The Most Boring Lord in London:
Book Three in the Cavanaugh Women Trilogy
Coming this winter...
It wasn’t yet midnight and already Georgiana Elliott was nearly mindless with boredom. She wouldn’t have even bothered to attend what was turning out to be a rather sad excuse for a ball had she not been in urgent need of a new protector.
The Earl of Tremaine was getting married next week, and he’d had the poor taste to select a bride whose father had declared that the dowry would be paid only upon the severing of all ties with Gigi.
“I’m sorry my sweet, but I have no choice. If I didn’t need her father’s blunt, I wouldn’t be marrying the dour-faced chit.” He shuddered. “But you’ll wait for me, won’t you, darling girl? It won’t be long before I’m flush with funds again.”
Gigi hadn’t particularly minded Tremaine’s departure. He was handsome and charming enough. But he’d always been a bit too spineless for her liking and his unwillingness to stand up to his future father-in-law now only proved it. However, she greatly minded losing his money which had kept her in comfortable luxury for the past few years. She had grown accustomed to the fully staffed house at 34 Park Street. She adored having her own stable of horses, complete with a carriage for going around town, plus a clever phaeton for afternoon rides in the park. She certainly hadn’t minded the jewels Tremaine had regularly bestowed upon her, nor having carte blanche at all the best shops in London. There were other expenses as well, including her gambling debts, which her patron had covered without complaint.
Tremaine had not been stingy with the final settlement, but it wasn’t going to be enough to cover her bills forever. And his exit from her life had been badly timed, occurring at the end of the season, just when most of society was abandoning the city for their country estates, leaving London vastly depleted of the sort of men who could afford to keep her sort of women.
Still, Gigi had been confident that another offer would come once word got around that she was no longer spoken for by Tremaine. In the past, there had been no shortage of appropriately wealthy gentleman vying for an opportunity to win her favor. But several weeks had passed and she was starting to feel uneasy.
Was it due to the season or something else?
She had examined her face closely in the mirror that morning, searching for wrinkles and other signs of age. Nothing to be alarmed about, she reassured herself. She might be thirty years old and past the first blush of youth, but she was still beautiful.
It was simply the wrong time of year. She would have to be more clever about letting the right sort of gentlemen know that she was available for new companionship. That didn’t mean she needed to compromise her standards. On the contrary, she was the one who set the standards.
When she’d attended the opera last month with her old friend Viscount Weymouth, a gratifying number of gentleman, both young and old, had come by her box to pay their respects. Compliments had been paid, hints had been dropped, but no credible offers emerged. Unless you counted Lord Grantley. Gigi shivered, as she recalled the way that he’d looked at her with those oddly colored eyes of his—nearly yellow, like a cat.
“What an honor to be in your presence again, Mrs. Elliott.” When he took her hand and kissed it, she had wanted more than anything to snatch it right back, feeling a bit like a mouse that was about to be pounced upon. “You’re still the most lovely flower in the garden, outshining all of lesser flora present tonight.”
“You are too kind, sir.” She’d had to force herself not to recoil from his touch. The man was fabulously wealthy, but there was something about him that always made her feel uneasy, even surrounded, as they were, by a theater full of people.
Each evening, she rode through Rotten Row clad in her famous riding habit, which had to be stitched onto her body by her maid each time she wore it, so tightly did it lay across her skin. She’d received many an admiring glance, but nothing more, even when she had set her horse off into a wild gallop in hopes of attracting some chivalrous man’s attention.
Alas, the only one who rode to her rescue was the Duke of Kirwood, he with his haughty gaze and high in the instep attitude. Attractive enough, but boring as a stick, and engaged to marry the equally dull Penelope Cavanaugh—the wedding was today, if she wasn’t mistaken. Gigi grimaced. Not that she would ever be included on the guest list of such a grand event. Men like the duke were happy to welcome her to their beds, but would not take the risk of allowing their precious wives and daughters to be in her presence, as if she had some sort of contagious disease.
They were hypocrites, all of them, Gigi thought contemptuously. And what could be more tedious than attending a society wedding? She looked around. Perhaps tonight’s ball, which had been put on by the three Walters sisters, all of whom were celebrated courtesans in their own right. There were a few prospects in attendance, but not what she had hoped for this evening.
When her efforts at the opera and in the park had failed to yield any suitable prospects, she had begun to feel slightly desperate, which was never good. Gigi loathed desperation almost as much as she loathed long operas and haughty lords, who never suffered a moment’s worry about having enough to eat or a place to live, but looked down their long aristocratic noses and sneered at her for doing what she had to do to survive.
Survival was why she was here tonight. She hoped it didn’t mean she was moving down in the world.
“Mrs. Elliott? Is that you standing there, looking a vision of loveliness?”
“Good evening, Lord Fairmount,” she said warmly to the wizened old gentleman standing before her now, his bald head barely reaching her chin. Despite his diminutive statute, he was a courtesan’s dream, for it was widely known that his ancient staff hadn’t risen above quarter-mast for decades. He was a prideful man, the sort willing to pay full fare to a lady such as herself while demanding little more than companionship in return. Gigi’s spirits lifted at the thought of his potential interest in her, but fell back down just as quickly when she realized he had someone by his side. It was none other than Carlotta Portwood, one of the newer entrants in the market of fashionably impures.
