A Sally for the Gentleman

Meredith Bond

Part I

James, Viscount Wythe, slapped the piece of paper onto the desk. Lord Wickford, owner of Powell’s Club for Distinguished Gentlemen, looked at the paper and then up at James.

“Is there a problem, my lord?” he asked, his voice quiet and calm.

“Yes, there is a problem!” James was quiet, but certainly not calm. In fact, he was furious. “I want to know where you came up with such an outrageous sum,” he demanded.

Lord Wickford picked up the piece of paper and looked at it more closely. “It seems that your drinking tab is the culprit.”

“I can see that,” James nearly growled. “I want to know why. I don’t drink that much!”

Lord Wickford frowned and turned to pull out a ledger from the bookshelf behind him. He paged through it slowly, jotting down numbers on another piece of paper to the right of the ledger. Just as James was beginning to lose his patience, Wickford finally stopped and tallied up everything he’d written down. He then compared that number to the number on the bill.

“Apparently, you did,” he said, finally looking up. He turned the page he’d been writing on around for James to see.

On the page was listed how many glasses of ale, rum and whiskey he’d consumed over the past month. The final number was tallied up and then multiplied at the bottom by… “Is that what you’re charging for a glass of ale?” The words exploded from James.

“Yes.”

“But… but… that’s robbery!”

“No. That is the cost of a glass of ale in this establishment. It costs even more at White’s and I don’t even want to mention what they charge at Boodle’s,” Lord Wickford said calmly.

James stared at him.

Lord Wickford sighed. “I’m sorry, my lord, but that’s what it is. If you have a problem with my prices, please feel free to take you custom to an alehouse where they charge considerably less. I’ve heard The Bell is quite, er, inexpensive.”

“The Bell?” James asked. He’d never heard of it.

“In St. Giles. Near Covent Garden. They actually have excellent ale, but I wouldn’t recommend the gin.” Lord Wickford gave him a smile.

James had a feeling the man was laughing at him. He picked up his bill, spun on his heel, and walked out.

“Ah, Lord Wythe,” the owner called after him.

James stopped and looked back.

“The bill? Were you meaning to pay it now?”

“I’ll pay it when I’m good and ready,” James said, then turned and walked out, slamming the door behind him.

When he was good and ready. James laughed to himself. When he had the funds was more like it, and he had no idea when that might be. Perhaps next month when the rents came in from his estate, but then, those were going to the upkeep of the home farm and to pay the wages of those who worked for him.

He paused to think about that. He’d already pared down the staff at Wythe Hall to a minimum, but surely there had to be one more person who didn’t need to be there. One more whose wages he could save. He would tell his steward to look into it. He wondered whether he could get rid of the steward. Holcomb was good and looked after everything on the estate, but he was also expensive.

No. James dismissed the thought. If he got rid of Holcomb, then he would have to look after everything himself and he hated agriculture, animal husbandry, and everything else that went into running a profitable estate. Just the thought of going and collecting rents each month made his stomach clench with anxiety. And besides, it had been Holcomb who had brought the estate back to self-sufficiency instead of losing money, as it had when James’s father had managed it. Soon, with luck, it would actually begin to turn a profit again.

But that still didn’t help James now. He had a pile of bills just like this one on his desk and no idea how he was going to pay them. Just the thought made him wish he could head toward this Bell right now. But no, first he had to collect his mother and show his face at some garden party. At least there’d be food there. He hadn’t eaten anything all day, and he was starving.

That evening, after having a light supper with his mother, he hired a hack and told the drive to take him to the Bell. The man had stared at him as if he’d just told him he wanted to go for a swim in the Thames.

“Ye’re sure you mean The Bell, what’s on Queen Street?” the driver asked.

“I don’t know where it is,” James admitted, “but I’ve heard the ale there is excellent. So if it is on Queen Street, then that’s where I’m going.”

“Ye’ll lose yer wallet,” the coachman warned.

James smiled. “Already thought of that. Didn’t bring one. In fact, I’ll pay you double the fare now and ask you to pick me up again at twelve. That way I’ll be sure not to lose that should someone waylay me.”

“Closes at eleven,” the coachman told him.

“Really? Why so early?”

“Most whats goes there gotta work in the mornin’,” the man explained.

“Ah, yes, of course. Very well, pick me up at eleven.”

“All right.” The coachman just shook his head, but clicked to his horses to move.

