Since Chapter 1 is so short, I'm including Chapter 2.Back to Chapters
How everything started.
This incident took place at about two o'clock the morning of September 3, 1809. The location was the back parlor of a townhouse owned by the duke of Buckingham but lived in by the earl of Crosshaven on a ninety-nine year lease, presently in its twenty-third year. It should be remarked that the Marquess of Foye, who was in attendance that night, had been something of a rake until his engagement to the daughter of a long time family friend. The earl of Crosshaven currently was a rake.
Lord Foye refused more wine when the bottle came around in his direction. Instead, he leaned against his chair while his friend the earl of Crosshaven lifted a finger-- Cross was naturally and inevitably the center of attention --and said with significant stress the two words, "Sabine Godard."
The other men in the room looked impressed. No one doubted for a moment that Cross had indeed secured the person of Miss Sabine Godard.
Up to now, the young lady's reputation had been unassailable. She was an orphan who had been raised by her uncle since she was quite young. They lived in Oxford, the city of spires, Henry Godard having been a Don there and a rather noted philosopher, until his recent retirement. She and her uncle had come to London because Godard had received a knighthood in recognition of his intellectual contributions to King and Empire.
They had not been long in London, the Godards, but Foye recalled hearing Miss Godard was thought a very pretty girl. Very pretty and quite unavailable. She was, if he had his facts in order, her uncle's permanent caretaker, as was often the fate of children who were not raised by their parents. Her uncle was now Sir Henry Godard. Quite a come up in the world for them both. The Godards were minor gentry, and hardly that until the knighthood brought them up in the world by several large steps.
The unavailable Sabine Godard had been pursued by Crosshaven. That, too, Foye had heard. Crosshaven, in Foye's opinion, was not as familiar with discretion as he might be. Something he was proving tonight.
A London season was equal parts rumor, gossip and scandal, backed by a goodly amount of sinful behavior. Without those essential ingredients one's season must be called a failure. Like the other men in attendance, Foye did doubt that Cross had succeeded in his seduction. What young woman in London for the first time would fail to succumb to Cross if he put his mind to it?
The earl of Crosshaven was angelically, devilishly, beautiful. His manners were exquisite and his intellect absolutely first rate. Foye would not bother with a friendship if that were not the case.
Young ladies swooned over Crosshaven while older ladies and widows smiled just so. Crosshaven was tall, but not too tall, handsome, quite possibly too handsome, titled and wealthy. In polite company, his manners were unimpeachable. He paid his gaming debts without delay and was careful with his money. In short, he possessed all that a parent could want in a husband for one's daughter.
Though Foye liked Cross exceedingly, this boast of his tonight was infamous behavior. Ungentlemanly, in fact, the requisite sinful behavior notwithstanding. That Cross had refilled his glass far too often in the course of the evening was no excuse for his revealing to anyone that he had seduced a young woman of good and decent family.
And, one presumed, abandoned her to whatever fate her uncle might decide was fit for a girl who strayed from what was proper into outright sin.
"How was she?" asked one of the other young bucks, a Mr. Robert Monroe.
Cross kissed the tips of his fingers and lifted his hand toward the ceiling. That engendered several ribald comments, some having to do with Cross's prowess in the bedroom and others having to do with Sabine Godard and what Crosshaven may or may not have taught her about sexual congress and how to sin with elan.
In Foye's opinion, Cross, though just short of thirty, had now proved he had a great deal to learn about honor and decency. "A seduction," Foye said to no one in particular, "when properly carried out, pleases both parties for the duration, while a break humiliates no one."
"Who says I've broken with her?" Crosshaven asked.
"I do. And any fool with half a brain." Foye put down his glass and stood. He felt a giant. With reason. He towered over everyone in the room, standing or not. "Good evening, gentlemen, my Lords."
"What?" said Cross. He was a bit unsteady on his feet. "Are you leaving? But it's early yet."
Foye could not bring himself to smile to soften his disapproval of his friend's behavior. Nor could he remain silent. "I do not care to hear any lady's character shredded for the sake of a man's reputation."
Cross focused on Foye, registered the slight to his honor, and said, "She's no better than she ought to be."
"True," Foye said. "But the consequences of indiscretion always fall hardest on the woman. Tonight, you are lauded for your behavior with the girl, deemed ever more manly. Your reputation as a cocksman is established."
Crosshaven bowed amid a few catcalls. He straightened, grinning.
"Tomorrow, Miss Godard will not find the world so pleasant a place. That is a fate you ought to have avoided for the girl."
