The Earl of Diamonds
"I am so glad you and Emily are here. I have never had a more enjoyable week," sighed the duchess, as she put on her rakish new hat.
"It has been wonderful, has it not?" agreed Lady Marion. "Oh! I do love that hat! Wherever did you get it?"
"In a boutique on Milsom Street. Do you think it will be all the crack in London?" she asked as she checked her reflection in the hallway mirror.
"I would surely think so! By the way, here is a letter that arrived earlier." Checking her own image as she handed her the letter.
"Why it is from my London friend, Lady Hughes. She must have seen the notice in the newspaper of the marriage, and will now scold me for not telling her sooner," she said as she opened it.
Scanning the letter silently, she gasped and glanced at Lady Marion, then continued reading.
"Is something wrong? Is it bad news?" Lady Marion asked concerned.
Folding the letter hurriedly and putting it into her reticule, she said flustered, "No, no . . . nothing serious . . . just, ah . . . an acquaintance had made an unexpected departure for the continent. Are you all packed for our trip to London in the morning?" she asked hoping to distract Marion from the letter.
"Oh yes! I am so excited to be able to show off my new daughter-in-law
and grandson. I have looked forward to this day for simply ages!" she said
eagerly, as they left for their afternoon walk.
"Oh, 'tis like a story in a romantic novel," Agnes said dreamily. "The way ye met and ye not knew 'e was an Earl and all! Blimey, wot a ninnyhammer I was! All this times me not known. Ye were a real Countess!" she said, still excited over all the news this past week.
"I suppose you are right. It does seem fantastic. However, for me, the past three years had not seemed so romantic wondering what had happened to him," she answered while thinking of all the humiliation and heartbreak she had gone through.
"When ye gits to London, then 'twill be romantic! Jest think of all the swar-rays and balls ye will be attendun 'n dancin' the waltz together," she said, helping Elise into her green muslin gown.
"Oh dear! I hope I will not step on his feet. I have not yet danced with anyone except the dancing master," Elise said anxiously.
"Don't ye worry, ye'll do fine, 'is lordship looks like a splendid dancer and 'e will float ye across the ballroom floor!"
Agnes assured her as she stepped aside for Elise to go downstairs.
The Raynhurst London house servants were in a state of anticipation, as they lined up when the carriage arrived. Raynhurst hurried down the front steps, and felt like a young man who was greeting a new bride. As the footmen open the door and let down the steps, Raynhurst stepped forward to help Elise from the carriage. Taking her in his arms, he proceeded to kiss her, unaware that his mother, son, Aunt Emily, and the Duchess were alighting from the carriage, or that the people passing by were gaping at them.
"Stephen! Where are your manners?" said his mother, embarrassed by the exhibition.
"Forgive me Mother, I got carried away. But, can you blame me? I saw her for only that one night after three years, only to part again for another week," he said smiling, and released his hold on Elise. While blushing, she straightened her bonnet.
Laughing, the Duchess quipped, "We were almost expecting you to carry her up to your bedroom!"
"Lydia! My goodness, what will people think?" Flustered, Marion glanced around at the onlookers.
"Let us do step inside" added Aunt Emily.
Picking up his son, and with a kiss on Anthony's cheek, he said, "Come see Papa's home. This is where you and I, and your maman will stay for a while."
Holding Anthony, and taking Elise's elbow, they stepped into the entrance. Raynhurst proudly introduced them to his household staff, Anthony as his heir, and Elise as their new mistress, the Countess of Raynhurst. Elise with her beauty, and amiable demeanor, instantly won the favor of each as they were introduced.
After the introduction ended, the servants quickly scurried to their tasks, as the luggage was brought in and carried to the rooms.
When the other guests had been escorted to their rooms, and Anthony to the nursery, Raynhurst led Elise to the master bedroom.
Entering the room, he indicated a door to the right of his bed that stood open, with a view of another bedroom. "That door leads to the Countess's room, which is now yours, but I do not expect you to use it for anything but changing your clothes. I want you here with me every night."
"That is exactly where I want to be," she smiled seductively, as she put her arms around his neck.
Kissing her on the nose, he said, "I am pleased you are a dutiful wife," and kissing her lips gently, then more insistent until she returned them as passionately.
"There is another duty you may perform, my dear wife," he whispered, as his hand moved to undo the buttons on her dress.
