Viscount Beaumont has buried himself in the country since his wife died. As the French Revolution rages, French actress Verity Garnier is ordered to England to seduce him back to France. She despises men, but she must not fail.
Enjoy a taste.
Verity took her final curtsy to applause which equaled that of Mrs. Siddens, and the curtain banged down. It had gone well tonight. She entered her dressing room, where her dresser waited.
“I heard the ovation, mademoiselle,” Madame Tornet said, taking Verity’s cape.
“Yes, but I’m not sure Mrs. Siddens was pleased. She would prefer to be playing Ophelia herself, although I prefer Gertrude’s part. It is much larger.” Verity stepped behind a screen to remove the filmy white gown. She pulled on a silk wrap and sat down in front of the mirror to remove her stage makeup.
A knock sounded at the door, and Madame Tornet went to answer it. Lord Beaumont stood in the doorway, hat in hand, dressed in understated evening clothes, his unpowdered dark brown hair tied at his nape with a thin black velvet ribbon.
Verity’s breathing turned rapid and shallow. “Where is your pretty daughter, Lord Beaumont?”
He bowed over her hand. “Henrietta sends her apologies. She is attending Almack’s tonight. It is her debut.”
“Perhaps you should have accompanied her.”
“She has her aunt, and once the young swains discover her, she won’t notice I’m not there. I enjoyed the play immensely. Although all the cast were excellent, you, mademoiselle, were superb.”
“Praise indeed, considering Sarah Siddens is in the play,” she said dryly. “I thank you, kind sir.” Verity laughed and motioned to a chair. “Could you please wait? I have not yet dressed.” She gazed provocatively into his appreciative brown eyes and fingered the thin silk barely concealing her chemise and stays. “I am thrilled that you came.”
“I am delighted I assure you.” His gaze rested for a moment on her hand where she held it at her bosom. When he met her eyes, his were hot and dark, making her shiver with anticipation.
She stepped behind the painted screen, and with Madame Tornet’s assistance, slipped into a lilac-colored Italian silk gown.
When she emerged, Lord Beaumont had declined to sit and leaned against the wall, one long leg crossed over the other, imposing in his tall black hat and silk evening cape. He straightened. “I shall not keep you above a minute, mademoiselle. I wished only to pay my respects.”
Verity made a moue with her lips. “Oh, but you must accompany me to supper. I insist on it.”
He nodded towards the door. “There are many awaiting that privilege. I hardly feel I can claim that honor for myself.”
“It is I who choose the man to escort me, Lord Beaumont. And I choose you.”
He smiled. “I’m flattered.”
“They all go to the Gun Tavern, so we shall go to the Pulteney Hotel in Piccadilly. Do you agree?” She laughed. “If you will please wait outside, I shan’t be but a moment.”
Verity rushed through her toilet, adding a touch of lip rouge and powder with her haresfoot. She placed a tiny black patch high on her cheekbone and another at the corner of her mouth. Madame Tornet brushed her long hair, left au-naturel for the performance, and fashioned it into a high roll with a ringlet resting upon Verity’s shoulder. She tucked fake violets into the creation. Verity added diamonds to her décolleté and ears, paste, but such an excellent imitation. She donned her swan’s-down trimmed cape, preparing to play the part of her life, as the seductress. Mohammed had come to the mountain, and she felt a rush of excitement mixed with the ever present sense of desperation. She must not fail.
Out in the corridor, Lord Beaumont stood alone. “Your devotees have gone on ahead to the Gun Tavern.”
“Then we have fooled them, have we not?” she said with a light laugh. She met his honeyed gaze. “My apartments are at the Pulteney.” Her luxurious suite at the Pulteney Hotel was the perfect setting for a seduction. Better than Grenier’s Hotel where the rest of the troupe mingled with French émigrés, who wouldn’t give them a moment’s privacy.
His gaze travelled over her hair and then into her eyes. “Your eyes are the same color as those flowers in your hair, mademoiselle.”
“A remarkable coincidence, my lord,” Verity said.
He laughed and offered her his arm.
They dined in the hotel dining room. Soft candlelight played across his features as they talked, his eyes filled with frank admiration.
“Do you miss your home?” he asked.
She frowned. “I no longer have a real home to miss.”
He reached across and took her hand. “Tell me?”
She swallowed. “I’d rather not.” She didn’t want his sympathy; it distracted her from her purpose. And yet, his warm brown eyes invited her to reveal all, and she found it surprisingly difficult to resist.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” He still held her hand, his thumb smoothing the skin at her wrist. She could feel her pulse beating fast and was sure he could too.
Verity smiled and gently withdrew her hand. “You haven’t. I’m delighted to be here in London, in such exemplary company.”
With an answering smile, he raised his glass in a silent toast.
She raised her champagne flute with a smile. This was business she reminded herself. But couldn’t business be combined with pleasure?
“Have an oyster, mademoiselle?”
She screwed up her nose. “I have never eaten them, they look unattractive.”
He popped one in his mouth and chewed. “They taste of the sea, delicious.” He laughed at her expression. “Go on, be brave, try one.” He squeezed lemon over the shell and held the oyster out to her on a tiny silver spoon.
Verity held his wrist, feeling the strength of him the dark hair there tickling her skin. She put the slippery grey oyster into her mouth. It smelt of the sea too. “An odd taste, but not unpleasant.”
“They are known to be an aphrodisiac.” He smiled. “Like silky flesh upon the tongue.”