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Lord Fox's Pleasure

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«Lord Fox's Pleasure» - Хелен Диксон

MARRIAGE IN MINDWith the restoration of King Charles II to the throne, his exiled supporters were jubilantly returning home, wealthy landowner Lucas Fox among them. Once a notorious pleasure seeker, Lord Fox now found himself ready to settle down to a quiet life on his estate. All that was missing was a wife….Proud and impulsive Prudence Fairworthy captured his interest–and made his blood run hot. Pru was suspicious of his true motives and the mystery surrounding his past, and Lucas knew she would not be won over easily. But there was untold pleasure to be found in the art of persuasion….
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Prudence Fairworthy was a natural temptress.

Prudence Fairworthy was a natural temptress.

Alluring and lovely, entrancing—and untouched. Lucas Fox found her innocence strangely disturbing. The appeal of this young woman who was a virtual stranger to him was hard to explain. Since returning to Marlden Hall he had seriously begun to consider marriage. Whenever he tried to think of a suitable candidate it was Prudence’s image that lingered the longest in his mind’s eye. Proud, willful and undisciplined she might be, but she was also too lovely for comfort.

Lucas did not understand the reasons for what he was about to do. He wanted her, and that was reason enough. But he realized he would have to tread with caution.

Paying court to Prudence would be like paying court to a powder keg.

Lord Fox’s Pleasure

Helen Dickson



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.


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

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter One


‘P rudence! Prudence! Oh—where is that girl?’

Arabella’s voice travelled along the narrow passageway from the busy kitchen and out into the square courtyard, where a girl was tending flowering plants in clay tubs of various shapes and sizes, an absorbed, preoccupied expression on her face. In the corner a leafy elm towered upright, its outstretched boughs offering welcome shade as she worked at teasing out the weeds from between a bed of gaily coloured pansies.

‘Prudence! Why don’t you answer me when I call you?’ Arabella said crossly, coming out of the house and descending a narrow flight of stone steps to the courtyard, knowing perfectly well that this was where she would find her sister. Honeysuckle climbing in profusion up the walls scented the air and flowers spilled from pots and tubs in a vibrant blaze of glory. Prudence’s enduring love of gardening never failed to amaze Arabella, and she felt a momentary stab of pride. Her sister’s knowledge of plants and creativity, and the way flowers seemed to bloom around her, was quite remarkable.

Lively and full of energies she found hard to repress, Prudence had a sweet disposition and a soft heart, but she was also in possession of a stubborn, wilful streak and tended to ignore every rule of propriety. When her mind wasn’t occupied with gardening matters, her conduct was often reprehensible, and she was the despair of Arabella and Aunt Julia. Arabella put it down to an absence of male influence in her sister’s life, and wondered what their brother, Sir Thomas Fairworthy, would make of her now he had returned from political exile in France.

Hearing Arabella’s voice and that she sounded testy—clearly not at all pleased that she’d had to come looking for her—the girl immediately stopped what she was doing. Putting down her small spade, she turned towards her sister, absently wiping her soiled fingers on her skirt. ‘I am here, Arabella,’ she called, crossing the yard, a smile on her pretty, heart-shaped face with its halo of rich chestnut curls, her large jewel-bright amethyst eyes fringed with long sooty lashes. ‘What is it? What is wrong?’

‘Wrong! Everything is wrong. Upon my soul, Prudence, just look at the state of you,’ Arabella reproached in exasperation, plunking her hands in the small of her waist as her eyes passed over her sister’s soiled skirt and blouse and the smudges of dirt on her cheeks. ‘I’ve been shouting fit to wake the dead, wondering where you could be. You know how much we have to do for tonight’s supper party—and here you are, tending plants. Your hands would be better employed helping Aunt Julia and Goodwife Gilbey in the kitchen preparing the food.’

Prudence combed her hair behind her ears with her fingers, looking up at her sister. ‘Where did you think I would be?’

