Read How to Treat a Lady Online

Authors: Karen Hawkins

How to Treat a Lady

K
AREN
H
AWKINS
How to Treat a Lady

They say the St. John talisman ring was made by the fairies and given to the handsomest man in all England, one Sir Gervase St. John. The fairies spelled that ring so that whoever held it should fall madly in love. How I would love to find me a ring like that!

Madame Blanchard,
Lady Birlington's French dresser,
to her mistress, while doing m'lady's hair
for a ball at Marchmont

CONTENTS

Chapter 1

Money, or the lack of it, haunted him. Oh, not…

Chapter 2

“I am going to retch.”

Chapter 3

“Good God,” Harriet said, sinking to her heels beside the…

Chapter 4

Chase wasn't sure what was fantasy, what reality. One moment,…

Chapter 5

“Mother, I—I'm not—he just—I didn't—Oh, piffle!”

Chapter 6

Chase was hallucinating. Yes, that's what had happened. He was…

Chapter 7

Harriet rushed downstairs, her heels slapping the worn wooden steps.

Chapter 8

Devon St. John tossed his cards on the green baize table…

Chapter 9

Harriet could only stare at Mr. Gower. Surely the man didn't…

Chapter 10

Harriet eyed the man lying on the settee. He hung…

Chapter 11

Harriet retired to her room. Located on the second floor,…

Chapter 12

He had only an hour until dinner. Chase tossed back…

Chapter 13

Chase allowed Harriet to herd him into the dining hall.

Chapter 14

Harry Annesley turned, the gentle breeze ruffling his cloak and…

Chapter 15

Sheep, Chase decided on the third day of his incarceration…

Chapter 16

Mother's soft voice traveled through the door. “Harriet?”

Chapter 17

Harriet didn't know whether to slap the stranger for his…

Chapter 18

Selfish? How dared she? Chase threw open the door of…

Chapter 19

Devon ran up the wide steps, his booted feet making…

Chapter 20

Harriet shivered and closed her eyes. It was madness. Sheer…

Chapter 21

A short time later, Harriet paused outside the sitting room…

Chapter 22

The next morning broke cool and breezy and it was…

Chapter 23

“Wh—what are you doing?” Harriet asked, uncertainty and excitement warring…

Chapter 24

Chase collapsed, cradling Harriet in his arms as he fought…

Chapter 25

That day and the next, Chase worked harder than he…

Chapter 26

Doctor Blackthorne shook his head. “It's a sad business this.”

Epilogue

Devon St. John leaned back in the plush coach, stretching his…

Chapter 1

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

M
oney, 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 re
spectability. 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.

Chase waited, ready for anything.

After a moment, Annesley relaxed with a deep sigh, then leaned back in the brown leather chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “What happened, St. John? What has turned you?”

It was an admission, those simple words. Chase accepted them as such. “It's the strangest thing, Annesley. Last week, when I let you ‘borrow' that thousand pounds, I did a little math. I realized that I've let you ‘borrow' over five thousand pounds in the last two months alone.” His gaze dropped to Annesley's pocket. “Make that six thousand.”

The bastard's smile never slipped. Instead, he shrugged. “That's what friends are for, isn't it? To help one another.”

“Before the accident, you never ‘borrowed' anything. Oh, I put out more than my fair share for our amusements. But that changed after the accident. Since then, you've attempted to bleed me dry and you know it well.”

Harry scowled. “What I didn't pay back in funds, I paid back in friendship.”

“How? By encouraging me to drink? By gaining me entrance into all the worst gaming hells in London? By insisting that I forget who and what I am until I finally—” Chase clamped his mouth closed, a dull roar behind his ears. For a second, an image flashed before his eyes…of a rain-wet street. Of his carriage careening drunkenly out of control. Of the startled face of a girl as he rounded the corner, her large dark eyes widened in fear as his carriage—“No!”

God help him but he didn't want to remember that. Not now. Not ever.

Annesley motioned for a waiter to bring a bottle of port. As soon as it arrived, he poured some in Chase's glass and silently slid it forward.

Chase took a harsh gulp. Then another.

“I'm sorry, St. John. I'm sorry about it all. But…” Annesley filled his own glass. “I am not the one who ran over an innocent woman.”

The words, said so softly, hung in the smoky room, lingering about Chase's head like a swirl of tepid air. Chase's chest tightened, and he had consciously to unclench his teeth before he could speak.

Harry waved a hand. “Nor have I forced you to do anything—not the drinking, the gambling, none of it. Everything that you have done has been of your own free will.”

“I know,” Chase gritted out. “I take full responsibility for my actions. It's my fault I drank too much. It's my fault I was driving my carriage at such a speed. It's all my fault. But it's your fault for blackmailing me ever since.”

Annesley eyed him for a long moment. “Black-mail is such an ugly word. All I said was that I can't imagine what your brother Marcus would say if he knew about that particular incident.” The man's gaze hardened. “That you
killed
that woman.”

Chase's throat ached at the words. For all they knew, she wasn't dead. It was possible she'd survived, possible but—

No. The woman was dead. He was certain of it. And though he'd tried to drown his sorrow and hide from his responsibilities, the time had come to face facts. He was a St. John, and b'God, it was time he remembered it.

Annesley tilted his head to one side. “You will tell your brothers before you leave?”

Chase could almost see his oldest brother, Marcus, stern and forbidding, disappointment etched in his eyes. And for a second, Chase wavered. It would be
so easy just to pretend he hadn't awakened to what his good friend, Harry Annesley, really was. If he could only pretend that nothing bad had happened on that night a year ago.

