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Lucy Lane and the Lieutenant

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When Nathan had left, Lucy stared at the closed door, the energy that had fortified her for the length of his visit deserting her as she walked slowly over to the window and stood staring blindly out into the darkness of the garden. She felt as if she had just done physical battle with an army and lost.

After all this time, his smile and his kisses could still make her burn with longing. A moan escaped her as she leaned her head against the cool glass of the windowpane. Shame and fear surged through her as she covered her face with her hands and bitterly faced the awful truth. She had been so confident that if ever they should meet again he could never make her feel anything for him. And all it had taken to prove her wrong was a smile and a kiss.

Physically, she was no more immune to Nathan Rochefort than she had been four years ago. The very nature of his kiss had wreaked havoc on her body, her soul and her heart. Despite all she had learned, everything she had acquired in sophistication and experience, despite everything she knew of him, he could still twist her insides into tight knots of yearning as he had done when she had been nineteen years old.

Where he was concerned, she was still as susceptible as she had ever been. What kind of sorcery did he employ that he could have this effect on her, when she harboured no illusions about any tender feelings he might have for her?

* * *

Striding off into the night, Nathan reflected on his meeting with Lucy. This was not the same woman who had been excited and enthusiastic four years ago. Now she spoke crisply, with a confident authority, all traces of wide-eyed naïvety gone. There was something feline about her. She was quiet in her movements, beautiful, but she had claws, he knew, and he also knew she had the intelligence to use them skilfully if need be.

The flash of anger in her eyes when he had confronted her and kissed her told Nathan that he had gone too far and that if he were to continue in this vein the success of his mission would be seriously imperilled. He remembered how, when she had broken off their engagement without explanation, his anger had been fierce, but at the same time he had been confused.

He had tried numerous times to see her, to demand an explanation, only to be told she didn’t want to see him, then that she had joined a troupe of travelling actors and gone to the provinces. Having no time to pursue her since he was to leave for the Continent, he had left London, determined to forget her. Only it had been impossible. She was too deeply embedded in his heart and mind for him to do that.

After that, when anyone asked about her, he would answer dispassionately, his reply devoid of concern—not even his eyes showed interest. Lucy was gone. Since he knew damned well that he had done no wrong, the only remaining conclusion was that she had left him for someone else. Having seen the way other men followed her with their eyes, drooled over her when she appeared on stage, the existence of a lover was the only thing that made any sense.

With this thought in mind, he hadn’t considered trying to contact her again. She became dead to him and he didn’t give a damn where she went or whose bed she occupied. She had a highly refined sense of survival and she’d land on her feet wherever she went.

But seeing her tonight he had wanted her all over again. The truth was that he missed her. He missed her far more than he could ever have imagined. Numerous times he had picked up his pen to write to her, but his pride had refused to let him put pen to paper. She was the one who had ended it. It was Lucy who must make contact with him.

But then his hand had been forced by duty and now here he was.

His father had been a bishop, his mother first cousin to Lord Wilmslow. Never having married, Lord Wilmslow had died without issue. Nathan was his heir. It was Lord Wilmslow’s influence that had taken Nathan from Oxford University to the Foreign Office where his command of languages, his sound mind, reliable judgement and quick intelligence had ensured a swift rise. Introduced to men of note, he had been given responsibilities and entrusted with confidences. His reputation had led to his first major appointment when war had broken out with France.

British spies had proved effective in following Bonaparte’s activities, and with the information they gleaned, more than ever the British Government was convinced the French leader was determined to invade England. As an important member of the British intelligence system Nathan had been sent to France and then to Spain to work against Bonaparte, an appointment which was as lonely as it was secret.

But the savage war was done for him when a French sword had pierced his side. When his wound had healed, and at thirty-two years old, he had decided it was time for him to think of marriage and raising a family. When he had been summoned and given this assignment, he knew he had to go back.

It was an assignment that drew his full attention since it affected him personally and would enable him to avenge the death of a young soldier, a brave soldier called Harry Connors, who had been the son of a close friend, a soldier whose death he himself had inadvertently caused. He would never be free of the guilt of what he had done until what he considered to be an act of murder had been avenged.

Another reason why this mission was so important to him was because it involved rescuing the wife and young son of his closest friend, who had been killed in battle. He would not be able to live with himself if he did not try his utmost to rescue them from the murderous rabble holding them captive.

