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Heiress in Regency Society: The Defiant Debutante

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«Heiress in Regency Society: The Defiant Debutante» - Хелен Диксон

THE DEFIANT DEBUTANTEEligible, attractive Alex Montgomery, Earl of Arlington, has always done just as he pleases. Society ladies adore him and a string of mistresses warm his bed. He’s yet to meet the woman who could refuse him… Then he’s introduced to the strikingly unconventional Miss Angelina Hamilton, who has plans of her own – and they don’t include marriage to a rake!FROM GOVERNESS TO SOCIETY BRIDELord Lucas Stainton is ruthless, rude beyond belief, and Eve Brody wishes him to the devil… but the position of governess is hers if she’ll accept. As sparks fly between them, Eve learns that the dark-hearted lord is close to ruin. Desperately craving the security she’s never had, Eve offers a proposal – in return for her secret fortune, she asks only that he take her hand in marriage…
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Table of Contents

SEDUCTION in Regency Society August 2014

DECEPTION in Regency Society September 2014

PROPOSALS in Regency Society October 2014

PRIDE in Regency Society November 2014

MISCHIEF in Regency Society December 2014

INNOCENCE in Regency Society January 2015

ENCHANTED in Regency Society February 2015

HEIRESS in Regency Society March 2015

PREJUDICE in Regency Society April 2015

FORBIDDEN in Regency Society May 2015

TEMPTATION in Regency Society June 2015

REVENGE in Regency Society July 2015

HELEN DICKSON was born and lives in South Yorkshire, with her retired farm manager husband. Having moved out of the busy farmhouse where she raised their two sons, she has more time to indulge in her favourite pastimes. She enjoys being outdoors, travelling, reading and music. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure. It was a love of history that drove her to writing historical fiction.

Heiress in



The Defiant Debutante

From Governess to Society Bride

Helen Dickson


Table of Contents

About the Author

Title Page

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 Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

From Governess to Society Bride

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve


The Defiant Debutante

Chapter One

London, May 1812

Birds were stirring in the trees and dew was still on the grass as dawn began to spread its watery grey light over the deserted park. Two men shrouded in long black cloaks rode towards the seclusion of a group of trees and dismounted.

Cursing at his own folly, Alexander Montgomery, the seventh Earl of Arlington and taller of the two, glanced irritably at Sir Nathan Beresford. The two men were as close as friends could be, and as different as night and day. Nathan, with his ash-blond hair and blue eyes, was well liked, good natured and easygoing, and he lacked the aura of authority and power that seemed to surround Alex. Nathan was to act as Alex’s second, when the other party deigned to arrive for the duel.

Three inches over six feet tall, Alex was a man diverse and complex, and could be utterly ruthless when the need arose. There was a hard set to his firm jaw, and his wide, well-shaped mouth was held in a stern line. His face was clean shaven and one of arrogant handsomeness, dark brows slashed his forehead and his hair was thick and ebony black. In the midst of so much darkness his eyes were dove grey, striking and piercing. Hidden deep in them was a cynicism, watchful, mocking, as though he found the world a dubious place to be.

He possessed a haughty reserve that was not inviting and set him apart from others in society. There was an aggressive confidence and strength of purpose in his features, and he had an air of a man who succeeds in all he sets out to achieve. From the arrogant lift of his dark head and casual stance, he was a man with many shades to his nature, a man with a sense of his own infallibility.

‘You’ve tied yourself into some knots in your time, Alex, but this is by far the tightest,’ Nathan remarked, tethering his horse to a branch and scanning the park for the arrival of Alex’s opponent. ‘I only hope you can extricate yourself from this mess with some modicum of honour.’

‘I agree. It’s a damned unfortunate business, Nathan, and I bear the entire weight of this incident on my own conscience.’

‘Surely Amelia Fairhurst must shoulder some of the blame.’

‘The responsibility is all mine,’ Alex replied curtly, dismissing Nathan’s well-meaning attempt to absolve him. ‘But if ever I am stupid enough to fall prey to another pretty face, remind me to scrutinise her credentials for hidden husbands.’

‘Knowing how assiduous you are to detail, I am surprised you didn’t vet her more carefully.’

‘I must have taken leave of my senses,’ Alex replied, contemplating the irony of the situation. Here he was, one of the most eligible bachelors in England, and yet he had made the fatal mistake of taking to bed a married woman. His stupidity galled him, and he cursed himself for being a dim-witted fool.

Nathan cast him an arch look. ‘The delectable Amelia Fairhurst must be quite something for you to have overlooked the fact that she has an aging husband tucked conveniently out of the way in Yorkshire.’

