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Диксон Хелен

When Marrying a Duke...

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«When Marrying a Duke...» - Хелен Диксон

Three golden rules for this season’s debutantes: Three golden rules for this season’s debutantes: 1. Ensure that you have appropriate instruction in etiquette2. Flirting is acceptable if done with decorum3. Your future husband must be of honourable intentBut unconventional Marietta Westwood has already broken all the rules! Her suitor, the enigmatic yet charmingly irresistible Duke of Arden, has long been intriguing the ladies of the ton. And he’s the same man whose dangerous kisses have been scandalously burnt into Marietta’s mind…
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About the Author

She couldn’t believe her eyes when she recognised Max Trevellyan approaching her.

Their eyes met and locked for a moment. Then Marietta’s opened wider and wider as she experienced astonishment and incredulity before brusquely recollecting herself. He was dressed in a well-worn tweed jacket and the pale sunlight fell across him, touching his thick dark hair. His silver-grey eyes were clear and alert.

For one dreadful moment she panicked, feeling an urgent desire to turn and run. For heaven’s sake—she was Marietta Westwood, afraid of nothing and no one. She almost did turn and run, but the fierce resolve with which she had been born and which had developed inside her since she was a child kept her rooted to the spot.

‘It’s you,’ she said frostily, on a calmer note—though her heart, for some bewildering reason, was beating quickly.

About the Author

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

Previous novels by Helen Dickson:





And in Mills & Boon® Historical Undone! eBooks:



I loved writing WHEN MARRYING A DUKE …, detailing the trials and tribulations of my heroine, creating a larger than life hero and the woman who loves him. It is a love story, and the hard and fast rule of a romance writer—which is carved in stone—is that there must be a happy ending.

Reading is a tremendous joy to me—I read anything from historical romance and family sagas to thrillers and fantasy. I love to absorb myself in the stories, and feel a real sense of discovery with each new book. Foreign shores rarely feature in any of my books, so using Hong Kong as the location in the opening chapters of WHEN MARRYING A DUKE … was an unlikely setting for me to choose. I enjoyed researching this fascinating island.

While the setting of Hong Kong and the issues of the time are real, my characters are entirely fictitious.

When Marrying

a Duke…

Helen Dickson



Waking shortly after midnight and unable to go back to sleep, thinking a glass of milk might help to settle her, Marietta padded from her room. Yang Ling, her Chinese nurse, was asleep in a nearby bedroom, dreaming of the Chinese New Year that was upon them, and the visit she would make to her family to wish them well and good fortune in the year to come.

The night was moonless, a black quilt shrouding the hills of Hong Kong, but by the nuances and textures of the dark the girl was drawn towards the stairs. She moved quietly so as not to wake her parents, for she was ever conscious that her mother needed her rest. Ever since she had miscarried yet another child—three in total—her parents had slept in separate rooms, so Marietta was surprised to hear muffled voices coming from her mother’s bedroom. Something had changed. Marietta sensed it and shivered. Concerned because her mother was sobbing, thinking she might be ill, she paused, straining her ears to listen.

‘Leave me be, Monty,’ she wept. ‘You promised me there would be no more children.’

‘Don’t deny me, Amelia,’ her father’s pleading voice said. ‘Not now—not again. I can’t stand it.’

‘No, Monty. Don’t ask me to go through it again. When our last baby was born dead you gave me your word … that you wouldn’t …’

Her mother’s frantic pleas must have fallen on deaf ears because, apart from the creaking of the bed, there was silence. There was no one to see the swift shadow dart along the landing, the agile shape that fled silently back to her room. Scrambling into bed, Marietta pulled the covers up over her head to shut out any sounds she might hear. Confused by what she had heard and at nine years old still too innocent to understand what went on between a husband and his wife—only that whatever it was they did resulted in pain and suffering for her mother and another dead baby—afraid for her mother and desperately sorry for her father, she wept.

At breakfast the following morning, Monty Westwood experienced a sudden feeling of unease as his eyes met the steady gold-tinted green eyes of his young daughter sitting as still as a statue across from him. For one discomfiting moment it seemed that she was staring into the very heart of him, noting his faults and failings and measuring his guilt. Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, he reached for some toast, glancing down to spread it with butter.

But he could not control the flush that rose to his cheeks, nor the slight trembling of the hand holding the knife. He was like a man caught red-handed in a felonious act.

Monty adored his daughter. She was vibrant and spirited, but now her eyes had a cold and knowing glint as she stared steadily back at him. She was accusing him without opening her mouth. She knew he had spent the night in her mama’s bed. She knew, even at her age, what might follow as a consequence of his lust for his wife—for any woman who was willing to accommodate him.

Five months after that night and pregnant yet again, Marietta’s mother went into labour. Everyone was too occupied to notice Marietta peering tentatively round the partly open door of her mother’s room. What she saw caused her heart to sink and her stomach to convulse. The bed was soaked with a quantity of blood around her mother’s body. Marietta knew she was dead. She was motionless, her face ashen, her eyes fixed for ever in a state of death.

Marietta took a backward step, her face blanching, her hand to her mouth, faltering so that she almost tripped over her own feet. Then she turned and fled the scene. Her mind had closed up, shutting itself against the sight of her mother. Her face was as blank as an unwritten page, all emotion having been driven deep within her, where it would fester for a long time to come.

