Westerley House, London
My Dearest Lucy,
I cannot begin to think of the words to beg for your -
O Incomparable Beauty of London Fair -
Lucy, I cannot bear to be without -
The Honorable Geoffrey Bramwell frowned down at the mess of scribbles and crossing-outs that marred his thirtieth attempt at a declaration of love. A mass of crumpled papers littered his normally spotless study, evidence of his inability to put his heart's song in to prose. With a heavy sigh, Geoff, as he was known to his friends, rubbed ineffectually at the bridge of his nose, trying to stem the headache that was rapidly building in the space between his eyes.
It had been a long night.
A long couple of nights, actually, when one counted up all of the various incidents that had culminated in Geoff's supreme unhappiness. It was enough to drive a man to drink, though Geoff was currently abstaining from his brandy decanter - that deceptively golden liquor had gotten him in to enough trouble as it was.
He had never intended to get so drunk. It was, one might determine, entirely the fault of Percy Hounslowe. The affable red head may have been Geoff's oldest and closest friend, but he was also a determined rakehell and talanted provoker, a combination that often saw his friends ending up in trouble, while Percy observed from the sidelines, having a good laugh at everyone else's misfortune. Had they not known each other from infancy, and survived their formative years at Eton together, Geoff might have cut Percy years ago. But, as it was with all good friends, Percy's good qualities generally outweighed his bad, and Geoff was bound by loyalty and affection to stand by his friend.
Although, right now, there was nothing more he wanted to do than to give Hounslowe a thorough drubbing, followed by a good thrashing. Perhaps when he was done that, Geoff mused miserably, he might box Percy's ears.
As it always did, the night had started out innocently enough. Percy had suggested they ditch the hallowed halls of Almack's and take in a few rounds at a new gambling hell that had just opened up. Geoff, a reluctant gambler at most, had been so desperate to avoid an evening of knee breeches and lemonade that he had agreed to Percy's proposed plan, and toasted to the evening with a glass of 12 year old brandy.
And things had only gotten worse from there.
By no means was Geoff Bramwell a lobcock (he had logged as many hours in St. Giles and Covenant Garden as the next man), but he had long ago grown out of the habit of drinking all night, and waking up in strange places. But on that particular evening, he had needed the consolation of good friends and a few drinks. His Lucy had rejected his offer of marriage once again, on the grounds that his mother would surely object to the wedding. She was only the daughter of a Gentleman, far from the lofty aspirations his mother had for him as heir to the Viscounty, and her only remaining child. Geoff had reluctantly admitted that his mother would be upset at the knowledge that her son wished to marry a woman of virtually no fortune, but assured his beloved that he would never abandon her over such a petty manner as name or fortune. She was his Heart's Desire, he promised her. She was Cleopatra to his Antony, Ragnelle to his Sir Gawain, Beatrice to his Dante. The fact that many of these comparisons soared over Lucy's adorably un-educated head escaped Geoff, so enamored was he of her rosewater-scented curls, and her cupid's bow lips. If only she would agree to be his wife, he wouldn't ask anything else of her.
At some point that fateful evening, Geoff had desolately let spill that the Incomparable Lucy Snowley had once more rejected him. Amid consolatory claps on the back, and calls for more drink, Percy had suggested that Geoff prove his devotion by calling on his Lady Love. Never mind that it was an unacceptable hour at which to go calling - she would be so moved by his amore that she would finally succumb to him, and agree to be his bride.
After eight glasses of brandy, it seemed like a jolly good idea.
And so, a sublimely inebriated Geoffrey had found himself outside the Snowley's London residence, hammering relentlessly on the front door, begging Lucy to come out to see him. Much more effective (and self-preserving) than scaling the trellis, Percy had advised, with the air of someone who had much experience in this department.
When the front door had finally open, Geoff had acted completely on impulse, and swept up the small, dark-haired girl who greeted him in a passionate embrace. After a few moments, he realized that the thumps to his back were not the reaction of a woman in the throes of romance, but a very pointed attempt to get him to stop. Realizing, belatedly, that something was amiss, he had released his would-be paramour in to the telling glow of the lamp light, and watched his entire world turn upside down.
Madeline Snowley gaped back at him, clutching a shawl around her throat as if it would protect her from another attack.
Percy's whoops of drunken laughter provided a macabre soundtrack for the horrifying moment of realization that struck Geoff.
