Masquerading the Marquess(9)

By: Anne Mallory

He seemed awfully sure of himself. Suspicion took root. "Is this your work, Stephen?" He pointed at the paper. "Or do you have knowledge of the artist?"

Stephen looked at him in surprised amusement. "You know I have no talent for drawing. " He smiled as he gazed at the picture again. "However, I can’t say it isn’t a grand thought."

James could have cheerfully strangled his friend. "I believe I’ll head over to Jackson’s. You look like if you could use the exercise. Care to join me?"

Stephen continued to grin. "I certainly know better than to box with you when you’re in such a foul mood."

"Tell me about your new ladybird."

A shuttered look fell over Stephen’s face, and he put the paper on the table. “She is a lady of unusual talents and has an engaging sense of humor. I enjoy her company."

"Did you two really meet in Vauxhall? She reminds me of a lady’s companion who circled the ton several weeks ago. You wouldn’t happen to be chasing the ton wenches, now, would you?"

Stephen gave him a horrified glance. "I would as soon chase a lady of the ton as you would marry."

James smiled in satisfaction. "Then I think you’d better save your hide and give up this particular lightskirt. There’s something shifty about her."

"I am quite content with the way things are at the moment, but I appreciate your concern." Stephen absently rolled a cigar through his fingers, pausing to smell its aroma. " However, I am curious to know why you’re so interested in my lady friend."

The conversation was heading into territory best avoided. "You have recently returned from a serious situation on the continent. Is it wise to give your trust to a new acquaintance?"

Stephen visibly relaxed. "Times are changing, James. Perhaps it’s time you let down your walls a bit."

James stiffened and changed the subject.

They fell into a comfortable discussion and the tension diminished. This was Stephen. It was inconceivable that something as trivial as a woman should ever come between them.

"Stephen, I really don’t think new clothes are necessary. I have many to choose from in the wardrobe department, and I’m not above making modifications if a garment doesn’t suit."

Stephen had been nattering her for the past week about purchasing new clothes. He swung the curricle wide of a large rut in the road and frowned.

"Calliope, it’s not just evening gowns you require. There are day dresses, morning dresses, bonnets, turbans, gloves, fans—"

"Yes, yes, I’m well aware of what constitutes fashion." She tried to keep the disgruntlement from her voice.

"In your previous post with Lady Simpson weren’t you required to dress for the occasion?"

Calliope shrugged. "Yes, but I could service the same unexceptional frocks and accessories for many occasions. Black, gray and brown are rather easy to use over and over. "

He grimaced. "Those obviously won’t suffice."

"Where are we headed?"

"Madame Giselle’s."

Calliope went rigid. "She is the most exclusive modiste in London."

"And she will make you gowns damn well better than serviceable."

She mentally tallied her savings. She could not afford more than a few gowns from the renowned French émigré. Calliope looked down at the only gown she possessed that passed for a fashionable day dress. Stephen was right, her wardrobe needed updating.

She sighed. Two gowns. She would purchase two outrageously priced gowns and consider it a necessary expense.

They reached Madame Giselle’s shop in time to see Lady Simpson and Lady Flanders exit.

"I can’t believe the nerve of that woman. I will have Flanders speak to her right away. Refusing us both, the gall!"

Calliope ducked her head as the two angry ladies entered the waiting carriage in front of the shop. It was more of a reflex, because she knew they would never connect Esmerelda to Margaret Stafford.

Calliope grabbed Stephen’s arm as the ladies’ carriage navigated into the street. "Stephen, Madame Giselle will never outfit me with so much as a bolt."

Stephen grinned. "I’m confident if Giselle knew you were the recent companion of Lady Simpson and ready to take the ton by storm she would instantly lend a hand. Notoriety is good for business."

He assisted her from the curricle and handed the reins to his tiger. They entered the hallowed dressmaker’s shop.

