Masquerading the Marquess(5)

By: Anne Mallory




Calliope breathed deeply. "Robert, after much consideration, I have decided to view society from a totally different perspective."



His eyebrows rose, but he waited for her to continue.



"However, in order to do so I will need your help finding a man of noble birth who can be completely trustworthy. A nearly impossible request, I know. "



She saw more interest gather in his eyes. Robert loved a challenge. "Well, don’t keep me in suspense."



"I’ve decided to become a courtesan."



Robert’s face went blank. "A what?"



"A courtesan."



"A courtesan?"



"Yes." Her nerves were already frayed.



He sat up in his chair. "Let me get this straight. You want to be a lady of the night, a bird of paradise, one of the demimonde, fallen?"



Calliope fought to maintain her composure. "Yes, but in name only. "



"Ridiculous."



"No, it’s a perfect cover." `



"Why not a seamstress?"



"Too tedious and limiting."



"Governess?"



"Too restrictive."



"Scullery maid?"



Calliope cringed. "No. Any service position would be skewed to the household I would inhabit."



Robert’s face had turned an unbecoming shade of red. Calliope jumped into the brief silence.



"Robert, listen before you negate the idea. I’ve been mulling this over for days." Calliope examined her ink-stained hands as she reviewed her arguments. "This role will be terrific. I will have access to new haunts and will be able to view the ton from a new perspective. The position will give me insight into the vagaries of society and provide , an exceptional opportunity to observe and capitalize on the ton’s wilder side. And I stress it will be in name only."



Robert paced to the window, his hands clenched at his sides, his protective nature in obvious conflict with the thought of the adventure.



Calliope held her breath. The room was cloaked in silence, and she shifted uncomfortably. Her plush chair, the one extravagant purchase she had allowed herself from her caricature earnings, felt hard.



He had to agree. He had to see this was the best way to proceed. A lady’s companion position was closed to her, thanks to her interactions with the infernal Marquess of Angelford. No other position would do. He had to agree.



An eternity passed before she saw Robert’s fingers relax. He turned to her, a thoughtful expression on his face. " Your benefactor will need to be completely aware of your position and his role in this undertaking so there is no misunderstanding. In order to meet the appropriate people he will need to be accepted by and have access to the ton."



Calliope allowed herself a tentative gleam of hope. It must have shown in her eyes, because she received a stern look in return. "This role will not be easy, Cal. The rules of this game are quite different from any you have played thus far."



She couldn’t stop her head from bobbing in agreement.



He gave her an admonishing look. "I want you to note I feel this is a dangerous idea."



Calliope gave a suitably restrained nod.



He regarded her seriously for a moment and then regained his usual flippant air, tapping his chin. "As odd as it may be, I happen to know just the person who fulfills the criteria. He would find this charade highly amusing, and despite his rakish appearance he is a gentleman and utterly trustworthy. " He paused. "Although he has been out of the country recently, he is well connected and possesses a stinging sense of humor. He would enjoy playing the ton."



Robert walked to the door and touched the handle. Turning back, he said, "I’m going to contact my distant cousin, Stephen, and get back to you by the end of the week. Just remember my cautions."



Calliope exhaled and forced herself to relax. She had passed the first hurdle. Despite any mustered objections, the new role would provide a perfect cover with excellent exposure. The familiar excitement of creating a new persona radiated through her. She was anxious to talk to Deirdre.





A week later, Deirdre Daly rubbed her hands in eager anticipation. "Let me repeat that I think this is a wonderful development. I hated getting you ready for all those boring soirees." Dee grimaced. "What a miserable way to play, no less live."



Calliope grinned at her foster sister as they pillaged Mrs. Daly’s dressing room at the Adelphi Theatre. "Yes, it was a truly constraining existence."



But the grin slowly slipped from her face as she mulled the matter further. "Although it is quite advantageous to be one of them. As an outsider looking in, I don’t envy some of the poor debutantes who barter themselves each night on the marriage mart."



A bitter note crept into Calliope’s voice as the cast of faces who had snubbed her flitted through her head. "However, the ones I feel sorry for are few and far between. Most of the ton is composed of lazy, selfish entities who live off their relatives, contribute very little to society and spend countless hours degrading others."



Deirdre stopped searching through her mother’s theater wardrobe and cast her a worried glance. "Callie, is something wrong? Your ranting sounds worse than usual."



Calliope felt weary and older than her twenty-four years. She rubbed her hand over her brow. "No, Dee, I’m fine. I just have a case of opening-night jitters."



Deirdre did not look appeased, but she returned to her task and changed the subject. "I believe you are still on the hook for painting this Saturday. Mr. Franklin still has the ague."



Calliope sighed. For as long as she could remember, she had worked backstage at the Adelphi Theatre, filling in for whoever was absent. Set painting was just one of the many tasks she had undertaken over the years.



"How did I get roped into that again?"



Deirdre wagged her finger at her. "No complaining, remember?"



"I wish I hadn’t been so excited when my first caricature sold. Otherwise I never would have told you to remind me not to complain about working backstage."



"Well, you mustn’t blame me. I wasn’t even in the Life in London production. Blame Robert."



But Calliope would never blame Robert for anything. She had met Robert Cruikshank backstage two years ago when the Adelphi produced Life in London. Robert had helped illustrate the famous serial by Pierce Egan and had popped in for several of the performances during its over three-hundred-night run at the Adelphi. One night he had ventured backstage and observed Calliope creating illustrations of the dandies who patronized the rooms of the actresses after each performance. He had been her secret sponsor ever since, toting her caricatures to Ackermann’s and returning with her profits. Under his tutelage her caricatures had become increasingly popular.



"I suppose I can fit painting into my schedule. Drawing in the park is never as nice as sitting in the middle of paint fumes all day."



A hatbox fell from a shelf and Deirdre grunted as it hit her shoulder and bounced off. "I’m not going to feel sorry for you, if that’s what you’re after. At least you won’t be practicing dance steps all day with that taskmaster St. Albin." She shuddered as she bent to retrieve the box. "I swear the man has taken lessons from Satan himself."



"Dee!"



Deirdre shot her a look of pure innocence. "I’m only stating the obvious, Callie."



Calliope chuckled and walked toward the closet. "What are you doing in there? I have to meet with Robert’s cousin soon and I need an appropriate garment."



Deirdre muttered what sounded like a mild obscenity and then triumphantly held up a flowing piece of material. "Here it is."



"Um, where’s the rest of it?"



Deirdre shot her a long-suffering look. "You will look fabulous in this. Now try it on."



Deirdre thrust the dress toward Calliope. The soft silk whispered against her hand, and she fought the urge to stroke the gorgeous fabric against her cheek. It was a lovely shade of turquoise and the material seemed to pool around her.



Deirdre shoved her toward the dressing room and bustled around picking up odds and ends, periodically dismissing and keeping items.



Calliope slowly undressed and slipped on the gown. Deirdre helped her fasten and arrange the material.



"Now, this is excellent."



Calliope frowned. "I repeat, where’s the rest of it?"



"Now, none of that. It was your idea to pose as a courtesan, and you certainly can’t play the role in your typical clothes. Besides, it’s about time we got you into something a little flashier. With all of those drab, dull outfits it’s no wonder you didn’t pick up an admirer or two."



"Dee, you know how difficult it is in the foreground. Too much attention would’ve dragged me further into the viper’s nest, and made it more difficult to hide our lies."



"Your companion references were well faked. Our contact has been superb in digging up the necessary documents each time. But you did garner your share of attention during the 'grand exit' "



"And, unfortunately I’ve brought myself to this."

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