But he could not do it alone. After spending weeks in captivity it was likely the woman and child would be in no fit state for a long trek down from the mountains, so it would be better if his companion was a woman. He knew many women, but not one of them was suitable to carry out such a mission.

From a strictly logical standpoint he had chosen Lucy Lane to help him—the last woman on earth who would want to.

She would be perfect for what he had in mind. Of course he had expected her to react angrily to his appearance and his offer, but how long that anger would last he didn’t know. She had already been angry with him for four years. She would fight him, but no matter. Before approaching her he had been quietly watching her for some time. Making discreet enquiries into her circumstances and discovering she was in financial straits, he realised the money she would be paid for accompanying him on his mission might tempt her.

Also her relationship with Jack Lambert bothered him. Lambert had a manly quality that endeared him to women. He was also a notorious rake with a well-deserved reputation for profligacy. He had heard the rumour that Lambert found the beautiful actress a challenge and that he fully intended luring her into his bed by offering her marriage—not that he had any intention of carrying out his promise. Lambert wasn’t the only one to be attracted by her, Nathan reminded himself, for Lucy was a beautiful woman, and there was the allure of her profession, as well. But Lambert was a no-good wastrel who, from sheer perversity and extreme boredom, had unscrupulously flayed the reputations of dozens of pretentiously proud females, but he had never once attempted to rebuild one of those demolished reputations.

Standing in the shadows outside the theatre, Nathan had pressed his lips together at the unexpected stab of jealousy that tore through him as he watched Lambert kiss Lucy’s lips. He had told himself it didn’t matter if she did return his kiss. He couldn’t have cared less. But deep down he would hate to see Lucy become just another of Lambert’s victims and become an object of ridicule. But then, Lucy was not without guile. She was no naïve innocent, but desperate to solve her financial issues, the lure of Lambert’s wealth might prove too strong a temptation for her to resist and she might admit him to her bed, hoping it would end in marriage.

Whatever the truth of the matter, that had been the moment Nathan had determined to recruit her to serve his purpose.

There was no softness in his gaze as he strode on, only the calculating gleam of a man on a mission. Despite what was between them he knew that he had not been mistaken in choosing Lucy Lane. She would be perfect for what he had in mind.

* * *

The next afternoon Lucy received a note from Nathan, asking if she had given the matter he had discussed with her some thought.

She’d already made up her mind that what he asked of her was preposterous. There was a time when she would have gone to the ends of the earth for him, but that was in the past. She had given him her heart, her devotion and her love—in short, she had given him what was the sum and substance of Lucy Lane. She had loved no man before him and no man since and he had betrayed her with her closest friend, Katherine Tindall.

Looking back over the days before she had ended it, she realised it had been in their faces, in their eyes and the way their bodies met, familiar with one another. Katherine, a widow whose military husband had been killed in India, had acted strangely. In her naïvety Lucy had asked her if all was well with her. She recalled Katherine’s evasive disinclination to tell her why she was acting secretive, the way she had laughed nervously and accused her of imagining things—and all the while...

And Nathan! He, too, had seemed withdrawn, secretive, his thoughts elsewhere. She had asked him what was wrong—with him, with her, with them. She didn’t know. She couldn’t tell. He had told her nothing was amiss, that it was in her imagination. His face, though, had belied his words. Normally they had no secrets from one another and she had known he was hiding something from her.

And then there had been Mrs West, an older woman, a widow, an actress herself, who had been among their circle of friends. She had taken Lucy aside and told her in low, conspiratorial tones of the rumour that was being whispered about town of Katherine’s closeness to Nathan, that they were often seen together having a tête-à-tête. You’re an intelligent girl, she had said. Surely you must have noticed. Lucy hadn’t and she wildly shook her head to deny it, telling Mrs West with bitterness and pain that she didn’t believe it and hating her for what she had said, that they were nothing but malicious lies. But could this be what was behind their odd behaviour, the changes she had noted in both Katherine and Nathan?

A shiver passed through Lucy as she remembered the moment she had seen for herself and could no longer ignore the horrible truth.

The scene she had witnessed just days before their wedding had become frozen in her memory. Early one morning she had gone to call on Katherine, who was to have been her matron of honour, to discuss some minor details concerning the day itself.

