Vauxhall Garden, London
"Somewhere in heaven, Maestro Angelo weeps."
"Who said that?" Young Lord "Figgy" Figburt, demonstrating
a parry for his teenage companions, wheeled about. He
peered down Vauxhall Garden's dimly lit Lovers Walk to see
who'd invoked the name of the last century's greatest
"I did." A tall, graceful figure detached itself from the
surrounding shadows, like darkness coalescing into form
and substance, and glided toward them. "I tried to refrain
from interfering; I meant to pass mutely by," the stranger
purred in elegant Scottish accents. Teeth flashed white in
the Scot's shadowed face. "But, as there is life in me, I
cannot let a sport I hold dear be so blasphemed."
"What d'ya mean, 'Angelo weeps'?" Hulking Thom Bascomb,
dressed for the evening's masquerade as a rather hirsute
shepherdess, demanded tipsily. "Whadda ya implyin' 'bout
"I imply nothing. I say his remiss is an abomination.
Still...it's not beyond redemption."
The man glided nearer, and the muted light from the gas
lanterns strung through the trees revealed one of the most
extraordinarily handsome men Figgy had ever seen: a tall,
whipcord-lean and athletic-looking fellow who'd eschewed
the costumes worn by the other attendees of this night's
revels. Instead, he wore dark trousers, a black frockcoat
with a blue waistcoat beneath, and a simple white stock
about his neck, pinned by the only ornamentation on his
person, a small gold stickpin in the shape of a rose.
Everything about him made Figgy feel gauche and,
therefore, rather surly. "This is a costume ball, sir! It
means you have to be in costume," he pronounced
irritably. "See Thom there? He ain't really a gel, and I
ain't a rajah."
"You don't say."
Thom wobbled forward and glared at the Scot. "Just what is
it you're rigged out as, mister?"
The Scotsman, nearly as tall as Thom but at least three
stone lighter, let his gaze slide down the young man's
thick, corseted trunk to the layers of pink flounced
skirts below. "A gentleman?" he suggested mildly.
Guffaws erupted from the other lads as Thom's face turned
brilliant red, but Thom did not demand satisfaction for
the insult. Something about the Scot pierced the alcoholic
haze clouding what little good sense he owned. Here was
something dangerous. Something outside his experience.
"Who're you?" he demanded.
"Ramsey Munro." The man inclined his head slightly. "I am
the owner of L' ecole de la Fleur. A small salle in White
Friars. At your service, young sirs."
"You're a swordsman?" Thom sneered, handing Figgy the
flask he'd produced from beneath his skirts.
"I am," Munro replied. "I chanced to be walking by when I
overheard you young gentlemen discussing the forthcoming
International Dueling Tournament. You are considering
"And what if we were?" Figgy asked. "What's it to you?"
"Nothing. But as an instructor of the art of swordplay, I
was interested. I paused and saw you execute a remiss a
child could counter."
"I s'pose you could do better?"
The man's shoulders lifted in an elegant gesture. "More to
the point, I could teach you to do better."
Figgy, seeing a bit of sport to be had, grinned. He was by
far the best swordsman of the lot of them. "Could you
teach Thom to counter my remiss?"
Munro glanced over. "The milkmaid? Absolutely."
"Or any of these others?" Figgy waved at the rest of his
companions, milling drunkenly about the periphery.
"Any of them."
He sounded far too sure of himself, and Figgy's confidence
wavered. Perhaps the Scot had some secret botte, an
uncounterable move that needed little practice but only a
few whispered words of instruction?
Fiend seize it, he couldn't back down now. He only wished
he wasn't quite so bosky. On that thought, he lifted the
flask and emptied the remains into his mouth. As he did,
he spied a movement at the end of the gravel path. A
figure dressed in the fashion of a young footman from the
previous century hurried toward them.
Figgy watched her gratefully. Her, because, despite the
masculine attire, there could be no doubt that the figure
beneath the ruby velvet pantaloons and tight-fitting
surcoat was decidedly a "her" -- a sweetly curving,
luscious "her." She'd stuffed her hair beneath a black cap
and a black silk mask covered her eyes, but nothing could
disguise the sway of her hips or the bosom that made a
mockery of whatever device she'd used to bind it.
Lady or ladybird, it made little difference. She was here,
unattended at a Vauxhall Garden masquerade, on the
infamous Lovers Walk. Which meant she was at best a barque
of frailty looking for a shoal to wreck herself upon, or
at worst a Haymarket scow seeking new passengers. Either
way, she was fair game, and the game he had in mind would
prove fair, indeed. He smiled.
"You could, in fact," he addressed Munro, "teach anyone?"
"Well then, how about her?" Figgy pointed at the woman.
Her pace slowed. A glint of lantern light caught the
sapphire flash of her eyes behind the mask. Ah, he did
fancy blue eyes.
