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A Game of Desire

A Game of Desire

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A Game of Desire

Longitud:
409 página
6 horas
Publicado:
Jun 25, 2019
ISBN:
9781781893661
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

This Regency is a sure bet. “A splendid historical romance . . . the story has depth and emotion, on top of being a fun and entertaining read.” —The Book Review
 
The Queen of Diamonds never loses . . .   
 
Felicity Fox is a rarity for a woman living in the early 1800s. Not only does she frequent the “gambling hells” where most ladies would not dare to tread, she can also beat any man at his own game. It’s no wonder she’s gained notoriety as the “Queen of Diamonds.” 
 
Edward, Earl of Addington, despises gambling and is not exactly enamored of Felicity Fox either, especially since she one tried to swindle his family. Except now the Earl requires assistance from the Queen of Diamonds—and he has everything to lose. But involving herself with Edward might be the most dangerous game that Felicity has ever played . . . 
 
“Stunning . . . a sexy, exciting and entertaining romance.” —Chicks, Rogues and Scandals 
Publicado:
Jun 25, 2019
ISBN:
9781781893661
Formato:
Libro

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A Game of Desire - Sharon Ibbotson

www.choc-lit.com

Prologue

Addington House, Kent, 1805

An ear-splitting crack resounded through the room as Edward, the fifth Earl of Addington, slammed his hand down upon the table. He was white-hot with rage, the blood pumping hard throughout his body.

‘Damn it all to hell, Wilson,’ he swore at his manservant, throwing a broadsheet onto the table. ‘What does this all mean?’

Cowering before him, Wilson took a deep breath. ‘It is as the papers report, my lord. Lady Harriet Forrest, who was your deceased father’s …’

‘His whore,’ Edward snapped. ‘You need not be frightened of the word here.’

‘Yes.’ Wilson cleared his throat. ‘Well, she has announced a large gaming party, to be held at the end of June. And it would also seem that the Carina, once your family’s priceless diamond necklace, is to be the main prize.’

‘The prize?’ Disbelief tinged Edward’s words. ‘The prize? The Carina has been in the Addington family for generations. It is locked in a safe here, at our family home. How can it be made a prize in a gaming party?’

Wilson’s hands shook slightly. ‘The Carina is not in the safe here, my lord, and nor does it still belong to your family.’

Edward froze. ‘What do you mean?’

Wilson sighed. ‘Before his death, your father sold the Carina in order to ease the strain on his finances.’

‘Impossible,’ Edward replied tersely. ‘I myself prevented its sale, five years ago,’ he added, instantly recalling Felicity Fox, all creamy skin and hazel eyes, imploring him to listen in the candlelight. He shut that memory down rapidly.

Wilson paused. ‘To Mrs Fox, yes, you did. But after Mrs Fox left, and you returned to Portsmouth, your father … he sold the Carina to Mrs Forrest.’

‘Harriet Forrest.’ Edward shook his head in disgust. ‘I thought after I prevented Mrs Fox from swindling him, that my father might have learned a valuable lesson. I even thought he might accept my offer of financial assistance. Instead, he sold the Carina to his mistress, who now makes the necklace a grand prize in her seedy gaming night.’

Edward sighed, running a hand through his hair. It was a thick mane, as black as the night sky and still untouched by grey, though he was well into his thirties.

‘My father truly was a fool,’ he said sadly. ‘A drunk, wagering fool.’

Wilson said nothing, and Edward exhaled deeply. He still recalled those moments five years ago, once again seeing Felicity Fox in his mind, the Carina in her hands and held up to the light, his father drunk by her side. Neither of them had known he had arrived. Neither of them saw him standing in the shadows.

‘See how dull these gems are, even by the flame of the candle, my lord?’ Felicity had said, her voice soft. ‘And see here, that fleck in the third gem? These are not real diamonds,’ she’d assured him. ‘Sadly, your Carina is paste, a mere replica.’

