Elisabeth Fairchild
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by Elisabeth Fairchild

Signet Books
ISBN #0-451-19334-2
December 1997


Dunstan Hay, Earl of Erroll, confirmed bachelor, is unexpectedly captivated by the mysteriously veiled Englishwoman he encounters at the much touted medicinal spring in Tunbridge Wells. If Dunstan persists in his pursuit of her, his children will be bastards, his fortune lost to a distant cousin. His own mother encourages him to make the scandalous Lady Bainbridge his mistress. It is unlikely she will ever be free to marry him. Lady Bainbridge is a woman prepared to laugh at life's ironies, willing to face society's censure and the loss of all fortune rather than remain locked in a brutal, loveless marriage. The law renders divorce an almost impossible goal. The King and Queen themselves cannot master the art of an ammicable separation. And yet, Lady Bainbridge persists. What hope have a gentleman skeptical of marriage and a young woman bound and determined to rid herself of that very institution? A triumph of optimism, love and law--a Marriage 'a la Mode.

What the critics say:

4+ STARS --
"Trust Elisabeth Fairchild to do what can't be done and do it exceedingly well. Always a creative breath of fresh air, Miss Fairchild wonderfuly captures our imaginations as well as our hearts with this mesmerizingly beautiful romance."
- Melinda Helfer, ROMANTIC TIMES

4 STARS --
"I loved my visit to Tunbridge Wells, so will you. Have fun."
- Nan Doporto, AFFAIR de COEUR

"This was a fabulous book. Well worth reading. Elisabeth Fairchild tugs at the heart strings and delivers a fabulous symphony of romance."
- Gloria Lower, LITERARY TIMES

"A wonderful pair of lovers. An exceptional job."

4 Hearts --
"A most interesting and enjoyable regency that deals with the unromantic realities of women's positions during that era in a nicely romantic fashion."


Chapter One

Her laughter won his attention, but it was divorce first brought them together--the Pain and Penalties proceedings--the King's attempt to dissolve his marriage to his all too licentious queen. The brassfounders and coppersmiths of London would do glittering and noisy homage to their beleaguered Queen Caroline. Right down the busiest of thoroughfares to the Royal residence they marched, on this unseasonably warm fall afternoon, blocking traffic, right and left. Thousands swarmed Piccadilly to view the spectacle.

Two in particular were caught up in the press. Their carriages, headed in opposite directions, slowed to a standstill, side by side. And Melody Bainbridge was laughing, in the face of hardship, in the face of fear, in the face of a nation that made spectacle of itself and its opinions over the proposed separation of its king and queen. Her laughter won Lord Hay's attention away from the inc onvenient delay and the distant blare of a brass band.

Laughter was not a sound Lord Hay immediately found engaging or positive. He was not, himself, given to frequent or extended bouts of hilarity. A serious, observant child, he had grown into a serious, observant adult, and as such, too often had he heard the sound of laughter turned against him, a noise denoting not so much delight as it did base misunderstanding, sarcasm or spite. On occasion, especially with women, it made coy attempt to win his attention.

This laughter, however, was none of these. Refreshing, pleasant and unfettered, it flew from the downed window of the glossy black carriage that rolled to a halt beside his, birds of mirth given wing. The sound conjured up for Dunstan Hay, seventeenth earl of Erroll, an image of the woman from whose lips it spilled.

A pretty young woman, to voice such pretty amusement. A woman of intelligence, wit and sarcasm. A clever female--the most dangerous kind. His mother was clever, as had been Gillian. He knew well the workings of clever minds. Here was the kind of woman he generally avoided.

All deduced from a laugh, the humor with which he found himself in such unexpected harmony he involuntarily loosed a low chuckle.

"Hush my dear! Someone hears you." A matronly voice, caustic as a crow's, flapped from the carriage window.

Dunstan hushed himself obediently, but mere words neither clipped nor caged the vibrant wings of this flight of feminine mirth.

"Let them hear, cousin. Especially if it be Burke. I would have him hear my laughter." Her voice was musical, as arresting and impertinent as her laugh. "Too long have I stifled my amusement at the ridiculous. Too long have I stilled humor, opinion and temper. Fear muted me. No more, Blanche! This parade, this marvelously ludicrous parade--like the golden-egged-goose led before the princess-who-never-laughed--was meant to bring me amusement today."

