Madame Marchander paused from the conversation to survey her packed main salon. A deep sense of satisfaction settled in her bones. Philippe had informed her most of the rooms were occupied at present, and the card room bustled as well.
Business remained excellent.
Her gaze drifted across the room and collided with the tall figure of a man who impeded her view as he stood over the small group of fawning gents arranged at her feet. Shifting directions, her gaze swept down and then up the masculine form. Arriving at his face, the blood in her head deserted her as an older but all too-familiar face swam within her vision. Jonathan Pierce, currently styled the Baron of Heartfield according to her sources, had been her first love.
One of the men noticed her distress and patted her hand. “Madame Marchander, are you not well?”
Her head swam as the room closed in on her. Why was he there? What could he want? Was it presumptuous to assume he could be looking for her? She rose and the men parted so she could pass. “Please, I fear I am a bit warm with so many of you crowded around. I think a breath of air would be best.”
“Madame, please allow me to escort you.” Baron Heartfield slipped her hand into the crook of his arm and led her toward the French doors open onto the rear gardens.
“Do I know you, sir?” Hiding behind formality and time, she opted to continue pretending Marie Doring no longer existed.
“Baron Heartfield, Madame Marchander, or may I call you Marie as I once did?” Familiar blue eyes sparkled as he swept aside her deflection.
“Madame Marchander will do.” Anger overcame her initial distress. What brought him to The Market? Why resurrect ancient history? She had not heard he was low on funds, so it was doubtful he intended blackmail. If the gentry of Coventry learned what had become of Miss Marie Doring, it might cause a ripple of scandal, but her sisters were long married and could weather the storm. They had little contact, the occasional bit of correspondence and the annual Christmas card being all she allowed.
Her skirts brushed past the doorframe as they attained the patio. The cool air, brisk and refreshing, snapped her back after the shock of seeing him for the first time in twenty years.
“I see.” He paused. “Very well, I’ll permit you to hide behind formality for now. You look beautiful as ever.” Warm, strong fingers stroked the bare skin of her hand he held captive.
“You will permit me?” Her spine stiffened in indignation while she arched one eyebrow at the infuriating man. “My Lord, you may be a peer of the realm, but I am the queen of my domain. I could easily have you removed from the premises and refuse you entrance in the future.”
“Don’t get your feathers ruffled. It is good to see you again.”