"Historical Romance at it's finest"
Reviewed by Angela Haley
Posted June 15, 2014
With one of her sisters with child and the other away until
a recent scandal quietly dies down, the running of Maison
Noirot, the family dressmaking business, lies solely in
Leonie Noirot's capable hands. She has no time for
frivolities, especially when it comes in the form of one
Simon Fairfax, Marquess of Lisburne. Leonie's gifts lay in
numbers, order and convincing ladies that with her
designing their wardrobe they'll be the envy of the Ton.
Lisburne is a distraction she doesn't need, she has plans
to help keep her family business afloat and they involve
finding an ugly duckling and turning her into a swan.
Simon Fairfax has come back to town with his cousin, Lord
Swanton. Other than bad poetry readings, art galleries and
keeping his cousin away from desperate young women Simon
doesn't have a lot to do. Until he spies a beautiful
redhead mesmerized by the Botticelli he's loaned the Annual
Summer Exhibition and finds himself unable to stay away.
Leonie is like no one he's ever met, a number cruncher with
an agenda and actual, real worries about the well being of
her family business. They dance around each other, teasing
and flirting, until finally agreeing to a wager: Leonie
will transform the unappealing Lady Gladys into the belle
of the ball compete with at least two marriage proposals in
just two weeks time. If she wins she gets his painting, if
he wins he gets her.
The third book in Loretta Chase's Dressmaker series, VIXEN
IN VELVET is a charming, smart historical romance between a
bored aristocrat and the working class women he falls in
love with. Having not read the previous two books in the
series, I was worried I would be a little lost in the story
arc. I was pleasantly surprised when not only was I not
lost, but was smitten right from the beginning with this
Leonie is a wonderfully strong heroine who is
sharp, resourceful and able to hold her own in most
situations. Lisburne is exactly what you might expect in a
member of the Ton with not much to do besides trail after
his famous cousin. To my surprise and delight, he was manly
without being too alpha and knew just how to woo the strong
willed Leonie.I loved how Ms. Chase allowed their
relationship to unfold naturally on the page, at no time
did it feel rushed or unauthentic. I was completely
satisfied with every aspect of their love story, from first
meeting to happily ever after.
VIXEN IN VELVET is yet another enchanting romance from the
incredibly talented Loretta Chase. If you haven't read the
previous installments in this series, fear not, VIXEN IN
VELVET can easily be read as a stand-a-lone. You just might
find yourself wanting to pick up the rest of the series
just to see where it all began.
The third and final book in a sexy, emotionally rich series
from New York Times bestselling author, Loretta
Chase, in which sisters from a scandalous artistocratic
family--and the purveyors of London's most fashionable
shop--find passion and love as sumptuous as the gowns they
From the Diary of Leonie Noirot:
The perfect corset should invite its undoing . . .
Lethally charming Simon Blair, Marquess of Lisburne, has
reluctantly returned to London for one reason only: a family
obligation. Still, he might make time for the seduction of a
certain redheaded dressmaker-but Leonie Noirot hasn't time
for him. She's obsessed with transforming his cousin, the
dowdy Lady Gladys, into a swan.
Leonie's skills can coax curves --and profits-- from thin
air, but his criminally handsome lordship is too busy trying
to seduce her to appreciate her genius. He badly needs to
learn a lesson, and the wager she provokes ought to teach
him, once and for all.
A great plan, in theory-but Lisburne's become a serious
distraction and Leonie's usual logic is in danger of
slipping away as easily as a silk chemise. Could the
Season's' greatest transformation be her own?
BRITISH INSTITUTION.â€”ANCIENT MASTERS. This annual Exhibition is the best
set-off to the illiberality with which our grand signors shut up their
pictures from the publicâ€”making, in fact, close boroughs of their
â€”The AthenĂ¦um, 30 May 1835
British Institution, Pall Mall, London
Wednesday 8 July
He lay naked but for a cloth draped over his manly parts. Head fallen
back, eyes closed, mouth partly open, he slept too deeply to notice the
imps playing with his armor and weapons, or the one blowing through a
shell into his ear. The woman reclined nearby, her elbow resting on a red
cushion. Unlike him, she was fully dressed, in gold-trimmed linen, and
fully awake. She watched him with an unreadable expression. Did her lips
hint at a smile or a frown, or was her mind elsewhere entirely?