‘With Molly Rowan. You know how much I dislike you spending so much time with that girl. She’s too forward by far, and that young man who works for her father and follows you around making sheep’s eyes at you all the time is no better. He’s both surly and rude. It would not do to encourage him, Prudence. I do not want you to be influenced by either of them.’

Molly was the same age as Prudence and the daughter of a nurseryman. The two had become friends when Prudence had come to London a year ago and she had paid a visit to Molly’s father’s nursery to purchase some plants. The fact that Will Price was always around when she went either to visit Molly or to seek advice from her father couldn’t be helped since he worked there.

‘I hope I have more sense than to be influenced by anybody, Arabella. And I have never encouraged Will Price,’ she said, which was true, since she didn’t like the way he looked at her.

In fact, she always went out of her way to avoid him. ‘I don’t like him in the way you imply—and you’re right. He is rude and coarse. He is also conceited and has little imagination. He is also silly and always showing off—and he’s not going to like the competition one bit when London is once again teeming with swaggering Cavaliers. His looks are reasonable, I suppose, and he thinks he’s God’s gift just because he has the body of Adonis.’

Arabella peered at her sister intently with narrowed eyes. ‘And what do you know about that, pray?’

Prudence shrugged, coolly unconcerned. ‘I’ve seen him with his shirt off when he’s working, that’s all.’

‘As long as you don’t go falling for him like an Aphrodite. That would never do. Prudence, you are quite incorrigible,’ Arabella scolded. ‘I wish I understood you—and that you wouldn’t visit Mr Rowan’s nursery quite so often. I shudder to think what Thomas is going to make of you and your wild ways.’

Prudence’s eyes registered alarm on being reminded that after nine years they were to be reunited with their brother that very day. ‘I don’t mean to be like that, Arabella. You won’t tell him, will you?’

‘You know I never tittle-tattle—but I just might if you don’t clean yourself up and behave yourself when he arrives.’

Arabella still looked testy, but Prudence knew she wouldn’t make things difficult for her with Thomas. Arabella was almost five years her senior, and tired of trying to discipline her. She always treated her imprudent behaviour with anxious forbearance. Her tongue was often sharp, but she was genuinely fond of her young sister, and more often than not treated her with warm affection.

‘Come. There’s no time for prattling. You must have heard the noise of the cannon from the Tower announcing that the King has crossed London Bridge. I want you on the balcony before the procession reaches the Strand.’

Like the whole of London the Maitland household was gripped by the excitement of King Charles’s restoration to his throne; in fact, no one could remain immune from the fever that gripped London at this time. Ever since a move had been made towards the Restoration, London had begun to wake as if from a deep sleep. Effigies of Charles Stuart adorned with flowers were carried through the streets, where people paraded in Cavalier garb trimmed with frills and bows, and places of entertainment, closed during the Commonwealth years, were re-opening daily.

As soon as the King’s ship, the Royal Charles, along with the rest of the fleet, had arrived at Dover, where the King had been received with obeisance and honour by General Monck—commander-in-chief of all the forces in England and Scotland, the man who had played the most crucial part in his restoration—the thunder of guns and cannon had spread all the way from Dover to London.

The procession had passed through Kent, the acclamation of the people along the way extremely moving for the returning Royalists. Church bells were rung, bonfires lit the length and breadth of the Kingdom, and the ways strewn with flowers. Greeted at Blackheath by the army drawn up by General Monck—that very army that had rebelled against him in the past—the King proceeded on his way to his capital.

Prudence moved towards the house to do her sister’s bidding. She had been nine years old when she had last seen her brother, and now he was just a dim shadow of her past. But she was excited and looking forward to his homecoming. In his last letter he had told them the joyous news that he had taken a wife, a young woman by the name of Verity Ludlow. Having lost both their parents, Verity and her sister Lucy were taken to The Hague by their uncle after the Battle of Worcester. Unfortunately Verity would not be returning to England with Thomas. Her uncle had been taken ill and was unable to travel, so Verity and Lucy had remained at The Hague to care for him.

