September 12, 1877
“Be quiet as a mouse,” Lily whispered to her cousin Marianne as they took the first step down the central staircase toward the foyer. “Papa arrived home a few minutes ago. I bet he’s in his study and maybe he hasn’t seen that scandal sheet.”
“And never does,” said Marianne, holding her hat on her head as she ran. “Hopefully, the comtesse should be here for our appointment.”
“So we might get past Papa’s study easily if—”
“Oh, no.” Marianne halted mid-stride. “Foster.”
The Hanniford family butler here in Paris appeared at the bottom of the stairs. His wispy white hair fell was combed back in perfection and he focused on Lily and Marianne with droopy eyes like a sad bloodhound. He’d unlocked the front door to them both at midnight with his usual silence. Lily had asked him not to mention to her father what time they arrived home, but she was certain the man, referred to tycoon Killian Hanniford by another American millionaire, would not withhold such information if asked.
She descended the steps, her hope of concealing last night’s escapade from her father, fleeing on a sigh.
“Miss Hanniford,” he said, directing his gaze at her, “and Mrs. Roland, please follow me.”
“Foster,” Lily said, wishing for a clue as she tried to keep pace with the servant’s crisp walk. “Does he know?”
The man turned his head and considered her, dare she say, with pity. “He does, Miss. The tabloid is in his possession.”
Marianne clutched her arm. “I thought the footman said the one he brought to us this morning was the only copy on the doorstep?”
Lily’s heart skipped a beat. “He did.”
“Mr. Hanniford,” said Foster, “brought home his own copy when he arrived minutes ago.”
“Oh, dear.” Lily might have guessed her father, who prided himself on up-to-the-minute knowledge of any importance to his family or his businesses, would learn of her and Marianne’s escape to Montmartre last night. “Not good.”
“Precisely,” said the butler as he knocked on the door to his employer’s study and opened it for the two women. “Sir, Miss Hanniford and Mrs. Roland.”
Lily and Marianne advanced on the carpet in front of the forty-four-year-old millionaire whom many in America feared, envied and even admired. He stood tall and imperious, hands clasped behind his back, still in his evening clothes. The sleek black wool was a match for his thick hair and his large ebony eyes, while the ivory scarf and shirt, the gold waistcoat, were rich counterbalances to his ruddy complexion and the commanding demeanor that beguiled women and intimidated adversaries. In his hand was a copy of the broadsheet that the family footman had given to Lily’s maid this morning.
This interview would not be pleasant. Lily girded herself for the coming storm.
“I understand from Foster and Thomas, the downstairs footman, that you’ve already seen this.”
He leaned toward her. “What’s that?”
“Yes, sir. I have.”
“Perhaps you’d like to learn, too, that I sent Thomas out and he has returned, confirming that local Parisian kiosks have hundreds of copies for sale on every corner.”
Oh, a disaster. She clasped her hands together, even as she understood that one did not show weakness in front of a man like her father. “I am sorry for this, Papa.”
“Sorry,” he said as if he considered one who had spilled tea on the expensive Aubusson rug. “Intriguing word.”
“Wouldn’t you like to choose another?”
“Such as ‘appalled’?”
“Regret. That’s a better word.”
“It is. But it does not match my sentiment.”
“No, sir.” She was certain it didn’t.
He stared at her. “I won’t debate this with you any longer, Lily.” Her father threw the scandal sheet on top of his desk and peered at her over his wire-rimmed glasses. “I want only a good marriage for you. Last week it was riding in the Bois de Boulougne without an escort. The week before, trying a bicycle on the sidewalk. Now this. Why must you fight me with these escapades?”
Yes, she’d gone to the Montmartre café and watched those women throw up their skirts in the cancan. Shocking as that was, her night had been thrilling. But she did have two defenses. “I didn’t go to embarrass you, Papa.”
“You did, anyway.”
Still. What was she? His to dispense with? Order about? She was his daughter, almost of age. Almost. And she countered him with her other weapon. “No business dealing of yours depends on my behavior.”
He arched a black brow. “You are not so naïve as that.”
She wasn’t. But she’d gone for another reason. One her father repeatedly refused to accept. “I don’t want a husband—”
“Eventually, every young woman has one,” he countered. “And I have the money to ensure you—”
“Get one. Any one!” She flourished a hand.
“Not true. I would not marry you off to any man unworthy of you.”
“I hope not.”
“I take that as an insult, my girl.”
“I don’t mean to be ungrateful.”