About to get out of her carriage, she had paused on seeing the door open, shrinking against the squabs when she saw Nathan come out of the house accompanied by Katherine. After embracing her and placing what had looked to her like a lover’s kiss on her cheek, he had walked away. That was when something inside her, no more than a tiny crack, began to form at the foundations of her belief that she and Nathan would be together always.

Every nerve in her body had stiffened against the onslaught of her bitter anger and the pain of betrayal. She had wanted to hurt him badly, make them both pay. She wept in the dark of the night with the pain until she thought she would die of it. Her spirit was battered and desolate, but when she rose from her bed and put pen to paper, telling Nathan that she had changed her mind, that it would be folly for them to wed, that she had been mistaken in her feelings for him and that he was not the man she wanted for her husband, she was clear-eyed and icy calm.

When he had called on her she adamantly refused to see him and did not leave the house. Nor did she discuss the matter with anyone, not even her aunt Dora. After two weeks his visits ceased and she later learned that he had been posted to France. Feeling a desperate need to get out of London and to leave the memories and heartache behind, she had joined a travelling theatre company.

Now, to confuse her totally, he had swept back into her life, just as handsome, just as intriguing, and with him he had brought an offer of money as well as adventure. He knew too well how difficult it would be for her to refuse such an alluring combination, but she must.

Refusing to let him intimidate her, angrily she tore up the note and threw it into the fire.

* * *

Another note was delivered the next day, and when she failed to respond he turned up at the house.

‘I’ve given you my decision,’ she told him irately when Polly showed him into the parlour, where she was poring over the housekeeping books, wishing there was more money in the pot to pay the outstanding bills and to spend on a few luxuries. ‘I want no part of it. Now, please don’t pressure me anymore. There have been times in the last four years when I have wondered if I did right in breaking off our engagement. Now I am very glad I did. I was right to do so, for now I see you for what you are. You are a monster. You keep nibbling away at my reserves like a mouse. You will bide your time until the moment is ripe—until I have nowhere else to turn—and then you will pounce.’

Keeping a firm check on his expression, Nathan stepped closer with a respectful glance. ‘I apologise if I expressed myself badly the other day. Do you need more time to think about it?’ Her angry reaction to his proposal had come as no surprise. He was aware of her stubborn independence and he would have to soothe her ire as much as possible. It was up to him to convince her to work for him.

‘No. I’ve given you my decision. There’s too much at stake. I am happy as I am. I enjoy my work, work that is comfortable and familiar to me, work in which I take great pride. I will not leave all this and enter a very different world. I also have my aunt to take care of. Should anything happen to me, who would look after her? She isn’t strong. Who would pay her bills?’

‘That would be taken care of.’

She looked at him incredulously. ‘By whom? You?’


With an exasperated sigh she looked at him. ‘Are you simply unable to comprehend the word no?’

‘I do have a difficulty with that particular word,’ he conceded, smiling crookedly.

‘I’m not surprised,’ she answered. ‘You probably do not hear it very often.’

‘Rarely,’ he agreed. ‘I am arrogant, I dare say,’ he went on, ‘and everything else of which you accused me of being. I admit it freely. However, I ask that you overlook my flaws and agree to go with me to Portugal.’

Lucy held her breath. It was a physical effort not to close the gap between them, to reach out for this man whose body had once been as familiar to her as her own. Her hands clenched into fists at her sides, her nails digging into the palms of her hands as she fought against an attraction so strong it almost overwhelmed her.

When she failed to answer he took a step towards her, holding out his hand as if in silent appeal. ‘Lucy—’

She stepped back, away from him. ‘When it comes to persistence you have it in abundance. But my answer is still no. Now, please go. Nothing can be gained from this.’ He flinched. Her lips tightened. She must not show weakness now.

She kept her gaze fixed on something beyond him. Her body was rigid, her control as brittle as glass. If he reached out and touched her now those fragile defences would shatter. She prayed that he did not realise the power he still held over her. The memory of his kiss was enough to shatter her defences into a thousand pieces.

Nathan stared at her, his eyes hard and angry. After what seemed like an age he seemed to come to a decision. He went to the door where he turned and looked back at her. ‘I’m not giving up, Lucy. One way or another I will persuade you. Believe me, this is important. You have no idea how important. Think about it.’ He left quietly.

* * *

A bitter taste of disappointment and anger filled Nathan’s mouth as he walked away from Lucy’s house. He was a worried man. It would soon be time for him to leave for Portugal.

