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Lady Fiasco: Chapter 9

An Ogre in Brighton

Fiona was too tired to struggle when Tyrell deftly picked her up and began carrying her away from the beach, apparently following the surgeon to his house. By the time they reached the boardwalk, she felt much better.

Fiona studied Lord Wesmont’s stern profile as he carried her. “I’m quite capable of walking now.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“Then, you should set me down.” She intentionally didn’t remove her arm from around his neck. There was no hurry.

“I can’t oblige you on that score.”

“Why not? Seawater is ruining your coat.”

He shifted her in his arms and, finally, looked at her. “Because Miss Hawthorn, what little clothing you had on is now torn to shreds and plastered to your lovely body with the very seawater you mentioned. Make no mistake, my dear, your elusive charms no longer elude me. I would prefer not expose them to this mob you have attracted.”

Fiona felt her cheeks flaming red under his gaze.

He took a quick breath. “What possessed you to don this mockery of a gown? Under the best of conditions, it is scandalous. Wet, it is a travesty. Your father would horsewhip you if he saw—”

“You needn’t lecture me. I thought the same thing myself. My aunt insists it is eminently suitable. She has relegated the better part of my wardrobe to the trash bin. Apparently, my gowns reminded her too much of baked goods, so she had her maid rip them up.”

Tyrell took a deep breath obviously struggling not to lose his temper. “I cannot fathom your stepmother entrusting you into Lady Alameda’s care. I have been on the Continent for nearly five years, and even I have heard of her reputation.”

“And it disturbs you?”

He merely raised an eyebrow.

It occurred to her she hadn’t asked him the most important question. “Why are you here?”

He didn’t answer.

“Here? In Brighton? So far from your home.”

He still didn’t respond. She noted the stubborn muscles of his jaw buckled even tighter. That pleased her, and the more wicked side of her character decided to see if she couldn’t vex him just a little more.

She toyed innocently with his lapel with her free hand. “I can scarcely believe you’re here because you crave the Prince’s society. You couldn’t possibly find the peace and solitude you’re so fond of, here in Brighton. Especially, not at this time of year. Hmm.” She tapped a finger against her lips. “I doubt you’re interested in his raucous parties. Unless, you’ve suddenly developed a love of dancing?” She smiled coquettishly and waited for a reply.

His stern countenance assured her no reply would be forthcoming.

“No? Well, of course, there are any number of unattached females here. Perhaps you’re here hunting for a wife?” She wriggled up in order to get a good look at his face. “Oh, but my wits have gone wandering. Aren’t you the same fellow who would rather be hung at dawn than get leg-shackled?”

He stopped short and exhaled sharply. “You are an impertinent young woman, aren’t you? I’ve half-a-mind to drop you on the street and go about my business.”

“I wonder why you haven’t?”

“Devil if I know.”

She suppressed her pleasure at having aggravated him. “It still begs the question, my lord. If you were to go about your business, what business might that be?”

He exhaled with a grumble and continued down the wooden walkway. “Very well, if you must know, I am here to apologize to you. I owed you that much for my behavior at the lake, but now I expect I have paid even the balance sheet.”

She jerked her arm from around his neck and glared at him.

“Paid even the balance sheet? How typically presumptuous of you.”

Just then, they stepped through the doorway of the surgery. The doctor instructed Lord Wesmont to set Fiona in a chair and then shooed him out to the sitting room. She crossed her arms tightly over her chest and smoldered.

The physician hovered behind her thumping on her back. “Just as I thought. Your breathing is much too rapid and shallow. Lung fever—that’s what comes of swallowing seawater.”

Lorraine moaned from her position on a pallet.

“I assure you, Doctor, I am quite all right. Do attend to my maid.”

* * *

Marcus burst into Honore’s apartments at Brighton Pavilion, outraged.

“She dove off the pier! Swims like a confounded duck. Rescued that idiot maid of yours who fell into the drink. What sort of niece do you have, that goes around diving in after servants?”

“Sit down, Marcus. Have some brandy. Explain yourself in a rational manner.”

He dropped into a chair and swirled the dark liquor in the bottom of the glass she handed him. “Hardly the thing for a well-bred lady to do, is it?” He gulped the contents of his glass and told her the story—at least the part that wouldn’t land him in prison. “She should’ve let the maid drown. But no, your filly jumps into the sea and pulls the wretched creature to shore.”

Honore stared at him. “Where are they now? Surely you didn’t abandon them on the beach?”

“No. No. Some nob was there shouting orders like he was a demmed general. He had the situation well in hand.”

“You left my niece in the hands of a stranger? Who was he?”

“For pity sake Honore. I know a gentleman when I see him. It was Lord Somebody-or-other. Seemed to know the gel.”

“Lord who? Exactly.”

“Don’t take that tone with me, mother dear. I’m not a schoolboy you can take to task. It was Lord Westerly or Wesmont—something like that.” He snatched the brandy decanter and refilled his glass.

“So, Wesmont ran her aground already, did he?” Honore chuckled and leaned back in her chair.

Marcus watched her over the rim of his glass. “At any rate, the chit was covered stem to stern with seawater and sand. Lord Whoever-he-was picked her up and carried her off like an infant. I might add, your niece didn’t put up much of a fuss. Naturally, I wouldn’t have ruined my coat for a snip of girl who doesn’t know how to conduct herself properly.”