Alex’s firm lips curved in a slight smile when he remembered the stunningly vivacious brunette, who had taken no persuading to jump into his bed. ‘She’s certainly an interesting, unconventional female.’

Nathan chuckled, giving his friend a conspiratorial wink. ‘And I seem to recall you saying on more than one occasion that unconventional women are always more exciting between the sheets.

‘Exactly,’ Alex replied with a wry grin. ‘Providing one doesn’t happen to be married to one.’

His words were flippant, but Nathan heard an edge to his voice. Alex was a self-proclaimed single man. Past experiences had forged him into a hardened cynic, and he discarded all women as being dispensable and irrelevant. Age and experience had taught him that women couldn’t be trusted, and the first lady to show him this had been his own mother. Her affairs had been notorious and had hurt him badly. They had also been the reason why his father had sought oblivion in alcohol before blowing out his brains. Alex’s mother, the beautiful and immoral Margaret Montgomery, had married her Spanish lover soon after and had gone to live in Spain. Whether she lived or had died Alex neither knew nor cared.

‘Thank God Fairhurst is in his dotage. With any luck his eyesight will be impaired and his brain addled. I am merely one in a long line of Amelia’s lovers. Why the devil he’s singled me out is quite beyond me.’

‘Maybe it’s because you’re the only one he knows about.’

‘I doubt it. But whatever the reason, remind me not to stray from Caroline from now on. She’s more than enough to satisfy my needs.’

Alex was always careful to choose a mistress whose company he enjoyed. She had to be intelligent and sophisticated, who would not mistake lovemaking and desire with love, and, moreover, she had to be a woman who made no demands and expected no promises.

For these reasons she would be kept in the lap of luxury. She could expect a smart town house, a beautiful carriage and horses, servants, gowns, furs and jewels that would be the envy of every other woman.

‘Does Caroline know about your affair with Amelia?’

‘Yes, but she understands not to ask for an explanation. However, I must admit that I’ve been unfair to her.’

Nathan quirked a brow, his blue eyes twinkling with light mockery. ‘What’s this? Are you becoming sentimental?’

‘I am never sentimental,’ Alex snapped. ‘But for the life of me I can’t understand why someone as stunning as Amelia married old Fairhurst in the first place. It’s disgraceful that so much beauty is wasted on such a pathetic old man.’

Nathan regarded his friend with mild cynicism. ‘Yes, you can. You know the type of woman she is. She’s a scheming fortune-hunter who likes to drink the finest champagne and wear the most expensive jewels. She openly and shamelessly admits she married Fairhurst for his title and wealth and flaunts it with aplomb.’

‘So she does, but you must admit she is more pleasing than those simpering young misses, who swoon at the merest hint of a stolen kiss, their mamas hovering over them like hawks, ready to latch on to me if I show any sign of compromising their precious daughters.’

Alex was aware that he was a fantastic matrimonial prize—top of the list of every ambitious matchmaking mama, whom he treated with amused condescension. They were women whose only ambition in life was to form an alliance with the powerful and illustrious Montgomery family. His ancestors on his mother’s side had been rewarded for their loyalty to the crown through the ages with estates and riches enough to make him one of the wealthiest men in England.

Alex’s attitude to the female sex was highly critical, his opinion low, but his own popularity among them was high. He was unattached, unattainable, and he would stay that way.

‘Perhaps if you were to give marriage some serious thought it might put a stop to the hunt.’

Alex threw Nathan a look that would have stopped a race-horse in its tracks. ‘When I want some of your logic, Nathan,’ he retorted tersely, ‘I’ll ask for it.’

‘Nevertheless, it would solve the problem,’ Nathan went on imperturbably, ignoring Alex’s black look. Nathan was one of the few people who could argue with him and escape unscathed.

‘Marriage and love are for fools,’ Alex stated caustically.

‘I never mentioned love. Besides, where you are concerned, since when has love anything to do with marriage or anything else for that matter?’ Nathan proclaimed.

‘You’re right. I despise the romantic ideal of love. I’ve seen enough of it in the past to know of its destructive effects.

Desire I understand. It’s a more honest emotion. Passion and desire are easily appeased—fleeting—and easily doused.’

‘It’s a good thing we’re not all as cynical as you are,’ Nathan chuckled. ‘Not every woman is as ambitious and devious as you seem to think they are. I am fortunate to be married to one, don’t forget.’

