white tablecloth. He let it lie. Give the swarm of servants that infested this place something to do.
“Andrew, dear—must you smoke?”
His mother swept out onto the granite-tiled terrace, the skirts of her orange tea dress swirling around her. She planted a proprietary kiss on the top of his head. He balanced his cigarette in the saucer so he could take her hands in his own.
“Good morning, Mother. You’re looking lovely today.”
With her flawless complexion and raven curls laced with silver, Catherine MacIntyre did cut a handsome figure for a fifty-year-old widow. His father had favoured more sombre hues and she had dressed to please him, but since the end to the mourning period two years ago, she’d taken to wearing bright colours and rich fabrics, in the most fashionable Paris styles.
“Don’t change the subject. Why do you persist in such a filthy habit?”
“I’ve many filthy habits,” he replied with a chuckle, remembering his recent fantasy. “In any case, it relaxes me. Now that Father is gone, I’m under a great deal of stress.”
“Your wife won’t appreciate it, I can tell you.” His mother seated herself at the table and signalled the maid hovering inside the portico to bring her some coffee.
“My wife will do as I say. If I ever have one.” Andrew took another puff of his cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke out over the lawn. He was not in the mood for another harangue about the fact that it was time for him to choose a bride and settle down.
Fortunately, his mother knew him well enough to drop the topic. She sipped her coffee and nibbled at the toast he’d left uneaten on his plate. “Saturday’s ball is taking shape quite nicely. Mrs Fisk has responded in the affirmative, and I’ve learned that Stephen Harper and his family—you know, the Philadelphia Harpers—are summering in Newport, so of course I invited them. Their daughter Charlotte just graduated from Mount Holyoke—she’s apparently brilliant as well as lovely. I don’t think you’ve ever met them, but Renata Harper and I got on splendidly at Sarasota last year…”
Andrew’s mood darkened. He despised the formality and superficiality of his mother’s parties. All his business rivals would be there, he had no doubt, nodding and smiling externally while tallying the cost of the food and the opulent furnishings and plotting how to outdo the MacIntyres at the next social function they organised. The women would be tarted up in their silks and jewels, all bare shoulders and perfume, flitting about like tropical birds. Heaven help him if he touched them, though. Fingertips resting on their corseted waists during a waltz—that was pretty much all he could expect, when he really wanted to strip off their finery, chain them to his bed and ravish them until they screamed for mercy.
His position required him to serve as his mother’s host. He’d have to smile incessantly and endure endless gossip, taunted all the while by the ripe, fragrant female flesh whirling around him.
“You will introduce her to the local girls, won’t you, dear?”
His mother’s hand on his forearm brought him back to the present.
“You’re a million miles away! Thinking about your railroads or oil wells, no doubt. I’m talking about Charlotte, of course. You need to introduce her to everyone important, make sure that Louise and Henrietta and that delightful Mary Beth take good care of her at the ball.”
“Oh, yes, of course. You know you can count on me, Mother.” Andrew stubbed out his cigarette, folded his newspaper and brushed the crumbs off his lap. “But speaking of Mary Beth, I promised her I’d join their croquet game. If I don’t follow through, she’ll be up here complaining again.”
His mother beamed. “Wonderful! I know you’re working hard, trying to learn the ins and outs of your father’s affairs, but you need a bit of relaxation every now and again.”
“I’m not sure I’d call the