Everyone knows that all the members of the St. John family are destined for greatness - all, that is, except the rebellious Chase St. John. Then, as the fates would have it, a lifetime of drinking, gambling and womanising catches up and leads him to a fateful incident which changes his life. Harriet Ward, on the other hand, has always felt the weight of responsibility caring for her mother and two brothers, but drawing the line at marrying a stuffy bore to save her home, she creates an imaginary fiance, Captain John. There is no one more surprised than she when Chase conveniently shows up, wounded by an unknown attacker, to fill the role of her suitor. As they pose as lovers and begin to unravel the mystery of Chase's assailant, they soon realise that their imaginary love has quickly turned into reality.
Trust her? Ha! I wouldn't let that woman come within ten feet of me without first counting all my buttons and beads.
Lady Birlington to Viscountess Hunterston after encountering Lady Caroline Lamb in the hallway at Marchmont
Money, or the lack of it, haunted him. Oh, not because he had so little. He was, in fact, very wealthy. It was the beggarliness of his companion that caused him the most pain.
Chase St. John reached into his pocket and withdrew a folded stack of banknotes. He placed it on the table and slid it across the smooth surface. "There. As you requested."
Harry Annesley placed his fingertips on the notes, but then hesitated. "You know how I hate this. If only my father's solicitor could see clear of releasing my funds, I wouldn't be reduced to asking you for assistance." Annesley managed an embarrassed smile and lifted his shoulders as if to ask how he could possibly clear the way himself.
At one time, Chase would have believed the convincing lies. At one time, he might have even been moved to induce his jovial friend to take the money. To insist, even. But those times were long gone.
And they were never to return.
Chase reached forward, his hand sliding over the table toward the money. "If you don't want the money, then -- "
Annesley's hand closed convulsively over the folded notes.
"Well." Chase leaned back in his chair. "That answers that. And much too clearly for my liking."
Though Annesley's expression darkened, he quickly collected the notes and tucked them into his pocket. "You did offer."
"I always offer. And you always ask for more. It has become a bad habit between the two of us. One that must stop."
A small smile crossed Annesley's face. "We've been through a lot together." He looked at Chase meaningfully. "More than most people know."
It was a threat. Low and oily, as despicable as the man who uttered the words. Despite his disappointment, Chase managed to shrug. "I have to give you credit; you are a hell of an actor. At one time, I thought you were genuinely my friend."
"I am your friend."
"No. You are friends with my bank account. Not with me."
Annesley made a face. "I don't know what's come over you today, but you seem to think I've committed some breach of etiquette or -- "
"I don't think anything," Chase said without rancor. "I know. I know who and what you are."
Annesley met Chase's gaze for a long moment. They were at White's, that most exclusive of men's clubs, and all around them buzzed an aura of respectability. Leather chairs sat scattered around heavy mahogany tables, the quiet clink of silver and the murmur of voices adding an air of unreality.
Chase wondered what fool had sponsored Harry Annesley's membership, then decided that he didn't really care. "I made a decision last night and I'm done. The next time you need funds, you'll have to look elsewhere."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm leaving London. And I don't plan on returning."
"Why? The season begins in a week."
"I don't care. And I'm not just leaving London; I'm leaving England." Chase reached over and signed the bill left on the table by the waiter before Annesley had even arrived. "I don't know where I'll go. Maybe Italy. Maybe not."
"Italy? What a foolish idea. Italy is far away, and everything you care about is here where -- "
"Yes, Italy is far away. So far away that you will not be able to 'borrow' any more funds. You'll have to find another pigeon to pluck."
Annesley's shoulders stiffened. "I resent that."
Chase lifted a brow. "No," he said slowly, considering the man before him, "you don't resent it at all.
But you should, for I meant it in the worst way possible."
For a moment, Chase thought Annesley would leap for him. Chase rather hoped that he would -- it would give Chase the opportunity to pummel the rogue into a smear of blood, bone, and desolation.
But the bastard didn't even have the pride to do that. Instead, he clamped his mouth into a thin line, his lips turning white.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 30, 2003
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