DISCLAIMER: Nicola and the Viscount and the events and characters included in the book are not mine. They're all owned by Meg Cabot. I just play with them.
"Well, chaps," Sir Hugh Parker said, standing up with the grace of a perfect gentleman, "I regret to inform you that I must go ahead. I have several errands to attend to, it seems."
The Honorable Nathaniel Sheridan looked up from the newspaper he was reading, just as their other friends paused from talking about that afternoon's tennis match. "Do you, now?" he asked, leaning forward and setting down the newspaper, making a lock of his dark brown hair fall on his forehead as he did so. "I suppose I should get going myself."
"Where to?" Sir John Beckett asked as Nathaniel stood up. "You have errands to run, as well, Sheridan?"
"Yes, actually, somewhat."
"Could you not be away from the ledgers for one day, Sheridan?" Sir Hugh asked, smiling with one blonde eyebrow raised. "Going back to calculations for your estate already?"
"No, not quite yet," Nathaniel answered, laughing. "I'm off to fetch my sister from her school."
Although Sir Hugh's comment may appear to be cheeky to an outsider's ears, Nathaniel thought nothing of it if it came from his friends. He had become quite accustomed to them implying that he did calculations every second of the day if he was not eating or sleeping. Perhaps it was because he had recently finished first at mathematics in Oxford, or perhaps it was because he did, in fact, quite often keep accounts for their estate to aid his father.
If it came from his sister, Eleanor, however, Nathaniel would respond in a slightly different manner. His laughter would be accompanied by a raised eyebrow and a comeback that would most likely send Eleanor into a fit. He was four years older than her, after all, and, as her older brother, he had every right to irritate her, even if it meant that he would be pulling her away from being ladylike every once in a while.
Eleanor had, up until that very day, been attending Madame Veuxvincent's Seminary for Young Ladies, and she was expected to be as finished and proper as any sixteen-year-old debutante. But, in Nathaniel's eyes, she would forever be his baby sister who was always there to tease and play with.
She would also forever be the baby sister that he would always protect.
Being a bachelor himself — and quite eligible, it appears — he had seen how sixteen-year-old debutantes tended to dive headlong into looking for a husband. It was irritating, and sometimes even disturbing, how Nathaniel had seen ladies flirt with him before. Perhaps it was because of his first in mathematics; it was quite a good asset. Or perhaps it was because of his physical appearance. Although Nathaniel was miles away from being narcissistic, he was well aware that women found him easy on the eyes. He was considerably tall, and his mother had always told him that his hazel eyes were something of a wonder.
But, self-examination aside, Nathaniel constantly hoped that Eleanor would be dignified enough to think twice before jumping into matrimony. Although marriage was all good and well, Nathaniel always thought that some girls rushed into marriage because of the thrill and excitement of romance, which oftentimes clouded the sensible mind.
Such were his thoughts as he arrived at the Seminary. He entered confidently, acknowledging the other ladies and gentlemen that had come to fetch their own daughters and sisters. He then proceeded up the stairs and through the hallway towards his destination.
Upon getting there, he paused by the doorway, not quite entering it yet, as his eyes took in the sight that was his sister's room. It was arguably neat, considering the fact that packing was ongoing. Several articles of clothing were spread out on the bed, but everything else seemed to be in order. His mother, the Lady Sheridan, was there, neatly folding a dress for Eleanor with the assistance of their maid.
His gaze shifted towards the window, where he saw the familiar back of his sister as she leaned on the sill, apparently gushing about something outside. Beside her, also leaning on the window sill, was Miss Nicola Sparks, Eleanor's schoolmate and bosom friend. Both girls had their hair swept up, and, Nathaniel had to admit, were looking quite pretty and ladylike. Those two did have the capacity to be a vision when they wanted to.
His sister Eleanor had always been beautiful, he knew, which was precisely why he felt protective of her. He was sure many blokes will come to seek her soon enough, and he was also sure that he would be there sifting through them to weed out anyone who might have ignoble intentions.
"If he did, he must certainly love you now," she was saying. "For no one can hear you recite Scott, Nicky, and not love you."
Nathaniel rolled his eyes. Was this not the subject of his thoughts no more than several minutes ago? It was predictable for his sister and her friend to be talking about love promptly after finishing their studies, but to be talking about someone loving them this early was just ridiculous. Many a gentleman may fall in love with them eventually, he was sure, but already? Why, they were barely out of their braids! Nathaniel resolved that he, as a responsible older brother, should pull his sister's (as well as Nicola's) feet back to earth. And he would do it in the best way he knew how.
And so, with a smirk on his lips, Nathaniel casually strode into his sister's room, saying "Who loves Nicky?"
His grin widened as Eleanor and Nicola spun around at his entrance, the surprised expression on their faces simply priceless.
