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Reforming the Viscount

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«Reforming the Viscount» - Энни Берроуз

TO REFUSE HIM ONCE WAS A MISTAKE – TO REFUSE HIM TWICE WOULD BE MADNESS! Viscount Rothersthorpe can’t tear his eyes from Lydia Morgan any more than he can calm the raging fury coursing through his veins. Is there no end to the irony?Come to town to find a wife, only to be taunted by the past? Furtive glances across the ballroom are not helping to ease Lydia’s state of shock – the man who once uttered a marriage proposal as one might remark upon the weather has returned.But when he stuns her with a second, outrageous but now wickedly delicious proposal, it is clear that despite the rumours the rake from her past has not reformed!
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About the Author

‘Perhaps,’ he said suddenly, ‘that would be the answer.’

‘Answer to what?’

‘The answer to what we should do about this inconvenient attraction I feel for you.’

‘I…I don’t understand you.’

‘Oh, yes, you do.’

He closed the distance she’d put between them and murmured into her ear again. The heat of his breath slid all the way down her spine.

‘We should become lovers, Lydia. And lay the past to rest in your bed.’

He straightened up and gave her a slow, sultry perusal.

‘Just send me word. Whenever you are ready I will be more than happy to oblige.’


The house in which I’ve set this story was inspired by Sezincote, the home of a genuine ‘nabob’. He had gone out to India as a young man, risen through the ranks of the East India Company Army, and returned to England in his later years a very wealthy man. When he designed the mansion where he intended to spend his retirement, he provided his architect with sketches he’d drawn of Mogul architecture, which he wanted incorporated in his home.

In 1807 the Prince Regent heard about this unique house, whilst staying with the Marquess of Hertford at Ragley Hall, and drove over to take a look. He was so impressed that he promptly decided his Pavilion at Brighton should have domes and minarets, too…only more of them! There is still a picture hanging in one of the main reception rooms of Sezincote of the Prince Regent tooling his curricle up the drive.

There are reminders of India throughout the grounds, too. Statues of Brahmin bulls adorn the parapets of the bridge that takes visitors over the stream that winds through the gardens. And instead of having a classical Greek temple, which is a feature of so many stately homes of England, there really is a temple to Suraya, the Hindu goddess of the sun.

About the Author

ANNIE BURROWS has been making up stories for her own amusement since she first went to school. As soon as she got the hang of using a pencil she began to write them down. Her love of books meant she had to do a degree in English literature. And her love of writing meant she could never take on a job where she didn’t have time to jot down notes when inspiration for a new plot struck her. She still wants the heroines of her stories to wear beautiful floaty dresses and triumph over all that life can throw at them. But when she got married she discovered that finding a hero is an essential ingredient to arriving at ‘happy ever after’.

Previous novels by Annie Burrows:






(part of Regency Candlelit Christmas anthology)



(part of Silk & Scandal Regency mini-series)





(part of Gift-Wrapped Governesses anthology)


Also available in eBook format in Mills & Boon ® Historical Undone!:



Do you know that some of these novels are also available as eBooks? Visit


the Viscount

Annie Burrows

To all the scientists and doctors who’ve discovered medicines to cure us, vaccinations to protect us, and treatments to help us through diseases that used to kill and maim the most vulnerable members of society.

Chapter One

‘Who is that man you are staring at?’

Rose’s question snapped Lydia straight out of her state of heart-fluttering, dry-mouthed, weakkneed tumult.

‘I was not staring at anyone.’

She’d managed to remember she was supposed to be setting an example for her stepdaughter, and behaved with as much circumspection as she’d ever been able to achieve at the age of eighteen. She’d watched him surreptitiously, in a series of thirsty little glances, knowing that gazing at him directly, with her heart in her eyes, would be fatal.

Though not only for herself, this time round. Poor Rose had enough to contend with, during her first Season, without the behaviour of her stepmama adding fuel to the fire. So far, people were treating her as though she was a perfectly respectable widow. To her face, at least. But a woman’s reputation was a fragile thing, and she knew—oh, yes, she knew—that there must be talk. How could there not be?