When Lucy had ended their courtship he had thought never to see her again. She’d finished it and he still didn’t know why, but he’d had time to wonder. It wasn’t until the eve of his departure for France, when he’d run into Katherine and she told him that Lucy wouldn’t see her either, that his mind had begun to backtrack.

He wondered if Lucy had seen something she ought not to see. Might she have stumbled across some stray detail in his closeness at that time to Katherine and formed her own conclusions? But that was impossible. He knew he had grown very comfortable with Katherine, which his friend Lord James Newbold—the second son of the Duke of Londesborough—who was enamoured of the lovely fair-haired young widow, had warned him to be wary of. But he was too experienced to have done something careless.

But he thought it strange that Lucy had ended her friendship with Katherine and for this reason he would have to keep the identity of the woman he had to rescue secret until Lucy had agreed to work with him and they had arrived in Portugal.

His memories of their time together had never left him. A softness warmed his eyes as he remembered the long summer afternoons they had spent together and the nights, long and filled with loving. He remembered the mornings when they had wakened side by side and she had smiled at him, glad to have him with her. She had been soft in his arms, her lips eager for his kisses, her eyes slumberous and warm with her love.

Cursing softly, he quickened his step, unwilling to contemplate the idea of failure. He had to persuade her. Too much hung in the balance. He had a job to do. Lucy’s obstinacy could not be allowed to get in the way.

* * *

The first of Lucy’s creditors to present an unpaid bill arrived at her door two days later. He was soon followed by another.

‘I’m sorry, Miss Lane,’ the man collecting for the milliner said, his voice neither sympathetic nor accusatory, ‘but Mr Matthews insists that the bill has to be paid. He’s been lenient, giving you more time, but that time’s up. He needs to be paid now.’

Lucy stared at him numbly as an embarrassed redness suffused her face. She managed to scrape up enough money to pay the bill outright, but when the chemist came asking her to settle up for Aunt Dora’s medicines, she could only pay half.

And so it went on. The house came under daily siege as angry tradesmen and women clamoured for payment of their accounts. They gathered like noisy vultures, ready to pick what remained of her assets down to the barest bones. Lucy felt herself plummeting to near despair. To make matters worse, rehearsals for The Merchant of Venice had begun and her financial worries were getting in the way. She had read and memorised the script and would be word perfect on the opening night. Unfortunately, on several occasions she was late at the theatre, which did not go down at all well with Mr Portas. He commented on her tardiness and told her in no uncertain terms that he would not stand for it.

For want of money to meet her obligations, Lucy had to do something. Her pride forbade her to turn to Jack for help. There was only one thing for it. She would have to ask Mr Portas for an advance. The production was due to open one month hence and, as far as Lucy was concerned, she hoped it would run and run.

If Mr Portas refused to give her an advance on her future earnings, she would have no choice but to move out of her rented house and go and live with Aunt Dora. But even then she would need money to continue living.

* * *

The next afternoon she left the house and headed towards Covent Garden. It was a wonderful neighbourhood with a magical, carefree air and on any other day she would breathe deeply the better to absorb the smells, the sights and sounds as she entered the market. It was a noisy, crowded place with an aura of decadence, but Lucy loved it. The market was the very heart of Covent Garden, which, along with its mellow buildings, the piazza and arcades and the theatres, gave it such flavour and vitality.

But today she had too much on her mind to appreciate any of this as she walked quickly through the labyrinth of cobbled streets towards the Portas Theatre. Having grown up surrounded by people who were the theatre’s lifeblood, it had always been an enchanted place for Lucy. Whenever she entered the foyer of the Portas Theatre, with its enormous gilt mirrors adorning the walls, along with posters advertising whatever was playing at the time, she always felt as if she had been transported into another world. Golden cherubs were set into the vast ceiling and huge scarlet curtains hid the stage and matched the material on the seats.

But today as she entered by the stage door at the back of the theatre, she saw none of this. The interior was dimly lit with coils of rope on the floor, discarded scenery and props littered about and racks of old costumes dusty with age. Stagehands hurried about their business, preparing for the evening performance. Some greeted her cheerfully and others got on with their work. She stopped a chap rushing past her carrying a Greek urn to ask where she could find Mr Portas.

‘On the stage, luv. But be warned—he’s in a foul temper today. I’d come back tomorrow if I were you when he’s calmed down.’