His father had stared at the necklace in her hands, swaying on his feet. ‘That’s a damned shame,’ he slurred. ‘Was hoping to shift it and have the money instead.’ He’d leaned closer to her. ‘I’m a few guineas in debt, you see. A few wagers have gone wrong, some investments turned bad.’

At that, Felicity’s eyes had flashed darkly, but her face only smiled. ‘Well, I would be happy to buy it,’ she’d said easily. ‘The diamonds are, as I said, quite worthless. But the silver of the setting is quite … well, quite pretty. I should pay you for that.’

His father had stared once more at the Carina in her hands. ‘My wife wore that on our wedding day,’ he told her, his voice abruptly clear.

Felicity nodded compassionately. ‘As I said, it is still a very pretty piece. And I’m sure she looked lovely in it.’

‘She did,’ his father replied reverently. ‘Still, you say it’s worthless?’

‘I’ve been working with jewellery for years,’ Felicity said, with a wave of her hand. ‘I know gems, false and otherwise. Paste is more common than you would think. An illustrious family runs into financial difficulties, so they sell off a piece or two to make ends meet. They then have a replica made to keep up appearances, and the polite world is none the wiser.’

‘You know gems? I thought you were a gambler?’ his father queried, and Felicity shrugged.

‘Let us just say I have a wide range of interests.’

His father stared at her, at her wide, innocent eyes and flushed cheeks. Finally, he nodded.

‘Alright, you can have them, for the price of the silver.’

Her face erupted into a smile, bright and optimistic.

But it fell a moment later, when Edward emerged from the shadows.

It still sent a dart of anger through Edward when he thought of how close the family had come to losing the Carina. Generations of Addington brides were wed wearing the heavy necklace, icy diamonds glittering against satin dresses and alabaster throats. He’d been fortunate to foil Felicity’s plans, very fortunate indeed.

Edward remembered storming forwards and wrenching the Carina from her shaking hands. His father, staggering toward him, went red with both brandy and humiliation. The old Earl, his notorious temper awakened, raged at his only son.

‘They’re mine to sell, you brute!’ he cried. ‘At whatever price I choose! I’m still the Earl of Addington, damn you, and until I’m good and dead you’ll keep out of my affairs!’

‘She’s a trickster, Father!’ Edward retorted, one hand sweeping in the direction of Felicity. ‘How could you ever believe that these diamonds are paste? Why would you sell them for so little? You cannot be in so much debt as that!’

His father remained red-faced but fell silent, and Edward shook his head in exasperation. ‘You’ve wagered it all, again? And lost the lot, I imagine? How many times, Father, how many times!’

‘It’s mine to wager,’ his father found his voice. ‘This is my home and my estate, and if I want to gamble away the lot I shall. It’s not as if you even need your inheritance boy, not when you’ve made your own fortune.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘Not that I’ve ever seen a guinea from you.’

Edward clenched his teeth. ‘I’ve covered your gambling debts twice now, sir.’

‘Hah! Only to save your precious Addington House, and your precious Carina. I could rot, for all you care. Well, I don’t want your damn money.’

His father’s words still stung, though five years had passed since that day, and three months more since the old earl’s passing.

Edward looked up to the portrait that hung above the fire; it was of his father in his prime, when he’d been new to the earldom, his beloved wife by his side. For a moment Edward gazed at his parents. They were so happy in this portrait, so in love. His mother, who gifted him with his dark hair, wore the Carina diamonds about her neck, her hands resting in her husband’s. Edward looked at her closely, this image of a woman who was so familiar to him though a stranger.

He never knew his mother. Within a year of this portrait being finished she was dead, lost in childbirth. His father never recovered from his loss, slowly drinking himself into a debt-laden gambler. The earl resented the small, mewling baby boy who’d taken his wife from him; as Edward grew into a man, that resentment boiled over into outright hatred.

But no matter. There were more pressing concerns at hand. He had to reclaim the Carina, at any cost.