‘Yes, but you do know him, don’t you? The handsome one. The man over there, talking to Lord Chepstow and his friends.’

‘Oh, him,’ said Lydia airily, striving to conceal how guilty she felt at having been caught out. Sometimes, Rose reminded her of her own chaperon, Mrs Westerly. Both of them noticed everything.

‘Do not waste your time in that direction,’ the eagle-eyed woman had warned her, when she’d noticed her doing exactly what she was doing tonight.

‘The entire family is at point-non plus. Yet again. They have a habit of marrying heiresses to pull them out of the mire. Not that this particular Hemingford is showing any signs of wishing to give up his bachelor lifestyle just yet. But you mark my words, when the time comes, he will do as his forebears have always done.’

‘Yes, I do know him, slightly,’ she admitted. ‘That is the Honourable…’ honourable? Hah! Not so as you’d notice ‘…Nicholas Hemingford.’

‘Oh, do tell me all about him.’

‘There isn’t much to tell,’ said Lydia, blushing at the outright lie.

For she’d fallen head-over-heels in love with him. In spite of his reputation. In spite of her chaperon’s dire warnings. Like a moth to a flame, she’d been completely unable to withstand the pull of that lop-sided, slightly self-deprecating smile of his, never mind the mischievous twinkle in his blue, blue eyes.

She hadn’t stood a chance when he’d decided, for his own typically eccentric reasons, to turn the full force of his charm upon her.

She mocked her younger self for feeling as though he’d thrown her a lifeline, for it had turned out to be no more than a gossamer thread of wishful thinking. Which had snapped the moment she had to put it to the test.

‘I danced with him once or twice during my own Season,’ she told Rose, striving to make it sound as though it had been a trivial matter.

‘And you have never forgotten him,’ observed Rose with typical astuteness.

‘No.’ She sighed. And then, because if she didn’t give Rose the impression she was being open with her, she would never let the matter drop until she’d wrung the very last ounce of the truth from her, she admitted, ‘He is not the kind of person one forgets. He is so…unique.’

‘Really? In what way?’

‘Well, for one thing, he was an incorrigible flirt,’ she said tartly. ‘I used to watch him regularly reducing the prettiest girls in the room into giggling, blushing confusion, then saunter away while they all sighed after his retreating back. Usually straight over to the plainest, most unprepossessing of the wallflowers drooping on the sidelines, where he would make her evening by leading her into a set of country dances.’

‘Well…that was kind of him.’

When Lydia frowned, Rose added, ‘Wasn’t it?’

‘I do not think kindness forms part of his character,’ she said repressively. ‘It just amused him to set female hearts a-flutter. His real interest was always gambling. No doubt what he is doing now,’ she said, indicating the group of men who had all subtly shifted position to include him in their number, ‘is arranging to meet them in the card room later.’

‘But…’ Rose was frowning ‘…if he only danced with the wallflowers, how is it—?’

‘I was quite ill, if you recall, by the time I met your father. My chaperon insisted I attend every event to which I’d received an invitation, in the hope I would somehow make a conquest. Which wore me down. So I was not in looks.’

What an understatement! Mrs Westerly had insisted she apply rouge to disguise her pallor and rice powder to conceal the shadows under her eyes. It had made her resemble a walking corpse. Or so the charmed circle surrounding that Season’s reigning beauty had sniggered, as she’d walked past.

The night she’d tumbled so hopelessly in love with Nicholas Hemingford, she had been, indisputably, the most desperately unhappy female in the place. Her Season had started out badly and gone steadily downhill. And after overhearing the cutting comments about her appearance, she’d started to try to edge her way out of the ballroom, desperate for some respite from the heat, the crush, the overwhelming sense of failure. Otherwise he might never have noticed her.

Just as he had not noticed her tonight. He was sauntering away from the group of men now, heading unerringly for the furthest corner of the ballroom, where a rather plump young lady was sitting somewhat apart from the others, looking a bit forlorn.

Oh lord, he was doing it again.

