Secret Affairs Chapter 3

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Sparks followed by an insult… will the sparks ignite or fizzle out? This summer party appears to be most entertaining! Shall we mingle?

Chapter 3

 No more than a moment after Lord Catlin entered the room, his strong form caught Lexie’s eye. My goodness! Even though she had not seen him for a long while, tonight, James appeared different than before. She had been fortunate enough in the past to have sat beside him at dinner at the home of—who was the couple?—oh yes, Lord and Lady Wisters—and he was an exceptional conversationalist. That had been over three years ago. The guests around him that night had been talking, so when he engaged her, his attention lifted her heart. Now she looked at him with renewed eyes, not as a man who had made light of the askew wig of an elderly footman, but as a potential husband.

From across the room, he was pleasing enough to the eye. The way he held himself was more mature and composed now. He must have obtained more traits of a grown man while away. Yes, if Lady Hoxley wanted her to align herself with James Whitley, Lord Catlin, it would be interesting, but she would leave well enough alone for now. Her reason was that James approached two friends on the settee, who chattered away gaily to each other, fashionable in their clouds of silk and satin. The elder was recognisable as Mrs. Rolanda Kerr, one of the couples attending. The second was this afternoon’s Miss Alethea Royston. She was young but elegant and poised. In all likelihood, she would be married off soon. James might consider her—if he could distract her from Lord Crooks, of course. No doubt she had been preened for all that was appropriate for a wife of an earl. They brightened at James’s presence, as did ladies in all situations.

In her position within a large group of ladies, Lexie could either join in the feminine conversation or not, depending upon the topic at hand. At the moment, the mothers were discussing some detail about whether to foster or not to foster their infants to wet nurses, and she and the other single ladies nearby, Miss Verity and Miss Samantha Verity, a pair of sisters, had naught to offer on the subject so were not as engaged as the married ladies. The twosome was engrossed in a private conversation of their own, leaving Lexie to herself. This circle was as tiresome as one could invent, which was why she could not help but be distracted by the cluster of men nearby.

As she perused their number, the commonplace was evident—she had seen groups of men like this before. They were posing in the way men do when they seek to elevate their own importance. One gentleman broached a topic that forced the rest scramble in an effort to outdo the others with their opinions, arguing subjects known to be in the men’s domain. She huffed a little laugh to herself. In such instances, Lexie was knowledgeable, but tended to stifle her comments. She tried to appear the lady when in those circles—but not always. She smiled at the thought. Sometimes, her penchant to love an argument reared its head.

If they spoke about shooting, Lexie was as educated as any man in regard to the relative populations of various game birds and when was the best time to shoot what, and how that applied to Fanshaugh Manor. Her brother Reeve relied on her for that information.

Or they could be discussing politics, or any particular current event. Because she read the broadsheets and possessed her own opinions, she was much more interested and informed than Reeve, who took a generalized stance and varied this way or that just enough to convince his conversation partner that he was sympathetic but not enough to show any true inclination to any sort of position. Thus, she was proud that she could help him learn enough for the discussions at events like this. At the moment, he stood smiling and joking in the midst of the men, his body at attention, as was expected. Beside him stood Sir Niles, hands behind his back, chest puffed up, as if he were somehow trying to impress the others. She studied the rest of the men. They all looked the same— except for the new man, the one she had yet to meet.

This man was interesting, to say the least. What was it about him that made her want to scrutinize him? Perhaps because he seemed distinct from the others. His posture was not challenging, yet he was imposing without the bravado. He stood off to the side of the grouping, leaning on the mantelpiece, but he appeared sturdy enough that the mantel could seek his support instead of the opposite. He was taller than the rest of the guests. The way he held his body set him apart, and therefore, drew her to study his face to try to understand his disposition.

Nuances in his eyes and brows gave her the impression that he was attending to the conversation, but as she examined the situation more closely, his eyes would sometimes drop away and then flick back at attention as if awakened. She could not tear herself from the expression upon his face when he drifted away. He was not simply becoming disinterested and daydreaming until his name was called. What was he about? Wait! Oh, he was lost in thought! An intelligence hovered about his eyes, the twitch of some expression that urged her to look closer.

The new gentleman was brooding! He was alternately attempting to attend to the discussions the other gentlemen held while pondering something troubling! Ha! That had to be it! If she would be bold enough to join the group, she could perhaps elicit some more interesting aspects of the man’s expressions so she could further delve into his character.

Miss Verity leaned towards Lexie. “The gentlemen are all handsome enough, are they not?”

“You must be joking,” said her sister Miss Samantha. “Lord Remington and Lord Crooks, perhaps.” She pointed to where James sat with Mrs. Kerr and Miss Royston. “Oh, and Lord Catlin, if your tastes go to brown.”

