The Lord of the Highwaymen - Elizabeth Bramwell Page 0,1

what I meant, Mr. Haddington,” replied the valet with a dignified sniff. “Now, I will summon a Sedan chair for you, and you will arrive at the Melbournes’ masquerade precisely an hour late for a perfectly timed entrance.”

“You will not summon me a chair, for I can easily walk to Whitehall from here.”

Smith paused in the act of tidying away the hairbrushes and shaving equipment. His eyes had grown wide at the horror of William’s announcement.

“Not summon a chair? But Mr. Haddington! Your shoes!” he gasped, looking meaningfully down at William’s gleaming black footwear with their oversized brass buckles.

William assumed an expression of brotherly commiseration.

“Cheer up, Smith,” he said, putting a hand onto the servant’s shoulder. “If I fail to cut a dash once again, now you can blame it on my stubborn insistence to walk instead of protecting the integrity of my costume.”

William pushed the unloaded pistol into the waistband of his trousers and picked up his swordstick, trying very hard not to laugh as the valet muttered dark omens to himself at the dresser.

He left the chamber with a careless instruction for his valet not to wait up for him, knowing full well that Smith doubted William’s ability to remove his own clothing without help.

The evening was beautiful and clear, with only the slightest chill to the soft breeze, declaring that it was still early in the Season. William strolled along, his heart beginning to beat faster now that he was finally on the way to the ball.

He could not get this wrong, for his entire future was at stake. It had seemed a perfectly simple plan when he’d first thought of the idea of using the masquerade to pursue a flirtation and set on the idea of a highwayman as the perfect character to assume for the evening. So much thought and preparation had been expended on ensuring that he looked the part, it only just occurred to him that he’d forgotten to prepare for the most important thing.

He slowed his pace, his heart hammering. Any courage provided by the port flew away, and he began to feel daft rather than brave.

“Blast it all. You’re a fool, William,” he muttered.

He had absolutely no idea how to pursue the flirtation once he arrived at the masquerade. In truth, he had no idea how to successfully pursue a flirtation at all.

Carriages clattered down the street, but William did not respond to any of the people who hailed “Sir Highwayman!” or “Good evening, royal scamp!” as they passed by. Sedan chair bearers, their faces red, grunted as they carried their burdens along the road.

It was not surprising that they all seemed to be heading in the same direction. The ball, hosted by the Melbournes at their newly acquired mansion in Whitehall, would naturally be filled by all the Ton who were aligned to the Whigs, with a smattering of Tories. There had been rumors that Her Grace, the Duchess of Devonshire, would be in attendance, and even William, who was ten years younger than Georgiana Cavendish and had not known her at the height of her social powers, was enchanted by her. He’d even managed to have a conversation with Her Grace about fossils once and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her presence meant that everyone who was anyone would be there, and the resulting crush would be talked of for weeks.

Most importantly, though, Amelia would be there, for her late husband had been a vocal supporter of the reformist Charles Fox, and she maintained the allegiance to the Whig party.

His heart did a backflip at the thought of her. She was, without doubt, the only woman in the world for him, the only woman he believed he could make happy, and the only woman who his heart and mind longed for day and night.

All he had to do now was share his feelings with her and hope that he had not misread her attraction to him. The thought almost caused William to turn and flee back to his library to hide, miserable and alone, for the rest of his days.

“You! You, I say! What the devil do you mean by this?” came a voice from behind him, shaking him from his unpleasant reverie.

William turned, wondering who he could have offended so profoundly that they would shout at him in public as though he were a common dog. He raised a brow as he took in the sight of a tall fellow dressed in an identical costume to his own, with the