Widowed at 24 by war, Jeannie McVinnie wishes to free her father-in-law to join his old regiment for a Highlands fishing trip. She practices a small deception by accepting an invitation issued to another Jeannie McVinnie: a plea for help from Captain William Summers to his former nursemaid to oversee the London Season of his spoiled ward. Their chaotic household also includes the captain's snobbish sister, a boy eager for adventure, and a desolate child. The task is daunting, but Mrs. McVinnie finds herself aided by her Scottish brogue, country-bred beauty, plain-speaking, and Beau Brummell himself, that supremely influential dandy of all dandies. Tempting as the Beau might be, Jeannie is drawn to gruff, quixotic Captain Summers. But what kind of future can a man so shackled to life at sea offer a woman who yearns for her own Scottish hearth? And how can she explain the secret she is hiding from those dear to her?
A small group of men stood at the assembly-room entrance, laughing and talking with one another and scanning the ballroom. One raised a quizzing glass to his eye; another languidly consulted a pocket watch tethered to an enormous gold chain. A third man tugged at his flamboyant waistcoat, a coat of many colors that should have cast Joseph himself into the shadow.
She gulped. It was Sir Peter Winthrop, minus his blue paint.
The fourth man wore no lace or waistcoat of biblical splendor. He was dressed soberly in black, broken only by the almost startling white of his shirtfront and the single gold watch chain that stretched across his chest. He was a crow among peacocks, and she could not tear her eyes from him. He was understated, underdressed, and elegant, from his brilliantly polished shoes to his carefully arranged hair. He was the man she had raked down so thoroughly in the menagerie only that afternoon.
The man was the picture of perfection. Jeannie looked about her in amazement. Everyone was watching him, even the couples who had already begun the waltz. If the musicians scraped and twiddled at their instruments, she did not hear it. Jeannie McVinnie watched the elegant man in silence and she began to be afraid.
Without even seeming to turn his head, the man looked about the room and raised his hand to one of the group surrounding Larinda. He started in that direction and then stopped and looked at Jeannie, bowing and smiling.
Without taking her eyes from him, Jeannie tugged at Captain Summers' sleeve. "Captain, who is that man over there, the one, oh, you know, that one?"
Amused, Summers looked where she nodded. "I cannot say for sure, considering that I have been at sea for too long, but bless me, Jeannie McVinnie, you must mean the Beau. No one else is as beautiful. Not even me."
Jeannie managed a slight smile at his joke. The blood drained from her face as she noticed that the man in the doorway was watching her. "Who … who?"
"Beau Brummell, you owl," said the captain. "Yes, I am sure that is who you mean." He gently lifted Jeannie's hand from his arm, where she was digging into the gold swirls on his sleeve. "People say he is the most elegant thing in London, and a great friend of the Prince Regent." The captain motioned to his sister, who stood with her friends nearby, also mesmerized by the man in the doorway. "Agatha, come sit you down with us and tell us--is that Beau Brummell?"
Lady Smeath accepted the proffered seat. "Dear me, yes, William," she said, her voice so full of reverence that Jeannie could only stare. She tapped Jeannie playfully with the fan. "And let me warn you, Mrs. McVinnie. That man has the power to ruin a woman's chances at a come-out with only a word or a glance."