Chapter One

With the sun shining out of a sky as blue as blue could be, a small, isolated knot of boisterous young people gathered to enjoy themselves at the horse racing at Happy Valley on the island of Hong Kong, which was a major trading post of the British empire. They were the sons and daughters of businessmen, merchants and bankers, all enjoying the freedom and entertainments to be had on this tiny island, the Sovereign British Territory off the Chinese coast populated by Westerners and Chinese immigrants.

‘I honestly swear that if I have to sit and talk to those frumpish old tabbies I shall die of boredom,’ Marietta declared sharply, observing the group of stiff-backed ladies all sporting a colourful array of flowered and feathered hats and bonnets on their coiffed heads seated on a veranda overlooking the racecourse. Young married women who no longer mixed with their unmarried friends, being excluded from the excitement and demure flirtation, were seated in chairs beneath the shade of the trees. ‘Promise me, Oliver, that if such a thing should occur, you will have the goodness to rescue me.’ Smoothing her skirts, she sighed in a way that displayed a very fetching dimple. ‘I beg of you if you value our friendship.’

Glancing down into Marietta’s wide olive-green eyes flecked with golden lights, Oliver Schofield would have forfeited both his feet to do her bidding. ‘I give you my word,’ he replied adoringly. ‘You know perfectly well I would do anything you asked me to do, Marietta.’

Oliver Schofield was a good-looking young man, just one of several who hung around the group of pretty girls. They were like a cloud of bright butterflies beneath light and colourful parasols. Their fashionable wide skirts of palest pink, light-blue, lemon and creamy white, pleated and flounced in delicate tulle and chiffon and muslin, swung and swayed and dipped to reveal their shoes and the lower part of their white stockinged legs.

With a gay and uncritical nature, Marietta Westwood outshone all the other girls and was the most sought after among these bright young things. Having spent a great deal of her time with her father and allowed to do very much as she pleased, at seventeen she possessed an active mind, a lively wit and an amazing tendency to think for herself.

As a child, as soon as she had stepped off the ship she had been enchanted with the tiny island of Hong Kong. She loved life in the colony—the picnics, regattas and parties, where she waltzed and polkaed the night away. She was just one of a civilised society, if one could ignore the heat and humidity of the South China seas and the suffocating stuffiness of the Europeans. Sporting their beards and whiskers and top hats and waistcoats and woollen suits as if they were in London, they would never dream of succumbing to the natural elements of the colony—unlike her father, who favoured wide-brimmed hats and cool linen suits, which gave him a crumpled air.

Marietta moved towards Oliver with the lightness of step of a fawn. She was naturally cautious, like one who suspects there is a delightful danger ahead, but is prepared nevertheless to enjoy it. She smiled at him beautifully.

‘I know I can rely on you, Oliver—always the gallant one and so sweet, that’s what you are.’ Taking his arm, she drew him to one side, leaning forwards so that only he could hear what she said. ‘You haven’t forgotten our outing tomorrow, have you? You said you would take me with you to the native quarter.’

His face fell. ‘No, Marietta, I can’t.’

‘But you promised!’

‘I’ve changed my mind.’

Her lips forming a petulant pout, Marietta gave an indignant toss of her head. ‘Then I’ll never speak to you again. I swear I won’t.’

‘It’s not that I don’t wish to take you with me,’ Oliver said, goaded, ‘but the native quarter is not a fit place for a young English girl to visit. It’s not safe.

Besides, your father would never consent to it.’

‘He won’t be here. He’s leaving for Kowloon tonight and won’t be back until the day after tomorrow. Besides, what possible harm can come to me in your company?’ she added mischievously.

Oliver shrugged. ‘I warn you, Marietta, it can be awfully dull. There can be little of interest for you there.’

Marietta lifted her chin. ‘I will be the judge of that. But since you seem to be averse to my company, I shall not trouble you nor hold you to your promise. Perhaps some other gentleman will be more willing to accompany me instead.’

‘Come, Marietta, you need not take that attitude with me,’ Oliver said in a more conciliatory manner. ‘The fact is you misunderstand my reluctance to take you with me.’ He hesitated, then went on in a low voice, ‘I would not wish it to reach your father’s ears that I have taken his daughter to purchase opium supplies—on behalf of a friend of mine, you understand, who is unable to go himself. I have the address of a merchant and I plan to visit him tomorrow.’

She stared at him. It all seemed so terribly exciting. ‘Are you afraid you can’t trust me? Is that why you won’t take me? I promise I will be all discretion if that’s what worries you.’

Oliver shrugged. ‘I see I am outwitted and shall have to give in to your wishes. But you must promise not to tell anyone, Marietta.’

With a sense of adventure and eager to explore Hong Kong’s China Town, Marietta’s eagerness increased. ‘Of course you may trust me,’ she exclaimed. ‘Though you really need not fear my father’s disapproval, for he has told me himself that he has the greatest faith in opium as a medicinal cure for everything from the most serious illness to toothache. I do know some people abuse it, but one has to be sensible about these things. I am already a convert to it since it was opium that Yang Ling gave me in the posset to cure a fever I had last month.’

Privately Oliver doubted if Marietta’s father would approve of the use he planned to make for the drug, but he wouldn’t express his doubts to Marietta. He wished he’d been firmer with his refusal to take her, but when Marietta turned her big, dark green eyes on him, resolutions were apt to vanish. He was happy enough to have her smiling at him again and told her he hadn’t doubted her for a moment. Some people had prejudices and misconceptions about opium smoking, but since she wasn’t one of these killjoys, he would be happy to take her to the native quarter.

