But Lord Ashford up close was rather...appalling. It didn't seem right that a man so blessed by fortune and title should also be so attractive.
His dark brown hair was fashionably cut and artfully tousled, as if he'd recently risen from a lover's bed. Given his reputation, that was most likely possible. He had a broad forehead, a coin-clean jawline, thick brows, and eyes that, even with yards between her and him, stunned her with their blue clarity. Naturally, he had a mouth that looked very adept at kissing and...other things.
He moved with a long-limbed ease that betrayed his skill as a sportsman. His ink blue coat fit the broad width of his shoulders, and his cream and gold-embroidered waistcoat defined the shape of his torso—his tailor on Jermyn Street produced excellent work. Snug doeskin breeches were tucked into polished Hessians that came from Bond Street.
Truly, he was quite alarming.
“Miss Hawke?” he asked sharply, coming to stand in front of her paper-cluttered desk. “I wasn't expecting a female.”
“Neither were my parents,” she answered, “but they learned to adapt. How might I help you, my lord?”
Though she felt an obligation to ask the question, she braced herself for what was sure to be a scorching lecture.
He removed his hat and set it aside. Then he held up an issue of The Hawk's Eye and began to read.
“'Lord A—d, a figure well-known to our assiduous and genteel readers, was lately seen in the company of a certain Mrs. F—e, whose late husband made his considerable fortune through the manufacture and sale of a woman's garment we blush to mention in these virtuous pages.'” He tossed one of the issues to the ground. “Wrong.”
“You cannot deny—”
But he wasn't done. Holding up another issue of the paper, he read again. “'It may or may not stun our honorable readers to learn that the notorious Lord A—d has not amended his ways following the duel over Lady L., from Y—shire, and has been espied with another married lady of questionable character, at the late night revels hosted by the equally rakish Mr. S—n. Yet it was noted by our keen-eyed intelligence that this married lady was not the only female vying for the earl's favors.'” This paper he also cast to the floor. “Wrong.”
She herself had written those pieces, and while they weren't matchless examples of English prose, she was still rather proud of them, as she was of all her labors. To have her hard work thrown to the ground like so much garbage was rankling.
“I assure you, my lord,” she said bitingly, “The Hawk's Eye strives for the greatest of accuracy.” She had a network of sources which she used regularly to provide information.
Many members of the aristocracy were in dire need of funds, and they gladly turned on each other in order to maintain the pretense of effortless wealth. Eleanor always paid her informants to keep them returning.
Whether or not they lied to her just to collect payment wasn't her concern, but she always preferred it if she could validate their statements. Sometimes that meant going out and conducting a few investigations. But she was a very busy woman—writing articles, editing countless others, managing the paper’s finances—and didn't always have the time.
She had to earn a living, after all. And men like the earl didn't.