The plump girl’s face lit up when he bowed over her hand. Lydia knew just how that girl felt as he escorted her across the room to the set which was starting to form. She would hardly be able to believe that a man as handsome as Mr Hemingford had actually asked her to dance without any coercion from the matrons who sometimes prompted the younger men to do their duty by the girls who lacked partners. Her heart would be fluttering, her soul brimming with gratitude. Pray God this one didn’t mistake his casual fit of knight-errantry for anything meaningful and get it broken.

‘Why do you suppose,’ said Rose thoughtfully, ‘he only dances with plain girls?’

‘Well, he would tell you,’ she replied, ‘that everyone deserves to enjoy themselves when they attend a ball, no matter what.

He would say that he hated having to look at long faces, and if nobody else would do anything about it, then he would.’

‘But you don’t think that was true?’

‘Oh, no.’ She laughed a little bitterly. ‘Once, he actually admitted that there was no point in asking any of the eligible females on the premises to dance, because their chaperons would not have granted him permission. He was considered too dangerous.’

‘Dangerous?’ Rose’s eyes widened. ‘And was he?’

‘Oh, yes.’ To the peace of mind of lonely, desperately unhappy females, anyway.

She inhaled sharply. Then breathed out slowly.

There was no point in getting angry about the way he’d made her yearn for the impossible. Nor the careless way he’d tempted her into believing it was within her grasp. It had all happened what felt like a lifetime ago.

Except that seeing him again made it feel as though it had only been yesterday.

At her first sight of him, she’d reacted exactly as she had done when she’d been an impressionable girl of Rose’s age. And she could hardly tear her eyes away from him as he led the plump girl on to the floor.

Though there was some consolation in noticing she was not the only female tracking his progress across the ballroom with fascination.

For there was something about the way he moved that always drew admiring glances. While some men could manage to look impressive only when standing perfectly still, striking a pose, Nicholas Hemingford brought a kind of languid grace to the steps which had the effect of making her insides turn to molten toffee.

When the gentlemen lined up, facing her, he ended up standing practically opposite her. And though she didn’t want to, she simply couldn’t help taking the opportunity, while his attention was all on his partner, to take a good long look at him.

Oh, but he was just as handsome as ever. His light brown hair was cut slightly shorter nowadays, but other than that, he’d hardly changed at all. Just as fit and trim, and elegantly dressed as ever.

Typical! Why couldn’t he have run to fat, or developed the raddled complexion of so many of his contemporaries? But, no—he’d managed to carry on with his dissipated lifestyle and emerged unscathed. Just as he’d always done.

She snapped open her fan and waved it vigorously before her heated cheeks. It gave her something to occupy her hands, instead of clenching them into fists and pounding them into the nearest hard surface.

The movement must have caught his eye, for his head jerked up and for a moment or two he looked straight at her.

Her heart pounded against her ribs. She lifted her chin and stared right back at him.

Yes, Nicholas, it’s me. Look. I survived. And now I’m back. And what have you to say for yourself?

To her shock, and fury, his gaze slid right past her without so much as a flicker of recognition.

‘It did not look as though he remembered you, Mama Lyddy,’ said Rose, unwittingly touching on the bruise he’d just inflicted.

‘No. Well,’ she bit out, ‘why should he? It has been eight years since he last saw me. And I was only one of a large crowd of insignificant females he favoured with his attentions.’

All these years, in spite of everything, she’d hugged her memories of him to herself in secret. But it looked as though he’d forgotten all about her.

Because she hadn’t really meant anything to him, had she?

‘Is something the matter?’

‘It is a little lowering,’ she admitted, ‘to be so completely unmemorable.’