"Nathaniel, what can you be thinking?" his mother scolded him. "Entering your sister's bedchamber without knocking first! I have never heard of such a thing."
"The door was open," Nathaniel stated simply as he made himself comfortable onto a nearby settee. "Who loves Nicky?" he repeated.
To his amusement, Nicola threw a glance at his mother, obviously pleading for help. It was always like this, Nathaniel observed, whenever he teased his sister and her particular friend. Before, when they were younger, Nicola and his sister would lash back at him, stomping their foot and shrieking about him being obnoxious or some other such nonsense. Now, however, since the girls were obviously trying — and hard, at that — to be ladylike, they appeal to Lady Sheridan for mediation. Lady Sheridan, being the proper lady and mother herself, would always oblige, if not to satisfy her own desire to attempt to put Nathaniel in his place. Needless to say, this did not entirely stop Nathaniel from teasing the girls to no end.
It was not that he was trying to be irritating, oh no, not at all. It was not that he didn't want to have a "normal" relationship with his sister. As a matter of fact, Nathaniel thought their relationship was perfect as it was. If he took on the role of knight in shining armor for Eleanor all the time, it would only be boring. He loved her, yes, and he was protective of her, yes, but it would simply be more fun if they had a banter every now and then. And it was especially more interesting when Nicola was involved, as well. Why, she was his sister's bosom friend! Wouldn't it only be right if Nathaniel treated her like he did his own sister?
And besides, he liked it when Nicola was infuriated with him. Despite the fact that her voice was rather shrill when she yelled at him, her fiery retorts made her seem more energetic, more full or life, as her cheeks colored pink (never mind that it was of rage directed at him) and her blue eyes shone like sapphires. Fortunately, it was quite easy to get her wound up, since it only took Nathaniel to voice out his natural dislike for poetry, which, coincidentally, was the one thing that Nicola Sparks so loved.
"You'll be addressing Nicola as Miss Sparks from now on, Nathaniel," Lady Sheridan declared as expected. "As of today, she is no longer in the schoolroom, and you will accord her the courtesy you would if she were a stranger to you, and not Eleanor's particular friend." And then to Nicola, she said, "But you, my dear, should still feel free to crack him over the head with your parasol if he persists in being irritating."
Nathaniel frowned at this, but before he had the chance to protest, Phillip, his 10-year-old brother, burst into the room and practically leapt towards him in excitement. "Nat," he cried. "You should see the phaeton that just pulled 'round! Matching bays, eighteen hands each if they're an inch, and had to have cost a hundred quid each, easy—"
"Phillip!" Lady Sheridan exclaimed. "Really. A gentleman always knocks before entering a lady's boudoir."
That again, is it? Nathaniel thought. But this is -Eleanor's- room!
Phillip, to Nathaniel's pride, spoke his older brother's own thoughts. "Lady?" he asked. "What lady? It's only Eleanor's room, after all."
Nathaniel nearly laughed, wanting to ruffle his brother's hair and say "That's m'boy!" But he did not, due to the fact that his mother was already riled enough as it is, and that his brother quickly addressed him again.
"Listen, Nat," Phillip continued, "you must come and see these bays—"
"Mademoiselle," came a voice, making all eyes turn to the doorway, where a maid stood, holding a bonnet and parasol. "Begging your pardon, mademoiselle, but the Lady Farelly sent me to fetch you. Their carriage just pulled 'round. They are all waiting for you downstairs."
As Phillip said something about the bays being Lord Farelly's, Nathaniel realized in a flash that the only girl the maid could possibly be talking to was Nicola, and he also realized what exactly the maid was saying.
"Lord Farelly!" he exclaimed, nearly leaping out of the settee he had been so comfortably leaning on. "What the devil? You're not going to stay with the Bartholomews, are you, Nicky?"
No, no, no! Nicola couldn't be staying with the Bartholomews! Although Lady Sheridan had never mentioned whether or not Nicola was going to stay in their estate, Nathaniel naturally assumed that she was. Well, where else would she stay during her first society season? The Sheridan home, that's where! Eleanor was her bosom friend. The Sheridans were practically her family. She was their Nicola, their Nicky!
"What if I am?" Nicola asked, reaching for the bonnet her maid held. Nathaniel wanted to snatch it from her, as if that would keep her from leaving. "They are perfectly nice people."
"Perfectly rich people, you mean," Phillip said. "No wonder Nicky's staying with them, with bays like that."
"Phillip!" Lady Sheridan scolded, her patience thinning. "It is uncouth to comment upon the financial status of others. And Nathaniel, I told you before, you are to address Nicola as Miss Sparks."