 

The Bell wasn’t nearly as bad as James had feared. It had just the one tap room as far as he could tell, and it was a bustling one. Nearly every seat was filled, but two men were just getting up from a table against the far wall while James stood near the door, looking around. He quickly brushed past the men and took the table before anyone else could do so.

A few minutes after he’d sat down, a pretty girl wearing a gown that looked as if it had once been blue but now was a dusty, faded color from too many washings came over to him. She had a dirty apron tied around her waist, and was carrying four empty tankards in one hand. “What’s a swell like you doin’ here?” she asked, as bold as brass.

James smiled up at her. “I plan on drinking. What’s a beauty like you doing here?”

She laughed. “I plan on servin’ ye.”

“Excellent! Then we are of accord. I’ll have your best ale.”

She nodded and went off to fetch it and dispose of the empties in her hand.

A few minutes later, as she placed the full tankard on the table in front of him, she sat herself down across from him.

He smiled at her expectantly before lifting the ale and saluting her with it.

She just sat there, staring at him.

“Well, the fellow who recommended this place to me was right about the ale being good, but he failed to tell me that it came with company,” James said as he put the now half-empty tankard back onto the table.

She laughed. “It don’t—usually. I’m just curious.”

“About?”

“You.”

“Ah, right. Since I’m a swell,” he nodded.

She just continued to stare at him.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“They call me Sally here.”

He cocked his head a little. “And what do they call you elsewhere?”

She shrugged. “Something else. What’s yer name?”

“James,” he told her, not certain it would be safe to divulge his true identity.

She smiled broadly as if she realized what he was doing, and then stuck her hand out. “Nice to meetcha, James.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” he said. He stood just enough so he could place a light kiss on her knuckles before resuming his seat.

She laughed. “Quite the gentleman, aren’t ye?”

He gave a little shrug. “Habits.”

She turned her head suddenly as there was a loud calling of her name from some men across the room. “Ye’ll have ta excuse me for a moment.”

“Of course.” James watched her go to the other table and then turned to watch the other barmaid who was also waiting on tables. It was odd, the other girl sauntered her way from table to table, her hips swaying provocatively as she did so. Sally merely walked. Oh, her hips swayed a little, a woman couldn’t stop that entirely, but she most certainly didn’t saunter. For some reason James found that much more enticing than all the swaying the other girl was doing.

He’d finished his ale by the time Sally returned to him. She must have noticed, for she came bearing another full tankard. She set it down in front of him and then, as before, seated herself in the other chair.

“So, James, why are ye here instead at one of them fancy clubs you gentlemen like? And don’t tell me it’s for the excellent ale. I’ll not believe that faradiddle, not fer a moment.”

He laughed. “You want to know the truth?”

She nodded.

He leaned forward across the table. “It’s because those clubs rob you blind. People say your purse will be stolen here? Well, it’s the same there, only they do it in a much more genteel fashion by sending you bills instead of simply picking your pocket.”

Sally burst out laughing. After a good minute of bold, loud laughter, she leaned forward and said, “You are so right! Yes, you are.”

James just smiled and nodded before toasting her once again with his ale.

She was looking at him critically when he lowered the tankard. “Ye aren’t going to tell me a bloke dressed as fancy as you can’t afford ta pay yer bills.”

James chuckled. “I may be dressed fancy, but I can assure you, my coat is two years old, my waistcoat five, and I don’t even remember when I purchased my boots.”

“Huh. So, what yer sayin’ is no matter how good a fella looks you don’t really know what’s in his purse,” she said thoughtfully.

James nodded and drank some more ale. It was odd, but this seemed to be stronger stuff than what was served to him at Powell’s. Must water the stuff down, he thought disgustedly.

He leaned forward conspiratorially and said softly, “You wouldn’t believe, Sally. I went to a garden party this afternoon just so I could have something to eat. I can barely afford the grocer’s bills.”

She widened her eyes at this. “So, yer not much better than most o’these sops,” she said, gesturing to the other people around the room. “’cept you can go to parties ta fill yer belly. These poor sods ain’t got that.”

James looked around the room, filled with working men and women. He turned back to Sally. “I suppose I’m not, except as you say, I can go to parties. But that also means that I’ve got to keep up appearances. I can’t, for example, cancel my membership at my club, or wear threadbare coats. My valet has gotten excellent at fixing my clothing.”

She huffed. “Ye’ve got a valet!”

