#1894

“That will be all,” Lady Rosenquist dismissed her maid and the woman scurried away with her coat, no doubt relieved to have avoided her lady’s misdirected anger. Lady Rosenquist should not have returned to the manor for many hours yet; the abrupt cancellation of her luncheon date left her irritable and idle. Normally neither she nor any of the family would be home at this time of day, and her presence caused the servants to find chores to complete in any room other than the one she occupied.

As Lady Rosenquist paced from room to room, she caught the faint sound of piano music drifting down the main stairway from the second floor. Being, if not a good mother, then at least a highly observant one, she recognized the skill of the pianist immediately as her eldest son. She found this quite interesting, considering he tended to play when in a morose or introverted mood – and considering he, too, was supposed to be absent most of the day. The lady of the house never passed up an opportunity to spy on the son who caused her so much trouble. She made directly for the stairs.

In order to enter the music room behind where Tanim sat at the piano, Lady Rosenquist first had to pass through one of the secondary drawing rooms. However, as she stepped silently through the far doorway, she found the room already occupied. A young woman sat stiffly on the edge of a chair, her dark hair unbound and her corset half laced. Lady Rosenquist recognized her easily as a prostitute by the cheapness of her clothing and her obvious discomfort at her lavish surroundings. When she noticed the older woman standing in the doorway, a look of fear flashed over the girl’s plain face. She moved to stand and curtsey, then obviously remembered the state of her dress and froze in mortification. If Lady Rosenquist had had any respect for such a working girl, she might have felt pity for this one; Tanim had obviously forgotten her presence and left her to wonder if she should stay or leave. It was likely he had not even bothered to pay her yet.

“Hello, my dear,” Lady Rosenquist glided over to the girl, flashing her a smile not at all intended to convey welcome or good humor. The girl stared up at her like a trapped rabbit, clearly convinced she would soon be arrested. It amused Lady Rosenquist, therefore, to remove the large ruby pendant hanging around her neck and hold it out to the wide-eyed young woman. “I am going to ask you a question,” she explained carefully, “and if you are honest with me, this shall be your payment. However, if you are not honest…” She let the unspoken threat hang between them and watched the girl swallow hard. “I see you understand. Good. Now, tell me – did my son consummate the union for which he hired your services?”

The girl hesitated, as if trying to figure out the trap beneath the seemingly obvious question, then nodded. “Y-yes, madame,” she squeaked. Lady Rosenquist stared into the girl’s eyes but saw no hint of falsehood. Scowling, she closed the pendant in a fist and turned abruptly, muttering, “get out of here.” Behind her, she heard the prostitute scramble for the door. At least the girl was smart enough to count her blessings and leave with her hide intact, instead of demanding payment for her illicit pastime.

In the next room, the piano music continued without pause. Lady Rosenquist moved into the doorway and watched her son’s hands move back and forth across the ivory keys as he hunched over the piano. She had been sure her son was meeting today with the man she suspected of being his paramour; that he had apparently actually slept with the mousy young whore, instead of simply buying her time for an alibi, did little to convince her that her suspicions were incorrect. This merely convinced her that she would need to enlist the eyes and ears of more than just the household servants. She was determined to obtain the kind of evidence needed to have her son and his lover arrested.

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