A Date with Dishonor

By: Mary Brendan
Chapter One

‘Hell’s teeth, give it up, man. Can’t you see how vulgar it all is?’

The weary censure had been directed at a gentleman who gave no more response than to deepen the furrow in his brow. He leaned forwards, resting his chin in his cupped hands, absorbed in his reading.

Viscount Blackthorne adjusted his neckcloth with nimble fingers but, when his friend continued frowning at the newsprint spread on the table, he turned impatiently from his reflection to whip the offending paper out from under the fellow’s elbows. Having efficiently folded the gazette, his lordship tossed it on to a wing chair.

Hugh Kendrick huffed in indignation, lolling back in his seat with a sulky expression. ‘Well, something’s got to be done, Alex. If I don’t offer to pay Whittiker soon, the odious skinflint will dun me. Then everybody else will pitch in. Only needs one of ’em to start the ball rolling and my desk will be groaning under the weight of writs.’ His glum face again sought the support of his hands. ‘If I end in the Fleet my mother will have a fit, and Toby...’ the mention of his older brother caused his mouth to twist in a grimace ‘...no doubt Toby will demand a dawn appointment on Clapham Common because I’ve sullied the family name.’

‘Don’t be so damned melodramatic.’ Alex Blackthorne’s lack of sympathy held a hint of amusement. A moment later he was once more contemplating his appearance, long patrician fingers dusting an immaculate broad shoulder encased in charcoal superfine. ‘You’re not the first man to have let a woman make a fool of him and bring him close to ruin.’

‘You wouldn’t let it happen to you.’ A look of begrudging admiration shaped Hugh’s features.

‘No...I wouldn’t.’ Alex grinned lopsidedly at the glass, but decided not to rub salt into his old friend’s smarting wound by elaborating. He’d already given him his opinion, on numerous occasions, on the subject of idiots who allowed courtesans to fleece them.

Hugh sprung to his feet, snatching up the gazette. ‘I reckon it’s a sound idea and I’d found one that seemed just the ticket. Here, I’ll read it to you...’

A protracted muttering accompanied Alex raising his deep-brown eyes heavenwards.

Ignoring his friend’s weary cursing, Hugh began, ‘Lady Lonesome, desperate to free herself from the constraints of a cruel guardian, seeks kind gentleman to offer protection from...’

A snort of laughter curtailed Hugh’s recitation. ‘Methinks the lonesome lady is keener on a plump wallet than a kind gentleman.’ Alex quirked an eyebrow. ‘You should suit each other well. She’s after the same thing you are.’

‘Ah...ha!’ Hugh exclaimed in triumph. ‘Well, that’s where you’re wrong. Had you let me finish...’ He shook the paper in emphasis, then resumed, ‘...she seeks a kind gentleman to offer protection...’ a dramatic pause preceded ‘...from fortune hunters as an income of two thousand pounds per annum is available to an applicant able to convince her he is in possession of sincerity and a desire and capability to be a caring husband and father.’ Hugh looked up with an expectant smile. ‘She sounds rather sweet and—’

‘And she sounds rather pregnant.’

Hugh’s jaw sagged. ‘You think...because she requires the fellow to be a good father...?’

Alex shrugged. ‘It wouldn’t be the first time desperate parents attempted to buy back a girl’s sullied virtue by getting a ring on her finger.’ He chuckled at the astonished look his comment had provoked. ‘Come on, Hugh,’ the Viscount ribbed gently. ‘If anyone should know that, it’s you.’ Alex watched his friend colouring miserably, but felt unremorseful. Hugh was a good friend, but it was high time he toughened up. Alex knew he might not always be around to save the fellow from his niceness and naivety.

A year ago Hugh Kendrick had been burdened with the task, and the cost, of salvaging his sister’s reputation when she’d allowed a callous charmer to compromise her. Toby, her brother and legal guardian, had refused to chip in a penny piece to protect their widowed mother from the shame that would have besmirched them all had his sister’s disgrace become common knowledge.