Leonie Noirotâ€™s mind offered sixteen different answers, none
satisfactory. What wasnâ€™t in doubt was what this pair had been doing
before the maleâ€”the Roman god Mars, according to the exhibition catalogâ€”
If anything else was in Leonieâ€™s mindâ€”her reason for coming here this
day, for instance, or where â€śhereâ€ť was or who she wasâ€”it had by now
drifted to a distant corner of her skull. Nothing but the painting
mattered or even existed.
She stood before the Botticelli work titled Venus and Mars, and might
have been standing on another planet or in another time, so completely
did it absorb her. She stood and stared, and could have counted every
brush stroke, trying to get to the bottom of it. What she couldnâ€™t do was
If anybody had stood in her way, she might have throttled that person.
Oddly enough, nobody did. The British Institutionâ€™s Annual Summer
Exhibition continued to attract visitors. It drew as well numerous
artists, who set up their easels in the galleries, in order to copy the
work of old masters. These artists made annoying obstacles of themselves
while they desperately exercised what might be their only opportunity to
copy works from private collections.
Nobody stood in Leonieâ€™s way. Nobody pontificated over her shoulder. She
didnâ€™t notice this, let alone wonder why. She hadnâ€™t come for the art but
for one specific reason.
A most important reasonâ€¦which sheâ€™d forgotten the instant her gaze landed
on the painting.
She might have stood transfixed until Doomsday, or until one of the
caretakers pitched her out. Butâ€”
A crash, sudden as a thunderclap, broke the roomâ€™s peace.
She jumped, and stumbled backward.
And hit a wall that oughtnâ€™t to have been there.
No, not a wall.
It was big, warm, and alive.
It smelled like a man: shaving soap and starch and wool. Two man-sized
gloved hands, which lightly grasped her shoulders and smoothly restored
her to an upright position, confirmed the impression.
She turned quickly and looked upâ€”a good ways upâ€”at him.
Or, more accurately, ye god Mars.
Perhaps he wasnâ€™t precisely like the image in the painting. For one
thing, the living man was fully clothed, and most expensively, too. But
the nose and forehead and mouth were so like. And the shape of the eyes
especially. His, unlike the war godâ€™s, were open.
They were green, with gold flecks, like the gold streaks in his dark
blond hair. And that was curly like Marsâ€™s, and appealingly unruly.
Something less easily definable in the eyes and mouth hinted at other
kinds of unruliness: the mouth on the brink of a smile and the eyes open
a degree too wide and innocent. Or was that stupidity?
â€śIn all the excitement, I seem to have put my foot under yours,â€ť he said.
â€śI do beg your pardon.â€ť
More important, heâ€™d been standing too close, and she hadnâ€™t noticed.
Leonie never allowed anybody to sneak up on her. In Paris that could have
been fatal. Even in London it was risky.
She kept all her misgivings on the inside, as sheâ€™d learned to do eons
â€śI hope I did you no permanent injury,â€ť she said. She let her gaze drift
downward. His boots were immaculate. His valet had polished them to such
a fearsome brilliance, the dust of Londonâ€™s streets could only stagger
His green gaze slid downward, too, to her footwear. â€śA small foot wrapped
in a bit of satin and a sliver of leather doing damage? Odds against,
donâ€™t you think?â€ť
â€śThe bits of satin and leather are half-boots called brodequins,â€ť she
said. â€śAnd my feet are not small. But itâ€™s gallant of you to say so.â€ť
â€śIn the circumstances, I ought to say something agreeable,â€ť he said. â€śI
ought as well to produce a clever reason for creeping up on you. Or a
chivalrous reason, like intent to shield you from falling easels. But
then youâ€™d only decide I was an idiot. As anybody can see, the offending
object is some yards away.â€ť
She was aware of somebody swearing, about three paintings to her left.