But he was through pretending. His stomach, and his sense of honor, would have no less. “I will send them a letter explaining all, once I have settled on the Continent.”

It would be hell, writing that letter. But it had to be done; he owed his family that much. They cared for him, believed him better than he'd ever been.

He met Annesley's knowing gaze unflinchingly. “Not that it's any concern of yours.”

Annesley looked down at his perfectly pared nails. “Isn't it?”

Chase's jaw tightened until it ached. He asked himself how the hell he had been so foolish as to believe that Harry Annesley was an amusing companion. Chase knew the answer—brandy. And more brandy. In the months since the accident, he'd seen the bottom of more decanters than he could count. “Marcus is a very intelligent man. I daresay he knows my sins already. I've never been able to keep a secret from him, even when I was a child.”

Annesley suddenly smiled, a deep dimple appearing in his right cheek. “And you've had so many secrets…This, I think, is different.”

It was all Chase could do not to grab the slimy bastard by the throat and toss him across the room. But that would just cause more talk, and there was going to be enough of that already. Most of society thought Harry Annesley a handsome, well-turned-out man, always impeccably dressed and perfectly behaved. If they only knew.

Chase shoved his chair from the table and stood. “It's done. I'm leaving tonight.”

Annesley's smile slipped. “But St. John—”

“Go to hell. If you are going to tell my brothers, then do so. Here, I will even make it easy for you. Brandon is still on his honeymoon, but will return tomorrow. Marcus and Anthony were to visit Tattersall's. And Devon is at Gentleman Jackson's Boxing Saloon. Shall I call for your carriage? If you hurry, you might catch Devon, at least.”

Annesley leaned back in his chair, a flash of contempt on his changeable face. “You'll regret this, you know.”

“Considering all I have to regret, this is negligible. Good-bye, Annesley. And good riddance.” Chase turned on his heel and left. The second he was outside, he stopped, lifted his face to the cooling breeze, and took a long, deep breath.

Around him, London trembled and toiled, carriages clattered down the streets, linkboys shouted, people scurried by, heads tucked against the swirl of dust and grit that lingered in the air. It was London in the spring, awakening after a long and bitter cold and shaking off the fetid fumes of a freezing winter held at bay with grim determination and tons of bleak coal fumes.

As ugly as it was, it was still home. Still where he'd grown up. It was a pity he had to leave it all behind. London
and
his family. His chest curiously tight, Chase turned and walked down the street, away from White's. Away from his lodgings. Away from everything and everyone he'd ever known.

And it was only the beginning. If he was to make this journey successfully, he had to face both him
self and his past. And face it, he would. One way or another.

 

At White's, still comfortably seated at the table, Harry Annesley sipped his port and stared at the empty chair opposite his. Chase St. John was right about one thing—Harry Annesley was not what he seemed. Despite his fine clothing and his practiced ways, he was not a wealthy man at all. He was not from Wiltshire. He'd never inherited a house from his uncle. And his fortune was not tied up in a legal dispute. Nor had his father left him anything more than a pile of duns and a childhood of memories tainted by bruises and blood.

Harry had made his way on his wits and charm alone, watching with interest the rise of a man named Beau Brummel, the son of a tailor who'd breached the highest echelons of society with nothing more than his biting wit and impeccable dress. Harry thought that he could go one better, forging letters of introduction to gain entrance into places like White's and Almack's. He was accepted, but only because he was a personable young man and because he made it his business to know just how to dress and exactly how to act.

At first, Harry confined himself to married women who had access to their husbands' fortunes and were not averse, in exchange for certain favors, to making sure Harry's rent was paid and his wardrobe developed to the highest degree. Careful never to cross the lines of propriety, at least while in public, he became the preferred escort of half the married ladies of the ton, whose tolerant husbands would demand to know who their wives were going to the ball with, only to receive an airy, “Oh, it's only
Harry Annesley,” which earned an indulgent, “Well, then, madam. You may go. So long as it's Harry and no one else.”

The comments, though they allowed him access to places he normally wouldn't have been allowed, burned through Harry's heart, for they proved over and over again that he was not as important as he wished, no matter how he dressed. He became more determined to succeed in the society that only allowed him to stand at its edges.

But to reach those heights, he would have to establish himself well enough that he could marry the woman of his choice—someone wealthy, well connected, and desirable. Harry thought he knew such a woman, the daughter of a wealthy viscount. Harry had been flirting with her for a sennight, and he thought he detected some feeling in her gaze.

Not that it mattered. She was necessary only to cement his place in the society to which he belonged, and nothing else. He looked into his glass and sighed. It was one of the great ironic facts of the
ton
that wealth tended to marry wealth. And Harry, for all his scheming, didn't have the funds it would take to convince the protective papa of a tender young heiress that he was an eligible
parti
.

He'd considered an elopement, but that was too crass and could cause him to be ostracized from the very society he wished to enter. No, he wanted to be welcomed into the family he chose. Welcomed as an equal. And that would take some serious funding.

The desire had grown into an obsession. Harry ate, drank, slept, and dreamed of it. Though until he'd met Chase St. John a year ago, he hadn't known how to gain the entrance he so desired. How to get the large amount of funds he so desperately needed.

It was a pity Chase had suddenly developed a conscience. “Utterly inconvenient,” Harry murmured into his glass.

A waiter stopped and quietly asked if anything else would be needed. Harry shook his head impatiently and waved the man away. The waiter bowed respectfully and reached for the bill that Chase St. John had signed not ten minutes earlier.

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