When suitors are baffled by Miss Fiona’s scientific turn of mind, her mother tearfully predicts that her daughter will be doomed to spinsterhood—until Lord Henry comes along. Nicknamed “the Mad Scientist,” Henry appreciates Fiona’s mind as well as her face. Fiona thinks she’s found the perfect husband in Henry until notorious Lord Beaumont crashes through her neatly laid plans.
“I’m done, Fergie,” Lord Albert Beaumont said in his friend’s ear, after the third matchmaking mama in one hour had introduced him to—this time—a freckle-faced girl with protruding front teeth. She had giggled so hard she hadn’t been able to get one word out.
“Your reputation for liking redheads was the cause of that last introduction,” Lord Ferguson said, trying to suppress a smile.
Beau took the last two glasses of champagne from a passing footman’s tray and downed one of them in a single gulp. “No, it happened because I foolishly allowed your prattle about your cousin to lure me in here.”
“It would all be worth it if we could find her. I don’t lie when I say she’s prettier than any chit here. Perhaps my aunt left early, since they’re leaving for the country tomorrow.”
“Let’s go,” Beau said, emptying the second glass as quickly as the first. He led the way toward the door, handing off the empty glasses to another footman on the way, and was ten feet away from freedom when a tall, silver-haired matron stepped in his way, grabbing the sleeve of his jacket.
Beau bit back a groan. “Good evening, Lady Pilchard.”
“Good evening, indeed! What could possibly have brought you to the Stantons’ party tonight?” the bony woman gushed, not letting him go. “Are you looking for a wife this season?”
Beau saw the greedy gleam of speculation in her eyes and repressed a shudder. Miss Priscilla Pilchard, the matron’s daughter, was possibly the most shrill-voiced debutante to make an appearance in ten years, not to mention that she had paper-thin lips. “No. Lord Ferguson hoped to find his aunt here, and I accompanied him. His business is finished and we’re leaving.”
“Regardless, the gossip papers will say otherwise tomorrow. Perhaps you should be thinking of settling down. Aren’t you nearly thirty?” she chided, tapping his captured arm with an ivory lace fan.
Beau smiled good-naturedly as he disengaged his sleeve from Lady Pilchard’s impressive grip. “I’ve learned to ignore the gossip papers and I’m two years shy of thirty. Goodnight, Lady Pilchard.”
Her eyes glazed over with delight at the sight of his smile, and Beau heard Fergie snort with laughter.
Beau eyed him sternly as they headed for the door. “Stop.”
“Can’t help myself when you titillate the matrons. That smile could soothe a colicky baby, I swear. Have you ever tried it on one?”
Beau ignored him and they finally escaped outside, into a night that was brightly lit by a full moon.
“Beau?” The sharp question came from a carriage that was stopped one block east of Lord and Lady Stantons’ party.
Beau froze mid-step, causing Fergie to step on the heels of his boots. “Damn, this night cannot get any worse.”
“Who is it?”
Beau didn’t answer, instead stepping toward the carriage and bowing as the stunning Daphne Tarkington emerged. Her burgundy silk wrap perfectly framed her petite shoulders, and a carefully placed golden curl accentuated her décolletage. “Daphne, you look magnificent tonight.”
He wasn’t lying, but his admiration extended only as far as her face. She had turned out to be as ugly on the inside as she was beautiful on the outside. Within a month of The Palaver proclaiming gleefully that she was his new mistress, Beau was doing everything in his power to make her dismiss him. As much as he disliked her, he knew such an early dismissal initiated by him would be socially disastrous for her. He didn’t want to ruin the woman, just disengage. He had made up an appointment at White’s faro table this particular evening, and mentally kicked himself for not remembering that Lord and Lady Lovelace were throwing a much different sort of soiree next door to the Stantons’ ball. One that Daphne had said she’d attend.