But how? Edward clenched his hands in frustration, for he, a gentleman in the truest sense of the word, was no gambler. Of course, he played the odd game of cards from time to time, but he was no fool; he knew his skills in the gaming room were sorely lacking. Not that he had ever cared before. Gaming reminded him all too much of his father.

Enough. He needed to be away from this house with it’s tainted walls. He needed to feel the crisp, cool wind of early spring upon his neck, to breathe clean air.

‘Where is Anderson, the gamekeeper?’ he asked. ‘I have it in mind to shoot.’

Wilson seemed surprised. ‘Anderson retired, my lord, some years ago. We have a new gamekeeper now, a Mr Thatcher.’

‘Thatcher?’ Edward queried. ‘I don’t know him.’

‘He was your father’s choice, my lord, though an odd one. He was a poacher, you see, from a nearby village. He was caught, and your father, rather than having him hung, instead offered him Anderson’s position.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes, my Lord,’ Wilson carried on. ‘I have to say, we were all pleasantly surprised by Thatcher. We had some trouble with foxes two summers past, and Thatcher, well, he dealt with them admirably. But I suppose when there’s vermin to be dealt with, a poacher turned gamekeeper is the man to ask. Kindred spirits, and all.’

Edward stopped in his tracks, the breath just about frozen in his mouth.

‘Kindred spirits?’ he asked swiftly.

‘Yes, my lord. A poacher and vermin are scavengers alike, you see. If you need the vermin dealt with, you might as well use the poacher to flush them out. They understand one another, I imagine.’

Edward’s hands were rigid and his eyes dark while he thought on this. Of course, it was so obvious. Why hadn’t he thought of it before?

‘Set a thief to catch a thief,’ Edward muttered.

‘My lord?’

‘Wilson, pack my things and have my horses readied. I must away as soon as possible.’

If Wilson was surprised, he knew better than to show it. ‘You are to London again, my lord?’

Edward shook his head. ‘No, not to London. To Yorkshire. I have an acquaintance there whose assistance I need.’

An acquaintance. It was damnable, really. He’d sworn never to set eyes on her again. He’d told her that if she ever returned to London, he’d make her life hell. And now he was to go to her, head bowed, and beg of her a favour.

The Queen of Diamonds. Damnation, even her nom de guerre made his body tense … and his heart to treacherously quicken.

Chapter One

1805, Scarborough, Yorkshire

The room was thick with cigar smoke and anticipation.

An odd assortment of gentlemen gathered in the room. Some of the men were lean, their wiry bodies hidden beneath their tailoring, while some were portly and straining at their seams. Some were frivolous, money simply trickling through their fingers, while others were desperate, bleak looks disguised behind wine-sodden eyes. But no matter their station in life, all currently held their breath with mounting excitement.

There was but one throw left in the game, a single roll to decide the outcome of this long running battle of wills. A hundred guineas lay on the table, an obscene stake for this part of the world, and more money than most of the gentlemen who huddled into the dimly lit room had ever seen; more than they might ever see again. They could hardly contain their exhilaration, for what began as a rather dull and routine evening of port and cards had escalated into something much more dramatic. This, they imagined, was the sort of night you saw in the gaming hells of London, not the sleepy streets of Scarborough.

Yes, there was no doubt about it. From the moment the lady had entered the room, she’d brought with her a kind of magic.

On one side of the table, his face tense and hand twitching, a man sat sweating. The crowd pitied him, for he was but a small northern landowner, who could ill-afford to lose a hundred guineas. He’d gambled his livelihood in a moment of madness, but it was a moment of madness the crowd understood, for the lady, with her sweet smile and shining eyes, was damned difficult to refuse. Her eyes were soft and her laugh silky, while her mouth, with its full lips, had the sweetest little way of frowning when confused by the rules of the game. She won a few small rounds of whist and then baccarat, and although it was odd that a woman was even allowed into a gaming hall, no one resented her presence, for she was as pleasant in her rare defeats as she was in her victories. The crowd murmured approvingly, for this lady took her losses like a gentleman.