It was worse than that. Until now, she’d harboured a faint hope that he might have meant what he’d said, even if only for those few heady moments when he’d held her in his arms. The words he’d murmured into her ears that had made her feel as though she was clasped in a lover’s embrace…when the reality was that he’d only caught her up because she’d almost fainted. And he’d been nearest to her when it happened. Anyone would have been chivalrous enough to carry her into the shade. And yet, for those few minutes it had taken to carry her into the cool interior of the house, it had felt as though he was transporting her to heaven. Feeling his arms round her, being so close she could inhale his unique scent as she burrowed her face into his shoulder, hearing him say the words she’d never believed a man like him could say—words of yearning, and possibility, that had made her heart soar with hope…

Not that hope had lasted all that long.

The moment he’d put her down, he’d backed away, his face a picture of regret.

And he’d never come near her again.

The band struck up, the gentlemen bowed to their partners, and Lydia delved into her reticule for a handkerchief.

‘Mama Lyddy?’

Rose was looking at her with concern.

Lydia blew her nose rather crossly, since if there was one thing she hated it was letting her emotions get the better of her. ‘That is what comes of dwelling on memories of my own Season.’

‘They do not look as though they were very happy memories,’ Rose observed.

Lydia grimaced. ‘They were not.’

Rose sighed and glanced up at her half-brother, who was standing behind their chairs, glowering at the entire assembly.

‘Was it worse than this?’

‘Oh, Rose, are you not enjoying yourself?’

‘How can I,’ she muttered mutinously, ‘when Robert is being so impossible?’

Since the orchestra was going at full pelt and they were muttering to each other behind their fans, Lydia did not think Robert would overhear, even though she suspected Rose half-hoped he would.

‘I am sure he is only trying to be protective…’

‘Well, I wish he wouldn’t. I don’t see why he would not let me dance with Lord Abergele.’

Nor had Lydia, not really. Though since she’d got into the habit of playing peacemaker between the siblings, she said, ‘I expect he had his reasons…’

Rose turned to her, muttering crossly, ‘He probably thinks he is just a fortune hunter.’

‘Oh? Well, then…’

‘But I don’t care! It’s not as if I have come to town to get a husband, only to find my feet in society. And how am I ever going to do that if he will keep every man who shows an interest in me at arm’s length? Lord Abergele has a sister, who has the kind of connections that would be most useful. Now that he’s offended the brother, I have no hope of making a friend of her either.’

And what was worse, now that he’d turned down a perfectly respectable dance partner on her behalf, Rose couldn’t dance with anyone else this evening.

‘I will have a word with him,’ said Lydia. Not that it would do much good. He was far too much like his father, firmly believing he knew best, and expecting his family to fall in with his wishes without question.

And, yes, she conceded that it must be particularly hard for him to listen to her opinion, because she was four years younger than him. She could understand why he’d taken to treating her as though she was another of his younger sisters, rather than with the respect he should have accorded a stepmama, but it didn’t make it any less annoying.

Particularly when he stood over them both, as he was doing tonight, like some kind of guard dog, his hackles rising when anyone he considered unsuitable came anywhere near his beautiful sister. Signalling to the entire world that he did not quite trust her to keep Rose safe.

At the exact moment she firmed her lips with pique, and flicked her fan shut, the line of gentlemen stepped forwards in unison, and Hemingford’s eyes lit on her, briefly.

He did not smile this time, either, but he did grant her a slight nod of his head.

So he’d finally dredged up a memory that hadn’t troubled him for years, had he?

Or perhaps he had recognised her before, but it had been his guilty conscience that made his eyes slide away from her. Just as he’d slid out of the room, and out of her life, after uttering the statement he’d so clearly regretted the moment it had left his lips.

‘Oh, he does remember you after all.’

Rose was looking, not at him, but at her, with a perplexed expression. And she realised she was trembling. She’d become so angry at the casual way he’d broken her heart that she was physically quivering with it.

What was happening to her? For years she’d managed to preserve an outward semblance of serenity no matter what she’d been thinking. In fact, the last time she’d got so worked up she couldn’t control her physical reaction had been her wedding day.