Whatever Calliope had expected, this was not it. The shop looked like a storm had been unleashed inside. Bolts of cloth, sketches and measuring implements were strewn about, and several half-finished dresses lay discarded on the floor near a back room. Three harried girls scurried around trying to tidy the endless mess.

"Ah, Monsieur Chalmers, so nice to see you."

Stephen took the hand of a tall, severely dressed woman with upswept hair. "Madame Giselle, your beauty is a light in these dark times."

"Bah, I am not one of those half-wit females you like to chase. Hurry and tell me what you want. The Duchess of Kent was here today, and she thinks she runs the country already. It was a trying enough day ministering to her whims with-

out you and your empty flattery."

Calliope noticed Madame Giselle smoothed her hair and skirt during her caustic reply.

"Madame, I have brought you one of the half-wits." Stephen winked at Calliope. "I wonder if you might have one or two suitable outfits."

Ah, so it was his charm that would win the day. For a moment she had entertained the notion that he had some secret hanging over the seamstress’s head. Stephen did some sort of intelligence work for the government, although she hadn’t been able to piece together exactly what that entailed.

Madame Giselle’s attention shifted to Calliope. She stared at her for a long moment and then circled her, making Calliope feel rather like a rack of beef being inspected. She filed the visual for future use. One caricature idea already. Maybe this trip would pay for itself.

"Yes, I do believe I might have a gown or two for her."

Madame Giselle stared intently. Calliope was sure something had gone unsaid, but she had no idea what it was.

The shop door opened. Madame Giselle’s eyes moved past Calliope and lit up. Her hand rose to smooth her hair again, repeating the movement twice this time. Calliope turned to see who had caused the reaction.

Angelford stood in the door looking directly at her, a rakish top hat perched on his head. He maintained eye contact as he removed it.

"Lord Angelford, please come in."

Calliope managed to keep her mouth from gaping at the sweetness in Madame Giselle’s voice.

This was the woman half of London feared and the other half groveled at any chance to curry her favor?

"Giselle, I couldn’t stay away. You have the best pastries in all of England."

The woman blushed. She actually blushed. The amused irritation caused by Stephen’s flattery escalated into a simmer over Angelford’s.

"Two of my favorite men. Give me Roth and I’d have the trio complete. Come with me."

She hustled them to the back room and issued sharp commands to the girls to serve tea and cakes.

"I must do a fitting, but please enjoy the refreshments in the interim. What do you require, my lord?"

"A lemon day dress, hold the ornamentals."

Madame Giselle nodded briskly. "It will be delivered tomorrow."

Angelford nodded and helped the gawking assistant with the tea tray before her excited hands could pour it all over him.

Calliope grimaced. Angelford ordering dresses for his mistress was obviously a common occurrence. Madame Giselle hadn’t needed a dress size or even a particularly good description of the gown.

" Corinne, come with me. We shall fit Esmerelda."

Calliope blinked. How had the woman known her name?

Stephen waved in dismissal and grabbed a cake. Angelford lifted a cup of tea and watched her.

Giselle ushered her into the fitting area, where Corinne helped Calliope out of her gown. Stripped to her shift, Calliope stood waiting.

Madame Giselle studied her, lips pursed and one finger tapping her lips. "Corinne, the peacock satin. Quickly."

Corinne ran from the room.

"I think we will try darker colors first, yes?" Madame Giselle didn’t wait for a response. She turned to the doorway. "Corinne, hurry. "

A shadow filled the doorway and Calliope tried to will Corinne to move faster. It was chilly standing nearly naked.

It was not Corinne in the doorway. Calliope’s first instinct was to throw her hands in front of her, but obstinacy prevailed and she maintained her stance, jutting her chin forward.

"My lord, you are not allowed in here." Madame Giselle was frowning.

Angelford didn’t seem to notice. His gaze lazily scanned Calliope from head to toe, lighting each spot on fire as his eyes dropped. "Try not to spend Stephen’s money all in one spot, love."

She placed her hands on her hips. "It’s not Stephens money that you have to worry about being spent. Good day, my lord."

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