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One Wicked Night
By Robins, Sari
Avon BooksISBN: 0060575344
Chapter OneThirteen months later
Lillian sat alone at the dining room table in her dishabille, enjoying a cup of cocoa and the Morning Post.
"Bravo, Mr. Redford," she whispered to the empty room. There it was, the notice that she had been searching for during the past few months.
Mister Nicholas Redford
15 Girard Square, London
She had followed his illustrious career in the papers with the apt attention of a woman in thrall. Although slightly mortified by her fascination, no one knew of it except her dear friend Fanny, who would never tell a soul, so she saw little harm. In fact, the man was fodder for her most sensational flights of fancy, and Lillian was not about to give up her favorite escape. There were nights when she excused herself from festivities simply to enjoy the company of his deliciously imagined kisses.
Often the dashing police officer was a crusader saving her from a marauding infidel, or from a ruf- fian come to steal her away. She schooled herself to recognize that these were girlish fantasies and not in any way related to the lead performer himself. She wondered if she would ever encounter the handsome Mr. Redford again.
The only excuse she could have for seeing him was to retain his services, something she could not quite imagine doing. What excuse could she have to retain an enquiry agent? The possibility of hunting down her natural father flitted through her mind, but she instantly dismissed it. Beyond having caused her mother infinite heartbreak, the dastard had deserted the poor lady when she had been with child. Such an unfeeling blackguard did not deserve to be found.
So Redford would remain a deliciously decadent player in her imaginary fantasies; her own private champion. Looking around to ensure that no one was near, she folded the newspaper along the lines of the advertisement and gently tore along the edge.
"Happy birthday, darling," Dillon yawned, ambling into the room.
The paper ripped across the wording with a loud tear. "Blast," she muttered, flipping over the broadsheet and pushing it aside before he could see.
"You woke early for me?" she asked. He was the picture of a young boy roused from sleep, with his tousled blond hair and air of lethargy. She smiled up at him affectionately. "Now I know that I rank." "Of course you do, darling," he intoned, rubbing his red-rimmed eyes. "I wanted to be the first to thank you for being born." He bussed her on the lips, and his clove-scented breath reminded her of an escapade long ago.
"Do you recall our first kiss?"
"How could I forget?" He grinned. "The butler found us in the pantry."
"How is crotchety Mr. Jenkins?"
"Still scaring the cook and chasing the maids, I'm afraid. But father will not let him go. Says he keeps everyone out of his hair, and he will not give that up." He sat down beside her. "Speaking of which ..." Reaching into his gown pocket, he pulled out a velvet-covered box and set it on the table. "For you."
"I do not need gifts, Dillon. You have given me so much already."
She bit her lip, knowing that this gift came with unstated terms. Opening the lid, she gasped. Diamonds glittered like a circle of stars on black velvet. "It is far too indulgent," she avowed quietly.
Lifting the bracelet, he draped it across her wrist. "Nonsense, you are worth every gem."
It felt like a manacle, heavy with its demands made with luminous insistence. She yanked her sleeve down, extinguishing the glare. "It is a beautiful gesture, Dillon. But it will not make me change my mind."
"Do not be so cynical. It is a gift for your birthday."
"Dillon ... "
He shrugged. "So what if we want you to stay when the year is out? It is encouragement only, nothing more."
"I will not be a puppet dancing on your father's strings -- "
"But you will destroy me, instead." He crossed his arms, anger infusing his handsome features.
"Stop being dramatic." Carefully, she placed the dazzling bracelet back in the case and closed it with a snap. "My plans are not subject to debate, by either you or your father."
"I can give you all the money that you need -- "
"The waters might flow between you and your father, but there are expectations involved and you know it."
"He has been more than reasonable -- "
"Which is why I endeavor to deal plainly with you both. I told you from the onset of this arrangement that it is only until my four-and-twentieth birthday."
"How can you deny him his happiness when he has done so much for you?"
She stood, frustrated. They had been over this ground before. Granted, they only seemed to discuss it on or around her birthday, almost as if Dillon discarded the thought until then, but they had agreed. "His efforts were not completely selfless, but more importantly, it is about my happiness, not his. I will stand on my own two feet when I am able and not rely on the generosity of others."
"It was never a handout between us." Dillon frowned with injury. "We have been friends since birth, and I would never turn my back on you."
His accusation hung in the air, but she was not about to let him make her feel guilty. She moved to the window, staring out at the enclosed rear garden. "Will you be joining us today at Mr. Wigley's Great Room?"
"I have already seen the Panoramic View of St. Petersburg."
"Fanny has not. Besides, I, at least, was unable to absorb the entire scene in one viewing. I have examined it twice already and continue to be pleasantly surprised." She glanced at him, hoping for a truce. "Please join us for my birthday outing."Continues...
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