In the Garden of Deceit (Book 4)

BOOK: In the Garden of Deceit (Book 4)
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IN THE
GARDEN OF DECEIT

by

Cynthia Wicklund

PUBIT EDITION

***

PUBLISHED BY:

Cynthia Wicklund

In the Garden of Deceit

Copyright 2011 by Cynthia Wicklund

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Books written by Cynthia Wicklund can be obtained either through the
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Official website:

www.cynthiawicklund.com

or through select, online book retailers

THE
GARDEN SERIES

In
the Garden of Temptation

In
the Garden of Seduction

In
the Garden of Disgrace

In
the Garden of Deceit

***

PROLOGUE

London—April,
1859

“Earl
Lonsdale?”

James
Tremont glanced up through a belligerent, alcohol-soaked gaze. “Who
wants to know?”

“Name’s
Archibald Campbell, my lord.”

James
set his glass of rum down and looked at the speaker. “Don’t
know you,” he said rudely.

“Vulgar
place for a gentleman to drown his sorrows,” came the
disparaging reply.

Goaded
by the wry disapproval on the man’s face, James took in his
surroundings, the smoky tavern, the rowdy patrons, the pathetically
thin serving girl who had been sending him flirtatious glances since
the moment he had passed over the threshold. The stench of sweat,
cabbage and old ale oozed upward from the greasy floorboards. And
should he decide to run his thumbnail across the surface of the table
he was sitting at, he would certainly peel back years of caked grime.
He shuddered to think what that grime was composed of.

James
gave a derisive shrug, focusing on the stranger once more. Around
sixty, James guessed, he was as ordinary as one could be—until
he met his dark eyes, dark as his hair. Intelligence unnervingly
perceptive stared back at him.
Well, well…

“I
have a proposition for you, my lord,” the man said, “one
that will, ah, solve your predicament.”

A
hostile silence ensued. “You know about that?”

“It’s
not a secret.”

James
grimaced, distaste causing the rum on his tongue to turn bitter. He
took another gulp of his drink, swallowing his pride with it.

“What
d’you want?” he muttered.

A
grin split the man’s face. He was obese and squat, his vest
threatening to pop the very buttons that held it together. Black hair
topped a round face that had begun to sag. He had an enormous fold of
flesh under his chin, emphasized by a collar that was too tight, and
his large nose bulged at the end as if the collar were putting
pressure on that feature as well. Mutton-chop whiskers only added to
his corpulent appearance.

He
pulled up a chair, and for the first time James noticed the cigar he
clutched in his left hand. The smoking end was wet and slimy as
though he had been sucking on it for some time. The other end had
gone out.

Disgusting.

“I’m
a rich man, my lord,” Campbell began. “My only child, a
daughter, will be my heir as will any children she might have. But
I’m not satisfied with the marriage opportunities she has
received thus far. I want better for my Amanda.”

Naturally.
James had the unpleasant notion that he already knew where this
conversation was headed. “You are looking for a husband for
your daughter—Amanda?—a man of rank, and you are willing
to pay a small fortune to acquire him. Correct?”

“A
large fortune, my lord. Enough to pay every note you owe and every
obligation you have and still provide an income to live a lavish
lifestyle.”

Knowing
no more than he did right now, James was ashamed of the sudden hope
that flared in his breast. “Since you are seeking a title,
Campbell, your options are limited. You risk attracting a man who
cares only for the money. Rank without character is hardly a
bargain.”

“I
want Amanda to have opportunities beyond money.”

“I’m
assuming your daughter has no rank of her own? Most of the peerage
will consider her a means to an end. A necessary burden for the man
who marries her.”

“But
her children will be his children. Who would ignore the offspring of,
oh…an earl, let’s say?” He winked.

James
wasn’t fooled. The man wanted to be grandfather to a title. He
had everything money could buy, and now he wanted what money couldn’t
buy. Respect.

“Don’t
you want your daughter to marry someone who cares for her?”

“You’ve
not met Amanda, my lord.”

No
he hadn’t, but if she was in any way her father’s
daughter, she could not be a pleasure for the eyes.

For
long moments James stared at him. These past weeks had been
miserable, uncertainty his constant companion. Could he afford to
ignore this opportunity just because it wasn’t the solution he
had been seeking?

“All
right, I’ll meet your daughter. But I make no promises beyond
that.”

Mr.
Archibald Campbell beamed a satisfied smile at him, and James had the
impression the man rarely lost at anything he put his mind to.
Grunting, Campbell placed his hands flat on the table, cigar wedged
between two fat fingers, and hefted his bulk from his seat.

“I’ll
be in touch, my lord.” Still smiling, he turned to leave,
taking several steps before returning to James’s table. “One
more thing, my lord.”

Uh
oh.
“Yes?”

“Amanda
knows nothing about my efforts to gain her a husband. She’s a
headstrong girl. Proud. It will be your duty to convince her that
your intentions are genuine.”

Well,
bloody wonderful!

All
James had wanted was some solitude and a few drinks to forget his
troubles, one night without wondering how he was to manage an
unmanageable future. But even in this obscure, lowly tavern his
troubles had run him to ground. Clearly, he was not to find peace
anywhere.

