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THE SILENT SUITOR
by Elisabeth Fairchild
ISBN # 0-541-18070-4
NOW AVAILABLE FOR eBOOK READERS! BUY IT NOW
Sarah Lyndle, a blind beauty in her first and only Season in London-- jilted by her childhood companion-- must first dissuade a young man half her age from losing his heart to her then examine her own desires to see which of two cousins nicknamed "Beauty" and "Beast", (who have the inconvenient habit of falling in love with the same woman) truly loves her.
ROMANTIC TIMES Certificate Of Excellence for First Regency Romance
1995 HOLT MEDALLION Honoring Outstanding Literary Talent
What the critics say:
4 STARS - "An outstanding talent, Ms. Fairchild demonstrates all the hallmarks of NAL's great ladies of the ton." - Melinda Helfer, ROMANTIC TIMES
Like a shadow come to life, Ashley Hawkes Castleford, fourth Earl of Henley, detached himself from the deep, early morning shadows where he watched, with cynical interest, the house he leased in Heddon Street. His mood was as black as the shapeless garrick redingote that draped his shoulders, as black and bleak and starless as the sky had been all night while he grew stiff and cold with watching. Hope had faded with the night. The only thing warming Hawkes now, driving him toward the house, was a sense of injury that burned like a knife wound in the pit of his belly. It was time to bring the curtain down on the tawdry little drama that had played itself out before his very eyes; time, perhaps, to give up women, even the kind one paid for in coin.
Catlike and graceful, Hawkes swung down from his horse without a sound, his coat swirling about him like a thundercloud, his heart heavy with the knowledge the long night's waiting had brought to him. It was not Hawkes' way to deny truth or broken promises, no matter how difficult they might be to face, nor was it within him to slink off and lick his wounds. He must face those who injured him now, before the dawn ushered in a new day.
Fitting key to lock, he opened the door with the ease of familiarity. Catherine's calico cat scooted out to weave about his legs, her purr rasping loud in the morning quiet. He leaned down to scratch her ears, a grim sadness pulling down the corner of his lips. Then, like a larger, more dangerous feline, Hawkes stepped in the door and up the stairs, taking the risers two at a time without a creak. He hesitated outside a door at the top of the stairs, long enough to wonder if he expected too much of the people he allowed close to him. His muscles bunched with the coiled menace of the predator about to pounce.
There was no turning back, no undoing what had been done, no mending broken promises. He flung wide the door. It smashed back against the wall of the room with a bang that shattered the early morning still like pistol-shot.
The occupants of the room were not aware that the earl had intended to call. Both the man and the young woman bolted up in the bed with exclamations of surprise.
"Who is there?" cried she.
"Bloody hell!" said he, and in sudden haste to quit the bed leapt up, only to scramble back under the covers when his sleep-fogged mind awoke to the fact that he had not a single stitch of clothing on his person.
"But who else could it be, chere amie?" Hawkes purred from the darkness of the doorway.
"Do not kill him, Ashley!"
Hawkes ignored the 'him' she referred to, lazily walked to one of the long windows beside the head of the bed and threw back the heavy drapery. A smoky gray light illuminated the room.
"I've no intention of going to such trouble, pet," he drawled politely.
Had Catherine Stone been a woman of keener perception she might have recognized in the Earl of Henley a gentleman well-skilled in hiding disappointment beneath a facade of nonchalance. Miss Stone was not such a woman. She was quite incapable of reading between any lines save those she quoted on stage and best understood theatrically overblown expressions of emotion that projected across a room. To her way of thinking, Hawkes seemed quite out of character as the cuckolded lover when, with a tight rein on the white-hot anger that sizzled just beneath his cool veneer, he sat in a chair by the window and offered a polite suggestion.
"Perhaps you should introduce us." He indicated the
man-sized lump beneath the covers beside her. "I've no idea how to address this fellow in order to ask him to leave."
The gentleman under the duvet groaned, but Catherine, her pretty, hazel eyes still wide with the shock of having been found out in her infidelity, answered without thinking.
"But, he said he was a friend of yours!"
"A friend? Really?" The earl sounded mildly interested. Lifting himself up out of the chair, he plucked back the covers to expose the man's face.
"No, not a friend," he said firmly after a searching examination, with carefully schooled features. "We are, however, acquainted. Mr. Preston, is it not?"
Hawkes had counted Preston among his closest friends until this very morning. Bret cast the sheets away from his chest and sat up with a sigh.
"You know full well who I am, Hawkes."