“Have to! If I didn’t, I can guarantee the entirety of Mayfair would know five minutes after I let him go. And besides, he does do an excellent job of maintaining my clothes despite their age.”

She nodded. “Keepin’ up those appearances.”

“Precisely,” James nodded.

“Well, I suppose ye don’t have ta worry about having your pocket picked,” she said with a wry smile.

James laughed. “If anyone tried, they’d come up empty.”

Part II

Sally was still thinking of her conversation with James when she let herself in to her father’s house. The clock in the study was just chiming midnight. She’d helped clean up after the pub had closed and then had sat talking with Peter, the owner, for some time deciding who would get her wages this week. Each week she gave her earnings to a different family in need and Peter would always give a bit more of his own earnings as well, even though he could hardly afford it.

She wondered just how many people there were in Mayfair like James—living on the edge, just barely able to maintain the appearance of wealth.

She picked up her bed candle and made her way up to her room. Sommersby, her lady’s maid was sleeping in the chair by the dying fire.

Sally gave the woman a little shake of her shoulder, whispering, “How many times do I have to tell you not to wait up for me?”

Sommersby started, nearly jumping out of the chair. “Oh! Lady Susan, I… I… Your father was asking about you this evening. He might be beginning to suspect something, my lady.”

Sally drew down her eyebrows. “Why do you think that? I’m certain Lady Welles would vouch for me should he come asking.”

“I believe he spoke with another lady. Er, Lady Ayres? And mentioned your nightly card game to her.” Sommersby began to assist Sally out of her tavern dress. She had two she always wore when she worked at The Bell. Old ratty things that distressed Sommersby to no end, but they ensured that she blended in with the rest of the serving girls.

“Oh dear. I didn’t think to ask Lady Ayres to keep my confidence—not that she is aware of what I am doing. Only Lady Welles knows.” Sally allowed Sommersby to drop her nightdress over her head, the soft, ultrafine cotton like a cloud as it settled around her body.

“Well, I don’t think she said anything, but even that was enough to raise the suspicions of His Grace,” Sommersby said, as she pulled out the chair from in front of Sally’s dressing table.

Sally began pulling pins from her hair as she sat, until her hands were swatted away by her maid who took over the task. “I’ll have to pay a call on Lady Ayres tomorrow, I suppose,” Sally said through a yawn.

“Yes, my lady, that you do.” With the efficiency of many years of practice, Sommersby quickly brushed out Sally’s long blond hair and plaited it, tying it off at the end with a small piece of white ribbon.

“Thank you, Sommersby, for the warning and for assisting me this evening.”

“It’s no problem at all, my lady.” With a brief curtsy, the maid took the bed candle Sally had come in with to light her way to her own room at the top of the Duke of Anchester’s large Town home just a short walk away from Hyde Park.

~*~

“Lady Sarah, your father has requested your presence in his study.” The footman’s announcement made it quite clear that this was less of a request and more of a command.

She nodded and rose from where she’d been sitting in the drawing room with a book. Smoothing down her pale yellow gown with pretty blue embroidery along the hem and at the waist, she went directly to her father.

“You asked to see me, Father?” she said, after a light knock on the door.

“Ah, yes, my dear. Come in, come in.” The duke was sitting at his large walnut desk with various papers strewn about it as well as a fat, open ledger. He finished whatever it was he was writing and then carefully putting his pen onto the silver stand shaped like a miniature statue of a Greek woman wearing a chiton. Her hand was held to her side in such a way that a quill could rest in her arm were it stood upright on its tip. At her feet were miniature silver amphoras of ink and sand each in their own special holder. Sally thought it was very clever, if a little outlandish.

He picked up another piece of paper from one side of his desk and read it for a moment before smiling up at her. “Excellent news. We have been invited to dine with the Marchioness of Sidbury and then, of course, stay for the soiree she is to be hosting tonight.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Father, I was going to go—”

“To visit with Lady Welles? Well, no need, she will be at this dinner as well.” He smiled at her as a cat smiles at a mouse.

“Really? How lovely,” Sally said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.

“It is. Truly it is for, if you remember, the Marquess of Sidbury, the Marchioness’s son, is on the lookout for a wife.”

Sally frowned. “Isn’t he already married?”

Her father nodded. “He was. His wife died in childbirth, poor thing. Babe as well, so you will have no need to fear that you’ll be saddled with someone else’s child.”

Sally swallowed. “I am so sorry to hear that.”