Lucy watched him hurry away, stepping back to avoid a man carrying a potted palm towards the stage. Mr Portas wasn’t on the stage and she eventually tracked him down in the corridor outside one of the dressing rooms. With his hair tumbling over his forehead and wearing black breeches and a white shirt with sleeves rolled up over his elbows, he was giving a man with a late delivery of theatrical merchandise a dressing down. After seeing him on his way, he turned to Lucy, his eyes flashing dangerously.

‘Miss Lane! What are you doing here? Still, I’m glad you are. You’ve saved me the trouble of sending for you. I have something I must tell you.’ He glanced at her sharply. ‘Is there a problem?’ he asked impatiently.

‘Yes—I—I find myself in difficult circumstances.’

‘You do?’ The eyes he turned on her were piercing. ‘How difficult?’

‘In the light of my new position I—I wondered if you could see your way to letting me have an advance on my future earnings. I—I wouldn’t ask, but—I am quite desperate.’

He stepped back, his expression irate. ‘No, Miss Lane, I think not. In fact, the reason I am glad you came is so that I can tell you I have hired someone else to replace you.’

With a sinking heart, Lucy stared at him, unable to believe he could do this. She could feel two spots of colour burning on her cheeks. ‘But—the part was mine. You said I was perfect to play Portia.’

‘And so you are—I mean you were. I have always admired your skill in the past, but I’m sorry, Miss Lane, I’ve changed my mind. You are always late. I cannot spare the time to wait on your convenience. I have a theatre to run, a play to get out and yet you persist on being late, which makes me think the role is too much for you.’

‘I am sorry, Mr Portas, truly. I’ve had other things on my mind of late—’

‘Whatever they are they do not concern me,’ he retorted, seemingly unmoved by her plight. ‘My priority is the production. But don’t be too downhearted. You’ll have other offers from other managers. You got good reviews from your last performance. You certainly don’t need me.’

‘No, I’m sure I don’t,’ she said, aware that others had stopped to listen. ‘I got along quite nicely for a number of years without you.’

‘There you are then,’ he said, wiping his hands on his trousers and looking about him in an agitated way. ‘I wish you luck. Now I must get on. Things to do.’

‘Yes, of course. I won’t keep you.’ She halted and half turned. ‘Do you mind telling me who is to play Portia?’

‘Coral Gibbons. She is ideal for the part. I should have seen it sooner.’

She could only stare at him, all her dreams of the future suddenly dissolving around her. At length, she said, ‘Yes, yes, she is. I see. Thank you for your time, Mr Portas. And now if you will excuse me, I am needed elsewhere.’

Lucy had to be alone. She felt suddenly numb with misery, disappointment and a growing anger. She had not realised until then how very much she had depended on playing Portia. If her replacement had been an inconsequential supporting player going on thirty-five and losing her looks, she wouldn’t be so angry.

But Coral! Her closest friend! She was lovely, a perfect replacement, and Lucy had no doubt she would be a resounding success.

With the witnesses to her downfall slinking into the shadows, Lucy swept towards the exit with her head high, only to come face to face with Coral as she was about to leave by the stage door.

For one vivid instant the air between them shivered with tense friction.

‘Lucy—oh, Lucy...’

‘What have you done? Can you not see...?’

Lucy’s voice was lifeless. It was as though Coral had taken something precious from her, some secret treasure she had hoarded and which was now revealed, something which had given her life and a recognition of her own value.

But if Coral was disconcerted by Lucy’s abrupt manner, she hid it quickly under a mask of sympathy. ‘Lucy!’ she murmured, taking her friend’s hand and drawing her away from the curious gaze of a stagehand. ‘You have seen Mr Portas.’

‘Yes,’ Lucy replied, trying without success to hide her resentment for the full, rounded curves, the lovely blond hair falling about the small, fascinating face. ‘Just now. He—he told me that the part of Portia is no longer mine.’

‘I’m sorry, love. No one could have been more surprised than me when he offered me the part. I was tempted to tell him where to go—but I couldn’t, not really. Please don’t be angry with me, Lucy.’

Lucy sighed, shaking her head dejectedly. ‘I’m not angry with you, Coral. Getting angry accomplishes nothing. But I can’t pretend that I’m not disappointed.’

Coral shook her head as though in dismay at her own gullibility. ‘I can’t blame you. I would be livid had it happened to me.’

