Lloyd tucked himself into a ball, protecting himself with his arms, his rage keeping him from crying. After a long time and much pain, he was pulled to his feet by a dark-uniformed, tall-helmeted constable.
“This gob of filth attacked me,” the duke snarled at the policeman. Blood ran down the duke’s face, which he swiped at ineffectually with his handkerchief. “Take him off the streets.”
Lloyd didn’t struggle. He’d been nabbed by constables before. The best way to get away from them was to pretend compliance and then twist free later and lose himself in a crowd. The constables were usually too exasperated to bother giving chase to one little boy.
“Yes, sir,” the constable said.
“Your Grace,” the duke growled at him. “Learn some manners.”
A footman had come off the back of the coach and now silently waited at the open door to help the duke back inside.
That was when Lloyd saw the other boy. A lad of about Lloyd’s own age, his dark red hair and golden eyes marking him as the duke’s son, was climbing down from the coach. The boy wore a kilt of blue and green plaid, a black coat, an ivory silk waistcoat, ivory-colored wool socks, and shoes that were as finely made as his father’s boots.
No one was looking at the boy except Lloyd. All eyes were on the duke, the footman lending a beefy arm so the duke could climb back inside.
The other boy, as arrogant as his father, walked up to Lloyd, but Lloyd swore he saw a gleam of satisfaction in the boy’s eyes. The boy brushed past Lloyd, pretending not to see him, but Lloyd felt the coldness of a coin against his palm.
The duke’s son said nothing at all as he headed for the coach. The duke bellowed down at him. “Hart, get your arse back inside. Hurry it up.”
The footman held out a hand to the boy called Hart, but Hart ignored it and leapt with agility back into the coach. The traffic cleared, and the coach pulled away. Hart Mackenzie looked out the window as the coach passed, his gaze meeting Lloyd’s. The two boys stared at each other, one on either side of luxury, until another coach passed between them, and traffic swallowed the duke’s carriage.
“Come on, lad,” the constable said, his hand still firmly on Lloyd’s shoulder.
Lloyd closed his hand around the coin until the ridges of it creased his palm. He walked away with the constable, so numb that he went all the way inside the police station before he remembered he should try to get away.
“Louisa, dear, just see that the bishop isn’t left alone, will you?”
Louisa looked down the sloping meadow from Mrs. Leigh-Waters’ Richmond house to watch the Hon. Frederick Lane, Bishop of Hargate, enter one of the tea tents. Hargate was in his forties, young for a bishop, marginally handsome, and lately had made no secret he was hanging out for a wife.
Lady Louisa Scranton, unmarried, her father dying in scandalous circumstances which had left the family nearly penniless, must be, in Mrs. Leigh-Waters’ eyes, in want of a husband.
Hargate fit the criteria for an aristocrat’s daughter—wealthy, second son of an earl, successful in his own right. Hargate had reached his status young, but he had connections, many of whom were here at this garden party, attended by Mrs. Leigh-Waters’ handpicked guests.
A bishop’s wife would have money, respect, and standing. Louisa was highly aware she needed to marry well—in fact, she’d entered the Season this year with every intention of doing so. So why, when it came to the sticking point, did she feel a great reluctance to be alone with Hargate?
“Of course, Mrs. Leigh-Waters,” Louisa made herself say. “I’ll look after him.”
“Thank you, my dear.” Mrs. Leigh-Waters beamed at her. I’ll have Louisa married off in no time, the lady was no doubt thinking. Quite a feather in my cap when I do.
Louisa gave her a kind smile and hurried after the bishop.
Mrs. Leigh-Waters’ house commanded a view down a hill to the river. The April day was a fine one, the weather not too hot, clouds in the sky but not threatening rain. The land stretched away on the other side of the river to be swallowed in haze.
The expanse of lawn had been commandeered for the garden party, with seats and little tables scattered about, pathways lined with ribbon, a croquet set being brought out by the footmen. Ladies in blues, greens, yellows, golds, lavenders, and russets moved about, the spring breeze stirring feathers, ribbons, braid, and false fruits stuck into the ladies’ hats. Gentlemen in casual suits of monochrome gray or tweed filtered through the ladies. Tea had been served in the tea tents at the bottom of the hill, and many guests still carried cups and little plates of treats. An idyllic English afternoon.
The guests chatted to each other as they waited to begin the croquet match, which would be cutthroat and rather expensive. Members of high society gambled fiercely at everything.
Louisa ducked away from them into the white canvas tea tent, which was empty except for the Bishop of Hargate and white-draped tables holding tea things. The elegant china cups and saucers were patterned with sprays of roses, as were the three-tiered trays with the remains of petit fours and profiteroles. As most of the party had already refreshed themselves, only a few clean plates and cups remained.
“Ah, Lady Louisa,” Hargate said, sounding pleased. “Have you come to join me?”
“Mrs. Leigh-Waters did not want you left on your own.”
“She’s a kind lady, is our hostess.” Hargate looked at Louisa with every eagerness, which Louisa found odd in a man her father had done his best to ruin.
Louisa’s father, Earl Scranton, had convinced other men to give him money for investments, which were either never made or failed utterly. Earl Scranton had been paying the first investors with what the others had given him, pretending the money came from his cleverness at buying the right stocks. Finally when his true investments failed, he had to confess he could pay none of the money back. In the space of a day, Earl Scranton had moved from respectable and wealthy to complete ruin. A good many other gentlemen’s fortunes had gone with his. Hargate hadn’t lost everything, but he’d lost much, though he’d managed to build it back in a relatively short time.
Louisa moved calmly to a table, trying to behave as though none of it had happened. A lady wasn’t supposed to know about or understand such things, in any case. “Tea, Your Grace?”
“Of course. Thank you.”
Louisa had been taught to be an expert at pouring tea. She trickled the soothing liquid into two china cups, dropped a lump of sugar and dollop of cream into the bishop’s tea, and handed him the cup.