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Authors: Paula Marshall

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Chapter One

‘N
o, really, Cobie, no one should look like you, it isn't decent,' exclaimed Susanna Winthrop, wife of the American Envoy in London, to her foster-brother Jacobus Grant, always called Cobie.

In reply he offered her his lazy smile over the breakfast table—which was sufficient to exasperate her all over again.

It wasn't just the classical perfection of his handsome face, nor his athletic body, nor even the way in which he wore his clothes, or his arrogant air of be damned to everybody which all combined not only to fascinate and to charm, but also to arouse a certain fear, even in those who met him briefly, which was enraging her. No, it was the whole
tout ensemble
which did the damage, so many remarkable things combined together in one human male.

She was so fierce that he could not resist teasing her. He said provokingly, ‘Well, nor am I decent. So what of that?'

For a brief moment the sexual attraction between them, long dormant on Cobie's part, had been revived.

‘That's what I mean,' she retorted, still fierce. ‘To answer
me like you do! You've neither shame nor modesty—and you only believe in yourself.'

His brows lifted, and like Susanna he felt regret for the love which had once existed between them, but was now lost. Alas, that river had long flowed under the bridge, and would not return again.

‘Who better to believe in?' he asked, and his grin was almost a child's, pure in its apparent innocence.

‘Oh, you're impossible!'

‘That, too,' he agreed.

Susanna began to laugh. She could never be angry with Cobie for long. She had loved him ever since she had first met him when he was a fat baby and she was nearly ten years old. He was the supposed adopted son of Jack and Marietta Dilhorne—in actuality their
own
son, made illegitimate by the machinations of Marietta's jealous cousin Sophie. Susanna was the daughter of Marietta's first husband and, as such, no blood relation of Cobie's.

Ten years ago their affection had blossomed into passionate love, but Susanna had refused to marry him, seeing the years between them as a fatal barrier. His calf-love for her had inevitably died, but she was still agonisingly aware that her passion for him was still burning strongly beneath her apparent serenity. Susanna had thought she knew him, but ever since he had arrived in London she had begun to realise exactly how much Cobie had changed—and how little she had.

Eight years ago he had returned from two years spent in the American Southwest and the man he had become was someone whom she hardly knew: a man quite unlike the innocent and carefree boy whom she had refused. She had married in his absence, and had spent her life alternately
trying to forget him, or wishing that she had married him, and not her unexciting husband.

Her annoyance with Cobie this time was the consequence of what had happened the night before at a reception which she and her husband had given and which the cream of London society had attended.

Inevitably—and unwillingly—Susanna had been compelled to introduce Cobie to that society's most notorious beauty, Violet, Lady Kenilworth, the Prince of Wales's current mistress. She had known only too desolately well what would follow when such a pair of sexual predators met for the first time.

Belle amie
of the heir to the throne Violet might be, but she could not resist the challenge which Apollo—as she had instantly named Cobie—presented to her.

‘Half-sister?' she queried after Susanna had left them.

‘You might call her that,' Cobie replied in his society drawl, which was neither English nor American but something carefully pitched between the two.

‘Might you?' Violet was all cool charm. ‘You're not a bit like her, you know.'

‘No, I'm not,' Cobie replied to this impertinent remark which broke all society's rules—but Violet, like Cobie, always made up her own. Then, with a touch of charming impudence, ‘And are you like your sister, Lady Kenilworth?'

Violet threw her lovely head back to show the long line of her throat, her blue eyes alight beneath the gold crown of her hair. ‘God forbid!' she exclaimed. ‘We are quite unlike in every way—to my great relief, she's the world's greatest bore—and call me Violet, do.'

Despite himself Cobie was intrigued. What in the world could the sister be like who inspired Violet to be so cut
tingly cruel? Nevertheless he merely bowed and said, ‘Violet, since you wish it. For my part I wish that I were more like Susanna.'

‘I don't,' said Violet, full of provocation. ‘Not if it involved you turning into a dark young woman. I much prefer tall, handsome, blond men.'