His
days had not always been so uncertain. He had been a world traveler,
settling in the West Indies, living the life most men only dreamed
of, until an urgent missive had brought him home. His father, rest
his soul, had passed away, leaving James a run-down estate, a house
full of eccentric relatives who were depending on him for support,
and a bank account that had plunged into the red. He had been in
England for two months and, at the age of thirty-two, he had no more
idea how to solve his problems than he had when he first arrived.

James
waved at the serving girl again and pointed to his glass. Time to
think about his worries tomorrow. Tonight he was going to finish
getting drunk.

***

CHAPTER
1

James
stood on the step of Archibald Campbell’s townhouse, a little
appalled by the grandeur of the residence. He knew few aristocrats
who lived in such opulence. The townhouse was new, the sign of a more
ornate—some might say outrageous—mood in architecture. If
he were a man prone to gambling, he would lay odds that the interior
was as striking.

He
was not disappointed.

The
earl was led by a stiff-necked butler into an entry hall that was as
large as a small drawing room. Which meant the drawing room on the
first floor was immense. It was rich in color and ornamentation,
furniture in the latest style, what one would expect from a man who
had a great deal of money and marginal taste.

Perhaps
he was behind the times, he thought, having been away from England
for so long. But his grandmother, had she been alive, would never
have approved of such a flamboyant display of one’s wealth. Of
course, she was from a different era when restraint also meant
refinement.

The
butler sat him on a red brocaded sofa that looked more like a parlor
decoration than a piece of furniture. It was, however, well-sprung,
he noted wryly, surprisingly comfortable. James was served claret and
asked to wait while the servant informed his master that he had
company.

Archibald
Campbell bustled into the room moments later. “Lord Lonsdale,
how good to see you. You came just as you said you would.”

The
earl’s lips quirked as he came to his feet. “No promises,
Campbell, remember?”

The
man nodded. “Archie.”

“Of
course,” James said drily. “Archie.”

“Have
you been waiting long, my lord?”

“No.”
From the periphery of his vision James saw someone appear in the
doorway to the drawing room. “Just time to take one sip,”
he glanced in that direction, “of this fine claret—”

His
mind, clear and easy, suddenly ceased to function. He stared, aware
that his eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. Standing on the
threshold was a young woman, tall and sylphlike, hair in a chignon of
shiny black, with eyes to match, and a face that took his breath
away.

Archie
also glanced toward the door. A grin lit his features. “Manda,
come in and meet our guest.”

She
glided into the room, a moderate hoop skirt gently swaying with the
movement of her hips. She wore a deep lavender gown, and that was her
color for certain. Although James couldn’t imagine any color
not enhancing this woman’s beauty. He was glad for his own
height, for as she came abreast of him, she had to tilt her head only
slightly to look him in the eye.

And
look him in the eye she did. It was a searching look, friendly but
cautious.

“This
is my daughter, Amanda Campbell,” Archie said.

“James
Tremont.” Bemused, he introduced himself, feeling like a callow
youth without an ounce of worldly experience.

She
nodded graciously. The hint of a sultry smile touched her mouth, and
the earl’s stomach dropped in a purely sexual response that
startled him.

He
turned a bewildered gaze on his host. “This is
your
daughter?” Even as he spoke, he realized how rude he must
sound. “Ah…perhaps that came out wrong.”

Archie
laughed delightedly. “Came out the way it comes out of
everybody.”

Amanda
put one slim arm around Archie’s shoulders and touched her
forehead to his. She had to lean down to do so because she was taller
than her father by at least half a head.

“Don’t
I look like my papa? Everyone says I do.”

She
joined Archie’s laughter, hers a warm melodic sound, and James
found himself grinning at her like a buffoon.

He
did his best to recover his composure, attempting to join in what was
obviously a family jest. “I suppose you do look like him a
little, same color hair, same color eyes.”

“See,
Papa, I told you.”

She
cut her gaze to James, and again that provocative smile caused his
gut to tighten with anticipation. His mood when he had entered Archie
Campbell’s home was to do the perfunctory and take his leave.
That plan was completely upended. With no thought beyond the moment,
he decided he was looking forward to the evening.

***

Amanda
spooned the last of her custard into her mouth, rolling the sugary
bite on her tongue before swallowing. James—he had insisted she
call him James—and her father were regaling each other with
tales of their youth, misspent to hear the two men tell it. She had
laughed more in the last hour than she had in months.

She
had little to offer the present conversation from where they communed
in her father’s grand dining hall. But the earl was as aware of
her, if she understood the signs, as she surely was of him. When he
looked at her, she felt a catch in her throat that was thoroughly
disconcerting.

James
Tremont was handsome, about as handsome as a man could be and still
be only human. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with hair nearly as
dark as her own. However, his eyes were a light blue, clear and
wintery, which was strangely at odds with the warmth she saw lurking
there.

He
was congenial and urbane, but she did not detect any snobbery on his
part. Amanda had expected the snobbery. He was an aristocrat after
all. And she was not. As the nineteenth century reached its midpoint,
there were those who felt the lines between the classes were
gradually blurring, that tolerance was becoming the norm. There
wasn’t an Englishman alive, highborn or lowborn, who truly
believed that.

With
the ending of the meal, Amanda pushed back her chair. “Well,
gentlemen, I’ll leave you to enjoy a brandy and smoke.”

The
protest that followed from both men was gratifying.

BOOK: In the Garden of Deceit (Book 4)
8.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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