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 town house 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 Lord Edward Marrack, the younger brother of the Marquess of Foye, was in attendance that night. Lord Edward had been something of a rake until his engagement to the daughter of a longtime family friend. The Earl of Crosshaven currently was a rake.
Lord Edward Marrack refused more wine when the bottle came around in his direction. Instead, he leaned against his chair while his friend the Earl of Crosshaven raised a hand-Cross was 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, including Lord Edward, 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 made their home in Oxford, the city of spires, Henry Godard having been a don there and a noted philosopher until his recent retirement from those hallowed walls. She and her uncle had come to London so that Godard could receive a knighthood in recognition of his intellectual contributions to king and empire.
They had not been long in London, the Godards, but Lord Edward recalled hearing Miss Godard was reckoned a 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 not raised by their parents. Her uncle was now Sir Henry Godard. By several large steps, quite a come up in the world for them both.
The unavailable Miss Godard had been pursued by Crosshaven. That, too, Lord Edward had heard. The Earl of Crosshaven was angelically, devilishly, beautiful. His manners were exquisite and his intellect absolutely first-rate. Lord Edward would not bother with a friendship if that were not the case. But Crosshaven, in Lord Edward's opinion, was not as familiar with discretion as he might be. Something he was proving tonight.
Though Lord Edward liked Cross exceedingly, this boast of his was infamous. Ungentlemanly, in fact. 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 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.
"How was she?" asked one of the other young bucks.
Cross kissed the tips of his fingers and arced his thus blessed 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 fornicate with elan.
In Lord Edward's opinion, Cross, though just short of thirty, and for all his lofty titles, had now proved he had a great deal to learn about honor and decency. This evening, which had begun as a pleasant interlude with men he liked, no longer seemed very pleasant.
"A seduction," Lord Edward 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," he replied. "And any fool with half a brain."
Crosshaven shook his head sadly. "Is this what happens to a man when he falls in love? If I didn't know better, I'd accuse you of not wanting to go to bed with a pretty young woman." He winked. "Without benefit of marriage, I mean." He gave Lord Edward a sloppy smile, then looked around the room with his glass held high in a mock toast. "To Sabine Godard."
"Hear, hear," said a few of the others. Most just took the opportunity to sample their wine.
Crosshaven took another drink of his hock, but he kept his eyes on Lord Edward as he did. He'd noticed Lord Edward hadn't joined in the toast. "Don't be such a bloody bore, Ned," he said with a roll of his eyes. "You're not married yet, old man."
"True." But in three months time he would be. God, he was weary of this, of nights like this spent drinking or whoring and living as if there weren't something more to be had from life. He wasn't married yet, but wished Rosaline was already his wife.
Lord Edward 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 already, Ned? It's early yet."
Lord Edward 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 Lord Edward, registered the slight to his honor, and said, "She's no better than she ought to be."
"True," Lord Edward said. "But the consequences of indiscretion always fall hardest on the woman. Tonight, you are lauded for your seduction of the girl, deemed ever more manly. Your reputation as a cocksman is firmly established."
Crosshaven bowed amid a few catcalls. He straightened, grinning. Lord Edward was probably the only one in the room who wasn't grinning back.
"What reason had you to re-prove tha1t fact at the cost of her reputation? No one disputes your appeal to the fairer sex." Lord Edward sighed. There was no point in lecturing Cross. No point at all. "Tomorrow," he said with regret soft in his voice, "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, Ned." He pretended to sober up, but as a drunk would do. Sloppily. "I mean no disrespect, Lord Edward. But it's true about the girl. No better than she ought to be."
He acknowledged Cross with a nod, without smiling because he was disappointed in his friend, "Nor are you."
As he walked out, Lord Edward 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. He did not know the girl personally but did not like to think of the disgrace that was soon to fall on her and her uncle. They would both be touched by Crosshaven's indiscretion.
He thought it likely the newly knighted Sir Henry Godard would put her onto the street.
One year and nine months later, give or take a few days.
May 5, 1811. The former Lord Edward Marrack was now the Marquess of Foye and a guest at the palace of an English merchant in Büyükdere, Turkey, about twelve miles outside Constantinople. Europeans were not permitted to live in the city, and Büyükdere was a favorite summer residence for ex-patriots from any number of countries. Including England. A good deal of the diplomatic corps resided in Büyükdere, which overlooked the blue, blue waters of the Bosporus.
The finest woman here tonight was Miss Sabine Godard.
How strange that he should cross paths with Miss Godard so many thousands of miles from home. Foye wasn't surprised to find she was a lovely woman.