Brown! What an unkind focus to choose for such a handsome man. “Lord Catlin is a close family friend,” said Lexie. Her jaw was tight.

“How nice for you.” Miss Samantha’s tone was cloying. “I for one think that his kind ought to stick together. There is safety in numbers.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Social groups for Black people exist in England, you know. They all get together and entertain in their African ways. I believe that Lord Catlin would be happier at a party intended for blackees than in the drawing room at Fanshaugh Manor.”

How could they think that way? Do not let them get your hackles up, Lexie. “As a matter of fact, he is quite at home at Fanshaugh Manor. His mama and mine are best friends.”

“How interesting.” Miss Samantha’s nostrils flared ever so slightly.

“He is one of the most handsome men here and a very respectable gentleman in his own right,” said Lexie.

Miss Samantha gave a toss of her head. “I must disagree. When you compare them all, none is as stunning as Lord Crooks. In addition, he takes excellent care of his appearance.”

Lexie was not so certain. Lord Crooks had features that could be called striking, but a coldness lingered in his brilliant blue eyes, and the shiny pomade he used to comb his hair over his forehead in the latest style made her shudder. His clothing was too pompous in its stylishness—too loud and bold.

“Do you know him well?” she asked of the Misses Verity.

Miss Verity gave her sister a sideways glance. “Not well. My sister hopes to, though.”

What a shame! Lord Crooks was a liar and a cheat, but Lexie was not about to divulge how she knew that. Cassie had invited him despite her knowledge of his duplicity in the past, deciding the matter must have been some kind of a mistake.

“He is such a fine gentleman, so admired in town,” said Miss Samantha. “He runs with the best of the best.”

Well, that settled the matter. Lord Crooks could do no wrong in Miss Samantha’s eyes, so Lexie could not say he had all but stolen money from unwitting gentlemen. She once again directed her attention to the group of men as they boasted to each other, laughing and waving their arms in an animated fashion. Clearly, their conversation was more fascinating than hers. Even the tall man had leaned into their party and gestured while he spoke, which caused a chuckle from the others.

“What do you know about the tall man? I have not yet met him,” she said.

Miss Verity crinkled her nose. “That is Julian Lange, Lord Remington. I have been warned away from him.”

Miss Samantha nodded. “He leaves nothing but broken hearts in his wake.”

“How does he accomplish such a thing?” asked Lexie.

“He woos ladies into his confidence and treats them as if he is about to propose so they will be relaxed about sharing their kisses and more.”


“’Tis true! ’Tis a situation he favours with widows. He makes no promises, but the ladies all seem to believe he had agreed to an attachment, no matter if it had not been said in so many words.”

“So, a rake,” said Lexie.

“This was until he was to marry his second cousin, whom he jilted. Then he hid away in Upper Canada. Who knows how many hearts he broke in the colonies.”

This latest part, and a bit more, was not new. Cecilia had mentioned the tale in conversation some years ago.

Lexie tilted her head while she looked his way. “He sounds interesting. I for one would like to know more about the colonies.” She was always contrary, always looking for trouble, it seemed. But mostly, some unidentifiable detail about these sisters irked her. How she wished to defy them and rub their impudent little noses in her triumph! The best way to discover more was to join the men, then determine how this man behaved in a challenging conversation—no one was better than Alexandra Hales at stimulating a war of words.

Lexie made to rise. “Excuse me, but I must find out more about his travel myself. I am sure you will not object.” Miss Verity’s mouth dropped open while Miss Samantha’s brows drew together as a frown was pasted upon her face. Lexie had just insulted her and would need to be careful with Miss Samantha in the future.

As Lexie made her way towards the men, she was waylaid by a friend, a gentleman himself.

“Tired of the ladies so early?” asked Marcus Brand, Lord Broadmead. She had not seen much of him of late since she had been in the country most of last Season, and he preferred to be in town.

“You are correct. In fact, I was about to join the gentlemen and discover what their discussion entailed.”

“What they debate may not be for ladies’ ears. You know that.”

“I have spent the better part of my adult life listening in on conversations of men’s topics when I get the chance. Most often, I am able to keep up with them without a trace of a blush.”

“A blush would enhance your appearance this evening. You look lovelier than usual. What is that colour called?”

“Blossom. I shall have to become comfortable with Cassie and Cecilia primping me for these evenings over the next two weeks. I have even obtained my own maid, although she is not French. She is a recent promotion, Bridget, or I suppose I should call her ‘White’ now.”

“Ah, I recall her. Dark hair, blue eyes, rather serious demeanour for a housemaid. She shall do you well. Your hair arrangement is rather fine.”