From the same direction came the sound of wood scraped over wood and the
rustling of a heavy fabric. She didnâ€™t look that way. Girls who didnâ€™t
keep their wits about them when gods wandered their way got into trouble.
Ask Daphne or Leda or DanaĂ«.
Todayâ€™s fitful sun had decided to stream through the skylight at this
moment. Its rays fell upon the gold-streaked head.
â€śPerhaps you were captivated by the painting,â€ť she said. â€śAnd lost track
of your surroundings.â€ť
â€śThatâ€™s a fine excuse,â€ť he said. â€śBut as itâ€™s my painting, and Iâ€™ve had
ample time to stare at the thing, it wonâ€™t do.â€ť
â€śYours,â€ť she said. She hadnâ€™t looked up the lenderâ€™s name at the back of
the catalog. Sheâ€™d assumed the masterpiece must belong to the King or one
of the royal dukes.
â€śThat is to say, Iâ€™m not Botticelli, you know, the fellow being dead some
centuries. Iâ€™m Lisburne.â€ť
Leonie collected her wits, brought business to the front of her mind, and
flipped through the pages of her mental ledger, wherein she kept her
private compendium of Great Britainâ€™s aristocracy as well as important
tidbits from the gossip sheets and her gossipy customers.
She found the entry easily, because sheâ€™d updated it not many days ago:
Lisburne meant Simon Blair, the fourth Marquess of Lisburne. Age seven
and twenty, he constituted the sole issue of the greatly lamented third
Marquess of Lisburne, whose very recently remarried widow resided in
Lord Lisburne, whoâ€™d lived abroad, too, for these last five or six years,
had arrived from the Continent a fortnight ago with his first cousin and
close friend Lord Swanton.
The Viscount Swanton was Leonieâ€™s reason for being in a Pall Mall gallery
on a workday.
She looked back at the painting. Then she looked about her, for the first
time, really. It dawned on her, then, why nobody else had stood in her
way. Elsewhere on the gallery walls hung landscapes, mythological and
historical deaths and battles and such, and madonnas and other religious
subjects. The Botticelli had nothing to do with any of them. No
preaching, no violence, and definitely no bucolic innocence.
â€śInteresting choice,â€ť she said.
â€śIt stands out, rather, now you mention it,â€ť he said. â€śNo one seems to
care much for Botticelli these days. My friends urged me to put in a
â€śInstead you chose the aftermath,â€ť she said.
His green gaze shifted briefly to the painting, then back to her. â€śI
could have sworn theyâ€™d been making love.â€ť
â€śAnd I could swear sheâ€™s vanquished him.â€ť
â€śAh, but heâ€™ll rise again toâ€”erâ€”fight another day,â€ť he said.
â€śI daresay.â€ť She turned fully toward the painting and moved a step
closer, though she knew she risked drowning in it. Again. Surely sheâ€™d
seen equally beautiful worksâ€”in the Louvre, for instance. But this â€¦
Its owner moved to stand beside her. For a moment they regarded it in
silence, an acute physically conscious one on her part.
â€śVenusâ€™s expression intrigues me,â€ť she said. â€śI wonder what sheâ€™s
â€śThereâ€™s one difference between men and women,â€ť he said. â€śHeâ€™s sleeping
and sheâ€™s thinking.â€ť
â€śSomebody must think,â€ť she said. â€śAnd it does so often seem to be the
â€śI always wonder why they donâ€™t go to sleep, too,â€ť he said.
â€śI couldnâ€™t say,â€ť Leonie said. She truly couldnâ€™t. Her understanding of
the physical act between men and women, while as detailed and precise as
her eldest sister could make it, was in no way based on personal
experienceâ€”and this was not the time to imagine the experience, she
reminded herself. Business came first, last, and always. Especially now.
