Home > Heiress in Red Silk (Duke's Heiress #2)

Heiress in Red Silk (Duke's Heiress #2)
Author: Madeline Hunter

 


Chapter One

Eccentricity ran through the Radnor family much like an orange thread weaving in and out of a tapestry. Some members showed none of the color, while others were ablaze with it. Kevin Radnor was still a young man, so it remained to be seen how much the orange would dominate his section of the tapestry.

He already displayed some evidence of the trait that so marked his father and his uncle. When a subject captured his attention, he investigated it thoroughly with a notable singlemindedness. Thus, at not yet thirty years of age, he had acquired an extraordinary expertise in fencing, mechanics, engineering, moths, ancient Greek, chemistry, and carnal sensuality.

It was the last of those investigations that brought him in late March to a brothel in the neighborhood of Portman Square. His attention had been distracted of late by a business problem he faced, and only pleasure might relieve his brooding. The house he visited was known for women who had joined their profession out of enthusiasm, not desperation. That absolved his conscience of furthering the ruin of some poor female, and also appealed to him because with enthusiasm came both invention and joy.

He sat stripped to the waist in the chamber of a prostitute who used the name Beatrice while the pretty, red-haired woman slowly removed her own garments. Already his concerns had receded, especially because Beatrice turned disrobing into an art. At the moment, down to her chemise and hose, she was bending over to roll down one stocking. Her pose revealed her round, plump bottom which, Kevin noticed, had been rouged along the cleft.

A scratch at the door caught Beatrice just after she pulled off the stocking.

“I’ve a gentleman here,” Beatrice called out.

“I only wanted you to know that it has come. The new bonnet,” a muffled woman’s voice said. “It is so lovely.”

Beatrice began on the other stocking, but Kevin could see that the news of the bonnet had most of her attention now.

“Go and see it,” he said. “I don’t mind.”

She skipped over to him and gave him a kiss. Then she hurried to the door and opened it halfway.

“See?” the other woman said.

“Oh my, she outdid herself this time,” Beatrice said. “Look at that ribbon and how intricate she wove it.”

“Rosamund is the best,” her friend said.

Rosamund. The name might have been shouted, it garnered Kevin’s attention so thoroughly. He stood and joined the women at the door. “I have a fancy for pretty bonnets,” he said. “Let me see it.”

The bonnet was indeed handsome, with blues and pinks appropriate for the coming spring. Some cream cloth had been neatly sewn to cover the high crown, and the ribbons around its base showed painstaking effort to create little rosettes.

He admired the bonnet, but it was the hat box on the floor of the corridor that interested him much more. He lifted it, so the bonnet might return to its home. A label pasted to its side carried the words Jameson’s Millinery, Richmond.

He kept his expression impassive, but as soon as the door closed, he strode to the chair and picked up his shirt.

“What?” Beatrice exclaimed. “I thought—”

“I suddenly remember I must attend to something this evening. Do not worry, I will pay Mrs. Darling all the same.”

Beatrice pouted. “I was expecting some fun. You are one of my favorites.”

“As you are one of mine. Another night, however.”

Fifteen minutes later, Kevin pulled up his cantering horse in front of a house on Brook Street in Mayfair. He tied his mount to a post, then bounded to the door. When it opened, he pushed past the servant and ran up the stairs, ignoring the bleating objections sounding behind him.

He barged through an apartment, throwing open doors until he entered the dimly lit bedchamber.

A woman cried out in shock.

“Hell, Kevin,” a man yelled.

That brought him up short. Two pairs of eyes glared at him from the bed. The woman’s peered over the edge of a sheet pulled up to her nose. “Honestly, Chase, sometimes your family is not to be borne,” she said furiously.

“My sincere apologies, Minerva. Chase. Truly. Only I have found her. I have finally found Rosamund Jameson.”

* * *

Rosamund hoped the lady hovering outside the window of her shop would enter. She looked to be of quality, judging by the blue, woolen pelisse that fit her as only the best-made clothes did. Her bonnet had cost a good penny too, although Rosamund could not help reworking it in her mind. She would have found a stronger shade of blue, with more brilliance that would contrast better with the woman’s very dark hair. The brim could use a touch of trimming too. The lady had a lovely face and impressive dark eyes, and it was a shame to use a brim that made so much shade.

But unfortunately the lady walked away, and Rosamund returned her attention to Mrs. Grimley, who had decided to purchase one of Jameson’s Millinery’s last remaining winter hats. Mrs. Grimley had demanded a lower price because the season was over, and Rosamund had agreed. The hat sported some fur, an indulgence she regretted. That fur had been admired by her patrons, but it made the cost too high for her clientele. That meant her own money had sat in that hat all winter.

“Can I interest you in commissioning a bonnet for the spring garden parties?” she asked while she placed the hat into one of her special boxes. They cost more than she liked, but all the good milliners used them, and her ambitions required she swallow the expense. She had enjoyed choosing the pasteboard with its purple hue that contrasted nicely with her cream, printed label.

“I will think on it,” Mrs. Grimley said. “I am traveling up to London and will be visiting shops there with my sister, but I may still have need of something when I return.”

Rosamund smiled, but her heart sank. She would have never been able to open this shop in London and was grateful that Richmond afforded her the opportunity to start her business. Richmond was very close to London, however, and her best patrons gave her one commission to every five they left in London. One day she would have a fine shop in Mayfair that could charge double what she did in Richmond, but she needed to take matters one step at a time.

“I will look forward to creating a masterpiece for you, should you have that need.” She tied the cord over the top of the box and handed it to Mrs. Grimley. “I’ll have them caps you wanted in a day or so and will send them to your home. They be almost finished.”

She did not find much artistic fun in caps, but she sewed a great many of them. Even her wealthiest patrons felt there was no need to pay London prices for such utilitarian items. Caps kept her shop alive, in fact. That and the commissions that came from London, from old friends like Beatrice.

She thought about the bonnet she had sent there two weeks ago, and pictured Beatrice wearing it in the park. She had invented a new way to make grosgrain rosettes for it, a method she would not share with anyone else. Perhaps one day fine ladies would seek her out in London because of those rosettes.

Mrs. Grimley took her leave. Rosamund tidied up the counter, then turned to rearrange some trim on a shelf. She always let the ends fall out of their boxes and baskets, reflecting the light to show off their color. She used them as lures, hanging down to catch the eye of wealthy fish swimming by.

She was dusting the looking glass set near the window, the one on the table where she fitted hats and bonnets to patrons, when she noticed the lady in the blue pelisse was peering once more through the shop’s window. Rosamund smiled while she dusted, to encourage her to enter.

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