Chapter 1

London, 1816

The boards beneath her were slippery and seemed to be covered with some sort of slimy substance which she decided not to investigate. Who would have thought the ship would have places like this with its spotless deck, she thought, slightly disgusted. The only reason she was there was because she had a good view of the captain's cabin and would be able to get in quickly once he left, grab the deed and leave. Captain James Ardsley was about to get a very nasty shock, she thought wryly as she moved about to relieve the cramp in her leg. If only he would hurry up, she could leave and get out of this rat hole. As though in response to her thoughts, something scurried across the floor and she felt a shiver of revulsion.

She was starting to consider abandoning her quest when the captain's door finally opened and out walked James Ardsley. In dark brown breeches that stretched around his well muscled thighs and a white cotton shirt opened to reveal dark curling hairs, he almost looked like a commoner. But even if Victoria hadn't known of his noble lineage, she would never have mistaken him for merely a commoner. He was tall, six feet at the least and with his height he carried with him an aura of strength and command. His raven locks were windswept and gave him a rakish and yet boyish charm. There was nothing boyish about his face though. Even now when he was so obviously relaxed, the hard lines that defined his face told of a stern man with an insuperable character. He walked with an easy gait that oddly reminded her of a lion on the prowl. She shook the thought away, however, waited till he was out of sight then crept out of her hiding place, wincing slightly at the pain in her legs. She had hardly taken two steps when she felt a vise-like grip clamp painfully on her arm. She turned reluctantly and found herself face-to-face with the arrogant unsmiling face of Captain Ardsley.

"I'm sure you're wondering why I'm here." She asked, trying in vain to smile even as his gray eyes bored through her. His eyes are like pools of melted steel.

"The thought did cross my mind." His voice was low and menacing and Victoria felt a chill run up her spine.

"It's actually a very boring story…very long too."

"I have a penchant for long and boring stories."

"Well then…if you would just let go of me, I would be happy to tell you. It's very uncomfortable, you see as I'm not used to the attentions of the stronger sex…being an innocent…" She had been trying to pull herself away from him while she said this but, at the look of amusement and the supercilious eyebrow he had raised at the suggestion that she was an innocent, she stopped. There was no way this man was going to be swayed by her coy words so she might as well try another tactic. Raising her knee she kicked him right between the legs. He released her instantly and she bolted, not bothering to check if he had doubled over in pain or if he was right behind her. She ran down the gangplank, onto the dock and disappeared among the throng of people milling around.


She found herself in a narrow alley when she stopped to catch her breath. Pulling out a pocket watch she grimaced; Dixon was going to furious. She could just imagine him telling people his fiancée was indisposed so she could not attend her own soiree but wished for everyone to enjoy themselves in her absence. Well something like that anyhow. She smiled at the thought, already inventing an excuse he would readily accept. Why on earth had she decided to do this for Angela? Damn and Blast! She hadn't even retrieved the stupid thing she thought, angrily. It was all that oafs' fault; why did he have to stop her midway? Thinking of him reminded her of the unexpected thrill she'd felt when he had held her. She felt her face heat up and mentally shook herself, taking in calming breaths of air. Ardsley out of her mind, her thoughts turned to her current position. And what was she supposed to do now? She thought, angry at herself for doing something so very reckless, even by her standards, as journeying unaccompanied into the depths of London. Calm down, Vi, you've been in worse situations. Asking yourself these questions isn't going to help matters.

When in trouble, she was wont to talk to herself as a mother would a child. As always, it made her worries seem easy to deal with and as always a plan immediately began to form in her mind. She examined her surroundings, absently turning the watch in her hands, and wondered if any carriages were likely to come by. Deciding in the negative, she moved out of the alley and began walking toward a tavern where she hoped to find someone who would tell her where to get a carriage to Cavendish Square.

She stood at the tavern door and braced herself even as she was glad it was still daytime and the place was quiet. It was a dismal place to be sure but there were still a few people scattered among the chairs and tables. She went straight to a pleasantly plump woman who was cleaning the inside of a glass with a rag. Trying not to focus on the glass which was steadily getting dirtier, Victoria sat at the bar and asked for a shot of watered down whiskey. Saying nothing, the woman retrieved a thankfully clean glass and turning, did something with a barrel behind her. When she turned back, she placed the glass, now filled with an amber liquid, on the table. Victoria reached for the glass but the woman stopped her. "Money first; I'm not running a free kitchen."