Seeing that the Prince of Wales was neither tall nor blond and was certainly not handsome, this riposte amused Cobie—as it was intended to. Before he could reply, Violet was busy verbally seducing him again.

‘You are over from the States, I gather. Is it your first visit? I do hope that you will make it a long one.'

‘It will be my first
long
visit,' he replied, his mouth curling a little in amusement at her naked sexual aggression barely hidden beneath the nothings of polite conversation. ‘I have made several short ones before—on business.'

‘Business!' It was the turn of Violet's mouth to curl. ‘Forgive me, but you seem made for pleasure.'

The buttons were off the foils with a vengeance, were they not!

‘A useful impression to give if one wishes to succeed in business—' he began.

‘But not this visit—' she said sweetly, interrupting him—so for
quid pro quo
he decided to interrupt her with,

‘No, not this visit. I have been overworking and I need a holiday.'

‘The overwork is truly American,' pronounced Violet. ‘The holiday part is not. I thought that Americans never rested, were always full of—what is it?—get up and go!'

‘Ah, another illusion shattered.' Cobie was beginning to enjoy himself. ‘The first of many, I hope. It all depends on what kind of get up and go we are speaking of.'

‘All kinds, I hope,' murmured Violet, lowering her eyes,
only to raise them again, saying, ‘Now we must part—to entertain others. Before we do so, may I invite you to visit us at Moorings, our place in the country. We go there in ten days' time to spend a few weeks before the Season proper starts.

‘In the meantime, allow me to inform you that I am always at home to my true friends from two o'clock. Pray don't wait until four-fifteen—only the bores visit then.'

Cobie bowed, and she moved away. He was aware that he had become the centre of interest. He was, Susanna told him later, socially made now that Violet Kenilworth had taken him up. Not all the eyes on him were kind, among them those of Sir Ratcliffe Heneage to whom Arthur Winthrop introduced him later.

Sir Ratcliffe's eyes raked him dismissively. He was everything which an American thought of as a typical English aristocrat. He was tall, dark, impeccably dressed, authoritative, well built with a hawk-like face. He was a junior Cabinet Minister, a noted
bon viveur
, was part of the Prince of Wales's circle, and had once been an officer in the Guards.

The assessing part of Cobie, however, which never left him, even when he was amusing himself, told him that, disguise it as he might, Sir Ratcliffe was on the verge of running to seed. His face was already showing the early signs of over-indulgence.

‘Related to Sir Alan Dilhorne, I hear,' Sir Ratcliffe drawled condescendingly to this damned American upstart, only able to enter good society because of his immense wealth—made by dubious means, no doubt.

‘Distantly.' Cobie's drawl matched Sir Ratcliffe's—he made it more English than usual. ‘Only distantly.'

‘Getting old, Sir Alan—giving up politics, I hear. That's
a dog's life, you know. Can't think why I went in for it. Who wants to sit around listening for division bells and all that? Gives one a certain cachet, though. You in politics back home?'

‘Not my line,' said Cobie cheerfully. ‘Too busy earning a living.' He wondered what had caused the waves of dislike emanating from the man opposite. ‘Takes me all my time to survive on Wall Street.'

And, oh, what a lie that was!

Sir Ratcliffe's lip curled a little. ‘In business, are you?' he asked, his tone showing what he thought of those who worked for a living rather than played for it. ‘Sooner you than me, old fellow. Miss it while you're over here, will you?'

‘I've come to enjoy myself,' was Cobie's reply to that. The man's patronising air was enough to set your teeth on edge, he thought.

‘Plenty of that on offer—if you know where to look for it. Shoot, do you?'

‘A little,' lied Cobie, who was a crack shot with every kind of weapon, but for some reason decided not to confess to that. There were times when he wondered whether he would ever be permitted the luxury of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

‘A little, eh? Don't suppose you get much chance to shoot anything in Wall Street, hey! hey! Or anywhere else for that matter.'