If Crosshaven had noticed her, and, quite infamously, he had, it stood to reason she would have something. She did.
Foye sat on a chair not so far from the center of the assembly that he would be thought aloof, though he'd been accused of that and worse since he'd begun his tour of countries that had the single advantage of being far from England. He was not by nature a gregarious man and was even less so now, or so he'd been told by people who had known him before. True enough. For the second time in his life, he was a changed man. What a pity he didn't like the change.
Now that he saw her before him, he understood why so many men had spoken of her looks or why Crosshaven had chosen her; it wasn't so much that she was beautiful. She wasn't quite that. A man didn't catch his breath at the sight of her. She was not a very tall woman, though from what he could see of her, her figure was a nice one. He stared at her, trying to pin down for himself the reason that she was a more attractive woman than she ought to be.
Her features were too strong for beauty in the classic sense, though anyone meeting her for the first time would think her pretty. She smiled often, and he'd watched several men stare, besotted, when her mouth curved a certain way. Her hair was an astonishing shade of gold. Curls at her temples and brow gave her an air of sweetness without being cloying, and there weren't many pretty young women who could manage that. A lace cap was on her head, a jade green ribbon threaded through the material. She wasn't beautiful, no, not that, but she was pretty. Exceptionally so.
She had something else as well, and he was determined to put a name to whatever elusive quality that was. What a shame Crosshaven had ruined everything for her. She might have done well for herself, had she stayed in London. There were any number of pretty young girls who'd married up. Some decent young man would likely have thought himself lucky to marry a woman like her. Foye couldn't help feeling at least partially responsible for the fact that she hadn't.
At the moment, Miss Godard was sitting at a table surrounded by men in uniform; sailors, soldiers of the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, or otherwise attached to the military here in Büyükdere. She was reading tea leaves for them and having a grand time, too. Despite her smiles, and despite the men gathered around her, she appeared unaware of the flirtatious looks and remarks sent her way, but not, he thought, unaware of her looks.
Miss Godard knew very well that men found her attractive, Foye decided. But she was not a flirt.
Her uncle, Sir Henry Godard, sat close enough to her that she could easily lean over and touch his arm should she care to. Sir Henry was deep in conversation with one of the merchants who worked for the Levant Company. The topic at hand, from what Foye could overhear, was the merits and demerits of St. Augustine. A heady subject for afternoon tea.
So far, Sir Henry had the advantage in the argument. He was a wily debater. Leading his prey to make admissions that seemed reasonable enough while in reality he was laying a trap such that when it sprang his victim would have no choice but to cede Sir Henry's entire point.
Experience had etched deep lines in Sir Henry's face and yet had taken a disproportionate physical toll on the rest of his body. His upper back was hunched, throwing his leonine head forward. His hair was that off shade of white, a yellowish silver, common to men who'd been blond throughout their adult lives. Notwithstanding the depredations of age and illness, Sir Henry was a man of considerable presence. His profession remained in his manner of speech, his temperament, and even his gestures. It was easy to imagine him addressing a lecture hall of young men and terrifying them into listening at peril of their very survival.
The salon was filled with guests holding teacups and guarding plates of cakes, biscuits, and sugar wafers. There were tables piled with watermelon and bowls of sherbet in silver cups with delicate silver spoons. The merchant whose palace this was, Mr. Anthony Lucey, had invited only Englishmen and women this afternoon, though naturally men outnumbered the women, who were, for the most part, wives or other relatives of the soldiers. Some of the men were longtime employees of the Levant Company who had raised families here. A pretty English girl wasn't unheard of in Büyükdere. Not by any means.
Lucey himself, a longtime friend of Foye's late father, stood in the center of the room telling a story Foye had heard before about the time he'd got lost in Mayfair and had mistakenly knocked on the Duke of Portland's private door. Lucey was such an excellent raconteur the tale still amused more than forty years after it had happened.
He was beginning to think, though, that he ought to go get himself introduced to Miss Godard. Just to see what she was like. Naturally, he was curious. And since he was here, if the circumstances offered, he might explain what had happened.
Foye resisted the urge to smooth down his hair. There really was no dealing with his curls. They were contrary by innate disposition, it seemed. A good match for his face, which was one of the reasons he'd let his hair grow and never cut it short again. With a face that defined "ill made" and a body that tended to intimidate by sheer size-he had always been prone to muscle-Foye was used to women looking past him or away from him. Though since he'd become Foye, that happened marginally less often.