Honore tapped her foot impatiently. “Where do you suppose he took her?”

“I neither know nor care.” Marcus caught her disapproving stare. “He probably hauled her off to a surgery. There was an annoying little sawbones trailing behind his high-and-mighty-lordship, stuttering out a dire prognosis of lung fever.”

Honore chuckled, “Oh, Fiona will be well enough once she gets dry. Of that, I’m certain. Swims like a fish. But, perhaps I ought to retrieve her from the physician.”

“Yes, well, unfortunately, your abigail is no fish. Last I saw, she was an interesting shade of gray. Bound to feel miserable. Better for everyone if Fiona had let her drown. Really Honore, how can you countenance the girl’s behavior?”

“If my maid had drowned I’d have your head on a platter. Where do you imagine I’d to find an abigail half as agreeable as Lorraine?”

Marcus sniffed. “Really Honore, you ought to be more concerned about the scandal your niece has created, than about your silly twit of a maid.”

Honore snapped a shortcake in half and popped it in her mouth. She waved her hand, signaling him to silence. “What scandal? You’re kicking up the dust over nothing.”

“I am not. It’s all over Brighton by now. Prinny is bound to hear about it.”

“More than likely.” She pushed a crumb from the corner of her mouth. “If he hasn’t, I’ll make certain he does.”

“Whyever for?”

“I should think it would be rather obvious. The girl is a heroine. He’ll probably give her a medal, or a knighthood, or some such.” Honore popped the other half of the shortbread into her mouth.

“Fah. You are all about in your head. Women can’t be knights.”

“Pity.”

“More’n likely he’ll send the pair of you packing for making a spectacle of yourselves.”

Honore laughed. “Balderdash! You mistake him. Our Regent enjoys a little excitement, especially when it reeks of bravado. He’ll admire her for it. Mark my words. It’s the best thing that could’ve happened to her.”

Marcus shook his head. “Eccentric behavior is one thing coming from you Honore, but the beau monde will not tolerate it coming from a debutante.”

“Ha! They tolerated it well enough coming from you.”

“I’m not a deb.”

“No, but you’re a foreigner.”

“I am not a foreigner!” He thumped his glass down on the side table. “You know perfectly well my mother was English. For pity sake, I was raised in England. You raised me. I do wish you would stop using that tired old quip when you run out of arguments. We both know Fiona has over-extended her credit. Nothing for it, but to send her back to the country where she belongs.”

“Nonsense. Can’t you see? She’s wasted in the country. Let Prinny decide the matter. Apart from that, I have no doubt that her credit can stand today’s adventure and tenfold more.” Honore stood up and shook out her skirts. “After all, she’s not just any debutante, she’s my protégée.”

“So, she is.” Marcus seethed. “I nearly forgot.”

* * *

“Will she recover?” Fiona leaned next to the doctor while he fussed with a listening cone at Lorraine’s back.

“Yes, as nearly as I can tell through this wet dress,” he answered sourly. “Provided she doesn’t get pneumonia, or lung fever, or consumption. I’ll need to observe her closely.”

A commotion sounded in the hallway and her aunt burst into the room with Lord Wesmont standing behind her.

“There you are my dear!” Honore swished across the floor and laid her gloved hand against Fiona’s cheek. “I’ve been worried half out of my mind. Marcus told me the most alarming story-and now I see it is all too true. How dreadful for you. Come dear, I’ll take you back to the palace. My carriage is just outside the door.”

The physician cleared his throat. “I’d advise against it m’lady. They’ve suffered a terrible trauma and I must watch them both for lung fever. Especially your maid, here.”

Honore’s laughter trilled through the room. “La, sir. I’m certain they are both quite fit.” She dug into her reticule and produced a gold coin. “Here you are. Now, come along, my dear.” She motioned for Fiona.

The doctor waved his hand in Lorraine’s direction. “But your maid, take a look at her, she should not be moved.”

Honore glanced back over her shoulder. “Come along Lorraine.”

The bedraggled woman obediently heaved herself off the cot and shuffled after Lady Alameda.

Tyrell leaned against the doorframe, his jaw flexing, and an unreadable expression on his face. Honore breezed past him without so much as a nod and Lorraine slogged after her.

Fiona stopped beside him, lifted her chin and whispered tight tones, “Consider your debt paid, my lord.”

Tyrell took no pains to guard his volume. “Listen carefully, my little seaweed princess, I’ll decide when my debts are paid. Not you.”

“Once again, how very presumptuous of you.”

“Undoubtedly.”

“And irritating.”

“As you say.” He brushed sand from his stained coat sleeve.

“Overbearing and detestable.” She huffed in an unladylike fashion.

“So I’ve been told.” The corners of his mouth curled up in an evil smirk. He was obviously pleased with himself.

Her hands knotted into fists. “You are truly the most arrogant, ungracious—” She couldn’t lay her tongue on a suitably degrading word. The one epithet she finally found rang out sounding childish and weak. “Ogre!”

“What?” His eyebrows shot up in mock alarm. “You mean one of those big ugly hairy creatures with the bumpy noses?” He wriggled his fingers by his face and then slid one finger down his smooth straight patrician nose. “I think not.”

“Oh yes!” She stepped away from him. “A great loathsome ogre. And I never want to see you again.”

She mustered up as much dignity as she could while dripping seaweed and salt-water across the floor, and flounced away to her aunt’s carriage.


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