"Ten thousand pounds to whoever can seduce the heiress by Michaelmas!"
Even for dissolute rake Richard Arrandale, this latest bet is outrageously scandalous. But Richard doesn't careuntil he meets the heiress's charming chaperon and the stakes are raised even higher!
Widowed Lady Phyllida Tatham is no longer the shy, plain creature she once was. She's determined to protect her beautiful stepdaughter, but there's one suitorwith the worst kind of reputationwho seems more interested in seducing her. Who will come out on top in this winner-takes-all game?
The Infamous Arrandales
Scandal is their destiny!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Richard Arrandale had been in Bath for less than two weeks and was already regretting his promise to stay. It was not just that Bath in August was hot and dusty, it was exceedingly dull for one used to a hectic social round. He thought of the numerous invitations lining the mantelshelf of his rooms in London, including one from a dashing matron who had been putting out lures for some time. She wanted him to spend September with her at a house party in Leicestershire, where she promised him the hunting would be excellent and the evening entertainments more to his taste than anything he would find in staid and respectable Bath.
He did not doubt it, but he had given his word to his great-aunt Sophia, the Dowager Marchioness Hune, that he would remain in Bath until she was feeling better, even if that took him into the autumn, and he would not break his promise. Sophia had been the only one to support him in his darkest hour, when the rest of the world had seemed to be against him, and now that she needed him he would not walk away.
And it was not as if she expected him to dance attendance upon her at all times; she was quite content to see him every morning before she went off to the hot baths with her nurse, and for the occasional dinner at Royal Crescent. Apart from that he was free to amuse himself. Which was why he was now whiling away the evening playing hazard in a small and select gaming hell. From the outside, there was nothing to distinguish the narrow house in Union Street from its fellows. The ground floor was a tobacconist's shop but the curtains on the upper floors were rarely drawn back, the proprietor, one Mr Elias Burton, being determined not to distract his clientele by giving them any clue of the time of day.
Richard finished his wine before casting the dice on to the green baize.
'Seven,' called Henry Fullingham, leaning closer to peer short-sightedly at the ivory cubes. 'Trust Arrandale to cast a main with his first throw.'
'Well, I am not going to wager against him matching it,' laughed George Cromby. 'His luck's in tonight.'
Richard said nothing, merely picked up his glass, which had been replenished by a hovering waiter the moment he had put it down.
'I won't bet against him either,' grumbled a thin, sour-faced gentleman in a green coat. 'Luck, d'ye call it? His throwing is too consistent by half.'
At his words a tense silence fell over the table. Richard scooped up the dice and weighed them in his hand, fixing his gaze upon the speaker.
'What are you trying to say, Tesford?' he asked, his voice dangerously quiet.
Fullingham gave a nervous laugh. 'Oh, he doesn't mean anything, Arrandale. It's just the drink talking.'
Richard glanced around. They had been playing for some hours with the wine flowing freely. Tesford's face was flushed and his eyes fever-bright. He was glaring belligerently across the table and for a moment Richard considered pressing the man, forcing a confrontation. After all, the fellow was questioning his honour. And a duel might alleviate his current ennui.
'Well, I ain't afraid to place a bet,' declared Fullingham cheerfully. 'Come along, Arrandale, throw again, we're all waiting!'
The murmur of assent went around the table. Wagers were being placed and Richard shrugged. Everyone was drinking heavily and it would be bad form to call out Tesford when it was clear he was in his cups. He cast the dice again.
'Deuce!' Fullingham laughed, a measure of relief in his voice. 'He's thrown out.'
Richard smiled and signalled to the hovering servant to fill his glass once more. Hazard was a game for those who could calculate the odds and he was good at that, but it was inevitable that sometimes the dice would fall against him. He did not like losing, but he was philosophical about it.
However, after another hour's play he was considerably richer than when he had arrived.
He was a gambler, but he knew when to stop and he was just gathering up his winnings when a noisy group of young bucks burst into the room. At their centre was a fashionably dressed gentleman, slightly older than his companions, whom Richard recognised as Sir Charles Urmston.
'They'll have come from the Assembly Rooms,' observed Cromby, looking round. He raised his hand and hailed the party. 'What news, my lads? I see young Peterson isn't with you, has he breached the defences of the fair Lady Heston?'
'Aye,' replied Sir Charles. 'He is escorting her home.'
'We won't be seeing him again before dawn then.' Cromby chuckled.
'And there's more news,' declared a red-faced young man coming closer to the table. 'A new heiress is coming to Bath!'
'And are you looking to this heiress to restore your fortunes, Naismith?' drawled Sir Charles. 'I doubt she would even look at you.'
Young Mr Naismith's face flushed an even deeper crimson.
'At least I'd make her an honest husband, Urmston,' he retorted. 'Everyone knows you played your late wife false.'