“Yes, well, it happened a few years ago, so Sidbury is looking for another wife. I think you should get to know the man. Very pleasant fellow, Sidbury.”

“Isn’t he close to forty?”

Her father waved a hand. “Thirty-five at most. But may I remind you that you are, what? Five and twenty now?”

“Four,” she corrected him.

“Right, right. Four and Twenty. In any case, at your age you should be grateful for the attention of any gentleman, hmmm?”

Sally sighed. “I suppose I have no choice in this?”

“In marry Sidbury? Of course you do! You know I have never forced you to consider marriage with someone you felt would not suit. Although, I have to admit, I’ve rather come to regret that decision,” he added under his breath.

Sally gave a little laugh. “No, I meant my attendance at the dinner and soiree.”

“Oh! No, I’ve already assured Lady Sidbury that you’d be there. So, go on up and pick out a pretty dress to wear, my love.”

The dinner hadn’t been quite as awful as Sally had feared. She had been seated next to their host, but he talked enough for the both of them so she really didn’t have much to do but listen and nod and every once in a while come up with a relevant comment which he would invariably interrupt in order to explain something to her. At least his conversation was varied. Topics ranged from how wheat was grown to how to design a traveling coach for maximum comfort. She couldn’t say that any of it was interesting, but there it was. She sincerely hoped the soiree would be interesting.

It turned out to be a great deal more interesting than she could have imagined. Only an hour into gathering, she was promenading about the room with Lady Welles when she caught sight of James!

“What is it?” Lydia asked, trying to see what it was that had caught Sally’s attention.

“I, er.” Sally stared harder willing the man to turn and show his full face to her. At the moment all she could see was his profile. It was a very nice profile, but—yes, there. “Do you see that man over there speaking with Lady March?”

Lydia looked over as nonchalantly as possible. “The one in the bottle green coat—honestly, it’s almost strange to see a man in colors in the evening. Most only wear black since Brummel declared it should be so.”

Sally nearly chuckled. She knew precisely why he hadn’t kept up with current fashion, but she said nothing. “Do you know who he is?”

“No…” She dragged the word out as she thought about it. “Wait, I do believe I’ve seen him in the company of Lord Ranleigh.”

“Ranleigh? The man who recently wed the Princess of Aachen?”

Lydia nodded. “Aachen-Düren,” she corrected. “Yes, I think they’re friends.”

“Really? I wonder if I can get an introduction,” Sally said thoughtfully.

Lydia turned to look at her. “Going for high-flyers now, are we?”

Sally frowned at her friend. “We are not going for anything, and he is most certainly not a high-flyer. If the scandal sheets are to be believed, it was mere chance that Lord Ranleigh met the princess. And I’m sure that gentleman has nothing to do with the royal set, aside from having an old friend of his marry into it.”

Lydia just shrugged. “Well, why don’t we make our way over there and perhaps Lady March will notice you and make the introduction.”

“Excellent idea!” Sally picked up her pace so much that Lydia had to protest that they were drawing attention to themselves.

It seemed like ages, but finally Sally was able to walk nonchalantly in front of Lady March. She paused and then stopped. “Lady March! What a delightful surprise. I haven’t seen you for ages,” she said with mock surprise.

The woman gave a little laugh. “Perhaps if you attended more social gatherings that wouldn’t have been the case.”

Sally just smiled and waited for an introduction. She looked up at James, wondering if he would recognize her. He’d only seen her just about every evening for the past week, but would he associate her with a bar maid?

“Lady Sarah, may I present Lord Wythe?” Lady March began.

Sally nodded and held out her hand.

“My lord, this is Lady Sarah, daughter of the Duke of Anchester,” the lady finished.

James bowed over hand properly give the air above it kiss. “It is an honor, my lady,” he said giving her a smile.

“It is so lovely to meet you,” she said, politely, looking for any traces of recognition.

Oddly enough, he did narrow his eyes at her. “I say, have we met before?” he asked.

Sally’s eyes widened. “I… er…” She was so startled that she couldn’t think of a thing to say. Obviously, she couldn’t admit that they had—at The Bell.

He shook his head with a little laugh. “I do beg your pardon. I must be mistaking you for someone else.”

“Oh, not at all,” Sally said, trying her best to hide her smile.

The orchestra, which was just above them began the opening strains of a country dance.

Lord Wythe bowed to her. “Might I have this dance, Lady Sarah? If you do not mind, my lady?” he asked quickly, turning back to Lady March.