There was also another face Prudence dearly wanted to see in the King’s procession—that of Adam Lingard, a young man with the fairest hair and the bluest eyes this side of heaven. Adam was five years older than her own eighteen years. Even in childhood days she had been drawn to him and had adored him ever since in secret, but he had never seemed so attractive as when he had ridden off from their village of Marlden Green in Surrey like some romantic, dashing hero to join his father in exile across the water in France three years ago.

‘Arabella, do I have to stay on the balcony? Can’t I go down to the street and watch with Molly?’

‘No,’ Arabella replied firmly. ‘How many times do I have to tell you that you must watch the procession from the balcony along with everyone else?’

‘But it’s too far away,’ Prudence complained.

‘Goodness me! Don’t argue. You will do as I say. Despite your reprehensible behaviour you are supposed to be a lady, and it would be most unbecoming for you to be seen mingling with the crowd. Already people are filling the street in readiness for the procession. By the time it arrives, the Strand will be so crowded you will be in danger of being trampled underfoot,’ Arabella snapped. Then, as if ashamed of her irritation, with a tired smile she said more gently, ‘Forgive me, Prudence, but I’m in such a state with our brother coming home after so long—and with so much to do.

And to make matters worse, cousin Mary and her husband, accompanied by their tiresome offspring, have just arrived.’

With her usual sensitivity, Prudence noticed the sudden darkening of her sister’s mood and strove to lighten it, knowing how much she had been dreading Mary’s arrival for days. ‘Take heart, Arabella. Now Thomas is home, things can only get better and you won’t have to endure Mary’s unpleasant temper for much longer.’

‘Alleluia to that,’ Arabella sighed. As they entered the house, she turned her head and studied her sister. With thick curly hair the colour of ripe chestnuts, her small chin and pert nose, Prudence was lovely to look at. Her face was golden from spending much of her time outdoors, and her flashing, amethyst-coloured eyes were a truly remarkable feature. Small and slender, loving and warm, vanity was beyond her visual sphere of things, but already she was openly admired by all who saw her, and Arabella felt a rush of concern for her sister’s future. It was time Thomas came home, she thought. Perhaps he would be able to take her in hand.

And maybe then Arabella would have more time to spend with her betrothed, Robert Armstrong, who was as eager as she was for their wedding to take place now the King had returned. On finishing his law studies at Lincoln’s Inn and unable to live any longer under the harsh regime of the Protectorate, Robert had gone to join his brothers in exile three years ago. Eager to be reunited with Arabella, he had returned to England a month ahead of the royal party, and had travelled to Dover to bear witness when the King stepped on to English soil.

‘I can’t help feeling sad for Aunt Julia, Arabella. She must be feeling quite wretched, knowing Uncle James will not be coming home from France with our brother. When Thomas wrote telling her of how he’d fallen ill with the smallpox and did not recover, it affected her deeply. She’s going to so much trouble to welcome Thomas home.’

Sadness clouded Arabella’s blue eyes. ‘It’s no trouble for Aunt Julia. After all, he is the head of the family now—now that both Father and Uncle James are dead. You know how devoted she’s always been to Thomas—more so, perhaps, since her own two sons were stillborn. Not even cousin Mary could compensate for their loss.’

Hearing children’s voices and Mary’s strident tones coming from within the house, Arabella glanced down at her sister. ‘You’d best go to your chamber and change your clothes before Mary sees you, Prudence. You know how she disapproves of you reading your gardening books and tending plants, when in her opinion your time could be best employed learning the skills that will enable you to find a husband.’

Prudence wrinkled her nose, the mere thought of having to endure the company and criticisms of cousin Mary indefinitely filling her with distaste. ‘Mary resents us both, Arabella, and sometimes I think she would disapprove of whatever I do. Still, I don’t suppose either of us can complain. After all, it was good of Aunt Julia to take us in when Father died. Being her brother, it was a difficult time for her, as well—and her sadness doubled when it was followed so soon by the death of Uncle James. I’m glad we were here to console her in her grief. But I only hope that, now Thomas has returned to England, we can all go home.’