As Eleanor further chastised Phillip for thinking that Nicola was staying with the Bartholomews for their money, Nathaniel couldn't help but frown at the way things were going. This social season, his sister's (as well as Nicola's) first, was supposed to be fun. They were supposed to celebrate this momentous occasion together! And then Nicola suddenly upped and decided that she was going to stay elsewhere. And at the Bartholomews' of all places! True, they were rich, and she might enjoy luxury there, but—
"...it's got nothing to do with that," Nathaniel vaguely heard Eleanor tell Phillip. "The fact is, she's in love with Lord Sebas—"
"Eleanor!" Nicola cried, her eyes filled with panic and scolding. But it was too late. The damage was done.
"So that's who you were talking about when I walked in," Nathaniel said, finally seeing the whole picture. And that picture, mind you, was not at all appealing. Lord Sebastian? She chose to stay with the Bartholomews because of Lord Sebastian? That jerk who, for some inexplicable reason, had somehow fooled the whole world that he was the perfect gentleman?! Nathaniel seethed inwardly, and, outwardly, glared at Nicola. "Well, just so you know, Sebastian Bartholomew is nothing but an oarsman."
Nathaniel had nothing against oarsmen, of course, but against that particular oarsman, he had lots. And now, stealing Nicola away from where she was rightly to be was yet another mark to that cretin's discredit.
"You should be ashamed of yourself, saying things like that," Nicola cried. "You don't even know him!"
Oh, for the love of all that is high and mighty.
"I know him a good deal better than you do," Nathaniel replied easily. "He was in my same college at Oxford." Unfortunately, he added to himself.
"And?" Nicola demanded. "So what if he was an oarsman? I should think that's a good deal more exciting than what you were doing at Oxford."
"Getting an education you mean?" Nathaniel laughed, not even attempting to hide the sarcasm, as he folded his arms across his chest. "Yes, I should say Bartholomew had a more exciting time of it at Oxford than I did."
Obviously furious, Nicola stamped her slippered foot and declared, "You make him sound like a wastrel!"
"You said it. Not me," Nathaniel retorted, leaning forward to further taunt Nicola, so that they were almost nose-to nose as they glared at each other.
"Don't pay any attention to him, Nicky," Eleanor said, naturally taking her friend's side. "Lord Sebastian is a poetry lover, like you. You know how Nat feels about poetry."
Yes, she did know how he felt about poetry. And what did she know about Sebastian Bartholomew? Nothing!
As his mother stepped in and interviewed Nicola about whether or not her uncle — who wasn't actually her uncle, but is instead her cousin — and guardian Lord Renshaw — whom she and Eleanor called "The Grouser" — knew about her staying with the Bartholomews, Nathaniel tried to calm down, even for a bit. Good grief, was this going to be their last argument before Nicola was to be spirited away by that annoying git? Nathaniel enjoyed their sparring matches, yes, but could they not have argued over something else, like poetry? He would have had much more fun at that. And besides, Sebastian Bartholomew was hardly a thing to spend precious time and energy on.
Nicola assured Lady Sheridan that The Grouser did, indeed, know about her little trip, before narrowing her eyes at Nathaniel, saying, "The Grouser is a bit of a curmudgeon, but at least he isn't a narrow-minded poetry hater."
Aha! Finally! Something worth fighting over. Nathaniel opened his mouth to comment on this, but his mother didn't give him a chance to. "Fine, then," she said. "If Nicola's guardian knows and has approved, then I don't think, Nathaniel, that we can have any objec—"
"Oh, he doesn't approve," Eleanor interrupted with a giggle. "The Grouser was quite put out with Nicky for not agreeing with him and that dreadful milksop of a son of his in London. Wasn't he, Nicky?"
Lady Sheridan, after all the ungentlemanly and unladylike behavior of the young people in the room, looked heavenward. "Eleanor," she said. "Kindly do not refer to Lord Renshaw as the Grouser, and his heir as the milksop."
Eleanor, surprised, asked, "Why shouldn't I? He is one."
"Mademoiselle," the maid, apparently still standing in the doorway, cleared her throat. "I am sorry to interrupt, but we must not keep Her Ladyship waiting."
Nathaniel suppressed the sigh that threatened to escape him. So this was it. Nicola was leaving them. She was leaving her best friend, Eleanor Sheridan, in favor of Lady Honoria Bartholomew, who was merely their fellow boarder. She was leaving him, Nathaniel Sheridan, in favor of Sebastian Bartholomew, who was an annoying git. How perfectly absurd.
But, Nathaniel reckoned as Nicola turned to say her good-byes to the two ladies in the room, he would still be able to see her, wouldn't he? This was social season, after all. They could socialize perfectly well in the many balls and soirees that Nicola would surely be attending. That Sebastian Bartholomew just had better keep his hands off her, or Nathaniel would not even think twice before punching him square on his pretty nose.
From the Author: To be continued? Yes? No? I so love Nicola and the Viscount... I was a bit surprised that there were no fics here in FFnet about it. Drop me a line!
Oh, and John Beckett is my original character. Just in case you were wondering.