“Oh, not at all!” the lady said quickly.

“Thank you, my lord, I would like that a great deal.”

James turned out to be an excellent dancer, but at the end of it, he was looking a little piqued. Sally immediately realized that he must not have eaten dinner, hoping to get a meal here.

“My lord, would you mind very much escorting me in to where the refreshments are? I suddenly find myself quite famished,” she lied. Well, actually, now that she thought about it, she could eat a little something. She actually hadn’t eaten very much at Lady Sidbury’s dinner knowing that he father and the lady were watching her with Lord Sidbury.

“I would be most happy to,” Lord Wythe said, perking up immediately.

He filled a plate for her, and then one for himself and they sat at one of the little tables that had been arranged in the joining room. As they ate, he looked at her again and said, “You are certain we have never met?”

She just smiled at him. “Have you tried the lobster patties. They’re very good.”

Part III

 

A few days later, James walked into the The Bell prepared for a relaxing evening of enjoyable banter and flirtation. For a moment he was worried that Sally wasn’t there. He’d sat at his usual table and had been served a tankard of ale by the other maid.

He was nearly done and debating whether he should just go when Sally dropped down into the chair across from him. Immediately, the evening felt right again and all of his stress and worries slipped away. How very strange that this girl had such an affect on him!

“I was beginning to get worried,” he told her.

“Oh?”

“I thought you might not be here this evening,” he explained.

She smiled and reached out a hand across the table. “I was just helping in the kitchen.”

He placed his on top of hers for a moment, enjoying the moment of contact a great deal more than he probably should. The wouldn’t do. He sat back and withdrew his hand. “Do you know that there is a young lady in society who looks precisely like you?”

Sally started, nearly leaping from her seat.

“I know, it is quite incredible,” he said. He then smiled. “All it means is that if you ever get a desire to attend a fancy party, you need only lock the girl up in a closet, snitch a dress from her wardrobe and go out and enjoy yourself.”

Sally burst out laughing. “What horrid thing that would be! Ye must not like the girl.” She gave him a curious glance.

“Oh, no. I like her well enough, I suppose. Of course, she is not nearly as lovely, clever, and interesting as you.” He could hardly believe the bold words coming from his mouth, but he wasn’t entirely certain he could stop them. He had the overwhelming desire to make this girl happy—happy enough so that she would reach out and touch him again.

She chuckled instead. “Ye know ye can’t sweet talk yer way into my bed, now, don’tcha? Many a man has tried, but not one has succeeded.”

James was both insulted and relieved by her words. “I would never!” he said immediately. He then look her in the eye and said with complete honesty, “I respect you entirely too much to do such a thing, Sally.”

She sat back looking at him with a slight smile gracing her lovely pink lips. “I believe you,” she said, before getting up and going to tend to some of the other customers.

~*~

After James had finished his third tankard of ale, he got up and went to bar. He had a quiet word with Peter and then went out the back door toward the privy.

Sally waited a few minutes for him to do what he needed to do and then followed. She knew that was she was doing was probably wrong. She knew that if she were dressed as herself, she would never have the courage to do such a thing. But she wasn’t Lady Sarah just now, she was the bar maid, Sally. And Sally certainly wouldn’t hesitate a moment.

James was just coming from back toward the door when she waylaid him by grabbing onto his arm. He started and spun around, raising a fist in the air.

“Oh, goodness, Sally. You startled me. I thought you were a footpad,” he said, lowering his fist.

“Sorry. I was waiting for ye, but I suppose you didn’t see me in the dark,” she told him.

“No, I didn’t.”

She pulled him away from the door a little off to the right between the door and the window into the kitchen where they would have a little privacy. “You said that you respected me,” she reminded him, keeping her voice quiet.

He nodded. “I do,” he agreed. His quiet baritone sent chills of excitement through her.

Never in her life had she reacted this way to a man. Never had she wanted to do this. “Then I must apologize in advance because I suppose I must not respect you as much as you do me.” She then raised herself up onto her toes and kissed him.

He was startled at first, but after a moment he settled into the kiss, even putting his arms around her. As his hands settled, one on her waist, another on the small of her back, he began to take over, deepening the kiss.

Sally melted into him enjoying this a great deal more than she should. What was it about this man that so attracted her? It was more than just his handsome face. More than just his clever humor. She hated it when her mind suggested that it was because he was in need. She had always needed to care for those who didn’t have as much as she—it was why she was here, working in the pub despite being the daughter of an extremely wealthy duke.

