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Authors: When Someone Loves You

Susan Johnson

BOOK: Susan Johnson

Susan Johnson



London, June 1816


t was the height of the season and the crush at Brooks’s Club was to be expected. The hour was late—another reason for the crowd. Those gentlemen who had been obliged to attend society dinners and routs had finally escaped to their masculine sanctum sanctorum where they could indulge in high-stakes gambling and heavy drink without stricture or reproach.

Not that gentlemen who were privileged enough to be members of Brooks’s felt the sting of censure to the same degree that others might. And yet, their snug, sheltered male enclave offered them
je ne sais quoi—
an indescribable something.

Exclusivity, certainly.

A free-and-easy bonhomie with one’s equals.

Perhaps most prized—deliverance from female company.

Not that females weren’t often the topic of conversation in terms of women they wished to bed, those they had, or those considered unattainable. The last category, of course, was always open to debate.

Wives were rarely discussed—actually, never…save for brief references to their ability to produce heirs on those occasions when they did. It was an exclusive men’s club, after all; everyone understood the reasons for marriage.

And it wasn’t love.

Noblemen, married or not, were an independent lot—their interests primarily centered around gambling, horses, and sex—the latter, preferably
with their wives.

The woman currently under discussion at the gaming table was equally independent. A woman of great beauty, the object of every male fantasy, Annabelle Foster came by her self-reliance honestly.

She’d earned it.

And in an age that gave women few freedoms and fewer rights, it was an accomplishment of some import.

Miss Foster had first burst onto the scene in her role as Nelly Primrose in
The False Friend
and had become an instant star. Her performances were always sold out, generating such colossal profits for the Drury Lane Theater, she was soon in the position to have her initial contract revised. She wrote plays, you see, and she wished them performed.

Under her new contract they were performed—to universal praise.

Lauded by critics, the darling of society, her face and form depicted by every prominent portrait painter in England—Lawrence’s portrayal best capturing her pale, ethereal beauty—she had recently and abruptly disappeared. Not just from the stage and London, but, rumor had it, from England.

“She’s dropped off the face of the earth,” the Earl of Minto noted with a raised brow. “And that’s a fact. Just ask Walingame. He’s practically turned the country upside down searching for her.”

“She apparently don’t wish to be found,” young Baron Verney murmured, arranging the large pile of markers before him into neat stacks.

“At least not by Walingame. Not that I blame her. The man’s a despot. A woman like the beguiling Belle requires a lighter rein.” Lord Bynge lifted his glass. “To the fair lady. May she stay in seclusion until I have the good fortune to sniff her out myself.”

A loud guffaw echoed round the table at the double entendre.

“May we all be so lucky.” Minto raised his claret glass. “I hear she can make a man forget everything but fornication the moment he crosses the threshold of her boudoir.”

“Paget wasn’t seen for a week once.”

“Nor Whyte.”

“While Somerville took to writing bad poetry after she grew bored of him.” The man who spoke was near to being designated a Macaroni, with his lavishly tied neck cloth and outrageous display of diamonds and lace.

“Then Walingame returned to London from his father’s deathbed and exerted some strange authority over her,” Lord Bynge noted with a slight frown.

One of the men looked up from his cards. “I never did understand why she suffered him or his temper. She could have had her pick of suitors.”

“Something to do with a contract she’d signed with a money lender when she was very young, I heard.” A flash of the erstwhile Macaroni’s diamond rings added emphasis to the comment.

“A wily solicitor couldn’t handle that for her?” Minto charged.

A diamond-ringed finger touched an arched eyebrow. “Apparently not. Walingame bought the note from the money lender—for a considerable sum, rumor has it. And the lovely Miss Foster became his indentured servant, as it were.”

“Surely she’s made her own fortune on the stage many times over.”

“She has family somewhere that requires support.” Another dismissive wave of the be-ringed hand. “Don’t all these actresses come from the distant bogs of Ireland?”

“Not our charming Belle,” Bynge affirmed. “She’s a pure English rose.”

“Pure, I doubt. English, possibly, but gentlemen,” Baron Verney said with a smile, “since none of us are going to bed the lovely Miss Foster this evening, I suggest we get on with our game.” His smile widened. “Especially since I seem to be winning all your money tonight.”

A low groan greeted his cheerful assessment of his good fortune and the men set their minds to more immediate and important matters.

Like winning their money back.


he next day, the lady who had been under discussion at Brooks was sitting on a blanket in a small cottage garden, a plump baby beside her, the summer sun bathing them both in its warm rays.

“There, there, little one,” she crooned, stroking the pumping arms and legs. “Your wet nurse will be out soon. She needs to finish her luncheon, sweetling, so she can keep you fed.” And so saying, she picked up the baby, whose little face had puckered up in preparation for a full-blown cry. “Come, darling, let’s walk a bit.”

Annabelle moved through the colorful garden, rocking the baby gently in her arms, singing to her softly, soothing the fretting child with an expertise acquired by necessity the last few months.