Thanking him prettily and arranging to meet him the following morning, Marietta turned her attention to Julian Fielding, who was holding the reins of Oliver’s horse and seated atop his own. Suddenly she had what she considered to be a brilliant idea to spark up the afternoon. Spinning on her heel, she sprinted towards Oliver’s horse and with a fluency that caught the eye, she hoisted herself up into the saddle, her legs astride the huge gelding.

Emma, a petite brunette and Marietta’s best friend, in a flurry of pink taffeta and bouncing ringlets, moved to stand beside Oliver. ‘Oh dear! Whatever do you think Marietta is planning to do now?’ she enquired, knowing that whatever it was, her friend was about to make a freak of herself cavorting on the back of Oliver’s horse.

Oliver sighed, resigned as always to Marietta’s reckless escapades. ‘She will do whatever she wants to do—which is what she always does, Emma.’

‘Come along, Julian,’ Marietta urged with a shout of laughter, hearing the smattering of giggles as the group looked on and encouraged by it. ‘Let’s you and me have a little race of our own. To that post at the end of the green and back—and I bet I win.’

With a gentle kick at the horse’s flanks with her heels and firing an amused glance over her shoulder at her friends, while feeling the force of the ancient ladies’ unwavering scandalised cold stares, their faces taut with disapproval on the veranda, with her skirts ballooning behind her she was off, with Julian, always game for anything, tearing after her.

Their horses’ hooves thundered over the hard green turf. All the way to the post they were neck and neck, and not until they turned for home did Marietta pull ahead, finishing a length ahead of Julian. Unfortunately her horse was going so fast she had to pull up sharply, causing the animal to stumble on a raised hillock and tossing her over its head. After flying through the air, in a tangle of flounces and frills and furbelows as her skirts were upflung, she landed on the ground. Unhurt and laughing happily despite the loss of her dignity—for she was the victor after all—she scrambled to her feet.

‘Dear God in heaven,’ she heard someone exclaim in a furious voice, his temper roused, not at all pleased at being almost knocked off his feet. ‘Why don’t you look where you’re going, you stupid girl? You might have caused a serious accident.’

Marietta hadn’t seen him at first. She was too busy trying to regain her balance, but she did feel a crackle in the air and perceived the unnatural silence when it fell among her chirruping friends. As she stood, with her nerves jangling like wind chimes in a typhoon, her heart began to beat unaccountably faster when she found herself confronted by the formidable Lord Trevellyan and his beautiful wife, Nadine, who had been forced to halt when she tumbled right in front of them.

Marietta was for once speechless. He was surely the finest man that ever was. Meeting his silver-grey eyes, she felt herself instantly redden with pleasure.

‘What the hell do you think you are doing?’ Lord Trevellyan demanded, his voice about as friendly as cold steel, not quite done with chastising her.

The icy tone of his voice checked any wayward thoughts Marietta might have concerning Lord Trevellyan. Having halted in a small puddle left over from the previous day’s rain, she saw that Oliver’s horse had splashed mud on to Lord Trevellyan’s shiny black shoes.

‘Oh dear!’ she put in hastily. Able to see the funny side of the incident, she tried to stifle her mirth, but on seeing the look of unconcealed displeasure on Lord Trevellyan’s face as he looked down at his shoes, her mirth threatened to erupt into hilarity. ‘It really was an accident,’ she began defensively, ‘but I fear I’ve made rather a mess of your shoes …’

Lord Trevellyan’s voice stopped her in mid-sentence. ‘Never mind my shoes. My advice to you, Miss Westwood, is that you learn to ride a horse of that size before getting on to its back.’

Lord Trevellyan was at his most forbidding following yet another bitter altercation with his beautiful wife. The mocking smile on his lips did nothing to make Marietta feel better, although, had she but known, it was himself he was mocking, for Miss Westwood was renowned for her outrageous antics and having witnessed her unblushing display of riding a horse that would have horrified every strait-laced lady who’d borne witness, he grudgingly conceded that she was a refreshing sight in the circumstances.

From a distance he had watched her galloping at breakneck pace with the daredevil recklessness of youth. With her face pressed close to the horse’s mane, a jubilation, there was a simplicity in the way she rode, as if she were one with her mount, confident, trusting and elated. At a glance she was one of the most fearless, skilled riders he’d ever seen mounted—man or woman—and he would love to see her over jumps. Her legs had been displayed to almost immoral advantage by the lifting of her skirts as she had ridden the gelding, golden ribbons around her slender waist that would require no subterfuge to make it appear smaller, flying jauntily behind her. Not until she was almost on top of him had she hauled the horse to a smart stop, and at the same time the horse had tossed her over his head.

Marietta looked at him with eyes that seemed to change through all the shades of green beneath the fringe of long, sooty lashes. Her hair—piles of shining rich mahogany-brown hair—had come loose of its pins during her reckless ride to beat her opponent. Drawing herself up, she set her bonnet at a ridiculous angle atop curls as undisciplined as she was, the ribbon streamers dancing this way and that. Immediately she launched into an apology.

Unimpressed, Max listened to her. The fact that this dratted girl had disrupted his day annoyed him intensely. It was not the first time they had met. He had noticed her vaguely at several events. All the other girls of her age were demure and for the most part kept their eyes cast down, whereas Miss Westwood always stared directly at those she was speaking to, looking about her with a keen and lively interest, her eyes bright with expectancy.