Of course, James didn’t know that. He thought she simply looked very similar to… well, herself, she thought with a laugh. She wrapped an arm around his broad shoulders and ran her fingers through his thick, soft, dark hair. Oh, dear, she was enjoying this much too much, and judging by the feel of him pressing against her body, he was as well.

She pulled back, resting her head on his chest so she could catch her breath. She felt him give a quick kiss to the top of her head before he stepped away. “And what happened to no one ever making it into your bed?” he asked quietly, his voice rougher than it had been just a minute ago.

She shook her head and looked up at him. “That wasn’t an invitation. It was just…”

He waited for her to collect her thoughts. For her to explain what that had been. But she didn’t know. She gave a little shrug and a laugh. “It was just something I felt I needed to do.”

Before she could damn herself any further, she turned and strode back into the pub and got back to work. It was nearly closing time.

~*~

James’ scattered thoughts slowly came back into focus. It took him a good few minutes though before he think clearly, though. Sally had taken him completely by surprise. He’d never expected her… never expected that kiss. When he’d first come to The Bell it was merely to get a good glass of ale at a decent price. He never expected to—he stopped himself. To what?

To fall in love? Don’t be ridiculous, he told himself sharply. He was not in love. Sally was a bar maid, for goodness sake! He was a viscount—and a poor one at that. It was never going to happen. But still… he did wonder about her.

Did she have a husband? A family?  He was certain she never would have kissed him if she did. But then, where did sweet young women live in this area? Perhaps she had parents or siblings who she cared for who relied on her meager wages to put food on the table. He suddenly found himself incredibly curious about this young woman who had just kissed him with such passion he could have been knocked over with feather.

Inside the pub, he paused to pay his tab to the owner and then went outside. His hack was waiting for him as it always was, but tonight he asked the fellow to pull around the corner and asked him to wait another half hour.

“I’ve got something I need to do before I’m ready to go home.”

The fellow shrugged, but did as he was asked, probably thinking James even odder than he already thought he was.

James walked across the street and leaned against the building there, waiting and watching the door of The Bell. He knew he oughtn’t to be doing this, but his curiosity… he had to know. He had to know if she had that husband he dismissed so quickly. He had to know more about her.

He’d only been waiting about twenty minutes when a small coach pulled up blocking his view of the door. He jogged back across the street in time to see Sally leave the pub and climb into the waiting coach. Running around the corner to where his hack stood waiting, he leapt in and called out to the driver, “Follow that coach!”

The man perked up immediately and set the horses into motion neatly pulling out into Queen Street. James leaned out the window just enough so he could watch the coach in front of them. “Don’t get too close,” he called up to the driver. “I don’t want them to know they’re being followed.”

“Right dicked in the knob,” he heard the man mutter, but he did as James asked, slowing down to allow another hack get between them and the coach.

James couldn’t believe it. He watched the neighborhoods get better and better as they followed Sally’s coach. He supposed he shouldn’t be too surprised. It had been a very nice looking coach she had gotten into, certainly nothing a poor serving girl would have access to. A cold, uneasy feeling began to creep through James. Was she a maid who worked for a nobleman earning a little extra money on the side? But no, that didn’t make sense. Maids were called upon to serve day and night. She wouldn’t have had the time. But then…

“It’s turnin’ down that alley,” the coachman called back to James. “Whatcha want me to do?”

“Keep going. Just drive past and take me home,” James replied. He watched as the coach drove down a small alley way along side the large town house of someone extremely wealthy. He would ask around the following day and find out who lived there, but he didn’t like this. He didn’t like it at all.

Part IV

“The Duke of Anchester?” James repeated. He’d sent his valet out early the next morning to discover who owned the house he’d seen Sally get dropped behind.

“Yes, my lord. He is an older man—”

James waved a hand. “Yes, yes, I know who he is.” Why did the name sound so… He jumped to his feet. “Lady Sarah!”

“Er, yes, my lord. He has a daughter, Lady Sarah,” the valet confirmed. “According to hearsay, she is very well respected by the staff in the house. Her mother doesn’t care for Town and so stays in the country at the duke’s seat. Lady Sarah acts as hostess for any entertainments the duke may have in his home.”

James frowned. “Have you heard anything about her going out in the evenings?”

“My lord?”

