Gillian Beaumont knew the day was bound to be full of trouble. As she worked to tame the curls of her mistress's hair, she fretted over the wicked gleam in Audrey Sheridan's eyes. Gillian was used to this mischievous glint, but today it seemed doubly intense, and the way her lips curled at the ends in a little smile added to Gillian's worry even more. The last time she had looked that way, Audrey had been chasing a rogue around a sofa, demanding to be kissed.
"There you are, my lady." Gillian finished putting the last pin in her mistress's hair.
Audrey's brown eyes twinkled as she met Gillian's gaze in the mirror. "Perfect. I have to look my best today. The League is coming over for tea in an hour and…" A delicate blush bloomed in her cheeks.
"And Mr. St. Laurent will be there?"
"Er… I suppose so," Audrey replied vaguely.
Gillian was all too aware of how her mistress felt about that particular gentleman. He was a fine man with green eyes and sun—kissed blond hair. Gillian supposed he was attractive, but he never made her feel the way she'd heard women ought to feel around a man they fancied.
Gillian glanced at her own face in the mirror as she tidied up the vanity. Perhaps she was different from other ladies. She placed the ivory—handled brushes next to a set of exquisite tortoiseshell combs. Unlike Audrey's dark chestnut hair, Gillian's hair was an unremarkable brown and her eyes a soft heather gray. She'd never stood out as a beauty, but she wasn't unattractive, either. She was, in short, the perfect sort of plain woman who worked best as a lady's maid or a companion.
As the bastard daughter of an earl, Gillian had been taught not to expect much of her circumstances, though her father had provided enough for her and her mother. They had lived comfortable if unassuming lives in a little townhouse near Mayfair. When she was fifteen, her father died and she'd been forced into service to support her ailing mother. She'd had no real experience as a companion, but she'd heard from a friend of her mother's that Viscount Sheridan was searching for a lady's maid for his youngest sister, someone close to her in age.
It was unusual to have a lady's maid so young, but Audrey had insisted her maid be close in age. And that was how Gillian, almost sixteen by then, had become Audrey's maid and loyal, protective shadow. A year later, Gillian's mother had passed away.
Now Mama is gone, and I'm all alone.
She frowned. That wasn't true. In many ways, being lady's maid to Audrey was a bit like being Audrey's friend. They shared secrets and went on far too many adventures for Gillian to feel comfortable about. There was a familiarity between them that certainly wasn't normal for a maid and a lady. Audrey had a large heart and a spirit that could not be caged.
"Gillian, could you run a few errands for me today? I believe we have a few articles to post in the Quizzing Glass Gazette that will need to run in the next few weeks. Would you mind seeing to that for me?" Audrey was plucking at the waist of her blue cambric muslin gown, where it was fitted perfectly to her trim waist. The dress had ornamented designs on the bodice. Her dress's style and its high waist made Audrey's tiny body look longer. The full skirt was trimmed with lavender gauze that made it look light and almost feathery at the hem.
Audrey had exquisite taste, something she'd insisted her maid cultivate as well. Gillian wore a lavender muslin gown with more flair than a usual lady's maid would wear. It was close in style to the gowns she'd worn when her father was alive.
"Well? Do you mind very much?" Audrey's voice pulled Gillian out of her thoughts.
"Of course, my apologies, my lady. I was woolgathering. Yes, leave me the articles, and I will see them placed in the proper hands."
"Excellent." Audrey walked over to her escritoire and withdrew three carefully packed articles and handed them to Gillian.
"Do you need anything else, my lady?" Gillian asked.
"Not at the moment. Oh, and remember, tonight we will be going to that hellfire club."
Gillian froze midstep, her spine stiffening. The hellfire club, how had she forgotten?
"My lady, I really don't think we should—"
Audrey tapped a dainty foot and crossed her arms over her chest. "Gillian, you know that awful Gerald Langley belongs to that club. What was it called?" Audrey tilted her head, looking up as she seemed to search her memory. "Sinners and Sadists, no… Wait!" She lifted a finger in the air. "The Unholy Sinners of Hell."
Gillian flinched. "Must we go tonight? The men could be dangerous." It wasn't as though their lives were free of gossip and trouble, what with Audrey's elder brother, Cedric, being a member of the infamous League of Rogues. Cedric and his friends had been in life—threatening situations more than once and caused scandals at least every other week. The last thing Audrey needed was to run off and find more trouble—at least that was Gillian's opinion.