There was general laughter at that, but Richard saw the shadow of annoyance flicker across the older man's face.
'So who is this new heiress?' demanded Fullingham. 'Is she young, old, a beauty?'
'Young, definitely, but as for looks no one knows,' responded Mr Naismith. 'She is the daughter of the late Sir Evelyn Tatham and she is coming to live with her stepmama, Lady Phyllida Tatham, until her come-out next year.'
'A virgin, fresh from the schoolroom,' murmured Sir Charles. 'A plum, ripe for the plucking.'
Cromby frowned, drumming his fingers on the table. 'I remember old Tatham,' he said. 'He was a nabob, bought his knighthood after he made his fortune in India.'
Mr Naismith waved one hand dismissively. 'No one cares about that now. The thing is, Miss Tatham is his only child and she inherits everything!'
'Then she may look like old Tom's prize sow and she would still attract suitors,' put in Tesford, draining his glass.
Sir Charles called to the waiter to bring them more wine.
'It seems a pity to have such a prize in Bath without making some attempt to win it,' he drawled.
Cromby grinned. 'Aye, by Gad. If I were not a married man I think I'd be making a push myself.'
'If the girl is so rich she will be well protected,' said Fullingham. 'Her guardians will be looking out for fortune-hunters.'
'There are ways to persuade a guardian,' put in Sir Charles, polishing his eyeglass. 'If the heiress was to lose her virtue, for example '
'Of course,' exclaimed young Naismith. 'They'd want her married with all speed if that were to happen.'
'So shall we have a little wager as to which one of us will marry the heiress?'
Cromby banged on the table, looking up with a bleary eye. 'No, no, Urmston, that is unfair on those of us who are already leg-shackled.'
Sir Charles spread his hands.
'Very well, if you all want to have a touch, let us say instead, who will be first to seduce her.'
'Much better,' agreed Cromby, laughing immoderately. 'Then we can all have a pop at the heiress.'
Fullingham raised his hand. 'There must be witnesses, minda trustworthy servant or some such to confirm the prize is won.'
'Naturally.' Urmston smiled. 'Waiter, tell Burton to bring the betting book and we will write this down.' His hooded eyes surveyed the company. 'But there is one here who has not yet agreed to join us, one whose reputation as a devil with the ladies is well known in London. What say you, Arrandale? I should have thought you eager for this little adventure.'
Richard did not allow his distaste to show.
'Seducing innocents has never appealed to me. I prefer women of experience.'
'Ha, other men's wives.'
'Not necessarily, just as long as they don't expect me to marry 'em.'
There was general laughter at his careless response.
'What, man?' exclaimed George Cromby. 'Do you mean you have not left a string of broken hearts behind you in London?'
'Not to my knowledge.'
'Best leave him out of it,' cried Fullingham gaily. 'He is such a handsome dog the ladies can't resist him. The rest of us would stand no chance!'
'Certainly I have not heard of Arrandale being involved in any liaisons since he has been in Bath,' murmured Sir Charles, swinging his eyeglass back and forth. 'Mayhap you are a reformed character, Arrandale,'
'Mayhap I am,' returned Richard, unperturbed.
'Or perhaps, in this instance, you are afraid of losing out to the better man.'
Richard's lip curled. 'Hardly that.'
'So why won't you join us?' demanded Fullingham. 'You are single, if the chit took a fancy to you there is no reason why you shouldn't marry her. Don't tell me a rich bride wouldn't be an advantage to you.'
Richard sat back in his chair, saying nothing. As a second son he had been expected to find a rich bride, but his brother's disastrous marriage had made him shy away from wedlock and he was determined to remain a bachelor as long as possible.
He was fortunate to have inherited Brookthorn Manor from his godfather. It was a neat property in Hampshire that included a home farm and substantial estate. Without its income he would have been obliged to seek some form of employment by now. As it was, Brookthorn gave him independence, but he knew it could not support his lifestyle for much longer. It needed careful management, but when had the Arrandales ever been good at that? Their name was synonymous with scandal and disaster.
Sir Charles was standing over Richard, a faint, sneering smile on his face. He said quietly, 'A thousand pounds says I can secure the heiress before you, Arrandale.'
Surprised, Richard looked up. 'A private wager, Urmston? I think not.'
'Very well.' Sir Charles looked at the men gathered around the table. 'There are eleven of us here.' He gestured to the hovering proprietor to put the betting book, pen and ink down on the table. 'How much shall we say? A monkey from each of us?'
'What had you in mind, Urmston?' demanded Tesford.
'We will each stake five hundred pounds that we will be the first to seduce Miss Tatham. Burton shall hold the money until one of us is successful.'
'Capital! But we should set a date on it, Urmston,' cried Henry Fullingham, his words slurring a little. 'Can't have this going on indefindefinitely.'
