Regency lady Elinor has fallen on hard times. The death of her father and the entail of their house put Elinor and her mother in difficulty; and her mother’s illness has brought doctor’s bills that they cannot pay. Lucius Crozier was Elinor’s childhood friend and adversary; and there has always been a spark of attraction between the pair. Now renowned as a womaniser, he offers a marriage of convenience (for him!) in return for the payment of Elinor’s mother’s medical bills. Reluctantly, she agrees. But Lucius has made enemies of other gentlemen of the upper echelon by playing fast and loose with their mistresses, and one man is determined to take his revenge through Lucius’s new wife ...
Elinor Everton could date almost to the day when it was that she had begun to fall in love with Lucius Crozier. It was a hot summer, and Lucius had come home from Harrow, suddenly grown up and unexpectedly handsome, no longer the schoolboy with whom the tomboy Elinor had loved to squabble. The Croziers had come, en famille, to see the Evertons; and Elinor had tumbled into the room to greet Lucius with her usual informality, only to be shocked into shyness and embarrassment at this new version of her old companion. Suddenly her limbs all seemed too long; her red hair shamefully in need of brushing; her dress grubby and unflattering.
‘Good morning, Elinor,’ said Lucius, his voice a deep drawl.
Elinor felt something flutter inside her. Lucius had never made her feel this way before. ‘H … hello,’ she stammered, standing on one leg and then the other, shifting her weight uncomfortably.
There was an expression on Lucius’s face which made Elinor feel as if he were laughing at her, which only increased her discomfort.
Her father said, ‘The girl doesn’t recognise you, Lucius,’ in a cheerful teasing manner, and Elinor felt herself blush.
‘How are you?’ she asked, her voice small.
Lucius leaned back in his chair and flicked an imaginary piece of fluff from his impeccable waistcoat. ‘All the better for seeing you, Elinor, of course.’
Elinor bit her lip, sure she was being teased, not quite certain whether she liked or loathed it. Certainly it gave her a funny feeling that she could not quite process. That feeling had grown as she and Lucius had been thrown into each other’s company over the next few weeks. Sometimes he seemed to treat her like a little girl; at other moments, he would look at her in a strange way, or make a comment which seemed to hint at something more than the mild affection of a young gentleman for a tearaway girl barely out of her childhood. Every day she fell further and further in love; a feeling which she resented and was frightened of – for why would Lucius Crozier ever take an interest in her, a girl with unladylike manners, unruly auburn hair and no expectations to speak of?
She attempted to make up for this by baiting Lucius as much as she could: if he said the day was fine, she would say it was “too hot”. If he had told her black was black, she would have said it was white. Their squabbles became regular and more and more venomous, until one day Lucius grabbed her wrist and pulled her to face him.
‘What is the matter with you, Elinor Everton?’ he demanded.
She’d have had to look up to meet his gaze, so she stared firmly at his shoulder. The place where his fingers touched her wrist felt hot and strange; she was aware of her senses prickling.
‘Surely I am allowed to disagree with you sometimes?’ she demanded, aware she sounded petulant. ‘Just because The Great Lucius Crozier says something is true, that does not make it infallible.’
‘Elinor … Damn it! Look at me, won’t you?’
He put his other hand under her chin and forced it up so that their eyes locked. Elinor found it hard to breathe properly; she was not sure whether she wanted to run away or fling herself into his arms.
‘What is the matter with both of us?’ he murmured quietly.
She felt his gaze rest on her mouth, and her lips tingled in response. He was going to kiss her – was he? Did she want him to? Before either of them could move further, Elinor’s mother came into view. Elinor wrenched herself out of Lucius’s grip.
‘Get off me, you wretch,’ she said fiercely. ‘I hate you.’
She had taken a few steps away before she heard Lucius’s response. ‘The feeling,’ he called after her, ‘is most certainly mutual.’
After that, it was war to the knife between the pair.