did he learn that the apparel was, according to the lights of the macaronis—youthful noblemen who adopted the latest fads and aped the sputtering “What, what?” of the king—conservative.
For perhaps a heartbeat’s time, Phillipe was tempted to burst out laughing at the young man’s bizarre appearance and studied pose of boredom. But two things checked the mirth—the first being the total lack of any softening humor in the boy’s eyes. Focused on Phillipe, those eyes belied the pearl pins and pink shoes and limp wrist draped over the stick head. They were ugly eyes—
Ugly as the small, purplish birthmark Phillipe saw at the outer end of the young man’s left eyebrow.
The mark was shaped roughly like a U, and tilted, so the bottom pointed toward the left earlobe. Then Phillipe noticed a cloven place in the mark’s lower curve. He decided the mark didn’t resemble a letter so much as a broken hoof.
No more than a thumbnail’s height in all, the mark was still livid, disfiguring. Phillipe recalled the words in his father’s letter about the difficulties Lady Jane had encountered bearing Amberly’s legitimate son. Phillipe had no doubt about who the young man was—or why he stared with such open animosity.
The scene held a moment more—as the girl drew Phillipe’s attention. She was beautiful, so softly beautiful, in fact, that he almost gasped aloud at his first close look at her.
She was about the same height as her companion, but slimmer. High, full breasts were accented by her military-style riding costume. The double-breasted coat was dark blue, faced with white. A froth of white cravat showed at her throat. She wore no wig, her tawny hair bound in back by a simple ribbon. She tapped a crop against her full skirt, from under whose hem peeped the polished toes of masculine jackboots.
The girl’s sky-blue eyes engaged Phillipe’s with frank interest. And without the obvious dislike with which the boy continued to regard him.
Slowly, then, with a curling little smile, the girl glanced away—
But not before Phillipe’s startled senses caught a similarity between her gaze and Charlotte’s. Like Charlotte, she was a creature of the flesh, some instinct told him. But she was not common. A whore at heart, perhaps. But a gilded one—
Obviously the two young people had been outdoors, engaging in some strenuous activity such as horseback riding. The young man gave off an aroma of sweat as he swaggered toward Phillipe, hitting the floor with the ferrule of his stick at each step, rap, rap. His grin remained lopsided, relaxed—unlike his eyes. The girl pretended disinterest, half-turning from the two young men. But she continued to watch in an oblique way, a faint sheen of perspiration glowing on her upper lip.
Rap, rap, rap —
The young man stopped two paces in front of Phillipe. Stared. The lopsided grin straightened out; disappeared, leaving his mouth stark with distaste.
With unmistakable reluctance, Lady Jane at last broke the prolonged tension:
“May I present my son, Roger, and his fiancé, Alicia, daughter of the Earl of Parkhurst?”
Roger whipped up his stick. Phillipe had to step back a pace, quickly, to avoid being struck by the tip. He didn’t miss the flicker of pleasure in Roger’s eyes. Roger pointed the stick at Marie.
“This is the Charboneau woman?”
“Yes, that’s correct. I’ve forgotten her boy’s name.”
Rage boiled inside Phillipe as Marie burst out, “You know his name is Phillipe.”
Studying Phillipe through tawny lashes, Alicia Parkhurst remarked, “I do think there’s a resemblance.”
Lady Jane’s gray eyes went to flint. Roger saw his mother’s fury, and as if some unseen signal had passed between them, whirled on the girl, slamming the stick’s ferrule on the floor.
“None! None at all!”
“Oh, but Roger my sweet, use your eyes!”
Roger’s mouth wrenched. His color darkened as he went to Alicia in three swift strides. The mark at his