When a Scot Loves a Lady
Falcon Club - 1
To Lucia Macro and Kimberly Whalen.
In the words of Scotland’s favorite son, May still your life from day to day Nae “lente largo” in the play, But “allegretto forte” gay Harmonious flow, A sweeping, kindling, bauld strathspey—
With my utmost gratitude.
A Brief Scots Glossary Compiled by Lady Kitty Savege, in the event that the gentle reader encounters a barbaric Scottish lord and requires assistance understanding him.
An—If, or And Baudrons—Cat ( Not to be mistaken for robbers) Daunder—Stroll ( Typically embarked upon with roguish intent) Dinna—Do not Full fair—Elegant, beautiful ( A lady may expect knavish flattery, and occasionally poetry.)
Glaik—Fool Hippin—Nappy Ken/Kent—Know/Knew Luve—Love ( In direct address, employed less blithely than a lady might imagine) Skellum—Rogue Wheen o’ blethers—Utter nonsense, foolishness Winna—Will not
London, 1813 A lady endowed with grace of person and elevation of mind ought not to stare. At two-and-twenty and already an exquisite in taste and refinement, she ought not to feel the pressing need to crane her neck so that she might see past a corpulent Louis XIV flirting with a buxom Cleopatra.
But a lady like Katherine Savege—with a tarnished reputation and a noble family inured to society’s barbed censure—might on occasion indulge in such minor indiscretions.
The Queen of the Nile shifted, and Kitty caught another glimpse of the masculine figure at the ballroom’s threshold.
“Mama, who is that gentleman?” Her smooth voice, only a whisper, held no crude note of puerile curiosity. Like satin she spoke, like waves upon a gentle shore she moved, and like a nightingale she sang. Or so her suitors flattered.
Actually, no longer did she sing like a nightingale. Or any other bird, for that matter. Not since she had lost her virtue to a Bad Man and subsequently set her course upon revenge. Vengeance and sweet song did not mesh well within the soul.
As for the suitors, now she was obliged to endure more gropes and propositions than declarations of sincere devotion. And for that she had none to blame but herself—and her ruiner, of course.
“The tall gentleman,” she specified. “With the dog.”
“Dog? At a ball?” The Dowager Countess of Savege tilted her head, her silver-shot hair and coronet of gem-encrusted gold glimmering in the light of a hundred chandelier candles. An Elizabethan ruff hugged her severe cheeks, inhibiting movement. But her soft, shrewd brown eyes followed her daughter’s gaze across the crowd. “Who would dare?”
“Precisely.” Kitty suppressed the urge to peer once again toward the door. Of necessity. If she leaned too far to the side she might lose her gown, an immodest slip of a confection resembling a Grecian goddess’s garb that her mother ought never have permitted her to don, let alone go out in. But after thirty years of marriage to a man who publicly flaunted his mistress, and with an eldest son who’d long been an unrepentant libertine, the dowager countess was no slave to propriety. Thus Kitty’s attendance at a masquerade ball teetering perilously upon the edge of scandalous. Truly she should not be here; it only confirmed gossip.
Still, she had begged to come, though she spared her mother the reason: the guest list included Lambert Poole.
“Aha.” The dowager’s penciled brows lifted in surprise. “It is Blackwood.”
To Kitty’s left a nymph whispered to a musketeer, their attention likewise directed toward the tall gentleman in the doorway. Behind her Maid Marian tittered to a swarthy Blackbeard. Snippets of whispers came to Kitty’s sharp ears.
“—returned from the East Indies—”
“—two years abroad—”
“—could not bear to remain in England after his bride’s tragic drowning—”
“—infant son left motherless—”
“—a veritable beauty—”
“—those Scots are tremendously loyal—”
“—vowed to never again marry—” Louis XIV kissed Cleopatra’s hand and sauntered off, leaving Kitty with an unimpeded view of the gentleman. Garbed in homespun, a limp kerchief tied about his neck, a crooked staff in hand, and a beard that looked as though it were actually growing from his cheeks rather than pasted on, he clearly meant to pass himself off as a shepherd. At his side stood an enormous dog, shaggy quite like its master, and gray.
