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Диксон Хелен

A Scoundrel of Consequence

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«A Scoundrel of Consequence» - Хелен Диксон

William Lampard, distinguished military captain, kept London abuzz with scandal.Against his better judgment, he made a wager to seduce Miss Cassandra Greenwood. But despite her provocative ways, and the impudent sway of her skirts, he quickly realized that her innocence and goodness put her above a mere dalliance. Should Cassandra believe the gossip?She knew she had spiked William's interest, but to get to know the infamous captain properly would be dangerous—and exciting. And therein lay his appeal. . . !
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The wager he had made bothered him.

The wager he had made bothered him.

And his conscience, that he’d thought long since dead, chose that moment to resurrect itself. Realizing the enormity of what he’d done, William was already regretting it. He had taken the wager to seduce a woman he found to be full of goodness, trusting and candid—a combination of wisdom and naïveté that was undeniably lovely. Miss Greenwood was above a mere dalliance. It was madness, and he hated himself with a virulence that nearly knocked the breath out of him.

For the first time in a long time he had met a woman without guile. Her young, innocent face passed before his mind’s eye, a face of much seriousness, a ripe, opulent beauty that made his blood stir hotly. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined anyone like Miss Greenwood. For some peculiar reason that was quite beyond him, it mattered what she thought of him.

A Scoundrel of Consequence

Harlequin® Historical


was born and still lives in south Yorkshire, with her husband on a busy arable farm, where she combines writing with keeping a chaotic farmhouse. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure, owing much of her inspiration to the beauty of the surrounding countryside. She enjoys reading and music. History has always captivated her, and she likes travel and visiting ancient buildings.

A Scoundrel of Consequence



Available from Harlequin®Historical and HELEN DICKSON

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Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter One


Thundering down the length of track in a deserted Green Park as dawn was breaking filled William Lampard with exhilaration. A stiff breeze was rolling away the early morning mist and the park stretched out in shades of green and brown and grey. Stabs of sunlight between the clouds edged the colours in bright gilding, and birds were waking in the foliage. For those few minutes as he raced along, there was just him and his horse—no duties, no expectations, just sheer abandon and forgetfulness of all the obligations that awaited him.

Slowing his horse to a more sedate trot, he left the track and directed it beneath some sheltering trees, thinking how good it felt to be back in London after three years as a soldier fighting the war in Spain. Suddenly, the serenity of the early summer morning was shattered by the explosion of a gunshot. A force hit him in the shoulder and the world hurtled in a slow tumble as he toppled out of the saddle on to the dew-soaked grass, where he sank into a black hole and everything ceased to exist.

Cassandra was travelling to her place of work earlier than usual and taking a short cut through the park when she heard the shot. Seeing a horse and rider leave the shelter of the trees and ride as if the devil himself was after him, she urged Clem to drive the carriage into the trees to investigate. On seeing the wounded man she immediately climbed out, believing he had been shot in a duel, since Green Park was often a venue for those sinister appointments in the dawn mist. Coming to her side, Clem bent and rolled the limp form over, nodding his head in relief as he took in the slow, shallow breathing.

‘He isn’t dead, thank the Lord.’

When sanity returned to William, somewhat hazily, it was to find a young woman in a dark grey coat kneeling beside him, and a short, stout man holding his frightened horse. There was a dull throbbing in his head, and an ache in his shoulder that pulsed in unison with it.

Cassandra gazed down into two crystal-clear orbs. There was a vibrant life and an intensity in those eyes, dark, brilliant blue, like the sea in a summer storm that no one could deny. ‘I’m happy to see you are still with us,’ the woman said in a soft, well-bred voice. She held her head gracefully, the brim of her bonnet casting a light shadow over her face. ‘You have been shot. Let’s hope your wound is not serious.’

William returned her smile with difficulty and tried to allay her fears by pushing himself up against a tree. He winced as pain—red hot and piercing—shot through his shoulder, then closed his eyes and rested his head back. Without more ado the woman briskly unfastened his bloodsoaked jacket, removed his crisp white cravat and opened his shirt, her expression schooled to a nun-like impassivity as she examined his wound. William’s gaze flickered to the slender fingers pressing a wad of cloth against the torn flesh to staunch the flow of blood.

‘You’ve done this before, I can see that,’ he remarked, his voice deep and strong.

‘I have, but usually my patients haven’t been shot and they are much smaller than you.

As she worked, Cassandra noted that the wounded man’s clothes were of expensive elegance that could only have come from one of the ton’s foremost tailors. Having lost his hat in the fall, his hair, thick and dark brown, fell in disarray about his head, shading his wide brow and brushing his collar. About thirty years of age, his face was handsome, recklessly so, lean and hard. His nose was straight, his jaw uncompromisingly square. He had fine dark brows that curved neatly, and a firm but almost sensuous mouth. Everything about him was elegantly aristocratic, exuding power and a sense of force.

