The Trouble with Honor | Chapter 20 of 45

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

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GEORGE HAD TO admit, Finnegan turned him out quite nicely the night of the Prescott Ball. He admired the green waistcoat with black embroidery—its appearance in his wardrobe a surprise, and its origin, at least to George, unknown. His neckcloth was black silk, and his dress coat made of the finest superfine wool. Finnegan had sent up a barber, and George was clean-shaven. His hair was trimmed and combed back so that it brushed his collar, and his boots polished to a high sheen. To his own eyes, George looked like the nephew of the king. He supposed others might think so, too...and then, inevitably, the sniggers behind their hands would begin.

George no longer took offense to the skepticism as he had when he was a lad. Now he knew who he was. He was an honest man with strong convictions, and if that didn’t suit the titled lords and ladies of this town, so be it. He reminded himself that he’d had the wherewithal to pull himself up to these social heights. He didn’t want to acknowledge the bit of queasiness at the thought of entering the highest reaches of society tonight.

He struck out on foot for the evening, having the luxury now of living within walking distance of the fashionable Grosvenor Square. Carriages were queued up around the square, waiting to disgorge their passengers into this prestigious event.

He strode briskly past them all, his crumpled invitation in his pocket, and jogged up the steps of the home of Lord and Lady Prescott.

It was quite impressive, indeed, taking up one-third of the north side of the square. Grecian columns marked the entrance; lights blazed in every window. George stepped into the entry and was instantly surrounded by a dizzying swirl of pastel gowns, headpieces and feathers. Jewels glistened at the throats and wrists of lovely ladies, who were accompanied by lean men in long tails and embroidered waistcoats. They reminded George of cranes as they bent their heads to hear the ladies speak, then lifted them again.

He stepped to one side to avoid the beaded train of a woman’s gold gown, and very nearly collided with a footman who was moving with alarming speed through the crowd, his tray of champagne flutes carried high above his head to avoid any disastrous encounter with the feathers that grew out of the ladies’ elaborate hairstyles.

George swallowed down his boyish angst and stood in line to be presented to the viscount and his wife. He handed his invitation to the butler, who in turn announced George in grand fashion as he neared the receiving line. When he stepped before the viscount, his lordship looked curiously at George, as if he couldn’t quite make him out.

Lady Prescott, however, curtsied graciously and slipped her hand into his, her gaze fluttering up to his. “Mr. Easton,” she said with a soft smile. “Welcome to our home.”

“My lady,” he responded, bowing over her hand. “Thank you.”

She did not remove her hand from his but held his gaze, smiling up at him. He knew that sort of smile, and one of George’s brows rose slightly above the other in silent question, and her smile seemed to deepen. Women, he thought as he let go of her hand, bowed and walked on. Either they were fearful of associating with his bastard self or were wanting more than he cared to deliver.

He moved on, scanning the crowd. He saw several acquaintances—some who looked the other way—and paused to speak to those who did not while surreptitiously looking for Honor Cabot. He didn’t see her. Nor did he see Miss Hargrove. If Honor had forced him into attending a ball where Miss Hargrove would not be, he was afraid of what he might do to that impudent young woman.

He continued on, snatching a flute of champagne from a footman as he admired more of the women in attendance. He felt a light touch on his arm and turned, expecting—hoping—that it was Honor. But it was an old friend, Lady Seifert.

“Mary,” he said fondly, taking her hand and bringing it to his lips. He and the auburn-haired, green-eyed beauty had been...associated, a few years ago.

“George, my dear,” she said, smiling fondly. “I’ve not seen you in an age! I hear you’ve been rather well occupied. Women and ships, is it?” she asked with a slight wink. “All of them sailing beyond your reach?”

He was surprised she’d heard. “Not all,” he said with a wink.

She laughed. “I can’t believe you’re here, darling.”

“Why is that? Because I don’t dance?”

“Because Gloucester is here.” She glanced around, rising up on her toes to see over the heads of those who crowded around them. “You really shouldn’t have come.”

He privately bristled at the idea Gloucester’s invitation meant more than his. “I have an invitation,” he said.

“Best not let him see you.”

“Lady Seifert!”

Lady Seifert and George both turned round; what was that, his heart skipping a beat or two at the sight of Miss Cabot?

“Miss Cabot,” Mary said graciously. “How do you do?”

“Very well, madam. And you?”

“Quite well. May I introduce Mr. George Easton?” Mary asked, gesturing to George.

“A pleasure, Miss Cabot,” George said, clasping his hands behind his back and bowing.

Honor’s eyes sparkled with amusement as she curtsied. “Thank you, Mr. Easton. A fine night for a ball, is it not?”

He could not begin to guess what a night must include to be considered fine for a ball. He smiled. So did Honor.

Mary, he noticed, looked intently at Honor, then at him, her eyes narrowing slightly above a wry smile.

“I think fortune has smiled on Lord and Lady Prescott and sent the rain away for the day,” Honor said, and glanced about the room, as if she were looking for someone.

“Has it?” George asked amicably. “Personally, I don’t give much thought to weather.”