When the dice came out, they laughingly pressed her into a throw or two, but it wasn’t long before the laughter died. The Gods of good fortune seemed to smile upon her and the stakes went up and up, until pockets were emptied, and curses bellowed. Still, she smiled sweetly and seemed as surprised as any at her unexpected success.

‘How droll,’ she laughed, with an airy wave of her hand.

Her good fortune made her current competitor nervous, even though his was a good set of dice to beat. His six and four lay dangerously before him, the white polished dice obvious against the green velvet of the table. Only a five and six or double sixes would best him now, and the likelihood of the lady throwing either of those was slim. She’d been lucky so far tonight, damned lucky in fact, but as most of these seasoned gamblers knew, luck almost always ran out.

Aware but uncaring of the many eyes upon her, Felicity Fox was making quick calculations in her head.

‘One hundred guineas,’ she mulled silently. ‘Three cows and seven sheep.’

A squire’s daughter, her understanding of money was forever rooted in the cost of livestock and grain. She couldn’t tell you the price of gold or the current return on government bonds, but she knew exactly what a prize bull might fetch at auction or a bale of wool bring at market.

A hundred guineas … such a sum of money. And Felicity needed every penny.

The dice were held firmly in her gloved hand, square, firm, and reassuring in their unchanging allegiance to chance. Tonight, she’d been more successful than she could have ever hoped. A small fortune awaited her if the dice rolled to her favour, and God knew she could do with the money.

‘Let’s see what Lady Luck has in store then … roll the dice!’ a voice called out.

But Felicity held firm; she was a woman who did things in her own time and would not be rushed.

‘Lady Luck?’ She smiled. ‘My dear sir, one makes their own luck, and God help the man – or woman! – who forgets this most cardinal of rules!’

She gave a sweeping curtsy, her mane of auburn hair dancing in the candlelight, and just as her back straightened she threw the dice. It was an unexpected but dazzling move, and the crowd surged forward excitedly to watch the result of this game. When the dice settled, nestled against a corner of the table, a resounding cheer carried forth across the room, a dozen men at once all rushing to congratulate the winner.

Felicity shrugged, careful not to let her true feelings show. ‘My congratulations, sir.’ She nodded to her competitor, whose relief was visibly immense. His face, still damp with sweat, was white with shock. He’d near enough doubled his yearly income with one throw of the dice.

‘Luck is on my side tonight, it would seem,’ he replied, wiping his brow.

Felicity did not believe it. There was no such thing as luck, only chance. Believing in luck was dangerous and foolhardy, the worst trap for any gambler. She’d seen first-hand how a belief in luck could ruin a good man. But who was she to disabuse this gentleman of his notions? Not that he would listen anyway. No man ever listened to a woman. Standing, Felicity gave a tight smile.

‘Again, my congratulations.’

She turned away from the table and the hundred guineas. A glass of wine was pressed into her hand, and a few men called her to join them for a quick game of cards. They imagined her luck had turned; that she was an injured animal whose pride was wounded. Well, only a fool would play on now, and Felicity was no fool. She refused politely, a sudden weariness taking hold. She was done for the night. She longed for nothing more now than a bath and her bed.

For a moment, Felicity wished she could afford a hired carriage to take her back to her lodgings. But it was an impossible luxury, for there was another payment due tomorrow. It seemed to Felicity there was always another bill to settle or expense to reckon with. She sighed, for the end of the month and that terrible debt always crept up on her. And every month, she was always cajoled for more. The wolf was forever at her door and he was a greedy beast, insatiable for funds. Felicity knew what it was to be poor; day-to-day she wrestled with the desperation of an empty stomach, the biting pain of cold, and the utter hopelessness of a life spent under the yoke of debt. It was a miserable existence, and one she would not wish on anyone.