Her knees had been shaking so badly she’d started to worry she might not make it all the way down the aisle. But even so, she’d managed to lift her chin and force a smile to her lips, determined that nobody should guess how scared she was. Particularly not her husband. Colonel Morgan had frowned when he’d taken her hand to slip the ring on her finger, feeling her tremors. He hadn’t liked the notion she might be afraid of him, of what she’d agreed to. So as she’d spoken her vows, she’d made secret ones of her own. That she was never, ever, going to let her feelings get the better of her again. She would keep a mask of calm acceptance firmly in place at all times.

And until tonight, she’d been able to do so.

Before she could pull herself together sufficiently to form some plausible excuse, Robert leaned down and growled into her ear, ‘I quite forgot that you knew him.’

Oh, lord, that was all she needed. Now she was going to have to convince Robert, too, that he had merely been an acquaintance. If he should guess she had been in love with him, and was, to judge by her remarkable reactions just now, still far too susceptible to him, he would no doubt redouble his guard-doggy role towards her, as well as Rose. It was bad enough that he was already undermining her role as chaperon, with his heavyhanded vetting of all Rose’s potential admirers. She simply could not hand him the opportunity to accuse her of setting a bad example for Rose to follow. That would be the end of ever getting him to listen to her point of view.

In an automatic gesture of self-defence, she parried his query with a thrust of her own.

‘You have a short memory, then. It was he who introduced you to me, in the first place. Do you not recall? He brought me to one of those picnics you used to hold at Westdene.’

‘But I thought you said you only danced with him once or twice,’ put in Rose.

‘Did I?’ She had to wave her fan quite swiftly to cool the heat that rushed to her cheeks. ‘Well, it hardly amounted to much more than that, really.’

Although he had been what her chaperon described as ‘particular in his attentions,’ after that first dance. They’d both been surprised by the number of times he’d called upon her, and sought her out as a dance partner, even though she’d blushed and stumbled her way inelegantly through set after set of country dances. He had not been put off by her stammer, or her apparent stupidity, not like the other men who’d shown an initial interest in her. If anything, he had redoubled his efforts to put her at ease. And gradually, she’d found herself unfurling in his company.

To the extent that one afternoon, as they’d been walking in the park, she’d let slip that she couldn’t understand why he bothered with her.

‘If that is a hint you wish me to leave you be,’ he’d warned her with mock severity, ‘then you are going to have to stop looking so pleased when I come to call.’

She’d blushed harder and studied her feet for several paces, before plucking up the courage to answer.

‘I d-do not want you to leave me be. I-I like your company.’

‘That is just as well,’ he said cheerfully, ‘because I have no intention of leaving you be until I have coaxed one genuine smile from your lips.’

‘B-but, why? I m-mean, what can it m-matter to you? M-Mrs Westerly s-says you aren’t interested in m-m—’

‘No! Do not say that word in my presence,’ he’d cried in mock horror. ‘There is more to life than…’ he’d looked round as though checking to see if anyone might overhear, before bending to whisper in her ear ‘…matrimony. We can enjoy a walk in the park on a sunny afternoon, or a dance together, just for its own sake, can we not?’

‘The sun is not shining today,’ she had remarked with sinking spirits, as they’d halted in front of a patch of equally depressed-looking daffodils which were straining their golden trumpets in the direction the sun would have been shining from, had it been able to penetrate the heavy layers of cloud. In spite of Mrs Westerly warning her not to read too much into the way he’d taken her up, her foolish heart had dared to think that perhaps he was not such a lost cause as everyone thought.

‘But we can still enjoy each other’s company, can we not,’ he’d said, ‘without expecting it to lead to wedding bells?’

She associated the scent of daffodils with the death of her romantic hopes to this very day.

‘We can,’ she’d said, forcing a smile to her lips, though she had not been able to look up into his face. If a light friendship was all he was prepared to offer, she would do nothing to scare him off, for sharing the occasional few minutes with this wickedly witty and dashingly handsome young man had become the only bright spot in her otherwise gloomy existence.

‘B-besides, everyone knows you aren’t in the market for a wife. And even if you were, you wouldn’t look twice at someone like me. You know I have no dowry, I suppose?’

‘Of course I do. The tabbies make sure everyone knows every newcomer’s net worth within five minutes of their entering any ballroom. It makes no difference to how I feel about you.’