Honor looked as if she had just swallowed something.

“One can’t help but wonder what you do give thought to, Mr. Easton,” Mary purred next to him.

“My guess is that the gentleman gives thought to all the newly presented debutantes,” Honor suggested. “There are quite a lot of them this evening.”

“Would that include you, Miss Cabot?” George asked.

She laughed. “I was presented three years ago, Mr. Easton! I fear I’ve lost that glow.”

“Oh, I think not, my dear,” Mary said.

Another gentleman appeared in George’s peripheral vision. “Lady Seifert,” he said, greeting them. “Miss Cabot.”

“Good evening, Sir Randall!” Mary said.

“Miss Cabot,” the young man said, “if you will allow, I request the honor of standing up with you on the next set.”

“I would be delighted,” Honor said, and looked as if she meant it. “Please, excuse me, Lady Seifert.” She glanced slyly at George, a smile playing on her lips. “Mr. Easton.”

Sir Randall quickly offered his arm to her; she put her hand lightly upon it, cast George a quick but sparkling little smile and glided away at the fop’s side. George tried not to gape at her back.

That was it?

She would toddle off and dance while he did her dirty work? He watched until they’d disappeared into the crowd. He didn’t realize he was staring until Mary touched the tip of her fan to his shoulder. “Drink your champagne, George, darling. She’s not for you.”

He chuckled. “No? Tell me, love, who is for me?”

“Certainly no debutantes here,” Mary said with a lilting little laugh. “Their mothers would never allow it.” She winked at him. “Enjoy yourself all the same.” She moved away, her hips swinging suggestively.

George turned from that delectable sight, and his gaze landed on none other than Miss Monica Hargrove, standing beside Sommerfield. At least he might get his mission over and done, he thought, and casually walked to where she stood.

She glanced up as he approached and blinked with surprise. “Oh!” she said. “Mr. Easton!”

“Miss Hargrove,” he said politely.

She looked at her fiancé, who was eyeing George curiously. “Lord Sommerfield, may I introduce Mr. Easton?” she asked.

“Easton, yes, of course!” Sommerfield said jovially. “Yes, yes, it is you. We’ve met,” he said.

“Oh?” Miss Hargrove said.

“Quite right. At the club, I do believe. Was it not the club, sir?”

George was not welcome in Sommerfield’s club but said, nonetheless, “Good to see you again, Sommerfield. Your family is well?”

“Exceedingly. That is, with the exception of my father. He ails terribly, what with the consumption.”

“I’m saddened to hear it.”

“Thank you,” Sommerfield said perfunctorily.

“I had hoped,” George said, turning his attention to Miss Hargrove, “that I might entice Miss Hargrove to take a turn about the dance floor.”

Miss Hargrove blanched at the invitation and looked at Sommerfield, who looked just as flustered. He smiled nervously and patted her hand. “Of course you must, my dear.”

“But I...I thought that perhaps...”

“I vow not to step on your toes,” George said, and offered his arm. Miss Hargrove looked uncertainly at his arm, then at Sommerfield. Her fiancé nodded encouragingly.

She reluctantly put her hand on George’s. “Thank you.”

George moved quickly, forcing her to come along before she leaped into Sommerfield’s arms. He led her out onto the dance floor, and they lined up across from each other.

Miss Hargrove frowned at him. “That was rather brazen.”

“That is the least brazen I can be, Miss Hargrove. You may as well accept that I am a determined man.” He smiled.

The music began, and he bowed. She curtsied. They moved forward, and she skipped around his back.

“What could you possibly want from me?” she asked, taking her place in line again.

He stepped forward and around her back. “To convince you that there are more potent choices than Sommerfield for a beautiful woman such as yourself.”

She gasped as he stepped back into line. They came together in the middle, their hands meeting above their heads. “I am affianced to Lord Sommerfield.”

He twirled her around in a tight circle and smiled down at her. “I know.”

As they started through the paces again, she said, “What do you possibly hope to gain, Mr. Easton?”

“I think you know the answer to that.” He allowed his gaze to drop to her lips as he stepped back.

“And how do you propose to lure me?” she asked skeptically as they clasped hands overhead and turned. “You’ve no connections, and rumor has it that your fortune has been lost.”

George smiled. “Rumor has been unkind to my fortune, but I’ve not lost it. And I happen to think I am very well connected. I am the nephew of the king.” He let go of her hands and stepped back.

So did Miss Hargrove. “You can scarcely expect me to believe it,” she said laughingly.

“Then perhaps you will believe this,” he said, stepping forward again. “I am captivated by you.”

She didn’t respond to that but with a smile, and continued to study him. George danced as well as he was able, meeting her gaze at every turn.

When the music drew to a close, he bowed low and reached for her hand. He gave it a tender squeeze before placing it on his arm, covering it with his hand. “I beg your pardon if I’ve offended, Miss Hargrove,” he said as he led her back to Sommerfield, who shifted from one leg to the other, anxious to have his prize back at his side. And beside him, standing innocently with her hands at her back, was Honor. She didn’t look at George, and in fact, she made a point of looking away so as not to suggest any sort of familiarity between them.