He plucked a crisp sugar wafer from his plate and took a bite. A touch of almond, he thought, and he had a taste of bliss melting over his tongue. Lucey's cook was superb, a Neopolitan man he'd succeeded in hiring away from the Italian ambassador's residence. The story of Lucey's raid on the Italian kitchen was amusing, too. Foye took another bite of his wafer and savored it while he watched yet another lovesick young officer beg to have his fortune told by Miss Godard.
Perhaps, he thought, it was something about the way she looked at a man. Yes. Something about her eyes. And her complete disinterest. What bold young man didn't want the very woman who wouldn't have him? Given all that he and Miss Godard had in common, he ought to at least meet her. It was, however, quite plain to him that to get anywhere with the niece one must start with the uncle.
When Foye was done eating, he asked Lucey for an introduction to Sir Henry.
The old man was formidable, that had been apparent even from a distance. Closer up, he seemed no less so for all that his frailness was the more evident. He had, Foye recalled, read one of Sir Henry's treatises, the 1805 On Hubris.
When Lucey walked him over to the philosopher, Foye was speared by a pair of iron gray eyes that would have been at home in a man forty years his junior, they were that bright and perceptive. He did not believe it was an accident that he should think back on his university days with some sense of dread. This man would have had no compunction whatever about sending a prince packing for want of preparation. No more a mere second son-all that Foye had been in those days.
Foye bowed when Lucey completed the introduction. Already the object of much curiosity on account of his appearance, more stares came his way when his titles were pronounced. Lucey, unfortunately, knew the entire list. Marquess of Foye. Earls of Eidenderry and DeMortmercy. He was used to them now, at last accustomed to the change in his identity from Lord Edward to Foye. There were days now when he could hardly recall a time when he hadn't been Foye. His first titled ancestor had been ennobled before the reign of Charlemagne. The Marracks of Cornwall had never been viscounts. Their nobility had begun with an earldom.
It was with him that the Marrack line would end. With the death of his brother without any living children, he was the last of the Marrack men. When he died, his properties and titles would revert to the crown. What a failure to take to his grave, to leave no one to carry on the name.
"Well, well, young man," Sir Henry said, laboriously craning his neck sideways to look at him. "That is a mouthful of names."
Foye smiled despite himself. He had not been called a young man for a good many years. It wasn't as though he was old, but at thirty-eight, he wasn't a boy anymore. Godard held out a gnarled hand for Foye to take, which he did, gently. The philosopher was crippled with the gout, and his skin was hot to the touch.
"Yes, Sir Henry, it is, indeed, a mouthful " He smiled, aware of Miss Godard's attention to their exchange. Would he tell her, if the opportunity arose? He ought to but didn't know if he would. She seemed to have made a life for herself here, far from England. Why bring up what could only be painful memories for her? Because, Foye thought, if he were her, he'd want to know the truth. "I hope you were not bored listening to all that."
"Not at all." Sir Henry bobbed his head. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, my Lord Foye."
"The pleasure is mine, Sir Henry." Foye was aware that Miss Godard had stopped her inspection of someone's teacup-what nonsense that business was-to listen to the introduction.
Did she recognize his name from his connection with Crosshaven? Perhaps she did not know he and Cross had been friends and that Foye knew what had been done to her. Or perhaps she did, and now wondered if her reputation was to be ruined again by someone else who knew only the lies.
"Foye. Foye," Sir Henry said, tapping his chin with a finger permanently hooked into a claw. He narrowed his eyes and gave him a sideways look. "A King's College man, weren't you?"
Foye bowed. For a split second, he racked his brain for the essay he must have failed to write. "Yes, sir."
"Your elder brother, too, if I'm not mistaken."
"You are not."
"I thought so." Sir Henry grinned and nodded. "You were Lord Edward then, not Foye. That's why I didn't know who you were until you were close enough for me to see you." He pulled at a blanket spread over his lap. "Took a first in maths, didn't you?"
"I'm astonished you should know such a thing." It was at university that Foye had learned there were women who cared more for what he offered when they were intimate than what he looked like in broad daylight. He'd also discovered he had a talent for pleasing his partners. He'd made himself an assiduous student of the delights to be had between a man and woman. Well. No more of that for him. Those days were long gone. He was done with that life.
Godard waved a misshapen hand. "I made it a point to acquaint myself with the names of all the young men of promise. If we were at home, I would send Sabine to find my entry on you." He smiled, and the effect was disconcertingly sly. His niece looked in their direction at the mention of her name. "I kept a ledger, my lord. I followed you in Parliament, you know. Heard your maiden speech. I am rarely wrong in my predictions."
