The Tattler - April 1802 It wouldn't surprise you, gentle readers, to learn that Dermott Ramsay, the earl of Bathurst and favorite of all ladies, married or otherwise, has a new paramour. What may surprise you is her name. For she is none other than Isabella Leslie! The same beauty of the sizable inheritance who prefers not the ton but books, maps, and the family shipping business. You may wonder how a picture of innocence ended up in the arms of a libertine. Truth to tell, Isabella had to flee from her scheming relatives in the rain-soaked night and seek refuge in London's most infamous brothel. There, with the help of the madam, she devised an unorthodox plan to escape a dreaded marriage bed. She would simply have to become unmarriageable--even if it meant public ruin. And who better to utterly ruin her in a mere week than a handsome rake famous for seductive skills? But gossip has it that Dermott may be developing a tendre for his temporary mistress. It makes for the most delicious speculation, does it not? For if it indeed is the case, what will happen when their week of pleasure is over? We urge you, dear readers, to do as we do--follow the affair closely, and with every hope that it will turn into this Season's most delicious scandal.
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October 30, 2000
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Excerpt from Temporary Mistress by Susan Johnson
THE STEADY DRIZZLE had turned to a downpour ten minutes earlier and the lady clinging to Dermott Ramsay on the high-lurching seat of his racing phaeton was not only thoroughly drenched but furious. Which meant he'd have to set her down at the next inn, practically ensuring Hilton a win in their race to London. Damn Olivia anyway. He'd not wanted to bring her along, but she'd coaxed with such enticing fervor as they lay naked in her absent husband's bed that morning, he'd found his better judgment overruled by lust.
He squinted into the driving rain, the road barely visible through the deluge, but his Thoroughbreds were running strongly despite the rough going, and if his racing phaeton didn't snap an axle, by the grace of God and some damned fine driving he would have won the race.
"Ram!" the countess screamed, her nails biting through the fine wool of his coat as the carriage hit a pothole and tilted crazily. "Put me down this instant!"
For a fleeting moment he was tempted to do just that, but he was a gentleman for all his faults and couldn't indulge his wishes and leave her in the middle of the muddy road. He raised his voice enough to be heard against the storm. "I'll set you down at The Swan in Chaldon."
"It's too far!"
While he agreed, it wasn't as though he had another option. Forcing himself to a politesse he was far from feeling with his chance of winning virtually destroyed, he shouted, "Just ten minutes more and you'll be dry!"
"I should never have let you talk me into coming along! Look at my bonnet and gown!" she cried. "And the state of my . . ." Her voice died away, the glance he shot her way chill enough to silence even the overweening vanity of London's most celebrated beauty.
The rest of the wet, miserable journey to Chaldon passed in silence.
Bringing his matched pair to a plunging stop outside the entrance to The Swan, the Earl of Bathurst tossed his reins to an ostler and leaped to the ground. He was around to the countess's side in a few racing strides, his arms lifted to catch her. Carrying her inside, he bespoke a room, set her down, paid the innkeeper a generous sum over and above the required amount to assure his companion would have every comfort, and bowed to the lady who had cost him not only the race but a ten-thousand-guinea wager. "I'll send my carriage for you in the morning." Without waiting for a reply, he strode back outside.
Hilton had passed him, of course. He'd been close on his heels since Red Hill. Dermott didn't need the ostler's report to know he'd been bested. Softly cursing, he tossed the man a guinea, vaulted back onto the phaeton seat, and snatched up the reins.
It wasn't as though he'd not been behind in a race before, he thought, taking heart from the instant response of his powerful grays. Their will to win matched his, and his Thoroughbreds and custom-made phaeton had garnered more than their share of racing wagers in the past few years. "Come on, sweethearts," he crooned, leaning forward on the high-perched seat, knowing they recognized not only his voice but his urgency. "Let's see if we can catch them."
Their ears pricked forward, then twitched as though signaling their acknowledgment, and their strides lengthened.
A half hour later, Hilton's phaeton rose out of the gray mist, the outline faint in the distance. Dermott's nostrils flared as though catching the scented hint of victory. He'd raised his grays from foals and knew them as well as he knew his own family. Better, his mother would complain on occasion. "Here we go now, darlings," he murmured, letting the reins slide through his gloved fingers, giving his racers their heads.
It was a slow, laborious undertaking with Hilton's horses renowned for their speed. But Dermott's team slowly gained ground, and when they were within passing range, Hilton did what any driver who wanted to win would do. He moved squarely into the center of the road.
Boldness was required now, perhaps a rash tempting of providence as well with the possibility of an approaching carriage ever present. Not to mention the threat of a hidden pothole lying in wait to snap a horse's leg, or the critical question of passing space. But long celebrated for his audacity, the young Earl of Bathurst had been recklessly testing the limits of self-destruction for over a decade.
He began easing his grays to the left, the surface quagmire looking a modicum better on that side.
Hilton moved left as well.
The earl countered by directing his team to the right.
After a quick glance over his shoulder, the Duke of Hilton immediately blocked Dermott's attempt to pass on the right, and a continuing shift from left to right and back again ensued for the next several miles--at tearing speeds. Dermott watched Hilton's Yorkshire chestnuts for signs of fatigue, aware of Hilton's rough hands, his habit of hauling on the reins playing havoc with his horses' mouths and confidence. He could see Hilton's team jostle against each other several times, their momentary distress evident. And then suddenly Dermott saw his chance, the shoulder of the road ahead widening for perhaps a hundred yards. With boldness he swung his team over, forcing them into the meager space.
At times like this, nerve alone prevailed. Either Hilton or Dermott would have to give way. Dermott's grays valiantly obeyed his command, plunging forward as if they had the open downs before them instead of an impossibly narrow passage.
When the duke realized Dermott's intent, he held his ground, although his gloved hands nervously tightened on the reins and his mouth narrowed into a grim line.
"Get out of the way!" Exhilaration resonated in Dermott's cry, and a madcap triumph that overlooked all but the thrill of winning. The grays responded with a surge of power, mud flying from their pounding hooves, their courage and heart surmounting the foul weather and wicked footing.
The phaeton wheels inched closer and closer as Dermott began drawing even with the duke, disaster only a hairbreadth away now, the possibility of slipping sideways in the treacherous mire not only real but likely. It was a moment when a prudent man might contemplate whether such a race was worth one's life.
A second passed, two, then three, the racing horses neck and neck, the phaeton wheels slicing through the soft roadbed, the drivers so close, they could have touched whips.
The vehicles careened over the crest of a hill and the dangerous, infamous Danner curve suddenly loomed.
Death faced them head-on.
Hilton hauled on his reins.
Dermott smiled and shot past.