When the wad was secure she rested back on her heels and met his gaze. ‘There. I think you’ll live. Not much damage done—more to your pride I’d say. When will you gentlemen learn to settle your quarrels in a more civilised manner? Duelling is certainly not the answer.’ Without giving William a chance to utter a reply in his defence, she got to her feet. ‘Now come along. Try to stand. I think a doctor should take a look at that shoulder.’

‘There’s no need for that. If you’ll get your man to bring my horse, I’ll be on my way.’

‘The bullet’s still in there. It will have to be extracted and the wound dressed properly.’ William uttered a protest, but it emerged as little more than a croak and when he tried to move, his limbs would not obey. Cassandra looked at him crossly. ‘Please don’t argue. You are in no position to object.’ She turned to Clem. ‘Come and help Mr…’

‘Captain. I am Captain William Lampard,’ he provided with difficulty as a fresh wave of pain swept through him.


William saw an odd, awed expression cross her face as she scrutinised him, and in her eyes a momentary flash of a deeply rooted dislike. ‘You’ve heard of me?’

‘Yes, your name is familiar to me—although you are better known as Lord Lampard, the Earl of Carlow.’

Cassandra had heard all about Captain Lampard. He was an arrogant lord who thought he could do as he pleased with whomever he pleased. For years, gossip had linked him with every beautiful female in London. His scandals were infamous. Whenever he was on respites from his military duties he was the talk of the town, and any sensible young woman mindful of her reputation kept well out of his way. The same could be said of his young cousin, Edward Lampard, who she had already decided possessed the same traits—for hadn’t he tried to compromise her own sister, and the silly girl would have let him if she could have had her way?

‘You’ve recently returned from foreign parts, I believe.’ Her expression did not alter, but something in her eyes stirred and hardened and she compressed her lips.


‘Yes, well, I’d have thought you would have had enough of fighting in the Peninsula,’ she remarked haughtily.

William had to stifle the urge to smile at her tart reprimand. ‘I have, more than enough. By your reaction to my identity, I strongly suspect my reputation has gone before me, but let me tell you that it is much a matter of gossip and wishful dreaming.’

‘If you say so, Captain Lampard, but it really is none of my business.’

‘Would you think it forward of me if I were to ask you your name?’

‘Not at all. I am Cassandra Greenwood.’

‘Miss Greenwood, I am most pleased to meet you, and I’m thankful you came along when you did.’

Cassandra slowly arched a brow and her smile was bland. ‘So you should be. Now come along and I’ll get Dr Brookes to take a look at you.’

‘Dr Brookes?’

‘He’s a doctor at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. He comes to help out when I need him at the institute. I’m expecting him first thing, which is why you find me out and about so early.

Don’t worry. I have every faith in his ability as a doctor. He’ll soon have you fixed up.’

Observing the stubborn thrust of her chin and the glint of determination in her eye, William raised a brow in amusement. ‘I see you have no intention of relenting.’

‘Quite right, sir. When Dr Brookes has finished with you, Clem will take you home to Grosvenor Square in the carriage.’

William gave her a quizzical look. ‘You know where I live?’

‘Oh, yes, Captain Lampard, I do know that much about you—and some more,’ she uttered softly, which brought a puzzled frown to William’s brow, ‘but we won’t go into that just now. It would be inadvisable for you to ride after sustaining a wound that rendered you unconscious. There is every possibility that you would fall off your horse and incur a more severe injury, which would incapacitate you for some time.’

‘Perish the thought,’ William said wryly.

‘Quite,’ Cassandra replied. ‘After awaiting your return from Spain for so long, no doubt the entire female population in London would go into a decline. Now come along. See if you can stand.’ She would have liked nothing more than to help him on to his horse and send him on his way, but that would be a cowardly thing to do simply because he had a poor reputation.

Impressed by her efficiency and naturally authoritative tone, William tried to get up, but fell back as a fresh haziness swept over him.

Without more ado, Clem took the wounded man’s arm over his broad shoulders and hoisted him unceremoniously into the carriage. After securing the Captain’s horse to the back, he set off towards Soho, where they drew up outside a grim-looking building among streets where poverty and disease ran side by side. A score or more of undernourished children dressed in rags, their legs bowed and eyes enormous in pinched faces, were hanging about. William was helped out of the carriage and Clem again took his arm. With Cassandra leading the way, Clem half-carried the wounded man inside and into a room, where he lowered him on to a narrow bed, obviously not made for a man as tall as the Captain.

Taking deep breaths in an attempt to remain conscious, William was aware of dim forms moving about the room. Turning his head on the pillow, he saw a child lying in the bed next to him. Whimpering in his sleep and no more than seven years old, his stick-thin legs were poking out from beneath a blanket. Both his feet were bandaged. His face was an unhealthy grey, his skin ingrained with dirt, and his knees scraped raw.