"Nonsense. We should be perfectly fine. They allow ladies to attend their unholy festivities, and if we bring along Charles and his valet as escorts, we shall be quite safe."
"Lord Lonsdale? He's not exactly a man of sterling reputation. You remember the swans. Everyone was so scandalized."
Audrey giggled. "Of course I do. I was there. Charles isn't so bad. I had a bloody hard time trying to kiss him, you remember. He's more of a gentleman than he lets on."
With a little hum that wasn't exactly agreement, Gillian headed for the door, but Audrey stopped her.
"The dresses! I completely forgot. You must go to Madame Ella's and retrieve the gowns. Try them on to make sure they fit," Audrey said.
Gillian sighed and nodded. It wasn't the first time she had been asked to try on one of Audrey's gowns. They were almost identical in stature, both short and full—figured. She suspected her mistress was trying to give her a little thrill of pleasure, but Gillian feared longing for things she could never have.
From the moment she'd grown old enough to understand her place as an illegitimate child to a member of the peerage, she'd stopped oohing over the prettiest gowns and had given up dreams of finding a nice gentleman to marry. The acceptance of her fate as a domestic servant had been wearying, and while she adored working for Audrey, even when they were knee—deep in trouble, it didn't stop her from wishing for a quiet life in a little cottage somewhere.
"Thank you." Audrey gently shoved her into the hall, and Gillian headed down the stairs to find her bonnet and coin purse. By the time she finished her errands, the League of Rogues and their wives would have arrived for tea, and Audrey would have little chance of getting into trouble.
Gillian smiled at Sean Hartley, the handsome young Irish footman, as he handed her a small coin purse.
"And what errands does our lady have you running today?" Sean asked, his Irish lilt and fine looks a temptation to all the upstairs maids in the Sheridan residence.
"I'm to collect a few dresses and a few items need to be posted. Could you have the carriage brought around for me?"
Sean grinned. "More dresses. One would think she has enough," he teased and winked at Gillian.
Gillian smiled back. "One would think." She liked Sean. He was like an older brother, playful and kind.
He left her alone in the hall as he summoned a coach. She clutched her purse and the Gazette articles to her chest, making sure she wouldn't drop either by accident. No one was around to see, which was good because Sean knew the truth of Audrey's double life. He could be trusted, but neither Audrey nor Gillian wanted to risk anyone else knowing.
It was her lady's best—kept secret. The infamous, sometimes overly critical pen of Lady Society, the anonymous social columnist for the Quizzing Glass Gazette, was none other than Audrey Sheridan. Gillian's mistress had written articles for years now, challenging gentlemen to fall in love and publicly exposing those in society who sought to harm others, but her favorite pastime was matchmaking for the rogues she held dear.
Her latest victory had been exposing the betting book at White's, where a man named Gerald Langley had offered five thousand pounds to have a woman publicly ruined. But Audrey wasn't finished with him yet; she had every intention of exposing Langley's involvement in the hellfire club.
And I must go along with it, or else she will get herself into real trouble. Gillian shook her head, tempted to laugh. Was she always to be the voice of reason? It was exhausting keeping her mistress out of trouble time and again. What Audrey truly needed was a man to chase after her and keep her out of harm's way while she led her life of adventures. A man like Jonathan St. Laurent. Once Audrey was married, Gillian would have an ally in her mistress's husband, and she could finally relax.
Sean returned and opened the front door of the townhouse for her.
"Don't worry—I'll keep an eye on her," Sean promised.
"Thank you." Gillian meant it. She worried, as did all the servants, that Audrey would get into a scrape she could not get out of if they did not look after her. Gillian climbed into the coach, settled back, and closed her eyes briefly. She would be facing a long night ahead if they were to infiltrate the hellfire club after midnight.
By the time she reached Madame Ella's modiste shop, she had rested and successfully dropped off the Lady Society articles to their publisher. She felt refreshed and ready to deal with the dress fittings for Audrey. Knowing her lady, it could take a while if the gowns were elaborate, and they were always elaborate.
She had the driver wait for her while she entered the shop. A matronly woman with silver—gray hair was kneeling by a young woman who was wearing a rose—silk gown. The young woman seemed to be around Audrey and Gillian's age of nineteen. She had light—brown hair, professionally styled, and smiled pleasantly at Gillian, assuming by her clothes that she was likely a young woman in a similar social circle.