Lady Disguised -
A Tenacious Trents Novella
Mr. Sebastian Stanwick never intended to marry. It was bad enough that his father gambled away everything they owned and then drank himself to death, leaving his mother broken until she could not go on. But the death of his good friend at the hand of the man’s wife only solidifies Stanwick’s decision to remain a bachelor. Women were simply unpredictable and unstable if not taken care of properly.
Hélène Mirabelle wants few things in life. One, is to perform on the stage, and the other, is to be out from under the roof of her overbearing new family: Lord Bentley and the Trent brothers. Since her mother’s recent passing, Hélène's desire to return to Milan and the stage has only grown. A husband could never fit into the plans because no decent man would take an actress as a wife.
One fateful night leaves Hélène questioning if being an actress is the only thing she wants, while Stanwick begins to wonder whether all women are truly prone to madness and if they are, he may never get Hélène off of his mind.
“Yorkshire?” Hélène Mirabelle Trent glanced around the parlor decorated in pale blue and gold in the Acker London Townhouse.
“Yes,” her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Trent, answered. “We are to leave at the end of the week.”
“For Christmas, of course.” Elizabeth smiled. “Because the roads are unpredictable this time of year, we want to make sure we arrive before the twenty-third.”
Why must they travel to Yorkshire? Hélène wanted a simple, quiet Christmas with just her sisters and Maman, which was impossible. Maman had been dead for five months after succumbing to consumption, and Juliette, her older sister, was now married to Lord Acker. Neither she nor Hélène’s twin, Genviève, lived with Juliette and Acker, but with their recently discovered half-brother, the Earl of Bentley and his wife. Hélène would prefer to live in the home on Henrietta Street in Covent Garden near the theatres, but her brothers wouldn’t allow her to do so. The lot of them thought it unseemly.
Hélène hadn’t known her four half-brothers and half-sister even existed until seven months ago, yet it hadn’t stopped the gentlemen from taking over and dictating her life. At least Bentley and the brothers were allowing her to stay with Juliette during their short visit in London. She had missed Juliette terribly over the last few months.
“My grandfather insists my sister and I come home for Christmas this year,” Elizabeth explained.
“I don’t understand why we need to be there as well.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “Because my husband now has his three brothers and four sisters with whom to share the holiday. He has not had everyone before,” she explained. “When he said as much to my grandfather, it was decided that the entire family would go to Yorkshire for Christmas.”
Hélène clenched her teeth and bit back a retort. She was highly tired of others deciding what she would be doing, without once inquiring if she wished to participate. She wasn’t a child, incapable of making her own decisions, and hadn’t been treated as such for several years. Hélène wanted to tell them all to go hang and she would do what she very well pleased.
Elizabeth reached over and grasped Hélène’s hand. “There is an estate that borders Grandfather’s and stands vacant. He was able to rent it through Twelfth Night, and we will all stay there together.” She grinned. “As long as we are at the castle during the day and early evening, Grandfather will be happy. As long as we have the privacy of our own home, John is happy, which means I’m happy.” John was the youngest of four brothers.
“Grandfather has also taken control of the situation,” Elizabeth added.
Hélène knew the particular situation in question was sorting out how to let society know that her now-late father, the former Earl of Bentley, had married and sired a daughter when he still had a wife who was very much alive. He had let society believe she had been dead, along with his daughter, for nearly twenty-two years. “I don’t know how His Grace can change anything. It will be a scandal whether anyone likes it or not.”
“Grandfather is The Duke of Danby,” Elizabeth reminded her. “He has more power than any of us like to acknowledge. If anyone can defuse a situation, it is Grandfather. I can almost guarantee that when spring arrives, nobody will dare shun anyone in the family. ”
Hopefully the rented estate was large, and the castle even bigger.
“When Twelfth Night has passed, we will return to London. While Bentley returns to the manor, we will spend our days shopping and preparing you and Genviève for your coming out,” Elizabeth announced.
Just the thought of being presented to the ton as if she were eight-and-ten was enough to make Hélène break out in a rash. She was not a debutant and never had been, nor would she ever be, yet her brothers would not accept that fact.
Hélène wasn’t even sure she wanted to remain in London and knew she didn’t wish to go to Yorkshire. She wanted to return to Milan where she could continue acting, making costumes, and experimenting with different makeup and wigs. She belonged in Milan. She had to find a way to come up with the funds to buy passage, rent a room, and buy food until she could work again. And she needed to find the money before the Season began.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” Acker announced as he walked through the door with Juliette.
Acker thumbed through the post and dropped an envelope into the waste can.
“What is that?” Juliette asked.
“Another invitation to Dagger’s Haven.” Acker shook his head. “I don’t know why Stanwick keeps sending me vouchers. I am already a member, though I don’t visit often.” He smiled down at Juliette, who was apparently the cause of Acker not visiting this particular establishment.
Dagger’s Haven. It sounded slightly dangerous. “Is it a gaming hell?” Hélène asked.
Acker nodded. “No cheating, no women, and Stanwick always comes out ahead.”
