Excerpt from Scandal Wears Satin
For the last week, the whole of the fashionable world has been in a state of ferment, on account of the elopement of Sir Colquhoun Grant's daughter with Mr. Brinsley Sheridan . . . On Friday afternoon, about five o'clock, the young couple borrowed the carriage of a friend; and . . . set off full speed for the North.
—The Court Journal, Saturday 23 May 1835.
Thursday 21 May 1835
Waving a copy of Foxe's Morning Spectacle, Sophy Noirot burst in upon the Duke and Duchess of Clevedon while they were breakfasting in, appropriately enough, the breakfast room of Clevedon House.
"Have you seen this?" she said, throwing down the paper on the table between her sister and new brother-in-law. "The ton is in a frenzy—and isn't it hilarious? They're blaming Sheridan's three sisters. Three sisters plotting wicked plots—and it isn't us! Oh, my love, when I saw this, I thought I'd die laughing."
Certain members of Society had more than once in recent days compared the three proprietresses of Maison Noirot—which Sophy would make London's foremost dressmaking establishment if it killed her—to the three witches in Macbeth. Had they not bewitched the Duke of Clevedon, rumor said, he would never have married a shopkeeper.
Their Graces' dark heads bent over the barely dry newspaper.
Rumors about the Sheridan-Grant elopement were already traveling the beau monde grapevine, but the Spectacle, as usual, was the first to put confirmation in print.
Marcelline looked up. "They say Miss Grant's papa will bring a suit against Sheridan in Chancery," she said. "Exciting stuff, indeed."
At that moment, a footman entered. "Lord Longmore, Your Grace," he said.
Not now, dammit, Sophy thought. Her sister had the beau monde in an uproar, she'd made a deadly enemy of one of its most powerful women—who happened to be Longmore's mother—customers were deserting in droves, and Sophy had no idea how to repair the damage.
The Earl of Longmore strolled into the breakfast room, a newspaper under his arm.
Sophy's pulse rate accelerated. It couldn't help itself.
Black hair and glittering black eyes . . . the noble nose that ought to have been broken a dozen times yet remained stubbornly straight and arrogant . . . the hard, cynical mouth . . . the six-foot-plus frame.
All that manly beauty.
If only he had a brain.
No, better not. In the first place, brains in a man were inconvenient. In the second, and far more important, she didn't have time for him or any man. She had a shop to rescue from Impending Doom.
"I brought you the latest Spectacle," he said to the pair at the table. "But I wasn't quick enough off the mark, I see."
"Sophy brought it," said Marcelline.
Longmore's dark gaze came to Sophy. She gave him a cool nod and sauntered to the sideboard. She looked into the chafing dishes and concentrated on filling her plate.
"Miss Noirot," he said. "Up and about early, I see. You weren't at Almack's last night."
"Certainly not," Sophy said. "The Spanish Inquisition couldn't make the patronesses give me a voucher."
"Since when do you wait for permission? I was so disappointed. I was on pins and needles to see what disguise you'd adopt. My favorite so far is the Lancashire maidservant."
That was Sophy's favorite, too.
However, her intrusions at fashionable events to collect gossip for Foxe were supposed to be a deep, dark secret. No one noticed servant girls, and she was a Noirot, as skilled at making herself invisible as she was at getting attention.
But he noticed.
He must have developed unusually keen powers of hearing and vision to make up for his very small brain.
She carried her plate to the table and sat next to her sister. "I'm devastated to have spoiled your fun," she said.
"That's all right," he said. "I found something to do later."
"So it seems," Clevedon said, looking him over. "It must have been quite a party. Since you're never up and about this early, I can only conclude you stopped here on your way home."
Like most of his kind, Lord Longmore rarely rose before noon. His rumpled black hair, limp neckcloth, and wrinkled coat, waistcoat, and trousers told Sophy he hadn't yet been to bed—not his own, at any rate.
Her imagination promptly set about picturing his big body naked among tangled sheets. She had never seen him naked, and had better not; but along with owning a superior imagination, she'd seen statues, pictures, and—years ago—certain boastful Parisian boys' personal possessions.
She firmly wiped her mind clean.
One day, she'd marry a respectable man who would not get in the way of her work.
Not only was Longmore far from respectable, but he was a great thickhead who constantly got in one's way—and who happened to be the eldest son of a woman who wanted the Noirot sisters wiped off the face of the earth.
Only a self-destructive moron would get involved with him.
Sophy directed her attention to his clothes. As far as tailoring went, his attire was flawless, the snug fit outlining every muscled inch from his big shoulders and broad chest and his lean waist and narrow hips down, down, down his long, powerful legs . . .
She scrubbed her mind again, reminded herself that clothing was her life, and regarded his attire objectively, as one professional considering the work of another.
She knew that he usually started an evening elegantly turned out. His valet, Olney, saw to it. But Longmore did not always behave elegantly, and what happened after he left the house Olney could not control.