Felicity sighed, all thoughts of a hired carriage receding as she once again assessed her circumstances and came to the usual bleak conclusion. Walk she would, though the simple inn where she lodged was half a mile away and uphill. Walk she would, though her feet ached from having stood so long already. She looked down, frowning as she took in the fashionable slippers she wore, an enticing hint of green silk peeking out from under her skirts. Undoubtedly, they were pretty, delicate and distinctly feminine. But they were also tight, uncomfortable, and unsuitable for anything other than sitting. Felicity, motherless from a young age and mostly unschooled in the ladylike arts, had no idea how ladies of quality ever managed to wear such painful shoes for dancing. She knew that she herself would much rather take to the floor in a sturdy pair of boots or, better yet, barefoot.

Not that there was any chance of that, she reminded herself sternly. She could hardly afford to put a roof over her head let alone the subscription fees required for an assembly room. Dancing, like most of life’s pleasures, was as out of her reach as the stars, as out of her reach as—

Momentarily, Felicity stiffened. She would not – no, could not – allow herself to think of the pleasures that were denied to her. No good would come from that; Felicity knew all too well that there was no money to be made in dreaming.

Resolutely, she looked up and away from her shoes, accepting them once again as a necessary evil. For, if there was one thing she knew from her years of gambling and from her father’s years before her, it was that no one ever took desperation seriously; you had to look as though the money meant nothing to you. And so, Felicity dressed in the full regalia of an upper-class woman, from the jewelled ornaments in her hair to the silk stockings on her legs. That her dress had been mended twice was practically unnoticeable under the dim light of the gaming hell, and if her shoes were slightly worn, well, she never knew a gentleman to refuse her a wager based on the soles of her slippers.

For a moment she closed her eyes, the weariness in her body momentarily winning over her ever alert mind. But it was only for a moment and then, with another sigh, she opened them.

Ice took hold of her body while fire burned in her heart. She was suddenly unable to move, her thoughts in chaos. She viewed him as though from a dream. How little he’d changed! From his dark hair to his muscular frame, he was every inch as she remembered him. Her heart pounded wildly, yet her legs were still frozen, her arms chilled. Within her panicked mind thoughts rambled wildly. What was he doing here? Why had he come?

Suddenly, his piercing blue eyes met hers. He stared at her coldly, before setting down his glass of port and starting towards her.

Her instinct for survival reared its head, and she knew she must move now, run if she had to. Edward Addington, the Earl of Addington and champion of all that was honest and true, would want nothing good of her.

But just as she turned towards the door, she felt the cold, iron grip of his hand upon her arm. She was pulled roughly towards him, and for the first time in five years they were face to face.

‘My dear Mrs Fox.’ Edward gave a curt bow, though his hand still cut into the flesh of her arm. His breath was warm against her cheek. ‘How charming to run into the infamous Queen of Diamonds this evening.’

She wished he would lower his voice. ‘It is unfortunate if you are looking for the Queen of Diamonds,’ she replied tersely.

‘Why so?’

‘She was left in London, and at your request, if you recall.’

‘True. And yet Felicity Fox still stands before me, plying the Queen of Diamond’s old trade and using her tricks.’

Felicity could feel his eyes upon her, intently searching for a crack in her armour. Well, if he wanted her to beg his forgiveness a second time, he would be disappointed. So instead she made no reply, chewing on her lip and refusing to meet his gaze. He did not like this; a powerful man, Edward was unused to being ignored. With a low growl, he brought his free hand to Felicity’s face and tipped her chin so that she had no choice but to meet his eyes.

‘Felicity, you will make time for an old acquaintance?’ It was posed as a question, but Felicity knew an order when she heard one.

Shaking his hand from her skin, Felicity gave a frantic glance about the room. Edward was a large man who invariably made a presence, and it would never do for any of the men she gambled with to think her untrustworthy. God knew that rumours spread quickly from town to town, even up here in the north.

‘I have no acquaintances here,’ she murmured, hoping against hope that Edward would let her be.

Edward smiled, though it was a false one. ‘My dear Mrs Fox! Allow me to refresh your memory … we met five years ago. You must recall, it was just after you tried to swindle my family of our diamonds? You must remember, that necklace of heavy stones?’