"Am I to be flattered by that?" Foye asked. He did not look at Miss Godard, though he burned to do so.
"I should think so. I saw you once or twice at university." He chuckled. "No mistaking you for anyone else."
He smiled again. "No, sir."
"I should think you learned early on it's better to have something here"-he tapped his temple-"than to have a handsome face. Too many young men these days spend hours primping at the mirror when they would profit more from improving their minds."
"Godard," his niece murmured. She put an arm on her uncle's sleeve in a gesture familiar enough to be habitual. Foye could easily imagine her needing to restrain her uncle's bluntness. For all Sir Henry's rudeness, he rather liked the man for it. He wasn't a pretty man, after all.
"What?" Sir Henry said, turning his torso toward his niece. "With a face like his, do you think he bothers much with enriching his tailor over his bookseller?"
"I think Lord Foye is very smartly dressed," she said.
"Thank you," Foye said. In point of fact, he was vain of his appearance. Even as Lord Edward, he had never walked out of his house without clothes that made other men beg him for the name of his tailor.
"Look at him." One thin arm shot into the air. "Do you think he spent his time at King's with his mistresses instead of in the library?"
Good God. Foye held back his shock at Sir Henry's speech. Miss Godard, too, felt the indiscretion, for her cheeks pinked up. Sir Henry didn't seem to think anything of his declaration.
"Godard." She slid a glance at Foye, and their eyes met. Hers were brown. There was nothing extraordinary about her eyes, but for the intelligence there. She was no ordinary girl, he thought. "Forgive him," she murmured.
"For what?" Foye said. "It's true. I am no model of masculine beauty. I am not offended by Sir Henry pointing that out." Age had its privileges, after all, and Sir Henry had to be nearer seventy than sixty. He had decided to be amused. There was brilliance yet in the old man.
"Sensible of you, my boy."
Foye nodded to Sir Henry, but he was absorbed by Miss Godard. She was a far more interesting woman than he'd expected. All this time, whenever he thought of Crosshaven and what he'd done that night, he'd been imagining a sweet young woman, weeping for her lost reputation. Naïve and mourning the infamous wrong done her. Miss Godard was hardly naïve.
"Have you been in Anatolia long, my lord?" Sir Henry asked.
"No," Foye replied.
Miss Godard was now indisputably a part of their conversation. He could not help but look at her. Her eyes were not a common brown after all, but something a more poetic man might call dark honey. From the shape of her mouth, the tilt of her eyes with their thick, dark lashes, to the sweeping line of her throat to her shoulders, she was the sort of woman who made a man think of darkened rooms and whispered endearments. He understood very well why Crosshaven had chosen her.
"I arrived in Constantinople yesterday," Foye said to Sir Henry. "And you?"
Sir Henry folded his crippled hands on his lap. "We have been in Büyükdere coming onto a month. Is that correct, Sabine?"
She answered without hesitation. "In Anatolia, forty-three days. In Büyükdere, twenty-one, Uncle."
Again, Foye felt his understanding of Miss Godard to be maddeningly incomplete. Not a woman wronged and mourning her fate. Not a pretty girl who knew and used the power her looks gave her over a man. And to speak so crisply, with such unhesitating precision. He preferred it when the people he met fell into neat categories. Irascible old man. A young woman wronged. Foye did not yet know where to fit Miss Godard.
"Twenty-one days, my lord," Sir Henry told him with a smile that conveyed his pride in the precision of his niece's recollection.
The naval officer whose tea leaves she'd been reading bid Miss Godard adieu. She nodded, said good-bye, and though the officer waited for her to say something more, she didn't. For the moment, her table was empty of a companion, yet all the other men who had been waiting for their chance found themselves dismissed without a word.
"You have an able assistant, sir." There was an awkward silence during which Foye expected to be introduced and was not. He cleared his throat and returned a bit of the older man's directness. "May I meet your niece, Sir Henry?"
"What for?" Sir Henry's eyes scalded. Foye could only thank the Lord he'd never been in one of Sir Henry's lectures when he was at Oxford. He would have quailed under that gimlet eye. Because, in truth, he had spent more time with his various mistresses than with his studies.
"Godard," Miss Godard said, firmly this time.
Sir Henry tipped his head toward her. "Very well. I suppose there's no hope for it. Sabine, will you meet the Marquess of Foye?"
She stood to curtsey but did not extend a hand to him over the very small table at which she sat. He bowed in return. "Delighted to make your acquaintance, my lord."
"My niece, sir. Miss Sabine Godard."
