The Trouble with Honor | Chapter 10 of 45

Author: Julia London | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2413 Views | Add a Review

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FINNEGAN, GEORGE EASTON’S butler-cum-footman-cum-valet, had pressed George’s dark brown superfine coat, his gold-and-brown waistcoat and his dark brown neckcloth. He had hung them where George would see them: directly before the basin, blocking his sight of the mirror, of the razors and brushes and cuff links he kept there.

Until Finnegan, George had been perfectly happy to live his life with a pair of footmen, a cook and a housekeeper, but his lover, Lady Dearing, had implored George to take Finnegan after her husband had cast the valet out. Lady Dearing had said his dismissal was an issue of austerity. George was quite familiar with austerity, as he’d been forced to befriend it on more than one occasion in his thirty-one years on this earth.

It hadn’t been until several weeks after he’d taken him on that George learned the real reason for Finnegan’s abrupt departure: he, too, had been invited to share Lady Dearing’s bed. George had known the fair-haired vixen was a wanton, obviously, but the valet? That went beyond the pale. However, by then, George had grown accustomed to Finnegan’s ways. So George had promptly discarded his lover and kept his butler.

He’d finished dressing when Finnegan appeared in the door of his master suite of rooms, a hat in his hand.

“What’s that?”

“Your hat.”

“I can see it is my hat. Why are you bringing it to me?”

“You’ve an appointment with Mr. Sweeney. From there, you will collect Miss Rivers and Miss Rivers at the Cochran stables. You have invited the young ladies to ride.”

George’s eyes narrowed. “I have? And when did I extend this invitation?”

“Last night, apparently. The Riverses’ footman brought round a note with the ladies’ delighted acceptance of the invitation.” He smiled. Or smirked. George was never quite sure.

He didn’t remember any invitation, but then again, he had been having a bit more fun than he should have had at the Coventry House Club last night. That was a club for men like him, frequented by tradesmen and gentlemen of the ton, who, like George, had deep pockets for the gaming tables, a thirst for whiskey and an appreciation of cheroots made with American tobacco. It was the opposite of priggish, which is what he imagined White’s on St. James to be.

Tom Rivers, the ladies’ brother, had been at Coventry House last night, too, and George had only a vague recollection of too much drinking and laughter. “God have mercy,” he muttered, and stood up, extending his hand for the hat.

He strode down the thickly carpeted stairs of the stately Mayfair home he’d purchased quietly from the Duke of Wellington. The duke had not wanted to sell to a man like George—that was, a bastard son of a duke and the half brother of a duke who despised the very idea of him—but the duke had wanted the cash George had offered.

The house was quite spectacular even for fashionable Audley Street in Mayfair. A crystal chandelier the size of a horse hung daintily from the high foyer ceiling, and the stairs curved down around it. The silk-covered walls of the foyer were adorned with paintings and portraits, all purchased by the duke.

George scarcely noticed them today, but many times, he’d searched them all, looking for any resemblance to him. In the end, he supposed any of them could have been his ancestors, and it hardly mattered if any one of them were. When one is the son of a duke and a lowly chambermaid—a chambermaid the duke had sent away upon discovering her pregnancy—one can be assured of many closed doors and painful silences when inquiring after one’s heritage.

The footman, Barns, was standing at the door, and opened it before George reached it. That was Finnegan’s doing. Finnegan was the only person in George’s life, now or ever, who treated him like the great-grandson of a king, the nephew of another. George wasn’t certain he liked it, however. He rather preferred opening his own doors. He preferred to saddle his own horses, too—he was fast, having learned the skill as a lad, working in the Royal Mews while his mother cleaned chamber pots.

“Thank you, Barns,” George said. He stood a full head taller than his footman. George had the height of the royal family but the robustness of his mother’s family, who had all worked with their hands and their backs for their livings. There was a portrait of his father that hung in Montagu House, which George had studied on occasion. He believed he had his father’s thin and aristocratic nose and his strong chin, the streaks of his mother’s dark chestnut hair in his brown mop and her pale blue eyes. The other children who had worked in the Royal Mews used to say he was a mongrel. Not the nephew of a king.