That was true. Twelve months ago Nathan had found wedded bliss with the lovely Verity Fortesque, a woman with whom even Alex had been unable to find fault. Alex and Verity were cousins, Verity being the only daughter of his Aunt Patience, Uncle Henry’s younger sister. Patience’s husband had died after just a few short yet happy years of marriage. She had never remarried and still lived in the house they had shared at Richmond.

‘Verity is a sweet thing, I grant you. But she is the exception. However, unlike you, I do not find marriage a desirable institution.’

Nathan shot him an exasperated look. ‘I agree it can be heaven or hell. Thankfully I chose my wife wisely. Our marriage will be long lasting, based on caring—and love. And you may scoff at that all you like.’

Alex looked at his friend, suddenly serious. ‘I’m not scoffing, Nathan. In a way I envy you.’

‘You do?’

Alex nodded and looked away.

‘You know, Alex, you Montgomerys have become thin on the ground; if you want to continue the line, you really should give some thought to producing an heir. You don’t have to marry for love—but I suspect that one day you will fall prey to what you consider to be a debilitating emotion, and it will come as the greatest shock in your life.’

Alex favoured him with a look of absolute disdain, but Nathan ignored it. ‘I don’t think so,’ he answered coldly, his tone suggesting that the subject was closed. But as he turned away he frowned, his thoughts reverting to the matter of an heir. Nathan was right. He was heir to his uncle, the Duke of Mowbray, and Alex knew how anxious his uncle was for him to marry. If he didn’t produce a legitimate heir, the title would become extinct. It troubled him more than anyone realised, and he knew he couldn’t go on ignoring the issue.

He had stayed a bachelor far longer than most of his contemporaries, and the truth of it was that he was beginning to tire of courtesans and mistresses, and all the jealousies and petty tantrums they brought with them. This latest affair with Amelia Fairhurst had made him see that he was susceptible to women of a certain type, and a wave of disgust swept over him. There had to be an easier way of satisfying his physical needs. Perhaps Nathan was right and a marriage of convenience was the answer after all. In fact, it might have much to offer, and, further, the ideal woman was waiting in the wings.

Lavinia Howard was the eldest daughter of Lord Howard of Springfield Hall in Kent. She was eminently suitable and available. He would dwell on the prospect and invite her—along with a party of friends—to Arlington, his estate in Hertfordshire. If he offered for her, marriage would be a comfortable arrangement that would suit them both. A union between two civilised people who knew what to expect from each other might be just what he needed. He could still enjoy pleasant intrigues, providing he had a compliant wife.

Cursing softly under his breath, impatiently he moved away and began pacing to and fro. ‘Fairhurst’s late. Where the devil is the man?’ Annoyed, Alex thought of the impending duel with distaste. He hoped Fairhurst would achieve satisfaction by merely wounding him—or preferably missing him completely. Alex would fire into the air, and, in so doing, would be admitting his guilt—then the affair would be ended. This was how duels were usually settled between gentlemen. If a death should occur, it would draw the attention of the law, and neither of them wanted that.

‘Tell me, Alex. Does your uncle know that Fairhurst has challenged you to a duel?’

Alex’s mouth narrowed into a thin line of annoyance. ‘No. At this very moment my uncle is en route to America.’

‘Really?’ Nathan expressed profound surprise. ‘I say! That’s a bit sudden—and reckless, considering the present situation. It’s highly probably that America will declare war on us very soon.’

Alex knew this to be true and his irritation about the situation had increased considerably. ‘I know it’s only a matter of time before the situation ignites. His decision to go was all rather sudden. He has a cousin, Lydia Hamilton, in Boston who is dying. Her husband is dead and she’s fallen on hard times. It appears she has appealed to my uncle to make her daughter his ward. The girl is a minor and Lydia wants him to bring her to England and offer her a home.’

‘And you’re not pleased, I can see that,’ Nathan stated.

‘No. When I returned to London from Arlington and read his note, my first impulse was to take the next ship and go after him to bring him back.’

‘Thank God common sense prevailed. Do you think your uncle will bring the girl back with him?’

‘Uncle Henry is far too sensible to do anything irrational, but from what I recall, his feelings for Lydia were far stronger than just cousinly fondness. Their mothers were sisters, and Henry and Lydia created a scandal that embroiled both families at the time. I believe she is the reason why my uncle never married. I don’t know the gist of it, but what I do know makes me decidedly reluctant and uneasy about admitting that woman’s daughter into our lives.’

‘Why did she go to America?’