â€śWhat occupies me is a ladyâ€™s outward appearance.â€ť
She opened her reticule, withdrew a small card, and gave it to him. It
was a beautiful card, as of course it must be, hers being the foremost
establishment of its kind in London. The size of a ladyâ€™s calling card
and elegantly engraved and colored, it was nonetheless a trade card for
Maison Noirot, Dressmakers to Ladies of Fashion, No. 56 St. Jamesâ€™s
He studied it for a time.
â€śIâ€™m one of the proprietresses,â€ť she said.
He looked up from the card to meet her gaze. â€śYouâ€™re not the one married
to my cousin Longmore?â€ť
She couldnâ€™t be surprised he was a cousin of her newest brother-in-law.
All the Great World seemed to be related to one another, and the Fairfax
family, to which the Earl of Longmore belonged, was large in its main
branch and prolific in its associated twigs and vines.
â€śThatâ€™s my sister Sophy,â€ť she said. â€śFor future reference, sheâ€™s the
blonde one.â€ť That was the way Society thought of the three proprietresses
of Maison Noirot, she knew: the Three Sistersâ€”sometimes the Three Witches
or French Tartsâ€”the brunette, the blonde, and the redhead.
â€śRight. And one of you is married to the Duke of Clevedon.â€ť
â€śMy sister Marcelline. Sheâ€™s the brunette.â€ť
â€śHow good of your parents to make you easy to tell apart,â€ť he said. â€śAnd
how kind of you to explain. Were I to mistake, say, the Countess of
Longmore for you, and make a stab at flirtation, her brute of a spouse
would try to do me a violence, to the detriment of my neckcloth. I spent
fully half an hour arranging it.â€ť
Leonie was an experienced businesswoman of one and twenty, not a
sheltered young lady. She examined the neckcloth in a businesslike manner
â€”or tried to. This proved a great deal more difficult than it ought to
Below the finely chiseled angle of his jaw, his neckcloth was not only
immaculate but so flawlessly folded and creased that it might have been
carved of marble.
The rest of his dress was inhumanly perfect, too. So were his face and
The inner woman felt light-headed, and thought this would be a good time
to swoon. The dressmaker regarded the neckcloth with a critical eye. â€śYou
employed your time to excellent effect,â€ť she said.
â€śNot that it makes the least difference,â€ť he said. â€śNo one looks at the
other fellows when heâ€™s about.â€ť
â€śHe,â€ť she said.
â€śMy poetical cousin. Iâ€™m overburdened with cousins. Oh, there they are
now, blast it.â€ť
She became aware of voices coming from the central staircase.
She turned that way as hats and heads rose into view. Torsos soon
followed. After a momentâ€™s apparent confusion about which way to go, the
group, mainly young women, surged toward the archway of the gallery in
which she stood. There they came to a halt, with only a moderate degree
of unladylike pushing and elbowing. The clump of women opened up to make
way for a tall, slender, ethereal-looking gentleman. He wore his flaxen
hair overlong and his clothing with theatrical flair.
â€śHim,â€ť Lord Lisburne said.
â€śLord Swanton,â€ť she said.
â€śWho else could it be, with two dozen girls looking up at him, every one
of them wearing the same besotted expression.â€ť
Leonieâ€™s gaze took in the women, all about her age or younger, except for
a handful of mamas or aunts obliged to chaperon. Near the outer edge of
Lord Swantonâ€™s worshippers and their reluctant attendants she spied
Sophyâ€™s new sister-in-law, Lady Clara Fairfax, looking bored. Her
ladyship stood with a plain young woman who was dressed stupendously
Leonieâ€™s spirits soared. Sheâ€™d come intending to add to her clientele.
This was more than sheâ€™d dared to hope for.
For a moment she almost forgot ye god Mars and even the painting. Almost.