She showed none of the restraint impressed into young girls of good family. It would seem that when Miss Westwood conjured up some new escapade, she set about it with the determination and tactical brilliance of a female Napoleon Bonaparte. The ladies of the island heaped the blame for her undisciplined behaviour on Monty Westwood, of course, for allowing his daughter too much freedom to do as she liked. Max was apt to agree with them.

Based on that sweet pleading look she was giving him, she was apparently hoping he’d be as stupidly susceptible to her appeal as everyone else. Instead, Lord Trevellyan raked her with an insultingly condescending glance from the top of her gloriously tousled hair to the tips of her feet.

‘Of all the brazen, outrageous stunts I have ever seen, yours, Miss Westwood, beats the lot. Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to behave?’ he asked contemptuously. He saw her flinch, but he went on, his voice penetrating. ‘I believe you have been in the colony long enough to know its protocol and that young ladies do not go around flaunting themselves as you have just done. Have you lost all sense of propriety?’

Marietta hesitated. Thinking he would accept her explanation ceased to be tenable. She knew that Lord Trevellyan was a man who was used to giving orders, but she too had learned something, which was not to look abashed when she felt it. Her mirth having disappeared, she threw back her shoulders, lifted her head and met his eyes with a fiercely direct stare, unafraid and absolutely uncowed, the action telling him quite clearly that she was neither sorry nor ashamed of her behaviour.

‘I was not flaunting myself, Lord Trevellyan. I was doing no wrong. I took a tumble, that is all.’

‘And almost knocked my wife and myself to the ground in the process.’

‘I have said I am sorry, I can do no more than that.’ She looked into his wife’s exquisite face. ‘Lady Trevellyan, may I offer my sincere apologies for my clumsiness and for speaking so impulsively?’

‘Yes, you may and apology accepted. Everyone who rides comes off at some time—why, even my husband has been known to take the odd tumble,’ Nadine said, casting a cynical eye at the darkly scowling face of her husband before looking again at Marietta. ‘You’re not injured, I hope?’

‘No—thank you for asking,’ Marietta replied, her lips curving into a bright smile. ‘I bounce pretty well.’

‘Next time be sure to keep hold of the reins,’ Lord Trevellyan snapped.

Marietta’s smiled vanished. ‘Can I help it if the horse was fresh and I could not hold him?’ she countered.

Lord Trevellyan’s brows snapped together over dangerously irritable eyes as he stared down at the rebellious girl. ‘You’ve a sharp tongue, Miss Westwood,’ he said, his voice silky, but his eyes narrowed in the menacing fashion over which he appeared to have no control, ‘and you are also an impertinent, spoilt, undisciplined child. Your father would have done us all a service—including yourself—if he’d turned you over his knee when you were of an age for him to do so.’

Stung, Marietta fumed, her green eyes almost black with temper. ‘And by the tone of your voice, my lord, I imagine that you would gain immense pleasure in delivering the punishment yourself.’

‘What a delightful idea,’ he replied grimly.

Lord Trevellyan’s rebuke was so unexpected, so public, so intense as to be offensive. He didn’t even have the good manners to help her to her feet or enquire if she was hurt, unlike his wife. Marietta’s face went scarlet and her precarious control snapped. ‘How dare you say that to me? Is this how you talk when you are bullying the people you do business with?’ She was tempted to include his long-suffering wife, but thought she’d better not.

Glancing at the blonde-haired woman by his side, not for the first time she thought how enchanting she was. She was so beautiful Marietta always found it difficult to tear her gaze from her. Dressed in the height of fashion, she had a slender body and the magnetism of a woman who is confident of her own beauty without being obsessed by it. Her poise was to be admired as she stood serenely by her husband’s side. Acutely aware of her own dishevelled appearance, Marietta pushed her hair back from her face and brushed the dust from her skirt. She returned her gaze to Lord Trevellyan, her anger not appeased.

‘And how dare you call me a spoilt child?’ she retorted indignantly. ‘As well you know, I am the daughter of a gentleman of some note on the island and you should treat me with more respect.’

Lord Trevellyan scowled gravely, though Marietta suspected him of a strong desire to laugh at her, to mock her.

‘Respect is something that must be earned, Miss Westwood, and from what I have just witnessed, you have a long way to go before you can do so.’

In his mind this could also be applied to her father, for there were many on the island who would dispute his daughter’s use of the word gentleman where Monty Westwood was concerned.

It would never occur to her that her father and his partner were two of several traders in the colony whose shady endeavours were of professional interest. But he would not sully the sensitive ears of a seventeen-year-old girl with the disgusting truth about her adored father’s illicit dealings in the opium trade.

The Chinese had banned opium from its territories, but it was smuggled into Hong Kong from India covertly, increasing the addiction of the Chinese to the drug. He was convinced that Miss Westwood’s knowledge about the drug went no further than it being a very effective medicine. And, he thought, when he considered the misery it caused, long may she continue to do so.

‘You don’t know me, Lord Trevellyan, so you have no right to say that. And I have apologised to you—and your wife—which you would have heard had you taken the wool out of your ears.’

Max wasn’t accustomed to being answered back and was taken aback at her remark. One dark brow lifted over an amused silver-grey eye, before he checked himself and his lips curled scornfully across his even white teeth. ‘It sounded more like an excuse than an apology to me,’ he replied crisply, wondering what the hell he was doing arguing with her. Hearing the sound of youthful laughter, he glanced beyond her, noting the boisterousness of her group. ‘It’s certainly a wayward bunch you are with.’

