Looking for Wilfred Bagshott’s Portait Booth, Dearie? So is Lady Flora Landrum.
The jumble of tents, lean-tos, and shacks at the far end of the ice, where new businesses sprouted up hourly in no particular order, confused Flo. She had left her companion, Lady Georgiana Hayden sipping hot cider and seated inside a marquee, one of the larger ones that actually had chairs, and had promised she would return quickly.
Face it, Flora Margaretta Landrum. You are lost. Your brother will be furious.
She told Georgie she wished to take another look at a booth they passed, and promised to come back as soon as she checked it. Georgie, weary from their work setting up their tables to distribute tracts for the Ladies Society suggested they wait for Flo’s brother Will, the Earl of Chadbourn, who promised to escort them home, but the provoking man didn’t come and Flo got tired of waiting.
Now all the tents looked alike and the businesses at this end of the fair ran to gambling and gin. A lady with a garishly painted face, exposed bosom, and scanty skirts who seemed to be inviting gentlemen into a closed tent smirked at Flo. “Looking for work, dearie? I could use a sweet peach like you.”
“No thank you,” Flo answered politely, taking a step backward. “I am waiting for my brother.”
The woman raised a brow, her lips twitching in amusement. “Brother is it? Care to come in and look for him.”
“No! That is, Will wouldn’t—”
The woman laughed, “Are you sure about that?”
A man smelling of drink brushed past Flo and leaned toward the garishly made up woman, who ran a hand up his chest and welcomed him through the door. Flo hurried on, narrowly dodged two boys kicking a ball back and forth, and leapt out of the way of a man pushing a sledge loaded with goods narrowly keeping her balance on the ice. She turned down a different path through the maze of attractions.
Flo breathed a sigh of relief. Some of the businesses seemed more respectable, and she saw three people reading broadsides that said “Printed on the ice, February 3, 1814” and hoped she was approaching the spot where Mr. Clemens, editor of The Teatime Tattler had set up his printing press. It would be near the place she and Georgie had been working and Flo could get her bearings.
Just as her fear abated, a pair of boys bumped into her, chasing one another down the row. She spun around, one hand on her bonnet, to see a tall man grab one by the collar, lift him off his feet, and give him a shake. A familiar object in the boy’s hand flew back and forth.
The man who had captured the thief cast her a baleful look before he turned away and summoned the watch with an imperious gesture. Flo knew the man; someone she much rather would not see her at a disadvantage.
She looked around for a way to escape, but she was too late. The Marquess of Glenaire’s disapproving glare, one known to reduce peers of the realm to babbling idiots, turned on Flo. He handed the boy over to a thief taker and strode toward her carrying her reticule.
“Lady Flora Landrum, what are you doing here?” he demanded.
She looked up—far up—into the cold eyes of Georgiana’s brother,
“I— That is, my brother didn’t come and I needed to…buy something,” she finished, lamely.
“It would be difficult if those two miscreants had succeeded in filching your reticule,” he said, handing it to her. “May I escort you to your brother?”
Flo stared at the arm he winged for her to take. The gesture would be a polite offer from another man. From Glenaire, it was a command. She obeyed. They walked in silence for several moments.
“Why did you leave my sister sitting?”
She peered up at the austere face and cold blue eyes. “She felt too weary to go back with me, and Will hadn’t come so…”
“He came. You worried them.”
“I’m sorry.” She was. Her brother had enough on his mind. “I thought I knew how to find it, but I got lost, and I—” She stopped in her tracks forcing him to stop with her. “There it is, I’ll be but a moment.” She darted away to gaze longingly at the artfully painted sign she sought: Wilfred Bagshott, Portraits on Demand.
Inside a man bent over an easel while a young couple sat in front of him gazing at one another. From where Flora stood, she could see the artist work magic. His rapid pencil strokes poured their love and longing onto the paper deftly sketching in the scene of the fair behind their images, and Flo’s breath caught.
What would it be like to sit there with a man you loved while an artist captured the moment of shared love at a Frost Fair, a once in a lifetime afternoon? Disappointment drew a sigh so strong it shook Flo’s shoulders. The only man she wanted to share the fair with lay blocks away, confined to his bed and ill. He certainly could not come out in the cold. Lord Ethan Alcott wouldn’t be able to experience the fair, nor Flo share it with him.
If only… She felt, rather than heard the marquess come up behind her.
“You want your portrait done?” Puzzlement deepened his voice.
Yes, but not alone. She shook her head. “I just thought the artist might have other sketches. Look there.” She pointed to sketches portraying scenes from the fair pinned up on a board: tents and revelers, skaters, the boat swing, even the elephant. “I have a, um, friend who is unable to come. I thought h—” She bit her lip, determined not to reveal her longing for a man. “I thought my friend might like to see what it is like.” She felt her cheeks flame.
The marquess peered down at her with his icy blue eyes for long moments before she saw his features soften to her astonishment.
“I think Lord Ethan Alcott might particularly like the one of the ladies promenading along the embankment, don’t you?” he said.
Within moments Glenaire had snatched down a half dozen of the vivid scenes, paid the man, and handed Flo the package.
Flo opened her mouth to thank him, astonished at the kind gesture from the man society called the marble marquess, but he cut her off, glaring sternly and offering his arm to escort her away.
“I trust that is the last of it, and you’re ready to rejoin your brother,” he ground out.
She took his arm and smiled up at him. He pretended to ignore it. Her smile broadened. Well this was an adventure. I can’t wait to tell Georgie her brother isn’t nearly the ogre he appears, but she probably already knows that.
She glanced down at the package of sketches in her hand, and thought of Ethan, lying ill at his father’s house. At least he’ll have this, she thought, and I can tell him all about it.
What became of Flo and Ethan? Find out in Lord Ethan’s Courage. The third story in Fire & Frost.
When a young woman marches into an insalubrious alley full of homeless former soldiers, Ethan Alcott feels something he thought dead stir to life: his sense of honor and will to live. Her innocent efforts to ease the suffering of men might have touched his heart if she hadn’t put herself in danger to do it. Someone needs to take her in hand.
Lady Flora Landrum chafes under her brother’s restrictions, but she’s willing to compromise if they can join forces to join in the Duchess of Haverford’s charity efforts. When she discovers that the mysterious one-armed ruffian she encountered in a back alley is Lord Ethan Alcott, son of the Marquess of Welbrook, her astonishment gives way to determination to make the man see reason.
Courage takes many forms. As Ethan comes to admire Flora’s, perhaps he can reclaim his own.
What souvenir will you seek out at the Frost Faire? What one thing would you like and who would you like to share it with? Comment below to be entered to win an electronic copy of Valentine’s From Bath.
Did you know…
The winter of 1813-1814 was so bad people were going hungry and businesses were suffering. It is no wonder so many of them took to the ice to try to make some money. One group put out of business by the ice, were the watermen who carried goods and passengers up, down, and across the river. The began charging people a penny when they came down the stairs to the edge of the frozen river, sort of ad-hoc admissions. Most folks paid it gladly.
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