The ladies that surrounded him, however, paid no heed to the beast. Hanging upon his arm, Queen Isabella of Spain batted her eyelids and Little Miss Muffet appeared right at home dimpling up at the man who, beneath his whiskers, was not unattractive.
Quite the opposite.
Kitty dragged her attention away. “Are you acquainted with him, then?”
“He and your brother Alexander hunted together at Beaufort years ago. Why, my dear? Would you like an introduction?” The dowager purloined a glass of champagne from a passing footman with all elegance, but her eyes narrowed.
“And risk covering my gown in dog hair? Good heavens, no.”
“Kitty, I am your mother. I have seen you sing at the top of your lungs while dancing through puddles. This hauteur you have lately adopted does not impress me.”
“Forgive me, Mama.” Kitty lowered her lashes. The hauteur had, however, saved Kitty from a great deal of pain. Pretending hauteur, she allowed herself to nearly believe she did not care about the ever-decreasing invitations and calls, the cuts direct, the occasional slip on the shoulder. “Naturally I meant to say, ‘Please do make me an introduction, for I am hanging out for an unkempt gentleman with whiskers the length of Piccadilly to sit at my feet and recite poetry about his sheep.’”
“Don’t be vulgar, dear. The poor man is in costume, as we all are.”
As they all were. Kitty most especially. A costume that had nothing to do with her Athenian dress.
Music cavorted about the overheated chamber, twining into Kitty’s senses like the two glasses of wine she had already taken—foolishly. She was not here to imbibe, or even to enjoy, and certainly not to indecorously ogle a barbaric Scottish lord.
She had a project to see to.
As at every society event, she sought out Lambert in the crowd. He lounged against a pilaster, an open box of snuff on his palm, his wrist draped with frothy lace suitable to his Shakespearean persona.
“Mama, will you go to the card room tonight?” She could never bear fawning over Lambert with her mother nearby.
“No introduction to Lord Blackwood, then?”
“Katherine, you are an unrepentant snob.” She touched Kitty’s chin with two fingertips and smiled gently. “But you are still my dear girl.”
Her dear girl. At moments like this, Kitty could almost believe her mother did not know the truth of her lost virtue. At moments like this, she longed quite desperately to throw herself into her mother’s arms and wish that it all go back to the way it was before, when her heart was still hopeful and not already weary from the wicked game she now played.
The dowager released her. “Now I shall be off. Chance and Drake each took a hundred guineas from me last week and I intend to win it back. Kiss my cheek for luck.”
“I will join you shortly.” Kitty watched her mother go in a cascade of skirts, then turned to her quarry.
Lambert met her gaze. His high, aristocratic brow and burnished bronze hair caught the candlelight dramatically. But two years had passed since the sight of him afforded her any emotion except determination—since he had taken her innocence and not offered his name in return—since he had broken her heart and roused her eternal ire.
She went toward him.
“Quite a lot of skin showing tonight, my dear.” His voice was a thin drawl. “You must be chilled.
Come to have a bit of warming up, have you?” He sniffed tobacco dust from the back of his hand.
“You are ever so droll, my lord.” Her unfaltering smile masked bile behind it. She had once admired this display of aristocratic ignobility, a naïve girl seeking love from the first gentleman who paid attention to her. Now she only sought information, the sort that a vain, proud man in his cups occasionally let slip when she cajoled him sufficiently, pretending continued adoration in the face of his teasing.
That pretense, however, had excellent effect. Through months of careful observation, Kitty had discovered that Lord Lambert Poole practiced politics quite outside the bounds of legal government.
Once she’d found papers in his waistcoat with names of ministry officials and figures, numbers with pound markings. She required little more information to make his life in society quite uncomfortable were she to reveal him.
But heat gathered between her exposed shoulders, and a prickly discomfort. Where plotting revenge had once seemed so sweet, now it chafed. And within her, the spirit of the girl who had sung at the top of her lungs while dashing through puddles wished to sing again instead of weep. Tonight she did not care for hanging on his sleeve and playing her secret game, not even to further her goal.