In short order the young wet nurse appeared in the doorway of the cottage, smiling and holding her arms out for the baby. “I heard your fretting, Cricket, and I came a-runnin’. Give her here, my lady, and we’ll see that she’s got a full tummy right quick.”

As Annabelle relinquished the child, she smiled at the young girl they’d been so fortunate to have hired. She was good-natured and cheerful, healthy and robust enough to feed both her own child as well as little Cricket. “Sit by the pear tree if you wish,” she offered. “The sun is delightful today.”

“Ain’t it just, miss. Warm as can be, it is. If’n you’d see that Betty is brung out to me if’n she wakes, I’d be much obliged.”

“Of course. Would you like me to bring her out and set her basket next to you?”

“Yes’um, if you please, miss.” Molly Whitmore dipped a faint curtsy, in awe of the beautiful Miss Foster who was not only the prettiest lady she’d ever seen, but was paying her so generously that she and her beau, Tom, would soon be able to marry and buy a little farm of their own.

After carrying out Betty, who was sleeping peacefully in her basket, Annabelle brought out Cricket’s basket as well and placed it near Molly. “I’ll be inside with my mother, but call me if you need anything.”

“Don’t you worry none, miss. I’m fine with both the bairns. You should rest a bit, mayhap. You were up most of the night.”

Annabelle smiled. “Perhaps I will.”

But regardless she’d been up late, taking advantage of the quiet to work on her new play, she knew a nap wasn’t possible. Her mother required attention as well. The death of her sister, Chloe, had affected her mind.

“Would you like a cup of tea, Mama?” Annabelle asked, as she entered the small cottage.

Her mother looked up from her sewing. “At least we have Cricket,” she said, as though she hadn’t heard Annabelle.

“Yes, Mama, and she’s plump and healthy. We have to be grateful for that.”

“I wish we could make those Harrisons pay.”

It was a grim, cold statement that had been issued a thousand times over since Annabelle had come home to take care of her mother and Chloe’s baby. “We have to think about Chloe’s daughter first, Mama. She’s more important than the Harrisons right now.”

“Promise me you’ll get us vengeance some day.”

Annabelle answered as she had so many times before. “I promise, Mama.”

“On God’s eyes, Belle. Promise me.”

“Yes, Mama. On God’s eyes.” Moving toward her mother, she bent down and wiped away the tears streaming down her mother’s cheeks. “Let me get you a nice cup of tea, Mama. With a slice of poppy cake. Then you can show me what you’re sewing for little Cricket and we’ll decide what we need from the greengrocer and butcher today.”

Annabelle had come home the instant she’d received news of her sister Chloe’s disastrous situation. She’d chosen not to leave word of her whereabouts, knowing her life would be in flux for the immediate future at least. She wished no interference in private family matters. She particularly wished no interference from Walingame, who had become so difficult before she left that she’d broken with him despite his dire threats of retaliation.

And she wasn’t without sympathy for her mother’s wish for vengeance. She, too, wanted to punish the Harrisons for the brutality and torment they’d inflicted on her sister. They’d made her sister’s brief married life a living hell.

With the dream of giving Chloe the respectability she, herself, would never have, through hard work and good fortune, Annabelle had been able to settle a considerable dowry on her sister. Had she been aware of the Harrisons’ base and venal motives, she would have stopped the marriage, no matter the scandal or loss of dowry. But she hadn’t known, no more than Chloe had, and only too late did she discover that her young sister had been deceived and was being kept in virtual captivity.

She’d immediately gone to her rescue, securing a prominent barrister and Bow Street Runners to free Chloe from her prison and warders. But Chloe’s health had been seriously compromised by her cruel incarceration in the Harrisons’ attic, and only days after returning home, her sister had gone into premature labor.

Young, sweet Chloe had died without ever seeing her daughter, too weak at the end to open her eyes.

It had been a miracle that little Celia had survived.

And now the child was Annabelle’s responsibility.

As was her mother, who had become unbalanced at Chloe’s death. Hopefully, her mother’s disordered spirits would be restored soon, although Chloe’s death could never be forgotten—by either of them. It had been so senseless, such a waste of a glowing young life.

Annabelle had chastised herself a thousand times since, telling herself she should have known better. Having been the sole source of income for her family since her father’s death, who better than she understood the cruelty and malice of the world? But Chloe had been so in love, Belle had allowed herself to be drawn into her sister’s happy illusions and been momentarily blinded to reality.

But never again.

The lesson of Chloe’s unimaginable suffering and death was seared on her soul.

She would never be so credulous again.

But questions of trust or even justice for Chloe were of no interest to her at the moment. She had more pressing, immediate issues to deal with. She had to see that little Cricket continued to thrive. She desperately hoped to see her mother rally and be her old self again. And always—she must remain vigilant against Walingame’s pursuit.

She was under no illusions that he would allow her to walk away.

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