Return to home page
TO DOWNLOAD, go to file, and save as text.
LORD RAMSAY'S RETURN
by Elisabeth Fairchild
ISBN # 0-451-18282-0
To Mahomed's Bath House in Brighton, where the restorative powers of Dene Mahomed's body "shampoos" have earned reknown, Miss Prudence Stanhope goes in search of a sense of peace. Lord Ramsay hopes to find peace as well. Just returned from India, he discovers what little was left of his inheritance gambled away by one brother, a second brother just returned from a runaway marriage to Gretna Green, and his sister married to the very gentleman who now holds possession of his fortune. Peace, however, is not what Prudence and Ramsay find in the bath house on the day Esther Childe keels over dead in a steam tub. They are fated to find one another, to begin a strange journey of growth and growing passion that takes them from the glittering halls of the Prince Regent's Brighton Pavilion to the distant shores of the Orient.
Nominated for the ROMANTIC TIMES Best Regency Romance of 1996 Reviewer's Choice award
What the critics say:
4 1/2 STARS -- "One of the premier new voices in Regency romance spins a fascinating web of illusion and love that glimmers with a rare translucence and grace... This exquisitely crafted romance glimmers with a quiet beauty and delicate perception. A jewel for your treasure chest."
- Melinda Helfer, ROMANTIC TIMES
"Highly recommended." - MANDERLEY
Brighton, England in the summer of 1818
Had Lady Childe not passed from this world to the next on the first day in July at Sake Deen Mahomed's Bath house in Brighton, it is likely Charles Ramsay would never have met Miss Prudence Stanhope. It is a certainty he would never have touched her--body, heart, mind and soul--as intimately as he did without their even having been introduced.
Fate had it that the overburdened heart of Ester Wilke Childe, a woman of enormous girth and tumultuous pulse, who vehemently refused to be bled as her physician advised, chose that sultry afternoon to cease its beating. Like a quivering blanc mange the great woman had wedged herself in one of the large, wooden, hot and cold tubs in which the patrons of the bath house were encouraged to soak.
She appeared to be quite content with this arrangement until with a mildly alarmed voice she clutched her bosom saying, "Oh my! What's this then?" before keeling face first into the steaming Turkish bath in which she was immersed.
"Lady Childe!" The attendant who came in with fresh towels was suitably alarmed by her posture.
Lady Childe had not the breath within her to respond. Dismayed, the attendant dragged her head out of the water and cried loudly for assistance. Assistance came running from every corner, indeed from every floor of the bath house. It took, in the end, six strong men to lift the respected lady from the confines of the tub.
Lady Childe's passing, in and of itself, would not have thrown Lord Ramsay and Prudence Stanhope together had it not required the assistance of every one of the bath house attendants, with Sake Mahomed himself directing the proceedings, to transfer that stout and august lady out of the bath and into a dry place, where she was reverently covered, toweled down and clothed, even her hair being arranged before a physician was called to view the body, pronounce her deceased, set pennies over her eyes and cover her face.
It was while this debacle unwound on the floor immediately beneath her, that Prudence Stanhope reached the limits of her lung capacity. With a great gasp she cast open the flap of the tent-like covering beneath which she steeped in a fog of steam and drank in a mouth full of ordinary air. Gingerly she turned her head, rubbed the sweating ridge of her brow and in a whisper designed not to aggravate her aching head, complained to her companion, "I feel like an overcooked bag pudding. What keeps the man? I should like to get on with this. Do you think he forgets me?"
Mrs. Moore, an industrious women who believed with all her heart that idle hands made the devil's mischief, was never to be seen without some article of needlework in her hands. As soon as she was finished counting out a row of three knit, two pearl she agreed. "He does keep you waiting forever. Do you have the headache, my love? Perhaps this "shampooer" has a concept of time quite foreign to us."
Prudence sighed, stretched her chin and listened to the eggshell crunch at the base of her neck. Her head felt as if it were filled with the fog of steam she had so long surrounded herself in. "Quite likely, Mrs. Moore. The gentleman is from India, is he not?"
Mrs. Moore clucked her tongue. "It has less to do with his being from India and more to do with his being a man, I'm thinking. They are no more to be depended upon than children, mark my words."