Munro turned his head. "A woman?" he asked with a bored
look of contempt. "No."
Figgy grinned with relief. Having shown the stranger up as
a blowhard, he could now send him off and investigate the
evening's suddenly more interesting prospects.
"Just as well," Figgy replied amiably. "I'd as soon teach
her some skills she could put to better use."
His friends laughed while the woman, after a second's
hesitation, veered off sharply, quickening her pace. Thom
grabbed her, wrapping his great arm about her waist.
"Young man, take your hands off me." Her voice was low
pitched, composed, and unexpectedly forceful. If Thom
hadn't been quite so ale blown, he very probably would
have dropped his hand and sidled sheepishly away. But Thom
was drunk. Very drunk.
"Come now, sweetmeat," he crooned. "We're who you've been
"You most certainly are not." She did not struggle. She
simply tipped her chin up above her lace-edged cravat and
gazed calmly from behind her black silk mask into Thom's
sloppily grinning face. "Come now," she continued in a
voice just a shade above a whisper. "Haven't you better
things to do? Night watchmen's boxes to tip? Lanterns to
throw rocks at?"
"Did that last night," Thom confessed, pulling her into
Figgy felt Munro tense and glanced at the Scot curiously.
For a second, Figgy could have sworn Munro looked
"Young sirs," the woman said, "you have obviously taken me
for someone, or something, else."
A little color had developed in the visible part of her
face, but she spoke without trepidation. Old hand at this
sort of thing, was she? A habitue of pleasure gardens and
lively entertainments? Lovely.
"No, we ain't." One of the lads shook his head. "We know'd
you straight off. A bird of paradise looking for a roost."
She looked the part of a Cyprian, that was certain. Her
legs were long and her bottom rounded, and the pantaloons
encased them just tight enough that imagination provided
what eyes did not. She had smooth skin, too, pale and
cameo clear, and her mouth was deep pink, a short, bowed
upper lip crowning a lush, full lower one.
"You are making a mistake," she repeated, pulling away.
"Not so soon!" Thom protested, tugging her back.
"This is ridiculous. I don't have time to play with little
boys. Let me go." She jerked her hand free.
Little boys? Figgy stepped in front of her, blocking her
way. Why, he'd be eighteen this very month! He'd teach her
who was a man and who a boy! Marchioness or scullery maid,
she had come here, they hadn't sought her out. If a girl
didn't want to play at a bit of slap and tickle, why,
then, she hadn't ought be out on Lovers Walk alone, ought
she? Nor dressed in so indecent a manner, one that shouted
for men to take note...and anything else they could get
Besides, he'd let his sword fall to the gravel path, and
it wasn't as if he was going to hurt her, just taste those
incredible lips --
"I have changed my mind." Munro was suddenly between Figgy
and the girl. "I can not only teach her to counter your
remiss. I can teach her to disarm you."
"What?" Figgy blinked. He'd forgotten Munro. Forgotten
everything but his intention of having a bit of sweetness
off this uppity honeypot. And that was exactly what he
meant to do.
"That is," the urbane voice continued, "if you're the neck-
or-nothing fellow I take you to be."
Neck-or-nothing? Figgy, in the act of reaching for the
girl, stopped. He had the unpleasant notion Munro had just
questioned his mettle.
"What? Certainly I am," Figgy mumbled, frowning. Of course
he was. Who could doubt it?
"And a betting man?"
Figgy promptly nodded. Like any Pink of the Ton, he
considered himself a regular Captain Sharp, if a
temporarily unlucky one.
"I have ten pounds," the Scotsman said, "that says with
fifteen minutes of instruction this woman will be able to
"And I have twenty pounds that says give him his ten and
send him on his way!" Thom exclaimed, his eyes feasting on
"A hundred," Munro shot back.
At this Thom and the rest of Figgy's friends quieted. A
wager of a hundred pounds sounded interesting. Especially
when they knew that Figgy had been dished up proper the
night before last and would be leaning heavily on his
companions to finance tonight's play.
"Do it!" someone shouted.
A woman disarm him? A hundred pounds? Too easy by half.
"This is absurd!" the girl declared. She turned around,
and even though she still wore the mask, Figgy could tell
the exact instant she saw, really saw, Munro. She stopped,
trapped by his curst handsome vis like a dove in a net.
For three heartbeats she stood frozen, and then she was
pushing past Munro, declaring hotly, "I am not -- "
Munro clasped her upper arm, drawing her effortlessly to
him, abruptly stopping whatever she'd been about to say.
"I am afraid what you are or who makes no difference at
this point, my dear," he said, tipping her back over his
forearm. "Now, be a good girl and a better sport."
Even half drunk, Figgy could see the hot retort rising to
her lips. But this, too, Munro halted by dipping her back
"For luck," he said and kissed her.