Well, it wouldn’t since he didn’t see her as a potential wife.

‘And yet,’ he’d said, tucking her arm into his and setting out along the path again, ‘you still… light up whenever I ask you to dance.’

‘Well, you do dance divinely,’ she’d admitted. ‘And Mrs Westerly says—’ She’d broken off, biting down on her lower lip.

‘Go on. Tell me what Mrs Westerly says. I promise that however bad it may be, it won’t surprise me. Chaperons normally give their charges dire warnings about me.’

‘Well, she says that it is no bad thing to spend time with you, because you make me smile. Which makes me look more attractive to eligible men.’

‘Aha! So that is why she doesn’t forbid me to pollute her drawing room with my presence.’

She’d nodded, lulled into a sense of…something almost like companionship as they’d strolled along, arm in arm. Which could be the only thing to account for her blurting, ‘Not that it does any good, in the long term. Because the moment I try to talk to anyone eligible, I start blushing and stammering so much they take me for a perfect ninny. And if there is one thing a man does not want, that is to take a ninny to wife. Not unless she is a great heiress, or has a very grand title.’

At that point, Nicholas had given her a quizzical look and observed, ‘But today you have stopped stammering altogether.’

‘Why, yes, so I have.’

‘It is because you aren’t striving to impress me. You know I am completely ineligible.’

Was that what it had been? Or was it just that she’d finally given up all hope of anything more than friendship?

‘I dare say your chaperon has warned you,’ he’d said airily, ‘that there is a good deal of bad blood in my family. The first Rothersthorpe was little better than a pirate, you know, although Good Queen Bess rewarded him for his efforts against the Spanish with the title.’

‘Oh, yes. Everyone knows that. But what she primarily objects to is…your lack of money. Mrs Westerly warned me that is why you invite me to go for walks with you, rather than taking me for a drive around the park.’

‘Did she? The old b—besom,’ he’d said. ‘Though of course it’s true. I haven’t a feather to fly with.’

‘Perhaps,’ she’d said with just a touch of asperity, ‘if you did not place wagers on such ridiculous things…’

‘Such as?’

‘Well, I did hear there was one between a goose and a mouse.’

He’d let out a surprised bark of laughter. ‘Who told you about that? Not that it isn’t true. But at least I backed the mouse. Won a packet,’ he’d finished smugly.

‘And on what did you subsequently lose that packet?’ she’d snapped. ‘The turn of a card?’

‘No! I am an extremely proficient card player,’ he’d said, raising his chin just a little, which showed she’d touched him on the raw. But after only a few leisurely paces, his lips curving into a smile, he’d darted her a look of pure mischief and confessed, ‘It was a horse.’

She’d pursed her lips.

‘You are right,’ he’d sighed, in mock despair. ‘I am incorrigible. Money flows through my hands like water. Cannot keep a hold on it for longer than five minutes. And yet,’ he’d said, giving her a quizzical look, ‘you never appear to think that coming for walks with me is a waste of time. Even when there are no potential suitors about to witness you smiling and managing to string whole sentences together without stammering.’

Her heart had thundered so hard in her chest it had been almost painful. If he guessed how she truly felt, would he take fright, and disappear from her life?

But even so, she’d found herself blurting, ‘You make me laugh when sometimes I think there is nothing left to so much as smile about.’

For a moment it had almost overwhelmed her. All of it. She’d had to lower her head and press her lips together to stop them trembling, and blink rapidly to disperse the burgeoning tears.

He’d patted her hand and said, ‘I shall consider it my duty to make you smile, then, whenever our paths cross.’

He already did that. Whenever she was dancing with him, or taking supper, or walking along like this, with her hand on his arm, gazing up into his laughing blue eyes, it was as though the sun had broken through the dark clouds that habitually hung over her.

But then he’d brought those clouds rolling back, by adding, ‘Life is too short to ruin it by worrying about what might or might not happen, Miss Franklin. We should just enjoy each day we are given and let the future take care of itself.’