‘Against her father’s wishes, Lydia married an adventurer by the name of Richard Hamilton with undue haste and went with him to Boston. I believe they went west and settled in Ohio. Apparently, her father was outraged and cut her off without a penny. As far as I am aware, nothing has been heard of her since—until my uncle received a letter from her three weeks ago.’

‘And no doubt you’re afraid he’ll be taken in.’

‘Yes. He is not a man who shirks his responsibilities, and he obviously thinks of his cousin’s daughter as just that, otherwise he would not have gone tearing halfway across the world without discussing the matter with me first. But why go at all? He could have written or sent someone to escort the girl to England.’

‘It occurs to me that this grand gesture might be your uncle’s way of telling Lydia Hamilton that where she is concerned his feelings are no different to what they were all those years ago.’

It was a possibility that Alex refused to dwell upon.

‘Alex, your uncle may have a soft heart, but, contrary to what you believe, he is no fool.’

‘You’re right. But to saddle himself with a ward at his time of life could be disastrous.’

Nathan arched a sceptical brow. ‘For whom? Him or you?’

Alex shot him an icy glance. ‘All right, damn you. Me,’ he answered curtly.

Nathan grinned, arching a brow at his grim-faced friend. ‘It needn’t be. I think it’s rather touching. But is there no one in America who can look after the girl?’

‘Apparently not. My uncle is Lydia Hamilton’s next of kin, and I suspect she will take advantage of that. It’s years since he last saw her and I’m afraid she might turn out to be a scheming opportunist.’

‘Never having met the woman, don’t you think you do her an injustice? Come, Alex. I doubt her daughter will bring any real changes to your life,’ Nathan argued.

Alex’s eyes were full of distaste when he looked at Nathan. ‘I hope you’re right. But a girl from the wilds of America will have no social skills and find it hard to adjust to the kind of world we inhabit. If so she’ll be nothing but a damned nuisance and an embarrassment.’

‘Good Lord, Alex! What are you expecting? An ill-bred barbarian? A girl who is half-savage, with brown skin and feathers in her hair?’

Alex shrugged. ‘Why not? She could be anything. We know absolutely nothing about her.’

‘Nevertheless, having met several colonists both on my travels and here in London, on the whole they are extremely civilised, pleasant people.’

‘Several of my acquaintances are Americans, Nathan, so I would be grateful if you did not lecture me on their attributes,’ Alex replied drily. ‘If my uncle brings the girl to England, he will have legal control over her until she is twenty-one.’

‘Are you afraid that she’ll be a drain on your resources?’

‘No. We can afford it,’ Alex bit out.

‘Not only will you have to feed her, but you will be faced with the enormous expense of clothing her and introducing her to society.’

‘I don’t need reminding.’ His eyes like dagger thrusts, Alex glared with deadly menace at the amusement Nathan was unable to conceal in his eyes. ‘Damn it, Nathan! I do believe you’re enjoying my predicament,’ he flared in exasperation.

Blithely ignoring his friend’s ill humour, Nathan grinned good-naturedly. ‘No, not really. I merely find it odd that a girl you have never met, a girl you know nothing about, is capable of rousing so much ire in you. It appears to me that you have already made up your mind not to like her, and have no intention of being charitable or accommodating.’

Alex’s eyes impaled Nathan like sharp flints. ‘I cannot be accused of being either uncharitable or unaccommodating in this instance. And contrary to what you may think, I have formed no opinion of her whatsoever.’

‘I am glad to hear it. You may be pleasantly surprised. Why, she might be a pretty young thing with a sweet disposition and excellent manners.’

‘Let us hope so—for all our sakes,’ Alex drawled, scanning the park for Lord Fairhurst, his annoyance increasing by the minute the longer he was kept waiting.

‘Nevertheless, try to imagine how she might feel,’ Nathan persisted. ‘Her mother is dying, you say, and she has no relatives in America. Maybe she doesn’t want to come to England. My fear is that when she is faced with your formidable manner—a daunting prospect for any girl—it will alienate her from the start. Has it not entered that arrogant, stubborn head of yours that you might like her, Alex? And, if so, will it wound your pride to admit it?’

‘Even for an arrogant, stubborn male like me it is not beyond the realms of possibility,’ Alex conceded with sarcasm. ‘I am protective of my uncle; as you are aware, he does not always enjoy the best of health. He is renowned for his generosity and I am naturally concerned that he is not taken advantage of.’

‘Yes, I can understand that. How old is the girl?’

‘I really have no idea, but it is my intention to marry her off to the first prospective suitor.’

