In 1801, Martin Dunne spends his days as a hardworking clerk at the War Office in London’s Whitehall. One summer evening, after a drink in a Fleet Street tavern, he has an unexpected passionate encounter with a seducer who haunts his dreams.
But when they accidentally meet at a society function, the alluring stranger not only turns out to be the son of one of Martin’s superiors but also betrothed to a trusting young lady.
Martin’s hopes are dashed as he imagines the Hon. William Grant is a cynical rake of the worst kind. But has he misunderstood the situation? And might he allow Will to explain and give their fleeting connection a chance to develop into a fully-fledged romance?
Feeling hot and tired by the end of the working day, Martin trudged home along Whitehall. Not having the luxury of a valet, once washed and shaved, he struggled into his evening clothes and combed down his thick dark hair. Then he practiced a smile in the spotted mirror, softening his serious expression, before setting forth on foot along the busy Strand towards Charing Cross. As he walked past his fellow citizens, the sticky evening made him uncomfortable in his constrictive evening clothes.At least it’s not raining, he thought, and he wouldn’t disgrace his superiors by arriving at a prestigious destination looking like a drowned rat.
Once at the palatial and newly renovated mansion, where no expense or extravagance had been spared, there was the usual endless queue on the stairs before the formality of announcements and resultant herding of guests into an already crowded reception room. Martin made small talk with some vaguely familiar faces from Whitehall who wouldn’t normally have deigned to notice him. He was anticipating when he might be able to escape when Sir Hervey was before him, smiling in gracious condescension.
“Enjoying yourself, Dunne?” He asked, and Martin replied with suitably muted enthusiasm.
“Met many people as yet?” The great man inquired, and as Martin demurred and started to say that he had been conversing with mutual acquaintances, his host turned to call someone forwards.
Martin felt a dull sense of obligation as Sir Hervey introduced a young lady in her early twenties, fragile and sweetly pretty in a simple white gown, the fashion for narrow skirts flattering her petite form.
“Miss Imogen Ashley,” Sir Hervey intoned, as the young lady curtseyed, her eyes demurely downcast, “affianced to my son. I don’t think you’ve met my youngest, William, have you?”
Without waiting for an answer, he moved to one side to tap a young man on the shoulder. Martin’s first thought was that he was almost as fair and delicate as his intended, and then, as those all-too-familiar eyes met his, he realised with a jolt that this perfectly turned out pink of the ton, furnished with a dauntingly influential father and a winsome bride to be was the seductive stranger from the alleyway who filled his tumultuous dreams.
During the blur of introductions, that sultry gaze, so full of unspoken desire the night before, was blank, betraying no emotion after a flash of alarmed recognition. In such a crush, since neither of them reacted, no one noticed the sudden tension between them. Despite this, Miss Imogen moved a little closer to her betrothed, taking his arm as if sensitive to a change in his mood.
For the remainder of the reception, Martin could not have said who he spoke to or what he said, and as soon as he was able, he slipped away from the party unnoticed. On his way home, when he stopped off at a tavern for a tot of rum, all he could see in his mind’s eye was the shock in those speedwell-blue orbs.