Unveiled (Turner 1) - Page 48

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Margaret stared at him. “The question of our legitimacy, you mean.”

“Yes. Of course that’s what I mean.” He smiled at her and reached across the carriage to pat her hand. “You’ll see. Once we have been legitimized, everyone will know you matter once more. You won’t need Turner at all.”

Richard simply didn’t understand. Her own father had called her useless. Before she’d met Ash, she’d begun to feel flattened to the point of nonexistence.

But the sort of honor Richard was talking about was flattery, not truth. It wasn’t real. Honor that was given to you because of how you were born—that was just a delusion. She wasn’t going to rely on Parliament—or the people around her—to provide an assessment of herself. They were fickle and untrustworthy.

She shook her head mutely and looked out the window. Ash will not be the only one to value me for myself, she vowed. There will be others—Parliament or no Parliament.

“Why didn’t you tell me about the trick Frederick played on you?” Richard continued. “The wedding had been delayed so many times, I thought you didn’t wish to marry. And that I understood all too well. You should have spoken to me.”

“Truly? You would have wanted to hear that your sister let herself be despoiled?”

“No, of course I don’t wish to hear any such thing. But when such things are true, I ought to know them. So that I can bludgeon the fellow in question into coming up to scratch.”

“Under the circumstances, I’m rather glad you didn’t. I thought I loved him when I was nineteen. Now I’m aware of precisely how pitiful he is. I’m glad I’m not tied to him.” She cast her brother a look. “Thank you for not lecturing me.”

Richard shrugged. “Besides, I can understand what you mean. We left you here by yourself. No doubt you were lonely. And Ash Turner is such a brute of a man.” He glanced away uneasily, running a finger along the edge of the window. “I’ve heard some women appreciate that sort of thing. I wouldn’t know anything about that. In any event, I’m hardly the one to lecture you on chastity.”

Chastity. Margaret smiled and bit back a wave of bittersweet nostalgia. “I’ve heard Edmund gibe you about it from time to time about it, when he thought I wasn’t listening. No mistress? You could practically contribute a chapter to Mr. Mark Turner’s book on chastity.”

Richard looked up at her. “Mark Turner is writing a book on chastity? How strange. I wouldn’t have expected it of him. Do you recall the summer that Edmund returned home from Eton, his arm broken in three places?”

Margaret nodded. “He spent the entire first two months complaining bitterly about not being able to ride, not being able to swim. In truth, I think he enjoyed the opportunity to order the staff about.”

“Mark Turner broke Edmund’s arm—popped it right out of the socket, in fact, and cracked his elbow. He blacked his eye and sprained his ankle. Fights break out at school. But there’s a gentleman’s code that governs such affairs. One doesn’t break limbs. From what Edmund told me, it was done quite deliberately. So you’ll imagine my surprise when you tell me that such a fellow thinks about chastity. Both our father and I tried to have him tossed out of school. I can only imagine how much money Ash Turner had to lay out to stave off that eventuality.”

Margaret shut her eyes. If she had known only the Turners, she’d have said her brother was exaggerating, even lying. She couldn’t imagine Mark intentionally breaking anyone’s arm. He was physically capable of it. But mentally? Morally?

“I don’t blame you,” her brother said softly. “After all, I’ve been taken in by the Turners before, too. Once, I thought Mark was quiet and sweet.” He shook his head. “As for Smite…” Richard’s gloved fingers curled around the leather strap hanging from the carriage roof. “If you ever wish to hate someone,” he finally said, “befriend him first. I’ve found it works wonders.”

“But I’ve met him,” Margaret said.

Richard sat up. “You’ve met him? What did you think?”

“Harsh,” Margaret said. “Harsh, but fair.”

Richard shook his head. “Just wait until he sits in judgment over you. There’s not an ounce of mercy in him. Coupled with his eldest brother’s unholy talent for turning the world on its head…” Richard sighed. “After that fight, I talked with the headmaster and convinced him to toss Mark out, as soon as the boy was capable of walking again. But somehow, Turner walked in not twenty-four hours after the incident and performed his magic. I still don’t know how he could have arrived so quickly. There hadn’t been time for the news to travel. The whole thing must have been deliberate. And somehow, when he left, the headmaster was smiling, and the youngest Turner stayed on the rolls.” Richard shook his head. “Even then, everything he touched seemed to magically align. At the time, he seemed ancient. But now that I think of it, he wasn’t even an adult.”

Ash wouldn’t have let a little thing like age stop him. The only part of the story that rang true with Margaret was that Ash had come to his brother’s aid. But how could everything else be false? She couldn’t imagine Richard trying to have Mark ejected from school for a triviality. Richard rarely paid attention, but when he did, he was remarkably fair-minded.