Dragging his gaze away from the pitiful sight of the child, he took stock of the room, which looked like a small infirmary. It was quite large with five bunks and sparse, stark furnishings. With small windows and a stone-flagged floor, it was scrubbed clean. There was a stone sink in which a trim, white-aproned young woman was washing utensils and a fire burned in the hearth. The air was tinged with the aroma of food cooking—not unappetising—plain, mutton stew, he guessed. Suddenly a cup was pressed to his lips.

‘Drink,’ Miss Greenwood commanded.

Doing as he was told, William gulped the water down gratefully, letting his head fall back on the pillow when replete. ‘Where in damnation am I?’ he breathed, his curiosity aroused.

‘Please don’t swear,’ Cassandra chided, having discarded her outdoor clothes and fastened an apron about her slender waist. ‘I’ll have no obscene language spoken here. You are not in damnation, but a small infirmary in a house that is a place of refuge for destitute children.’

William’s lips twitched with a suppressed smile. ‘I stand rebuked. I did not mean to be disrespectful.’

‘Yes—well, keep a close rein on your tongue, Captain Lampard, lest the children overhear—although sadly some of them use a few choice words themselves and might be able to teach even you a thing or two. Ah, here is Dr Brookes.’ She stood back to allow a good-looking man in his mid-forties enough room to make his examination.

‘Good day, Captain Lampard.’ Dr Brookes proceeded brusquely and cheerily as was his custom. ‘It’s not every day I get a distinguished patient to attend—especially one who’s been shot.’

Cassandra brought a tray of salves and implements, placing them on a small table at the side of the bed.

Dr Brookes wrinkled his nose as he glanced at the injury. ‘That looks to be a nasty wound. Right, we’d better get to work before you bleed to death. I don’t think the shot’s too far in so it shouldn’t be especially difficult getting it out. There’ll be a bit of digging around to do though. Can you stand it?’

‘Captain Lampard has recently returned from the war in the Peninsula, Dr Brookes,’ Cassandra provided. ‘I’m sure he’s had to endure worse.’

‘Spain, eh?’ Dr Brookes remarked, impressed. ‘Would have gone myself—had I been years younger.’

‘Miss Greenwood speaks the truth. I have seen and endured many things during the war, but this is the first time I’ve been shot—so get on with it, Dr Brookes.’ William looked at the young woman who had taken a stance beside him, a wicked twinkle in his bold, appraising eyes. ‘Are you to stay and hold my hand, Miss Greenwood?’

‘No,’ she replied primly. ‘I shall stay to assist Dr Brookes.’

‘Pity. Here is my last scrap of dignity. Enjoy it while you can, but I would advise you to step back, Miss Greenwood,’ he said, eyeing with trepidation the probe Dr Brookes was holding. ‘My temper is about to take a decided turn for the worse.’

Cassandra spoke no word, but stood aside while Dr Brookes began his work.

William gritted his teeth against the white shards of pain that were shooting through his shoulder as Dr Brookes probed the wound. Mercifully, within a matter of minutes the shot was located and removed.

‘There—all done,’ Dr Brookes said with a satisfied smile, showing his patient the round ball. ‘The wound’s clean so it should heal nicely—though you should keep it rested for a time.’

‘Thank you for all that you’ve done. You won’t go unrewarded, I shall see to that.’

Dr Brookes nodded, and there was a gleam in his eye when he glanced at Cassandra. ‘A small donation to the institute wouldn’t go amiss, is that not so, Cassandra? Have your own physician keep an eye on the wound—and perhaps take some laudanum if the pain becomes severe. Now excuse me if I leave you in Miss Greenwood’s capable hands. I must fly—patients to see at the hospital.’ Hesitating by the young boy’s bed as he began to mumble and mutter, to twist and turn, he placed a hand to the child’s forehead. Shaking his head, he turned to go. ‘I’ll be in tomorrow to take another look the boy.’ He paused a moment longer before enquiring haltingly, ‘Will—your mother be at the institute?’

Cassandra lowered her head to hide a knowing smile. She had long suspected that it was her mother, as well as his concern for the children, that drew Dr Brookes to the institute. ‘Yes, she should be—around midday, I think.’

Looking pleased, Dr Brookes nodded and hurried out.

Cassandra turned back to Captain Lampard to dress his wound, amazed that he had endured the whole procedure without a murmur.

‘What happened to the boy?’ William asked. ‘How did he come to be in that state?’

‘That’s Archie,’ she answered, her expression softening when her gaze rested on the child’s face. ‘His mother sold him to a sweep for a few shillings, poor mite.’

‘How old is he?’

