A Red-Haired Man
London, 1756 The Society for Appreciation of the English Beefsteak, a gentlemans club Lord John Grey jerked his eyes away from the door. No. No, he mustnt turn and stare. Needing some other focus for his gaze, he fixed his eyes instead on Quarrys scar.
“A glass with you, sir?” Scarcely waiting for the clubs steward to provide for his companion, Harry Quarry drained his cup of claret, then held it out for more. “And another, perhaps, in honor of your return from frozen exile?” Quarry grinned broadly, the scar pulling down the corner of his eye in a lewd wink as he did so, and lifted up his glass again.
Lord John tilted his own cup in acceptance of the salute, but barely tasted the contents. With an effort, he kept his eyes on Quarrys face, willing himself not to turn and stare, not to gawk after the flash of fire in the corridor that had caught his eye.
Quarrys scar had faded; tightened and shrunk to a thin white slash, its nature made plain only by its position, angled hard across the ruddy cheek. It might otherwise have lost itself among the lines of hard living, but instead remained visible, the badge of honor that its owner so plainly considered it.
“You are exceeding kind to note my return, sir,” Grey said. His heart hammered in his ears, muffling Quarrys words—no great loss to conversation.
It is not, his sensible mind pointed out, it cannot be. Yet sense had nothing to do with the riot of his sensibilities, that surge of feeling that seized him by nape and buttocks, as though it would pluck him up and turn him forcibly to go in pursuit of the red-haired man he had so briefly glimpsed.
Quarrys elbow nudged him rudely, a not-unwelcome recall to present circumstances.
“. . . among the ladies, eh?”
“I say your return has been noted elsewhere, too. My sister-in-law bid me send her regard and discover your present lodgings. Do you stay with the regiment?”
“No, I am at present at my mothers house, in Jermyn Street.” Finding his cup still full, Grey raised it and drank deep. The Beefsteaks claret was of excellent vintage, but he scarcely noticed its bouquet. There were voices in the hall outside, raised in altercation.
“Ah. Ill inform her, then; expect an invitation by the morn- ing post. Lucinda has her eye upon you for a cousin of hers, I daresay—she has a flock of poor but well-favored female relations, whom she means to shepherd to good marriages.” Quarrys teeth showed briefly. “Be warned.”
Grey nodded politely. He was accustomed to such overtures. The youngest of four brothers, he had no hopes of a title, but the family name was ancient and honorable, his person and countenance not without appeal—and he had no need of an heiress, his own means being ample.
The door flung open, sending such a draft across the room as made the fire in the hearth roar up like the flames of Hades, scattering sparks across the Turkey carpet. Grey gave thanks for the burst of heat; it gave excuse for the color that he felt suffuse his cheeks.
Nothing like. Of course he is nothing like. Who could be? And yet the emotion that filled his breast was as much disappointment as relief.
The man was tall, yes, but not strikingly so. Slight of build, almost delicate. And young, younger than Grey, he judged. But the hair—yes, the hair was very like.
Lord John Grey.” Quarry had intercepted the young man, a hand on his sleeve, turning him for introduction. “Allow me to acquaint you with my cousin by marriage, Mr. Robert Gerald.”
Mr. Gerald nodded shortly, then seemed to take hold of himself. Suppressing whatever it was that had caused the blood to rise under his fair skin, he bowed, then fixed his gaze on Grey in cordial acknowledgment.
“Your servant, sir.”
“And yours.” Not copper, not carrot; a deep red, almost rufous, with glints and streaks of cinnabar and gold. The eyes were not blue—thank God!—but rather a soft and luminous brown.
Greys mouth had gone dry. To his relief, Quarry offered refreshment, and upon Geralds agreement, snapped his fingers for the steward and steered the three of them to an armchaired corner, where the haze of tobacco smoke hung like a sheltering curtain over the less-convivial members of the Beefsteak.
“Who was that I heard in the corridor?” Quarry demanded, as soon as they were settled. “Bubb-Dodington, surely? The mans a voice like a costermonger.”
“I—he—yes, it was.” Mr. Geralds pale skin, not quite recovered from its earlier excitement, bloomed afresh, to Quarrys evident amusement.
“Oho! And what perfidious proposal has he made you, young Bob?”
“Nothing. He—an invitation I did not wish to accept, that is all. Must you shout so loudly, Harry?” It was chilly at this end of the room, but Grey thought he could warm his hands at the fire of Geralds smooth cheeks.
Quarry snorted with amusement, looking around at the nearby chairs.
“Whos to hear? Old Cotterills deaf as a post, and the Generals half dead. And why do you care in any case, if the matters so innocent as you suggest?” Quarrys eyes swiveled to bear on his cousin by marriage, suddenly intelligent and penetrating.
“I did not say it was innocent,” Gerald replied dryly, regaining his composure. “I said I declined to accept it. And that, Harry, is all you will hear of it, so desist this piercing glare you turn upon me. It may work on your subalterns, but not on me.”