Nathan watched an inexplicable smile trace its way across the other man’s face. ‘In which case, you do realise that you will have to provide a somewhat generous dowry?’

Alex regarded Nathan in casual, speculative silence, one dark brow lifted in amused mockery. ‘If she turns out to be a wilful hoyden with outrageous manners,’ he said drily, ‘it will be worth it to get her off our hands.’

Alex had been trained to discipline as soon as he had drawn breath. Already the American girl had caused a rift in his routine—a disturbance that had brought a feeling of unease which had begun to trouble him. It was like a pebble breaking the calm surface of a pond. Once thrown there was nothing to prevent the ripple widening in ever-increasing circles.

The quiet of the park was interrupted. Hearing the measured thud of horses’ hooves on the soft turf and the creaking of wheels, they turned to see a closed carriage bearing down on them. It came to a halt and they saw it had only one occupant, a man in middle age. He climbed out and calmly told an astonished Alex that Lord Fairhurst had died suddenly of a seizure during the night.

When Angelina and her mother, Lydia, had left Ohio, never in her life had Angelina known such grief. It broke her heart to think that as well as her father, all the people she had known in the settlement were dead, that whole families had been wiped out by the Shawnee.

Will Casper had accompanied them to Boston. He was a loner, a man of few words, who helped Angelina’s father on the land when needed. Will had become a good and loyal friend to them over the years. He had found a doctor to tend to Lydia after she was badly wounded in the Shawnee attack, but he could give them little hope that she would live beyond the next few weeks.

With a horse and wagon, a few meagre possessions and a rifle, they had faced east, pushing themselves hard on well-worn trails. The months of trekking through Pennsylvania and across the mountains were a harsh and emotional time for Angelina, during which she was veiled in a curtain of shock. Her pain defied release. It hid itself in a hollow place inside her heart, beyond the reach of understanding.

Will silently watched her battle to be brave and grown up. He showed her she wasn’t alone, and together they made it to the state of Massachusetts, making their home in a shack on the outskirts of Boston. The land round about was wild, and fast-flowing water cut its way through a steep rocky gorge beside the shack, moving north to the Charles River.

The night of the massacre and her own treatment at the hands of the Shawnee had scorched its memory on Angelina’s soul. Even now, two years later, she felt defiled and beyond redemption. The terrible, haunting nightmares had pursued her all the way back east. At first they happened every night, but now they were less frequent. But no matter how much time passed, she could not swallow her feeling of outrage and pretend the incident had never happened. She would never be able to come to terms with it, never be able to speak of it. Her terrible secret would remain a burden she would never be able to put into more manageable proportions.

Angelina galloped so hard towards Henry Montgomery that he half-expected a troop of Amazons to materialise from the trees in her wake. Riding the forest pathways on a pony as energetic as herself, she was reckless, like an Indian, and as refreshing as a cool, invigorating wind. With long bouncing braids sticking out from beneath a battered old beaver hat with an eagle’s feather stuck in its brim, she pulled her lathered pony to an abrupt halt in front of him, unconcerned by the clouds of dust that the restless animal sent into the air with its hooves, which covered his fine clothes.

Dressed in a worn brown jerkin, ill-fitting deerskin trousers and dull brown boots that no amount of rubbing would bring a shine to, Angelina levelled a steady dark gaze at the tall, silver-haired man. Silently they took stock of each other. She was guarded, wary, looking at him with a wordless resentment.

Henry Montgomery possessed a commanding presence. He had the poise and regal bearing of a man who has lived a thoroughly privileged life. With Angelina he aroused a curious inspection. He looked cool and contained in his immaculate charcoal grey suit and pristine white stock. He was the sort of gentleman her mother had told her about—his rather austere mien and noble bearing out of place here in the backwoods of New England.

Despite the unease and resentment his unexpected arrival caused her, knowing how much her mother was looking forward to meeting him, she had primed herself to be gracious.

‘You’re the Englishman,’ she stated without preamble, her pronunciation clear and distinct. Taking note of this, Henry smiled inwardly. He would have expected nothing less from Lydia’s daughter. Swinging her leg over her pony she jumped down like an Indian—lithe, supple and long limbed.

Henry inclined his silver head with amusement and quite without resentment on being confronted by the bold and forthright manner of the girl, who positively oozed energy and vitality. Somehow it came as no surprise to see the butt of a rifle sticking out of a saddle pouch on the side of her pony.

She held out a slim hand. ‘It is most kind of you to come all this way.’