‘These are my friends, actually,’ Marietta snapped defensively.

‘I think everybody would be obliged if they’d restrain their enthusiasm,’ he remarked, glowering beneath ferociously dipping eyebrows.

‘Why? We are just having some perfectly harmless fun.’ Snatching her bonnet off her head, she assumed an appearance of remote indifference as she turned her back on Lord Trevellyan and his wife and haughtily flounced back to her friends.

‘I say, Marietta!’ Oliver remarked, astounded and full of admiration for the way she had stood up to the formidable Lord Trevellyan. ‘You gave him what for.’

‘He deserved it,’ she remarked haughtily. ‘The man is arrogant, high-handed and quite despicable.’ Every word she uttered she believed was true, but if so, why was she drowning in an ocean of mortification? Why couldn’t she have walked away instead of arguing with Lord Trevellyan, which was what any well brought-up, self-respecting young lady would have done.

Marietta had first seen Lord Trevellyan at a musical tea party being held at a prominent merchant’s house. Her eyes had been caught by the handsome man who was a stranger in their midst. In contrast to the bored languor of other gentlemen present, he moved with an easy grace that expressed confidence, which sat on him lightly but with a strength of steel. His manner was authoritative, his tall frame positively radiating raw power and the kind of unleashed sensuality her best friend Emma was always talking about.

His charm was evident in his lazy white smile and there was an aura about him of danger and excitement that stirred her young and impressionable heart. Marietta thought it was an aura that women would find exciting and which would add tremendously to his attraction—indeed, every woman present seemed to be aware of his presence. But he appeared not to notice the smiles showered on him. His eyes looked cool and restless, his expression restrained and guarded. It was as if he were fed up with the whole occasion, which made Marietta suspect that he would very much like to be somewhere else.

As she’d continued to look at him she’d only become more aware of him as a man. She was motionless. There seemed to be a warmth, a hidden fervour of feeling, as if her whole being had been stirred and some change were taking place in its very depths. All at once she wanted desperately to make this fine gentleman notice her, to dazzle him with her wit and brilliance, while he had probably seen her merely as some silly schoolgirl.

Her eyes had continued to follow him until, unable to stand the suspense of not knowing who he was any longer, she asked her father.

‘Who is that man, Papa—the tall man with the black hair? I can’t say that I’ve seen him before.’

‘That—Oh! Max Trevellyan—Lord Trevellyan. He’s also a member of the British aristocracy—a duke, no less, but when he’s in Hong Kong he prefers to leave his title at home in England. That’s his wife, Nadine, a nice young woman and very beautiful, as you can see.’

‘Wife? Oh, I see.’ And Marietta did see. She’d been swamped with disappointment. Lady Trevellyan was perhaps the loveliest woman she had ever seen as she’d watched her walk across the room to her husband’s side. Her hair was blonde, her face exquisite, and she was poised, her slender figure swaying beneath the silk and lace of her dress when she moved. When she looked at her husband her lips were smiling, her eyes half-closed. Marietta recognised something in the charm of her attitude that caused a strange disquiet to fall on her.

After that occasion, even though her eyes sought Lord Trevellyan out, she always remained at a distance. Once they were introduced, but he took no more notice of her than he would any seventeen-year-old girl.

Marietta’s home was a substantial mansion high up on the Peak, which, overlooking the busy harbour and Kowloon, attracted prominent European residents because of its temperate climate compared to the subtropical heat in the rest of Hong Kong.

She had been born in England. Her father had come to Hong Kong after the Charter Act had opened the China trade to independent enterprise. Before that, taking advantage of the fashion craze for Kashmir shawls, which were a prized possession for any woman who could afford to buy them, and aware of the commercial opportunity, he’d made his fortune importing shiploads from India to Europe and America. Before long he was trading in other commodities from India—sumptuous goods, luxurious and exotic. It was in India that he’d met Teddy and they’d formed a partnership.

Arriving at the house, Marietta encountered Teddy on the veranda—the debonair Teddy Longford, a lady’s man who oozed charm and flattery. He was sitting in a bamboo chair with a cigar in one hand and a brandy in the other, his long legs stretched out in front of him. On seeing her he smiled a welcome.

‘Ah, here you are. Your father was wondering where you’d got to. I feel I must warn you that he’s not in the best of moods, having heard of your escapade at Happy Valley.’

‘Oh dear,’ Marietta said ruefully. ‘I was hoping he wouldn’t have found out about it. I thought I’d see you there.’

‘Not today. I had other fish to fry.’ A warm gleam lit up his brown eyes.

Marietta laughed, giving him a knowing look. ‘You’re looking very pleased with yourself, Teddy. Do I know the lady?’ she said teasingly.

He lifted a dark, winged brow, his lips twitching with humour. ‘I very much doubt it—but she’s a looker all right.’ Taking a long draw on his cigar, he squinted at her through the smoke. ‘Are you looking forward to the New Year celebrations?’ he asked, referring to the forthcoming event to be held at Government House.

‘Very much. What about you, Teddy? Will you be there?’

‘Naturally. Your father and I have a very important lady to escort.’

‘Then how could I resist two such handsome escorts?’ Marietta laughed, dancing off to placate her father.

