For Your Sake
Lord Vincent Cadwaller, Viscount Farley, has ever believed Miss Rosalind Fulton to be a petty, self-centred frivolity of a human being. Her unhealthy obsession with fashion, her disinterest in the betterment of her own self, and, most importantly, her blatant disregard for the feelings of her suitors, have long since earned her his complete disapproval.
Rosalind does not know what to make of Lord Farley. Once, they had been very good friends, but now it seems as if he despises her. Well, no matter what bee is in his bonnet, Rosalind's friend, Christina Gordon, appears to be quite taken with the man, and Rosalind will do whatever it takes to see her friend gets her wish. Now, if only Christina would cooperate, rather than nervously scuttling off and leaving Rosalind to suffer Farley's company.
In which much insult is given.
"Please be so kind, dear brother, as to refresh my memory in regards to the reason for our presence here," Zachary Cadwaller, looking, sounding and feeling extremely bored, addressed his elder brother.
Vincent, titled Viscount Farley the year before, did not so much as look over his shoulder at his brother. "You know well enough, I think."
"Ah, yes, to find you, the head, neck, and, dare I say, shoulders, of our rather pitifully small family, a bride which to have a good ungodly amount of children, thereby curing the family of its aforementioned pitiful smallness. But, I fail to see why you need the left and right arms with you for such a task," Zachary muttered, glancing sidewise at his twin, Xavier.
The trio was making their way across Grosvenor Square to Honan House, their – and a goodly portion of the ton's – destination for the evening.
Xavier, calm and unbothered, smiled indulgently. "Think of us as bodyguards," he told his twin. "We are here to protect our dear elder brother from rampaging debutantes and rabid mamas. Also, to give our opinions on any to whom he might wish to pay court."
"I hope you are referring to the debutantes, and not the mamas," Vincent grumbled.
"Well, as to me, I have absolutely no preference as to what your bride will be like," Zachary declared. "I promise to shower all my nieces and nephews with all the avuncular affection in the world, regardless of how their mother looks or acts."
"Then you have fewer specifications for the lady than I do," Vincent commented.
"Naturally. You must spend the rest of your life with her. I may escape at will."
"And what are your specifications?" Xavier inquired.
"Practicality. Sense. Some portion of selflessness. The quality of being unexcitable."
Zachary rolled his eyes. "How dull."
"To you, perhaps; you know no better. I have been faced with the spirited and the lively, and I have found them to be petty, self-centred and completely lacking in both regard for others and in those areas of propriety that are essential to being a respectable wife and mother."
Xavier sighed as they mounted the stairs to the front doors of Honan House. "Vincent, you cannot judge an entirety by the example of one."
Vincent grimaced at the comment, but did not answer, turning instead to greet their hostess. He was not, he told himself, unjust in his judgements; Rosalind Fulton and those young misses like her were, in short, nothing more than spoilt brats.
"And that," whispered one girl to another, "is Viscount Farley. He has only just come out of mourning for his father and must now be looking for a wife by which to have an heir."
"He is very handsome," the second girl observed.
Rosalind Fulton, seated nearby enough to hear the duo, followed their gazes to the entrance of the ballroom, where the three Cadwaller men were just entering. Viscount Farley – or Vincent, as he had once requested she call him – did look very well, she admitted to herself. Tall and well built, with black hair that curled against his forehead, a distinctive Roman nose and dark green eyes, he put one in mind of what a Caesar must have looked like in the days of that ancient empire.
"Who are those two with him?" the second girl asked.
"His brothers. Not titled, of course, but it's said that their father left them each a hefty settlement, so they are wealthy enough in their own rights."
Rosalind glanced at the younger brothers. She was acquainted with them, of course, having grown up in the same neighbourhood as they, but she had never known them as well as she did Vincent. Or had known Vincent, in any case. It had been three years since he had stormed out of Trevalyn Abbey in a huff that she still did not understand, and she felt that he had actively avoided her ever since. She wondered what he would do should their paths cross tonight.
After all, she was no longer fifteen, a child not yet out in Society, and so forbidden from those glances, flirtations and acts of courtship which might pass between a man and a woman. She was eighteen, a debutante and allowed all the freedoms of a girl in search of a husband. She stole another glance at Vincent, already being accosted by no less than three eager mamas. Had he ever known of, or even suspected, her girlish fancy for him? She had thought to hide it behind smiles and laughter and a rather profusive amount of girlish gaiety, but perhaps she had only made it more apparent to him by her efforts. In any case, it had been three years, and he had doubtless changed a great deal, especially with the regrettable loss of his father, who he had admired very much.
Perhaps it would be better not to think of him in any romantic sense, much as she might have done so in the past three years.