“Maybe,” she said, “it was all a misunderstanding.”

Richard glanced at her, and let out a sigh. “Margaret, misunderstandings don’t break arms. Misunderstandings don’t file suit in ecclesiastical courts to bastardize the issue of a duke. Misunderstandings don’t get orders from courts of equity, allowing them to catalog the worth of an estate, so that the so-called untrustworthy offspring deliver his ill-gotten inheritance intact. I know that Ash Turner has got you all tangled about. But you are being used as a pawn on the board. The sooner you come to grips with that, the more likely we are to prevail. This is not a misunderstanding, Margaret. It’s a war.”

CHAPTER NINETEEN

London. November, 1837

LONDON LOOKED DIFFERENT to Margaret than it had the last she’d been here.

Then, the news had come at her all in a rush, too fast for Margaret to comprehend. The suit in the courts. Her illegitimacy. The dissolution of her betrothal, her mother’s death and the sudden, inexplicable onset of her father’s illness. She’d felt barely able to keep her knees from buckling beneath her. And so when the women she had called her friends her entire life had simply turned their collective backs on her, she had given up. She’d fled back to Parford Manor and buried her own bewildered hurt in caring for her ailing father.

The change of the seasons had exerted some little effect on the scenery. Now, instead of being dark gray, foggy, drizzly and clouded over with coal dust, the city appeared to be light gray, foggy, drizzly and clouded over with coal dust. The flowers sold by the vendors had altered; fruit sellers walking the streets had a few baskets of late berries, instead of sacks of wizened apples.

But the biggest difference was not in the weather or the wares. It was something Margaret held deep inside her. London looked different when you came back looking for a fight. Over the past week, all of the best people had returned to town once again. Parliament prepared to sit once again. As a result, knockers had been hung on doors and invitations had begun to flourish, scattering on the wind like seeds from some great plant of etiquette.

This time, Margaret wasn’t going to retreat to the countryside to let her wounds fester.

Which was why for the fourth time in twelve days she stood on the threshold of the townhouse where Lady Elaine Warren lived. Margaret’s maid waited on the pavement behind her. When Margaret had first begun tilting at this particular windmill, her maid had been wary and uneasy. After over a week of battle, the woman had become inured to the prospect of rejection. Now she sported only a dour expression, shifting from foot to foot. From the slouch in her chaperone’s shoulders, Margaret could guess her thoughts: Can’t she hurry up and get tossed out on her ear again, so that we may finally return home?

Not, Margaret thought grimly, until they’d made their round

s. She’d visited twelve houses today. Twelve doors had remained closed to her; doors that would have sprung wide open for her a year ago.

Margaret’s dove-gray silk morning gown, trimmed with yards of fine-knit black lace, was a far cry from the sensible nurse’s frocks she’d worn back at Parford Manor. Her cloak was soft and warm. Her hair had been curled and arranged, and ringlets bounced about her shoulders in gentle sways as she lifted her hand and rapped the knocker. The sound echoed against the wood: firm, but polite. Margaret was always polite when she went out to do battle.

A jaunty little bonnet stood atop her head, tied in place. As she stood on the stoop, waiting for a response, she could feel the long, navy ribbons slithering down her shoulders. She shifted slightly, and the silk tickled her skin.

The door opened—one battle won. The dark-clad butler took one glance at Margaret and compressed his lips. He held a silver salver, which he normally would have extended at this point. Over the many years when Margaret had visited Lady Elaine, he’d often done so—if he hadn’t ushered her in immediately.

But everything had changed. This time, when the butler looked at her, he no longer saw a lady.

Margaret raised her chin. He would. He would.

It seemed as if she had been knocking at doors, and being turned away, for far more than two weeks. It seemed as if it had been years since she had last seen Ash, when in truth, scarcely two months had passed. The dreadful thick fog that blanketed London in the mornings had crawled over more than just the streets. It had swallowed up her memories of his features, dimmed them in cotton until he seemed an impossibility: a fairy-tale hero, too large for the life she had to live.

No, here in the clammy fog, there was only a dour-faced butler. He stood, wordlessly barring Margaret’s entry into her erstwhile friend’s home.

But there was one thing that Margaret carried with her from those enchanted weeks. They were words she held in her heart, words she repeated to herself every night, and again on waking. I matter. I am important. And I am not giving up.

Perhaps that was why, the fourth time she was faced with Lady Elaine’s butler, she reached forwards and placed a card on the salver the butler had not yet proffered.

“Newton,” Margaret said in her most commanding voice, “do tell Lady Elaine that Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple has come to call.”


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