The Best of Both Worlds

By: Suzanne Enoch
For my uncle, Beal Whitlock,

whose laugh I will miss.

And for my aunt, Kathleen,

to whom I send a basketful

of hugs and kisses.

Chapter 1

…but enough talk of Lady Neeley’s ill-fated fête. As difficult as it is for much of the ton to believe, there are other subjects worthy of gossip…most notably, London’s bluest-eyed earl, Lord Matson.

Although not intended for the title (his elder brother died tragically last year), Lord Matson does not seem to be having difficulty assuming the mantle of man-about-town. Since arriving in London earlier this Season, he has been seen with a different eligible female on his arm each day.

And at night, with ladies who would not be considered eligible at all!


“But we weren’t invited,” Charlotte Birling said.

Her mother, seated behind the morning room’s oak writing desk, looked up from the new Whistledown column. “That doesn’t signify, because we wouldn’t have attended, anyway. And thank goodness for that. Imagine us standing about chatting, and having Easterly walk in. Infamous.”

“Sophia didn’t have to imagine it. She was invited.” Charlotte glanced at the mantel clock. Nearly ten. With a quickening heartbeat, she set aside her embroidery. She needed to get to the window without her mother making note of it.

“Yes. Poor Sophia.” Baroness Birling tsked. “Twelve years of trying to forget that man, and just as her life begins to recover, he reappears. Your cousin must have been mortified.”

Charlotte wasn’t so sure about that, but she made an assenting sound, anyway. The clock’s ornate minute hand jerked forward. What if the clock was slow? She hadn’t considered that. Or what if he was early? Unable to help it, she bounced to her feet. “Tea, Mama?” she blurted, nearly tripping over her cat. Beethoven rolled out of the way, batting his paws at the hem of her gown.

“Hm? No, thank you, dear.”

“Well, I’ll just have some.”

Her gaze out the front window, she splashed tea into a cup. The street in front of Birling House boasted a few stray leaves, fooled by the cold weather into thinking it still winter, but nothing else moved. Not even a vendor or a carriage on the way to Hyde Park. Above the sound of paper rustling at the writing desk, the clock ticked again. Charlotte took a sip of tea, barely noting both that it was too hot and that she’d forgotten to add sugar.

And then, she forgot to breathe. Heralded by a jingle of reins, a black horse turned up the lane from High Street. The world, the clock, the clopping of hooves, the beat of her heart seemed to slow as she gazed at the rider.

Hair the color of rich amber played a little in the soft morning breeze. The dark blue beaver hat shadowed his eyes, but she knew they were a faded cobalt, like a lake on an overcast day. His jacket matched the color of his hat, while his close-fitting dun trousers and his polished Hessian boots said as clearly as any gold-embossed calling card that he was a gentleman. His mouth was set in a straight line, relaxed but somber, and she wondered what he might be thinking.

“—lotte? Charlotte! What in the world are you gaping at?”

She jumped, spinning away from the window, but it was already too late. Her mother nudged her sideways, leaning forward to peer through the window at the passing rider.

“Nothing, Mama,” Charlotte said, taking another swallow of tea and nearly gagging at the bitter flavor. “I was just think—”

“Lord Matson,” the baroness stated, reaching over to yank the curtains closed. “You were staring at Lord Matson. For heaven’s sake, Charlotte, what if he’d looked over and seen you?”

Humph. She’d been looking out the window at him for the past five days, and he hadn’t turned his head in her direction once. Xavier, Earl Matson. For all he knew, she didn’t even exist. “I’m permitted to look out my own front window, Mama,” she said, stifling a sigh as the Arabian and its magnificent rider vanished behind green velvet draperies. “If he saw me, I hope he would assume that I was looking out at our fine roses, which I was.”

“Ah. And you regularly blush at the sight of roses, then?” Baroness Birling resumed her seat at the desk. “Put that scoundrel out of your mind. You have the Hargreaves’ Ball this evening to prepare for.”

“It’s ten o’clock in the morning, Mama,” Charlotte protested. “Putting on a gown and pinning up my hair doesn’t take ten hours. It barely takes two.”

“I don’t mean physical preparations. I’m referring to mental preparations. Don’t forget, you’ll be dancing with Lord Herbert.”

“Oh, bother. The only preparation I’ll need for that is a nap.”

She hadn’t realized she’d spoken aloud until the baroness swept to her feet again. “Obviously, daughter, you have forgotten the efforts to which your father went in seeking out Lord Herbert Beetly and ascertaining his interest in finding a wife.”

“Mama, I didn’t—”

“If you require a nap in order to behave in an appropriate manner, then go take one at once.” Scowling, the baroness crumpled the Whistledown column. “And have a care with that tongue of yours, lest you end up in here as well.”