‘So do I, Prudence. So do I—although I shudder to think what state the house will be in after all this time.’

Their house in Marlden Green had withstood the might of Cromwell’s forces throughout the long years of the Civil War, but, refusing to declare for Parliament and being unable to avoid the fines and sequestrations imposed on him by the Protectorate, their father had been unable to stave off poverty. When he had died a year ago, unable to support themselves, Aunt Julia had insisted that Arabella and Prudence close the house and come to live with her in London, until the time when Thomas returned from political exile in France.

‘When we left it was in a sorry state of disrepair,’ Arabella went on. ‘The roof leaked and the garden will be so overgrown by now that I won’t be at all surprised to find a tribe of savages living in it.’

Prudence’s eyes brightened. ‘Where the house is concerned I won’t be of much use, but the garden is another matter entirely. Mr Rowan has given me lots of advice, and I’ve spent time sketching a reconstruction and planning what to plant and where.’

Prudence’s enthusiasm brought a smile to Arabella’s lips. ‘I’m sure you have, but don’t forget it will take money, Prudence, and as you know we are as impoverished now as we were after the Civil War. Thomas may not be able to afford a gardener until the house has been made habitable once more.’

‘I’ve thought of that, which is why I’ve been collecting seedlings and taking cuttings from the gardens of Aunt Julia’s friends and neighbours.’

‘With their permission, I hope.’

‘But of course. I’ve collected enough to plant a whole park.’

Prudence followed Arabella into the huge kitchen, where Aunt Julia and Goodwife Gilbey had been preparing that evening’s gargantuan feast to celebrate the return of King Charles for the past week. At one time ladies of Lady Julia Maitland’s station would not have involved themselves in this kind of menial work, but ladies did all manner of things they had not done before the Civil War. With the day-today realities and hardships of such bitter conflict had come the discovery that there was more to living than the turn of a phrase, a beautifully coiffured head and pretty clothes.

To Prudence, the smell in the kitchen was mouth-watering, the combined heat of the cooking range and the summer day intense as finishing touches were put to the many wonderful dishes to be served later. Every surface in the kitchen and the adjoining pantries was covered with elaborate pies, a fricassee of rabbits and chicken, dishes of lobster, carp and cheeses, and a banquet of sweetmeats. The last of the joints of meat and small birds were being roasted on spits in front of the fire, a red-faced, dreamy-eyed kitchen maid—wiping the sweat from her brow with her sleeve—constantly basting them with spiced and seasoned sauce, which dripped off the turning joints into a dish on the hearth to be reused.

Sneaking a delectable-looking mince tart, fresh out of the oven when Goodwife Gilbey’s back was turned, Prudence was about to go to her room, when suddenly cousin Mary appeared in the doorway like a spectre of doom, obstructing her path of escape.

Mary lifted her brows and stared disapprovingly at her young cousin’s attire, her cold grey eyes lingering overlong on a rip in her skirt, caused when it had become snagged on a rose bush. ‘You haven’t changed, Prudence. Still tending your pots I see. There are some young ladies who care about how they look. Go and tidy yourself before you join us on the balcony for the procession.’

Prudence accepted that ill-intentioned rebuke with cheerful indifference. ‘It will take more than soap and water to make a lady out of me, I fear, Mary, but I will do my best. In fact, I’m going to my room right this minute to do just that,’ she smiled, an extremely fetching dimple marking her cheek. Popping the hot mince tart into her mouth she walked away, licking her sugared fingers as she went, her chestnut curls bouncing impudently.

Mary watched her go with profound irritation. Turning to find Arabella watching her, she raised her eyes heavenward and gave one of her exasperated sighs. ‘The sooner that girl is married and under the influence of a husband the better it will be for all of us,’ she retorted acidly, turning haughtily and going to her children, who were already securing their places on the balcony.