Lord Trevellyan’s rebuke for her inappropriate behaviour had done nothing but inflame Marietta’s smouldering resentment towards him, but when confronted by her father’s state of agitation over her escapade, she felt a deep remorse for causing him such anxiety. Her first idea of slipping to her room to change her clothes was instantly discarded when she saw how pale he was.

Upright and decisive, Monty Westwood was a tall man with thinning fair hair and mutton-chop whiskers. His olive-green eyes were flecked with gold—a feature his daughter had inherited. He was a handsome man, though his flesh wasn’t as firm as it had once been, but he’d lost none of his ability to charm the ladies, although of late Marietta had noticed he’d lost weight and his tan had become an unhealthy yellow.

For a long time now Marietta had begun to suspect he wasn’t well—although if he wasn’t he would never talk to her about it. He did not burden his daughter with his own worries, for there were some things he might have talked about, but didn’t. His eyes held a faraway look and his pupils were often dilated. Of course he drank too much, but then everyone in Hong Kong drank too much and many suffered from damaged livers.

Marietta loved her father passionately. He was the only person in the world she did love—the only person she had loved since the death of her mother.

‘Please don’t worry about me, Papa. Here I am, safe and sound. I am sorry to have caused a fuss and I hope you are not too cross with me. I’m sorry. I know my behaviour doesn’t reflect well on you.’

Relief at seeing his daughter unharmed following her tumble caused the blood to return to Monty’s cheeks and he gave rein to his feelings. ‘You naughty child, Marietta! What have you been doing? Ever since Mrs Schofield called I have been so anxious.’

Marietta grimaced. ‘Oliver’s mother! I might have known she would seek you out to inform you of my latest misdemeanour. She hates it that Oliver and I are such good friends.’

Having stopped off at his club for a reviving drink after extensive negotiations with business associates at his office, which had taken up most of the day, Monty had arrived home to find Mrs Schofield—a tiresome busybody who minded everyone’s business but her own—waiting in the hall to relate his daughter’s latest escapade. She had gone on to list all of Marietta’s shortcomings and insisted that he kept stricter control on her at all times.

It was one of those occasions when Monty felt a twinge of guilt over not having remarried, because it meant that Marietta had been left to the care of her amah, Yang Ling. Yang Ling was like all Chinese, industrious and cheerful, and Marietta was extremely fond of her. She acted as her companion and personal maid and accompanied his fun-loving daughter everywhere.

‘I thought you must have been injured,’ he went on. ‘As for Julian Fielding—it is singularly tiresome of him to cause so much trouble. I shall speak to his parents. He should not have ridden off with you like that. It was totally irresponsible—of you both,’ he added as an afterthought.

‘Julian isn’t to blame. It isn’t his fault,’ Marietta said defensively. ‘It was my idea to race. I took a tumble on Oliver’s mount, that is all. I didn’t mean to make a scene and it was nothing serious. Unfortunately I happened to land at Lord Trevellyan’s feet and he was none too pleased.’

Monty glanced at her sharply, his interest peaked. Lord Trevellyan never failed to make a big impression on those he came into contact with. He had a clever financial brain and was possessed of one of the finest business minds he knew. As with everything in his life his business affairs were conducted like a well-oiled machine. Those he dealt with were in awe of him, regarding this cold, frighteningly unapproachable deity whom, because of his wealth and the benefits of being associated with such a clever, powerful man, they strove desperately to please.

‘So you have spoken to the formidable Lord Trevellyan.’

‘Yes—although what he had to say wasn’t at all pleasing. What does he do? Is he very rich?’

‘I’ve made a lot of money, Marietta—I won’t go into the intricacies of it because you wouldn’t understand—but the days of the small shipping businesses are over. This time belongs to financial wizards with money, power and authority—men like Lord Trevellyan with grand ambitions. It’s about economics and insurance and industrial development. What did he say to you?’

‘He gave me a dressing down for muddying his shoes.’

‘Then I can only assume that coming from Lord Trevellyan it was well deserved.’

‘I suppose it was. I tried to apologise. His wife was more forgiving, though. How does she put up with him? She has my sympathy. She’s very lovely, isn’t she, Papa?’

‘Yes, she is. But—things aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface.’

Marietta looked at him with sudden interest. ‘Why, what do you mean?’

‘Never mind,’ he said airily.

She didn’t ask him to explain, but it left her wondering.

Arriving at Marietta’s house the following morning, Oliver didn’t recognise the girl dressed in loose black trousers and a long-sleeved, green-and-yellow-patterned tunic, round-toed slippers and one thick pigtail hanging down her back waiting at the gate. She had pencilled thin kohl lines around her eyes to alter their shape. It took him a moment to realise it was Marietta, waiting for him to take her to the native quarter. He was about to walk past her and, seeing his intent, she broke out into peals of laughter. Failing to see what was so entertaining, Oliver turned and looked at her stiffly.

‘I had you there, Oliver. Did you not know me?’

‘Marietta!’ Oliver was deeply shocked. ‘Why are you dressed like that? And whose clothes are they?’

‘I’ve borrowed them from Yang Ling. You said yourself that the native quarter is not a fit place for an English girl to visit, which is why I’ve adopted this garb. It’s going to be such fun. No one will recognise me.’

‘Yang Ling? You have told Yang Ling?’ He sincerely hoped she hadn’t.

‘Of course not,’ Marietta laughed. ‘I wouldn’t dare. She is convinced that Europeans lose face by visiting the native quarter and she would have a fit if she were to find out. Now come along! We are wasting time and if we loiter any longer someone may see us and ask questions.’