"She's still no better than she ought to be, Foye."
He acknowledged Cross with a nod and said without smiling, because he was disappointed in his friend, "Nor are you."
As he walked out, Foye thought it was a very great pity that Miss Godard was so thoroughly ruined. Beyond repair. Crosshaven's boast of her would be everywhere by noon tomorrow if not sooner. He did not know the girl personally but did not like to think of the disgrace that was soon to fall on Godard and his niece.
He thought it likely the newly knighted Sir Henry Godard would put her onto the street.
Three months later. To the day. This conversation took place at 1:30 in the morning (of December 3, 1809) between the Earl of Crosshaven and the Marquess of Foye. They were at Foye's home in Hampstead Heath. The weather was cold, and there was snow on the ground.
"I'm sorry, Foye," Crosshaven said. "My God, I'm sorry for this. I've been in London this past day, wondering if I would have the courage to come here." Eyes closed, he shook his head. "I should have come sooner, but I knew you'd be furious with me."
"For what?" Foye didn't laugh for several reasons. In the first place, Crosshaven gave every sign of being in earnest, not to mention sober despite the time of night. In the second place, Cross had arrived shortly after one o'clock in the morning, waking him from a sound sleep and dreams of Rosaline, the woman he was going to marry in two month's time. Crosshaven wouldn't have made the journey from wherever the hell he'd been for the last fortnight if something serious hadn't happened.
In the third place he wasn't sure of Crosshaven's mood because he'd never seen him so distraught.
Cross shoved his hands into his greatcoat pockets. "I am a married man, Foye."
"What?" The news was so astounding, he wasn't sure he'd heard correctly. "Married? You?"
"Yes on both accounts." Cross had refused to give up his coat and hat and stood in Foye's back parlor with his hands deep in the pockets of his overcoat. Thank God it wasn't snowing outside or he'd be dripping all over his carpet.
"You had to marry one day," Foye said, feeling he was on treacherous ground. "But I had rather thought I'd be invited to the wedding." He'd dressed quickly when his servant woke him, in a heavy robe and thick slippers to ward off the evening cold. The fire was on in the hearth though. Both of them knew that Foye, five years Crosshaven's elder had waited dangerously long to make a match of it.
Both of them knew Crosshaven needed to follow Foye's recent example and find a bride. And here it seemed Crosshaven had done so, and with his usual recklessness, too, for a man recently married didn't usually visit a friend in near tears so soon after the wedding. He wondered what disaster this would prove to be. And what Crosshaven would expect him to do about it.
"You are right. Of course I had to marry." Cross firmed his mouth. If only he weren't such a rogue, Cross would make some woman an excellent husband. He had a great deal to offer, if only he would stop chasing after every pretty thing in a skirt. Though, thinking on it, perhaps he'd come to that at last. All in all, Foye thought that unlikely.
"If you found a young lady who stole your heart," Foye said, "then it's well you're married, however unorthodox your method." For longer than he cared to think, Foye had been a rake himself, surprising as that might be to anyone who knew him now. Foye had never understood his success with women. Oh, he knew what kept them with him once the affair was started. He was a thoughtful lover who did not elect to consort with opera girls or ballet dancers. Well, perhaps once or twice in order to satisfy his curiosity or a short term lust. But he'd never, in his rakehell days, had much trouble finding some lovely female to join him in sport. And you'd think a man like him would have.
All that had been before Rosaline and before he assumed his place in the pantheon of the heads of the house of Marrack as the very last of his line. Besides him, there were no other Marrack men. If he were to die without a legitimate son, his title and estate would revert to the crown. Not that he had any sons of the other sort. He had always been careful with his paramours.
He shifted on his seat, but the sad fact was that since Crosshaven was slumped on the room's only sofa, Foye was left with a chair that was too small for a man of his height. He could not slouch comfortably as Cross was doing.
"You would have stood up for me, wouldn't you, Foye?" Cross pushed back his hat, then snatched it off his head.
"If you'd asked, of course."
"Hold the ladder for me even," Crosshaven said. He kept one hand in his pocket and set his hat beside him. "You'd have done that for me if I'd asked, wouldn't you have?"
"If I could not talk you out of such a mad course, yes."
"Damn right you would have, Foye." He lifted a hand in Foye's direction in a mock toast. He was sober, Foye thought. Quite sober, for Cross. "A man can always count on you. You are honorable to the soles of your feet."
"Who the hell did you marry that got you here at this hour and in such a blasted mood as this?"