“Ask around and find out if she goes out regularly in the evenings,” James told him.

“I, er, well, according to the footman I spoke with he did mention that Lady Sarah does leave the house most evenings. It is understood that she spends a good deal of time with Lady Welles, who is a particular friend of hers.”

“Lady Welles. And she visits her almost every evening?”

“Yes, my lord.”

James patted the man on his back and slipped him some coins. “Excellent job, Franks. Excellent job.” Well, James knew where he was going that evening, and he had an odd suspicion it wasn’t to Lady Welles’ home.”

~*~

Sally had only been at the pub for about fifteen minutes when James walked in and took his usual seat.

She got him a tankard of ale and went over to deliver it to him. “Ye’re ‘ere early tonight,” she said, placing it in front of him.

He glowered up at her. “Sit down.”

She took a small step back. “What’s that?”

“I said, sit down. Or perhaps I should say, please sit down, Lady Sarah.”

Sally’s heart began to race, but she dropped down into the chair across from him.

“How did you—”

“I followed you home last night. I wanted to see if you had a husband. Wanted to ensure you had a safe place to live. I hardly have two farthings to spare,” he said leaning forward across the table, “but I was going to see that you had a safe, comfortable place to stay if it looked as if you didn’t.” His deep voice was practically a growl.

Sally dropped her gaze to her hands, neatly folded on top of the scarred table.

“And what do I find?”

“I have a safe place to live.”

“The hell you do!” he said. She’d never heard him use such strong language before. “You live like a princess.”

“Keep your voice down, please!” she whispered.

“Oh, you don’t want all the poor slobs here to know they’re being waited on by the daughter of a duke?”

“No, I do not!” she said fiercely.

“What I don’t understand is why you do this. Is this some sort of game to you? A lark?”

“No! I earn good money here—and then leave it along with more from my own pocket for those who live in the horrid neighborhood.”

He sat back looking a little confused. “So, this is some sort of charity?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Why not just—”

“Because these people don’t like accepting charity. If I work for the money, they feel as if I am rightfully earning what I give them. These are hardworking people, James—those who have jobs. They are proud people.”

“So, you work for the money you give them.”

“In front of them, so they know.” She nodded.

“And that makes them feel better about accepting your assistance.”

“Yes.”

He fiddled with his tankard, but nodded. “It’s a good thing you do,” he finally admitted. But then he looked up at her. “Why didn’t you tell me who you were?”

She frowned at him. “I don’t like letting it get about.”

“Not even when I met you at Lady Whoever’s soiree?”

“Lady Sidbury,” she told him.

“Yes, that one.”

“I… I thought you might be embarrassed,” she admitted. He had told her so many private things about his financial situation, she had been certain he wouldn’t have appreciated learning who she truly was.

She watched as James emptied his tankard. “You’re right. I would have been. And after last night… in the garden… I am even more so. Good night, my lady.” He got up and walked out leaving a few coins on the table—more than the cost of the one tankard of ale.

Sally could do nothing but drop her head down onto the table.

She started when she felt a hand on her back. Looking up, she saw Pete slip into the chair James had vacated. “Ye like the toff, don’tche?”

She nodded miserably. “I kissed him,” she admitted.

Pete’s eyes widened.

“In the garden, last night.”

He pursed his lips in thought. “But now he’s upset with ye?”

“He followed me home and learned who I am,” she explained.

“Oh. I woulda thought that’d make ‘im happy—knownin’ ye were like him.” Pete scratched his head trying to figure this out.

“I’m not like him. I…” she sighed. “James may be a nobleman, but he’s an impoverished one. I don’t know how or why, but he can hardly afford to put food on his table and yet he has to maintain appearances—possibly so he can find a rich wife.”

“Oh, I see.” He frowned. “Never thought toffs could be poor.”

She nodded, but she’d begun to think. “He needs a rich wife,” she repeated under her breath.

“So ye said.”

She suddenly felt so light. So happy. She smiled at Pete. “He needs a rich wife. I need a husband to appease my father.”

Pete chuckled. “Sounds like ye might got somethin’ there.”

“Yes, but… do you think he likes me? Do you think he would agree?”

“Ye can’t know until ye ask ‘im, can ye?”

She smiled and then jumped from her seat. She bent down and kissed Pete on his scruffy cheek. “Thank you.” She pulled off her apron and tossed it on the bar on her way out.

