Her response tothatwas cut off and muffled by the slam of a carriage door; then Daniel heard the conveyance jangle away down the street.
He stayed where he was long after the carriage had rolled away, his mindreplayingthe incident and certain things that had been said.I could climb this damn thing ifI just hadmy breeches on and notthesehorrid skirts.
Ah, but then youmight be mistaken for aman.
Nay, he thoughtuncertainly.It couldnot be … But she had been wearing bootsandsomething else beneath her skirts. And she had said mybreeches. Still, what did all this mean?
Recognizinghis mother’s voice, Daniel peered back towardthe bushes he had walked through to reach the wall. He started quicklybackthroughthem, stepping out into the garden to see his mother standing on the balcony, glaring impatiently out intothe darkness.
"Oh, there youare, Daniel." She sighed as she spotted him.
"Lord Beechamsaid he saw you out here.Whatever were you doing in those bushes? The party isinside."
"Whichis perhaps why I am outside, "Daniel muttered, jogging up the lastfew stepsto join her.
"Oh, really, " she muttered with exasperation, turning her cheek up for his dutiful kiss.Once that was outof theway, shestepped back toeyehim."Did you see Master Whister today? "
"You knowI did, " he answered.
"And what? Do nottry to pretend you did not know the codicil to Gran’s will. She told you everything. No doubt you have known about it for some time."
The womanhad the grace notto denyit. Instead, sheasked, "I am arranging severalsmallsoireesinthenextlittle while. One for tomorrow night even. Is there anyone in particular you would like me to invite? "
He knew what that meant; Daniel, now that you know you have tomarrytoinherit your dear grand-mama’s money, I am arranging a party to parade available femalesby you. Is there anyone youprefer?
His motherblinked. "Well, then, I shall just do my best."
Translation, he thought dryly: Every available female in England shallbe invited.
"Do not bother; I willbe unableto attend, " he began. Suddenly he paused. "On second thought, I do have someone I wish invited."
His mother’s expression, which had begun toturn downwith displeasure, abruptlylightened."Yes, dear? "
Her face fell with displeasure again. "Not that woman! Oh, Daniel, youcannot beinterestedinher! She is the talk of the ball.
My God, herface felloff in Lady Beecham’s wine. Andher uncle is an absolute horror. Completely barbaric, from what I have heard. He – "
"She hadan unfortunate experience with some bad makeup, Mother.It wasnot her fault, and she was humiliated byit." He somehow doubtedthat the ladyin question had reallyfelt much more thana touch of embarrassment – amazing, considering that thesituation would havecrushed most young women attending a soiree – but his mother need notknowthat. "As to her uncle, she canhardlybe heldaccountableforhis behavior. If you wish me to attendyour party, you will invite Lady Ainsley. Otherwise I shall be quite unavailable. For the foreseeable future, I shall attend only balls that sheis attending."
His lady mother’s mouth dropped open, her eyes wideas she gazed onhim. Then she fairly beamed at him. "Oh, Daniel! Of course, Ishall invite the dear girl then."
"You were a success!"
Valoree paused halfway downthestairsto peer at One-Eye warily. He closed the frontdoor, waved a small pieceof paperat her, then snatched up a small stack of four or five more and hurried toward her.
"See! Invites, allof them. Soirees, balls, the lot, " he announced with glee, waving the invitations under her nose. "See, there weren’t nothing to worry about. I knew ye’ddo just fine."
"Do just fineat what? " Henryasked, catchingthe tail end of One-Eye’scomment as he came down the stairs behind Valoree.
"At beingalady, " One-Eye explained, grinning widely as he flashed theinvitations atthe older man. "Invites. Five of them.
Shemusthavedone usproud last night. She’s been invited to more ballsand such."
"Pity invitations, " Valoree muttered, pushing the papers he heldout of her facewith disgust and continuingpasthim down the stairs.
Quick to speak up, Henry followedher with One-Eye on his heels. "Oh, now, I don’t think them nobles we met last night wouldsend invites totheir sworingsout of pity."
"Soirees, "Valoreecorrectedautomatically asshe crossedthe hall. "But aye. Mayhapyou are right. Mayhap they invited me for the entertainment value!"
"Entertainment? " One-Eye asked, moving to Henry’s side as they followed her into the small morning room.
Valoree had refused to discuss the evening’s debacle oncethey hadreturned home last night. She had simplystridden upstairs and straight to her room, rolling her eyes asshe’d heard Henry telling the others thatallhadgone "well enough." So much for the man’s leading her to believe that they would give the sorry taskup.