Victoria felt the blush rise up her cheeks but reached into the pocket of her dress and retrieved what she thought was a suitable amount for the drink. Thankful she had thought to bring some money, she handed the currency to the woman who returned more than half of it and went back to the glass she was cleaning. As Victoria put the glass to her lips and sipped the slightly searing liquid, she wondered, idly, whether the glass cleaning was a ploy to be able to watch customers without seeming to. Putting the glass down, she asked lightly, "Do you know where I can find a carriage?"

The woman didn't answer and Vi, unsure if she had heard her, asked again a little louder.

"Not here you won't."

Glad to have finally been answered, Victoria ignored the fact that this answer was hardly relevant.

"Well do you know where I can find one?"

Raising her voice, the woman yelled to a young man lounging in a chair near the empty fireplace. "Charlie! This lady here wants a carriage. Take her where she can find one and mind you don't hang about on the way back." She turned back to Victoria and said, "Go with him, he'll take you to the place."

"Thank you so much." Victoria said and, leaving her glass half finished, jumped off the stool and followed the gangly lad who couldn't have been more than fourteen. He walked without saying anything to her but at a pace she could follow.

"I'm sorry to have to bother you like this but I really must get home."

He grunted in reply so she decided not to say anything else.


Victoria, curled up in her bed with the covers surrounding her, wrote furiously in her journal. Feelings of anger, hurt and some guilt jostled within her as she poured the events of the day into the book. In all her life she had not felt such a hatred for the male population as she did now.


When she arrived at the house, it was deathly quiet and she felt the first tendrils of fear and guilt coil themselves into cold snakes and lie in her stomach. She didn't bother to go to her room and change the servants' clothes which she had borrowed that morning but went straight to the drawing room where Gilbert, the ageing but stoic butler, had said her father was. She hadn't expected Dixon to still be there but there he was, pacing furiously across the plush carpet. He spun angrily to face her, his lank hair flopping wildly and demanded.

"Where have you been?!"

She ignored Dixon who looked apoplectic and went to her father who was seated beside the fireplace. Kissing him on the cheek, she said, "Good evening, father. I trust you weren't too worried about me today."

"Victoria dear where have you been?" Her father asked quietly as though he had resigned himself to her brand of madness. A sad smile graced his features and she knew he wasn't truly angry only worried.

"And why are you dressed like a servant?" Dixon's voice was like metal on concrete to her ears. She sighed, still looking at her father. His blue eyes which she had inherited told her to get Dixon to leave. She gave him a comprehending look in return and turned to Dixon. She put on her sweetest smile and walked right up to him.

"My lord, I truly am sorry for distressing you…"

"Are you really, Victoria or are you merely trying to ruin my reputation?" He asked in a low, malevolent voice.

His reputation was what he was worried about. He wouldn't want his name associated with any scandal she might bring, she thought, disgusted.

"I'm dreadfully sorry then. Your reputation must be protected." She couldn't keep the sarcasm from her voice as she said this and watched him turn purple then stark white. His hands were clenched into fists and Victoria knew he only restrained himself because of her father.

"When we are married, Victoria, I shall curb that unruly tongue of yours." With that he turned and stomped out of the room. Victoria stood there for awhile and came to the decision that she could never marry Dixon. His pale, lean countenance twisted in anger repulsed her and the very thought of committing herself to him was ludicrous. He had seemed so…so quiet and…she admitted guiltily that Dixon had indeed seemed quite easy to control. She would not have a husband who would keep her under his thumb. She turned back to her father trying to forget Dixon.

"Come sit by me Victoria and tell me of your day."

She went, sat in the seat opposite him but said nothing as they both watched the dancing flames in the marble fire place.

"If I told you where I've been, you would only worry yourself. It was an interesting adventure but I would rather not recount the events of today."

"As long as you're safe, darling."


Victoria closed the journal with a smile; only her father would not press for answers. She'd come up after they had talked of other things including the party she had missed and had felt light-hearted until she got back into her room and remembered Dixon. Her anger had returned and then so had the sudden memory of a man she only now realized she had been comparing him to: Captain James Ardsley.