Taking her hand in both of his, Henry held it, gazing with complete absorption into the darkest eyes he had ever seen. Set in a face burnt golden by the sun, they slanted slightly and were fringed with sooty black lashes. Her cheekbones were high, her nose pert, and an attractive little cleft dented her delicately rounded chin. Dainty and fine though her features were, her face could possibly pass for a boy’s, and with a baggy shirt and jerkin concealing her adolescent breasts, the same could be said of her body. But the mouth was much too soft and pink, too delicate, to belong to a boy. There was something inexpressibly dainty about her, which aroused vague feelings of chivalry.

‘I am Henry Montgomery—the Duke of Mowbray. And you are Lydia’s daughter.’ The likeness almost cut his heart in two.

‘My name is Angelina Hamilton,’ she replied, withdrawing her hand, completely unfazed by the stranger’s grand title and fancy clothes. ‘You’ve come a long way.’

If Angelina did but know it, Henry would walk through hell fire and promise to live in eternal damnation if Lydia asked him to. Even though he was fifty-five and a veteran of hundreds of dispassionate affairs, this girl’s mother was the only woman to have captivated his heart. He had loved her as much as it was possible to love another human being, but, because their parents had considered their relationship to be incestuous, he’d had to resign himself to letting her go. Yet, despite the distance, their hearts were still entwined, and neither separation nor time had lessened the pain or their love for each other.

‘I came in response to your mother’s letter.’

‘I know.’

Her eyes were questioning and direct, and her voice was steady, but there was something in it of a frustrated, frightened child.

‘How is she? In her letter she mentioned that she was ill—that she was wounded when Indians attacked your home.’

‘My mother is dying, sir.’

Carefully Henry schooled his features as he took note of the pain showing naked on Angelina’s young face upturned to his. A hint of tears brightened her translucent eyes, which were like windows laying bare the suffering and many hardships of her young life.

‘I’m so very sorry, my dear. How dreadful this must be for you.’

‘Mother knows she’s dying, but she set her mind on not doing so until she heard from you. She didn’t know if you would come in person. She didn’t expect you to. She thought that perhaps you would write in response to her letter.’

‘We used to be very close, your mother and I, before she married your father and came to live in America.’ He averted his eyes when Angelina gave him a curious, questioning look. ‘Come—walk with me back to the hotel. Mr Phipps, the proprietor, has kindly offered me the use of his buggy. You can take me to her.’

Mr Phipps was a man who liked to talk. All Henry had had to do was sit back and listen when he made it known that he was here to see Mrs Hamilton and her daughter, Angelina.

‘Real nice is Miss Angelina,’ Mr Phipps had told him. ‘Shame about her ma an’pa, though—what the Indians did an’ all. After the attack an’ when she’d buried her pa, she brought her ma back here an’ bought the old McKay place down by the gorge. It was a wreck of a place so it didn’t cost much.’

‘Did Angelina see what happened?’ Henry had asked him.

‘She saw all right—more than is right for a child to see. Done killed the Indian who killed her pa, she did. Stabbed him right through the heart, accordin’ to Will.’

Unable to comprehend what Angelina must have suffered during the Indian attack, Henry’s expression remained unchanged as he absorbed this shocking piece of information. ‘Will?’

‘Will Casper. He was out west at the time an’ came back east with her and her ma. Been right good to them, too. Don’t know what they’d ’ave done without him.’

‘How do they manage?’

‘Miss Angelina spends all her time huntin’ an fishin’ an’ lookin’ after her ma, while Will does all the work about the place—when he’s not off trappin’ beaver. They ’aven’t much—but what they do ’ave they make the best of.’

Moving towards the door through which the Englishman had disappeared, Angelina stopped on the threshold, suddenly feeling like an outsider in her own home. Knowing her mother wanted to be alone with him, she would go no further, but before the bedroom door closed she saw the Englishman bend and pick her mother’s limp hand up off the patchwork quilt and place it to his lips. At the same time her mother raised her free hand and gently placed it on his silver head, as if bestowing a title on the Duke of Mowbray. It was a scene that would remain indelibly printed on her mind for all time.

When he emerged from Lydia’s room after what seemed like an eternity, Henry passed through the house to the veranda, welcoming the cool air after the heat of the sick room. Night had fallen and a languid breeze stirred the trees. The air carried a heavy fragrance of jasmine, wood smoke and cedar wood.

Henry had been taken aback at first to see how ill Lydia was, and he knew she wasn’t long for this world. As fragile as a plucked wildflower, she lay still and as white as death against the pillows. But when he’d gazed once more into those glorious dark eyes, he had seen that the years had not quenched their glow.