Coral said the words quietly, sincerely, and Lucy felt a tugging inside and knew she mustn’t give in to her disappointment and simmering anger against the unfairness of it all. She smiled. There was a new radiance about her friend, a glow to her creamy complexion and a sparkle in her vivid hazel eyes. Her abundant blond hair tumbling about her shoulders and glistening with gold highlights, she looked absolutely stunning in a gown of pale blue taffeta with narrow silver stripes. Never had Lucy envied another woman as much as she did Coral at that moment. But she was not bitter that her friend was to play Portia. If the part had to go to someone else, Lucy was glad it was her.

‘I wouldn’t have wanted you to turn it down, Coral. Of course you had to take it and I wish you every success. You are perfect for the part and it’s about time you had a major role to play.’ What Lucy said was true, for ever since Coral’s appearance in a minor role two years ago, she had been a favourite with the public, one of the most popular supporting players in the Portas Theatre.

‘Thank you for saying that. It’s more than I deserve from you. I would never hurt you deliberately, you know that. I value our friendship too much. What will you do now?’

Lucy shrugged. ‘I’ll look around. Trail the theatres. Someone might take me on.’

‘I do hope so. What happened, Lucy?’ Coral asked, upset and deeply concerned for her friend. ‘I can’t for the life of me understand what went wrong.’

‘I don’t know, Coral. I’ve been so busy trying to make ends meet. Aunt Dora hasn’t been well of late—I’m going to have to move out of my home and go to live with her. At least it will lessen the cost.’

‘Have you seen Jack?’

Lucy shook her head, suddenly realising she hadn’t seen him since the night of the party. Perhaps Nathan’s arrival had something to do with it. ‘I’m sure he’s busy—and he knows I have rehearsals—had rehearsals,’ she corrected herself. She smiled bitterly. ‘I think he’s finally given up on me. Goodbye, Coral. I must go.’

Coral caught her to her. They hugged tightly, emotionally. ‘Goodbye, Lucy. Take care,’ she whispered. ‘I’ll come and see you soon.’

‘Yes—yes, please do.’

* * *

Determined to find work, Lucy had gone from one theatre to another. Unfortunately none of them needed actresses at present, not even with her credentials. Angry and resentful, she had kept on looking, but it was the same at every one. Frustrated and defeated, she had turned for home.

Once inside her room she turned the key in the lock and leaned her head against the hard wood of the door frame. Not even Polly was allowed to witness the collapse of her brave façade as all her courage drained away and she sank to her knees and wept.

* * *

When Lucy called on Aunt Dora at her house in Bayswater, a basket of fruit over her arm, she found she wasn’t her only visitor that day. Nathan was standing on the doorstep, waiting to be admitted, slapping his leather gloves against his muscular thigh. His broad shoulders were squared, his jaw set in implacable determination, and even in this restrained pose he seemed to emanate the restrained power she had always sensed in him. He was looking every inch the handsome, elegant gentleman today, with his blue superfine coat and darker blue trousers, his striped blue-and-gold waistcoat and his immaculate white linen.

‘Well, well!’ she exclaimed drily, trying not to show her surprise on seeing him as her heart quickened its beat. ‘You are persistent if nothing else.’

Nathan turned his head and looked at her, a look of unconcealed admiration on his handsome face as he surveyed her jaunty yellow dress. Around her neck she had tied a matching yellow scarf, knotting it on the side, with the ends flipped over her shoulder.

‘Have you rung the bell?’ she asked.

‘Two minutes ago.’

‘Sarah must be busy. She serves my aunt’s every capacity. If you don’t wish to loiter in the street, perhaps you should come back later—or not at all,’ she said coldly.

‘It’s no bother. I’ll wait.’

‘I think you should go. She hasn’t been well. I don’t want her disturbed.’

No sooner had she spoken than the door was opened by Sarah, a pretty young woman with an open face and friendly brown eyes. ‘Good day to you, Miss Lucy. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but I was settling Miss Sharp in the drawing room. Please come in.’ She smiled at Nathan, flushing prettily and bobbed a curtsy. ‘She’s expecting you, sir.’

He is no doubt accustomed to this sort of feminine reaction everywhere he goes, Lucy thought irately. She looked sharply at him. ‘Do you mean to tell me you have already paid a call on Aunt Dora?’

‘I came to pay my respects yesterday. Unlike her niece she was pleased to see me and was keen for me to call on her again today.’