‘Six years. Climbing boys don’t stand a chance, any of them. So many die of consumption and they are never washed except by the rain. No one knows the cruelty that they undergo. Bullied and beaten by their masters, they rub their poor elbows and knees raw climbing the dark flues. Their flesh must be hardened. This is done by rubbing it with the strongest brine. But often their skin—if they survive—doesn’t harden for years.’

‘And Archie’s feet?’

‘Burnt by the fires—which aren’t always completely out.’

If William was disturbed by this, apart from a tightening of his features he made no comment. Though her voice was without expression, before Miss Greenwood turned her face away, he was startled to see tears in her eyes mingled with compassion for the child.

‘He doesn’t complain, but I know he’s in constant pain. It is my intention to find him a situation—but it will be weeks before he is fully recovered. One thing is for certain, it will not be with the sweeps—although it will be hard to place him. Your coat is ruined, I’m afraid,’ Cassandra said, picking it up and placing it at the bottom of the bed with his equally ruined shirt.

‘I’ll get another.’

‘Yes, I suppose you will,’ she said, smiling then and forcing her eyes from the bronzed, dark, fur-matted muscular chest. The shoulder muscles jerked as she proceeded to dress his wound. This close he smelled of shaving soap and sandalwood. Overwhelmed by every scandalous tale she had ever heard about him, she willed herself to ignore the strength of the lean, hard body stretched out on the bed beneath her, to complete her task and send him on his way.

William caught his breath at her unexpected glowing smile and started in amazement when he felt a peculiar, inner tingle from her touch. Light fell on her face only inches away from his own. She really was the most glorious creature, even in her sombre dark grey dress buttoned up to her throat. Her softly scented skin glowed like silk, and her mouth was a soft coral pink. Her hair was honey gold, pulled up to a chignon, but from which endearing rebellious tendrils escaped. Her blue-green eyes gleamed as she smiled.

‘Do you work here all the time?’ he asked.

‘No, not all the time. I do have a life away from here.’

‘I’m glad to hear it. It would be a crime for you to spend your entire life in this dreary place. There are better areas of London to focus your energies on. I would have thought young ladies could find more interesting and exciting ways of passing their time.’

Giving her a long, leisurely look, there was a twist of humour around his attractively moulded lips. The smile building about his mouth softened the hardness of his jaw and made him appear in that moment the most handsome man in the world to Cassandra. Then, suddenly, his direct, masculine assurance disconcerted her. She was acutely conscious of his close proximity to her and she felt a mad, unfamiliar rush of blood singing through her veins.

Instantly she felt resentful towards him. He had made too much of an impact on her and she was afraid that if he looked at her much longer he would read her thoughts with those brilliant clever eyes of his—which he did when her cheeks pinked, bringing a darkening to his eyes and an amused, satisfied smile to his lips.

‘I am sure you’re right, Captain Lampard, but not nearly as rewarding or as worthwhile. What I do here is more than a pastime for me and I am content with the way things are. The institute was brought into being by my father with the intention of providing aid and provision for destitute children—a place of Christian charity. He died three years ago. Like Dr Brookes, he was a surgeon at St Bartholomew’s hospital. It’s quiet just now, but it gets busier towards supper time. My mother is keen to carry on what my father began and devotes many hours to the institute. We also have volunteers who come to help for what they can do, not for what they can get. The institute really couldn’t manage without them—or the benefactors, who help fund it. We feed the children, provide them with articles of clothing, which are donated to us, and if they are sick or injured we patch them up as best we can.’

‘Even though some of them are criminals, uncivilised and riddled with vermin and diseases they might pass on to you?’ William asked, raising himself up so she could pass the bandage over his shoulder.

‘Yes, and since that is exactly the kind of children who come here, we have all the more reason to try and make their young lives more bearable. The place might not look much, but times are hard just now. However, we do have plans and raise funds in many ways to enable us to find larger premises and hopefully found an orphanage.’

‘And are you successful in your fund raising?’

‘Sometimes. You see, I make it my business to know the names of wealthy people I can approach for monetary contributions.’ She smiled when she saw his eyes register surprise. ‘You must think me terribly mercenary to go around trying to extract money from people like I do, but it’s because I care for the children.’

‘You are so hungry for their money?’

‘Oh, yes—and I am not ashamed to say so.’

‘Just remember that greed is a terrible thing, Miss Greenwood.’

Cassandra started at his statement, her gaze darting to his enigmatic dark blue eyes. ‘Please don’t look at me like that, Captain Lampard. I’m not greedy—at least not for myself. Only for the children. Money means nothing to me, but you have to agree that it is a useful commodity, and a few pennies can be the means of life or death to a starving child.’

‘Maybe so, but for a young lady to tout for money by herself is highly irregular I would have thought. It is also a dangerous game you play.’