Lydia had been his grande passion, the woman he had been prepared to relinquish his title and his family to marry. She had been part of his flesh and his spirit, and a large part of him had died when she left him. Without warning and without his knowledge she had married Richard Hamilton, sacrificing herself for his own sake, and gone to America. In a brooding silence he was conscious of the girl standing silently behind him, waiting for him to speak, her dog, Mr Boone, at her feet.

Henry turned and looked at her. The soft, silvery moonlight washed over her, touching the delicate, pensive features of her face. He saw the questioning black eyes in cheeks pale with apprehension, and it was only then, upon meeting that dark, misty gaze, that he realised the enormity of the responsibility Lydia had placed in his hands.

‘You know why your mother wrote to me, Angelina,’ Henry said, sitting in one of two battered old wicker chairs. ‘You also know that I am her cousin and closest kin. It is most unfortunate that on your late father’s side there are no close relatives. It is your mother’s wish that I take charge of you, and take you back with me to England. Would you like that?’

Angelina’s reaction to say no was instinctive, but, realising that this gentleman had travelled a long way to help her mother and herself, she could not be so discourteous. It wasn’t that she disliked the Englishman, but the question of being forced into something she had no control over that troubled her. Independence had become a part of everyday life, and she had no wish to renounce that.

‘I don’t know.’

‘I have promised your mother that before we leave America I will legally make you my ward. When she is gone, as your next of kin your responsibility rests entirely with me.’

‘Are you really my only living relative?’

Henry frowned. It was one question he had anticipated, and since he now knew what Lydia had told Angelina about her grandparents—that they were dead and nothing more—he was capable of answering. He would rather not, because it meant having to lie. However, he didn’t see how it could be evaded if he was to abide by his promise to Lydia.

‘Your grandparents on your mother’s side were killed in a carriage accident some years ago,’ he told her in a gentle, straightforward voice, praying she would never discover the truth.

‘My grandparents never wrote to her, and she would never speak of them. Do you know why?’

He nodded, silently cursing Jonathan Adams, Lydia’s father. Anne, his wife and Henry’s own aunt, had been a gentle woman, who had lived in awe of her husband, and had been unable to stand against him when he had coldly cut Lydia out of their lives.

‘When your mother married your father and left England, Angelina, it was against your grandfather’s wishes. He was a hard, unforgiving man and meant to punish her for disobeying him. He cut off all connection with her—and insisted that your grandmother did the same. You mother never forgave them.’

How true this was, Henry thought sadly. Lydia’s lack of forgiveness was no temporary state of affairs. With great intensity she had insisted that there must be no connection between Angelina and her grandmother. Not wishing to distress her further, Henry had promised he would abide by her wishes.

Angelina sat on the top step of the veranda with her back propped against a wooden rail. ‘Won’t someone like me be a burden to you in England—a financial one?’

Henry was mildly amused at her words so innocently and frankly spoken. ‘I can well afford it. It will be a pleasure. And you are far too lovely and independent to be a burden. You will learn to be a fine lady,’ he told her, wanting to tell her not to change, that she was just perfect the way she was. But, if she was to live in the social world he inhabited, regretfully it was necessary.

‘How should I address you? For me to call you “my Lord” every time I speak to you is too formal and quite ridiculous.’

‘I couldn’t agree more. Uncle Henry will be appropriate.’

She considered this for a moment and then nodded. ‘Yes. Uncle Henry it is then.’

Angelina’s new uncle had a warmth of manner that made her feel as if she had known him a long time. His physical impression might be one of age, yet his twinkling eyes and willing smile were the epitome of eternal youth. Over the distance they smiled at each other, comfortable together, sharing a moment of accord on the veranda that seemed to bind them together.

‘It is obvious to me that your education seems to have been taken care of, so we’ll have no trouble in that quarter,’ Henry remarked at length. ‘Your pronunciation of the English language is excellent.’

‘Thank you. I am also conversant in French, Latin and some Greek, too,’ Angelina confessed proudly. ‘Despite the everyday hardships of living in Ohio, my mother saw to that.’

Henry’s admiration for her was growing all the time.

‘Do you have a wife?’ Angelina asked suddenly, with the natural curiosity of a child.

‘No,’ he answered, startled by the abruptness of her question, but not offended by it. ‘I never found a woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with—except, perhaps, one,’ he said softly, his eyes clouding with memory, wondering how Angelina would feel if she knew that her beloved father had been accepted by her mother as a hasty second best.

‘But isn’t it the custom for gentlemen of your standing to marry to beget an heir?’