Mary was thirty years old, though the plain clothes she wore and unflattering hairstyle made her look much older. In Prudence’s opinion, she was as plain and devoid of warmth and vivacity as it was possible for a human being to be. In the middle of her fourth pregnancy, she had two boys and a girl to her draper husband Philip, who had a shop in the New Exchange in the Strand. They lived in a three-storied house in Bishopsgate, and Mary visited her mother with the children several times most weeks.

Before the Civil War, Sir James Maitland and his wife Lady Julia had cherished hopes that their daughter would make a grand match, but with friends and families on opposing sides, and later the young men who were left fleeing into exile, the choice of eligible young bachelors had been severely curtailed. There were few males with their own royalist beliefs left to marry—only enfeebled youths and old men. Desperate for a husband and fearing that she would go through life as a spinster, poor Mary had finally settled for an ageing, cadaverous-looking widower, Philip Tresswell.

Prudence climbed the stairs to her bedchamber, thinking of her meeting with Adam and wondering what he would think of her now she was grown to womanhood. Her bedchamber was at the back of Maitland House, snug and cosy under the eaves. Built outside the city walls—along with others of well-to-do citizens—it was a fine house, secured from the city’s teeming humanity, pollution and noise by a high wall. The front overlooked the Strand, the windows at the back of the house offering a splendid view of the lively River Thames. Prudence spent a good deal of her time watching small boats and barges of grandees making their colourful way up and down the busy waterway.

After taking a sponge bath she put on a hyacinth-blue, low-necked, full-sleeved dress with a pointed bodice and full skirt, open down the front to show a snow-white underskirt. In her meagre wardrobe this was her finest dress—and would best set off her charms and make her irresistible to Adam, she hoped. It was the first time she had worn it, even though Arabella had made it for her a year ago. She had saved it for today, wanting to look her very best when Adam came home.

Sitting in front of her mirror she combed her hair until it fell about her shoulders in thick, glossy curls. When she had finished she stood up and twisted herself about to get a better view, assessing herself with someone else’s eyes— Adam’s eyes. She wasn’t tall, but she was slender and pleasingly curved and not skinny. She would never be a great beauty, but her face was quite pretty, she supposed—at least Molly told her it was—and Will Price certainly seemed to think so. Involuntarily she shuddered with distaste when that objectionable young man intruded into her thoughts. Dismissing him at once, she bent forward to assess her eyes. They were a curious shade between violet and purple, her eyelids etched with faint mauve shadows.

She frowned when she looked at her hair, for this she considered a problem. The fashionable colour was dark—her own was an odd shade of chestnut with coppery lights, and in her opinion there was far too much of it and it curled all over the place. Some women found they had to purchase extra locks and ringlets to fill out their hairstyles, but she had no need of such artefacts.

When she was satisfied that nothing else could be done to improve her appearance, she left her chamber, meeting Aunt Julia on her way to the balcony on the second storey. Aunt Julia’s round face was still red from the heat of the kitchen, her fading hair escaping its pins.

Julia was pleasantly surprised when she saw her niece and stood and watched as she did a little twirl to show off her dress, laughing gaily. This freshly scrubbed young woman with glowing cheeks and shining hair was in stark contrast to the young ruffian she had become used to seeing—dressed in her old skirt and blouse, stained with dirt and with scratches on her hands from pruning shrubs.

‘Why, Prudence!’ she said, obviously moved. ‘You look lovely. And that colour blue is so becoming on you. Why, you’ll stun every gentleman in the procession.’

Julia remembered when Arabella had purchased the material from Philip to make the dress for her sister, Prudence never having accomplished the skills of dressmaking. They had all been somewhat surprised when Prudence had declared that she wouldn’t wear it until the day King Charles came back to England to reclaim his throne, and Julia had thought it such a shame at the time when it looked so fetching on her.

But on closer inspection she suddenly realised that during the time Prudence had been at Maitland House, she had a figure that had evolved well across the frontier from girl to woman, and that perhaps she should have taken to wearing it sooner, for despite the stiffened bodice it was already a bit snug at the waist, and the neckline lower than she remembered—or was it that her niece’s bosom was fuller?