She beat down her excitement and turned her attention back to Lord
â€śThank you, my lord, for stopping me from toppling like the unfortunate
artistâ€™s easel,â€ť she said. â€śThank you for choosing that particular
painting to lend to the exhibition. I donâ€™t care for scenes of violence,
which seem to be so popular. And saintly beings are so trying. But this
experience was sublime.â€ť
â€śWhich experience, exactly?â€ť he said. â€śOur acquaintance has been short
She was tempted to linger and continue flirting. He was so good at it.
Moreover, In addition to being beautiful he was a nobleman who owned a
painting that, popular or not, was probably priceless. Beyond a doubt he
owned several hundred other priceless or at least stunningly costly
objects, along with two or three immense houses set upon large expanses
of Great Britain. Ifâ€”or more likely, whenâ€”he took a wife and/or set up a
mistress, heâ€™d pay for her housing, servants, carriage, horses, etc. etc.
â€”and, most important of et ceteras, her clothing.
But the girl, Claraâ€™s friend, looked out of sorts and seemed ready to
bolt. A prize like that didnâ€™t turn up every day. Leonie had already
obtained Lord Lisburneâ€™s attention, in any event. Heâ€™d saunter into the
shop one of these days, if she was any judge of men.
â€śIt has, indeed,â€ť Leonie said. â€śHowever, I came on business.â€ť
â€śBusiness,â€ť he said.
â€śLadies,â€ť she said. â€śDresses.â€ť She made a brisk gesture, indicating her
ensemble, which sheâ€™d spent well more than half an hour arranging for
this event. â€śAdvertising.â€ť
Then she made a quick curtsey and started toward Lord Swanton and his
acolytes. She heard a muffled sound behind her, but she couldnâ€™t take the
time to look back. The ill-dressed girl was tugging on Lady Claraâ€™s arm.
Leonie walked more quickly.
Eyes on Lady Claraâ€™s companion, she didnâ€™t see the canvas cloth in her
The toe of her brodequin caught on it and she pitched forward.
She was aware of a collective gasp, interspersed with titters, as she
went down, arms flailing ungracefully.
Lisburne hadnâ€™t noticed the artistâ€™s cloth, either. He was too busy
taking in the rear view of Miss Noirot, though heâ€™d already fully
employed the opportunity to study that at lengthâ€”at a distance as well as
at improperly close quartersâ€”while she stood before the Botticelli,
oblivious to him and everybody and everything else. When sheâ€™d turned to
look up at him, heâ€™d nearly staggered, thinking Botticelliâ€™s Venus had
come to life: the sameâ€”or very likeâ€”heart-shaped face and alluringly
imperfect nose...the ripe mouth with its hint of a smile or deep thought
or troublesome recollectionâ€¦the surprisingly determined chin.
His mind might have wandered into indecorous fantasies but his reflexes
were in sharp working order. He moved forward, caught her, and swept her
up into his arms in one smooth movement.
Ladiesâ€™ dress had only grown more extravagantly fanciful since he was
last in England, nearly six years ago. It was hard to tell which parts of
a girl were real and which were created for artistic effect. While he
appreciated artistic effect, he was happy to discover that what seemed to
be a gloriously shapely form was artificial only in the most superficial
way. Judging by the warm parts with which he was in contact, her body was
as lavishly rounded as heâ€™d supposed. She smelled good, too.
He saw her eyes widenâ€”eyes of an vivid blue that put sapphires and Tuscan
skies to shameâ€”and her plump mouth fall open slightly.
â€śNow youâ€™ve done it,â€ť he said under his breath. â€śEverybodyâ€™s staring.â€ť
No exaggeration. Everybody in view had stopped whatever they were doing
or saying to gape. Who could blame them? Gorgeous redheads didnâ€™t drop
into a fellowâ€™s arms every day.
The commotion was drawing in people from the other rooms.
This day was turning out infinitely less boring than heâ€™d expected.
Swanton thrust through his crowd of worshippersâ€”treading on a few toes in
the processâ€”to hurry toward them. The worshippers followed. Even
Lisburneâ€™s cousins, Clara and Gladys Fairfax, tagged along, though
neither looked especially worshipful or even enthusiastic.
