The Chaperon's Seduction

By: Sarah Mallory
Chapter One

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!’