‘Exactly,' drawled Cobie, suppressing a dreadful urge to tell the languid fool opposite to him that there had been a time when Cobie Grant, then known as Jake Coburn, a six-shooter in his hand, had been a man to fear and to avoid.

On the other hand, if Sir Ratcliffe chose to think him a
soft townie, then it was all to the good. It usually paid to be underestimated.

At breakfast that morning, Susanna explained why Sir Ratcliffe disliked him so much.

‘He saw Violet was taken with you, didn't he? She was looking at you as though you were a rather delicious meal laid out for her to enjoy. He's been after her for months—with no luck. He's made an ass of himself over the Prince's favouring her. On top of that, the rumour is that he's in Queer Street financially, and there's you, an enormously rich Yankee, fascinating Violet without even trying.'

Of course, Sir Ratcliffe had been right to be jealous—and so had Susanna, which was why she was reproaching Cobie for being the man he was and not the man he had been.

 

Susanna had been only too well aware that Cobie would take up Violet's two o'clock invitation at the earliest opportunity—which he promptly did, that very afternoon. At the Kenilworths' town house in Piccadilly he enjoyed, for what it was worth, what a famous actress and beauty had once called the hurly burly of the
chaise-longue
rather than the deep peace of the marriage bed. One disadvantage being that one remained virtually fully clothed.

He also, a little reluctantly, agreed to visit Moorings several days before the rest of the guests arrived. Violet had smiled at him confidentially, and drawled, ‘As early as you like so that we can enjoy ourselves in comfort.'

Cobie was not sure that he wished his affair with her to be more than a passing thing. Violet had not improved on further acquaintance, and to some extent he was regretting having pursued her at all—but he could not refuse to visit Moorings without offending her—and he had no wish to
do that. It was plain that she saw him as a trophy, and was determined to flaunt him before the rest of society. He wondered a little what the Prince of Wales would think of Violet taking a second lover, but she made nothing of that.

‘I understand that your nickname in the States is The Dollar Prince,' were her final words to him, ‘which means that I now have two of such name.'

He was tempted to say, ‘No, Violet, you certainly don't have me,' but he was well aware that it would be unwise to make an enemy of her, so he merely bowed in acknowledgement of her mild witticism when taking his leave before the bores arrived at four o'clock.

Well, at least he would be able to enjoy living for a few weeks in one of the most spectacularly beautiful country houses in England, even if he did have to pay for it by pleasuring Violet!

 

It was for that reason, but not for that reason alone, that two evenings later he left the ball which she and her husband were giving at Kenilworth House long before Violet wished him to. He had bidden her ‘goodnight' with all the charm which he could muster, but it was not enough to mollify her.

‘Leaving already!' she had exclaimed, her beautiful brows arching high. ‘The night is yet young, and many who are years older than you are will not be giving up until dawn.'

‘Alas,' he told her untruthfully, ‘I have been busy in the City all day, and such a concentration of effort carries its own penalties—I am sure that Kenilworth will have told you that.'

Cobie had always wondered at the workings of chance, and that it might be unwise to ignore them. Chance had led
him to overhear something odd that night, something which had stayed in his memory. It was for that reason only that after leaving Kenilworth House, he did not go straight home to the Winthrops'. Instead he dismissed his carriage and walked down the Haymarket, which was so brilliantly lit that it might as well have been day.

The usual stares at his splendid self from both men and women followed him: he ignored them all and carried on his solitary way until he came to an alley about a hundred yards beyond the Haymarket Theatre. Looking down it, he could see a group of top-hatted men of fashion standing and smoking under a swinging lantern over an eighteenth-century doorway.

It must be Madame Louise's: the brothel where the quality went, where discretion and high prices reigned. The conversation which he had overheard at the Kenilworths' ball had him intrigued enough to consider going in. He had been leaning against a pillar, half-hidden, tired of the nothingness of the whole business, when he had heard two men approach and, quite unaware of his presence nearby, begin a muffled conversation.

‘Deadly boring tonight, eh, Heneage? Not that these pre-Season dos are ever anything else.'

BOOK: The Dollar Prince's Wife
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