Fool for Love

  Eloisa James

  Fool for Love



  In Which Simon Darby Receives Undesirable News


  Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice


  The Throes of Grief


  Home Truths Are Seldom Pleasant


  Infamous Esme


  Extreme Youth and Scorn Are Close Associates


  Lady Rawlings Hosts an Evening at Home


  A Light Supper Is Served in the Rose Salon


  Of Fox Hunts and …Other Sorts of Hunts


  Henrietta At Home, After Leaving Esme’s At-Home


  A Midwinter’s Night’s Dream


  The Next Morning Tears and Secrets Are the Best of Friends


  In Which Lady Rawlings Interviews Her New Gardener


  Speed Is a Glorious Addiction


  Caught in the Act


  Biology Is Not a Polite Subject of Conversation


  Marital Intimacy, Sometimes Referred to as Marital Congress, And Sometimes As Unnecessary


  Esme Rawlings Discovers That Some Truths Are Difficult to Conceal


  My Brother Simon


  The Garden of Earthly Delights


  The Sewing Circle Meets at Lady Rawlings’s House


  A Council of War


  An Island, a Nymph, and Thou


  In Which Mrs. Cable Receives an Invitation to Dinner


  Lady Rawlings Receives Guests


  A Man in Velvet and Lace


  Sartorial Splendor Cannot Solve All Problems


  The Pleasure of Good Deeds


  The Fruits of Sin


  Confessions Are a Private Affair


  Motherhood Is An Ideal State…Sometimes


  Honey…the Nectar of the Gods


  The Remedy for Sin and Fornication


  Of Babies in Baskets and Families in Carriages


  Dinner for Three


  A Wedding Night


  In Which Lady Rawlings Remembers That Propriety, Decency, and Honor Rule English Society


  Food Fights Are Not Limited to the Young


  Knowing One’s Enemy


  Of Frost Fairies and Other Surprising Beings


  Yet Another Love Letter


  Unwelcome Revelations at Supper


  Dancing Like a Fool


  Expert Advice


  Uncivilized Behavior


  For Love of Johnny

  A Note on What to Expect in the Toddler Years, Circa 1815


  About the Author


  Other Books by Eloisa James


  About the Publisher


  In Which Simon Darby Receives Undesirable News

  28 Park Lane


  Some men turn into walruses when they’re angry: all bushy and blowing air. Others resemble pigs, with pillowy cheeks and small eyes. Simon Darby turned into a Cossack. His eyes took on a slanted look. High cheekbones that spoke of generations of Darbys turned formidable, angular, and altogether foreign. To Gerard Bunge’s mind, the man looked positively savage.

  The last time the Honorable Gerard Bunge himself could remember being so enraged was when his doctor informed him that he had caught the pox. Even remembering the moment made him queasy. There was that uneasy sense of heavenly retribution, not to mention the unpleasant treatment lying ahead.

  But even less would he like to be told that his inheritance had disappeared. After all, diseases come and go, but life is so expensive. Even handkerchiefs are prohibitive.

  Darby was probably in shock. So Bunge repeated himself. “There’s no question about it. Your aunt is increasing.”

  When Darby still didn’t answer, Bunge strolled over to the litter of china dogs lining the mantelpiece and thought about poverty versus the pox again. Definitely syphilis was preferable.

  “I said, Lady Rawlings is enceinte. I mean to say, the Countess of Trent paid her a visit in the country, and described the lady as waddling. Did you hear me, Darby?”

  “They likely heard you in Norfolk.”


  Bunge couldn’t stand silence himself, but it wasn’t every day that a man had his inheritance snatched out from under his nose by an unborn babe. Tossing back his deep cuffs, he pushed the china dogs into a neat row. There had to be fourteen or fifteen of the lolling, garishly painted little things.

  “I suppose these belong to one of your sisters,” he said over his shoulder. The thought of Darby’s sisters made Bunge feel a bit uncomfortable. After all, if Esme Rawlings’s child was male, they had just lost their dowries.

  “Actually, the dogs belonged to my stepmother,” Darby remarked.

  Quite the mortality rate in Darby’s family, Bunge reflected: father, stepmother, uncle, gone in under one year. “I wish your aunt weren’t increasing, damned if I don’t,” he said, displaying a rare flash of generosity.

  He swallowed a curse as the sharp edge of his starched linen collar nipped him in the neck. He had to remember not to turn his head so quickly. The new high collars were the devil to wear.

  “It could hardly be construed as your fault. I gather my uncle and aunt had an unexpected rapprochement before his death.”

  “Startled me to the gills when I heard he died in his wife’s chamber,” Bunge agreed. “Not that Lady Rawlings isn’t a beautiful woman. But your uncle hadn’t lived with his wife for years. He was snug in Lady Childe’s pocket when I saw him last. I thought Rawlings and his wife weren’t even on speaking terms.”

  “As far as I know, they rarely spoke. Presumably they engaged in heir-making without speech.”