Vincent smiled at the seventh debutante to whom he had been introduced since arriving at Honan House, feeling like a hunted animal. Odd how skinny silk-clad creatures most of whom did not even stand as tall as his shoulder could do that. True, meeting debutantes had been his purpose in attending tonight, but this hadn't been quite what he had had in mind. Xavier and Zachary had both disappeared, leaving him to fend for himself. Or perhaps not, for here was Xavier coming now… with yet another young lady on his arm.
"Miss Speight, may I introduce my brother, Vincent Cadwaller, Viscount Farley. Vincent, this is Miss Helen Speight. Her father is the local vicar in the neighbourhood where I purchased that cottage earlier this spring."
A vicar's daughter would be nice, Vincent thought. Likely, she would have been raised to be obedient, meek, humble… He ignored the Zachary-like voice in the back of his head that protested that the idea was horrid.
"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Speight. How are you finding London?"
"Very well, thank you, my lord," was the unadorned answer, with no indication of a wish to carry on. She didn't even smile or look him in the eye.
Perhaps she was shy. Country girls could be very shy.
And that was a point against her.
Pushing Rosalind Fulton from his mind, Vincent smiled at Miss Speight and asked her to dance as a quadrille was struck up. At least it would get him away from the more… frightening ladies currently nearby. Through the first set, he smiled encouragingly, inquiring into the functions Miss Speight had attended, the people she had met, the article she had bought. Her every answer was bright almost to the point of being curt except for her almost inaudible voice, and when it was time to change partners for the second set, Vincent had all but given up. Quiet was one thing; withdrawn was quite another.
He was so lost in his thoughts, he did not notice who his new partner was until he straightened from his bow. His breath caught as if he had just received a blow, and he had to school his features into polite indifference.
"Miss Rosalind Fulton," he greeted, "how long it has been." He did not call the length of time regrettable.
Her dark eyes, the colour of his strong morning coffee, met his, as captivating and wondrously beautiful as they had been three years ago. "Indeed, it has been, my lord. We have sorely missed your company at the Abbey." It seemed impossible that her lips could naturally be so dark a pink, but having known her since childhood, he knew it was so.
"Have you?" Good Lord, could he think of nothing more intelligent to say than that?
"Yes, we have. Why do you not come to visit anymore?"
Vincent visibly stiffened with insult. Had the girl no shame? "Aside from my father's passing last year, it was made clear to me that my presence was not particularly appreciated at the Abbey."
A frown creased the pale, perfect skin of her brow without marring her beauty in the least. "Surely not! By whom were such insinuations made?"
Vincent met her eye, almost glaring. "By yourself, Miss Rosalind."
Vincent knew it was petty of him, but he took joy in the fact that she missed a step, almost tumbling into another lady before she quickly recovered herself.
"What do you mean by that?" she demanded, falling back into step with a grace he could have cursed for its beauty. "You were a very dear friend to myself and my family, and I would never have had you believe otherwise. If, by some word or deed I, perchance, did make you feel unwelcome at the Abbey, I am greatly sorry for it, but you should have taken up the matter with me rather than sulking off like a child."
Anger made Vincent's fists curl at his sides, even as he went through the steps of the dance. "You are a great one to lecture on childishness," he retorted as the set began to draw to a close. "If you are here in London to find a husband, I suggest you attain some refinement and depth of character, or else learn to close your mouth so that men do not witness the lack."
He turned from her then, facing Miss Speight once again and completing the third and final set with as much equanimity and amiability as he could muster. When the dance had ended, and he had returned Miss Speight to her mother, he found himself once again flanked by his younger brothers.
"She is exceedingly beautiful," Zachary commented. "I had forgotten how much so."
"Miss Speight? I had not realized you were acquainted."
"No, not Miss Speight. Certainly not Miss Speight. Oh, I suppose she is comely in her own way, but it is only that – comely – and nothing more. No, the exceeding beauty of which I speak belongs to Miss Rosalind Fulton." Xavier sent his twin a warning glance which Zachary did not heed. "I think I should court her myself, were I looking to court.
"You most certainly would do no such thing," Vincent ground out, telling himself his annoyance stemmed from his dislike of Rosalind Fulton and nothing else.
"For what reason would I not?" Zachary asked mockingly.
"For one, her infamous shopping habits would deplete your inheritance in a day. For another, I will not have that girl enter the family."
Zachary sighed. "You, my dear brother, are as sore a jilted lover as ever there was."
The remark stung, though Vincent thought that it should not. After all, it had been three years since he'd foolishly gotten his heart mixed up in Rosalind Fulton. "I am not sore," he informed his brother. "I am pragmatic and sensible. Rosalind Fulton is a handful of trouble to be taken up by any man at the risk of his property, sanity and reputation, and all of England should be the better for it if she never marries at all."
"Rosalind Fulton is a handful of trouble to be taken up by any man at the risk of his property, sanity and reputation, and all of England should be the better for it if she never marries at all."