‘I think you had best go and secure yourself a good vantage point on the balcony, Prudence. My three grandchildren did just that the moment they arrived. The shouting and cheering I hear tells me that the procession will be here at any minute. Word has reached us that it’s moving slowly and is so long that it will be nightfall before we see the end of it. It may be some time before we see Thomas, and he will more than likely be riding close to Lord Fox and Adam Lingard. That young man saw active service with your brother in Europe, I believe.’

Already occupying a special place in Prudence’s mind, it wasn’t the mention of Adam that caused her to look curiously at her aunt, but Lord Fox. ‘Lord Fox? You mean the same Lord Fox whose estate adjoins our own in Surrey?’

‘The same. If you recall, my dear, Thomas often mentioned him in his letters.’

‘I know very little of Lord Fox or his family, Aunt Julia—only that his uncle has occupied Marlden Hall in his absence. I was too young to take in everything that was happening when Thomas left. All I was concerned about was that by supporting the King at that terrible time, if he had not escaped to France he would have been hunted down and hanged.’

‘You are right, Prudence. We must thank God that he got away and that things have turned out the way they have. After being absent for so long, no doubt all three gentlemen will be eager to return to Surrey to pick up the threads of their lives,’ the older woman said. ‘Especially Thomas, now he has a wife. Now—enough gossiping,’ she said, shooing her niece away. ‘Away with you to the balcony.’

Prudence did as she was told, looking forward to being reunited with her brother. During his absence she had awaited his letters eagerly. They had been frequent, telling them of his life in exile. Practical and talented and not content to spend his time in idleness and debauchery, which was the case of many of the King’s entourage seeking succour in Paris, Thomas and the energetic Lord Fox had left the capital to serve in the French army, embarking on what would turn out to be several years of active military service.

The whole of Europe was in a tangled web of international politics at that time. France was unsettled due to a struggle for power between Louis XIV and the French nobles. With the French King eager to be on good terms with the new English Republic under Oliver Cromwell, the exiled King Charles, who was politically unwelcome in France, was told to leave the French Court—a step that was a necessary preparation for an English alliance. Eventually he was invited to the Spanish Netherlands. After crucial negotiations, which were on the surface successful, and with his eyes fixed on his restoration and believing Spain could help him achieve this, King Charles had formed a Spanish alliance.

In Bruges where King Charles had founded his own regiment of guards, Thomas had transferred his allegiance and enlisted in one regiment of English guards that was placed under the Earl of Rochester, and went into service under the Spanish flag. Adam Lingard had joined him.

Lord Fox, having parted company with Thomas long before that, had become something of a mystery figure. According to Thomas’s letters, he had embarked on a tour of the East to seek adventure and wealth as a soldier of fortune, and was not seen or heard of again until King Charles was preparing to return to England. Lord Fox had arrived in the Spanish Netherlands accompanied by his personal servant, a native from the Dark Continent he had acquired on his travels.

Rumour had it that he had amassed great wealth. However, in his absence his estate had been confiscated. If he were impatient to return home, no doubt he would succeed in securing his estate sooner rather than later for a price. Having fought with the King at Worcester, Lord Fox would have claims on his gratitude and may already be assured of a promise of favour from His Majesty, who was not returning to England a wealthy man.

Before going to join the others on the balcony, Prudence went to the courtyard and picked a sprig of May blossom which she secured behind her ear. She then picked a small bunch of sweet-scented flowers she intended throwing to Adam when he passed by. Securing the colourful blooms with a thin band of blue ribbon she went back inside, disappointed when she reached the balcony to find that the crush of family and servants was so great she had difficulty in seeing anything at all.

Pushing against Goodwife Gilbey’s ample form and careful not to crush her posy, Prudence looked down on to the royal route to Whitehall, her heart uplifted by the sight that met her eyes. The whole of London was poised in pulsating anticipation. Tapestries, banners and garlands of flowers hung from buildings, and a giant maypole—forbidden during the long and miserable years of the Protectorate—had been erected further along the Strand.

