Read Private Arrangements Online

Authors: Sherry Thomas

Tags: #England - Social Life and Customs - 19th Century, #Man-Woman Relationships, #General, #Romance, #Marriage, #Historical, #Fiction, #Love Stories

Private Arrangements

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgments

Because I'm sure to forget someone, if you are reading this now, let me say thank you. Thank you for everything.

Now on to specifics.

Miss Snark, for her unqualified recommendation of Kristin Nelson via her snarkalicious—and much lamented—blog. Kristin Nelson, for living up to every last one of those recommendations and then some. Sara Megibow, for being the first person besides myself to read this book, and emailing Kristin late at night telling her she'd better get reading too.

Caitlin Alexander, my editor and Fairy Godmother— for making me feel like Cinderella. Everyone at Bantam, for treating me so well and publishing me so beautifully.

All my friends, classmates, and professors at the UT MPA program. It was a great year and I think of you with such fondness—in particular, Professor Fabio, who should have graced my cover.

Everyone at the Harrington Fellowship program, for everything. And putting my picture in the
New York Times
on top of it.

All my friends and sisters from Austin RWA. You guys are the best.

Janine, Jane, and Sybil. Bloggers rock.

Sue Yuen—for her excellent advice on
Schemes of Love
and for all the good times.

Mary Balogh, Jane Feather, and Eloisa James—for their generous praises. I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you and the honor of cleaning your houses.

My husband and sons, three of the cutest and kindest men in the world under one roof. The wonderful family I married in to, everyone unfailingly supportive of my dreams, especially my grandfather-in-law, who backed up his prayers for my eventual publication with donations to that effect. You see, Appachen, it has come true.

 

 

About the Author

Sherry Thomas arrived on American soil at age thirteen. Within a year, with whatever English she'd scraped together and her trusty English-Chinese dictionary by her side, she was already plowing through the 600-page behemoth historical romances of the day. The vocabulary she gleaned from those stories of unquenchable ardor propelled her to great successes on the SAT and the GRE and came in very handy when she turned to writing romances herself.

Sherry has a B.S. in economics from Louisiana State University and a master's degree in accounting from the University of Texas at Austin. She lives in central Texas with her husband and two sons. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading, playing computer games with her boys, and reading some more.

Visit her on the web at
www.sherrythomas.com
.

 

Private
Arrangements

 

  

CONTENTS

 

 

 

For my mother. There are few joys in life greater than that of having you as my mother

To the memory of my grandfather. I will always miss you.
And to the memory of my grandmother, for loving books as much as I did.

 

 

Chapter One

London
8 May 1893

O
nly one kind of marriage ever bore Society's stamp of approval.

Happy marriages were considered vulgar, as matrimonial felicity rarely kept longer than a well-boiled pudding. Unhappy marriages were, of course, even more vulgar, on a par with Mrs. Jeffries's special contraption that spanked forty bottoms at once: unspeakable, for half of the upper crust had experienced it firsthand.

No, the only kind of marriage that held up to life's vicissitudes was the courteous marriage. And it was widely recognized that Lord and Lady Tremaine had the most courteous marriage of them all.

In the ten years since their wedding, neither of them had ever uttered an unkind word about the other, not to parents, siblings, bosom friends, or strangers. Moreover, as their servants could attest, they never had spats, big or small; never embarrassed each other; never, in fact, disagreed on anything at all.

However, every year some cheeky debutante fresh from the schoolroom would point out—as if it weren't common knowledge—that Lord and Lady Tremaine lived on separate continents and had not been seen together since the day after their wedding.

Her elders would shake their heads. Foolish young girl. Wait 'til she heard about her beau's piece on the side. Or fell out of love with the man she married. Then she'd understand what a wonderful arrangement the Tremaines had: civility, distance, and freedom from the very beginning, unencumbered by tiresome emotions. Indeed, it was the most perfect marriage.

Therefore, when Lady Tremaine filed for divorce on grounds of Lord Tremaine's adultery and desertion, chins collided with dinner plates throughout London's most pedigreed dining rooms. Ten days later, as news circulated of Lord Tremaine's arrival on English soil for the first time in a decade, the same falling jaws dented many an expensive carpet from the heart of Persia.

The story of what happened next spread like a well-fed gut. It went something tantalizingly like this: A summons came at the Tremaine town house on Park Lane. Goodman, Lady Tremaine's faithful butler, answered the bell. On the other side of the door stood a stranger, one of the most remarkable-looking gentlemen Goodman had ever come across—tall, handsome, powerfully built, an imposing presence.

“Good afternoon, sir,” Goodman said placidly. A representative of the Marchioness of Tremaine, however impressed, neither gawked nor gushed.

He expected to be offered a calling card and a reason for the call. Instead, he was handed the gentleman's headgear. Startled, he let go of his hold on the doorknob and took the satin-trimmed top hat. In that instant, the man walked past him into the vestibule. Without a backward glance or an explanation for this act of intrusion, he began pulling off his gloves.

“Sir,” Goodman huffed. “You do not have permission from the lady of the house to enter.”