The words echoed in Rosalind's head as she weaved her way through the crowd, anxious for the relative safety of the powder room. Reaching it, she sank into the only available chair, staring blankly at her reflection in the mirror.
"…all of England should be the better for it if she never marries at all."
She had been passing near the Cadwaller men, shielded from their sight by one of the large Roman columns that marched down the sides of the ballroom, when she had caught that damning statement on her character.
Rosalind stared at her reflection, oblivious to the bustle of other ladies about her as they fixed necklines, twisted curls and pinned up dragging hems. What had she done to earn such scorn from Vincent?
"If you are here in London to find a husband, I suggest you attain some refinement and depth of character, or else learn to close your mouth so that men do not witness the lack."
Those words had shocked her. When had she ever displayed or indulged in attributes or behaviours coarse or unbecoming of a lady? In what way had she displayed a lack of virtue that might be seen as a fault in character? She knew that she was not perfect, that her materialistic wants could at times be excessive and that her knowledge of her own beauty could make her somewhat vain, but she had never thought that anyone found her, as a person, awful. Yet she had always thought Vincent a very good judge of character, and an upright man of exceeding moral standing, and so if he found something in her so abhorrent that he should desire that she have no connection with him or his family, then there must be something very wrong with her indeed.
If only she knew what it was.
"Why, Miss Gordon," the Honourable Miss Angela Lowell exclaimed loudly in the seat next to Rosalind, "what a lovely dress!" At Miss Lowell's voice, Rosalind reflected that thought sweetness was understood to be much desired in a young lady, she had never much cared for too much sugar in her tea.
Christina Gordon, to whom the comment was directed, flushed shyly and looked down, murmuring a barely audible thank-you. Rosalind cast a largely disinterested glance at Miss Gordon in the mirror, thinking that Miss Gordon's naturally ruddy complexion was less than complimented by the dark rose of her dress, making her flush appear unbecomingly dark.
Miss Lowell, evidently, was in agreement. Turning to the girl on her left, she confided, in a rather voluble whisper that could be heard by half of those in the powder room, "How unfortunate that such a lovely, feminine colour should be wasted upon her. The dull shades of a spinster's wardrobe would much rather suit her, do you not think?"
Rosalind's cheeks coloured with embarrassment to hear Miss Lowell's words, and she glanced at Miss Gordon, who was now, quite unbecomingly, nearing a shade of maroon. The latter blinked, fiddling with her sleeves as she pretended not to have heard, then gave up and fled the room. Rosalind turned to Angel Lowell, who was no watching the closing door with a small smirk about her lips.
"That was badly done, Miss Lowell," Rosalind told her, "and you have nothing over which to look so self-satisfied."
Miss Lowell's eyes widened innocently. "Why Miss Rosalind, I did nothing but compliment the dear girl. Do you not think that, unfortunately endowed as she is, she deserves all the kindness that anyone might make an effort to extend?"
"She certainly could do without your particular brand of kindness," Rosalind declared and quit the room to go in search of Miss Gordon. Having been reared with four other girls, Rosalind had been raised to ensure that her temperament could not allow her to be cruel to her sisters and cousins, as such a fault within any one of the girls would not only be undesirable to the family, but also cause endless discord and chaos within the household. She had brought this aversion to petty slights and vicious gossip with her into her first Season, which had caused a bit of a fuss the previous week when she had reprimanded a dowager for making an unkind remark. Of course, it was entirely possible that a similar fuss might ensue after what she had just said to Miss Lowell, but Rosalind was sure her mother would understand.
She found Miss Gordon in a curtained alcove almost right next to the powder room door, not-so-discreetly swiping at her eyes. With a sympathetic grimace, she settled next to the other girl, laying a consolatory hand on her shoulder. "I wish you would not pay Miss Lowell so much mind, Miss Gordon," she said gently. "If she is petty and cruel, it only makes her less worth being upset by. A ball is meant for enjoyment, and you should not let a cow like her deprive you of that."
"But she's right!" Miss Gordon wailed. "She is absolutely correct: I do look awful in this gown. I could look awful in anything."
"Nonsense. It's a lovely gown, and you are a lovely girl. If you would only be a little more confident and not blush so very much –"
"I cannot help it!" Miss Gordon surged to her feet, whirling to face Rosalind with an anger that took the latter aback. "Can no one understand that? My complexion is horribly pink, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it!"
"Miss Gordon, I –"
But Miss Gordon was already gone, leaving Rosalind still seated on the bench in the alcove. Another figure moved into view in the entrance to the alcove, and Rosalind looked up into the narrowed, accusing eyes of Vincent Cadwaller. He cast her a look of utter disgust before moving away in the same direction as Miss Gordon had gone.
Rosalind slumped back in her seat, frustrated, annoyed, upset and insulted. This evening was turning out to be one vexing scene after another. Perhaps it was time to plead her first fabricated headache as a debutante and return home.