She was now giving Beau a smile that signaled neither happiness nor complaisance. “Did my eyes deceive me, or did I truly see you leaving the Stantons’ ball for debutantes?”
“Your eyes did not deceive you,” Beau said, squarely meeting her gaze. Her eyes sparkled with amusement at first, but grew ice-cold when it became obvious that he wasn’t going to elaborate.
She waved a hand at the Lovelaces’ entranceway. “Now that you’re done playing with innocents, follow me.”
“I have no intention of attending the Lovelaces’ ball,” Beau said, tired of games. Maybe it was a bit cruel, but he wanted to force her hand. He’d had enough.
Daphne’s nostrils flared slightly, but that was the only indication of her fury. As insane as she was, she at least knew to keep her diatribes private. “I’ll have Ridley send your things ‘round,” she finally said, and her slight shrug was for the benefit of the witnesses—Fergie, but also Lord and Lady Reddington, Mr. Bingham, and Lord Marshall—all of whom were happening by on their way to the Lovelaces’ ball as well.
Beau wasn’t fooled by the shrug; nonchalance was decidedly not the emotion this lady was feeling. He said a silent prayer of thanks for the onlookers. To Daphne he said, “As you wish,” and inclined his head. He knew he’d never see his few items of clothing or his razor again. He’d bet good money that she’d use the razor to destroy the clothes, and throw his new phial of cedarwood oil into the dustbin. But that was a small price to pay for avoiding a nasty tête-à-tête. He was grateful to be done with her so easily.
Daphne gave him her dainty, cold hand with a look that might have made a weaker man quail in his Hessians. “Goodbye.”
Beau mentally shuddered as he brushed a light kiss on it. He was glad those icy hands would never again touch his skin. “Goodbye.”
Daphne turned away without another word or glance, her face a model of indifference. At the Lovelaces’ door, she bent her head to hear Lord Marshall’s comment, and her responsive laugh seemed genuine. Beau knew it wasn’t but didn’t care.
She disappeared inside, and Beau turned to find a gaping Fergie. “Come,” he said, ignoring Lady Reddington’s prying stare. He took his friend’s arm and steered him across the street.
“You’d best watch your back, Beau. Her smile shot daggers at you.”
“I’m not worried. What could she do? Besides, I’m going to avoid her as much as I can for a bit.”
“Regardless, watch yourself. And stay away from my cousin. I thought her beauty might tempt you to change your heartless ways, but you can’t turn a ground crawler into a clinging vine.”
Beau laughed. “How much champagne did you drink? You’re not making sense.”
Fergie pretended to shiver. “You could have frozen fire with that exchange. Cold, my friend. Icy cold.”
“If women were vegetables, Daphne Tarkington would be a pickle. And she breeds sour coldness wherever she goes.”
“Are all women you’ve known given a vegetable equivalent?” Fergie asked, his gingery eyebrows twitching in amusement.
“Just the disappointing ones. Most are flowers.”
“What flower was Miss Elliot?”
Beau stopped and took hold of his friend’s arm, turning him so that they were facing one another. “I only told you of Daphne Tarkington’s pickleness in self-defense, since you accused me of being heartless. I usually don’t malign a woman in such a way. But enough is enough. And Miss Elliot’s name should never be mentioned in the same conversation as Daphne Tarkington’s.”
“All right, all right! Sorry! And you’re not heartless, but the whole thing gave me the shivers. You had not one spark of warmth between the two of you.”
They continued walking as Beau explained. “Warmth dies in the presence of such bizarre malevolence. I don’t think Daphne Tarkington has ever had a ‘spark of warmth’ in any situation. She favors control over love. Sadistic control—which is preferred by some, but not me.”
“That’s how it was, eh? Well, regardless, stay away from my cousin. She doesn’t need your angry ex-mistresses wishing her dead. I foolishly planned this meeting because my aunt is about to try her hand at matchmaking. Apparently there’s some mad scientist she wants Fiona to meet. It sounded strange, so I hoped to intervene on her behalf.” They turned onto the Strand, heading for the hackney carriage stand where they hoped to find a carriage to take them to Gormier’s.
