And more than any of those things, she missed the feeling of beingin charge, ofdeciding whatto do, and where togo, and what should happen next in her life.Itseemed that her life had somehowgotten out of control, and shedidn’t much like that.
Trying not to think ofsuch things, she watched through the window as the men left together inthe carriage. Some time later, she saw Henry return alone on foot, a young boy followingwith several packages. Shortlyafter that, thecarriage returned with Skully and One-Eye onthedriver’sseat, and Bullriding atop, seated ontowering stacks of goods. When the coachhad rolled to a stop in front of the town house, its door popped open and several moremembers of hercrew piled out. Shewatchedmutely as Bull began to hand down sacks of flour, salt, sugar, andother miscellaneous goods from his perch, accepting unhappily that her men expected alengthy endeavorand obviously intended to stick it out.
Once the lastof the culinary goods were removed, the men turnedto unpackingthe last two items, a pair of chests – asmall coffer, no doubtstuffed full of the coins they planned tospend on this foolishenterprise, and a larger chest. She recognized the latteras thecontainer she hadstuffed her gowns intowhenthey hadbeendelivered. Moments later sheheardthemen banging their way down the hall towardher room.
Sighing, shestoodand movedto the door, pulling it open and stepping asideforHenryto enter. He was followed byOne-Eye and Skully and the clotheschest. Settingthe chest on the floor, they straightened, grinningfromearto ear.
"Yer gowns is here, "Henry announced withdetermined cheer.
"Ye’d bestget ready."
"For what? " sheasked, bringing frowns toeach man’s face.
"For the sortietonight."
"Soiree, "Valoree corrected, thenshook herhead. "Haven’t you noticedany of the women passing by the house? "
There was a hesitation as the men exchanged glances; then Henry shookhis head. "Whatof them? "
"Theyare allwearing heavy white gook ontheir faces, then some sort of red stuffon their cheeks and lips, and thick black stuff on their eyes."
"She isright."They allturned to glance at Meg, who stoodin the door to the room surveying them all. "The fashion has becometo wear thickmakeup onyour face, lips, and to even wearkohlon youreyes." Her gazewent to Valoree. "I take it you have noneof that? "
Valoree shook her head, though she was not overly disappointed at the fact.Maybe this would be away out.
"Well…" Henry frowned. "We’ll gether some of that onthe morrow. But she’ll just haveto do without tonight. Every shop willbe closedby now."
"You cannot really imagine that you can take her to the Beecham soiree without it? "Meg exclaimed in dismay.
Henry frowned ather. "Course we can. Who knowswhenthe next invite willcome iffen she don’tshowup tonight? "
"Well, ifyou insist on her goingtonight without it, I will not be involved." Turning onherheel, the woman marched out of the room.
"What do you think? "One-Eyeasked, andHenry scowled.
"Wedon’t have no makeup fortonight, but we don’t have no invitesfor tomorrow.That’s whatI think."
"Hmmmm." One-Eye made aface. "MaybePetey can come up with something. He’s gotlots o’ white stuff in thekitchens. Red stuff, too."
Henry brightened at once at the suggestion. "Aye. Gotell him tosee what he can do."
Valoree sighed. It seemed therewas no escape.
A buzzgoing around the ballroom drew Daniel’sattentionfrom John Beecham’s liturgy on the importance of wise investments andrenting unused properties.
Beecham was like that. Money was his mainpriority in life, a stricture he’d had pounded into his head by his father, who, disappointed in love, had settled for a loveless marriage and instead had poured his energies into the art of increasing his wealth.Riches, the older Beechamhad often saidwhile he lived, wereneverknown tobetray aman.
Thephilosophywasrathervulgar as faras the membersof the ton were concerned. For them, money was to be spent, not earned, and if itwasearned, one should never be so crass as to discuss it. Beecham’s obsession with itwas the reason he was considered beneath the majority of the ton. Andyet, the amount ofwealth his family had was the reason no one missed one of their balls.
Thoughtsof Beecham fled Daniel’s mind as the murmuring began. Turning, he let his eyes follow the direction everyone seemedtobelookingin, to thedoorway of the ballroom. They immediately widened on the youngwomanstanding there. She was tall and slender, wearing a simple gown ofmidnight blue and anexpressionof dismayon her face asshe took in the gathering.
It took him a moment to recognize her as the woman from Whister’s salon, and then allhe felt was disappointment of asort.
