Home > Ruining Miss Wrotham (Baleful Godmother #5)

Ruining Miss Wrotham (Baleful Godmother #5)
Author: Emily Larkin

CHAPTER ONE


July 15th, 1812

London

 

NELL WROTHAM HAD two godmothers. One had given her a bible when she was christened and a copy of Fordyce’s Sermons for Young Women when she turned twelve. Her father had insisted that Nell read the sermons and she had dutifully obeyed.

Nell’s second godmother hadn’t given her a gift yet and Nell’s father hadn’t known about her, because that godmother was a Faerie and her existence was a deep, dark secret. Her name was Baletongue and she would only come once, on Nell’s twenty-third birthday, and when she came she would grant Nell one wish.

Nell was wishing as the stagecoach she sat in rattled towards London. She was wishing that her twenty-third birthday had been yesterday, or perhaps today, or at the very latest, tomorrow. But it wasn’t. She still had a week to wait.

She sat on the lumpy seat, pressed close by a stout widow on one side and an even stouter attorney’s clerk on the other. Nell’s fingers were neatly folded over her reticule, her expression calm, her agitation hidden. A well-bred lady never shows her emotions—one of the many maxims drilled into her by her father. Her father, whose rigid, unforgiving righteousness was at the root of this disaster.

Nell clutched her reticule more tightly and wished for the thousandth time that her birthday was sooner—and prayed that when her Faerie godmother finally came it wouldn’t be too late.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO


MORDECAI BLACK REACHED London as the clocks were striking noon. The streets were dusty and the traffic sluggish. The air trapped between the buildings had a fetid undertone. He drew the curricle to a halt outside the Golden Cross Inn, thrust the reins at his groom, and jumped down.

The inn’s yard thronged with porters and passengers, all of them hot and sweaty and irritable, but Mordecai had no difficulty traversing the crowd. People looked at him and prudently stepped aside.

The taproom was busy, the coffee room slightly less so. “Your master?” he asked a serving-man.

Mordecai followed the man’s directions and found the innkeeper in a stuffy back office, bent over a ledger, tallying rows of numbers.

“The stagecoach from Bath that arrived this morning . . . are any of the passengers putting up here?”

The innkeeper looked up with a scowl on his brow, clearly annoyed by the interruption. He opened his mouth, took in Mordecai’s size—and thought better of what he’d been about to say.

“A woman arrived this morning from Bath,” Mordecai said. “Traveling alone. Is she staying here?”

“There was a woman.” The innkeeper put aside his quill and reached for a smaller ledger. Not accounts, but room allocations. He ran his finger down the entries and halted at one.

Mordecai’s heart began to beat faster, a drumbeat of hope and nervousness. He was acutely aware of the document tucked into his breast pocket.

“Mrs. Webster,” the innkeeper said. “Yes, she’s putting up here.”

“Mrs. Webster?”

“Yes.”

“It’s Miss Wrotham I’m looking for.”

The innkeeper closed the ledger. “Then she is staying elsewhere.”

W, Mordecai thought. Wrotham. Webster. “What does she look like? Young, slim, dark brown hair?”

“I wouldn’t call her young,” the innkeeper said. “Or slim.”

Mordecai’s hopeful nervousness evaporated. In its place was a feeling that was part unease, part worry. He went outside to speak with the porters. Half a crown each and a glance at his face bought him their full attention.

Some days it annoyed him that his appearance intimidated people; today it was useful, but only one porter had noticed Miss Wrotham. None of them had seen her leave the inn’s yard.

 

 

* * *

 

 

MORDECAI DROVE TO Grosvenor Square, avoiding the other carriages by habit, scarcely noticing the landmarks. How the devil was he to find Miss Wrotham in a city the size of London?

The curricle rattled into the great square and there, on the far side, was his townhouse, a towering edifice with columns and a Palladian pediment and four rows of windows rising one above the other. Lord Dereham’s house until eight months ago, and now Dereham’s bastard’s house. He’d heard the linkboys call it that—Dereham’s bastard’s house—not as a slur on his character, but merely acknowledging the truth of his birth: Dereham’s natural son. Dereham’s bastard.

Mordecai drew the curricle to a halt and clambered stiffly down. The hours he’d spent on the road were catching up with him: the journey to Bath, the journey back again, no rest in between.

“Take it round to the stables,” he told the groom. “Have the rest of the day off.”

The curricle clattered away over the cobblestones, but Mordecai didn’t climb the steps to his front door.

Miss Wrotham was somewhere in London. Alone.

Mordecai stripped off his gloves and rubbed his face, felt grit and sweat and stubble. He needed food, a shave, a cold bath, fresh clothes. And maybe a nap.

He turned on his heel and stared across the square, seeing tall buildings, hazy rooftops, chimneys. The city seemed suddenly full of dangers. He felt a twinge of fear—an emotion he was unused to. He stood six foot five and weighed two hundred pounds and he knew how to fight, he was good at fighting, but Miss Wrotham was none of those things. And she was female, and alone in London without friends or protectors, and she had no experience of abbesses and cutpurses and bullyboys.

The sense of fear became stronger, laced with anxiety. Where the blazes is she?

Behind him, he heard his front door open. Mordecai looked around. His butler peered down the steps at him. “Sir?”

“I’m going for a walk.”

 

 

* * *

 

 

HE WENT TO Halfmoon Street, five minutes’ fast walk from Grosvenor Square. The Dalrymples’ house was closed and shuttered, the knocker removed from the door—they were away, but Miss Wrotham must have known that; the Dalrymples were her cousins and she knew as well as anyone that they spent every summer in the country. So why had she come to London, and how the devil was he to find her?

Mordecai hesitated on the doorstep of the shuttered house, sweating, tired, worried. God, it was warm in London, the air close and still and sticky, no breeze to ease the heat.

He loosened his neckcloth and rubbed his face again, stubble rasping under his hand. There was one other person Miss Wrotham knew in London.

Mordecai strode around to Berkeley Square telling himself that he was a fool, that the last person Miss Wrotham would visit was Roger—the man had jilted her, for God’s sake!

Halfmoon Street to Berkeley Square took all of two minutes. Mordecai’s pace slowed when he neared Roger’s house. It was a handsome building, but not as handsome as his own townhouse, nor as large.

He wondered what the linkboys called it.

Mordecai halted at the foot of the steps. A fool’s errand, this. Roger won’t know, and if he did, he’d delight in not telling me. And then he felt the prickling anxiety again. He touched his fingertips to the marriage license in his breast pocket, took a deep breath, and climbed the steps of the new Lord Dereham’s house.

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