‘Nothing is only a game, Captain Lampard.’ The sparkle was gone, leaving only a frosted blue in Cassandra Greenwood’s eyes. ‘To many people, the notion of becoming allied with a woman in such a way is so extraordinary as to be laughable—and distasteful when they realise I am indeed serious.’

‘Do you not think you should take what God sends you and be thankful?’

His words were so glib and offhand that Cassandra gave him a rueful stare. ‘Try telling that to the children. You look surprised by what I do, Captain.’

‘Surprised, yes—and appalled to a certain extent. You are an attractive young woman, and why your family has allowed you to become involved in this unusual and somewhat dangerous enterprise, I cannot imagine.’

‘My work at the institute is often hard and intense and keeps me away from home for long periods, but I take pride in what my father began and in my work and what I achieve—that the children who come here go away with full bellies and, if they’re lucky, a pair of boots, even though I know that in all probability they will sell them for a few pennies when they are back on the streets. A great many of them are orphans, others are unwanted, having been turned out by parents who have too many mouths to feed already, and others have been sold to chimneysweeps and the like for a few shillings. The children who come to us have nothing—and very little hope. Someone has to watch over them.’

‘And you think you can make a difference to their lives?’

‘A few of them, yes.’

‘There are always the workhouses—and the charity schools—and the hospital for those who are injured.’

‘The workhouses are appalling places, but better than living on the streets, I do agree, but they don’t house all the children and the hospitals exclude children under the age of seven—except for those who require amputations.’ Her lips curved in a wry smile. ‘How sad is that? Are you aware that out of all the people in London who die, almost half of them are children?’

‘No, I was not aware of that,’ William replied stiffly, never having thought of it since this was the first time he’d had contact with anything to do with destitute children. He scowled. Cassandra Greenwood had an irritating tendency to prick his conscience and to make him feel inadequate in some way, which he was beginning to find most unpleasant.

Having finished her task, Cassandra looked him straight in the eye. ‘I’m not proud, sir, just determined to carry out what my father started, and if you can find fault with that then I am sorry for you.’

‘No, Miss Greenwood, I can find no fault with that. You speak brave words. Such sentiments are highly commendable and admirable to say the least.’ Swinging his long legs on to the floor and standing up, he was relieved that the last vestiges of haziness had left his mind.

Cassandra’s breath caught in her throat, for the lean frame unfolded until the man stood a full head and shoulders taller than herself. Assisting him into his ruined jacket, collecting the soiled dressing and instruments Dr Brookes had used, she moved away from him.

As she busied herself with the task at hand, William watched her, his eyes roving approvingly over her lithe figure, stopping at the swelling breasts beneath the restricting fabric, then straying back to the shock of honey-gold hair. His fingers ached to release it from its strictures, to run them through the luxuriant softness and kiss the shaded hollow in her throat where a small brooch was pinned to the neck of her dress. He studied her stance and the language of her slender form. Despite his experience with the opposite sex, he wasn’t familiar with women of her class. He’d made a point not to be, but this one made him curious.

All of a sudden warning bells sounded in his mind with such unexpected force that he knew he had to get out of that place, to dispel the unwelcome, unpleasant thoughts as he tried to understand what it was that made an attractive woman like Cassandra Greenwood want to waste her life in this sorry establishment for underprivileged children.

He was a shrewd and rational man, a man of breeding and style who understood his motivations and knew his goals. He prided himself on his good sense not to be swayed by emotion or flights of fancy, so it came as a shock that he wanted to know more about Miss Greenwood—and that was the moment he realised what was happening. He—the ruthless and heartless Lord William Lampard, Earl of Carlow in Hertfordshire, with a distinguished army career, who kept London alive with gossip and scandal when he was in town—was afraid of the effect that this place and Cassandra Greenwood was having on him.

‘Tell me, is there no board of trustees you are answerable to?’

Cassandra stopped what she was doing and turned her blue-green eyes on his with a candid air. ‘Trustees? Oh, yes. There are four on the board—Dr Brooks and a colleague of his at St Bartholomew’s, my mother and me.’

‘I see. I was beginning to think you were your own woman, Miss Greenwood.’

‘I am, in every other way, answerable to no one. Very much so.’

‘And there is no prospective husband in the offing?’

‘No. I like my freedom and independence—which is something a husband isn’t likely to give me.’

‘That depends on the husband. No doubt, given time, things will change.’

When Cassandra met his gaze she experienced a shock of something between recognition and a kind of thrilling fear. Those eyes, deep blue and narrowed by a knowing, intrusive smile, seemed to look right past her face and into her self. For that split second she felt completely exposed and vulnerable—traits unfamiliar to her, traits she did not like.

‘Not if I have my way, Captain Lampard. And I always do.’

‘I can see that. However, I am not here because I want to be convinced of the merits of children’s charities. I am here because I was shot and in no condition to object—although I do thank you for all you and Dr Brookes have done.’