Mr. Sebastian Stanwick lifted a silent toast to his departed friend, then tossed back the brandy. It was a bloody shame Arrington was gone from this world at such a young age and in such an inconceivable manner.
He reached behind his desk in the office of his gaming hell, Dagger’s Haven, and grasped the bottle of brandy to refill his glass. The shock of Lady Arrington killing her husband still lingered. He poured a large amount of the warm, brown liquor into his glass and set the bottle aside before taking a sip. One never knew what to expect from a woman. After all, they were the more fragile of the genders. Heaven knew that their dispositions could change with the wind, but to take a fire iron to one’s husband’s skull was rather extreme.
Stanwick didn’t blame Lady Arrington for being angry. Her husband had been dipping his wick in another woman, but to hit him over the head with a fire iron? And she hadn’t stopped there; she’d hit him several more times. At least, those were the rumors.
Had she beat him first and when he didn’t die, she struck him in the head? Or had she struck him in the head first and then proceed to beat his lifeless body until her anger was dispelled? Surely one whack against the skull was quite enough.
Stanwick shuddered at the thought.
Regardless, it was a horrible way to die. There were certainly less gruesome ways that Lady Arrington could have punished her husband.
Stanwick leaned back, tipping the chair so it balanced on the back two legs. He cradled the snifter of brandy as he tried to think of a reasonable punishment. Denying him access to her bed would do no good since he preferred another’s anyway. She didn’t hold the purse strings, so she couldn’t cut him off.
He stared up at the ceiling. The candles cast a bright light that dimmed into shadows, leaving half of the ceiling in near darkness. There really were no ways a lady could punish her husband. A gentleman had many options, such as denying her pin money, sending her to the country for life, or refusing to spend time with her. Really, a gentleman’s options were endless. No wonder ladies felt helpless in these matters. It might just explain much of their behavior.
Stanwick righted the chair, the front legs hitting the wooden floor with a thud. Women were unable to respond to uncomfortable situations with a reasonable emotion, Lady Arrington being a perfect example. Why didn’t gentlemen understand that women, as a whole, were delicate creatures in mind and in body, and great care should be taken so they were not distressed?
He leaned forward and placed his elbows on the desk, staring ahead at the closed door of his office. Were all women prone to madness if not taken care of properly?
The thought gave him pause. It was a frightening thought indeed, and all the more reason he was glad he never planned to marry. The pact he’d made following Arrington’s funeral only solidified that vow.
Staring into the fire burning brightly behind the grate, Stanwick relaxed in his chair again and took another sip of the brandy. He had yet to witness a woman behave the same as another woman would in a similar situation. Where Lady Arrington took a fire iron to her husband, his mother had retreated into herself until she was only a shell of the woman he had known as a child. After father lost everything they owned gambling he turned to drink. That is what killed him in the end. It was a shame he didn’t have the decency to die at home, but in his mistresses bed instead.
That had been the fatal blow to mother. She had given up. Too humiliated to go into public and too hurt to eat. His uncle, Earl Walcutt, did nothing to help mother, which probably angered Sebastian more than his father’s activities. Uncle could have easily seen that the debts were cleared, but did not feel they were his responsibility. However, he made certain Stanwick got an education that would rival any lord’s son but that was only because Stanwick was the heir. His uncle had only daughters and it was unlikely there would be a son in the future. Unfortunately, the neglect his uncle showed toward mother would be his downfall. Never would Stanwick marry and he most certainly would not sire the required heir. The title could go hang and disappear in to oblivion for all he cared. His younger brother might do the necessary duty, but Stanwick was not compelled to do so himself.
Besides, even if Stanwick felt the urge to procreate and provide a future for the family, he didn’t want to be saddled with a wife. There were too many instances where it do not go well for the husband.
The firelight reflected off the fire iron standing in its holder as the flames danced. He had never thought of it as a deadly weapon before, but it looked lethal from where Stanwick sat and nobody was even holding it. Beside it was a glass case filled with a variety of weapons. He could use the knives, swords, and guns with deadly accuracy, not that he ever had despite the rumors. Stanwick simply kept them on display to discourage anyone who thought to threaten him when called to the office to discuss gambling debts.
Stanwick looked from the case, back to the fire iron, and then to the small but heavy figurine of a child sitting at the corner of his desk. It had been a favorite of his mother’s, yet even that innocent object could be used to harm someone. In fact, almost any object could be used if the lady was in the frame of mind to kill her husband.
Just the thought of some woman, upset and bordering on madness, coming at him with a weapon sent a trickle of fear through him. If it were a man, Stanwick wouldn’t hesitate to use his dagger, but he could never physically harm a woman, no matter what she did. If he ever was the cause of scarred or bruised skin, Stanwick wasn’t quite sure he could forgive himself.
He took a drink, and the liquid burned down his throat, warming his belly.
If only women were more like men, life would be much easier.
Stanwick finished his drink and placed the glass on his desk. At least he was safe in Dagger’s Haven where no women were ever allowed.