â€śGreat Zeus, whatâ€™s happened?â€ť Swanton demanded.
â€śThe lady fainted,â€ť Lisburne said.
He knew that a number of people had seen the dressmaker tripâ€”those, that
is, who could tear their gazes from Swanton. Lisburne glanced about,
lazily inviting any witnesses to contradict him. None did so. Even those
blackguards Meffat and Theaker held their tongues for once.
True, Lady Gladys Fairfax did harrumph, but no one ever paid attention to
herâ€”not, that is, unless they wanted to work themselves into a murderous
rage. Though she, too, had only very recently returned to London after
some yearsâ€™ absence, no one could have forgotten her, much in the way
that no one forgot the plague, for instance, or the Great Fire, or a bout
â€śMerci,â€ť Miss Noirot said in an undertone. Lisburne didnâ€™t so much hear
it as feel it, in the general environs of his chest.
â€śJe vous en prie,â€ť he replied.
â€śIt was only a momentary dizziness,â€ť she said more audibly. â€śYou may put
me down now, my lord.â€ť
â€śAre you quite sure, madame?â€ť Swanton said. â€śYouâ€™re flushed, and no
wonder. This infernal heat. Not a breath of a breeze this day.â€ť He looked
up at the skylight. Everybody else did, too. â€śAnd hereâ€™s the sun,
blasting down on us, as though it made a wrong turn on its way to the
Sahara Desert. Would somebody be so good as to fetch Madame a glass of
Madame? Then Lisburne remembered the elegant trade card. One generally
referred to a modiste, especially the expensive sort, as Madame,
regardless of her marital status.
And Swanton knew this particular Madame. Heâ€™d never said a word, the
sneak. But no, sneakiness wasnâ€™t in character. More than likely, some
poetic ecstasy had taken possession of him and he simply forgot until he
saw her again. Typical.
Swantonâ€™s father had died young at Waterloo, and Lisburneâ€™s father had
taken over the paternal role. That made Lisburne the protective elder
brother, a position he retained on account of Swanton being Swanton.
â€śMy lord, youâ€™re too kind,â€ť she said. â€śBut I donâ€™t require water. Iâ€™m
quite well. It was only a momentâ€™s faintness. Lord Lisburne, if youâ€™d be
so good as to let me down.â€ť
She squirmed a little in Lisburneâ€™s arms. That was fun.
Being a male in rude good health, all parts in prime working order, he
wasnâ€™t eager to let go of her. Still, since it had to be done, he made
the most of it, easing her down with the greatest care, letting her body
inch down along his, and not releasing her until a long, pulsing moment
after her feet touched the floor.
She closed her eyes and said something under her breath, then opened them
again and produced a smile, which she aimed straight at him. The smile
was as dazzling as her eyes. The combined effect made him feel a little
â€śMadame, if you feel strong enough, would you allow me to present my
friends?â€ť Swanton said. â€śI know theyâ€™re all clamoring to meet you.â€ť
The gentlemen, beyond a doubt. Theyâ€™d be wild to be made known to any
attractive woman, especially in the present circumstances, when it was
nigh impossible to get any attention from the lot swarming about Swanton.
But the ladies? Wishing to be introduced to a shopkeeper?
Perhaps not out of the question in this case, Lisburne decided. The three
Noirot sisters had made themselves famous. Heâ€™d heard of them on the
Continent recently. Their work, it was said, rivaled that of the
celebrated Victorine of Paris, who required even queens to make
appointments and attend her at her place of business.
Lisburne watched the dazzling gaze and smile sweep over the assembled
â€śYouâ€™re too kind, my lord,â€ť she said. â€śBut Iâ€™ve disturbed everybody
sufficiently today. The ladies will know where to find me: around the
corner, at No. 56 St. Jamesâ€™s Street. And the ladies, as you know, are my
At the end of the speech, she shot a glance at somebody in the crowd.
Cousin Clara? Then Madame curtseyed and started away.
The others turned away, the women first. Swanton resumed poeticizing or
romanticizing or whatever he was doing, and they all moved on to
Veroneseâ€™s Between Virtue and Vice.
