The whole story spilled out of Bianca at once. Her grief for her parents, her homesickness for a life she would never again have, her new life as a maid-of-all-work, the distance and iciness that characterized her relationship with Lady Queensbury, the unexpected invitation to tonight’s soirée, the warning to run for her life, and the speculation as to what evil had been done to Bianca’s parents.

“Tell me he must be mistaken,” she choked out.

Mrs. Gladwell’s eyes were concerned, but not shocked.

“I fear the gossips are most likely correct in their conclusions,” said Mrs. Gladwell. “I feared foryoufrom the moment I heard you were under her roof. She is known for acts of vengeance, not charity. When she became your benefactress, I could only assume some nefarious plot was afoot.”

“I didn’t even suspect,” Bianca said. “I was so grief-stricken, so starved for welcome, it never crossed my mind that… ”

“Oh, why would it? As time went on and you remained healthy, I hopedIwas wrong, and that it was merely all the old rancor of my youth causing me to unfairly judge a woman who might well have changed for the better at last. I am sorry to have my worst suspicions confirmed.”

“Might… might I stay a few nights here with you?” Bianca ventured. “I have no letter of reference, but I am an adept maid in any position. Bedchambers, scullery, laundry—”

“My dear child,” Mrs. Gladwell interrupted with visible offense. “I hope you don’t think I would put you toworkafter all you’ve been through. I have maids of my own, whom I pay well for their labor. From this moment forward, you are our guest.”

“Thank you,” Bianca whispered. The kindness of the gesture was almost too much to handle.

Mrs. Gladwell smiled as if she understood. “My daughters Joy and Gwyneth are only a few years younger than you. They will be delighted to make your acquaintance.”

Daughters. Of course someone as sweet-natured as Mrs. Gladwell would have a family of her own. And now a stranger had come into their midst. What if the daughters did not feel the same way about an uninvited guest barging into their cozy household?

Had Bianca finally found shelter, only to soon be turned back out onto the street with nowhere to call home?


Harry strode down Bond Street with his head held high, careful to project an image of carefree indolence.

Everyone knew he was The Huntsman, but there was a world of difference between preferring an heiress by choice and being forced to wed one out of necessity. Part of his appeal—besides being heir apparent to a marquessate—was the illusion that a gentleman as rakish as Harry could have his pick of the pack.

Fortune would remain on his side as long as heiresses believed they werevyingfor the opportunity to become his bride. If Harry were reduced to begging for scraps… He shuddered.

All of which had led him to today’s mission.

He clutched a small ledger in his gloved hand. It was not the full chart of accounts. That disaster spanned several volumes, each more depressing than the last.

This journal contained the list Harry had compiled of all the open accounts held by the family. The tailors, the mantua maker, the cobbler… The list felt endless, the gravity of its size compounded by the address of the account holders.

The Bond Street Bazaar was the premiere shopping district for the haut ton. The pavements swarmed with aristocrats and the nouveau riche, as many here to see and be seen, as to make additional purchases.

Which meant there was no way to duck into a shop unseen. Enquiring discreetly about the balance of open accounts was going to be next to impossible. But the marquess had left his son no choice.

Harry had attempted to reconcile the accounts via post, only for the responses never to arrive. It had not taken long to realize that Father had directed the staff to confiscate any vendor communications and direct them to him instead.

Which would be fine, if Father applied himself to paying the accounts, rather than deepening the debts. Harry suspected not a single penny had been paid for months, and that its unlikelihood to ever be paid had not slowed down the marquess’s spendthrift habits. He had told his father dozens of times to cease spending money they did not have as if they could produce more by wishes alone.

Father had looked Harry in the eye and replied,I wish you would marry.

In other words, the situation would only worsen until Harry resolved it. So here he was, pencil in hand, walking shop to shop to jot down outstanding balances. Once he knew just how bad the current situation was, he would know how large of a dowry he needed to catch in his web.

“As large as possible,” was all Father would say, which was well and good, but Harry needed concrete numbers. Was there a pool of ten or twenty heiresses to choose from? Or must he funnel his charm toward sharp-tongued Lady Regina, she of the biggest dowry—and cruelest nature—of all the young women in London?

The thought of being leg-shackled to her was enough to give a man chills. That Harry still had a jaunty lilt to his step was because despite the state of his father’s accounts and Harry’s dismal matrimonial prospects, he hadn’t spent any time of late thinking of heiresses like Lady Regina at all.

His head had been filled with images of Miss Bianca White instead.

Foolish, of course. And understandable. No, Miss White could never be Harry’s bride, but when he looked at her, he wasn’t thinking about wedding bells. He wasn’t thinking much of anything beyond how badly he’d wanted to kiss her when she’d tilted up her lips so invitingly. It had taken all his will not to steal one little kiss before sending her away.

He hoped she was all right. She was so pretty, so innocent, so trusting. A lost little lamb in a forest of wolves. Was it any wonder he wanted to eat her up?

Tags: Erica Ridley Historical
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