Once upon a time there were four friends who liked history and to make fun of each other. When one of them, Gerald Kane, Viscount Trevelyan, met and fell in love with Caroline Sinclair, the rest of them - Lord Simon Dressden, Lord Harry Lipton and Sir Marcus Grant – decided to meddle a little into Gerald's affairs to ensure that he and Caroline got their happily-ever after.
A few years later, with Caroline and Gerald happily married, it was finally time for the rest of the friends to met their match but it would all begin in a most unusual way.
Liz Salinger stared at her older sister Emily, amazed at how Emmy was able to keep it together, to appear happy and even hopeful, confident, as they made their way from their home in Cornwall to London in what might still prove to be a mad adventure.
Then again, Emmy was used to keep them together, she had done so for the last seven years since their parents had died, putting on hold all of Emmy's plans for a season and marriage.
"Will we be there soon?" Allie, the youngest of them asked softly.
Emmy and Liz turned to their youngest sister and conjured smiles out of thin air, "We should almost be there." Emmy said in an almost maternal voice.
"And do you think the earl will like us?" Allie asked softly.
"What's there not to like?" Liz asked brightly.
"Cousin Mathew doesn't like us." Allie said.
"Cousin Mathew is a pig," Liz said quickly.
Mathew Reynolds liked them enough to indicate that he would be willing to take one of them as mistress in exchange of letting them live in their parents' cottage – which had passed to be his propriety after Mr. Salinger was gone. Liz and Emmy had been able to fend him off so far, but when his interest shifted to Allie, who was the most pretty of the three, Emmy had snapped and suggested they found their mysterious and absentee guardian: the Earl of Dressden.
The Salinger girls had never met Dressden; they knew the earl had owed Mr. Salinger some sort of favor, so he took them as wards, but beyond that they were in a blank, the earl just sent them a small monthly allowance and never bothered with them.
Well, they would be bothering him now, Liz thought.
They bounced about for another half an hour before entering the fashionable district of Mayfair. Dressden House was massive and the three girls stared at in it in awe for a moment before Emmy stepped forward and knocked on the door.
"Yes?" Said a haughty butler.
"We are looking for Lord Dressden," Emmy said, extracting from her coat's pocket her father's will, in which the Earl had stamped his signature agreeing to be their guardian. "We are his wards, you see, and-"
"The Earl has no wards that I know of," the butler said stiffly but reached for the paper Emmy held out to him. After a moment's inspection -and without any facial expression crossing his face – the butler let them in. "I'll see if the earl is home." He said, taking the papers with him and disappearing, leaving them to wait in the foyer.
"At least he let us in," Liz grumbled.
"Let's take it as a good sign." Allie piped up.
"My butler said you were looking for me?" said a voice at their backs and the three girls jumped, turning around to see a dark haired man with unusually pale eyes and who couldn't be older than thirty.
"Are you the Earl of Dressden?" Emmy asked, even though she knew it wasn't exactly polite to ask something like that.
The man nodded and bowed, his voice mocking as he said "Simon, Seventh Earl of Dressden."
Understanding in a flash – and since Emmy seemed quite stunned by this turn of events – Liz came forward, "We are the Misses Salinger and we are – or were – the sixth earl's wards."
"My father didn't have any wards," Simon said, "He never agreed to be guardian of anyone, said someone always turned up dead and that it was a drain in the family founds."
"Be that as it may," Emmy said, coming out of her shock thanks to Dressden's unkind remarks, "The earl – your father, has been sending us money for the last seven years." She began to put the monthly letter that came from a London's solicitor letting them know that funds had been transferred to the bank in Turso – the 'city', about an hour away from their little village of Foxhaven – and showing it to him.
"Father has been dead for the past five years," Dressden said but he took the letter when he recognized the stamp of his solicitors on the envelope Emmy held to him.
"Our parents have been death for seven years, sir." Liz explained, amazed that she, the hot head, was keeping it cool when Emmy, who was the sensible one, seemed angry with Lord Dressden. "Maybe you were just unaware of your father's agreement with ours, but we have our father's Will with the earl's signature, agreeing to be our guardian."
"This is very strange." Dressden said, reading the letter, which seemed legitimate.
Just then, Allie's stomach chose to grumble loudly. They were all hungry, having spent most of their money in renting the carriage that had brought them to London and in paying for the inns and hostels they had stayed or eaten in along the way. That morning before they set out they had realized they were down to their last two pounds, so they had forgone lunch to save the money, in case this visit didn't turn out as they expected.
Two pounds might not be much, but it was better than nothing.
Dressden looked at Allie, who shrunk and hid behind Emmy, "Pardon me." She mumbled.
The Earl seemed to realize he was keeping three young ladies – who might or not be his responsibility – standing in the entrance hall and had shown them no courtesy whatsoever. To their surprise, he blushed and began to call orders to the butler, Mr. Verney.
Before they realized they had been put on the care of Mrs. Daniels, the housekeeper, who took them to a room upstairs so they could wash and freshen up and then took them to the library and feed them tea and sandwiches.
"At least we are not in the streets yet," Liz said, stuffing a sandwich into her mouth, more hungry than she had first realized.
"Amen to that," Emmy said in such a prim way that the girls burst out laughing, nervous but still hopeful, at least for now.
---- End of Chapter ONE ----