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How to Treat a Lady
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.
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 ...How to Treat a Lady. Copyright © by Karen Hawkins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.