“I am not offended, Mr. Easton,” Miss Hargrove said, smiling up at him. “But I am taken.”

“I will concede that you are...for the time being.”

Her smile seemed to go a little deeper, the color in her cheeks high.

That was it, the unmistakable sign of being smitten. No doubt he could invite her into the garden now to take full advantage of her. But as they had reached Sommerfield and Honor, George took her hand from his arm, stepped back and bowed low over it. “Thank you for the dance, Miss Hargrove,” he said. “A finer partner I’ve not experienced.”

Miss Hargrove laughed as if she found that quite impossible, but Sommerfield was quick to agree. “She is indeed a fine dancer. I confess, I could learn a thing or two from you, Mr. Easton.” He laughed as he nervously rubbed the side of his nose. “I should employ you to teach me the steps to our wedding dances.”

“I am not a very good dancer, my lord. I’m more of a horseman.”

“Nothing like a good horse race to get the blood flowing, eh?” Sommerfield agreed. “We are very proud of our horses at Longmeadow,” Sommerfield continued. “Some of the finest horseflesh in the country—”

Honor suddenly gasped. “Augustine, you must invite him to Longmeadow!”

Sommerfield and Miss Hargrove looked as stunned as George felt—he could not find his tongue immediately. “Pardon?”

“Oh, dear,” Honor said with a pretty smile and a curtsy. “I do beg your pardon, sir. Please, forgive my outburst, but it occurs to me that there will be quite a lot of horse racing at Longmeadow this spring.”

“Well, yes,” Sommerfield said uncertainly. “But I didn’t... That is to say...” Terribly flustered, the poor man smiled nervously at those around him, looking for help.

Honor’s face fell. “Well, now you’ve made me seem perfectly foolish, my lord.”

“No, I—I don’t mean that,” Sommerfield blustered. “I mean to say of course you are very welcome at Longmeadow, Mr. Easton. But the racing is all in fun.”

“Dearest—” Miss Hargrove said, and laid a finger on her fiancé’s arm.

“And it’s rather a lot of fun,” Honor quickly interjected before Miss Hargrove could persuade her fiancé differently. “A lot of friendly wagering. You must come, Mr. Easton. There’s always need for a gentleman to serve as dance partner, and I am certain we will all appreciate an experienced card player.”

Sommerfield’s eyes widened, but Honor was on a mission and would not allow anyone to speak.

“Are you familiar with Longmeadow?” she eagerly continued.

George stared at Honor. He knew precisely what she was doing, arranging another “invitation.” It grated on him, but at the same time, Miss Hargrove was watching him expectantly.

“It’s my stepfather’s seat, just one hour to the northwest from here,” Honor continued.

“Yes, you must come, Easton,” Sommerfield said now, nodding his head firmly. “That’s that, my good man. We must have you at Longmeadow!”

He turned his happy smile to Miss Hargrove, who said, with much less enthusiasm, “Yes, we must have you, Mr. Easton.”

“That’s very kind,” he said. “Thank you.” George was glad that the music had begun again, giving him an escape from what was to him his own personal nightmare. “Miss Cabot, will you do me the honor?”

“Have a turn, Honor. He’s a grand dancer,” Sommerfield said, as if he had stood up with George himself.

“Well, then, I’d be delighted,” she said and held out her hand.

George took it and gripped it hard. Her expression did not change. “Will you excuse us?” he asked Sommerfield.

* * *

NEITHER HE NOR Honor noticed Monica’s thin smile fade behind them.

You are a splendid dancer, my love,” Augustine said to her. “I do wish I was a better companion for you.”

“You are the perfect companion for me, Augustine.”

“Are you certain?” he asked, taking her hand and squeezing it much too hard. “For I would be lost without you, my darling.”

“I am certain.” She meant that with all her heart. Augustine was a kind soul, a gentle soul. She was happy with him. So why, then, would Honor wish to draw them asunder? That was precisely what she was doing—Monica was certain of it. “Let go of my hand before you break a bone, dearest.”

“Oh!” Alarmed, Augustine quickly relinquished it.

Monica glanced once more in Easton and Honor’s direction. They were standing on the dance floor, waiting for the musicians. Honor had turned away from him, was speaking to Miss Amelia Burnes while Easton watched the orchestra.

She saw nothing that should make her the least bit suspicious, but Monica knew that somehow, Honor had put Easton up to this. She was very astute when it came to these things, and she had not been the least bit swayed by Easton’s pretty words to her. It made no sense; there was no reason that a man like George Easton should suddenly discover an interest in her, particularly as everyone in town knew she was to marry Augustine.

She’d understood that Honor was involved the moment she’d invited Easton to Longmeadow. Honor, who never gave men another thought, so determined to have Easton, of all gentlemen, at Longmeadow. Oh, yes, Monica had known Honor Cabot far too long, and she knew when that one was up to mischief.

“I’m positively parched,” Augustine said, as if he’d danced the last three sets. “Shall we fetch some champagne and perhaps sit a bit, my love?”

“Yes,” she said, and moved along with her fiancé, her mind whirling.

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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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