Now she ignored One-Eye’s questions to glare at Meg. The older woman was already seated at the table, and she looked pretty brightand chipper for someonewhohad drunk herself into unconsciousnessthenight before.Her aunt merely smiled blandly back.
Peteyentered thenwith a rack of fresh loavesof bread, still steaming, and Valoree’s attention turned to herrumblingstomach.
Noddingto the dark-haired, solemn man, she moved toward him as he set the bread on the table.
"Oh, come now.It weren’t that bad, " Henry soothed. "Yedid real finefor yer first night out."
"Realfine? " Forgetting food briefly, Valoree spunon himin fury. "Real fine? A great chunk of my face fell off into the hostess’s glass! You call that fine? "
"What? " Meg gasped with horror.
"Her makeup, "Henryexplained quickly, thenglared at Petey.
"It dried, cracked, andfelloff her face. She left a trail of face flakes from one endof Beecham’s ballroom to the other."
."What are you looking at me for? " Petey asked, eyes narrowing."Ihad nothing todo with it."
"Nothing to dowithit? " Henry sputtered. "You madethe muck up!"
"I didn’t make nothing up!" Petey snapped back, drawing himself up proudly. "Whatdo youtake me for? I don’t know how tomake that mucknoblewomen put ontheir face. I cook."
Henry scowled. "I sent One-Eye down to have you make something up for herto wear onher face."
"And I set asidethe cake I wasmaking and wentdown tothe docks to see if I could find someplace to buy some proper makeup, " the man snapped impatiently. "I wasted two hours searching for some, and when I come back, what do I find? You’re gone, my cake batteris gone, my raspberries are gone – "
"Anna!" Valoree interrupted, turning to glare at both Henry and One-Eye. "Itold you it tasted sweet when you gotsome on my lips."
"Aye, that you did, " Henry muttered. He turned to glare at One-Eye. Theman raised his hands helplessly.
"How was I to know itwas cake batter? You said to go down andsee what Petey hadwhippedup to puton the captain’sface. I went down. Peteywasn’taround, andthere it was. Whitegooey stuff. Itlooked likeit could have been makeupto me."
"Let meget this straight, " Meginterrupted quietly from her place at the table. "You took LadyValoree toa soiree with cake batter on herface? "
"Andraspberries smooshed into my cheeks and on my lips, "
"Raspberries? "Meg stared at Henry with dismay. He shifted uncomfortably.
"Well, it worked. Her facewas white – "
"Until it fell off, " Valoree snapped.
Ignoringher, Henry continued."Andherlips and cheeks was redlike all the rest of them ladiesattheswarming."
"All the rest of the ladies at the soiree didn’t have people picking raspberryseedsofftheir cheeksallnight long, " Valoree snapped.
"Oh, dear." Megsank back into her seat, her face dropping weakly into one open hand.
Valoree wasgratified bythis displayof horror untilshe noticed the way the other woman’s shoulders were shaking. She was laughing! "It wasnot funny!" she said in asnarl.
"Nay, ofcourse not, " Meg said at once, though the words came out with afew chortles."Itis notfunny atall, " she agreed again, trying for solemnity andfailing desperatelyas a chuckle began to rumble from her belly upward. "Oh d-dear." She gasped apologetically, fightingvaliantly to keep thelaughter in, butthe moment she lookedatValoree, it exploded out of hermouthon a hiccupof sound that quickly grew into a full-blown laugh. "Oh m-my! C-cakebatter formakeup."
"And raspberry cheeks, "One-Eye addedwith a grin that died the moment Valoreeturnedher sour gaze on him. "Well, " hesaid unhappily, "it seemed like a goodidea at the time."
Grunting, Valoree glanced toward the steaming bread onthe table.Herstomachrumbled. Before shecould movetowardthe food, however, Meg suddenlysoberedandlooked questioningly at Pete. "Were you able tofindthemakeup in question? "
The Greekscowled. "Nay.I told you it was a wasted trip."
"I see. Well, that shall be our first order of business this morning, then, " shedecided solemnly, rising to her feet.
"What? " Valoreeasked suspiciously, tearingher gaze fromthe food.
"Going out to purchasesome proper makeup. We cannothave another nightlike your last." Sheheadedfor thedoor, but paused beside Henry. "Did itreallyfall intoLadyBeecham’s glass? "
Grimacing, Henry nodded. Megshook her head, amusement twinkling in her eyes briefly before she sobered again and ordered, "You’dbest fetchsomeof that gold, Henry. We shall needit."She sailedthrough the door then, adding, "Comealong, Valoree. The bread will still be there whenwe return."