Oliver wasn’t enthusiastic about taking Marietta in disguise to the native quarter, but saw no way of making this plain to her without throwing her into a tantrum which would draw unwelcome attention to them. So without another word, they set off on his proposed tour in a light carriage driven by a coolie and drawn by a skinny horse, instead of the more common mode of transport of sedan chairs, which were carried up and down the steep roads of the island. Neither the grilling heat, which beat down on her little flat hat with relentless force, nor Oliver’s attempts to tell her how she should behave when they reached the native quarter and that she must remain silent could dim her enthusiasm.

Their conveyance made good speed, eventually entering the seedy area of China Town, an area where not many respectable Westerners ventured. The streets were lined with shabby establishments with palm-leaf walls and thatched roofs. Bamboo curtains hung in doorways and Chinese writing was on boards dangling above buildings. The streets were narrow, steep and densely packed. The strong smell of hot oil mingled with spice, garlic and incense wafted above the general odours of dirt and decay. Washing was draped like bunting across the streets and heavily laden donkeys trundled along while barefoot children played.

At last the vehicle stopped in front of a large framed house with an open veranda. Marietta followed Oliver inside. The air was oppressive. Several men were taking their ease—Chinese and European—stretched out or sitting cross-legged on heaps of cushions with long pipes before them. The room into which they entered was dimly lit. Marietta’s eyes opened wide when from behind a beaded curtain two girls glided forwards. One had blue-black hair that was drawn back from a face that was pearl-like in its perfection and colour, with large slanting eyes. Her gown of crimson silk clung to her curves. The other girl was almost identical except that she was dressed in yellow. They stood in front of Oliver like dolls. They smiled with perfect teeth between plump red lips.

‘Who are they?’ Marietta whispered, never having seen Chinese women who looked like these.

‘The entertainment,’ Oliver replied, leaving it at that, not wishing to shock Marietta’s sensibilities by telling her the nature of the entertainment they performed.

Looking around the room lit by oil lamps, Marietta saw there were more girls, some so scantily clad as to be indecent. The crimson-clad woman sidled up to Oliver.

‘You likee me?’ she said, playing coy.

‘Yes, but not now.’

A portly middle-aged Chinese man with long moustaches drooping on either side of his small, fleshy mouth seemed to appear from nowhere, his hands tucked into his sleeves. He bowed respectfully.

‘May I present Tiger Lily and Jasmine. They are offering you their services with the magic of their exquisite bodies. They are skilful and will soothe your aches in some infinitesimal degree, but if their clumsiness is offensive, you should beat them for their correction and your pleasure.’

‘No,’ Oliver said. ‘I have not come for the girls, Mr Chang.’

Mr Chang accepted this and clapping his hands sharply, the girls melted into the background. He paid small interest to Marietta, who had her eyes cast down. Facing Oliver, he bowed in greeting while Marietta felt inordinately pleased with herself when his eyes passed over her without suspicion.

‘It is good to see you again, Mr Schofield,’ he said in silky tones as well as perfect English. ‘Will you honour me by accepting refreshment?’

‘I should be glad to, Mr Chang.’ Turning to Marietta, he said in quiet but firm tones, ‘Wait for me in the carriage. I’ll just be a few moments, but on no account wander off.’

Resentful at being so casually dismissed, but knowing better than to argue, Marietta returned to the carriage, expelling a sigh of exasperation on seeing the driver with his head bowed taking a nap. As time passed and Oliver did not return she became annoyed. The shadows were lengthening and the native quarter was beginning to wake from its afternoon torpor. Deciding she’d had enough, she stood up, then climbed down from the carriage and went back into the building to look for Oliver.

Like a moth blundering in the lamplight she stumbled over the cushions littering the floor. Eventually she saw Oliver. She was disappointed to find he had given in to the temptation to sample the wares. He was reclining on a pile of cushions with a pipe in his mouth, sucking in the vapour from a bowl held over the flame of a lamp, holding it in as long as possible, then slowly letting it out through his mouth. He was already on the blessed edges of oblivion, the strong narcotic having dulled his senses to forgetfulness and Marietta’s presence.

Angry that he could be so irresponsible, forgetful of her disguise, before he could take another pull from the pipe she snatched it from him and, placing her hands on his shoulders, shook him hard.

‘Oliver, wake up. Please pull yourself together.’

When he opened his eyes they were unfocused, his pupils just pinpricks in the centres of his irises.

‘Do not be alarmed.’ Mr Chang suddenly appeared silently behind her. ‘Your companion will wake soon and be none the worse for smoking the pipe.’ Turning his glittering black eyes on Marietta, he saw her more clearly. He opened his slit eyes a fraction wider. ‘Ah, you are English missee.’

‘Yes, I am English missee,’ she repeated crossly.

He moved closer and brushed her cheek. ‘And with skin like a peach. A treasure beyond price. You stay here, English missee. There are many who would pay handsomely for your company.’

Not so naïve that she didn’t know what he implied, she gasped. ‘How dare you? Despite what I look like, I am a respectable English girl and my father counts for something on the island. Be good enough to wake Mr Schofield and we will leave.’

Ignoring her, Mr Chang took her arm. ‘Not so hasty now, English missee.’

