I was inspired to write Hostage to Fortune after reading The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Viscount Beaumont has buried himself in the country since his wife died. As the French Revolution rages, French actress Verity Garnier is ordered to England to seduce him back to France. She despises men, but she must not fail.
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Length: Full Novel
Genre: Historical Romance
In the carriage, Henrietta impressed on Molly not to say a word to anyone, about where she was going. Molly, who must now return with the coach, shook her head.
“I hope you stay safe, Miss Henrietta.”
“Of course I will. Mr. Foxwell will take good care of me.”
Her maid looked doubtful as the coachman, under instructions to deposit Henrietta at the theatre, pulled up outside. Patrons gathered on the pavement. The groom opened the door and assisted her down. After assuring he and the coachman her party waited nearby, she turned and walked towards the entrance to the theatre.
Henrietta turned and watched the carriage rattle its way down the street. She searched for a free hackney, finding one pulling up to disgorge theatre goers.
Nervous that Irene and her mother might see her, Henrietta gave swift instructions and climbed in. Her heart thudded with excitement and apprehension as the horse pulled out into the line of traffic.
A sedan chair passed by, with a link boy lighting the way with his torch, leaving the smell of pitch in his wake. It seemed unnecessary for there was barely a cloud tonight; a full moon, like a huge golden ball, hung suspended, turning the night light as day, revealing soot-stained brick walls and refuse strewn cobbles, where
two cats yowled and ran away down an alley. She chafed at the slowness of the trip and wished she had arranged to be met at a later hour. By the time they arrived at Vauxhall Gardens, it must have been past nine. What if Mr. Foxwell had given up on her? She alighted in Bridge Street and paid the driver. “Could you please return to fetch me at midnight?”
The driver touched his cap with his whip. “I’m off by then, miss.”
Henrietta tried not to worry about getting home. There was bound to be a vehicle for hire in such a busy place. Her stomach clenched with anxiety as the jarvie drove away. What if Mr. Foxwell couldn’t be found?
A rumble of merriment came from the gardens. The moonlit river was awash with barges and small craft. Henrietta paid her guinea and entered through the turnstile.
The gothic-styled Grand Quadrangle was just as Mr. Foxwell had described it.
Thousands of variegated lamps were festooned among the trees. A man’s voice rang out in a very fine rendition of ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’ accompanied by an orchestra.
Henrietta searched for Mr. Foxwell, but couldn’t see him among the swirling, brightly colored dominos. Feeling conspicuous, she hovered beside a pillar as people milled on the paths, laughter erupting as each tried to guess who lay behind the masks. Was this behavior usual? Behind their dominos, they acted in a loose
and free manner Henrietta had never seen before. A juggler passed her, followed by a crowd of admiring revelers.
The tall figure of Mr. Foxwell approached in a crimson domino with his loo-mask pushed back on his forehead. Trembling with relief, she darted out and ran up to him.
Mr. Foxwell rose from his bow. He appeared glad to see her, but when he looked around for her aunt and failed to find her, his eyebrows flew up to meet his mask.
“Your aunt permitted you to come unescorted?” He handed her a lavender and silver loo-mask and matching domino he carried over his arm.
“No, of course she didn’t,” Henrietta said, eager to don the disguise. “I wanted to come, and she wouldn’t allow it.”
“I say!” Mr. Foxwell’s Adam’s apple bobbed alarmingly. “Your father will run me through. And rightfully so.”
“Oh, but they don’t know I’m here,” Henrietta said cheerfully. She gazed around. “I believe rakes and opera dances will be here? Where is your party?”
He hesitated as if unsure what to do with her. Then he gave a shrug. “We go this way. You’d best stay close to me.”
A bell rang out. “What is that?” Henrietta asked.
“That’s to draw people to view the Cascade,” he said. “A water feature. The most popular display here.”
“Oh, could we see it?”
Mr. Foxwell had obviously not recovered from finding her alone. He shook his head impatiently. “No time for that. It only lasts fifteen minutes,” he muttered.
He led her towards the Grove where the orchestra played. Beneath the colonnades of the quadrangle were the boxes that held the supper parties. Henrietta learned this from Mr. Foxwell, whose cool attitude thawed slightly as they approached his friends. Henrietta admired the massive Rotunda which held a theatre for two
thousand people. She began to wish her aunt had come; she might have enjoyed it more. She followed Mr. Foxwell down a path, bumping into giggling women and rather unsteady men. Couples romped and groped at each other in among the trees in a most disgraceful display. She swiveled her head to stare and almost lost sight of Mr. Foxwell’s crimson domino. She had to run to catch up with him. They reached the Grove, a square enclosed by walks and the western wall of the gardens, and entered to find pavilions and temples and the colonnade that sheltered the supper boxes from bad weather.
Mr. Foxwell showed her into his supper box where six people she’d never met sat eating ham and tiny chickens, and drinking arrack punch and wine. The orchestra played a lively tune. On the dance floor, dancers performed the steps with more abandon than Henrietta thought possible, as partners were switched and switched
again. Men’s hands clutched where a gentleman’s hands should never go, on bottoms and ladies’ bosoms. There was a great deal of laughing.
Henrietta didn’t know where to look. She was glad of her mask, her cheeks were so hot. “They’re a rowdy lot tonight,” Mr. Foxwell said. His tone and expression inferred she was the one at fault. He handed her a glass of punch, which proved very spicy and strong, and introduced her to the people in the box who then proceeded to ignore her. After Mr. Foxwell drank a glass of wine with her, he was
coerced onto the dance floor by a woman in a purple domino. He disappeared among the dancers. As soon as the dance ended, another began. Henrietta sat, feeling abandoned and growing more nervous by the minute. And for this, she had behaved in a deceitful manner toward her aunt. Her father would be sorely
disappointed in her. She lamented her appalling behavior as a tear rolled down her cheek, and swiped at it with an impatient hand.