"Men are not what one might call faithful creatures," Prudence agreed wearily, though given an alternative she would have liked to claim otherwise. "Isn't it always the same? I shall just go and see if I can light a fire under one of these lazy attendants." Rising briskly from the chair where she had been occupied with her needles and wool, Mrs. Moore went away to do just that, without waiting for further agreement from Prudence, whose aching neck and shoulders so completely occupied her attention that she made no other comment than a moan.
Charles Ramsay listened as his brother tested the pronunciation of the word with unrestrained sarcasm. Rupert was uneasy with the concept--almost as uneasy as Charles had been when he had first seen the dreadfully scarred stub of all that was left of his younger brother's once perfectly healthy leg. Rue shifted uncomfortably beneath his hands, but he made no complaint as Charles massaged the rock hard muscles of the shoulder that bore so much of Rue's weight when he leaned into his crutch.
"An intriguing idea, isn't it?" Charles murmured. "Bloody barbaric idea," Rue grumbled. "I believe you have been screwing that turban too tight about your head. Was war with the French fated? Was the loss of my leg? What about the loss of your fortune? Of all the card games Jack ever lost, was it predestined he should lose the one in which he chose to risk your entire inheritance? Bah! I will not swallow such stuff and nonsense!"
Charles touched his palm to his forehead, just below the band of the headpiece Rue ridiculed. "My head has grown comfortable with both the turban and the idea of kismet, Rue, even when it comes to Jack. Life is a journey. Every fork in the road offers opportunity for choice."
"Jack is a fork in the road?"
Charles laughed. "No, Jack is an obstacle, but obstacles offer opportunity for enlightenment. Every encounter, good or bad, offers up opportunity for growth and understanding."
"If it's growth and understanding Jack's stupidity offers you, you'll soon be big as a house and wiser than Moses."
"Sir!" They were interrupted. A woman filled the doorway, arms akimbo. "How can you keep Miss Stanhope waiting so long?" Her tone was indignant.
Rupert sat up beneath his tent and poked his head out of the flap to stare. "You keep some female waiting, Chaz? I'd no idea!"
"Neither had I," Charles drawled with amused wonder.
The woman who stood brazenly in the doorway, uncowed by the idea she might witness a gentleman in an embarrassing state of undress was a matronly creature of advancing years, uncertain station and wilting hair, with the dress and commanding air about her of a female who brooked no nonsense from anyone she believed beneath her in age or station. At the moment she looked greatly offended, and from the pointed narrowing of her eyes, he was the offender.
"For more than half an hour, sir..." the woman scolded, head bobbing, the folds in her neck trembling like a turkey wattle, "My mistress, a patient and mannerly young woman, has been cooking in a broth of hot vapor. She is about to faint from breathing steam, her face is quite pink with the stimulation to her circulation and she would like very much to be decently clad again. Enough is enough. You will attend to her `shampooing' at once or I shall have you reported."
Charles Ramsay found the woman's unblushing audacity diverting. He knew that he did not look in the least like an English lord in the turban and flowing Turkish robes he chose to don whenever he and Rupert visited the bath house, but that someone might mistake him for an attendant had never crossed his mind.
Beside him, his brother Rupert adjusted his tent-drape more securely about his nether regions. For a moment, equally amused, their eyes met.
"Mustn't keep Miss Stanhope waiting," Rupert suggested mildly--emphasis on the Miss. "Kismet calls."
That Rupert, of all people, should encourage him to mischief only deepened Charles's amusement. He smothered the beginnings of a grin. Fate and opportunity were not to be ignored when they beckoned so insistently. He bowed obsequiously and gestured toward the door. "You will lead me to your mistress?"
"This way." Haughty in her triumph, the woman, skirt swirling, set off down the hallway.
"Do not enjoy yourself too much," Rupert cautioned, his eyes sparkling with glee.
Charles could no longer repress a laugh. "Do not stir from this place until I return."
Rupert shrugged and slapped at his stump. "Where am I going to run off to?"
`Rash' Ramsay, as Charles was known to both friends and enemies alike, needed no further encouragement. He set off without hesitation to see to the `shampooing' of Miss Prudence Stanhope.