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Submitting to the Baron Em Brown 2022/7/22 11:37:47

LEOPOLD SPENCER, the fifth Baron Ramsay, felt the blow in his groin, as if one of the steeds currently rounding the straightaway had kicked him in the bollocks. He lowered his field glasses and tried to address his friend with calm. “Where is it you say our wives are staying?”

“Chateau Follet,” Charles responded a little louder over the noise of the grandstands. “Or some demmed Frenchie name. By Jove, the Turk took that turn well! I think my judgment of horseflesh can finally rival yours, eh?”

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Though the Royal Ascot meeting was the purpose of the day for Leopold, with the Gold Cup yet to follow on Ladies’ Day, a more important matter now held his attention captive. Charles knew not that Chateau Follet was also known by the name of Chateau Debauchery, or he would not have spoken of the place with such indifference.

“Your wife, Diana, told you this?” Leopold asked.

“Yes, she was rambling away, as wives will do, about which shops and millineries they would patronize whilst in London. Dreadful dull matters that can only interest the fair sex. I told her that, with enough changing of the horses, she could make the trip to Town in one day, but she thought the journey might prove too taxing for your wife. Said that this Chateau Follet was the perfect place to spend the night—possibly two, as she is well acquainted with the lady of the house.”

The impish little vixen. Leopold felt his groin tighten. It surprised him little if Diana, his cousin, knowing full well her husband never listened to her with more than half an ear, should deliberately flaunt the name of Chateau Follet, a den of debauchery where men and women engaged in taboo pleasures of the flesh. He had not thought Diana would return there after marrying Charles. Though Leopold had always enjoyed his visits to Follet, he had forsaken the place after marrying Trudie two years ago.

Good God. Trudie. Was she aware of what transpired at the Chateau? It was too incredible that his shy and awkward wife should know of, let alone venture into, such a place. The wicked wantonness there would surely horrify her.

Of a sudden, he recalled an unremarkable conversation between them at the breakfast table a fortnight ago, when Trudie had announced that she and Diana wished to travel to London to purchase fabrics for the latest fashion plates.

“As—as you and Charles will be at the races,” Trudie had said, the pitch of her voice higher than usual, “we ladies will have a bit of our own fun in Town.”

He had nodded and politely inquired where they were staying and the length of their stay, though, in truth, he had been more interested in returning to his newspaper at the time.

“I—we—Diana has arranged the, er, particulars.”

She had not met his eye and was instead fixed upon applying a fifth coat of jam to her toast. Trudie had none of the guiles that many others of her sex perfected. Her eyes of cornflower blue, often wide with naiveté, could hold no falsehood. She was artless, a quality the late Mrs. Spencer had often extolled in recommending Trudie Bonneville to her son. The eldest of three, Trudie was also responsible and sensible. Leopold respected all these traits.

And found them rather dull.

But perhaps Trudie was not as sensible as he would have thought. They had been married two years, though, as his mother and hers were the best of friends, he had known Trudie since she was in leading strings.

When he had gone off to Eton and then Oxford, he had seen little of her during her maturation into a young woman. Nonetheless, as she still possessed the rounded cheeks of her childhood and appeared no more comfortable in the attire of a woman than she did in the lace-frilled gowns her mother used to always adorn her with, he saw the same girl who would hide behind the sofa with a plateful of biscuits, unaware that the powdered sugar masking half her face betrayed what she had been about.

He never would have selected Trudie for himself—she was middling in appearance and wit—but it was his mother’s dearest wish before her death to have the two families united.

“I think your luck has taken a turn for the worse, Leo,” Charles said with a nudge. “Your horse has fallen half a lap behind.”

Leopold looked out over the tracks. His steed did appear to struggle, but losing a hundred guineas was hardly important now. He cursed himself, for, as he reviewed the days prior to his departure for Ascot, to be followed by his wife’s departure for London the following day, he now saw that Trudie had been ill at ease all those days. She had hardly looked him in the eye. Though she was prone to fidgeting, as if the pins in her gown poked her constantly, she could hardly sit still at the dining table. She ate quickly and often asked to be excused.

The greatest evidence of her nerves, however, lay in her favorite pastime, the pianoforte. Trudie excelled at the instrument and could play for hours. He knew her to be attempting a new concerto—the one in C Major by Mozart, he believed—but she had been unable to play through pieces that she had mastered years ago.