“She obtained lessons from Pichet, who drew her some of her favourite designs.”

“Ah, the famous Pichet. Cassie is lucky to have her. And now that you appear so fabulous as to turn the heads of both the men and the ladies in the room, you are ready to dive into a discussion regarding crop rotation, I believe?”

“If you will accompany me that way. Besides, you too have a penchant for both beauty and the practical, Marcus.”

He held out his arm, and she took it. “True. I may just start to read the Ladies’ Monthly Museum along with you.” She smote him on the arm for the tease.

“’Tis an intellectual magazine!”

“I am aware of that fact.”

James had joined the crowd just before them, and the moment they arrived, two of the other gentlemen had been discussing a tenant dispute—something to do with the ability to use a certain portion of grazing land and the associated pond. Lord Remington was not engaged in the discussion, in fact, he seemed to be woolgathering as he stared off into the distance.

“I would decide who deserved it more and tell them my decision, and that would be the end of it,” said Mr. Poole.

Lexie lifted her eyebrows. “And how would you decide who was more deserving?”

The man shrugged. “The fellow who brings in the best profit, I suppose. Something is to be said for a family who has not been holding back on his rents and profits. You can never trust a tenant.”

The gentlemen laughed, though not in a raucous way. James was flushed. Was he embarrassed for Mr. Poole?

Lexie lifted her chin high. “I wonder that you would not consider an alternative method of dealing with your tenants, such as a compromised decision.”

Lord Remington, who was situated so he was still in her sights, turned to the group. Was he curious—interested in seeing who was bold enough to interject her opinions in a sphere outside of the realm of women’s discourse? The men’s muttering indicated they were unaccustomed to her rather impertinent way. In all likelihood, he had never met anyone like her before.

He gave a dismissive wave. “I am positive that tenant affairs are quite different than dealing with errant housemaids.”

“Are you saying that the purview of ladies is only within the domicile?”

“Why, yes, I am.”

“A pity, sir, for you are denying gentlemen the benefit of the superior knowledge of half the world.”

“I cannot suppose that a proper lady could claim such supplementary knowledge, else you would not have made such nonchalant statements earlier.”

The men chuckled, and heat claimed Lexie’s face. Of course, Lord Remington would probably assume her blush was a result of his rebuke. But his proximity and notice were equally moving. The magnetism was too much, and she could no longer tolerate the staccato beating of her heart and the lightness of her head. She had to escape. With a genteel excuse and a smile, she whisked herself aside to the company of a few ladies, but not out of earshot. Lord Crooks commented on how Miss Hales was reputed to be very much a bluestocking and knew too much about financial affairs and science, never mind farming. She wrinkled her nose. How did he learn this?

A backward glance revealed Lord Remington watched her, and she put her back towards him.

“That was a bit harsh, old boy,” James said.

“I merely put her in her place. She was no doubt attempting to ingratiate herself with the single men of the party,” said Lord Remington.

“You are a curious one, my friend. You used your association with Andrew and Warman to attract the young fillies in the old days, yet you still seem to have a fear of the fairer sex.”

Lord Remington growled as he cleared his throat. “Every lady is out to find a husband. I know you would like a dowry to help you improve Brightmore, but leave me out of the matrimony business.”

She glanced back again to James, who was grinning. “I think you are safely able to accomplish your losses in the matrimony business on your own.” She returned her gaze to her party and smothered her smile with her hand.

“You should not be talking. You are the one who has set yourself up to be part of all this matchmaking. So, tell me, which will you be courting?”

“The one you have managed to insult.”

Would you like to read more? Suzan Lauder’s Secret Affairs is now available for purchase on Amazon. Get your copy today.

Meryton Press will giveaway one eBook from the comments on today’s post. Let us know if you the sparks will ignite or fizzle and why? The giveaway is international and will end May 6th at midnight central. The winner may choose any one of the three books in this series. Good luck!

Cecilia’s Mismatches Series

Cecilia’s Mismatches Series: An Accomplished Woman, Book 1, and The Reluctant Chaperon, Book 2, are available on Amazon in eBook format, paperback, and Kindle Unlimited. Have you read them? Enjoy reading about Cecilia’s mismatching follies for the three Hales sisters, Audra, Cassie, and Lexie. Secret Affairs, Book 3, has been released.

Other Books by Suzan Lauder

These books are available at Amazon in eBook, paperback, audiobook, and Kindle Unlimited: Alias Thomas BennetLetter From RamsgateA Most Handsome GentlemanThe Mist of Her MemorySchemes of Felicity, The Barrister’s Bride.

Alias Thomas Bennet is also available in Spanish.

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