhurst said regrettably.

At the edge of Green Park, Cedric stood leaning again a tree in the shadows, watching Elise rise to her feet and brush off her skirt in the process of leaving the park. Cedric looked at his watch.

"Ten o'clock. Same time every morning this week. It is time to find Bigley and tell him the plan. But first, I need to unload these diamonds," he murmured as he strolled from the park.

Driving his carriage across London, to the east side of the Financial District, he stopped by a small pawnshop.

Throwing a coin to a street urchin to hold his horse, he went inside.

A crafty-looking old man behind the counter, asked what he needed.

"I do not need anything, but I would like to sell these," Cedric said, as he pulled the velvet pouch out of his pocket and loosening the string letting him see what it contained.

"Uh . . . I have . . . ah . . . won them from someone at the gaming tables, and would rather have the monetary value," Cedric said, as he handed the pouch to the jeweler.

Picking one up one of the diamonds, he held it to the light. Then had a closer look through his jeweler's loupe. The pawnbroker suspected that this was one of the diamonds the Bow Street detectives were looking for, and there was an enormous reward for the return of them. He said cautiously, "This is a unique cut of diamond. A very rare specimen. How many do you have?"

"There are forty-eight in the pouch. And I would like the best price for them."

"The most I have at the moment that I could give you is 10,000 pounds," he offered.

"They are worth much more than that!" Cedric fumed indignantly.

Shrugging, the pawnbroker said, "You can try somewhere else. Do you want to get rid of part of them, say twenty, now and maybe come back in two days, and I may be able to offer you more."

Knowing he hadn't much choice, Cedric accepted the 10,000 pounds for the twenty and agreed to come back.

The tavern in St. Giles was smokey and noisy for this time of day. At a table in a far corner of the dingy room, sat Rufus Bigley, a burly ex-soldier, who took any job offered, as long as it paid well and was not laborious.

Cedric worked his way through the rough crowd, to the table. Gestured to the tavern wench for service, and slid into the booth.

"Ye got a job for me, Guv?" Bigley growled.

Leaning forward so not to be overheard, he said "There is a young boy I want eliminated."

Staring at him a moment, Bigley asked, "Any particular way ye want it done?" he grinned maliciously.

Impatiently waiting while the barmaid placed a pitcher of ale on the table and left, Cedric answered, "No, I leave that to your discretion. I just want to have him out of my life . . . permanently."

"Yer ladybird given ye trouble with one a 'er brats?" Bigley snickered. "If'n 'e's yers 'n a blue blood like yerself, it'll cost ye more'n the usual fee," he said slyly, while thinking he could also get a big price for the boy in the West Indies. That plantation owner has a likin' for younguns, and always lookin' to buy the tykes, 'specially white ones.

"The fee I'll be wantin' is ten thousand pounds."

Cedric shook his head, "five thousand, with half now and half when you finish the job."

"Seven. Four now," Bigley said glaring at him.

"Agreed," Cedric said, reaching in his pocket and putting a pouch on the table.

"Now let me tell you where you can pick him up without any trouble. Every morning his mother takes him down to Green Park to play, while she sits under a tree, close to the Picadilly entrance. I have watched them this past week, and they are always there between nine and ten o'clock."

"Wot they look like?"

"You can't miss her. She has bright golden hair, and a good figure. The son has brown hair and is about two years old."

"Two, eh? Be easy 'nuff to nip 'im away from 'is mum," he mused, as he thought what a better price he would get for that age.

"Wot 'bout er?"

Cedric said indifferently, "I do not care. If she gets in your way, . . . well, that's up to you."

"Do ye want it done soon?"

"Yes, the sooner the better," Cedric answered firmly, as he rose to leave.

"Aye, t'morrow then, Guv," Bigley said, raising his glass in salute, as Cedric walked away.

"I best git a message off t' Bristol and let Satero know I 'ave a prime one for 'im to buy fer 'is master," he muttered as he downed the ale.

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