“You are, sadly. But in the meantime,” he said and punched a finger into the paper, “your antics will not endear you to any man, rich or poor.”
Lily Hanniford held her ground. She had twenty years of practice standing up to her sire, a wizard of finance and a ruthless shipping magnate whose wealth stunned many on both sides of the Atlantic. But how could she predict that a Parisian artist might find it amusing to caricature an American girl visiting a cabaret? “I wanted simply to see the cancan, Papa. Not do it.”
He set his jaw and glared first at her and then her cousin by her side. “I hold you responsible, Marianne. You are older and should be wiser. I told you to be prudent. Keep Lily in hand.”
“It’s not Marianne’s fault.” Lily sent a consoling look at her pretty blonde cousin who always withstood Black Killian Hanniford’s outbursts more stoically than she. “I said she could remain home if she preferred.”
“Ah.” Hanniford focused on his niece. “So, will you tell me you went to this cabaret, an innocent to the slaughter?”
Marianne tipped her head to and fro, the look on her face whimsical amusement. She was older than Lily by nine years, a widow, worldly and witness to the savagery of a civil war that had sent her husband to his grave. Because of or perhaps in spite of that, Marianne had a zest for living and a ripe sense of humor. “I may have shown some enthusiasm for the adventure.”
“Some?” Hanniford snorted. “You probably wanted to learn the dance yourself.”
“Hmm. Yes. It is rather difficult,” Marianne proclaimed.
Lily suppressed her laugh.
But her father was not amused. No.
Hands on his hips, he glared at Lily. “Who escorted you inside this—this Café de Abbesses?”
“Tell me, please, you did not go without a man in attendance.”
“He was kind.” A fellow who had a fancy for her, Lord Pinkhurst, was a sweet man, rich in his own right, and therefore without reason to fear Killian Hanniford.
“Kind! Who. Was. He?”
“A gentleman of our acquaintance.”
“One of my acquaintance?”
Lily shifted from one foot to the other. “Yes.”
Hanniford cursed mightily. “His name?”
Lily hated to admit it. “I will not tell you.”
“If you fail to reveal his identity, I guarantee you it will go worse for him.”
She would not have Pinkie pay prices for his kindness to her. He wanted to marry her, she was certain of it. And perhaps he’d agreed to escort her and Marianne to the guinguette to compel her to become his bride, but she wouldn’t do it. “If you ask about, if you discover who he is, if you hurt him, Papa, I shall leave for America the first chance I get.”
He blinked. “You threaten me?”
She did not flinch. “No, sir. I would not be so unkind.”
“I could lock you in your room and throw away the key.”
“You could.” But won’t. “How then to get a groom?”
“Dear heaven. How can this get worse?” He peered up at the ceiling.
Marianne stepped toward his desk. “Uncle Killian, please. We had a wonderful time. The music was gay and charming. The dancers were—”
“Naked?” He glared at her.
Marianne pulled back. “Partially.”
He ran a hand over his mouth. “You try me, both of you. Did you dance with your escort?”
Lily shook her head. “No, sir.”
“Oh, yes,” Lily said, recalling the wine with a bitter bite, “but it was terrible vin rouge.”
He snorted. Then he turned to Marianne. “Did you sing?”
Marianne nodded. “Only with the patrons.”
“That’s some reprieve, I suppose. Why wouldn’t you give them your best soprano, Marianne?”
Her emerald eyes sparkled, even as she lifted a shoulder in sheepish delight. “I didn’t know the French lyrics.”
“And your gentleman saw you both safely home?”
“He did.” Lily was happy to tell him that. “In his carriage. We stayed only for a few songs.”
“And do you think that brevity lessens the damage you have done to your reputation?”
Lily had no response for that. “Could I hope a man would value a woman with a bit of courage?”
There was that. “I agreed to sail to Europe with you for your benefit more than mine.”
“Did you now? How kind of you.”
“Enough! This,” he thundered as he put his fist down on the newspaper, “is not to occur again. Do you hear me?”
Her cousin bowed her head. “Yes, Uncle Killian.”
“My order is to use this time in Paris wisely. Go to the shops. Buy clothes, perfect your French and make a name for yourselves as the refined beauties you are, not as ladies of the night!”
“Oh, Papa, we wouldn’t,” Lily rushed to add.
“You think it’s fine to drink and dine with artists and riff raff?”
“Oh, sir,” Marianne said, “they are poor but happy.”