He had thought her attractive at the lawyer’s office; she’d had a sun-kissed face and natural beauty. Now she sported the death’s-mask white face that was so popular, with red cheeks drawn on. Her hair hadflowed down her backnaturallythen, but wasnow looped and tied and knotted atopherhead. Well, sort of. Actually, it looked to be unraveling somewhat and sliding down her face. That was the reason everyone was abuzz, he supposed. Most of the nobility cropped their hair and wore wigs, but this woman’s brilliant red hair was obviously allher own – and ifhe wasnotmistaken, it had been arranged using nautical knots. He couldn’t be sure of that, though, for it was already escapingitsconfines.
"Lady Ainsely, "Beecham murmured nearby, drawing Daniel’s startledgaze.
"Did you say Ainsley? " Whister had never mentioned her name.
"Yes.She and heraunt rented my cousin’stownhouseforthe season, " Beecham explained.
"Her aunt, hmm? " Daniel glanced back toward the woman.
"That isnot her aunt with her. Who is that fellow? "
**** "This is a small soiree? "Henry whispered in disbelief.
Sighing, Valoree glancedat the mansympathetically. He was all dressedupin thepoofy – ashe described them – clothes of a nobleman. He was "Uncle"Henry tonight, thanks to "Aunt" Meg having cozied herself up to a bottle of rum while the men were busy solving all theproblems that attending this"littleparty" had presented. Rum, of all things! Andafter she’d made such astink about Valoreedrinking it.
Still, Valoree herself was much more uncomfortable than Henry, especially with her hair. Henry had tried to wakeMeg to dress it, but the woman had been well sauced and beyond waking, so the sailor hadseen to thetaskhimself, snapping and cussing the whole while. At lastValoreehadsuggested he fix it up in nautical knots – she didn’t know the first thing about style or fashion, and reallycouldn’tcare less, anyway – andafter half anhour ofhis tugging at her hair and swearing, she had suggested he try somethinghe knew. At least if he tied her long tresses up in knots on herhead, they would stay. Soshe’d thought.
Her coiffurehad lookedgood when hehad finished the task, or at least allthe men had saidso. But theride in the carriage had been quite jostling, and all the bouncing and bobbingaroundin the airless hack hadloosenedthe knots. Shecouldfeel theheavy tresses sliding slowly to one side of her headand was positivethe whole messwould come tumbling downatany second.
"Oh, just a moment." Henry reached outto brushsomething from her cheek with one finger. Valoree forgot her hair and scowled. Her face was even worse.
"There’s just this piece …"Henry frowned. "Araspberry seed, I think."
Valoree grimaced. Petehad comeup withsome sortof white gooey substance to slather on her face as makeup, but had apparently not been able to come up with something for red cheeks andlips. One-Eye hadreturned from the kitchens with a bowfulof raspberries, announcingtheywould do the trick…. And theyhad, she supposed, though she could havedone withoutthe men smooshing themon her cheeksandsqueezingand rubbing them on her lips. Shecould also havedonewithout the hour of picking at herface toremove the seedsafterward. Apparently they hadn’t gotten quite allof them.
Her eyes dropped to his hand as he pulled it away from her cheek. A seed surrounded by white and pinkgookstucktothe end of his pink-stained finger. Sheshook her headin disgust."I suppose you’ve messed up my face, now."
"Nay, nay, " he saidquickly, surely realizing that shemight use it as achance to escape. However, his frown as hepeered at her was less than reassuring.
Valoreeeyed himbriefly, then gestured to his hands. "Try to keep those out of sight.Thosestainsare – What the devilare you frowning at? "
His eyes shot to hersnervously. "Oh, nothing."
He’d answered too quickly, she decided, scowling at him suspiciously. "You’d best tell me. You know I don’t like surprises."
"It’s nothing, " her quartermaster repeated, then wrinkled his nose. "It’s only that yourface appears tobe cracking somewhatin the spots that it’s drying."
"Don’t!" he cried, butit wastoolate; her handshad already, risen instinctively to her face. She pulled her fingers away covered with the muck Pete had made as substitute makeup.
"Nowyou’vedoneit, " he muttered, and reachedoutwith his finger again to pat andsmoothher face. "Standstill."
Valoree tried todoashe asked, forcingherself toremain still, butshe couldn’t withhold the question that was now on the tip of hertongue. "How can my face be cracking when it’s still wet? "
"It’sdryingaround the edges, " he informed her, a frown of concentrationon his face ashe worked at hers. "Andon your bosom.That’s where it’scrack – "He paused, cursing when she glanceddownto see that, indeed, themuck they had insisted on spreading on herneckand bosom, where it wasn’t covered bythe dress, was now dryand beginningto crackand flake.