"Miss Godard." He was aware he was staring too hard. She was still so very young. He doubted she was much beyond twenty. Crosshaven ought to rot in hell for what he'd done to the girl.
She cocked her head at him, and at that moment he would have given anything to know what she was thinking.
"Would you read my future?" he asked.
Sir Henry snorted. "It's nonsense, my lord," he said. "She knows that, too."
Miss Godard's gaze flicked to her uncle; she remained unruffled. "If he is on your list of men who will make something of themselves, Godard, I daresay he is well aware my tea reading is a nothing more than an amusing way to pass the time." She turned to him. "My lord, have you a cup you've been drinking? If not, you'll need fresh."
He pointed in the direction of the table on which he'd set his tea. "There."
"That should do." She smiled at him, but with no particular interest in him beyond what was polite and no indication that she cared anything for his title or his consequence. Or his lack of beauty, for that matter. How egalitarian of her. "I'll wait, my lord."
He returned with his nearly empty cup and sat on the chair opposite her. His legs were too long to fit underneath the table, leaving him no choice but to sit sideways or remain as he was with his thighs wide open. He turned on the chair. Miss Godard took his cup and looked into it. "Can you bear to drink another mouthful or two?"
He nodded. He would tell her, he decided. He would tell her about Crosshaven and then apologize for his role in her ruin, limited as it had been. He took back his cup, drank it nearly empty, and extended it to her.
"No," she said, refusing his cup. "Hold it just so and swirl the contents thus." She demonstrated the desired motion with her arm.
"Nonsense, all of it," Sir Henry said.
"Yes, Godard," she said without looking at her uncle. But he saw a smile lurking on her mouth. "Excellent. Now upend your cup on the saucer."
"Shall I first cross your palms with silver?" Foye asked.
"Certainly not." Her eyes, her very fine eyes, flashed with humor. There was more to Miss Godard than she meant to let on, he realized. "If I allowed you to pay me in order to learn your future, my ability to accurately assess what tomorrow and beyond may hold for you would be compromised."
"Consider the offer rescinded, miss."
Her mouth quirked. "Anyone who takes filthy lucre is no better than a rank charlatan."
Obediently, he swirled his cup and did as directed, upending the cup over the saucer. Though he did not like to admit it, she interested him. What was she? What had she become since Crosshaven? "And you, being above remuneration, are no charlatan, I presume?"
Her smile became a direct and knowing connection with his gaze. "I am the worst charlatan in Christendom if you believe a word I say, my lord." She righted his tea and stared into it. "This is utter nonsense, as you well know."
"My future?" He sighed. "I feared as much."
Miss Godard laughed softly. "Divination, my lord. As much as I admire the great civilizations of the past, I have concluded there is a reason men of modern learning do not maintain a belief in the ancient ways. Just as there were no gods on Mount Olympus, there is no magic by which one can infer the future from random patterns made in tea leaves." She quirked her eyebrows at him. "Or the entrails of a goat, for that matter."
He very nearly laughed. Nearly. My God, she was quick-witted and not afraid to show him. "Nevertheless, this"-he indicated the teacup-"is, as you say, quite a charming pastime for a lady to have."
"Thank you." She raised her voice. "You see, Godard, that I am vindicated by Lord Foye."
"What's that?" Sir Henry said.
"The marquess finds the reading of tea leaves to be an amusing occupation." She spoke so drolly and with such affection for her uncle that Foye was hard-pressed not to grin. Miss Godard handled her irascible uncle quite well.
"More the fool he," Sir Henry said.
Miss Godard lifted a hand and pressed the other to her upper bosom. "A moment of silence while I read the portents, my lord."
She could have been an actress, the gesture and tone of voice were so perfectly done. No wonder the officers vied for her attention. For one thing, she was miserly with it, and when she did look at you directly, there was so much there to see in her eyes, a man could not be faulted for wanting more. He leaned his side against his chair, his elbow over the back, and stretched out one leg while he watched her. "I believe," he said in a low voice, "that we have a mutual acquaintance."
Without taking her eyes from his cup, she replied in a soft voice, "Not a mutual friend, I am afraid. Unless you mean someone besides the Earl of Crosshaven."
"I do not."
Her expression closed off. "You have a bouquet of flowers, here." She pointed to a mass of leaves. "That signifies you are to be happy in love."
"I was," he said. "Once. But no longer."
She looked at him. "I am not reading your past, my lord, but your future."
"Happy in love?" he said, looking into her eyes. "I fear that is quite impossible."
"The tea leaves never lie," she replied.
He wriggled his fingers over his cup. "Pray continue."