For a moment he could not hear what she said, what her companion, Blanche, answered. He leaned forward in his seat,curiosity aroused--even went so far as to release the spring, further lowering the window. A sultry breeze wafted into the carriage, the last gasp of summer and on its breath the odors of the city. London always smelled foul to Dunstan, who far preferred the mild, green, heathered scent of home. This flat, riverside, coastal city smelled of too many unwashed humans packed into too few square miles, of too many horses and their offal, of rain wet pavement and burning coal, of food, ale, obnoxiously potent perfumes with which many tried to mask the smells, and always, an undercurrent of odor, the raw reek of sewage in the Thames. It was, combined, a smell he associated with his mother. It was always at this time of year he visited her.

"Yesterday it was crystal workers to lift me from the mopes." Like a Highland brook the stranger sounded, clear water chuckling over a rocky bottom. "A glittering cavalcade. Crystal enough that Caroline might have a smashing of it, if she so desired. Today, it is coppersmiths and brassfitters, all got up like knights in shining armor. Who will it be tomorrow I wonder?"

"Och, who indeed?" Dunstan murmured. He wanted to laugh with her, to ask her if she had been so fortunate as to witness the recent parade of Quakers, for they, too, dour-faced and sober, had taken to the streets in support of the Queen, though she be accused of behavior licentious, offensive, disgraceful and adulterous. Surely such irony was worth a chuckle--but Dunstan, shy of women, especially pert, clever, articulate young women, was far too polite to intrude upon two to whom he had yet to receive introduction, even with his laughter.

Mounted on white horses, eight red-faced knights approached, rattling and clanking. Plumed in white and surrounded by brass hatted squires, these artisans and craftsmen would be knights for a day. They winked and glittered in the sun, heroes from a bygone age, reborn. Huffing and puffing, they sweated beneath the weight of their conviction and the unwieldy poundage of too much metal. Brass pikes bristled formidably from every fist. Brass helms overhung every brow.

The crowd met them with huzzahs and cheers.

"They look a bit like Gladiators! Or is it centurions I mean?" The one called Blanche shouted above the noise.

Roundheads, Dunston thought. They were Roundheads off to storm the castle. An amusing bunch of Roundheads. No blood would be shed.

His dulcet voiced mystery madame was less charitable. "Little boys playing make believe in upside down cook pots, the better for baking already addled brains."

"The hats do look warm," Blanche agreed. "That tall fellow there has taken on a most alarming lobster hue."

Laughter again. Her laughter overpowered all other sounds as far as Dunstan was concerned. Breathless peals of gaiety, an engaging carillon, despite her mean-spiritedness toward his sex, quite contagious under the circumstances because he agreed with her. These men made themselves ridiculous, inviting laughter with a banner that read, "The Queen's Guard are men of metal." Dunstan hastily disguised as an unconvincing cough his involuntary guffaw.

"Melody! Do calm yourself!" the Blanche said. "Such a surfeit of uncontrolled laughter is quite uncalled for."

So, his mystery was named Melody, and a complex little tune she was. He would like to see as well as hear this Melody, if only to mark her as a woman to avoid. Such a female would undoubtedly make sport of him as cleverly as she did a troupe of tinsmith knights. The mannerless young ladies in London made habit of finding something laughable in his Scottish accent, in the simple, country style of his clothing, in the faux pas he invariably committed when forced to enter into a society far grander than that to which he was accustomed. Certainly he heard stifled giggles and snide remarks whenever he dared to don the family plaid this far south of Aberdeen.

Dunstan leaned his head out of the window. To no avail. All he could see was the bony backside of the ladies' coachman, who perched on a bullion trimmed hammercloth of hunter's green. The wheel of the chaise as well. The boxy coachlights. The black leather hood. Frustrated, but struck by an idea, he withdrew into the coach, closed the glass window, shutting out the noise of the crowd, and tapped on the trap above his head.

It opened, admitting the blare of brass, the shouts and laughter, the cheers and applause.

"Aye, milaird?" Swan called.

"Would you be so good as to have the horses take a wee step forward?" Dunstan asked.

"A step, sir? Just the one?"

"Aye. Can you contrive such a thing?"

"Do my best, milaird."

As the trap snapped shut, Dunstan returned to the window and stealthily lowered the glass. His ears were met by a medley of noise. He cocked his head, sifting sound for the one voice that concerned him.