Grey laughed, and after a moment, Quarry joined in. He clapped Gerald on the shoulder, eyes twinkling.
“My cousin is the soul of discretion, Lord John. But thats as it should be, eh?”
“I have the honor to serve as junior secretary to the prime minister,” Gerald explained, seeing incomprehension on Greys features. “While the secrets of government are dull indeed, at least by Harrys standards”—he shot his cousin a malicious grin—“they are not mine to share.”
“Oh, well, of no interest to Lord John in any case,” Quarry said philosophically, tossing back his third glass of aged claret with a disrespectful haste more suited to porter. Grey saw the senior steward close his eyes in quiet horror at the act of desecration, and smiled to himself—or so he thought, until he caught Mr. Geralds soft brown eyes upon him, a matching smile of complicity upon his lips.
“Such things are of little interest to anyone save those most intimately concerned,” Gerald said, still smiling at Grey. “The fiercest battles fought are those where very little lies at stake, you know. But what interests you, Lord John, if politics does not?”
“Not lack of interest,” Grey responded, holding Robert Geralds eyes boldly with his. No, not lack of interest at all. “Ignorance, rather. I have been absent from London for some time; in fact, I have quite lost . . . touch.”
Without intent, one hand closed upon his glass, the thumb drawing slowly upward, stroking the smooth, cool surface as though it were anothers flesh. Hastily, he set the glass down, seeing as he did so the flash of blue from the sapphire ring he wore. It might have been a lighthouse beacon, he reflected wryly, warning of rough seas ahead.
And yet the conversation sailed smoothly on, despite Quarrys jocular inquisitions regarding Greys most recent posting in the wilds of Scotland and his speculations as to his brother officers future prospects. As the former was terra prohibita and the latter terra incognita, Grey had little to say in response, and the talk moved on to other things: horses, dogs, regimental gossip, and other such comfortable masculine fare.
Yet now and again, Grey felt the brown eyes rest on him, with an expression of speculation that both modesty and caution forbade him to interpret. It was with no sense of surprise, though, that upon departure from the club, he found himself alone in the vestibule with Gerald, Quarry having been detained by an acquaintance met in passing.
“I impose intolerably, sir,” Gerald said, moving close enough to keep his low-voiced words from the ears of the servant who kept the door. “I would ask your favor, though, if it be not entirely unwelcome?”
“I am completely at your command, I do assure you,” Grey said, feeling the warmth of claret in his blood succeeded by a rush of deeper heat.
“I wish—that is, I am in some doubt regarding a circumstance of which I have become aware. Since you are so recently come to London—that is, you have the advantage of perspective, which I must necessarily lack by reason of familiarity. There is no one . . .” He fumbled for words, then turned eyes grown suddenly and deeply unhappy on Lord John. “I can confide in no one!” he said, in a sudden, passionate whisper. He gripped Lord Johns arm, with surprising strength. “It may be nothing, nothing at all. But I must have help.”
“You shall have it, if it be in my power to give.” Greys fingers touched the hand that grasped his arm; Geralds fingers were cold. Quarrys voice echoed down the corridor behind them, loud with joviality.
“The Change, near the Arcade,” Gerald said rapidly. “Tonight, just after full dark.” The grip on Greys arm was gone, and Gerald vanished, the soft fall of his hair vivid against his blue cloak.
Greys afternoon was spent in necessary errands to tailors and solicitors, then in making courtesy calls upon long-neglected acquaintance, in an effort to fill the empty hours that loomed before dark. Quarry, at loose ends, had volunteered to accompany him, and Lord John had made no demur. Bluff and jovial by temper, Quarrys conversation was limited to cards, drink, and whores. He and Grey had little in common, save the regiment. And Ardsmuir.
"The indefatigable Gabaldon, who has made the British 18th century her own, offers a trio of novellas about Lord John Grey, whose minor role in the Outlander novels (concerning Jacobite Jamie Fraser and including A Breath of Snow and Ashes) has become a major fictional spinoff (Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, etc.). The three mystery-adventure novellas of this volume span 1756 to 1758, in settings packed with dark secrets and therefore dangers for the soldier-hero with secrets of his own. The first novella finds Lord John swearing vengeance in London for a murdered government official, leading him to a deconsecrated abbey where members of the political elite indulge their basest desires. The second pits Lord John against a succubus that plagues his Prussian encampment, and combines humor with military strategy and supernatural myth. The third, most complex narrative finds Lord John investigating the cause of a cannon explosion in the English countryside that results in a fellow officer's death. Gabaldon brings an effusive joy to her fiction that proves infectious even for readers unfamiliar with her work or the period. A foreword and introductory notes add background on the book's evolution." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Gabaldon's strengths are on full display....Deftly written, pleasantly concise stories about the ghosts of desire, each with its own discrete merits." Kirkus Reviews
"A captivating collection....featuring richly detailed historical settings, splendidly nuanced characters, and expertly crafted plots." Booklist