“And very polite,” Lily added.
“Dear God.” Her father sank to the chair behind him.
Lily kneaded her hands. When her father reached the end of his patience, he would become quiet. Terribly so. Then burst forth with an ultimatum that would end all hope of compromise. “I didn’t like the cartoon, either, Papa.”
“Oh, really?” He stared at her. “Offended you, did it, that he portrayed you holding up your skirts to show your ankles?”
She nibbled her lower lip. She hated to admit her vulnerable pride. “I hated that he drew me with dollars spilling from my skirt pockets.”
Killian Hanniford’s swarthy complexion turned livid. “And I suppose we must be grateful he didn’t show you lifting your skirts higher like those dancers?”
He ground his teeth. “Nonetheless, this is not acceptable by you two, the cartoonist or his publisher. For this artist’s miscalculation to make fun of my daughter, I have sent for the owner of this rag.”
“To come here?” Lily felt as if the air had left her like a pricked balloon.
He arched a dark disdainful brow. “Would you have me dally?”
“No. No, of course not.” She was gratified he’d act to quell the insult to her. But he was known to overreact. “I’d like the artist reprimanded. Warned, you see.”
“Not the publication set to ruin?” Hanniford smiled with a rueful twist to his mouth, his electric temper masked by his self-deprecating humor.
Lily didn’t like people destroyed for their follies. She preferred them scolded. Shown some mercy. Some hope of redemption. “Exactly.”
“I’ll deal as I see fit.”
Oh, my. The publisher might lose his paper. At the very least, the cartoonist would be turned out on the street. Cartoonists in Baltimore and New York had toyed with Black Killian Hanniford’s image and paid the ultimate price for their aggression against the man who’d first come to public fame as Baltimore’s Black Irish Blockade Runner. Her father had even bought up half share in one of the newspapers who lambasted his actions, silencing any controversy over him.
“Please, Papa. Be kind.”
He eyed her. “You mean that?”
“I do.” She hated vindictiveness. “I really do.”
“What’s it worth to you?”
He considered her with the gaze he trained on adversaries.
She fought to suppress a shiver.
“You heard me. What will you promise me for the courtesy to deal lightly with these men?”
Lily knew enough of her sire to understand that she held few advantages in bargaining with him. She had only one card to play. And she’d already dealt it.
“Well? What say you?”
Lily lifted her chin and stared him in the eye. She had obligations to Marianne who had eagerly anticipated living in Paris, going to the opera and art galleries while she perfected her French. Lily had also made a promise to her younger sister, Ava, who finished her schooling in Manhattan and would arrive in London next June along with their older brother, Pierce. “I promise to be polite, act properly and cause no more scandals.”
He barked in laughter. “That’s what you were supposed to do, anyway. What’s in this for me, for what I want?”
She stiffened her spine. “I’ll do this for you and Marianne. I’ll do it for Ava and Pierce to smooth their way in society. I’ll do the Season in London, curtsy and simper and—”
He put up a hand. “Stop. Get to your wager.”
If this were any lesser issue, she would have smiled that her father knew her so well. “I will stay for one year.”
“One year?” he asked with skepticism.
“To the day.”
“And during that time?”
She stood on the precipice of her freedom. “I will entertain any man you deem fit for me to consider as my husband. I’ll keep an open mind and an open heart.” She swallowed hard and fought to speak the words of her next condition.
He waggled his fingers at her. “Yes, yes, come on. The rest of it.”
“But you will not influence me to one man over another. You will not meddle. And you will not buy me a husband.”
“And if I refrain, what then?”
“If I find a man I can love, I will tell you and you will approve. No matter who he is, his wealth or lack thereof, or his connections.”
He cleared his throat. “I see. And your threat, should I not abide by your condition?”
She had pin money she’d saved. Frugal all her life, she had accumulated more than five thousand dollars of her own. Before she’d left Baltimore, she’d arranged with a bank to extend her a line of credit in Paris and London, should she ever need it. If the banker had ever told her father of this, she didn’t know.
But she was ready to reveal the depth of her commitment to directing her own destiny. “I will return home on the first ship I can book passage.”
He flexed his square jaw. “And do you think to return to your status as my daughter in my home?”
She had always known how hard Black Killian Hanniford played to achieve his own ends. In business, he was ruthless, driven. But not merciless to his children. His forgiveness of Pierce’s folly years ago was her best proof that his love for his family was his Achilles heel. Lily had seen how to hinder him by attacking him there.