George’s horse was waiting on the cobblestones before the house. He tossed a farthing to the boy holding the reins, who caught it adroitly over the horse’s neck and pocketed it as he handed the reins to George. “G’day, sir,” he said, and was off, running back to the mews.

George fixed his hat on his head, swung up and spurred his horse into a trot down Audley Street.

He arrived at the offices of Sweeney and Sons a quarter of an hour later. Sam Sweeney, his solicitor and agent, was smiling broadly. “What’s that look?” George asked as he handed his hat to an elderly woman in a lace cap in the foyer.

“One of joy, of happiness,” Mr. Sweeney said, taking George’s hand and shaking it with great enthusiasm. “Do come in, Mr. Easton. I have some wonderful news.”

“Has the ship been found? Has it come to port?”

“Not exactly that,” Mr. Sweeney said, showing George into his office. Once inside, he made a show of dusting off a leather chair with his handkerchief, and gestured with a flourish to the seat.

When George was seated, Mr. Sweeney said, “The St. Lucia Rosa is in port. I have personally spoken with the captain. He said that Godsey and his crew did indeed reach India and were to depart a week later for England. That means she should be in port within the week.”

Relief. It flooded through George like a swollen river. He’d put a substantial portion of his fortune into this ship and couldn’t bear the thought of having lost it all, of having to start again.

“And we must bear in mind that Captain Godsey is a captain of great experience,” Sweeney reminded him.

Sweeney had found Godsey. George trusted his judgment—he and Sweeney had worked together for years now, first to invest the money the Duke of Gloucester had left George upon his death a few years ago. It was the only acknowledgment George had ever received from his father. The money wasn’t much, really, merely enough to appease a man’s guilty conscience when he was about to meet his maker. Everything else had gone to the duke’s eldest son, William, George’s half brother, a man George had met only once and who had promptly decreed that he would never allow George Easton to step foot in any London establishment of which he was part.

George had become adept at brushing off the bruising disappointment of being judged by the circumstances of his birth, of being called a liar, a blackguard and a pretender after the Gloucester fortune. He’d focused instead on making a name for himself. He’d invested a lot of money in his latest venture: the import of cotton from India.

It was a great risk, but George had built his fortune by taking risks, then carefully tending them. As his fortune had grown, so had his confidence. Women liked him, but he never allowed himself to develop feelings for them. He played a man’s game, taking satisfaction where he could and keeping them all at arm’s length. Because if there was one truth in his life, it was that he would never be more than a by-blow to this set.

George was very clear about his place in the world. And he hoped that his place would soon extend to cotton.

The war with France had made it possible for men like George to discover untapped commerce potential. Two years ago, he’d struck a deal with an Indian man for the import of cotton to the British Isles. It had been a risky venture, one fraught with many opportunities for disaster. But that was how George chose to live his life—he took chances. Astoundingly big chances. He thrived on risk; it kept him on the edge, made him feel as if he were balancing on the knife’s sharp edge.

In his initial cotton venture, he’d felt euphoric. The cotton had arrived as promised, and George had made an astounding profit. He had capitalized on that initial entry into the trade now by purchasing a ship and a crew to bring even more cotton to England.

It was by far the riskiest thing he’d ever done. The crew could make off with the cargo and sell it themselves. The ship could sink along the way. It could be overrun by pirates. Any number of things could happen, more than George could possibly imagine, because he’d never sailed anywhere in his life. But if he was right, the reward would make him an unfathomably wealthy man. If not, well... George would find something.

He would start again.

He and Sweeney talked about how quickly they would sell the cotton once it arrived, and George left his offices with a considerably lighter step than when he’d gone in.

The twins, Miss Eliza Rivers and Miss Ellen Rivers, were waiting for George at the Cochran stables. They were accompanied by a sour-faced woman whom George could only assume was their nurse, given that these young ladies were of a tender age, which he found almost laughable for a man who’d just marked his thirty-first year. But the young ladies were giddy and bright eyed on that cool spring afternoon, their cheeks like pairs of apples. “By my oath,” George said, “I cannot determine which of you is the lovelier.”