The man turned around and shot Goodman a glance that, to the butler's shame, made him want to curl up and whimper. “Is this not the Tremaine residence?”

“It is, sir.” The reiteration of
sir
escaped Goodman, though he hadn't intended for it to happen.

“Then kindly inform me, since when does the master of the house require permission from the lady to enter into his own domain?” The man held his gloves together in his right hand and slapped them quietly against the palm of his left, as if toying with a riding crop.

Goodman didn't understand. His employer was the Queen Elizabeth of her time: one mistress and no master. Then the horror dawned. The man before him was the Marquess of Tremaine, the marchioness's long-absent, good-as-dead husband and heir to the Duke of Fairford.

“I do beg your pardon, sir.” Goodman held on to his professional calm and took Lord Tremaine's gloves, though he was suddenly perspiring. “We have had no notice of your arrival. I shall have your chambers prepared immediately. May I offer you some refreshments in the meanwhile?”

“You may. And you may see to the unloading of my luggage,” said Lord Tremaine. “Is Lady Tremaine at home?”

Goodman could not detect any unusual inflection in Lord Tremaine's tone. It was as if he had simply come in from an afternoon snooze at his club. After ten years! “Lady Tremaine is taking a constitutional in the park, sir.”

Lord Tremaine nodded. “Very good.”

Goodman instinctively trotted after him, the way he'd trail a feral beast if it happened to have made it past the front door. It was only half a minute later, as Lord Tremaine turned about and raised a brow, that Goodman realized he had already been dismissed.

 

Something about his wife's town house disturbed Lord Tremaine.

It was surprisingly elegant. He had half-expected to see the kind of interior he'd become accustomed to in the houses of his neighbors on lower Fifth Avenue: grandiose, gilded, aiming only to recall the last days of Versailles.

She had a few chairs from that era, but they had held their share of velvet-clad bottoms and looked comfortable rather than luxurious. Neither did he encounter the heavy sideboards and unchecked proliferation of bric-a-brac that were firmly associated, in his mind, with English homes.

If anything, her residence bore an uncanny resemblance to a certain villa in Turin, at the foot of the Italian Alps, in which he had spent a few happy weeks during his youth—a house with wallpapers of soft antique gold and muted aquamarine, faience pots of orchids atop slender wrought-iron stands, and durable, well-made furniture from the previous century.

During an entire boyhood of decamping from one domicile to the next, the villa had been the only place, other than his grandfather's estate, where he'd felt at home. He had loved its brightness, its uncluttered comfort, and its abundance of indoor plants, their breath moist and herbaceous.

He was inclined to dismiss the echoing similarity between the two houses as a coincidence until his attention shifted to the paintings that adorned the walls of her drawing room. Between the Rubens, the Titian, and the ancestral portraits that occupied disproportionate acreage on English walls, she had hung pieces by the very same modern artists whose works he displayed in his own town house in Manhattan: Sisley, Morisot, Cassatt, and Monet, whose output had been infamously likened to unfinished wallpaper.

His pulse quickened in alarm. Her dining room featured more Monets and two Degases. Her gallery made it look as though she had bought an entire Impressionist exhibit: Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, and artists no one had ever heard of outside the most gossipy circles of the Parisian art world.

He stopped midway down the gallery, suddenly unable to go on. She had furnished this house to be a fantasy-come-true for the boy he had been when he married her, the boy who must have mentioned, during their long hours of rapt conversation, something of his preference for understated houses and his love of modern art.

He remembered her spellbound concentration, her soft questions, her burning interest in everything about him.

Was the divorce but a new ruse, then? A cleverly sprung trap to re-ensnare him when all else had failed? Would he find her perfumed and naked on his bed when he threw open the door to his bedchamber?

He located the master's apartment and threw open the door.

There was no her, naked or otherwise, on his bed.

There was no bed.

And nothing else either. The bedchamber was as vast and empty as the American West.

The carpet no longer showed depressed spots where chair legs and bedposts had once stood. The walls betrayed no telltale rectangles of recently removed pictures. Thick layers of dust had settled on floor and windowsills. The room had stood vacant for years.

For no reason at all, he felt as if the breath had been kicked out of his lungs. The sitting room of the master's apartment was sparkling clean and fully equipped—tuft-backed reading chairs, shelves laden with well-read books wrinkled at the spines, a writing desk freshly supplied with ink and paper, even a pot of amaranth in bloom. It made the void of the bedchamber all the more pointed, a barbed symbol.

The house might have been, once upon a time, designed with the single-minded goal of luring him back. But that was a different decade—another age altogether. He had since been eviscerated from her existence.

He was still standing in the doorway, staring into the empty bedchamber, when the butler arrived, two footmen and a large portmanteau in tow. The nothingness of the chamber made the butler blush an extraordinary pink. “It will take us only an hour, sir, to air the chamber and restore the furnishing.”

He almost told the butler not to bestir himself, to let the bedchamber remain stark and barren. But that would have said too much. So he only nodded. “Excellent.”

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