With her dewy-fresh face and her winsome smile, the girl looked as innocent as a virgin, and although she was barely eighteen, Gigi knew she was as experienced as any Cyprian here tonight. It hadn’t taken Carlotta long to work her way up the ladder to Lord Fairmount.
“Is that your granddaughter with you there, sir?” Gigi asked Fairmount sweetly. “Why isn’t she a lovely young thing.”
“Har, har, har,” the old goat bleated. “Take it from me, Mrs. Elliott. You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
She wasn’t sure that was true, she thought watching as the elderly reprobate hobbled off with the far-too-young girl at his side. Gigi had been as sweet as pie of late, and where had it gotten her?
She turned away and abruptly collided with a very large, very broad and unexpectedly hard object. A man’s chest, she quickly ascertained.
“Pardon me…” She looked up and nearly fell over. “Your Grace?” She could hardly contain her astonishment. What on earth was he doing here of all places, on this of all days?
“Err, good evening, Mrs. Elliott.” The Duke of Kirwood nodded, looking as if there was nothing untoward about his presence at a Cyprian’s ball on his wedding day. Although he wasn’t formally attired, he was dressed well enough, wearing a doubled-breasted cut-away coat over a single-breasted velvet waistcoat over close-fitting pantaloons. He certainly did not look like a man who had just gotten married.
“Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere else this evening?“ She hadn’t meant to ask such an indiscreet question, but her surprise at seeing him had been so great that she hadn’t been able to stop herself.
Not at all,” said the duke, although he did not sound at ease. “And what about you? What brings you here tonight?”
Was he being deliberately insulting? Trying to shame her as he had before? Gigi smiled her most charming smile to mask the anger bubbling up within her.
“Why I’m searching for a new protector, of course,” she said, inserting a note of careless gayety into her voice. Although they were no longer touching, she sensed his body going rigid next to her.
“Is that so?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yes indeed. Although the pickings are a bit meager tonight, I must say.” Gigi gave a rather theatrical sigh and then cast her gaze across the ballroom as if taking stock of the men in attendance. “There’s the Earl of Cherrington just over there, near the refreshments table. To the positive, he’s heir to the Marquess of Weston and has an income of around forty thousand a year. He also owns quite a fine racing stable.” She looked up at the duke, taking in his brown eyes and noting the way that his dark brown hair was attractively flecked with bits of gray. “I do so love a man who has an appreciation for good horseflesh.”
“So I’ve heard,” he said dryly, and she couldn’t tell if he was annoyed or amused by the direction of her conversation. Ah well, in for a penny, in for a pound—that had always been her way.
“On the negative side, Cherrington is rather stout, and shorter than I by at least three inches. And he has a rather severe case of dandruff.” She paused, as if considering the matter. “I really don’t prefer dandruff in a man or a woman.”
“Who does, really?” he said gravely. She tried to decipher whether or not he was being serious, but his expression was annoyingly inscrutable. He’d do very well at the card table, she thought, although everyone knew the Duke of Kirwood never gambled. He wasn’t called the Duke of Borewood for nothing.
Gigi resumed her recitation. “Then there’s Viscount Ivington—he’s over there talking to Lord Fairmount. Ivington is much richer and much taller than the earl, but rumored to have certain…ahem…issues.”
The duke’s eyebrows shot straight up. “What sort of issues? No, wait. Strike that question. I can surmise by the look on your face that I don’t want to know the answer.”
Despite herself, Gigi nearly smiled, feeling genuinely amused for the first time that evening. “No, you really don’t,” she agreed. “But what do you think about Lord Newbury?”
“What opinion could I possibly have about him?” The duke was starting to sound a bit disgruntled now, and that was perfectly fine with Gigi.
“You’re both into politics and I thought you might have encountered him somewhere or other.” Gigi waved her hand vaguely in the direction of Parliament. “In the Lords maybe.”
“He’s old enough to be your grandfather, for one thing,” said the duke.
“Yes, well that isn’t always a bad thing.” Gigi leaned toward the duke as if confiding a great secret. “The older gentlemen tend to be less demanding in certain pursuits. If you know what I mean.”
Gigi sent a look of false longing in the direction of the man in question and the duke frowned, which made her want to laugh. That would teach him to ask her impertinent questions.
“It would be attempted murder, for you’d send the old codger to an early grave,” he opined at last.
“Well, I’m not sure what to do then,” This time her sigh was more genuine than she had intended. “I need a protector, but the season is weeks away, and the current selection is rather limited.”
“You and Weymouth have parted ways I gather?”
“The viscount and I have enjoyed a great friendship going back many years, but there has never been anything more than that between us.” And it was true, no matter what her husband had told the world.
The duke went quiet as if mulling over her words. “Well there’s only one answer,” he said at last.
She gave him an inquiring look. “And what would that be, sir?”
“You’ll have to become my mistress.”