The girls giggled, and George liked the sound of it; it sounded like spring. He was glad to set out with the little birds onto Rotten Row, their smaller horses trotting alongside his Arabian, who ambled along at a leisurely pace.

George quickly discovered that the young debutantes liked to finish each other’s sentences, which made it difficult for him to follow their conversation. He was calculating how many steps it would take to return the young ladies to the stable—he liked to distract himself with mathematical practices from time to time—when he was startled by a cloud of blue headed directly at him at a reckless speed.

He leaned forward in his saddle, peering at the blue cloud, and realized it was actually a woman riding so fast and hard that he thought perhaps the horse had gone wild with her on his back. He was fully prepared to chase the animal down and save the woman when she pulled up directly before them and smiled broadly. “Good afternoon, Miss Rivers. Miss Rivers,” she said with jaunty breathlessness, and touched her gloved hand to her hat.

George’s companions were so astonished by her approach that they could only gape at her, but George recognized her instantly: Honor Cabot.

She smiled brightly. “Mr. Easton!” she said, as if she’d just noticed him. “A pleasure to see you again, sir!”

“Miss Cabot,” he said, dipping his head. “You gave us a fright.”

“Did I?” She laughed gaily. “I beg your pardon, that was not my intent. I meant only to stretch the old girl’s legs,” she said, and leaned over her horse’s neck, patting her with enthusiasm. “Miss Rivers, how are your parents?” she asked.

“Very well, thank you,” said one of them.

“I’m very glad to hear it. I did not mean to interrupt your ride, and I shall leave you to carry on,” she said. “I do beg your pardon for the fright.”

“Quite all right,” said another of the twins.

“Good day!” Miss Cabot’s smile turned the tiniest bit sultry when she glanced at George. “Mr. Easton,” she said, and let her gaze slide over him as she turned her horse about and moved away. Curiously, George felt that gaze run down his body.

Miss Cabot suddenly reined up and glanced over her shoulder. “Pardon me, but it just occurred to me! Mr. Easton, I understand you will be among those dining at Gunter’s Tea Shop at five o’clock this afternoon with my brother, Lord Sommerfield.”

Sommerfield? Hardly. George did not have much use for soft men who preferred books to sport. He looked at her curiously, wondering how she might have confused it.

“I was wondering if you would be so kind as to pass a message to him? I shan’t see him today due to prior commitments.”

“I had not—”

“If it’s not a bother,” she quickly interjected, “would you please relay to him that I shall come round in the earl’s coach at half past five to fetch him? I would not want to intrude on your meeting.”

He opened his mouth once more to explain that she had confused him with someone who actually took tea in tea shops, but she quickly interjected before he could speak. “Thank you. You won’t forget, will you? Half past five outside Gunter’s Tea Shop. I’ll be in the earl’s coach.”

George had the strange, preposterous idea that Miss Cabot was trying to arrange a meeting with him.

No. Impossible. That was not something that a proper young miss would do. But she’d just done it. What could she possibly want? It was baffling. And damn well intriguing. “I should be delighted to deliver the message,” he said. “Half past five. I’ll not forget.”

She smiled. “Thank you.” She turned about and spurred her horse, riding hard, catching up with other riders down the way.

George happened to glance at Miss Eliza Rivers.

She was staring at him. “Are you acquainted with Miss Cabot?”

“I’ve been introduced,” he said, and left it at that. “Shall we carry on?” He spurred his horse and made a remark about the fine weather.

He hadn’t been introduced, precisely, but he had indeed met her in Southwark, when he’d been charmed to the tips of his toes and played like a harp.

If there was one thing George Easton hated, it was losing.

If there was one thing he hated worse than losing, it was losing to a handsome woman.

If there was one thing he hated even worse than losing to a handsome woman, it was losing to a handsome woman before a bloody audience, and all because he’d preferred to admire her delectable décolletage than his own damn hand.

He couldn’t begin to imagine what Miss Cabot was about today, but he had every intention of being at the tea shop this afternoon. It was a daring move for her to conspire to meet him, alone. Away from prying eyes.

That was not an invitation a man of any stripe would turn down, and George Easton least of all.

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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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