By the looks of him, a great deal had happened after Olney released his master yesterday.
"You always were the intellectual giant of the family," Longmore said to the duke. "You've deduced correctly. I stopped at Crockford's. And elsewhere. I needed something to drive out the memory of those dreary hours at Almack's."
"You loathe those assemblies," Clevedon said. "One can only assume that a woman lured you there."
"My sister," Longmore said. "She's an idiot about men. My parents complain about it endlessly. Even I noticed what a sorry lot they are, her beaux. A pack of lechers and bankrupts. To discourage them, I hang about Clara and look threatening."
Sophy could easily picture it. No one could loom as menacingly as he, gazing down on the world through half-closed eyes like a great, dark bird of prey.
"How unusually brotherly of you," said Clevedon.
"That numskull Adderley was trying to press his suit with her." Longmore helped himself to coffee and sat down next to Clevedon, opposite Marcelline. "She thinks he's charming. I think he's charmed by her dowry."
"Rumor says he's traveling up the River Tick on a fast current," Clevedon said.
"I don't like his smirk," Longmore said. "And I don't think he even likes Clara much. My parents loathe him on a dozen counts." He waved his coffee cup at the newspaper. "They won't find this coup of Sheridan's reassuring. Still, it's deuced convenient for you, I daresay. An excellent way to divert attention from your exciting nuptials."
His dark gaze moved lazily to Sophy. "The timing couldn't have been better. I don't suppose you had anything to do with this, Miss Noirot?"
"If I had, I should be demanding a bottle of the duke's best champagne and a toast to myself," said Sophy. "I only wish I could have managed something so perfect."
Though the three Noirot sisters were equally talented dressmakers, each had special skills. Dark-haired Marcelline, the eldest, was a gifted artist and designer. Redheaded Leonie, the youngest, was the financial genius. Sophy, the blonde, was the saleswoman. She could soften stony hearts and pry large sums from tight fists. She could make people believe black was white. Her sisters often said that Sophy could sell sand to Bedouins.
Had she been able to manufacture a scandal that would get Society's shallow little mind off Marcelline and onto somebody else, Sophy would have done it. As much as she loved Marcelline and was happy she'd married a man who adored her, Sophy was still reeling from the disruption to their world, which had always revolved around their little family and their business. She wasn't sure Marcelline and Clevedon truly understood the difficulties their recent marriage had created for Maison Noirot, or how much danger the shop was in.
But then, they were newlyweds, and love seemed to muddle the mind even more than lust did. At present, Sophy couldn't bear to mar their happiness by sharing her and Leonie's anxieties.
The newlyweds exchanged looks. "What do you think?" Clevedon said. "Do you want to take advantage of the diversion and go back to work?"
"I must go back to work, diversion or not," Marcelline said. She looked at Sophy. "Do let's make a speedy departure, ma chère sœur. The aunts will be down to breakfast in the next hour or so."
"The aunts," Longmore said. "Still here?"
Clevedon House was large enough to accommodate several families comfortably. When the duke's aunts came to Town on visits too short to warrant opening their own townhouses, they didn't stay in hotels, but in the north wing.
Most recently they'd come to stop the marriage.
Originally, Marcelline and Clevedon had planned to wed the day after he'd talked—or seduced—her into marrying him. But Sophy and Leonie's cooler heads had prevailed.
The wedding, they'd pointed out, was going to cause a spectacular uproar, very possibly fatal to business. But if some of Clevedon's relatives were to attend the ceremony, signaling acceptance of the bride, it would subdue, to some extent, the outrage.
And so Clevedon had invited his aunts, who'd descended en masse to prevent the shocking misalliance. But no great lady, not even the Queen, was a match for three Noirot sisters and their secret weapon, Marcelline's six-year-old daughter, Lucie Cordelia. The aunts had surrendered in a matter of hours.
Now they were trying to find a way to make Marcelline respectable. They actually believed they could present her to the Queen.
Sophy wasn't at all sure that would do Maison Noirot any good. On the contrary, she suspected it would only fan the flames of Lady Warford's hatred.
"Still here," Clevedon said. "They can't seem to tear themselves away."
Marcelline rose, and the others did, too. "I'd better go before they come down," she said. "They're not at all reconciled to my continuing to work."
"Meaning there's a good deal more jawing than you like," Longmore said. "How well I understand." He gave her a wry smile, and bowed.
He was a man who could fill a doorway, and seemed to take over a room. He was disheveled, and disreputable besides, but he bowed with the easy grace of a dandy.
It was annoying of him to be so completely and gracefully at ease in that big brawler's body of his. It was really annoying of him to ooze virility.
Sophy was a Noirot, a breed keenly tuned to animal excitement—and not possessing much in the way of moral principles.
If he ever found out how weak she was in this regard, she was doomed.
She sketched a curtsey and took her sister's arm. "Yes, well, we'd better not dawdle, in any event. I promised Leonie I wouldn't stay above half an hour."
She hurried her sister out of the room.