‘I can imagine,’ Lucy remarked drily, brushing past him into the house, leaving him to follow her or remain outside. Handing the basket to Sarah, who closed the door after Nathan, she walked towards the drawing room. ‘What are you doing here? What do you want?’

‘Now, why on earth should you think that? I am paying a social call on your aunt Dora. That is all.’


‘Just because my former betrothed cut me out of her life doesn’t mean that I should stop seeing Dora. We were friends, good friends, and when I called on her she was happy to see me—unlike her niece.’

Knowing it was some ulterior motive that had brought him here and not to make idle chit-chat, Lucy glowered at him and opened the door.

Dressed in a green-brocade dressing gown over a white-muslin shift, her silver hair loosely dressed beneath a pretty lace bonnet, Aunt Dora reclined like a pale and beautiful spectre on a chaise longue, seemingly unaware of the tense, charged atmosphere that existed between the two people who had just entered the room. She had been unwell for four weeks. A persistent cough had kept her confined to her bed and all the cures and remedies applied since then had done little to remedy it.

‘Good afternoon, Aunt Dora,’ Lucy said, crossing to her aunt and hugging her warmly. She worried constantly about her aunt’s frail health and wished she could do more for her. ‘How are you feeling? A little better, I hope. I met this gentleman on the doorstep. I hope you are feeling up to visitors.’

‘Most assuredly,’ Dora protested, sitting up so that Lucy could place a cushion behind her back, the effort of doing so making her breathless. ‘Nathan was kind enough to pay me a visit yesterday. I do so enjoy his company—I always did—and he’s in London for such a short time.’

‘I think we both know that he always has a reason for what he does,’ Lucy retorted, avoiding meeting Nathan’s steady gaze.

Though he was arrested by the beauty of the sunlight streaming in through the small bay window behind her, illuminating her hair and shoulders in a subtle halo, the look she gave him made it clear that she was in no mood to be placated.

‘You are wrong, Lucy. I would be most offended had he not called on me...’ Dora’s voice trailed off as a cough she had tried to restrain got the better of her.

‘Oh, Aunt Dora,’ Lucy whispered, hating to see her weakness. Handing her a glass of water, she held it while she took a sip. ‘Is that better?’ Her aunt nodded, resting back on the cushions and dabbing her lips with a handkerchief. ‘I’ve brought you a basket of fresh fruit from the market, along with a book of poetry I thought you might like to read. I’ve given them to Sarah.’

‘Thank you, dear,’ Dora said, casting her niece a worried look, ‘but I wish you would not spend your hard-earned money on me.’

Lucy gave her a loving smile. Aunt Dora had no idea of the dire straits she found herself in, but the time had come when she would have to be told. ‘I like to spoil you. How I would like to take you to the country where the fresh air will make your chest better.’

Dora airily waved a slender hand. ‘You must try not to worry so, dear. I do so hate to be a bother. As you see I am better than I was—and I do so hate the country, as you well know. I’m only at my best when I’m in town close to my friends, and you, Lucy dear—although I was so sorry when Nathan told me you are no longer to play Portia. What is Mr Portas thinking of to give the role to someone else?’

Lucy threw Nathan a reproving look. ‘I’m amazed Nathan was able to give you the news when it is yet to be made public. I would have preferred to tell you myself.’

‘I called when you were out, looking for work,’ Nathan explained, his voice quietly sympathetic. ‘Your maid—Polly?—gave me the unfortunate news. I’m sorry, Lucy. I know how much that part meant to you.’

‘Don’t be too downhearted, Lucy,’ Aunt Dora said, giving her a comforting pat on the hand. ‘There will be other parts. Although I confess I am extremely disappointed with Mr Portas.’

‘I am more than willing to provide a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, if so desired,’ Nathan offered.

Lucy dragged her gaze towards his tall commanding figure. He was gazing at her with an air of surprising openness, as he stood in front of the fire in a casual, manly pose, his arm draped along the mantelpiece. ‘I do not desire. At present I am extremely angry and disappointed.’ He raised that damnable eyebrow at her, so knowing, so thoroughly in control.

‘I can understand that.’

Lucy glared at him, hating that mocking smile that twitched infuriatingly at the corners of his mouth. ‘I don’t think you understand the enormity of what has happened to me,’ she retorted, going to stand in front of him and glaring into his eyes. ‘I did wonder if for some malicious reason you might be the perpetrator of my downfall,’ she said angrily, for the suspicion had briefly crossed her mind.