'Very well,' Urmston looked around the room. 'Shall we say the next Quarter Day?'
'Michaelmas,' nodded George Cromby. 'Just over a month. That should be sufficient time for one of us to succeed.'
'Very well. Five thousand pounds to whoever can seduce the heiress by September the twenty-ninth. And of course the added prize, the possibility of marriage for those of us who are single.'
Cromby laughed. 'And if I should be successful '
'The way would be open for one of us bachelors to snap her up,' Tesford finished for him. 'And her family would be grateful for it, too. By Jove that is an excellent suggestion. I'm not averse to spoiled goods, if they come with a fortune.'
'Quite.' Urmston placed the book upon the table and quickly wrote down the terms.
'Well, Arrandale, what do you say, does five thousand pounds hold no appeal? Or perhaps you prefer to run away, like your brother.'
A sudden hush fell over the table. Not by the flicker of an eyelid did Richard show how that remark angered him. There was a mocking smile around Urmston's mouth, challenging him to refuse. Richard looked at the pile of coins before him on the table. A thousand pounds. He had been planning to use some of it for vital maintenance on Brookthorn Manor, but now, dash it, he would show Urmston who was the better man! He pushed his winnings back to the centre of the table.
'Let's double it.'
The tense silence was broken by gasps and smothered exclamations. One or two men shook their heads, but no one walked away.
'Very well, a thousand pounds each.' Urmston corrected the terms and held the pen out to Richard. 'That's a prize of ten thousand pounds, Arrandale.'
Richard took the pen, dipped it in the ink and added his name to the others.
'Ten thousand,' he repeated. 'Winner takes it all.'
Lady Phyllida Tatham placed the little vase of flowers on the mantelshelf and stepped back to look around the room. She had only signed the lease on the house at the beginning of the month and had been busy decorating it to her liking ever since, finally ending with this bedroom overlooking the street. Despite the open window there was still a faint smell of paint in the air but she hoped it would not be too noticeable. The room had been transformed from a rather austere chamber to a very pretty apartment by using cream paint on the panelling and ceiling and adding fresh hangings in a yellow f loral chintz around the bed and the window. The dressing table and its mirror had been draped with cream muslin and new rugs covered the floor. Phyllida dusted her hands and smiled, pleased with the results of her handiwork.
It was just such a room as she would have liked when she had been on the verge of her come-out, and she hoped it would appeal in the same way to her stepdaughter. Ellen was even now on her way from the exclusive seminary in Kent to live in Bath with Phyllida. Doubts on the wisdom of this arrangement had been expressed by relatives on both sides of the family. Phyllida's sister had merely mentioned her concern in a letter, questioning if Phyllida had considered fully the work involved in being chaperon to a lively girl only seven years her junior. Her late husband's brother, Walter, was much more forthright and had even posted to Bath to remonstrate with Phyllida.
'My dear sister, you have no idea what you are taking on,' he had told her in his pompous way. 'My niece has always been flighty, but now at seventeen she is far too hot at hand. The tales Bridget and I have heard of her behaviour at the seminary are quite shocking!'
'She is spirited, certainly'
'Spirited!' he interrupted her, his thin face almost contorting with disapproval. 'She even ran away!'
'No, no, you have been misinformed,' she corrected him soothingly. 'Ellen and her friends slipped off to see the May fair and they were back before midnight.'
'But it is well known who instigated the adventure! Surely you do not condone her gallivanting around town in the middle of the night?'
'Not at all, but thankfully she came to no harm, as Mrs Ackroyd was quick to point out.'
'She was also quick to inform you that she could no longer allow Ellen to remain in her establishment.'
'Only because the squire had developed an an unquenchable passion for Ellen and had taken to calling at the most unreasonable hours.'
'And Ellen encouraged him!'
'No, she wrote to assure me she had done no more than allow him to escort her back from church.'
'From Evensong. At dusk, without even a servant in attendance.'
Phyllida frowned. 'How on earth can you know all this? Ah, of course,' she said, her brow clearing. 'Bridget's bosom bow, Lady Lingford, has a daughter at Mrs Ackroyd's Academy, does she not? Bernice.' She nodded. 'I recall Ellen telling me about her when she came home to Tatham Park for Christmas. An odious talebearer, she called her.'
'How I came by the information is neither here nor there,' replied Walter stiffly. 'The truth is that if Mrs Ackroyd, an experienced schoolmistress, cannot keep the girl safely contained then what chance do you have? I am sorry to speak bluntly, my dear sister, but my brother kept you too protected from the real world.
You are far too innocent and naive to be my niece's guardian.'
'I am very sorry you think that, Walter, but Sir Evelyn left Ellen in my sole charge and I am going to have her live with me until next year, when she will make her come-out under my sister's aegis. You need not worry, I am quite capable of looking after her.'