The Legend of Lyon Redmond

By: Julie Anne Long

Nor would Landsdowne ever throw a handful of pebbles up at her window at midnight.

Lyon’s face flashed before her eyes then. White and stunned, like a man bleeding inside. His shirt glued to his body by rain, because he’d slung his coat around her.

That image was her purgatory.

She shoved it away, back into the shadows of her mind, the only safe place for it.

No, Landsdowne’s courtship had been calm, determined, and relentless. He’d conducted it the way the sea conducts a campaign to wear away a cliff.

His mouth at last quirked at the corner. “Very well, my dear. If you must.”

My dear. He’d slipped those words into conversation shortly after they’d become engaged, and he’d begun to use them more and more. It was husbandly and sweet and made her inexplicably as restless as if he’d reached over and fastened a diamond collar round her neck.

Lyon had called her “Liv.”

He’d called her other things, too, things that began with “my.” My heart. My love. He’d used words with the innocent recklessness of someone who had never before been hurt.

They’d of course both learned the harm that words could do.

She suddenly wished for another moment alone. She still felt weak, as if an old fever had stirred.

“Isn’t it better to show everyone how little we care about this nonsense?” she murmured to Landsdowne.

His smile became real then. He shoved two pence at Mr. Pickles, who accepted them with pleasure.

Olivia kept the song.

“A pleasure, Mr. Pickles,” he said ironically. “And there’s a shilling in it for you if you move your little choir a few shops down.”

Mr. Pickles accepted the shilling and herded his carolers down the street.

Landsdowne cupped her elbow and resolutely steered her through the pedestrians to Madame Marceau’s shop, shielding her with the breadth of his body.

But Olivia stopped abruptly and eased from his grip long enough to crouch before the beggars leaning against the wall. They were so tattered and filthy and abject they were almost as indistinguishable from each other as they were from the shadows. Two of them were bandaged, one around a hand, the other across his face, in all likelihood to hide some kind of disfigurement—war or accident. It mattered not to her.

Her shillings clinked hollowly in the single cup.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly to them, “it’s all I have today . . . but it might be enough to buy mail coach passage to Sussex. Reverend Sylvaine in Pennyroyal Green can help you find work and food, perhaps shelter . . .”

But it was all she could say, because their unwashed stench was overpowering, and she was ashamed when she needed push herself to her feet again.

She stepped back abruptly against her strong, clean fiancé, who claimed her elbow once more.

But she waited for the beggar, who raised his hand and slowly brought it down in his graceful, characteristic blessing.

She was not typically superstitious, but his blessing had become important as she walked into Madame Marceau’s for her fittings.

Landsdowne handed her a handkerchief, which smelled of starch and a hint of bay rum and was neatly embroidered with his initials. She applied it to her nose with a relief that shamed her.

And one day it would be her responsibility, nay, her privilege, to embroider those little initials into the corner of his handkerchiefs.

Rather like the handkerchief she kept in her reticule.

There were initials on that, too.

And blood.

She ought to burn it the way she’d burned the foolscap covered with his name.

“That lot will likely only drink those shillings,” Landsdowne muttered dryly.

“They may do whatever they see fit with them.” She’d said it a little too abruptly, pulling the handkerchief from her nose and handing it back to him.

“The poor are with us always, Olivia.”

“Oh, are they now? Do enlighten me.”

He stiffened.

Which is when she realized she’d snapped at him.

She drew in a breath, blew it out again, and squared her shoulders. She smiled at him apologetically. “Oh, do let’s begin again. And forgive my nerves? It’s been a day full of startling things and it’s scarcely even begun. I’m terribly sorry to be so shrewish.”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” he said instantly. “Or rather, forgive me. I was merely making an innocuous comment, and I didn’t intend for it to sound like a lecture. And you are an angel, not a shrew. Certainly you know more than I do with regards to the ubiquity of the poor.”

“Oh, I’m a novice compared to Mrs. Sneath.”

“Everyone is a novice at everything compared to Mrs. Sneath.”

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