“This evening makes me realize that I don’t wish to involve myself with any debutantes at present—your cousin included. What I require now is a delectable new mistress who doesn’t come close to resembling a vegetable. And one who has lovely warm hands.”
Fergie grunted. “What have hands to do with anything? If you really must have perfect hands then it’s good you didn’t meet my cousin. They’re her one flaw, I’m afraid. Rough. Short nails. Hideous, really.”
“Why?” Beau asked, curious despite his decision to evade their meeting.
“She likes to dig in flower pots, and gloves—to paraphrase the excuse she gives her mother—don’t allow her to feel the texture of the soil, or some such rot.”
Beau eyed his friend doubtfully. “Perhaps you should refrain from matchmaking as well as your aunt.”
“Hold on! Her intellect and beauty more than make up for her eccentricities. I doubt you’ve seen a more beautiful shade of red hair. It’s as if the sun is continually shining on her head, even on the darkest of days. And her eye color is hazel without any of the mud, if you can envision it. Ah, here’s one.” Fergie hailed a hackney carriage and it pulled to a stop in front of them. “Gormier’s,” he said, stepping in and wrinkling his nose at the smell inside.
They continued their conversation inside the carriage.
“Tonight has made me realize that I’m still not ready for the hell called ‘courtship.’ Mamas breathing celery-tonic breath into my face, blushing young ladies barely able to converse, or, worse, attempting to flirt—” Beau shook his head as he pulled the dirty window flap aside, preferring London’s stale air to the smell of vomit. “Your cousin—wonderful as she undoubtedly is—is destined to be snapped up by someone other than me this season.”
“What about your talk of heirs last night?”
“I had a letter from my parents yesterday. My mother brought me up to speed on estate news, and my niece and nephews’ latest exploits—Elizabeth and her family visited Castlewood recently—but in a postscript my father asked for news of an engagement. It was his way of saying that he wishes to see me married—soon, since his illness has progressed to the bedridden stage.”
The ride became bumpier as the carriage turned off Fleet Street and onto a road that led toward Blackfriar Bridge.
Beau continued, his speech uneven because of the jolting, “I’d love to oblige him, but I can’t stomach courtship at present. He’ll have to understand.”
“I sometimes wonder if you’re not still pining after Miss Elliot.”
Beau snorted. “Of course I’m not. I don’t ‘pine,’ Fergie. That was six years ago, for God’s sake, and she’s been married to Lord Wolfrey for the last five of them.”
“Didn’t mean to offend … I say, how’s your mother holding up?”
“She writes that her anxiety about my father is showing in her hair, which is quickly turning white. She tries not to think too far ahead.”
They continued on in silence, their mutual destination one of the seedier gaming hells because of its location near the docks. They liked it because newer money was allowed to mix with old, and merchants, they had discovered, frequently had deep pockets.
Miss Fiona Fairmont picked a nail file off her dressing table and impatiently went to work on a broken pinky nail. Her thorough scrubbing had gotten rid of the dirt, but now she had several jagged edges to contend with. The nightshade’s repotting was the culprit this time.
Her younger sister, Felicity, shook her head as she watched. “Let me, or you won’t have anything left!” After Fiona obligingly handed her the nail file, she added, “I thought Mother told you to wear gloves.”
Felicity finished the pinky nail and began to expertly file Fiona’s thumbnail. “She might have a point, you know. If you ever accept a proposal, your future husband will surely think these are awful.”
“My future husband will have to love nightshade, nettles and the poison nut as much as I do. Then he’ll understand their need for repotting.”
“Lord Vandermill thought you were a madwoman—or worse, a murderess—when you mentioned nightshade at tea last week. Did you see how big his eyes got? I thought for sure I’d choke; it was so funny. The fact that he still proposed the next day … but then you refused him! I thought Mother would faint when she heard.”