"Who did I marry?" His eyebrows arched. When he spoke, his voice fell. "The loveliest woman in England. A beauty. An innocent." He scowled at his hat and pushed it aside. "She did steal my heart, Foye. I fell in love. Madly. Desperately in love. Enough to sell my soul to Satan." He sat up and for a moment stared at Foye with a hand over his mouth as if that would take back words already free in the air. "You're the one who got me thinking I ought to find someone who would do. So blissfully in love and engaged to a woman you adore."
"Yes." Foye couldn't help smiling even though he knew his friend would think his smile fatuous. His marriage was to be a love match. There had been a time not so long ago when he could not have imagined himself faithful to a woman. Not for very long, at any rate, though he did tend to prefer one lover at a time. Rosaline had reformed him. He was now a confirmed stick-in-the-mud.
"It's your fault, you know."
"You raked me over the coals over Miss Godard. I haven't forgotten what you said about me, nor the way you said it. You were right. I behaved very badly where she was concerned. Did you know I went to Oxford to apologize to her and her uncle? Hell, Foye, I went prepared with an offer of marriage. Anything to make amends and redeem me in your eyes."
"But they'd left England. Sir Henry took her off to Cyprus or some such place." Crosshaven glanced down, and that struck Foye as being done to hide whatever emotion was in his eyes. "Now, I am married."
"You've been to Cyprus and back?"
"I haven't married Miss Godard. No, not that, Foye, though I would have done so if it had been possible. No, I am now married to the most beautiful, wonderful woman in the world."
"I would wish my fate on anyone, Crosshaven. Even you. Especially on you. And if it's happened already, why, then accept my congratulations."
"Oh, God, no." Crosshaven covered his face with a hand. "My God, Foye, I'm done for. Done for, I tell you." His voice broke. "I couldn't stop thinking of her," he whispered. "I didn't mean to fall in love with her, but I did. I never meant for any of it to happen, you must believe that. Without her, there's nothing for me." He stopped, gathered himself with visible effort. "I am worthless without her."
Foye considered his friend. His distress was genuine, he was certain. "Cross, what's happened? Did you elope? Is her family unhappy? Do they hate you?" That seemed incredible, that anyone would object to the earl of Crosshaven as a son-in-law. Who could be more suitable. "What?"
Cross bent over, elbows on his knees, hands clasped over the back of his head. He took several deep breaths and still did not speak for some time. "Yes. Yes, we eloped. To Gretna Green. That's where I've been. We've been. We're only now back. She's waiting for me at home."
Cross scrubbed his hands through his hair and looked into Foye's eyes, meeting his gaze straight on. In all his life, Foye had never seen a man so tortured over love. "Can't you guess who I mean?"
"I do not trouble myself to keep an accounting of your lovers, Cross." Foye ran through a list of the eligible young ladies of his acquaintance. There were a few who came to mind as candidates, but none he thought capable of bringing a man like Crosshaven so completely to his knees. Who on earth did he know that could? "I'm sorry. I can't imagine who the woman could be, Cross."
He lifted his head and let his hands slide down to the back of his neck. "I didn't know I'd actually fallen in love with her. Not until it was too late. And when I understood she returned my feelings. . . ."
Foye shifted on his chair but nothing helped him get more comfortable. The damn thing hadn't been made for a man his size. Rosaline, when she called here with her mother or father, fit quite neatly into the chair, but she wasn't a ridiculously outsized six foot six inches. "Good Lord," Foye said.
Cross's voice rose. "I blame myself for this entire fiasco. Don't think I don't. She's not to blame at all. I thought my life was ending, Foye. If I had to live without her there'd be no reason for me to go on."
Yes, Crosshaven was perhaps a little drunk. Not terribly drunk. Not too drunk to think or reason or to misunderstand what he was feeling.
Crosshaven closed his eyes while he drew in a shaky breath. "Did you feel that way before Rosaline accepted you? Did you believe a part of you was missing without her?"
"Until I knew we were to be married, yes. Now, are you going to tell me the name of your bride? I'll want to call on you, if you're going to keep my acquaintance, that is."
Crosshaven wouldn't look him in the eyes. "Can't you guess? Haven't you guessed by now?"
Cross grabbed his head again and fell back against the sofa to stare at the ceiling. "Surely you could guess and save me telling you." Once again he covered his face with his hands. Foye had the unsettling thought that Cross was fighting tears.
He was silent for quite a long time. Then he stood up and said, "Rosaline."