Lisburne, however, watched Miss Noirotâ€™s departure. She seemed not
altogether steady on her feet, not quite so effortlessly graceful as
before. At the top of the stairs, she took hold of the railing and
Leonie was not allowed to make a quiet escape.
She heard the Marquess of Lisburne coming behind her. She knew who it was
without looking. This was probably because heâ€™d made her so keenly
attuned to him, thanks to the extremely improper way heâ€™d set her on her
feet a moment ago. She was still vibrating.
Or perhaps he sent some sort of pulsation across the room, in the way
certain gods had been believed to herald their arrival with strange
lights or magical sounds or divine scent.
â€śYou seem to be in pain,â€ť he said. â€śMay I assist you?â€ť
â€śI was hoping to slink off quietly,â€ť she said.
â€śNo difficulty there. Everybody else is hovering about my cousin. Heâ€™s
spouting about Virtue and Vice, and they all believe heâ€™s saying
something.â€ť While he spoke, he took possession of her left arm and
arranged it around his neck. He brought his arm round her waist.
She caught her breath.
â€śIt must hurt like the devil,â€ť he said. â€śOn second thought, Iâ€™d better
check your ankle before we proceed. It might be more damaged than we
If he touched her ankle she would faint, and not necessarily for medical
â€śI only turned it,â€ť she said. â€śIf Iâ€™d done worse, Iâ€™d be sitting on the
step, sobbing with as much mortification as pain.â€ť
â€śI can carry you,â€ť he said.
â€śNo,â€ť she said, and added belatedly, â€śthank you.â€ť
They proceeded down the stairs slowly. She did sums in her head to
distract her from the warmth of the big body supporting hers. It wasnâ€™t
easy. She had stared too long at the Botticelli, and her mind was making
pictures of the muscular arms and torso with no elegant covering
By the time they reached the first landing, her usually well-ordered
brain was wandering into strange byways and taking excessive notice of
She made herself speak. â€śI can only hope that people assume I was dazzled
by my brief encounter with Lord Swanton,â€ť she said.
â€śThatâ€™s what Iâ€™ll tell them, if you like,â€ť he said. â€śBut I received the
impression you knew each other.â€ť
â€śParis,â€ť she said. â€śAges ago.â€ť
â€śIt canâ€™t be a very long age,â€ť he said. â€śYouâ€™re somewhat damaged but not
â€śIt was his first visit to Paris,â€ť she said.
â€śMore than five years ago, then,â€ť he said.
When Leonie was nearly sixteen, happy in her work and her family and
especially her beautiful infant niece, and reveling in the success of
Emmeline, Cousin Emmaâ€™s splendid dressmaking shop.
Before the world fell apart.
â€śLord Swanton came to my cousinâ€™s shop to buy a gift for his mother,â€ť she
said. â€śHe was sweet-tempered and courteous. In Paris, gentlemen often
mistook a dressmakerâ€™s shop for a brothel.â€ť
Those who persisted in the mistake tended to have unfortunate accidents.
One of the first rules Leonie had ever learned was, Men only want one
thing. Cousin Emma had taught her young charges as much about defending
themselves against encroaching men as she had about dressmaking. She had
not, however, taught her girls anything about dealing with Roman gods. It
was trickier than one would think to maintain a businesslike attitude,
even though Leonie was the most businesslike of the three sisters. That
wasnâ€™t saying much, when you came down to it. Marcelline and Sophy had
always had their heads in the clouds: dreamers and schemers and typical
Noirots, typical DeLuceys.
He smelled so clean, like the air after rain. How did he do that? Was it
scent? A miraculous new soap?
By the time they reached the ground floor, the throbbing in her ankle
seemed to have lessened somewhat.
â€śI think I can make do with your arm,â€ť she said.
