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Lady Fiasco: Chapter 7

Hens and Their Confounded Chicks

Marcus waited in the long gallery with the rest of the guests The Prince Regent had invited for after dinner entertainment. The smell of ducklings in orange sauce, stuffed pheasant, and veal in wine gravy, floated in the air. His stomach rumbled in response. Prince George’s table rivaled any in the world for its elaborate dishes and plentiful removes, while Marcus had, out of economic necessity, to content himself with an inferior pork pie from the Four Feathers.

At long last, Prinny ushered his dinner guests into the large gallery. Marcus spotted Fiona and Honore.

The entertainment proved to be the Regent himself circulating throughout the room doing impressions of members of the ton, society’s upper ten thousand. Marcus observed Fiona closely, watching as she laughed at Prinny’s impression of Lord Byron. The Prince limped along and declared his love for three different women all in the same breath. While His Majesty was a very skilled mimic, Marcus would have preferred something more interesting. For instance, one of his indoor shooting exhibitions or fireworks. As his interest waned, he covertly studied Honore and Fiona as they circulated among the guests.

The countess introduced Fiona to her acquaintances, and she made it clear that Fiona was not simply a niece she planned to puff off on the marriage mart. She proclaimed Fiona her understudy, her protégée, her new daughter. Women whispered behind their ornate fans and nodded discreetly. Gentlemen bowed low and peered at Fiona speculatively.

Marcus overheard Lady Bessborough exclaim, “The daughter you never had, eh?” Then she looked Fiona over as if the chit were a plucked goose hanging in a market stall. After a thorough inspection, the lady pronounced Fiona, “Quite suitable.”

“Just so.” Honore whipped open her fan and created a breeze for herself.

Marcus leaned against a carved pagoda protruding from the wall. He felt a vile mood coming on. Honore was acting like a demented mother hen clucking around her newly hatched chick. It nauseated him.

As the night wore on toward morning, Lady Everly sidled up to him expecting him to charm her. He tossed back more champagne and brushed aside the lady’s ostrich plumes when they blocked his view of his quarry. Lady Everly went away in a huff. He shrugged and snatched another flute of champagne from a passing footman’s tray.

Finally, Prinny retired for the evening and his guests were free to leave. Marcus made his way toward Honore and Fiona.

Honore rapped him with her fan. “Where have you been, Marcus? I saw you draped against the wall like a figure in the woodwork, but—”

“Engaged all night, m’dear. I do hope you will allow me to make up for my neglect. Perhaps, you and your niece would enjoy a walk out on Brighton Pier in the morning.” He smiled with a graciousness he did not feel.

“It’s morning now, Marcus, and I intend to sleep through the rest of it.”

“Surely, Miss Hawthorn will not want to miss the ocean view in early light? It is quite spectacular. Not to be missed.”

The chit actually looked to Honore for guidance, exactly as a dutiful daughter ought. Marcus felt his smile pull thin. It took every ounce of his willpower to make himself stop grinding his molars.

Honore shrugged. “Oh, very well, you may go if you wish. Take my maid with you. Now don’t bother me anymore, Marcus. Come along Fiona. I have a headache. I want my bed.”

“Until then, Miss Hawthorn.” Marcus bowed and strode purposefully out of the ballroom and away from Prinny’s noisy Pavilion. He marched toward the sea and out onto a quiet weathered dock. His boots beat a steady rhythm against the boards of the pier. A crescent moon hung low in the sky and clouds flirted across its face, sinking the world into a devilish dancing darkness.

Marcus walked to the end of the long-abandoned shipping dock, turned, and carefully paced along the edge and thumped on the boards until he found one that made a dull sound, as if giving way to age and rot. Sitting down beside it, he drew a knife out of his boot and plunged the blade viciously into the plank. He wormed it back and forth until he punctured the weathered wood.

“How dare she insinuate herself into Honore’s life?” He cursed the empty pier. “Honore’s protégée, indeed! And what, precisely, have I been all these years?”

He continued to grumble, chiseling away at the integrity of pier. “Send me off to Portugal, will she? What am I supposed to do there? Damned French lunatic made a beggar’s hash of my estates.”

Images of his ravished home peppered his thoughts. His castle looted and burned, scarcely fit for peasants to live in. Hell, peasants were living in the ruins, skulking in the rubble like hungry vermin. He’d taken one look at the damage, sickened, and returned to England. Now his expectations from Honore were in danger of being stolen. “Usurped, by a backwater chit from nowhere! I won’t have it.”

He stabbed the knife into the board again and sawed with a vengeance. The gray light preceding dawn began to illuminate the horizon. Marcus’s legs dangled off the edge of the pier where he sat chiseling the planks. He leaned over to judge how far down it was to the water, and reckoned it to be nearly thirty feet.

“I’ll wager Honore’s pup dies instantly from the fall.” Vapor wraiths slithered up from the sea like warning ghosts from hell. Marcus ignored them and thrust his knife into the rotting wood again, continuing his work.


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