‘I had no intention of adhering to custom by chaining myself to any woman I might only have a passing fancy for, in order to beget an heir. Besides, I have a perfectly acceptable heir in my nephew, Alex—my brother’s son.’

Angelina’s eyes became alert. ‘Alex?’

‘Alexander Henry Frederick Montgomery, the seventh Earl of Arlington and Lord Montgomery—which are just two of his titles. His friends call him Alex.’

Angelina’s eyes widened in awe. ‘Gracious me! What an awesome responsibility it must be to have so many names. Doesn’t he feel weighted down by so many titles?’

‘Not in the least. He was born to them and learned to accept and ignore them from an early age. One day he will become the sixth Duke of Mowbray—following my demise, you understand. His title as the seventh Earl of Arlington he inherited from his mother’s family. The sixth earl died several years ago, and as the estate is unentailed he left it directly to Alex—with provision made for his mother, who was an only child. He made representations to the King that Alex be given the title of seventh Earl on his demise. You’ll meet him when we get to England. He is the only son of my brother, who died when Alex was fifteen. Alex is now twenty-eight—and I swear that young man is the reason for my hair turning white,’ he chuckled softly.

‘Is he married?’

‘Despite being one of the most eligible bachelors in England, I’ve all but despaired of ever seeing him suitably married.’

‘Why? What’s wrong with him?’

‘Nothing. He hasn’t got two heads or anything like that.’ Henry chuckled aloud. ‘It is his unequivocal wish to remain a bachelor and childless. I cannot hide the fact that he’s an exacting man, who insists on the highest standards from all those he employs. However, he can be quite charming, when it suits him.’

‘What does he do?’ Angelina asked, already in awe of Alex Montgomery.

‘Alex handles all my business and financial affairs—as well as his own. He has a brilliant mind and a head for figures that shames me. He drives himself hard, demanding too much of himself—and others. Ever since he took over he’s increased all my holdings considerably. Now I’m in my dotage I’m perfectly content to sit back and let him handle everything. Oh, he consults me now and then, but business is not my forte.’

‘And do you trust him?’

‘Implicitly. Besides, my dear…’he chuckled softly, his grey eyes twinkling merrily ‘…if I didn’t, I wouldn’t dare tell him so.’

Angelina frowned. He sounds quite formidable. He’s bound to resent me. How do you think he’ll react?’

Henry grinned. ‘He’ll be outraged when he finds out I have made myself your guardian—but he’ll soon get used to having you around. Besides, there’s not a lot he can do about it.’ He relaxed, regarding her warmly. ‘Don’t worry, my dear. You’ll soon get used to Alex.’

Just two days after Henry Montgomery had come to Boston, Lydia slipped quietly away in her sleep.

Angelina’s heart was heavy with sadness, but she didn’t give in to her grief. Her mother had suffered greatly, and now she was at peace. Henry gave no outward sign to Angelina of his own private emotions, but his face was lined, his eyes dull with a deep sorrow.

It was difficult for Will to stand on the bustling quayside and watch Angelina board the ship. Her leaving would leave a huge hole in his heart.

Feeling quite forlorn, a hard lump of tears formed in Angelina’s throat as she looked into Will’s rheumy eyes. He looked lost and torn and old. Although it broke her heart to do so, she had decided to leave Mr Boone behind, in the hope that he would help console Will and that it would ease their parting. Will had carved her a wonderful likeness of Mr Boone out of ebony. It was packed in her trunk and she would cherish it always.

‘Goodbye, Will. I’ll never forget you, you know that. I promise I’ll write and let you know what it’s like in England.’

‘You go and make your ma proud,’ Will said, his voice hoarse with emotion, wondering where she would send her letters to when he had disappeared into the backwoods of North America. ‘You’re going to do all those things she talked about. You’ll dazzle all those English gents—you see if you don’t. Remember it’s what your ma wanted. She told you that.’

‘I do remember, Will, and I’ll never forget. Ever.’

Will’s eyes met those of Henry Montgomery in mutual concern. Unbeknown to Angelina, Will had told the Englishman what had happened to her on the night of the Shawnee massacre, and how he had rescued her. He hoped that, in knowing, the English duke would have a deeper understanding of his ward.

Henry had listened to all Will had said with a sense of horror. Will had told him that there was still something about that night Angelina refused to speak of. It was like an inner wound that was bleeding. The secret lurked in her gaze. Was it the shock of the massacre and her father’s death that caused it—or something else? Whatever it was might be eased when she reached England. A new country, a new home—a new life.


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