  “Some are saying the child isn’t Rawlings’s, you know.”

  “Given that my uncle died in his wife’s bedchamber, he and his wife likely engaged in activities that led to this child. You will please me by squashing any such rumors.” Darby’s eyes now wore their customary expression of detached amusement.

  “You’re going to have to get married,” Bunge pointed out. “Course that won’t be too difficult for you, catching a rich one. Heard that there’s a wool merchant putting his daughter on the market this season—everyone’s saying she’s a woolly breeder.” He erupted in a cascade of high-pitched laughter.

  But Darby’s eyes hardened into distaste. “An unappetizing possibility.” He gave a little half bow. “Much though I adore your company, Bunge, I have an appointment this afternoon.”

  Cool bastard, Bunge thought to himself, but he let himself be propelled toward the door. “Are you going to tell your stepsisters?”

  “Naturally. Their esteemed aunt is going to have a baby. Josephine will be delighted.”

  “Does she know that the babe will do her out of a fortune?”

  “I fail to see why inheritance issues should disturb a child still in the nursery.”

  “And you never know. Lady Rawlings might have a girl.”

  “A pleas
ing thought, under the circumstances.”

  “You’re a cool one. Don’t know what I’d do, if I had two girls to get off on the market, and—”

  “You would do admirably.” Darby rang the bell, and his butler, Fanning, appeared with Bunge’s coat, hat, and cane.

  As he walked back into his study, the mask of detached amusement fell from Darby’s face. He had choked back his rage in front of the painted popinjay who had so delighted in telling him of his aunt’s pregnancy. But anger swelled in his throat.

  “God-damned bitch.” The words burned like poison in his mouth.

  Whatever his uncle was doing in his wife’s bedchamber, it didn’t involve fornication. Rawlings had told him last July, just before he died, that the doctor had ruled out connubial acts—and since he’d been a little in his cups, he’d added that Lady Childe was agreeable. No need to mention his wife, and he hadn’t. His mistress, Lady Childe, was the only person remotely interested in Miles’s ability to shake the bedsheets.

  And yet he died in Esme Rawlings’s bedchamber a week or so later. Suffered a heart attack in his wife’s bedchamber. And now the woman was increasing—waddling, even? Doubtless the child would be born on the early side. The house party took place last July. If the child were Miles’s, his wife was six months along at the most. And why would the elegantly slim Lady Rawlings be waddling at only six months, with three long months to go?

  Damn her for a lying jade. He didn’t believe for a moment that Miles slept in her bed. Likely she sprouted the babe with another man and lured Miles into the room in order to confuse the issue of paternity.

  Miles never deserved that hussy of a wife he married. But he stuck by his wife, never flinched as Esme Rawlings created scandal after scandal. Refused even to consider divorce.

  There were people in London who thought Darby was an uncaring, dispassionate man. They judged him an Exquisite, given the eccentricity and elegance of his clothing. They noted the ease with which he played the fashionable games of the ton and the trail of broken hearts that followed him, judged him by whispered tales of debauchery and degenerate friends. Told each other that the only emotion he ever displayed was vanity.

  Belying the gossips, Simon Darby stared at the mantelpiece with a look of such savagery that it was a wonder the china dogs didn’t shiver into pieces.

  The man who pushed open the door to the study didn’t seem to notice as he loped into the room and slung himself into a chair facing the fire. He was an olive-skinned, broad, brawny brute of a man whose only signs of his aristocratic birth lay in a crumpled neck cloth and a pair of fine boots.

  Darby glanced at him over his shoulder. “I’ve not the inclination for company.”

  “Stubble it.” Rees Holland, Earl Godwin, accepted a glass of Madeira from the butler with the grimace he used for a smile and tossed off the glass, only to break into a fit of coughing. “Dammit, where did you get this hellacious wine?”

  “I’d rather not discuss household exigencies.”

  There was a note in Darby’s voice that made Rees blink. “You’ve heard,” he said.

  “That my aunt is increasing? Gerard Bunge just left the house. He suggested I marry a wool heiress otherwise known as the woolly breeder.”

  “Blasted little gossip hound.”

  “Bunge describes my aunt as waddling. There can be little doubt the child was conceived during my uncle’s life, if not actually by my uncle.”

  Rees eyed his closest friend. He wasn’t much good on the comfort front, and the fact that he’d known Darby since they were boys only made it worse. He knew just how much his friend loathed pity.

  Darby stood at the mantelpiece staring down at the fire, a long lean body of coiled muscle clothed in superb fine cloth. He looked a lord, from his tossled brown hair, to his shining boots, which is what he stood to be, if he inherited his uncle’s title and estate.

  Without the estate, Darby was left with whatever he made from importing lace, and that couldn’t be much, in Rees’s estimation. Darby had two young stepsisters to raise. Even this house was likely entailed to the little whelp growing in Lady Rawlings’s belly.

  Whereas Rees himself was a shambling mess, sartorially speaking, and yet had three or four houses, and more money than he knew what to do with.