The music the people danced to with their partners as they wound the colourful ribbons round the pole had to compete with the many church bells being rung all over London, the thundering of guns and cannon and trumpets blowing. Mingled with shouts of inexpressible joy from the people lining the route, it all became a cacophony of sound, and the merry jingle of Morris dancers’ bells and the thwack of their sticks as they pranced along performing their ancient steps, not seen or heard for many a long year, gladdened the heart.

And then, at last, the procession came into view amid cheers of jubilation—a procession glittering with gold and silver and silken pennants fluttering in the breeze. Holding her breath, Prudence was spellbound as heralds blowing long slender trumpets passed by, followed by soldiers, the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the city in scarlet gowns and gold chains. Then came the darkly handsome King Charles II, his cloak heavy with gold lace. Today was his thirtieth birthday. He was flanked on either side by his two brothers, all three attired in silver doublets.

The populace pressed forward the better to see, and they were not disappointed, for a sea of colour passed before their eyes. The slowly passing cortège consisted of noble-men and gentlemen displaying a style of dress and colour such as England had not seen in many years. Doublets in cloth of silver and gold, rich velvets, wide-brimmed hats with curling, dancing, impudent plumes, footmen and lackeys in liveries of scarlet, purple and gold. The people responded like a starving mass. Why, they asked themselves, had they waited so long in calling their King home? For that day every man, woman and child in England was a Royalist.

The procession went on and on, moving at a snail’s pace down the Strand, past Charing Cross and on to the sprawling palace of Whitehall. For what seemed an eternity, Prudence stood waiting for Adam to appear, all the time growing more and more irritated by Mary’s three young children either standing on her toes or knocking against her legs. Looking down into the heaving mass of people lining the street her eyes suddenly alighted on Molly, recognising her by her long blonde hair that fell about her shoulders. Miraculously she had managed to secure a place in front of the rest. Impulsively Prudence turned and slipped unseen back into the house and out into the street.

Unfortunately she was unable to penetrate the heaving crowd. She tried shoving and squeezing her way through, but it was no use, and she was too small to see over the heads. Dismayed, she was about to return to the house, when a man on the fringe of the crowd chose that moment to look round. Observing her plight, he took her hand, his face forming a semblance of a smile, his eyes glinting in his tanned features.

‘Allow me. It is treacherous for a young woman to try and push her way through this crowd. In the time it takes you to reach the front you will be trampled.’

He nodded to the man he was with—a burly fellow with a small beard and watery, bulbous eyes. In amazement Prudence watched as between them they parted the heaving bodies like Moses dividing the waters of the Red Sea, and she walked through the parting of the waves like the children of Israel passing into the wilderness of Shur.

She turned to the gentleman to express her gratitude. Although he was not strikingly tall he was above medium height and reasonably attractive. He had dark brown hair that fell to his shoulders, a tanned complexion and a thin brutal mouth. Meeting his eyes she saw they held no shyness whatsoever. They were piercing, pale blue and bold and nakedly appraising. His gaze was very steady, giving him a peculiar intent expression, and there was some element of cruelty in their depths and in his presence which commanded the attention. Prudence was unable to interpret what she saw. It was of a dark and sinister nature and beyond the realms of her understanding, but she was repulsed by it and shuddered beneath his stare, drawing back, feeling distinctly uneasy and wanting to get away from him.

‘Thank you so much.’

He bowed. ‘For a lady as lovely as you, it is an honour, mademoiselle,’ he said, smiling into her eyes in a way that made her feel even more uncomfortable.

When the crowd had swallowed up the gentleman and his companion, Prudence shivered as if a cold wind had just blown over her. He had addressed her as mademoiselle but his voice wasn’t accented so she doubted he was French. Perhaps he was much travelled. Finding herself beside Molly, the man who had made it possible was forgotten as she became caught up with excitement of the occasion.