At breakfast, it was decided that in the evening they would attend the theatre, as their first public appearance in town. His mother, and the duchess, agreed that Elise should be brought gently into Le Beau Monde, by letting her be seen, and still give her some privacy to view the others and get a feeling of society.
The rest of the day would be spent with the modiste, selecting material from the dozens of rolls of silk she would bring to the house, and being measured for new gowns.
Listening to all of this, Raynhurst smiled and decided he would go
to Tattersall's, and buy a horse for Elise so that she could ride in the
Tattersall's was exceptionally crowded, and the bidding heavy on a matched pair of grays.
While looking over a nice gentle mare for Elise, he was interrupted by Lord Bennington and Sir Harry, who had come for the bidding. Both men, though appearing casual, were impeccably dressed in the first stare of fashion.
"I say, Raynhurst, did your wife get to town? You buying that mare for her?" Lord Bennington asked as he greeted his friend.
"When do we get to meet the lovely Countess?" Sir Harry queried.
"Yes . . . Yes . . . and tonight you will meet her, as we are attending the Covent Garden Theatre," he answered with a laugh.
Lowering his voice, Lord Bennington said, "Speaking of theatres, did you hear what happened to Karen Lacey?" as Raynhurst nodded solemnly, he continued, "Last night in the Greenroom, Rita said all that was missing of her jewelry was her bracelet that she had been flashing around since the thefts had started. She said Karen couldn't resist letting everyone know that she was the first to receive one."
Raynhurst shook his head sadly, "Karen was a nice girl, so full of life. I can't believe anyone would want to harm her."
"Had Bow Street contacted you, yet?" Sir Harry asked.
"Yes, and he said the same as you, Harry. It seems it is not so far-fetched that someone is out to do me permanent damage."
"You are well-liked Raynhurst, and I don't just mean by the ladies. Everyone thinks you're a regular out-and-outer. I can't see anyone wishing you harm!" Lord Bennington said loyally.
"Well, I cannot think of anyone that I have upset or had an argument . . . that is, besides that fiasco with Lord Pennsworth," he muttered, staring at the ground with his hands in his pockets.
Looking up at his friends, "Speaking of which, has either of you heard any more about that anonymous note Pennsworth received, or any ideas on who sent it?" he inquired.
"No, I had asked Pennsworth's butler, but he said it was delivered by some urchin, who handed it to him and took off in a flash," Lord Bennington said shrugging.
"God! I hope nothing else happens! Elise is in town, and I do not need some other misinformed cretin challenging me to a duel. Bad enough I have to worry about her hearing about the bracelets," he grumbled.
"It is a rare quandary, old fellow, and I don't envy you!" he chuckled and added, "But you know you can count on us for assistance, and we'll keep an eye out on any odd incident that arises."
"Good, now I had better get this horse paid for before somebody else decides to bid. See you tonight," he said, as he strolled back to the mare, where another buyer was looking it over.
Elise was thrilled about seeing her first theatre performance. She was wearing the high-waist, Grecian style gown, in ice-blue shimmering satin, that she had bought in Bath. The neckline was cut low and just came to the edge of her shoulders.
She was sorting through her jewelry deciding which to wear with the dress, when Raynhurst walked up behind her, leaned down and kissed the back of her neck. Smiling at him in the mirror, she reached back and touched his hand on her shoulder.
"You are beautiful, my little peasant girl," he said smiling.
She slapped his hand playfully, "Peasant Girl! After all my trouble to look like a Countess!" she said teasingly, as she reached for the diamond bracelet to put on her wrist.
Alarmed at the idea of her wearing the bracelet in front of the ton when it was such a hot topic of gossip, Raynhurst quickly reached out and grabbed in from her hand.
"Wait, Elise, let me look at that clasp," he said with feigned concern.
Taking the bracelet, and moving over to the candlelight at the other table, he held it away from her view and gave it a quick jerk to loosen the link on the clasp. Turning around, he said, "Ah, I thought so! It has a weak link and I had better take it to the jewelers tomorrow to be fixed." He put the bracelet in his pocket.
"I was looking forward to wearing it for our first night out together," she said disappointedly.
"I know, love, but it is better to be sure the clasp is secure," he said kissing her cheek. "I'll get the Raynhurst sapphires out of the safe. I should have thought to get them sooner. Be back in a moment." He kissed her again before leaving the room.
