Chapter One

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Dedicated to LadyWildfire for the amazing cover... couldn't have pictured it any better :)

Dear Reader

Due to the wonderful support I have received for this work of fiction, I decided to publish it. It is avaible on amazon and during promotional times it will be available free.  

Thanks to all my fans and friends for making this possible! :)

 Ash xxx

Chapter 1

London, 1819

If it weren’t a favour to a friend, Rhys Ashcroft would not be seen at an event such as the annual Greenwood Garden Soirée. As it were, Rhys had lost the bet to Gabriel Sinclair and, as such, he was instructed to pay particular attention to a particularly uninteresting girl at a particularly droll event.

It simply didn’t wash.

Stifling an unpleasant grimace as he sipped his warm lemonade from an odd-smelling cup, Rhys reflected that he could have predicted the outcomes of the bet had he but considered the obstacles before him. Truly, it should have been distinct from the outset that Lord Heatherington would be predisposed towards shelled green peas. After all, the man practically resembled a giant one.

Alas, he had not thought the matter through and Heatherington had made his way through at least three hours of solely devouring peas before he had purged- a good two hours more than what Rhys had bet.

He sighed, beleaguered, and watched with rising disdain as the Miss Pennyworth rumbled towards him from across the lawn. Some distance behind her, Gabriel tipped his cup in salute and hastily departed the scene, having ensured that the deed was set into action.

The chit was nondescript and rather plump. To Rhys’s mind, he was using nice adjectives. Compared to the women he usually associated with… well, they were not for ‘savoury’ little functions as this one. His mistress was a highly-acclaimed actress, sultry and exotic. Estelle was a glamorous beauty, envied by most of the women of his set. When she wasn’t available to accommodate his needs, he had his pick of the more educated females of the fast set: wives and widows, mostly. Women that were decidedly conniving and deceitful, utilizing their natural beauty in order to rise to a higher station and obtain exorbitant riches, were the sort he associated with.

He preferred them. He knew how they operated, what they wanted, as they had clarified their needs succinctly and obviously. It was the simpering debutantes he could not stand, especially the plain and boring ones. What could be worse than having an ugly girl trying to marry you?

He forced himself not to shudder as Miss Pennyworth stumbled to a halt in front of him, tipping her cup of lemonade down the front of her wobbling bosom in the process. She pretended to ignore it but Rhys could tell it made her uncomfortable by the scorching blush that scoured her pasty skin.

“Lord Ashcroft,” she trilled, batting her lashes, “it is rare indeed to see you at one of these events.”

“I lost a bet,” Rhys clipped.

“Oh.” She beamed up at him. “How lucky for us that you did.”


Undeterred by his aloofness, Miss Pennyworth batted her fan at her moon-like face. “Do you miss Ireland, my lord? I hear it is very beautiful.”

“It is harsh country,” Rhys grated, “but it could hardly compare to the British Empire.”

She frowned up at him, lines drawing together between her eyes and crinkling her crooked nose. “I’m not sure I understand your implication, my lord.”

No, you wouldn’t, Rhys thought bitterly, resenting the chit for bringing to the fore old memories he had hoped wouldn’t plague him as greatly as they were. “It matters not.”

“I was very sad to hear of the earl’s passing last year,” she bumbled on, blithely unaware that Rhys’s countenance had turned positively lethal. “Do you miss your father?”

“I never met him.”

Miss Pennyworth straightened with affront at his tone, her brown eyes widening slightly with fright. “I’m sorry if I have offended you, my lord, but I was merely expressing my condolences for a good man.”

“My father,” Rhys spat, “was not a good man.”

Indeed, having been forced to marry Rhys’s mother after compromising her, the man left her pregnant and alone to fend for herself in Dublin. All her bitterness and resentment was shoved onto Rhys’s shoulders and his mere presence in her life was a constant reminder of the man who had abandoned her and ruined her life. No love was lost between Katherine Ashcroft and her son.

“Well, he must have been something to bring you into our lives,” Miss Pennyworth purred and discreetly shuffled closer to him. Rhys stifled the urge to turn and walk away from her. Gabriel would pay dearly for this, of that he would make sure. “Surely you do know that you would make quite the catch.”

He was aware. He was so very aware of his appeal to the opposite sex and such awareness fuelled his own conceited arrogance. Rhys Ashcroft had been quite irresistible to the fairer sex from an early age. With dark good looks and a sinister smile filled with sensual promise, swarthy skin from being at sea most of his life and a body fashioned from hard labour, women simply fell at his feet. He had come to expect absolute exterior perfection from the women he took to his bed and because of his own beauty, he could expect to find someone accommodating whenever he deemed it so.

Unfortunately for Miss Pennyworth, she was not perfection in Rhys Ashcroft’s eyes.

“Miss Pennyworth,” he enunciated frigidly, fully intending to take his leave of this girl’s company before he lost his temper, “if you’ll excuse-”

“Oh, but you mustn’t go!” she wailed beseechingly, clutching his forearm tightly. “I was hoping you’d escort me about the lawns, perhaps even explore the maze. My chaperone, Miss Roberts, is napping-”

And it dawned on Rhys with nauseating clarity. The wretched little chit wanted him to compromise her, in the maze or wherever her sordid mind was wandering, so that he would be forced to offer for her.

Coldly, he jerked his arm from her grasp. “Miss Pennyworth,” he began frostily, “I suggest you cut your losses and find someone more suited to your goals. Lord Phillips, I hear, is looking for a young bride and you might just fit the bid seeing as he is partly blind.”

A change came over Miss Pennyworth. Her pasty face turned puce and splotchy and such venomous hatred blossomed in those conniving brown eyes that Rhys was slightly taken aback. She raised her pudgy hand and pointed a sausage-like finger at him condemningly. “Mark my words, Rhys Ashcroft,” she spat viciously, “you’ll regret ever having spurned Patricia Pennyworth. You’re a conceited lout and one day you will regret not marrying me. Mark my words.”

Contemptuously, Rhys turned on his heel and left her standing there, slightly separated from the rest of the people milling about on the manicured lawns, and he thought nothing more of Miss Pennyworth and her warning.

The following night, on his way to an assignation with Estelle, a bolt in the wheel of his carriage came loose, pitching it into a ditch on the side of the road.

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