Molly welcomed her with a wide, cheeky grin. ‘Hello, love,’ she said. ‘Glad to see you’ve come down from the balcony. It’s much more fun down here among the crowd. Things are positively humming today. Come to look for your brother, have you?’

‘Yes,’ Prudence answered, not having told Molly of her secret fondness for Adam Lingard. ‘I shouldn’t think it will be long before he comes along.’

‘Have you ever seen such a sight and so many gorgeous men? These bluebloods certainly know how to dress and are so exciting to look at,’ Molly enthused, her eyes devouring each Cavalier who rode past, positively melting beneath the smiles they bestowed on her. ‘There won’t be a girl in London safe tonight.’

Prudence smiled at her friend. With her full mouth, pert nose and vivid green eyes, Molly was extremely pretty. She was taller than Prudence, and had a superb figure, admirably displayed in a yellow-and-white striped dress with a tight waist and low bodice. Molly positively exuded good humour and a jaunty self-confidence Prudence couldn’t help but admire. Turning from her, she allowed her gaze to wander. That was the moment when something compelled her eyes to look at a Cavalier astride a tetchy, splendid black thoroughbred advancing slowly towards them, his dark-skinned, Oriental-garbed servant riding by his side.

The man’s tall figure, powerful and perfect in symmetry, commanded everyone’s eyes and admiration. He was dressed in sombre black, his doublet slashed with scarlet, and his black curls tumbling to his white lace collar beneath his plumed hat. Exuding an animal magnetism, his face was swarthy, lean and devilishly handsome, with a long aristocratic nose, wide forehead and well-chiselled lips. His chin was firm and strong and indented with a small cleft. On the whole it was an arresting face, the face of a knave, a scamp, but it was also an arrogant face, a face stamped with pride and centuries of good breeding.

‘Who is that man?’ Prudence breathed, mesmerised by him.

‘Why, don’t you know?’ Molly said excitedly, who was unashamedly knowledgeable in most things concerning the opposite sex. ‘It has to be Lord Fox. I thought you of all people would know that since he comes from your part of the world. Handsome, isn’t he?’

‘And he knows it,’ Prudence remarked drily when she saw him flash a smile at the crowd, his teeth brilliant white in his dark, attractive features. ‘But how do you know who he is?’

‘It can’t be anyone else—not with those looks. He’s reputed to be as dark and as tall, if not taller, than King Charles himself; his skin is burned almost as brown as a Moor’s from his time spent travelling far and wide—in the East and in Africa. He’s a man of mystery, and I heard tell that he’s learned all manner of things and strange practices. It’s also said that he’s managed to acquire great wealth from his travels.’ Molly became dreamy eyed as she devoured the swarthy, handsome man on horseback. ‘He looks like a bloomin’ prince to me.’

Prudence listened in thrall as Molly went on to tell her of Lord Fox’s exploits and the reputation he had acquired abroad. She was amazed to learn that behind his easy façade lay a man of great intellect, of tremendous courage, daring and fierce determination. There also lay a ruthlessness and dedication to duty that made his enemies fear him. He was branded ‘The Fox’, so named because of his craft and cunning and the bloodshed he left in his wake. To his enemies he appeared like some black and terrifying malevolent spectre on the field of battle, outwitting and defeating all those who dared oppose him. Some even believed him to be under the personal protection of the Devil.

Prudence doubted the authenticity of what Molly had been told, reminding herself that her friend was easily taken in. Nevertheless, she was unable to repress a shudder as she dragged her eyes away from that particular gentleman and glanced at the two following in his wake. She suddenly felt her heart skip a beat on vague recognition of her brother. His face was older and leaner than she remembered, but it was him. Her eyes shifted to the man riding beside him, and a gasp of delight escaped her lips when she recognised Adam’s smiling face.

Impulsively and recklessly—her two greatest faults—she closed in on the riders until Adam was almost level, lifting her arm to throw her posy, but at that moment the crowd around her surged forward, forcing the posy out of her hand prematurely, and she watched in dismay as it went soaring through the air, before coming to rest on Lord Fox’s horse in front of him.


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