~*~

James sat nursing the glass of brandy he’d saved to serve to guests if they ever had any. He couldn’t really afford to drink very much of it, not if he wanted to have something… who was he kidding. They almost never entertained any more. They couldn’t afford to.

Next month, he told himself. Next month he’d have the rents and, well, at least a little money in his pocket. It wouldn’t be much, but it would be something. He glanced over at his desk and the pile of bills that sat there. And then took another tiny sip of his brandy when what he really wanted to do was down the whole thing and then another and another.

He couldn’t believe he kissed the daughter of the Duke of Anchester. What a bloody fool he was! That she had initiated the kiss tickled the back of his mind, but he dismissed it. He had kissed her. He had pulled her closer and pressed himself against her.

He groaned in disgust.

He’d thought he had feelings for her. Well, he suppose he did because he’d certainly had feelings for the bar maid, Sally. And since Sally was Lady Sarah…

The sound of knocking on the front door made him look up. Who could be visiting at this hour? Maybe Dev, or another of his friends? But no, Dev was at his estate tending to his horses. He’d just purchased a stud to cover two of his mares. And James hadn’t really kept in close contact with anyone else.

“I beg your pardon, my lord,” the butler said after scratching at the door. “There is a young… er… person here to see you. She says her name is Sally.”

James jumped to his feet. “Sally? What is she doing here?”

“Should I show her in?” the butler said with obvious distaste.

“Er, yes. Please do.” James put down his drink and brushed back his hair. He was attempting to brush the creases from his sleeve when the butler returned and announced, “Er, Sally, my lord.”

“Thank you, Miller. And, er, yes, leave the door open,” James told his butler. He didn’t want there to be any more impropriety than there already was—meeting a young lady alone. But she had come to him! Young ladies did not call upon gentlemen.

“It’s perfectly all right,” Sally, er, Lady Sarah said, pushing the door closed behind the butler.

“My lady, that is not wise,” James objected.

“Why? He doesn’t know who I am,” she said with a bright smile and a glance down at her dress. It was the same faded blue one she’d worn almost every time he’d seen her at The Bell.

James shrugged. “Can I offer you some brandy? I don’t have any Madeira or Ratafia, I’m afraid.”

“No, thank you.” She came forward.

He gestured for her to take a seat but she shook her head and kept coming forward. When she was barely a foot away, he took a step backward. “Lady Sarah…”

“Sally,” she corrected.

“Sally?”

She nodded. “I’ve always been called that by my parents. It’s a nickname.”

“Oh, yes.”

She took another small step forward. He took another backward, but found himself up against his desk.

She smiled, placing one foot one either side of his. She then reached up and pulled his head down and began to kiss him.

For a moment he wanted nothing more that deepen that kiss. To taste her and feel her in his arms. To run his hands along the lush curves—No! He pulled away. “Sally, this isn’t right,” he protested.

She looked up at him. “It’s only not right if you truly have no feelings for me. Do you?”

He looked down at her. “Do I?”

“Have feelings for me.”

He swallowed and then moved sideways to escape from her proximity. He couldn’t think when she was that close. “Even if I did, it would be wrong.”

She put her hands on her hips. “Why? You’re a nobleman. I’m a noblewoman.”

“You’re the daughter of a duke, I’m an impoverished viscount,” he pointed out.

She nodded. “A viscount who should be marrying a girl from a wealthy family—like mine.”

“I refuse to do so,” he stated. He’d thought of doing just that. It would have solved all of his problems. But he wasn’t desperate enough to sell himself and his title, not just yet.

“Then how about if you marry a girl who you care about, instead?”

He stared at her.

“And who cares about you.” She started advancing on him once again.

He put his hand out to stop her. “You care about me?”

“I kissed you didn’t I? Twice!” she pointed out with a little laugh.

His heart started beating faster. “You did.”

“I assure you, I wouldn’t have done so if I didn’t care.”

“I… I followed you,” he started, refusing to even think about what he was about to say. It was probably not the smartest thing, but he was going to do it anyway. He was going to lay himself bare and vulnerable in front of this beautiful, clever, sweet daughter of a duke and bar maid at a tavern. “I followed you because I wanted to look after you, because I…” he swallowed. “I think I might be falling in love with you.”

She started forward again, this time with a brilliant smile on her face. “Good. Because I have fallen in love with you as well, you sweet, wonderful man.”

“You’re certain,” he started, stopping her from pulling his head down for another kiss.

“Absolutely. Now kiss me.”