The earl allowed no trace of the painful sense of betrayed trust that cut him to the very quick, to reveal itself in a visage that seemed carved out of granite. "Will you leave us, Mr. Preston?" His tone was distant but flawlessly polite. He refused to look at Bret.
Catherine began to whimper.
"Hawkes, let me explain..." Bret pled.
Hawkes cut him short. "Only my friends have leave to call me Hawkes, Mr. Preston. I require you to refrain from addressing me as such. In addition, I neither asked for, nor desire to hear your explanation. Will you leave us?"
With a sigh, and an apologetic shrug to the pretty, young woman whose bed he warmed, Bret adopted the same cool formality with which he had been addressed.
"I should be happy to oblige, my lord, if you will be so good as to hand me the buckskin breeches you have trod upon."
Catherine's whimpering turned to sobs.
Hawkes, his manner careless though his fingers shook, plucked up the buff leather breeches and turning his back on the man he had once called friend, tossed them onto the bed. He contrived to appear indifferent to Catherine's cries. Women-- especially fickle, unfaithful, calculating creatures such as this one-- should not have been blessed with such skill when it came to the touching art of tears.
Bret, who retrieved his confidence as swiftly as he regained the scarlet uniform that marked him as an officer of the Royal Horse, endeavored to say something when he sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his thigh-high jack-boots, but Hawkes froze the words on his lips, saying with chilling finality, "You may see yourself out, Mr. Preston. It would appear you know the way."
The brusque finality of those words wrenched a contrite,
"Sorry old man," from Bret's lips.
Mere words could not thaw Hawkes' icy self-control.
"Good-day sir," was his only response.
Planting his cocked hat on his head, Bret saw himself out.
Catherine's heart-rending sobs increased in volume. Not unmoved, Hawkes handed over his handkerchief.
"Blow your nose, Cathy."
The gentle suggestion brought her pretty, hazel eyes, huge with surprise, darting up to regard him for a moment.
Hawkes felt foolish. Again the woman deceived him.
"You really must endeavor to produce some traces of moisture to make your moving performance complete, Cat," he purred.
She tossed the handkerchief back in his direction. It proved an ineffectual missile.
"A gentleman with any sort of sensibility would never insult a lady with such a nasty remark as that."
Her words were flung as ineffectually as the handkerchief.
"The point is moot," he said silkly. Laughter bubbled up in his throat. "I am the 'Beast', pet, and as any female in town will tell you, the 'Beast' is no gentleman."
Petulantly she threw a pillow at him, with good aim, narrowly missing his left ear. "You are a beast. I was warned you could turn off all feeling in an instant. Go away, I'll not listen to your polite indifference any more!"
"As you wish, madame. I shall not trouble you again."
She cried out against his leaving, for she was vain enough to believe he could not give her up so easily. Too late she remembered that it was by the earl's generosity that she kept herself well-clothed and comfortable. She had much to lose in his leaving.
"Heartless creature!" she shouted after him.
The words neither halted nor hastened his exit. She tossed another pillow his way.
Hawkes dodged, unruffled, as the shot sailed past him. He watched, feeling a strange kinship with the abused cushion as it arced over the balustrade to explode upon the landing in a volley of feathers. His eyes, dark and cold and unfathomable, he turned one last time to regard the young woman who looks had captivated him from the moment he saw her treading the boards at King's Theatre, eight months ago.
"You are welcome to take advantage of these rooms until the end of next month," he said, "but I do not intend to renew the lease. You may wish to make arrangements to vacate the premises."
"You've no regard for my wishes," she shouted after him as he made his way down the feather-strewn stairs.
Hawkes realized she was quite correct. He had no regard at all for her wishes, wiles or explanations at this point. He was far more distraught over the confrontation with Bret than with the loss of Catherine's favors. He had expected passion, not constancy of her. That was too much to expect of a woman of Catherine's character and occupation-- perhaps too much to expect of any woman other than his mother, who took constancy to the opposite extreme. She remained constant to the dead.
Bret was a different matter. Bret had betrayed his trust, wounding him to the core. Feeling strangely numb, he swung into the saddle, whirling the long, black redingote out of his way, before Catherine got the window open and leaned out in an intriguingly disheveled state of undress.
Doffing his hat to her, he set spur to the black horse, feeling as if indeed his heart were missing.
"Beast!" Her shriek sounded strangely defeated. He could not be sure whether she intended to insult or recall him with the title. Either way, it did not matter. He had, as Catherine accused, turned off all feeling for her.
The window slammed down behind him.