Fiona tapped impatiently with her free hand. She loathed having to spend so much time tidying her nails, all for the sake of a successful season. They only got dirty again when she tended her plants. “I wish Mother wouldn’t take my season so seriously.”
“Tell me again, why did you refuse him?”
“We have no common interests. I want, at the very least, to have an occasionally interesting conversation with the man I marry,” Fiona said, pulling her hand away from her sister’s filing and moving over to the comfy chaise longue that sat next to her fireplace. It was her favorite place to read.
“Common interests!” Felicity repeated, tossing the nail file down and laughing. “Poor Mother. If you don’t have ‘common interests’ with this scientist you’re meeting she’ll probably collapse.”
“Why must I marry by the end of my first season? Women often take two or three seasons to marry. I see no reason to rush.” Fiona picked her book up off the floor where she’d left it, opening to the bookmark.
“A Witherspoon woman doesn’t take more than one season to marry,” Felicity said, imitating her mother’s reedy voice. She continued, giggling now, “Mother is desperate, dragging us all to the country to see if this mad scientist will suit—Fergie’s words, not mine,” she added hastily, when she saw Fiona’s frown. “Imagine this: you won’t have to change your monograms if you marry Lord Featherstone, and he’s rich enough to hire ten gardeners to tend your flower pots, if that’s what they require.”
Fiona shook her head and began to read, but Felicity wasn’t put off. “Give him a chance, Fiona! Do you want to be an old spinster?” When she didn’t get an answer she moved closer, shoving Fiona’s feet to one side and plopping onto the end of the chaise longue. “Lord Diggerton let you talk about your books. He’d even bring them up. Why did you refuse his offer?”
Fiona sighed and put her book face down on her outstretched legs. “He was pretending, Felicity. He didn’t really care about anything but horses. Besides, he had horrid breath.”
Felicity gasped. “How—did you kiss him?” She was younger by two years and wouldn’t experience a season in London until she, too, was eighteen, but she pushed Fiona for information whenever she could, rarely getting satisfactory answers.
“Tell me everything, Fiona. Where were you? What did he say? What did you say?”
Fiona laughed. Her sister’s eagerness about such matters was so different from the reticence that she felt.
“This isn’t funny! Mother won’t talk about kisses, so you must. She always gives me that pinched look, and tells me not to allow them until I’ve accepted a proposal, but I know that’s nonsense.”
“Yes, I know. Let’s see.” Fiona thought back, trying to pull the purposely buried memory back into focus. “He took me for a ride in Hyde Park and it started to rain. He opened an umbrella and asked if I’d grant him a kiss under it. I stupidly said ‘yes’ and he leaned toward me, but then he made the mistake of opening his mouth. The smell was quite bad. Do you remember when Grandfather Witherspoon passed gas last Christmas? I was reminded of that.”
“Oh, that’s nasty! Did you tell him?”
“What, that his breath reminded me of my grandfather’s gas? Of course not! I couldn’t bring myself to say anything, but I turned my face so that he kissed my cheek. The next day I noticed him smelling like parsley, but I avoided carriage rides and private walks with him despite that. No point in misleading a man, although he didn’t take the hint. He proposed anyway, right in front of Mother.”
“Poor Lord Diggerton. So smitten. Always so desperate to please.”
“A man shouldn’t be ‘desperate to please.’ If he has to struggle for it, then the match isn’t right. Marriage partners should have an equal share in pleasing each other.”
“Did Lord Vandermill kiss you?”
“Yes, and his kiss wasn’t offensive, but—” Fiona paused, trying to remember exactly why she hadn’t liked it. “It was as boring as he is,” she said, shrugging.
“Mother would faint if she knew.”
“Yes, I know. That’s why I don’t tell her. And you won’t either.”