‘Don’t you like children, Captain Lampard?’ she asked suddenly.

‘It’s not a case of not liking them. I’ve never had anything to do with them.’

William became thoughtful and a heavy frown creased his brow. It was an expression those who knew him well would recognise, for it indicated his interest. His curiosity was aroused. Cassandra Greenwood was a woman who lived and breathed her cause and he did not know how he knew, but he knew he was looking at that rare individual who would tell the whole world to go to blazes should it get in her way.

As the initial shock of his assault by an unknown assailant began to wear off, an instinct, a built-in awareness that thrived inside the soldier in him and was essential if one was to survive, told him that here was the dedication, ambition, determination and a sense of purpose of one who meant to succeed. There was an air about her, in the set of her chin and the firmness of her lips, a resolve so obstinate and positive that he found if difficult to restrain himself from showing the same enthusiasm as she did.

Donning his hat, he turned from her, his gaze resting for a brief moment on the child. He seemed to hesitate before coming to a decision. Looking back at her, he said, ‘The boy—Archie. When he is recovered, send him to my house in Grosvenor Square. I’ll have a word with Thomas, my head groom. If the lad likes horses, Thomas might very well set him on in the stables. I’m sure we can find him something to do that will keep him off the streets. I shall also make sure you are repaid for your kindness.’

‘Thank you,’ she said, her expression registering surprise as he moved towards the door. ‘It would be much appreciated,’—but he must not have heard her words, for he did not turn to look at her again. Unable to believe he had offered to provide Archie with work and a home, she stood staring at the door through which he had disappeared for several moments. Just when she was beginning to believe that every scandalous thing she had heard about him was true, he had to do something nice.

It would appear Captain Lampard had hidden depths. By offering to provide Archie with work and a home, he had exposed one redeeming feature to her. Was it possible that the renowned rake had returned to England a reformed character?

As William sat in Miss Greenwood’s carriage taking him to Grosvenor Square, his horse tethered to the back, he tried to define what had been so attractive about her. She certainly wasn’t plain. Her real physical confidence was sensual and there had been an assured innocent vanity in her smile. He smiled to himself, remembering it, but then a more pressing matter entered his thoughts and he became preoccupied with discovering the identity of whoever it was who had tried to end his life. A cold, hard core of fury was growing inside him, shattering every other emotion he’d ever felt, leaving him incapable of feeling anything other than the need to find the person responsible.

Cassandra, her mother and her eighteen-year-old sister Emma lived in a house of modest proportions in Kensington compared with Aunt Elizabeth’s grand residence in Mayfair. Cassandra’s parents had been well matched in character, but they came from different backgrounds. The Greenwood family belonged to the entrepreneurial and professional classes. Her mother was of the landed gentry with aristocratic connections. What Cassandra’s parents did have in common was that they came from the poorer branches of their respective families. Neither of them had a private fortune.

Deeply concerned with the sorry plight of the City’s destitute children, James Greenwood had opened the small institute in Soho. Since his death three years earlier, Cassandra and her mother had struggled to keep it open. They were constantly short of funds. Dr Brookes, who had been Dr Greenwood’s close friend and associate, generously gave up his time to tend the seriously ill or injured children who came to them, and raised funds on their behalf.

Bereft after the death of her beloved husband, Harriet Greenwood, not content to lead a quiet life, had become involved in the running of the institute and was willing to allow her eldest daughter to work alongside her, even though twenty-year-old Cassandra’s break from convention shocked friends and acquaintances and brought severe disparagement. But Cassandra, undeterred, refused to allow a lot of small-minded, ignorant people to take from her all that she and her mother were trying to accomplish.

Harriet’s cousin Lady Elizabeth Monkton, a widow, childless and a wealthy and extremely popular socialite, had taken both girls under her wing when James had died and done her utmost to guide them in the way she thought was best for them. Eager to give them each a Season, she had been disappointed when Cassandra, who had her own ideas and quietly despised the useless frivolity of the social scene, had declined her offer—although she was not opposed to using Lady Elizabeth’s position to her advantage. In her own subtle and charming way, Cassandra was successful at coaxing money out of the well-to-do at the balls and parties she attended.

Tonight, Aunt Elizabeth—as she liked to be known to Harriet’s girls—was to give a ball to mark her fiftieth birthday. Cassandra was to attend and, as a special concession, Emma, too, despite not having made her curtsy. They were at Monkton House, getting ready for the ball, and Emma was irritatingly out of sorts—one of the reasons being that she had earlier received a severe scolding from her mother for going riding in the rain and arriving back at the house soaked to the skin.

