Mad About the Major - Elizabeth Boyle

CHAPTER 1

London, 1818

“Egads! Kingsley! Is that you?”

Major Kingsley looked up from where he’d been standing, or rather hiding, on the fringes of the ballroom. All around him, the Duke and Duchess of Setchfield’s annual masquerade was in full force.

Considering how scandal ridden the ball always seemed to be year after year, Kingsley had come specifically in hopes of finding some lascivious widow or a stray courtesan who’d dared to come mingle in the rarefied air of Mayfair, then wander off for a bit of sport.

It was, after all, his last night of freedom in so many ways.

But it seemed the Fates weren’t inclined toward romance this evening as a short, square-figured little man in a bright gold costume came toddling toward him.

There was only one soul on earth who would dare such an ensemble.

“Augie!” Kingsley replied, pushing off the wall, for while this was not quite how he’d envisioned his evening progressing, he was genuinely happy to see his old boon companion. “Well, I never.”

Lord Augustus Charles Hustings, or Augie to his friends, was the sort of fellow who always enlivened an evening—what with his nonsensical views and his misguided banter.

Best of all, Augie would never hound a fellow to get married, which was why Kingsley had been loitering about in the shadows—if only to avoid being recognized by some marriage-minded mother with a passel of daughters.

“When did you get back from the Continent?” Augie asked, thumbs tucked into his gold embroidered waistcoat.

“A fortnight ago,” the major admitted.

At this, Augie’s eyes widened. “And you couldn’t call on an old friend after, what? Three, four years?”

“My mother saw me first,” Kingsley sheepishly admitted.

Augie snorted, for it was a situation he could hardly condemn anyone else over. His own mother, Lady Prendwick, was a notable handful. “Demmed inconvenient, that. Had you over a barrel, eh?”

“To say the least,” Kingsley told him. “My dear maman insisted I be kitted out with ‘proper’ togs for her house party. Supposed to be riding down there tomorrow. You did get your invitation, didn’t you?”

Since that particular house party was known by every man in London as a thinly veiled Marriage Mart, where at least three engagements could be counted upon, Augie coughed and pretended he hadn’t heard his friend correctly.

Then to change the subject entirely, he glanced at the major’s costume. “Whatever is that you are wearing? Is that the best your mother could command?” His friend shook his head furiously. “Need to find you a new tailor, my good man.”

Kingsley laughed, for it seemed that Augie hadn’t changed in the least. He reached up and waggled the black piece of silk covering the upper half of his face. “What, my mask isn’t dashing enough for you?”

“Hardly,” Augie replied, tucking his nose in the air.

“And who are you supposed to be?” he dared to ask, taking a step back and making an inspection—not that it helped, for he was still at a loss as to what Augie’s mishmash of gold raiment was supposed to signify.

“Zeus,” his diminutive friend announced with great flourish and a stately bow.

Kingsley nearly doubled over with laughter.

Augie frowned, glancing down at his costume to assure himself nothing was amiss. “My valet claims the choice is divinely ironic.”

“Yes, something like that,” Kingsley agreed as he took another glance around the room and found himself face to face with yet another friend from his days at Eton.

“Kingsley! Dear God! Thought that was you! Wouldn’t have recognized you save for this dog in your company.” The Honorable Roscoe Evans laughed and nudged Augie aside.

Augie shook his head with annoyance. He didn’t find that sobriquet any more amusing now than when Roscoe had come up with it when they were all twelve. “Thought you were in the country after that dustup with Lady Verwood. Or rather Lord Verwood.” His tone implied he wished him still well away from Town.

Roscoe waved him off. “Nonsense. Not with the Setchfield ball at hand. Always a fair bit of sport to be found, eh, Augie?” He winked, and then turned to the major. “So you are back, aren’t you?”

“As observant as ever, Roscoe,” Kingsley said, wishing him—as Augie obviously did—well away. For it wasn’t that he didn’t like Roscoe; he did, in an offhanded fashion.

But wherever Roscoe went, there was always trouble. And right now Kingsley was dancing on the edge of a sword with his parents—who were first and foremost furious with him for not returning home after Waterloo. That he’d taken it in his head to caper about the