“But how can you say he’s boring? Caroline and Margaret think he’s the catch of the season, if you aren’t counting tenacious bachelors like Lord Albert Beaumont. Speaking of him, oh, my goodness, did you see The Palaver this morning? He was at the Stantons’ debutante party last night. He even danced with Harriet! And he’s already done with Daphne Tarkington. They had a little scene right in the middle of the street, outside the Lovelaces.’ Do you think he’s looking for a wife?”
“Doubtful,” Fiona responded vaguely, turning her book back over.
“I wish he’d wait two years. What I wouldn’t give to dance with him. He’ll be the catch of the century,” Felicity sighed. She stood and began to waltz around Fiona, her hands poised in an imaginary dance with Lord Albert.
“Every woman feels that way about him, and as a consequence he’s spoiled,” Fiona said. “Take the number of mistresses he’s had, if the gossip papers can be believed. Why so many? Does he grow bored? Is he so easily swayed by newness? If he’s looking for a wife, I pity whomever he chooses. She’ll be the woman du jour for about a month, and then she’ll have to endure constant gossip as each new mistress is discussed at length.”
Felicity’s dance came to an abrupt halt. “He can fall in love too! I think he was engaged when he was younger,” she protested.
“But, you see, it didn’t last, did it? His type of love is shallow. It’s easily shattered once a new beauty distracts him from one who’s grown too familiar. I pity him, really.”
“He doesn’t need pity! He needs to find someone as beautiful as he is, and only you fit that description.”
Fiona shook her head dismissively. “Being his wife would be a nightmare. For both of us really, since I wouldn’t give him the daily dose of admiration that I’m sure he requires. He would find me quite lacking in comparison to what he’s used to.”
“He’d adore you. He wouldn’t be able to help it,” Felicity said, leaning over the back of the chaise longue to give her sister a quick kiss on the cheek.
“I don’t want his adoration. Wouldn’t it be interesting if debutantes were required to wear masquerade masks? Then we’d all know that proposals were based on something other than our pretty faces. I’d like that.”
Felicity groaned. “You and Lord Albert would be perfect together … two souls equally afflicted with the curse of beauty.”
Fiona laughed, but said, “Lord Albert’s vanity and selfishness aren’t what I want in a husband. The man I marry will find gaming, horseracing, and all those types of things boring. He’ll be a philanthropist, thinking of others’ needs before his own.”
Felicity made a face. “That’s not a man you’re looking for, that’s a monk.”
“Monks are men, Felicity. Now leave, please. I want to read.” Fiona bent her head, looking determinedly at the page in front of her.
“You’re hopeless. And your beauty is totally wasted. Why couldn’t I have been given your looks? Instead I have the boring brown hair and the blue eyes. It just isn’t fair!”
Fiona looked up again, exasperated but laughing, “You’re beautiful, Felicity! Be glad you don’t have red hair. It can be a curse.”
“Why?” Felicity stopped at the door, her face glowing with interest.
“It’s unusual, so it’s often the topic of conversation with new acquaintances. I cannot count how many times I’ve been forced to recite the various redheads in our family tree.”
“That would be boring. Fiona, do you really think I’m beautiful?” Felicity asked hopefully.
“You’re a dear. I almost don’t want you to marry, since I’ll miss you so much,” Felicity said, her full lips curving into an infectious grin. “I’ll leave you alone now.”
Felicity scooted from the room, pulling the door shut with a bang. Fiona forgot about suitors, maternal expectations, and silly sisters as she got to the more interesting business of finishing her book.
Lucy Balch grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. As a young woman she moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting, but instead discovered a love for writing, met her husband, and earned a master’s degree. Love Trumps Logic is her second novel but the first to be published. It was inspired by favorite romance writers Jane Austen, Connie Brockway, Eloisa James and Georgette Heyer, as well as Lucy’s passion for homeopathy and other forms of alternative medicine. Lucy currently resides in Richmond, Virginia and is working on her third book.