Suddenly, Mr. Foxwell appeared in front of the supper box in his crimson domino.
He held out his hand to her. Henrietta accepted it gratefully, and with a small sniff, allowed him to lead her onto the floor. As they negotiated the steps of the dance, Henrietta noticed his unpowdered hair appeared to be far darker than Mr. Foxwell’s, although it might have been because of the light. But below the mask his chin was
certainly more chiseled. Serious eyes stared at her through the slits in the mask.
Her heart beating fast, she studied his neck above his cravat which was stronger and lacked a bobbing Adam’s apple. This man was also broader in the shoulder.
“Who are you, sir?” Henrietta demanded, pushing up her loo-mask, which threatened to suffocate her.
“What are you doing in this place, Miss Buckleigh?” He reached across and pulled it down again. “It is not wise for you to be seen here.” He untied the strings of his own mask. It fell away, and Mr. Hartley looked down at her, frowning. “Surely your aunt would not countenance such a thing.”
“No … I …” She replaced her mask to hide her shame. He seemed so serious and grown up and not the charming flirt he’d been on their last meeting.
He grabbed her hand and led her from the floor. Relieved, she saw they did not return to the box. Instead, he walked into the gardens to a quiet corner. The yellow moon had turned a ghostly silver, and the air grew colder. Henrietta shivered.
“You came here alone?”
“Yes, I thought it would be alright.” Embarrassment made her voice wobble.
“I have my carriage here. Allow me to take you home.”
Henrietta felt a prickle of irritation; he treated her like a child. She could well imagine what sort of lady awaited his pleasure. A shaft of unreasonable jealousy coursed through her. Despite his advising she keep it on, she ripped the annoying mask off her head. “What of your party? Surely you are not here alone?”
He frowned and rubbed his brow as if she was a problem to be quickly dealt with.
“My party will wait for me to return.”
A group of revelers ambled up the path. Two men held up an inebriated woman on stumbling feet. They called for Henrietta and Mr. Hartley to join them, and one man stepped forward to take her by the elbow.
Mr. Hartley stepped forward and pushed the man away. “On your way, sir. This young lady is with me.”
The man, in his cups, looked as if he would like to argue the point. But the stance of Mr. Hartley, who was clearly of some athletic ability and quite prepared to fight, made him change his mind. He dismissed them with a wave of his hand and staggered off to join his companions who had disappeared into the pavilion.
Henrietta, admiring the set of Mr. Hartley’s shoulders, thought the man had made a wise decision. Her admiration was tested when he glowered at her. “Allow me to help you put on your mask.”
“Oh, very well.” She rather enjoyed his hands moving over her head, lightly touching her skin as he straightened the mask. She gazed up at him, but could see little of his face beyond the firm set of his mouth. Did his hands remain for a moment too long on her hair?
Mr. Hartley held out his arm to her. “Shall we?”
This was not the time to declare independence. “Thank you. I believe I will go home, if you would be so good.” She could be in bed before her aunt became suspicious, and she need never learn of this escapade.
Mr. Hartley tucked her hand in his arm and led her from the pleasure grounds. She hurried along beside him wondering what he must think of her.
Once in the carriage, they removed their masks. Snug in Mr. Hartley’s curricle with a carriage rug over her knees, she stole a glance at him as they travelled through the streets. His profile looked very stern. She had an almost overwhelming desire
to rest her head against his broad shoulder; instead, she leaned back against the squabs and gazed out the window. No doubt he was angry with her; she must have spoiled his evening. They approached Westminster Bridge. The Thames stretched before them, a dark expanse shimmering like ruffled silk in the moonlight and the
lamps along the embankment. Any sense of romance was destroyed by the breeze which carried the stench of a river choked with sewage and offal, overpowering at low tide. This was not like the country, where the rivers were fresh and filled with fish.
“Thank you for coming to my aid,” she said in a breathy, chastened voice. “You must think I am not yet grown up.”
He leaned forward, and the moonlight struck his features, softening his face.
“Grown up is a relative term. I’ve had my share of scrapes. We all learn by experience.”
The sky suddenly lit up with the glow of fireworks. Henrietta clapped her hands.
“Oh, how pretty.”
“Vauxhall Gardens, I expect,” he said dispassionately.
She swiveled around to peer back the way they’d come. “Oh, you’ve missed it.”
He folded his arms and examined the boot resting on his knee. “I’ve seen fireworks before.”
He sounded tired, as if he’d seen far too much.
Aware she was chattering to break the silence, Henrietta told him of her uncle’s flight from France. He listened without interruption.
“I trust he will soon arrive safely,” Mr. Hartley said when she fell silent, having nothing left to add.
The carriage pulled up in Grosvenor Square, and he assisted her down the steps.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” Henrietta said. She wished he would take her in his arms and kiss her, but such an event didn’t seem likely.
He stood looking rakish, with his hat in his hand, his crimson domino swept back over his shoulder. “Do take care. London is a dangerous place for a young lady from the country,” he said. Instead of a kiss she got a lecture. Henrietta felt a stab of bitter disappointment at how the night had turned out.
Mr. Hartley must have read the disappointment in her eyes. He smiled. A lovely smile which made her pulse pick up. He took her chin in his hand, his thumb briefly rubbing her bottom lip. As if forgetting himself, he drew away. “Enjoy your first Season. I’m sorry the night wasn’t a success. If you should need a friend, send a
note to my house. I live at 45 Brook Street.”
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