She shook back her long dark ringlets over her shoulders. “I would return not to Baltimore but to Texas. Open the ranch that my mother left to me, rebuild the house and live there.”
She considered her clasped hands. “I’d hire a foreman and vaqueros. Take my maid. Raise longhorns and quarter horses.”
“You wouldn’t return to Corpus Christi to marry that doctor you both worked for?”
Marianne and she had volunteered in a small hospital in the small town on the Gulf of Mexico and nursed poor workers afflicted with cholera and all sorts of infections. But their tenure had been short-lived when Hanniford learned of their actions and demanded they come with him to Baltimore and on to Europe.
“No, sir,” Lily told him. She didn’t love the man.
“Or you?” He turned to Marianne.
It was her cousin who favored nursing and who had mourned the injunction not to aid the doctor and his patients, even as she seized the opportunity to move to Baltimore and live with the Hannifords in style and comfort.
Marianne shook her head in resignation. “I won’t return, sir.”
And Lily understood that. Marianne was many things. A widow of thirty, a genteel lady of education and breeding, a former mistress of a four-hundred-acre farm near Spotsylvania, a caring nurse of Confederate soldiers wounded on her land, she was all that. But Marianne was also a woman who wanted to laugh again, a lady who yearned to forget the wounded and dying whom she’d tended, and a very accomplished artist who longed to sketch and paint far away from the turmoil of war and pestilence. She did not like conflict of any kind. And she appreciated that her maternal uncle had welcomed her into his family and into his home when she was without hope or hearth. He had given her an annual income in honor of her mother, the dead sister whom he’d loved dearly. Banking the money, she spent little of it and could count herself wealthy in her own right. She owed her Uncle Killian her own allegiance and cooperation and would not risk his disfavor.
“Thank you for that,” he said.
Her cousin nodded.
He was silent for a long moment while he examined them. “Very well. We have a deal. One year for you, Lily. And for you, Marianne, my largesse, for as long as you behave discreetly.”
His lips spread in a strained smile. “Now go. I understand from Foster you have a fitting at Worth’s.”
Lily breathed in relief. “We do.”
“Well, then spend my money. Buy everything you love. Buy some of what you hate. I told Worth’s assistant weeks ago that the sky was no limit. You’re both to have everything you need for the Season.” He nodded toward the door. “I have an appointment in an hour. I must prepare. So the two of you must get out.”
“Thank you, Papa.” Lily beamed at him, giddy at the reprieve, delighted she hadn’t had to use her father’s own indiscretion here in Paris against him to win her case.
“I am grateful, sir,” said Marianne.
“Good. Go.” He waved them off. “And prove it to me.”
They hastened to leave him.
“We must have our coats. Our hats. Where is the comtesse?” Lily was rattling on, nerves jumping inside her as she surveyed the hall. “She should be here by now to accompany us to Worth’s.”
The Comtesse de Chaumont was an impoverished comely widow whom her father paid handsomely to introduce them to Paris customs and the cream of French society.
But the vast foyer was empty, save for Foster who awaited them with a frown.
Lily’s heart was pounding like a mad thing. She’d survived. Bargained. Won! The prize far off, but nonetheless a victory. But soon they’d go to London where men by the droves would dance upon her and kiss her hand. Aside from her sizable dowry, she hated to think why they’d bother. She had never thought of herself as a beauty. She saw herself as attractive, good looking with ink-black hair, a firm figure and pale blue eyes with rather thick lashes, but she’d seen much lovelier girls. More stunning women.
Yet other aspects of her life had preceded her appearance in any London drawing room. Those were not flattering. ‘The Blockade Runner’s Daughter with a Dowry Fit for a King’ declared one English gossip sheet, describing ‘Black’ Hanniford’s business interests in the City. Another called her ‘The Millionaire Cowgirl’ and ran a sketch of her riding a bull, her hand in the air as if she were busting a bronco. She was no porcelain doll to pour their tea and smile like a simpleton in their parlors. She had intelligence and health and a desire to spend her days doing something useful. That might not be nursing, but it definitely was not acting like an aimless, spoiled creature with feathers for brains.
“I can’t believe he agreed to my condition,” she said to her cousin as Foster fetched their coats and parasols from the hall closet. “I know you think I’m mad, but I had to try again.”
“And you won!” Marianne smiled at her with twinkling green eyes. “Amazing.”