‘I want you with me, Lucy, but I would not stoop that low.’

She was relieved to hear him say that. Her emotions told her she could not possibly survive the pain of it if he had.

‘What nonsense is this, Lucy?’ Aunt Dora piped up, her voice reproachful. ‘How can you accuse Nathan of such a thing? He does not have a malicious bone in his body. You accuse him most unfairly.’

Nathan’s smile was almost sweet. ‘Your aunt is right. You are letting your imagination run riot.’

Lucy’s temper flared. ‘I am not accusing you, but my troubles began the day after you came to see me. It began with the trade’s people I owe money to. Have you any idea how humiliating it is to have people coming to your home and demanding money.’

‘You could put an end to this situation.’

‘How? By agreeing to go with you to Portugal?’

‘Portugal?’ Aunt Dora cried, the mere idea of her niece disappearing into a war zone bringing her upright. ‘Why on earth would you go to Portugal with Napoleon’s soldiers running wild all over the place?’

Lucy was quick to reassure her. ‘Please don’t upset yourself, Aunt Dora. I am going nowhere.’

‘Don’t be distressed, dear,’ Aunt Dora said. ‘I have a little money put by. We are not destitute. It’s not the end of the world.’

How Lucy wished that were true. ‘It certainly feels like it to me. Don’t you see? No one is going to employ me now.’

‘But you are a talented actress. I’m sure something will turn up.’

‘You have more faith than me,’ Lucy murmured. ‘I’ve been to every theatre in London looking for work, but no one is taking on new actresses.’

‘Lucy...’ Nathan wanted to go to her.

She lifted her gaze solemnly to his. ‘Yes?’

When he saw the painful sadness dulling her beautiful eyes, remorse dragged his spirit down into the depths of a dark abyss. ‘I am sorry things are as bad as that.’

‘But—how will you manage?’ Aunt Dora wanted to know.

How shall we manage? Lucy thought, for Aunt Dora no longer had the money to pay her own bills. She would never know the enormity of them. Not that Lucy minded while ever she was working and could afford it. Lucy’s parents had died shortly after her birth and Aunt Dora had raised her as her own. There had never been much money and Lucy had spent most of her childhood hanging about theatres in the company of actors, but they had managed and Aunt Dora had done her best. Lucy would be grateful to her for ever and she loved her dearly.

‘I shall have to look for some other kind of work and of course I shall have to give up my house. Things will be difficult for a time. I’m afraid we’ll both have to tighten our belts.’

‘Then you must move in with me. You can have your old room. It will be like old times having you close by me.’

Lucy smiled at her fondly. ‘Thank you, Aunt Dora. I think I shall have to take you up on that.’

‘You have work if you want it,’ Nathan said quietly.

Her gaze passed over him scornfully. ‘With you? I think not.’

‘Why are you so angry with Nathan, Lucy? As you will remember, Nathan, my niece can be quite volatile at times. She is a woman of mighty will.’

‘So am I,’ he replied firmly.

In spite of their broken engagement, Lucy knew that in her heart Aunt Dora had always held an image of Nathan as her betrothed. She had been deeply disappointed when they had parted. ‘Nathan is anxious to preserve me to use for his own ends, Aunt Dora, but I’m afraid that will never happen.’

Nathan lifted a brow questioningly as he dared to delve into those shining green orbs. ‘And you’re certain of that, are you, Lucy? I wonder if you have really considered the full depth of your predicament.’

‘I am fully aware how dire my situation is and I know you to be the most persistent. I resent very much your high-handedness in arranging my life. I have done quite well without you in the past four years and will continue to do quite well without you in the future—without further interference from you.’

His voice was calm when he spoke. She could not seem to shake him. ‘You seem to forget that it was you, not I, who ended our engagement, Lucy.’

‘Out past relationship has no bearing on the future.’ Turning her back on him, she went to her aunt. ‘I must go now, Aunt Dora. I will come and see you tomorrow with better news, I hope.’

‘Must you go so soon?’ She sighed and kissed her niece. ‘Very well, Lucy. As I said, something will turn up. I am sure of it.’

Purposely not looking in Nathan’s direction, Lucy went out.

‘Go with her, Nathan,’ Dora said. ‘Talk to her and come and see me again soon.’


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