‘It isn’t fair,’ Emma wailed, pouting petulantly, bemoaning the fact that Edward Lampard, the young man she was enamoured with, would not be at the ball. Ever since he had left London three weeks ago she had been restive and impatient for him to return. Flopping into a chair beside her sister seated at the dressing table as she put the finishing touches to her toilette, she scowled her displeasure.

‘Please stop it, Emma. No good can come of your seeing that particular gentleman and I’m tired of discussing it. I’ve told you before that young man is a scoundrel in the making and will not be content until he’s compromised you so completely that your reputation will be beyond redemption. Then no gentleman of worth will want you,’ she finished severely.

Emma was stricken as she stared at the sister she loved and admired more than anyone else, whose strength and force of character were so much greater than her own. ‘Scoundrel?’ she protested heatedly, two high spots of colour burning on her cheeks. ‘How can you possibly know that?’

‘Because he happens to be the cousin of that renowned rake Captain William Lampard—a man with a string of broken hearts and shattered marital aspirations that would make any level-headed young woman steer well clear of him.’

‘That’s an awful thing to say, Cassy,’ Emma retorted indignantly. ‘Just because his cousin’s a renowned libertine of the first order does not mean to say that Edward will follow suit. He is a decent, upright and honourable man—a gentleman.’ There was a look of acute dismay in her eyes. She was bewildered by pain and confusion—anxious for Cassandra’s approval and agonisingly aware that she did not understand her sister’s antagonistic behaviour. ‘He loves me and values what I think and feel—and raises me above all other considerations.’

‘Well, with all these attributes he must be quite unique,’ Cassandra said drily, unconvinced by her sister’s defence of Edward Lampard. ‘But he should not be saying these things to you, and to respond to a gentleman’s attentions before his intentions are known is to risk the ridicule of others. I do wish you would behave with more propriety, Emma.’

‘Really, Cassy, considering your limited experience, I need no instructions from you on how to behave in society.’

‘It’s not society that concerns me and you know it. I worry that this preoccupation you have with Edward Lampard will frighten away all the eligible young men before you come out—which Aunt Elizabeth seems set upon—although why she allows you to go out in company so much when you have not yet made your curtsy is quite beyond me.’

Emma stared at her. Their ability to communicate was truly broken down. ‘Really, Cassy, what man could be more eligible than Edward?’

‘I’m only trying to warn you of the dangers of you showing favour to any one man before your début, and you must not allow yourself to be alone with him.’

‘Kindly keep your warnings to yourself. I am quite capable of taking care of myself.’

‘How do you know he isn’t merely toying with you, Emma?’

‘Because he cares for me. Anyone would think you’re jealous because you’ve failed to arouse any man’s passions yourself,’ Emma uttered petulantly.

‘Passions? My dear Emma, I sincerely hope Edward Lampard keeps his passions under control when he is with you.’

‘Cassy, will you please listen to me? I am in love. Really in love.’

‘You think you are. Whatever the sentiments that young man has created, I have no doubt that in time the true nature of his character will be revealed. Now please go and get ready before Aunt Elizabeth comes looking for us.’

‘You go to the ball, I don’t feel like it,’ Emma snapped petulantly.

Cassandra sighed and looked at her sister. Bold, open and loving, full of confidence and life, her green eyes set off by the lustrous gold of her hair, her nose pert and cute and her lips soft and full, at just eighteen years of age Emma had attended few social events. As a rule she looked forward to them and enjoyed them, always wearing her best gown and preening in front of the mirror like a bird of paradise determined on a grand display. Cassandra had thought tonight would be no exception, but she was wrong.

Emma had known Sir Edward Lampard for several weeks, meeting him at the odd soirée and the theatre, visiting neighbouring friends with Aunt Elizabeth in the mornings, and on outings in the park. Cassandra was not unaware that friendship of a certain kind was beginning to grow between them. At first she had considered it to be nothing more than youthful attraction, but Mr Lampard was persistent and always sought Emma’s company, which, fearing he was intent on compromising her vulnerable and naïve sister, gave Cassandra cause for concern—particularly since he was closely related to the notorious scoundrel Captain Lampard—the man who had promised her a donation for the institute and had apparently reneged on his word. Now the thought of Emma having anything to do with that family did not sit easy.

‘You’re mean, Cassy.’ Emma pouted. ‘I don’t know why you always have to say hateful things about Edward. You’re spiteful.’

‘No, I’m not. I’m just being realistic.’

Emma sulked for a moment longer, but, realising a fine pout would not sway her sister, she changed her tactics. ‘Very well, I’ll go and get ready. Perhaps his cousin, Captain Lampard, will tell me when Edward is to return.’

Cassandra swung round. ‘Captain Lampard? He’s coming here tonight?’