". . . too rich a comedy not to find the fun in it," his Melody was saying. "Laughter, you see, is the language of optimism. I am, ever, the optimist--even now, when I feel as if my every word is overheard, my every move observed."

He wondered what she meant by that. Her voice caught a little in the saying of it, just as his own breath caught as, jerked briefly into motion, his view changed, the tandem chaise's window sliding by--an impression of fair hair, a bonnet with a feather, a crested door, and then, the horses gone too far, he confronted not the front wheel but the back, with little more to see than the blank black leather of the hindmost part of the coach.

Dunstan sighed, raked a hand through his hair and looked up muttering as Swan opened the trap to call, "Does that suit you, milaird?"

"Not quite the desired effect, laddie."

"Beggin' your pardon, sir. Canna' hear above yon racket."

"Well enough, man." Dunstan waved him away.

She was laughing again. He longed to observe her, to see if the merriness of a Melody's countenance echoed the merriness of her voice. Dunstan relied heavily on his observations in judging his fellow man--and woman. Faces were maps he had long ago decided. One might see a great deal of the roads a person had chosen by way of their expression.

Was laughter the language of optimism as this Melody would have it? He had always considered laughter the covert voice of cruelty. He leaned against the squabs near the window, the better to determine if his mystery madame was truly the optimist, or merely a hardhearted young woman unaware of her own callousness.

"Do I detect the hint of a smile, cousin?" she teased. "Admit it. You are as entertained as am I."

"This dreadful divorce is not at all to be laughed at." The Blanche she spoke to did not sound in the least bit amused. "It will be a painful disgrace. You should know that better than anyone."

"Oh, but it is laughable." Her voice sang out above the growing blare of trumpets. "The laws governing divorce must be laughed at or we should all be weeping at their unfairness. Are you not amused that a fat, gouty, old king who has entertained himself with dozens of paramours: Mrs. Fitzherbert, the Lady Jersey, Lady Conyngham. Can one still call them ladies when they have been so publicly flaunted?"

"But that the Queen should exercise such indiscretion as to conduct her affair in a tent, on board a ship! How could she imagine such conduct would remain private?" Blanche asked.

"Better ask how has the King the gall to proclaim his Queen in violation of their marriage vows because she conducts an illicit liaison with one Italian nobody when he has bedded, according to rumor, in addition to his ladies, the daughters of a turnpike keeper, a French courtesan, a Weymouth boarding house keeper, and that woman, Mrs. Crow, by whom he is said to have borne a son! It is ludicrous."

She laughed again, the sound flowing over him like water.

Dunstan could not stop a smile from taking possession of his lips. Not optimism, this. Nor was it inherently cruel. Her laughter was aimed at the irony of life, at the frailties and contradictions of the human condition. With such a target, he must laugh along with her.

"It is a mockery of a marriage," Blanche agreed.

His Melody no longer laughed.

"Many marriages are," he thought he heard her say, and could not agree more. Most of his friends, family and acquaintances found nothing but discontent in the married state. More reason, he thought, never to engage in the tawdry business of one.

"Scandalous in the extreme, this Royal inconstancy," Blanche said.

"Scandalous?" Miss Melody had to shout to be heard above the noise of the approaching band. "'Tis hypocrisy."

Dunstan nodded. Hypocrisy of the highest order!

The band, engulfing all other sound, came lee with the carriages, passed them by--faded, along with the cheers and shouts.

"All of this marching and posturing in support of a Queen who cuckolds her cuckolding husband!" The dulcet voice had taken on a biting tone. "Our laws should be deemed inconstant, rather than the Queen."

Dunston leaned close to the window, that he might stare, at what little was to be seen of the woman whose contempt intrigued him even more than her former cheer. Her gloved hand, pale gray, rested briefly on the lip of the windowsill. He had never before found fascination in so little to be seen of a person.

A fluttering of slender fingers, movement like the wing of a dove taking flight, as she said, "You are so good, cousin, to ask me to accompany you in this excursion to the Wells. It will be a blessing to remove myself from London. Away from the noise, the crowds. Away from the feeling I am followed."

Above him, Swann called to his horses, "Walk on."

"Away from this dreadful marriage," the woman named Blanche said flatly.

The coach lurched into motion. Faintly, Dunstan Hay thought he heard his mysterious, melodious Melody echo, "Yes. Away from this dreadful marriage."

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