He had not just laid claim to the woman he loved, but to her younger sister. Moreover, he had done it in full view of three grown men, while the young lady in question was clothed in only a nightgown and a raggedy afghan. To make matters worse, the Snowley's butler emerged from the gloom, threatening to call down the Master to deal with the 'viscous reprobate' who had just assaulted a lady of the house.
The rest of the evening passed in much of a blur, but unfortunately, Geoff had risen the next morning to the cold hard fact that he had agreed to marry Madeline Snowley in order to protect both of their reputations.
The brandy decanter looked more inviting by the second.
With another heavy sigh, Geoff lay down his quill, and stared hopelessly at the sheet of paper before him. It was no use. His talents lay in many areas, but messages from the heart was not one of them. He couldn't form the words to tell Lucy that he was sorry, that he would love her until the day he died, no matter who he was married to. Moreover, it would be cruel to her, to give her false hope that they may still be together while he was wed to her sister. Not only did he think himself incapable of adultery, Geoff was quite certain there was some sort of ecclesiastical law against marrying one sister and bedding the other on the sly.
He had made his mistake, and, as a gentleman, he would have to live with it.
10 Berkeley Street, London
In a less-fashionable neighborhood just a stone's throw away, two young women regarded one another over the supper table. One of them, the elder, stared haughtily through her sister, rather than at her, as if she was not deserving of her attention. The younger, and, by popular opinion, the homelier of the two, diverted her gaze between her soup bowl and her sister, nervously glancing up from time to time, her expression suggesting that she expected to bear the brunt of the other girls temper at any moment.
"Lucy," she ventured quietly, laying her hands on either side of her bowl. "You can't still be angry with me..."
Lucy's steely expression suggested that she could very well still be angry.
Madeline Snowley permitted herself a small sigh, and leaned forward a degree, her round face wracked with guilt.
"You know I didn't mean for any of this to happen. It - it was an accident. How was I to know that Lord Bra-" She stopped herself, seeing the dangerous flicker in Lucy's eyes. "How was I to know that he'd be at the door?"
"Madeline, you have expressed all of this to me already."
"I know, but-"
"There's nothing more to be said. I congratulate-" the word came out as pure acid "- you on your upcoming nuptials. I'm sure you and his Lordship will be very happy together."
Madeline opened her mouth to refute the accusation of happiness, but was beaten down by Lucy's raised hand.
"Dont, Maddy. I'm quite exhausted of hearing you whine about how awful this will be for you. He's a Viscount, for Heaven's sake! With £40,000 per year! It hardly matters if you love him, or any of that other nonsense you've been spouting off. It's a good match."
Madeline stared at her sister with a combination of disbelief and outrage. Lucy correctly interpreted her sister's expression and emitted a harsh bark of laughter.
"Honestly, for such a clever girl, you can be a complete henwit sometimes, Mad."
"I kept him on a string. I have to admit, I was hoping for a better offer. But Bramwell would have done quite well if he was all I could bring up to scratch."
Not for the first time, Madeline was shocked by her sister's mercenary comments. She may have simpered her way to the top of London socialites each Season, but Lucy Snowley possessed a ruthless head for manipulation that would have put Machiavelli to shame.
"Lucy, he loves you. Wasn't that enough?"
Lucy tilted her pretty head to the side for a moment, contemplating. After a moment, she shrugged, as if the matter weren't worth worrying about.
"As I said, romance is all well and good for you, Madeline, but I couldn't give a whit for it. It clouds men's judgement, and makes them impossible to reason with. It's even worse than having them think with their tails - at least then, they're honest about what they're after."
Madeline shot her sister a scandalized look, blushing to the tops of her ears. Where Lucy learned half of these things, Madeline had no desire to know. She wondered if any of the men who haplessly courted her sister knew what they were getting themselves in to. And if it hadn't been her who was now wearing the Bramwell betrothal ring, she would have thought Lord Bramwell a lucky man for escaping Lucy's clutches.
"Are you done yet? You really ought to go upstairs and get dressed. Mama wants to leave soon."
Madeline looked down at her soup, wishing it would magically refill itself and thus prolong the dinner hour.
"You can't avoid this forever, Mad. You might as well get it over with," Lucy observed sagely, pushing her chair away from the table.
"Besides," she said archly, pausing to examine herself in a mirror hung above the mantle. "Your beloved Bramwell will be there to protect you from the harsh glare of the Ton."
As Lucy sailed out of the room, Madeline wondered how much it would hurt to gouge her eyes out with her own soup spoon.