"Nowlook what you made me do.You’ve a streakwheremy finger was. Itold yeto stand still, " Henrychided, usinga fingerat herchin toforceher face up so he could repair this new damage.
"I don’t know how I got talked into this, " he grumbledas he worked. "Wearing a monkey suit and playing lady’s maid – "
"You? " Valoree scoffed. "You and themen are theones who voted tomarry me off. Don’twhinenow about whatit takesto do so. ‘Sides, if you want something to whineover, you should try wearing this damn dress. It’s about as comfortable as an iron maiden."
"Well, at least you aren’t wearing these damn ribbons everywhere.I look ridiculous."
"Aye, you do, " sheagreed withher first real smile in what felt like days. Her gaze slid over him, taking in the white breeches and shirt under a lime green waistcoat, with lime green and yellow ribbons onthekneebreeches.
They hadstopped at the tailor’s onthe waytothe Beechams’ soiree. It had been adesperate bid to get theirhands onsome lord-type clothes for Henry when they had realized that Meg was not going to recover in time to attend the "sour-ee." It had worked, muchto Valoree’s disgust.Ofcourse theman hadhad a proper outfit injust therightsize. Well, almostthe rightsize. It had been made fora Lordsomebody-or-other and was dueto be delivered the next day, but would be delayed now thanks to Henry. He’d offered up a smallfortune to beableto purchase it for his own use.
Giving a mutter, Henrytugged at his breeches impatiently. That was theonly realproblem with theoutfit, Valoree supposed. The green waistcoat fit him in the shoulders, but it and the knee breecheswere too bigat the waist. Apparentlythe noble who’d commissioned ithad something of astomach, while Henry, who kept trimby pulling ropes and climbing rigging, did not. Now Henry was forced to constantly tug the pants up or else risk losing them. Avoice interrupted her musings.
Leaning to the side slightly, Valoree peered past Henry’s scowling face at the smallish man who was approaching from behind him.
"Beecham, "shesaid.Henrymadea face, took one last swipe at herface, then turned to greettheman.
"Ah, Lord Beecham. A pleasure to meettheman who made the arrangements Irequested. Good ofye toinvite us to thishere littleswarming, " Henrybegan cheerfully.
"Soiree, " Valoree corrected, thenforced a brightsmile to her face as she nodded at their host. "Lord Beecham, my uncle Henry."
"Apleasure, my lo – Ah…"The youngman paused, his eyes fixed onthepirate, anda frownbegan toslip ontohis face.
"Is there something wrong? " Valoree asked atouch nervously, onlyjust now worrying overhis recognizing Henry as oneof the servants that had accompanied her earlier that afternoon. She hadn’t thought itaproblem, for She hadheard that mostnobles didn’t trouble themselves to notice servants. It figured that Beecham wouldbe one of thefew who did.
"I am sorryforstaring, mylord, " theman said. "It is just that you look very much like one of the servants Isaw with Lady Ainsley this afternoon."
"Ah." Henry nodded solemnly, and Valoree waited for his explanation, knowing hewould come up with one. The sailor was a quick thinker. He didn’tdisappoint her."That’d be me brother.
Half brother, thatis. My father’s bastard offspring.His mother wasoneof our maids onthe island. When he came of age, we tookhim onas a servant. Have to look after family, don’t ye know." He slapped their host on theback as he said that, nearly sending the slender manto his knees.
Maintaininghis feet, Beecham managed a weaksmileatthe jovial man. Then he glanced to Valoree and asked with real regret, "Yourauntcould notmake it tonight? "
"’Fraidnot, " Henry answeredbeforeValoree couldspeak, then tried for a conspiratorial look and said, "You know howwomen are. Fussing overtheleast little problem. Well, she took to the bo – "
"Bed, " Valoree interjected quicklybefore he could finish. "She was not feeling welland took to herbed."
"I see, " Beecham said, and Valoreesuspectedhe did see – if not the whole picture, then thatsomething was wrongwiththe picture theywere trying to present. Sighinginwardly, she sent a quick glance at Henry, relieved when he caught the younger man’sarm and whirled him around to propel him toward the middle of theroom.
"How about ye introduce us around so we can size up the offerings this evening."
"Offerings? " Beecham asked uncertainly.
"Aye. The men. Got to marry this little lady off, don’t ye know."