‘I…’ Felicity stammered, her heart still racing. ‘I do not…’

Edward tutted lightly. ‘It is a famous piece, of course. Named the Carina, for the constellation. A beautiful item, and worth a considerable sum. I’m surprised you have forgotten.’ He paused, regarding her with a dangerous narrowing of the eyes. ‘Last I saw you, you were greatly interested in the Carina. Couldn’t keep your thieving hands off it, in fact.’

Felicity froze. So that was how it was going to be. Well damn him, the insufferable fool.

Her arm still locked in Edward’s hand, Felicity thought rapidly, constructing a plan. The fertile picking ground that was London and the south was already denied to her; she was not about to let Lord Addington destroy what little career was left to her here in the north.

Putting on a deep and flirtatious smile, Felicity playfully tapped Edward’s shoulder, as though she found the whole thing simply too amusing.

‘Why, your lordship, you do tell the most wonderful of jokes! Of course, I recall our acquaintance five years ago; it was when I was staying at Addington House, as a guest of your father.’

She emphasised the last words, speaking for the benefit of the gentlemen about them, who hadn’t the manners to pretend they weren’t listening.

Edward returned her smile. He knew her game.

‘You’re quite right, Mrs Fox. You were a guest of my father. Such charming company he kept!’

He released her arm, knowing full well that she could not run now.

A pronounced silence followed, though neither took their eyes off the other. Felicity tried to put her rambling thoughts in order, but Edward’s gaze, so intent and searching, made coherence near impossible. She would have to speak first, to break this palpable feeling of powerlessness in his presence.

She spoke honestly. ‘My lord, allow me to offer you my condolences. I was saddened to learn of your father’s passing.’

‘I’m sure you were.’ Edward cleared his throat, a small tell. It was clear that discussing his father made him uncomfortable still. ‘It seems your glass is empty, Mrs Fox. Do allow me to get you another wine.’

He held up his hand to a passing manservant, but Felicity stopped him. She put one hand over his and was surprised to feel a sudden tension in his fingers. He looked at her hand against his skin, and Felicity knew that somehow she’d made an error in touching him. A dart of anger went through her. Of course, the noble Lord Addington could manhandle her, but for a swindler like herself to lay hand on him! Such a thing was clearly not to be borne.

‘Actually, your lordship, there is no need. I was just leaving.’ Her voice was cool and even.

‘The tables have been unkind to you tonight?’ He looked over her shoulder to the table with the dice. It was evident from his words that he had been watching her all evening, that he had witnessed that last throw of the dice. How could she have been so thoughtless? After all the drama with the diamonds, she made a rule of only wagering in the smaller gaming hells, unseen by anyone who might have known of her London infamy. She should have known to look for Edward in the shadows. She should have been more observant. Obviously, she’d grown careless. After five years, she’d started to imagine that – finally – she might be safe.

‘You could say that.’ Felicity was uncomfortable. Desperate to change the subject, she curtsied. ‘So, you must excuse me for the evening, my lord.’

He took her hand and brought it to his lips, bowing as he did so. Under his breath, so that only she could hear, he suddenly spoke.

‘Nothing so easy as that, Felicity. I must speak with you – away from here.’

What could he want of her? How was he offended now? She pulled her hand away.

‘I’m sure you have the address of my lodgings?’

It was a question she already knew the answer to. Edward was not the kind of man who would travel so far if he was not sure of her whereabouts. Someone would have been sent to watch her. How else would he have known where to find her tonight?

‘Of course.’ Edward nodded, confirming all her suspicions.

‘You may call on me tomorrow then, if you like.’

With more poise than she felt, Felicity turned and left the room. Pulling her cloak about her, she took the stairs calmly, though her legs still felt weak. When she reached the cobbled street, a gust of fresh sea air swept over her and she gasped, as though she would never breathe easily again. It took all of her might not to collapse into the gutter.

‘What could he want? What could he want?’ she asked herself frantically, her mind turning over, her chest tight with anxiety.