Beginning to get alarmed and feeling a sudden chill when she became aware of furtive figures lurking in the shadows, Marietta shook her arm free. ‘Do not touch me. I warn you that the British Consul knows of our whereabouts and you will be in serious trouble if you try to keep me here.’ Looking at Oliver, she saw him stir. ‘Oliver, wake up,’ she said sharply. ‘You must take me home at once.’

Seeming to remember where he was, Oliver thrust the pipe away. Shaking his head, he staggered to his feet, struggling to fight the opium fumes that fogged his brain. ‘Marietta! Oh God—forgive me—I quite forgot.’

‘Clearly.’ She raised a knowing eyebrow. ‘What a complete idiot I have been. I thought you had come to buy the drug for an acquaintance when all the time you wanted it for yourself.’

Swaying slightly, Oliver regarded her for a moment with a closed expression, then leaned in with a confidential whisper. ‘There you have me, Marietta. I will confess that I am here to purchase the narcotic for my own use. As you have witnessed yourself, I am rather fond of the odd pipe. It’s quite common, you know.’

‘I don’t dispute that, but how could you, Oliver?’ Marietta found the idea of smoking opium frightening. Her imagination was already vibrant. She was aware of what happened to people who took mind-altering substances, that it ruled its addicts with its weapons of need and distrust. Once in its grip, there was no escape. She sincerely hoped that, where Oliver was concerned, his indulgence in this particular vice was a passing phase. ‘Now pull yourself together for I think there is some villainy afoot. I think your Mr Chang wants to keep me here.’

Taking his arm, with great difficulty she managed get him on to the veranda, relieved when no one tried to stop them and ignoring the pipe smokers who rose and drifted away into the shadows.

‘Devil take it,’ Oliver mumbled, stumbling to his knees and grabbing at a post to keep himself from falling flat on his face. ‘I’m all at sea.’

‘It jolly well serves you right,’ Marietta scolded.

Suddenly a tall, lithe black-haired man materialised from across the street. ‘Get up, man,’ he retorted as he hoisted Oliver to his feet.

‘Thank you,’ Oliver muttered. ‘I am much obliged.’

Marietta’s head spun round on hearing the strong authoritative tones. Suddenly she wished the ground would open and swallow her up. She lowered her head to hide her face, for there was no one in the whole world she would so much dislike to discover her in this disguise as Lord Trevellyan.

‘What the hell are you doing here?’ Max demanded of Oliver.

Oliver’s eyes darted about, but he saw there was no escaping Lord Trevellyan’s interrogation. ‘I—came on behalf of a friend to collect a package, and before I knew …’

‘Like hell you did,’ Max ground out. ‘You knew what kind of establishment this is—that not only is it a house of ill repute, but that Chang deals in narcotics. If you are hell-bent on self-destruction, young man, you are going the right way about it.’

Marietta was about to move behind Oliver when a warm hand on her shoulder pulled her back and spun her round to face him.

‘Wait. Are you with him?’

Knowing there was no escape, Marietta raised her head and met his gaze, her eyes wide with horrified embarrassment. She saw astonished recognition in his eyes and tried to shrink away, but he held on to her shoulder, his fingers digging into her soft flesh.

‘Miss Westwood. Just as one might have expected. What an absolutely tiresome girl you are.’ She flinched before the exasperation in his voice. ‘I might have known—although I didn’t expect to meet you engaged in yet another mad escapade quite so soon. It leaves me wondering what the devil you’ll get up to next.’ He rounded angrily on Oliver. ‘Have you no sense? You must have known it was the height of dangerous folly to bring a young girl to a place such as this. Not only does Chang deal in opium, but slaves are his speciality—the younger the better, and the fairer the skin the higher the price.’

‘I hadn’t meant to bring her, but …’

‘She insisted.’ Max fixed his fierce gaze on Marietta. ‘Do you go out of your way to court danger and excitement? I suppose it’s pointless me asking if your father knows you are here?’

Marietta shook her head.

‘Then he should.’ He looked at Oliver with severe approbation. ‘It would be advisable for you to leave now, Mr Schofield. I’ll escort Miss Westwood home.’

Eager to be gone, Oliver didn’t raise any objections as he was hoisted up into the rickety carriage. Turning his attention to Marietta, Max took her arm and almost dragged her across the street to a waiting sedan chair.

‘Kindly take your hands off me,’ she snapped, angry and resentful of his interference. ‘I don’t want to go anywhere with you.’

‘That’s too bad. Get in.’

‘I most certainly will not.’

‘Shut up,’ he hissed, his voice like acid.

As he shoved her inside without gentleness, her ill-fitting shoe came off and dropped into the street. Cursing softly, he picked it up and thrust it into her hands. In a silky, dangerous voice, he said, ‘Be still. I am averse to leaving you to the mercy of an opium-soaked idiot.’

Clutching her shoe, taking judicious note of the taut set of his jaw and feeling the first tendril of fear coil in the pit of her stomach, Marietta did as she was told. She didn’t think she could escape and, anyway, she would only enrage him further. Besides, if she didn’t let him vent his wrath now, he would undoubtedly tell her father—which he would probably do anyway. She shot him a mutinous, measuring look. He looked dangerous and invincible. She already knew he had a vile temper. She judged from the ominous look in his silver-grey eyes that he was even now considering shaking her for her idiocy. Rather than give him the satisfaction, she sat frigidly in the sedan while he walked briskly along side.

Steeling herself to endure the journey home, she sat in angry silence all the way, relieved when the coolies carrying the sedan halted outside the gate. She scrambled out, impatient to be rid of her persecutor.


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