"Notbloodylikely with Bull and One-Eye around, " Valoree muttered, snatching upthe biggest loaf, and a good-sized hunk of cheese, before following thewoman. Asshe passed afrowning Henry, she said sweetly, "Ye’d best befetchingsomeof that there gold, Henry.Or have ye changed yer mind and decided wecan return tothesea, after all? "
The last part was more a hope than anything else. Valoree would havedearlyloved togiveupthis humiliating venture and returnto their liveson thesea, butshekneweven as she voiced the words that none of the men was likelyto give up yet. She figured she hada great deal more humiliationleft to sufferbefore they wouldcallit quits. Andwhy not? They weren’t the ones having to suffer.
"Whichdo youlike best, Valoree? "
Sighing, Valoree peered at the small pots of red color and frowned. She did not havemuch patience at the best of times, and thislittle expeditionseemedto be evaporating what tiny bit she did have ratherquickly. They were supposed tohave comein searchof makeup.Andthey were… now. Finally. But they had left the town house several hours ago.
First, "AuntMeg" had insisted onastop atthe tailor’s to see about those dresses Henry had gone to order. Despite her irritation, Valoree hadto admit that at least that had proved to be an intelligent move. The little land-rat had horrible taste, andthe dresses he had decided on for her had all been atrocious. They werefrilly, fluffy, busy littledressesthathad made Valoree curse a blue streak when she saw the designs.He apparently didn’t realize she was not afrilly, fluffy sort of woman. The tailor was an idiot. She had told himsoas she hadrippedup the designs he had made, then spent a grimhourhanging over his shoulder and directed him in sketching more acceptable gowns, slapping himin thehead orbellowingin his earevery time he hadtriedto sneak in aruffle or frill.
They had all – Meg, Valoree, and the tailor – been relieved when thatwas over. But then Valoreehad climbed out of the carriage at the next stop to find they were at a perfumery.
Enteringthe smelly placehad given her an immediate headache, one that had stayedwith herthroughout the hour of sniffing and sampling Meg forced on her. The woman favored flowery odors, forever shoving them under Valoree’s beleaguered nose until she’d finallyorderedHenry to buy one of them forMeg to get her toleave off.
The woman had fairly beamed at the gift, though Henry had been less than pleased. Still, they had both left her alone to choose her own fragrance then. She had made her choice relatively quickly, picking one that reminded her of tropical breezes andthe smell of the ship’s holdafter they took a galleon rich inspices. Meg had looked doubtful ather choice, but Henry hadproclaimed it nectar and paid for it alittle more happilythan hehad Meg’s.
Now here they were, finallyat themakeupshop. But thispart of the expedition wasgoing nofasterthantherest of the trip.
They had spenthalf anhour just choosing a foundation, the white base thatwas spread over a woman’s face, neck, and bosom to hide skin problemsor scars from thepox. And while Valoreedid nothaveeither of thoseproblems, due to her yearsof sea and sun she had a slighttan – despite the captain’s hatshe alwayswore.
And tans simply were not the thing at court. Ladieswere tohave lily white skin androugedcheeksand lips.
A foundation madeof white leadandvinegarhadbeen what the shopkeeper obviously favored, but Valoree had refused to even consider it, no matter how many times he insisteditwasthe best. She hadheardthat the concoction made the skinshrivel and turngray. When he hadfinallygiven up on tryingto sell her that, heturnedto a longdescription of the other offerings he had; pastes made up of alum andtin ash, others featuring sulfur. She had chosen onewith an egg white-and-talc base and stood firm on itdespite his effortsto steer her back to the lead and vinegar.
Now they had moved on to thefucus, as he kept calling it – a most unattractivename for the variety of red face paints that were used on both the cheeks and lips. Once again he was insisting on describing their contents. There were madder-, cochineal-, and ocher-based compounds among them, but vermilion, made up of mercuric sulfide, was the one he kept drawing theirattention to.
Valoree groaned. There were still kohl and concoctions to brightentheeyes to get through yet. Also, Valoree seemed to recall Meg muttering something about a wig. She envisioned hoursofthis nonsense ahead, and, frankly, she had already had morethan enough. It was nearly the nooning hourandshe was dyingofthirst. She hadn’t had anything to drink since the night before, and the fact thatshe had eatenthe whole loaf of bread as well as the chunk of cheese in the carriage, polishingoffa good portionofeach on the way from the town house, thenfinishing them betweenshops, didn’t help.