Raynhurst went quickly to the safe in the study and withdrew the leather box containing the Raynhurst sapphire necklace, bracelet, and earrings. Concealing the diamond bracelet at the very back of the safe, he thought of how he was to be rid of it. I cannot believe that these bracelets have caused me so much trouble. And this one especially will be the most, for I have no idea how to explain to Elise that she is not just another number in a string of affairs.
Raynhurst timed their entrance to the theatre as late as possible before the opening act of the play, so as to avoid many of the theatre goers. The few that were still not in their seats turned to stare at them, as they made their way up the stairs to their private box.
Elise took her seat nearest the balcony, with Raynhurst at her side, as the play began. So enthralled by the colorful costumes of the actors, and the stage production, she was unaware of the attraction to their box by the theatre audience. Whispers circulated, and all opera glasses focused on the lady sitting next to the Earl of Raynhurst.
The Duchess whispered to Lady Marion, "She certainly is creating a sensation!"
"Yes, and I am so glad we introduced her to the ton this way, rather than at some ball where she would have been embarrassed being ogled at so openly!" she answered indignantly.
"Elise does not seem aware that she is being ogled," commented Aunt Emily.
Proud of his wife, Raynhurst reached over to hold her hand, and Elise turned and smiled at him, "Is it not magnificent?" she said in awe of the performance.
Leaning over to her ear, he whispered, "You are magnificent."
In the box directly across the theatre, Lady Caroline Simpson watched the woman sitting with Raynhurst. Incensed that this woman had taken his attention away from her, she became preoccupied with thoughts of revenge.
In another box, Cedric looked at Raynhurst with hatred and as the
cause of all his troubles. Putting down his binoculars, he surveyed the
other boxes seeing who had attended. His eyes fell on the auburn hair beauty,
Lady Simpson. Picking up his glasses again; he observed her intense look
at Raynhurst's wife. He smiled and began thinking of another plan. A
good thing I have not pilfered Caro's bracelet yet, she will be useful.
At the intermission, Lord Bennington and Sir Harry were the first to visit their box.
"By God Raynhurst, she's a beauty! And it took you three years to find her again? I would have been half crazy if I had to wait that long for something like that!" Sir Harry said to Raynhurst as they stood off to the side of the box.
"I believe I was getting that way!" Raynhurst laughed, relieved that the first introduction was out of the way.
"Raynhurst, you sly thing! How could you keep something like this a secret?" Lady Sally Jersey said, walking up and taking his arm, "Introduce me this very minute!"
Raynhurst introduced Elise to Lady Jersey, one of the leading women of the ton and a patron of the renowned Almack's. He was not surprised that Elise made a favorable impression on that formidable lady, and had quickly been promised vouchers for admission to Almack's.
Eventually, the box filled with the curious wanting to meet the new Countess of Raynhurst, and to get a closer look at her.
At the end of intermission, when everyone had left their box, Elise felt a little overwhelmed. "I cannot believe you know so many people, Stephen."
"My dear, they would not have bothered coming up to our box if it
were not to meet you. You are the main attraction tonight, and I am sure
when we leave there will be many more waiting to make your acquaintance,"
he said amused.
When the play resumed, Cedric went up to Lady Caroline Simpson's box. Sitting down behind her he leaned forward and whispered, "Do you not think they make a lovely couple?"
She glanced back at him, "You know what I think, Cedric? I think she should have remained missing," she answered caustically, as she fanned herself.
"Well, my dear Caro, I personally doubt if she will stay long, if she hears about the diamond bracelet memento her husband has been giving to his lovers," he said suggestively.
"Why, Cedric, I do believe you are right. What a shame if she should find out," she said with a smile, stroking her bracelet.
"Do you think they will attend the Ball at Lord Hollingsworth's next week?" she asked.
"Most likely. With the rumor of Prinny attending, my Aunt Marion, will insist on their going," Cedric answered wryly.
"How nice. Would you like to escort me, Cedric? It will be so much easier for me to get an introduction, if I were with a family connection. Don't you agree?" she said sweetly.
"It will be my pleasure," he said as he rose from the chair. "Oh, and Caro, do not forget to wear your bracelet," he added, as he took her hand and admired the bracelet.
"That would be the last thing I would forget!" she laughed,
as he bowed, and brought her hand to his lips before leaving.
* * * *
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