  Darby swung around. He had a face that made women swoon, with lean hollows in both cheeks that emphasized his cheekbones, deep-set eyes, and lean chin. It was a look that was exquisitely aristocratic and dangerously male. “The important thing is that Esme Rawlings is not carrying my uncle’s child.”

  “Doubt it’s an immaculate conception. And bastardy is the devil to prove.”

  “Then a baseborn whelp is going to inherit my uncle’s estate. God only knows who the father is. Do you know how much Miles—my uncle—wanted an heir?” It burst from him.

  Rees jerked his head. “We never discussed offspring.”

  “That was the one thing he wanted: an heir. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to renounce his wife. Miles was the kindest of men. He couldn’t hold the line before an impudent beggar, let alone his wife.”

  “Beautiful woman, Lady Rawlings,” Rees said. “She has a warm manner, all right. I never could understand how she could be one of my wife’s best friends. Talk about opposites.”

  “Your wife is a saint compared to her.”

  “My wife is a saint compared to anyone,” Rees pointed out. “Unfortunate that saints are hell to live with. I clearly remember telling Rawlings that he should have booted Esme out as I did Helene, rather than allowing her to keep the house.”

  “Miles never would consider any sort of action against my aunt,” Darby said. “Nothing. Not divorce. Nothing.”

  “Any idea who fathered her child?”

  Darby shook his head. “She was at Lady Troubridge’s house party when Miles died. Could have been anyone.”

  “Troubridge? That woman with a place in East Cliff who fancies herself an art enthusiast and cobbles together a bunch of actors and dilettanti? She’s tried to get me out there by dangling opera singers before my nose.”

  “Her parties are so ripe with scandal it’s a wonder anyone is ever found in his wife’s chamber,” Darby said. “Why do you think Esme Rawlings got pregnant?”

  Rees had taken a screw of paper out of his breast pocket and was scrawling on it. He didn’t look up. “Last time I heard, the bedtime waltz was still to blame for children.”

  “Damn you, Rees, listen. Why do you think she got pregnant now? The woman’s been catting around London for ten years. Why’d she suddenly get pregnant now, when all the world knew that my uncle’s heart was going?”

  “Think she did it to secure the estate?”

  “What if she did?”

  “Hard to say. You’d have to prove illegitimacy, and that’s virtually impossible. Better pray for a girl.”

  Rees was scribbling away again, no doubt messing about with a musical score. “You don’t think she did away with your uncle, do you?” he said, almost absentmindedly.


  “Put him to bed with a shovel so as to cover up a pregnancy?”

  “I doubt it,” Darby said, after a moment. “She’s a lightskirt, my aunt. But I can’t honestly say I see true vice in her.”

  Rees’s fingers were flying across the page, and Darby could see that he’d entirely stopped paying attention. Once Rees was following the lure of a musical line, there was no getting him back until it was on paper.

  Of course Esme Rawlings wouldn’t murder her husband. She was a lady, for all she was a trollop. And in an odd way, she and Miles had got along quite well. She never fussed over his mistresses—well, how could she?—and he never blinked an eye at her consorts. In fact, she seemed fond of Miles in an odd way.

  But perhaps she didn’t like the idea of giving up the estate. Everyone knew that Miles’s heart was about to give out. Perhaps she got the wind up about moving to the dower house, and cooked up the pregnancy.

aps she wasn’t pregnant at all.

  That would explain a good deal, such as why Esme retreated to the country after his uncle’s funeral. The lady rarely left London. So what was she doing in a half-forgotten estate in Wiltshire?

  Walking around with a pillow under her gown, that’s what. Scouring the neighborhood for a child likely to pass as Miles’s heir.

  “What if she’s not pregnant, Rees?”

  His friend didn’t answer.


  At the near bellow, Rees’s quill scratched and splattered. “Damn it to hell,” he muttered, blotting the ink with his cuff.

  Darby watched as Rees’s white cuff absorbed spreading blotches of black ink. “How does your valet get those stains out?”

  “Haven’t a valet at the moment. The man quit in a fit of rage a few months ago, and I haven’t bothered to hire another. The housekeeper will buy some new shirts.” He finished tracing the notes that had been obscured by flying ink and began flapping the paper to dry it. “Now what are you shouting about?”

  “What if Esme Rawlings isn’t really pregnant? What if she’s planning to fake a birth, and return with a baby she finds in Wiltshire? She could buy one without a problem. Bring him back and set him up as Miles’s heir.”

  Rees’s thick eyebrows matched his mane of hair. Generally they scowled; now they looked skeptical. “It’s a possibility,” he grunted. “I suppose.”

  “Why is she in the country else?” Darby insisted. “My aunt is the epitome of a London grande dame, for all she’s a scandal-maker. It’s hard to imagine her away from the comforts of Gunther’s, not to mention her mantua-maker. Why is she rusticating in the country unless she’s running some sort of racket?”

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