Lady Elinor's Wicked Adventures


Chapter One

London, 1852 

Cheerful frivolity reigned in the ballroom of Huntingdon House. The dancers swirled to the strains of a waltz, jewels glittering and silks and satins shimmering under the brilliant light of the new gas chandeliers. Even the chaperones were smiling to each other and swaying unconsciously to the music.

Harcourt de Vaux, Viscount Tunbury, an angry scowl setting him apart from the rest of the company, pushed his way to the side of his old schoolfellow. Grabbing him by the arm, Tunbury spoke in a furious undertone. “Pip, your sister is dancing with Carruthers.”

Pip, more formally known as Philip Tremaine, Viscount Rycote, turned and blinked. “Hullo, Harry. I didn’t know you were here. I thought this sort of thing was too tame for you these days.”

“Forget about me. It’s Norrie. She’s dancing with that bounder Carruthers.”

They both looked at the dance floor where Lady Elinor Tremaine, the picture of innocence, was smiling up at her partner, whose lean face and dark eyes spoke of danger. He was smiling as well, looking down at her with almost wolfish hunger.

“What of it?” asked Pip.

“He’s a bloody fortune hunter and a cad to boot. How could you introduce him to your sister?”

Pip frowned slightly. “He introduced himself, actually. Said he was a friend of yours.”

Harry spoke through clenched teeth. “You idiot. That should have been enough to disqualify him. Where are your parents?”

“Dancing, I suppose.”

Harry caught a glimpse of the Marquess and Marchioness of Penworth on the far side of the room, dancing gracefully and oblivious to everyone else. Turning back to find Carruthers and Lady Elinor again, he muttered an oath. “He’s heading for the terrace.” When Pip looked blank, Harry shook his head and charged across the dance floor.


Mr. Carruthers had timed it quite neatly, she thought. As the music ended and he twirled her into the final spin, they came to a halt just before the terrace doors. These were standing open, letting in the scent of roses on the breeze of the soft June evening.

“It is rather warm in here, Lady Elinor, is it not?” he said. “Would you care for a turn on the terrace?”

Before she could answer, a strong hand clasped her arm just above the elbow. “Lady Elinor, your mother wants you.” When she turned to object to this high- handed treatment, she found herself staring up at the all-too-familiar scowl of Lord Tunbury. “Harry...” she started to protest.

“If Lady Elinor wishes to return to her parents, I will be delighted to escort her.” Carruthers spoke frostily.

“Lady Penworth requested that I find her daughter.” Harry’s even icier tone indicated that there was nothing more to be said on the subject.

Lady Elinor looked back and forth between them and wanted to laugh. Carruthers was tall, dark, and handsome, or at least decorative, with a pretty bow-shaped mouth. Harry, equally tall, had broad shoulders and a powerful build. His square face was pleasant rather than handsome, his middling brown hair tended to flop over his middling brown eyes, and his wide mouth was more often than not stretched into a broad smile. Not just now, of course.

One would say the two men were not much alike, but at the moment they wore identical scowls. They did not actually bare their teeth and growl, but they were not far off. She could not manage to feel guilty about enjoying the sight. It was too delightful.

Carruthers stopped glaring at Harry long enough to look at her. He may have stopped scowling, but he was not smiling. He was stiff with anger. “Lady Elinor?” He offered his arm.

Harry’s grip on her arm tightened and he pulled her back a step. His grip was growing painful, and she would have protested, but she feared it might create a scene not of her own designing, so she smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Carruthers, but if my mother sent Lord Tunbury, perhaps I should accept his escort.”

Carruthers bowed stiffly and sent one more glare at the intruder before he departed. That left her free to turn furiously on Harry. “There is no way on earth my mother sent you to fetch me. What do you think you are doing?”

He caught her hand, trapped it on his arm, and began marching her away from the terrace. “I cannot imagine what possessed your parents to give you permission to dance with a loose fish like Carruthers.”

“They didn’t, of course. He at least had enough sense to wait until they had left me with Pip.” Harry was dragging her along too quickly, and she was going to land on the floor in a minute. “You might slow down a bit,” she complained.

“You little idiot!” He turned and glared at her but did ease his pace. “He was about to take you out on the terrace.”

“Well, of course!” She gave an exasperated humph.

“What do you mean, ‘Of course’?” By now they had reached the end of the ballroom, and he pulled her into the hall and swung her around to the side so he could glare with some privacy.

She shook out her skirt and checked to make sure the pink silk rosettes pinning up the tulle overskirt had not been damaged while Harry was dragging her about. She was very fond of those rosettes. “I mean, of course he was going to take me out on the terrace. That’s what he does. He takes a girl out on the terrace, leads her into one of the secluded parts, and kisses her. Marianne and Dora say he kisses very nicely, and I wanted to see if they were right.”