Felicity forced herself to take a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart. She had few resources at her fingertips, and could not afford to lose her nerve at a time like this. On unsteady legs, she began the climb to her inn, following the uneven road away from the gaming hell. Nestled into a cliff, the streets of Scarborough were hilly and the night air, so open to the ocean, chilled her to the bone. But she forgot the pain in her feet and the ice of her skin as she walked. All she could think about was Edward, and what she was to do.

Her first impulse was to run. She knew the rules; that when the stakes were too high, when your fingers might get burned, you turned away. If she packed tonight and left before dawn, she might just escape. She could be in Newcastle by lunch, and over the border into Scotland by the evening.

But even as she thought through this plan, she discarded it. If Edward was the man she remembered, he would anticipate her every move, stopping her in her tracks. But more than that, Felicity discovered she had no real desire to run from him. In the five years since their last meeting, she was almost certain she’d done nothing to offend him, nothing that could possibly make him seek her out as he had. Five years ago, his instructions to her had been clear: stay away from London, stay away from him, or be thrown to the magistrates. Felicity, a born survivor, hadn’t thought twice in following such stern orders.

Not that her exile from London wasn’t hard, for she missed the easy winnings of the gaming hells and the deep pockets of their wealthy clientele. But better the north than prison. Better the north than the hangman’s noose. And Scarborough was not so bad, Felicity reminded herself. A seaside town, it attracted a good number of guests eager to take of the waters and the fresh sea air. They brought money and society to the weathered stone town, providing Felicity with an ever-changing roster of men to charm and fleece in equal measure. No, it was not London, or even Bath, and here she was no lioness, feasting at the kill, but Scarborough had given her a decent livelihood, and she was happy to scavenge from the outskirts of good society what she could.

So, if Edward had not come to confront her, to hand her over to the courts, what had he come for? She could only deduce that there was something he wanted of her. But what? What could Edward Addington, the most honourable man she had ever known, want of her, a common criminal? A notorious gambler? The woman he himself had exiled?

Felicity paused at the door of her lodgings, taking a sweeping glance at the streets around her before she put her key in the lock. It was an old habit, born from the days she’d been on the run with her father, always needing to stay one step ahead of the bailiff. Even now, years later, she felt a dart of dread and that old fear of discovery, wondering if tonight was the night they would be found, and her father taken away. But she pushed the feeling down quickly, taking in the reassuring tattiness of her room, just as she had left it, with its worn bed, damp walls, and rotting floorboards. The only difference this evening was the addition of a small hip bath before the fire, battered and rusty, with scrub marks down the side. Though it was old, and most likely used by hundreds before her, the sight of the bath in her room made her smile. She relished the opportunity to wash away the grime of the gaming hell, and the salt and smoke smell of the Scarborough air that clung to her skin and hair.

But the bathwater was icy when she stepped into it; evidently Mrs Smith, her landlady, had drawn it far too early. Still, Felicity eased herself into the water, biting down on her lip at the cold. She’d paid a half shilling for this bath and would not let it go to waste. Shivering, she cleaned herself quickly, only taking care to wash her hair, every drop of the icy water like a pinprick of pain on her skin. It was not vanity – she could not afford such a sentiment as that. Though she hated herself for it, she knew she wanted him to see her at her best.

Him. Edward.

It was decidedly odd to be thinking of Edward once again, Felicity thought, wrapping her arms around her legs in a futile attempt to keep warm. After five years of putting him from her mind, of swearing not to dwell on her memories of his voice, his eyes and his skin, here she was again, thinking only of him.

‘Enough,’ she spoke suddenly to herself, as though to break the spell. ‘Enough of this. You must keep your wits about you. Don’t you remember what happened the last time you met?’

The last time they met. It still made Felicity chill with fear when she thought of the rage in Edward’s eyes. How close, how dangerously close, she had come to burning herself on the metaphorical fires for him.

Her father, long ago, had impressed upon her the three

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