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, notbecause he had so little. He was, in fact, verywealthy. It was the beggarliness of his companionthat caused him the most pain.
Chase St. John reached into his pocket and withdrewa folded stack of banknotes. He placed it onthe 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. Ifonly my father's solicitor could see clear of releasingmy funds, I wouldn't be reduced to asking you forassistance." Annesley managed an embarrassedsmile and lifted his shoulders as if to ask how hecould possibly clear the way himself.
At one time, Chase would have believed the convincinglies. 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 thetable toward the money. "If you don't want themoney, then -- "
Annesley's hand closed convulsively over thefolded notes.
"Well." Chase leaned back in his chair. "That answersthat. And much too clearly for my liking."
Though Annesley's expression darkened, hequickly collected the notes and tucked them into hispocket. "You did offer."
"I always offer. And you always ask for more. Ithas become a bad habit between the two of us. Onethat must stop."
A small smile crossed Annesley's face. "We'vebeen through a lot together." He looked at Chasemeaningfully. "More than most people know."
It was a threat. Low and oily, as despicable as theman who uttered the words. Despite his disappointment,Chase managed to shrug. "I have to give youcredit; you are a hell of an actor. At one time, Ithought you were genuinely my friend."
"I am your friend."
"No. You are friends with my bank account. Notwith me."
Annesley made a face. "I don't know what's comeover you today, but you seem to think I've committedsome 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'sclubs, and all around them buzzed an aura of respectability. Leather chairs sat scattered aroundheavy mahogany tables, the quiet clink of silver andthe murmur of voices adding an air of unreality.
Chase wondered what fool had sponsored HarryAnnesley's membership, then decided that he didn'treally care. "I made a decision last night and I'mdone. The next time you need funds, you'll have tolook elsewhere."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm leaving London. And I don't plan onreturning."
"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 andsigned the bill left on the table by the waiter beforeAnnesley had even arrived. "I don't know where I'llgo. Maybe Italy. Maybe not."
"Italy? What a foolish idea. Italy is far away, andeverything you care about is here where -- "
"Yes, Italy is far away. So far away that you willnot be able to 'borrow' any more funds. You'll haveto find another pigeon to pluck."
Annesley's shoulders stiffened. "I resent that."
Chase lifted a brow. "No," he said slowly, consideringthe 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 wouldleap for him. Chase rather...