Someone to Care Page 1

Author: Mary Balogh

Series: Westcott #4

Genres: Romance , Historical

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One

Marcel Lamarr, Marquess of Dorchester, was not at all pleased when his carriage turned abruptly into the yard of an undistinguished country inn on the edge of an undistinguished country village and rocked to a halt. He made his displeasure felt, not in words, but rather in a cold, steady gaze, his quizzing glass raised almost but not quite to his eye, when his coachman opened the door and peered apologetically within.

“One of the leaders has a shoe coming loose, my lord,” he explained.

“You did not check when we stopped for a change of horses an hour ago that all was in order?” his lordship asked. But he did not wait for an answer. “How long?”

His coachman glanced dubiously at the inn and the stables off to one side, from which no groom or ostler had yet emerged eagerly rushing to their aid. “Not long, my lord,” he assured his employer.

“A firm and precise answer,” his lordship said curtly, lowering his glass. “Shall we say one hour? And not a moment longer? We will step inside while we wait, André, and sample the quality of the ale served here.” His tone suggested that he was not expecting to be impressed.

“A glass or two will not come amiss,” his brother, André, replied cheerfully. “It has been a dashed long time since breakfast. I never understand why you always have to make such an early start and then remain obstinately inside the carriage when the horses are being changed.”

The quality of the ale was indeed not impressive, but the quantity could not be argued with. It was served in large tankards, which foamed over to leave wet rings on the table. Quantity was perhaps the inn’s claim to fame. The landlord, unbidden, brought them fresh meat pasties, which filled the two plates and even hung over the edges. They had been cooked by his own good wife, he informed them, bowing and beaming as he did so, though his lordship gave him no encouragement beyond a cool, indifferent nod. The good woman apparently made the best meat pasties, and, indeed, the best pies of any and all descriptions, for twenty miles around, probably more, though the proud husband did not want to give the appearance of being boastful in the singing of his woman’s praises. Their lordships must judge for themselves, though he had no doubt they would agree with him and perhaps even suggest that they were the finest in all England—possibly even in Wales and Scotland and Ireland too. He would not be at all surprised. Had their lordships ever traveled to those remote regions? He had heard—

They were rescued from having to listen to whatever it was he had heard, however, when the outer door beyond the taproom opened and a trio of people, followed almost immediately by a steady stream of others, turned into the room. They were presumably villagers, all clad in their Sunday best, though it was not Sunday, all cheerful and noisy in their greetings to the landlord and one another. All were as dry as the desert and as empty as a beggar’s bowl in a famine—according to the loudest of them—and in need of sustenance in the form of ale and pasties, it being not far off noon and the day’s festivities not due to begin for another hour or so yet. They fully expected to be stuffed for the rest of the day once the festivities did begin, of course, but in the meanwhile . . .

But someone at that point—with a chorus of hasty agreement from everyone else—remembered to assure the host that nothing would or could compare to his wife’s cooking. That was why they were here.

Each of the new arrivals became quickly aware that there were two strangers in their midst. A few averted their eyes in some confusion and scurried off to sit at tables as far removed from the strangers as the size of the room allowed. Others, somewhat bolder, nodded respectfully as they took their seats. One brave soul spoke up with the hope that their worships had come to enjoy the entertainments their humble village was to have on offer for the rest of the day. The room grew hushed as all attention was turned upon their worships in anticipation of a reply.

The Marquess of Dorchester, who neither knew the name of the village nor cared, looked about the dark, shabby taproom with disfavor and ignored everyone. It was possible he had not even heard the question or noticed the hush. His brother, more gregarious by nature, and more ready to be delighted by any novelty that presented itself, nodded amiably to the gathering in general and asked the inevitable question.

“And what entertainments would those be?” he asked.

It was all the encouragement those gathered there needed. They were about to celebrate the end of the harvest with contests in everything under the sun—singing, fiddle playing, dancing, arm wrestling, archery, wood sawing, to name a few. There were to be races for the children and pony rides and contests in needlework and cooking for the women. And displays of garden produce, of course, and prizes for the best. There was going to be something for everyone. And all sorts of booths with everything one could wish for upon which to spend one’s money. Most of the garden produce and the women’s items were to be sold or auctioned after the judging. There was to be a grand feast in the church hall in the late afternoon before general dancing in the evening. All the proceeds from the day were to go into the fund for the church roof.

The church roof apparently leaked like a sieve whenever there was a good rain, and only five or six of the pews were safe to sit upon. They got mighty crowded on a wet day.

“Not that some of our younger folk complain too loud about the crowding,” someone offered.

“Some of them pray all week for rain on Sunday,” someone else added.

André Lamarr joined in the general guffaw that succeeded these witticisms. “Perhaps we will stay an hour or two to watch some of the contests,” he said. “Log sawing, did you say? And arm wrestling? I might even try a bout myself.”

All eyes turned upon his companion, who had neither spoken nor shown any spark of interest in all the supposedly irresistible delights the day held in store.

They offered a marked contrast to the beholder, these two brothers. There was a gap of almost thirteen years in their ages, but it was not just a contrast in years. Marcel Lamarr, Marquess of Dorchester, was tall, well formed, impeccably elegant, and austerely handsome. His dark hair was silvering at the temples. His face was narrow, with high cheekbones and a somewhat hawkish nose and thin lips. His eyes were dark and hooded. He looked upon the world with cynical disdain, and the world looked back upon him—when it dared look at all—with something bordering upon fear. He had a reputation as a hard man, one who did not suffer fools gladly or at all. He also had a reputation for hard living and deep gambling among other vices. He was reputed to have left behind a string of brokenhearted mistresses and courtesans and hopeful widows during the course of his almost forty years. As for unmarried ladies and their ambitious mamas and hopeful papas, they had long ago given up hope of netting him. One quelling glance from those dark eyes of his could freeze even the most determined among them in their tracks. They consoled themselves by fanning the flames of the rumor that he lacked either a heart or a conscience, and he did nothing to disabuse them of such a notion.

André Lamarr, by contrast, was a personable young man, shorter, slightly broader, fairer of hair and complexion, and altogether more open and congenial of countenance than his brother. He liked people, and people generally liked him. He was always ready to be amused, and he was not always discriminating about where that amusement came from. At present he was charmed by these cheerful country folk and the simple pleasures they anticipated with such open delight. He would be perfectly happy to delay their journey by an hour or three—they had started out damnably early, after all. He glanced inquiringly at his brother and drew breath to speak. He was forestalled.

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