â€śAre you sure?â€ť
â€śMy ankle is better,â€ť she said. â€śI neednâ€™t lean on you quite so much.â€ť
The fact was, she didnâ€™t have to lean at all, because he held her so
firmly against him. She was aware of every inch of his muscled arm andâ€”
through all the layers of chemise, corset, dress, and pelerineâ€”exactly
where his fingers rested at the bottom of her rib cage.
She let go of his neck. He let go of her waist and offered his arm. She
placed her gloved hand on his, and he grasped it as firmly as heâ€™d
grasped her waist.
She told herself this was hardly intimacy, compared to his holding her
along the length of his body, but the fact was, no man had got this close
to her in years. Still, that didnâ€™t explain why she wanted to run away.
She knew how to defend herself, did she not? She knew better than to let
herself fall under the spell of a handsome face and form and low,
She couldnâ€™t allow panic to rule. Her ankle was only marginally better.
Without help, sheâ€™d have to limp back to the shop on a hot day. Though
she had only a short distance to travel, the last bit was uphill. By the
time she got there, sheâ€™d have worsened the injury and wouldnâ€™t be fit
Business first, last, and always. As they passed through the door and out
into Pall Mall, she set her mind to calculating his net worth, reminded
herself of imminent wives and/or mistresses, and beat down unwanted
emotions with numbers, as she so often did. Her clumsiness might well
have put off Lady Claraâ€™s companion. This might be the only new business
Leonie would attract today.
â€śYou said something about business,â€ť he said.
â€śI did?â€ť Her heart raced. Was she speaking her thoughts aloud without
realizing? Had she suffered a concussion without noticing?
â€śBefore, when you hurried away to my cousin.â€ť
â€śOh, that,â€ť she said. â€śYes. Where Lord Swanton goes, one usually finds a
large supply of young ladies. Heâ€™d mentioned to one of our customers his
intention of visiting the British Institution this afternoon. It seemed a
good opportunity to make the shopâ€™s work known to those unfamiliar with
â€śNothing to do with his poetry, then.â€ť
She shrugged, and paid for it with a twinge in her ankle. â€śI run a shop,
my lord,â€ť she said. â€śI lack the romantic sensibility.â€ť Sheâ€™d worked since
childhood. The young women who worshipped Lord Swanton hadnâ€™t lived in
Paris during the chaos, misery, and destruction of the cholera. Grief,
suffering, and death werenâ€™t romantic to her.
â€śIt stumps me, Iâ€™ll admit,â€ť he said. â€śI donâ€™t see whatâ€™s romantic about
it. But then, neither do most men. The ailment seems to strike young
women, with a few exceptions. Though sheâ€™s at the vulnerable age, Cousin
Clara looked bored, I thought. My cousin Gladys looked sour-tempered, but
thatâ€™s the way she usually looks, so itâ€™s hard to tell whether sheâ€™s an
idolater or not.â€ť
â€śCousin Gladys,â€ť she said. â€śThe young lady with Lady Clara?â€ť
â€śLady Gladys Fairfax,â€ť he said. â€śLord Boulsworthâ€™s daughter. Claraâ€™s
great uncle, you know. The military hero. Iâ€™m not sure whatâ€™s lured
Gladys back to London, though I do have an unnerving suspicion. I say,
youâ€™re not well, Miss Noirot.â€ť
Theyâ€™d reached the bottom of St. Jamesâ€™s Street, and the dayâ€™s extreme
warmth, already prodigious in Pall Mall, now blasted at them on a hot
wind, which carried as well the dust of vehicles, riders, and
pedestrians. Leonieâ€™s head ached at least as much as her ankle did. She
was trying to remember when last sheâ€™d heard Lady Gladys Fairfax
mentioned, but pain, heat, and confusion overwhelmed her brain.
â€śThat does it,â€ť he said. â€śIâ€™m carrying you.â€ť
He simply swooped down and did it, before she got the protest out, and
then it was muffled against his neckcloth.
â€śYes, everyone will stare,â€ť he said. â€śGood advertising, donâ€™t you think?
Do you know, I do believe Iâ€™m getting the hang of this business thing.â€ť
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