Jane Street, London, 1820
“Honestly, Charlie! You’re ruined anyway! What difference does it make?” Charlotte felt the room spin every time her sister said the words “honestly, Charlie.” Honesty had very little to do with Deborah Fallon. She was a mistress of prevarication. She was a mistress, period.
Charlotte Fallon looked at her sister, her beautiful, selfish, stubborn younger sister. The sister she was always trying to save in one manner or another, not that she’d been successful. Charlotte wished she had tossed her letter into the fire without opening it. “I should never have come.”
“Nonsense. This is the ideal solution. Arthur wants to marry me, Charlie. I’m not getting any younger, you know. And neither are you. Surely you cannot stand there all stiff and disapproving and deny me happiness.”
No one of importance had ever denied Deborah Fallon anything. One look at her cloud of black hair and mischievous sky blue eyes, her bee-stung lips and spectacular bosom, and they had fallen at her feet. Since the age of sixteen, she had flaunted her assets and traded one rich man for another. Now twenty-six, she was still lovely and in possession of a very tidy fortune, even tidier now due to the recent infusion of money from the coffers of Sir Michael Xavier Bayard. He was expected to arrive in London from his Dorset estate any day now and fall into Deborah Fallon’s bed. His own bed, actually. This house, every stick of furniture, every carpet, every lacy curtain belonged to him, as did the woman who was packing a sleek new trunk.
Charlotte Fallon did not belong to anyone. She also had black hair, only it was confined by hairpins and covered by a starched linen cap. Her sky blue eyes were not mischievous at present, but dismayed. Her bee-stung lips were drawn into a frown, and her spectacular bosom heaved in indignation. “You cannot take Sir Michael’s money and run off with Arthur Bannister!”
Deborah continued to fold clothes into the trunk. Charlotte took inventory of her sister’s impropriety. Wispy, sensuous underthings trimmed with frivolous ribbons and bows. Low-cut silk dresses in every color of the rainbow. Embroidered slippers. Sheer stockings. Velvet jewel bags filled with precious stones.
“I shall leave you some of my wardrobe. And my pearl and sapphire necklace.” Deborah sighed with sacrifice. “It’s not as though I’m taking everything. I thought for a moment to take the paintings, but after consideration I just couldn’t do it to the man. He is very fond of his art, even if they’re only minor works by obscure painters. And I’ll leave him you.”
“I don’t want to be left! You cannot just install me in your bedchamber and expect Sir Michael not to notice!”
“Of course Bay will notice. He’s a very noticing kind of fellow. Those eyes! So black and knowing. They quite gave me shivers. But you and I much alike, or would be if you didn’t look like such a prude. Honestly, Charlie, where is the harm? He’s a wonderful lover, and lord knows you could do with a bit of amusement.”
Charlotte felt a wave of revulsion. “You—you’ve slept with him already?”
Deborah tossed her black curls. “Don’t be absurd. I never let him touch me. Not even a kiss. That’s why he paid so much. I was absolutely unattainable without his contract. But,” she said, closing the trunk latch with finality, “I’m on good terms with Helena Colbert, my predecessor. It was she who decorated this bedroom.” Deborah looked around at the grotesquely chubby cupids that lurked on every surface. “Granted, she does not have much imagination, but she assured me bedding Bay was not a hardship. She said he’s quite masterful.”
“If that is true, why have you chosen Arthur?” Charlotte had met Arthur Bannister. Charlotte doubted Arthur could master anyone, let alone Deborah. He was the prematurely balding third son of an earl, obviously not destined for the clergy if he married her sister the famous courtesan.
“Arthur is very sweet. He loves me. His family will come round in time.” Deborah gave her an assured smile. Everybody always loved her; it was inconceivable to her that one could not.
“You don’t love him, do you.” Charlotte did not tack a question mark to her words.
“Honestly, Charlie! What is love anyway? You thought you were in love and look how that turned out. You’re thirty years old and live in the country with cats.” Deborah pulled on her gloves. Pale yellow kidskin. How ridiculous for traveling, but they matched her slippers and flimsy striped dress. Charlotte envisioned her sister discarding the whole outfit in the carriage on the way to Dover just to ensure Arthur continued the journey. “We haven’t much time. Thank goodness Bay’s grandmother got sick and died and he was called away.”
Only Deborah could say such a thing and look like an angel doing it. Charlotte wanted to throttle her sister’s slender white neck.