And she’d had to bite back a sharp retort. It was all very well for him to say such things. He had no idea! He had a roof over his head. A regular allowance—even if he did complain it was a beggarly amount. A secure place in society, because of his rank.

And, most importantly, he did not have to marry, not unless he really, really wanted to.

Was he married now?

She watched him smile down at the plump girl as they went into a right-handed star.

She had no idea. She’d deliberately avoided finding out anything about him since she’d married Colonel Morgan. Things had been difficult enough. If she’d read the announcement of his betrothal to some other woman, and known that she’d managed to impress him enough to renounce his hedonistic lifestyle, she would have wanted to curl up and die.

Which would not have been fair to her husband. To whom she owed so much.

No—to repay all Colonel Morgan’s generosity by breaking her heart over another man—that would have been unforgivable.

‘So…he is a friend of yours then, Robert?’ Rose was looking from her to her brother, a perplexed frown creasing her brow.

‘Not any longer,’ Robert growled. ‘I did not mention it, but…’ He shifted uncomfortably. ‘Well, if you must know, we had a bit of a falling out. I have not spoken to Rothersthorpe since a short while after you married our father,’ he said to Lydia, though it was Rose who was questioning him. ‘I did not tell you about it, because, well, because…’


He’d come into his father’s title, then. Her insides hollowed out at the thought they’d drifted so far apart she did not even know that much about his life.

Though it had been what she’d wanted.

It had.

‘But Mama Lyddy called him Mr Humming… something.’

‘Hemingford,’ Robert corrected her. ‘That is his family name. Now that his father has died, he has of course inherited the title. He is Viscount Rothersthorpe now. I would have thought you would have known that, Mama Lyddy.’

‘No.’ She’d taken such pains to avoid seeing his name in the Weekly Messenger that she had missed even that.

When you made your bed, you had to lie in it. And it had been hard enough to accustom herself to Colonel Morgan as a husband as it was. Letting anyone suspect she had married one man, whilst mourning the inconstancy of another, would have done nobody any good.

And it would do nobody any good to so much as hint at the truth now, either.

‘Heavens, Robert, surely you know I have never been one to pore over the society news? I left that world behind when I married your father.’

‘But you have been talking about him,’ Robert persisted. ‘Neither of you can take your eyes off him.’

Oh dear. He was not going to let it drop. Now he was like a guard dog with a bone.

‘I was trying to warn Rose to be on her guard. I don’t want her taken in by his handsome face and superficial charm.’

He gave her one of those penetrating looks that put her so very much in mind of his father. He had the same steely-grey eyes, the same hooked nose and eyebrows that could only be described as formidable. Of all Colonel Morgan’s children, he was the one who resembled him, in looks at least, the most.

He reminded her of him all the more when he looked down that beak of a nose and said, ‘You need not worry. I am more than capable of protecting her from undesirables.’

Both Lydia and Rose turned their backs on him, snapped open their fans and began to ply them vigorously.

Men! They were all so…impossible!

Especially the handsome charmers like Rothersthorpe, as she must think of him nowadays. Because, even though she was angry with him, she was still achingly aware of exactly where he was, at any given moment.

She refused to look at him, yet she knew when he returned the plump young lady to her chaperon. And she sensed him turn and begin to saunter straight across the room to where they were sitting.

Her heart skipped a beat when she realised he was coming straight towards her.

That he was going to speak to her.

Well, his first words had better be an apology for letting her down, just when she’d needed him the most.

He came to a halt not three feet before her chair, a sardonic smile hovering about his lips.

And it took all her will-power not to get up and slap it right off his face. She had to remind herself, quite sternly, that this was a public ballroom and she must not cause a scene that would rebound on Rose.

She took a deep breath and snapped her fan shut.

She could be polite and dignified. She could, even though her heart was pounding, her mouth had gone dry and her knees were trembling.

She wasn’t an impressionable eighteen-yearold any longer, but a mature woman, and she refused to blush and stammer, or go weak at the knees, just because a handsome man was deigning to pay her a little attention.


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