“I always feared I’d walk down the aisle with a bouquet comprised of my newly beloved’s tailor’s bills.” The smile on Lily’s face disappeared as she leaned over to whisper. “Now I bet the publisher will not dare put in a cartoon of Papa with his French mistress.”
Marianne smoothed the skirts of her day dress. “How right you are.”
Foster approached. The butler’s long face was a cipher. He’d been recommended to them by the Jeromes, whose daughter Jennie had married the second son of the duke of the Marlborough a few years ago. Mister Jerome had said that Benjamin Foster excelled at smoothing the path for American families in Europe. The servant understood the challenges of etiquette, but he was also discreet, a vital asset to those attempting legitimacy among the old aristocracies.
Marianne turned toward the mirror and checked her hat and her long platinum curls dangling from her elaborate coiffure. “I plan on telling anyone who’ll listen how he earned his money.”
Lily fingered a ribbon hanging from her red velvet toque. “It’s not the kind of story they’re used to.”
“Definitely not,” Marianne said, her forest-green eyes wide with pride. “They’re for those who claim supremacy by an accident of birth. Men who rise to power by packing others off to the guillotine. They don’t understand men who rise from poverty to wield a fortune. Isn’t that right, Foster?”
Lily sighed. “Nor do they understand women who don’t want to be the doyennes of high society.”
“Quite so,” said Marianne with a tip of her head. “I personally prefer to become an expert in chocolate macarons.”
“And increase the width of your corsets,” Lily teased.
“Precisely. Speaking of clothes, where is the comtesse, anyway?”
“She would harp at us for a moment’s delay for our showing,” Lily complained. Clemence Bernier, the countess of Chaumont, was never late for a fitting, claiming it the height of incivility. “Foster, do we not have any messages from her?”
“I’m afraid not, Miss.” He held up Lily’s coat. “This is unlike her.”
Lily sniffed. “Very.”
“Might she regret and apologize?” Marianne asked with a wry smile.
Lily lifted a finger in imitation of their tutor. “‘Regard! It is forbidden to be late for your appointments with your designer, your milliner or your jeweler. However, enter a ball an hour later than the invitation. And for the opera, arrive at midnight.’”
Marianne chuckled. “‘And two hours late for a rendezvous with your lover.’”
Lily made a face at Marianne. “As if you and I shall ever have lovers.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Marianne said as she let Foster help her on with her coat.
“You wouldn’t!” Lily was laughing.
Marianne met her gaze with serious eyes. “I can dream, can’t I?”
“No. You can’t. Papa would have you for breakfast.”
“Foster,” Marianne said to the servant, “you are listening to none of this.”
“No, madam. I am quite deaf,” he said, but his mouth twitched with a rare smile.
“Shall we go on without the comtesse?” Marianne asked Lily.
“Let’s.” She considered her cousin’s quick change of subject. Marianne had become a widow when her husband had died on the battlefield at Gettysburg more than thirteen years ago. Never, to Lily’s knowledge, had she been attracted to another man. Beautiful as she was with a wealth of shining white-blonde hair and eyes green as a glade, Marianne could attract any man she wished. But she had never received anyone in Galveston or Baltimore. None in Paris, either. Yet. “I’m certain she’ll meet us there.”
Lily allowed Foster to assist her with her coat. “She wouldn’t want to miss the ability to gossip about us to her friends.”
“Oh, you have a dastardly view of our dear poor Chaumont.”
Marianne lifted a shoulder. “She’s so eager to please. A little like a pampered hound. When she’s not barking orders at you, she reaches for approval.”
Marianne stared at herself in the mirror. “I would bet she has a lover.”
“Whom she supports on Papa’s money.”
“Oh, you are bad,” Marianne reprimanded her with a grin.
“Foster, do you know any of this? Is our comtesse enamored with a gentleman?”
“Miss, even if I knew, I could not say.”
She took her gloves and parasol from him. “I long to hear her explanation. And in the meantime, we can sip Monsieur Worth’s white wine and eat his marvelous French cheese.”
“The better to grow fat.”
“And spill over our corsets.” Marianne hooked her arm through Lily’s. “All the better to lounge in our morning gowns in flagrant dishabille.”
“Outrageous, Madam Roland.” Lily had never heard Marianne desire anything. She seemed content living with the Hannifords without a home, husband, or children of her own. So this outré declaration was so deliciously flamboyant of her. Lily chuckled as Foster opened the front door and their coachman doffed his hat. “It’s time to order the most expensive silk and satin Papa’s money can buy.”