Harry made a strangled sound. “Marianne and Dora? Miss Simmons and Miss Cooper...?”

 “Among others.” Lady Elinor waved a hand airily. “He’s kissed so many of this year’s debutantes that I was beginning to feel slighted, but I think perhaps he is working according to some sort of pattern. Do you know what it might be?”

He was looking at her with something approaching horror, rather the way her brother looked at her much of the time. “You and your friends discuss... What in God’s name are young ladies thinking about these days?”

She shrugged. “Young men, of course. What did you suppose? That we discuss embroidery patterns? Don’t you and your friends talk about women?”

He closed his eyes and muttered a prayer for patience. Then he began speaking with exaggerated formality. “Lady Elinor, under no circumstances are you to even dance with a rake like Carruthers, much less go into the garden with him. You have no idea what he would do.”

“Fiddlesticks! I know precisely what he was going to do. He apparently has only two speeches that he uses to persuade a girl to let him kiss her, and I want to know which one he is going to use on me. Then I’ll know if I am generally considered saucy or sweet.”

“Norrie, no one who is at all acquainted with you would ever consider you sweet.”

“Well, I should hope not. You know me better than that. But I want to know how I am viewed by the people who don’t know me.”

He grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her to face him. “Norrie, I want you to listen to me. A bounder like Carruthers will try to do far more than simply steal a kiss.”

“I know that. You needn’t treat me as if I am simpleminded. But I am hardly going to allow anything more.”

“It is not a question of what you will allow. Just precisely how do you think you could stop him from taking advantage of you?”

She gave him a considering look and decided to answer honestly. “Well, there is the sharply raised knee to the groin or the forehead smashed against the nose, but the simplest, I have always found, is the hatpin.”

“Hatpin?” Harry looked rather as if he were choking as he seized on the most innocuous part of her statement.

“Yes. It really doesn’t matter where you stab. Gentlemen are always so startled that they jump back.” She offered him a kindly smile. Sometimes he sounded just like her brother.

He went back to glaring at her. “Norrie, Lady Elinor, I want your word that there will be no strolls in the garden with disreputable rogues.”

“Like you?” she interrupted.

“Yes, if you like, like me! Forget about rogues. You may not always recognize one. Just make it all men. You are not to leave the ballroom with any man at any time.”

“The way we just left it?”

“Stop that, Norrie. I am serious.”

He did indeed look serious. Quite fierce, in fact. So she subsided and resigned herself to listening.
“I want your promise,” he said. “If you will not give it, I will have to warn your brother, and you know Pip. He might feel obliged to challenge anyone who tries to lead you into dark corners, and you know he is a hopeless shot. You don’t want to get him killed, do you?”

He had calmed down enough to start smiling at her now, one of those patronizing, big-brother, I-know-better-than-you smiles. It was quite maddening, so she put on her shyly innocent look and smiled back. “Oh, Harry, you know I would never do anything that would cause real trouble.”

“That’s my girl.” He took her arm to lead her back to the ballroom. “Hatpins indeed. Just don’t let your mother find out you’ve heard about things like that.”

She smiled. He really was quite sweet. And fool- ish. He had not even noticed that she gave him no promise. And then imagine warning her not to let her mother find out. Who did he suppose had taught her those tricks?


Tunbury hovered at the edge of the ballroom and watched Norrie hungrily. He had not seen her in more than a year, and then two months ago, there she had been. It was her first season, and somehow the tomboy who had been his and Pip’s companion in all their games and pranks had turned into a beauty. Her dark hair now hung in shiny ringlets, framing the perfect oval of her face. Her eyes—they had always been that sort of greenish blue, shining with excitement more often than not, but when had they started to tilt at the edge that way? And when had her lashes grown so long and thick? Worst of all, when had she gone and grown a bosom?

But she was such an innocent.

She thought herself so worldly, so knowing, when in fact she knew nothing of the ugliness lurking beneath the surface, even in the ballrooms of the aristocracy. That ugliness should never be allowed to touch her. Her parents would protect her and find her a husband worthy of her, a good, decent man who came from a good, decent family.

Not someone like him. Not someone who came from a family as rotten as his. The Tremaines thought they knew about his parents, the Earl and Countess of Doncaster, but they knew only the common gossip. They did not know what Doncaster had told him, and he hoped they never would.

Yes, Norrie would find a husband worthy of her, but he couldn’t stay here and watch. That would be too painful. He had to leave. He would leave in the morning and disappear from her life.


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