‘I believe so. I know Aunt Elizabeth invited him.’ Emma got up and, gathering up her skirts, flounced to the door. Ignoring her sister’s perplexed frown, she rushed on. ‘As well as being a magnificent combat officer, a man without fear and already a veteran of at least two campaigns—which Edward proudly told me about—he’s extremely handsome, too, by all accounts. I’ve never seen him myself, but all the ladies positively drool over him.’ She was the epitome of angelic goodness now her tirade was spent. With a delicious giggle she kicked the hem of her gown and opened the door.

‘Emma, wait.’ Getting up, Cassandra crossed to her sister. ‘I want to be at the institute early tomorrow, so I don’t intend being late to bed. I don’t think you should be late, either.’

‘I won’t be, and I know you need your rest to pander to all those uncivilised children and to scrub the floors.’ Perceiving that her thrust had hit its mark, Emma turned away.

Bruised by Emma’s manner, the thoughtless insults cutting her to the quick, Cassandra drew a long breath, striving to get control of her temper. When she spoke again she was more composed and put her hand on her sister’s arm.

‘Please don’t be angry, Emma. I’m sorry if I sounded harsh. Edward is handsome enough, I suppose, and I can understand why you are attracted to him. Such infatuations are common, but you are just eighteen and he is what—nineteen? You are an attractive and intelligent girl. Have you absolutely no idea of the harm this will do to your reputation? The way you have behaved with Edward Lampard is not a desirable mode of behaviour, and I know how much it upsets Mama.’

Cassandra’s mention of their beloved mama made Emma look contrite. Their mother was a hard-working woman who doted on her daughters. ‘I don’t mean to upset her, truly. I know she desires me to be more like you—to take an interest in the institute that was so dear to Papa’s heart—but I can’t. It’s just not in my nature.’

‘I know, Emma, and it doesn’t matter. I enjoy what I do; if I didn’t, I couldn’t do it, so I don’t blame you. Only I do wish you’d listen to me when I attempt to advise you. I do have your best interests at heart, you know. Now go and get ready.’

On a sigh she watched Emma go out. She could only hope that, beneath her indignation, Emma had sufficient common sense to heed her words.

Escorted by Aunt Elizabeth, when Cassandra and Emma entered the large, mirrored ballroom with French windows leading out on to balconies, it was already congested with over two hundred of the ton’s most illustrious and sophisticated personages. Dancing was in progress, with ladies dipping and swaying, talking and laughing with their partners. Around the room were enormous bouquets of flowers and the immense chandeliers, dripping with sparkling crystals, reflected the dazzling kaleidoscope of colourful gowns and jewels.

Lady Monkton, a widow of ten years and one of society’s most respected and influential ladies, was standing behind her charges like a protective mother hen, her chest puffed out, her back ramrod straight, her eyes proudly resting on her lovely girls.

There was little opportunity for the chaperons to relax and enjoy themselves at a ball, for they felt compelled to keep an eye on their charges at all times—to know who they were dancing with, and who they were dancing with too often.

Cassandra paused to casually overlook the throng to see who was present. Full purses would be plentiful. She never openly asked anyone for money—that would never do—but there were several here who were sympathetic to her cause and subscribed on a regular basis. She observed that Lord and Lady Ross were present. They were extremely wealthy, and Lady Faversham’s husband was an influential London property owner who had frequently made generous donations to the institute in the past. Cassandra glanced at Emma when she gasped.

‘Oh, look, Cassandra,’ she remarked excitedly. ‘It’s Edward—over there. I had no idea he was back in London—and see, he’s coming this way.’

Dismayed, Cassandra saw that the young man in question was indeed wending his way towards them, his blond hair falling attractively over his forehead and a smile on his lips. She saw the pleasure that lit up his youthful face, warming him with astonishing intensity.

She sighed, defeated. ‘So he is, Emma. I do so hope he is not going to be persistent and that you do not forget how to behave—and it is undignified, as well as unattractive, to stand with one’s mouth open,’ she chided, leaving her sister in Aunt Elizabeth’s charge and strolling to the edge of the crowded dance floor to accost and charm anyone she thought would benefit her cause.

Alluring, fiery, and with an unshakeable sense of her own worth, Cassandra was bright and unpredictable—often playful and engaging, just as often frostily aloof. She drew men to her side almost without benefit of conscious effort. But those who fell victim to her potent magnetism soon learned to their cost that the fascinating Miss Cassandra Greenwood, while accepting their masculine admiration as both her right and her pleasure, kept herself beyond their reach.

An uncertain future loomed ahead of her, this she knew, but she was going to meet it squarely in the eye. She would not be looked over like ripe fruit on a costermonger’s stall. There would be no inept youth with groping hands and wet kisses for her but a man, someone to love her with all the masculine authority at his command—experienced, bold and dashing—like Captain Lampard perhaps? She was shocked and instantly ashamed of the way her mind was working. Captain Lampard was totally unsuitable in every way and it was a ridiculous thought which she dismissed at once—but she could not deny it.


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