Chasing Cassandra

Page 36

At the moment, however, there was nothing relaxed about St. Vincent. He pushed his chair back and stood, and dropped a newspaper to the table as if it had just caught fire. Although he made a visible effort to compose himself, his jaw flexed repeatedly as he ground his teeth.

“My lord,” Tom said easily, drawing closer. “How are you?”

St. Vincent turned toward him, instantly assuming a polite mask. “Severin. Good evening.” He reached out to shake Tom’s hand, and proceeded to introduce him to the two men at the table, who had both risen to their feet. “Lord Milner, Mr. Chadwick, it’s my pleasure to introduce Mr. Severin, our newest member.”

They both bowed and offered congratulations.

“Severin,” St. Vincent murmured, “ordinarily I’d invite you to have a brandy with me, but I’m afraid I have to leave at once. I beg your pardon.”

“Not bad news, I hope?”

Looking distracted, St. Vincent responded with a faint, grim smile. “Yes, it’s bad. God knows what I can do about it. Probably not much.”

“Can I be of service?” Tom asked without hesitation.

St. Vincent focused on him then, his winter-blue eyes warming at the offer. “Thank you, Severin,” he said sincerely. “I’m not sure what’s needed yet. But I may prevail on you later if necessary.”

“If you could give me an idea of the problem, I might have some suggestions.”

St. Vincent contemplated him for a moment. “Walk with me.”

Tom responded with a single nod, his curiosity growing by leaps and bounds.

After retrieving the discarded newspaper, St. Vincent murmured to his friends, “Thank you for the information, gentlemen. Your drinks and dinners are on the house tonight.”

They reacted with smiles and appreciative murmurs.

As St. Vincent left with Tom, his pleasant expression vanished. “You’ll hear about this soon enough,” he said. “The problem has to do with my wife’s sister. Lady Cassandra.”

Tom drew in a sharp breath. “What happened? Has she been hurt?” From the quick glance the other man sent him, he realized his reaction had been too forceful.

“Not physically.” St. Vincent led the way to a spacious vestibule off the entrance hall. The room, fitted with nickel rods and mahogany shelves, had been crammed with overcoats and sundry articles.

A porter approached them immediately. “My lord?”

“My hat and coat, Niall.” While the porter disappeared into the vestibule, St. Vincent spoke quietly to Tom. “Lady Cassandra has been slandered by a rejected suitor. The rumors started circulating two or three days ago. The man described her to his friends as a heartless and promiscuous flirt—and he made sure to do it at his club, within hearing of as many people as possible. He claims she freely allowed him sexual liberties and then rejected him callously when he tried to redeem her honor with an offer of marriage.”

Tom had always known rage as a scalding emotion. But this went beyond that … this feeling was colder than ice.

There was only one thing he needed to know. “Who is it?”

“Roland, Lord Lambert.”

Tom went to the threshold of the vestibule. “I want my coat too,” he said brusquely in the porter’s direction.

“Right away, Mr. Severin,” came the muffled reply.

“Where are you going?” St. Vincent asked as Tom turned back to him.

“I’m going to find Lambert,” Tom growled, “and shove a damned pole up his arse. Then I’m going to drag him to the front courtyard of the Guildhall and prop him up until he publicly retracts every lie about Lady Cassandra.”

St. Vincent regarded him with forced patience. “The last thing the Ravenels need is for you to go out half-cocked and do something impulsive. Besides, you don’t know the whole of the story yet. It gets worse.”

Tom blanched. “Sweet Christ, how could it be worse?” In the eyes of society, a woman’s reputation was everything. Everything. If there was any smudge on Cassandra’s honor, she would be ostracized, and the disgrace would fall on her family as well. Her chances of marrying any man of her class would be smashed. Her former friends would have nothing to do with her. Her future children would be snubbed by their peers. Lambert’s actions had been the height of cruelty: He had known full well his petty vengeance would ruin Cassandra’s life.

St. Vincent handed Tom the newspaper he’d tucked under his arm. “This is the evening edition of the London Chronicle,” he said tersely. “Read the top column on the society page.”

Tom looked at him sharply before lowering his gaze to the column, which, he noted with contempt, had been written by someone willing to identify himself only as “Anonymous.”

It is time for us now to reflect on a species well known to London: the Heartless Flirt. Many such creatures have recently descended on society to renew the pleasures of the Season, but one in particular serves as the most notorious example of her kind.

Collecting broken hearts like so many trophies is a game to this certain lady, to whom we shall refer as “Lady C.” She has received more proposals than a well-bred young woman should, and there’s no mystery as to why. She plays at lovemaking, having perfected the sidelong glance, the teasing whisper, and other incitements to the male ardor. It is her habit to lure a man to some quiet corner, inflame him with furtive kisses and wanton explorations, then accuse the poor fellow of taking advantage.

Lady C will, of course, protest her innocence and claim her little experimentations are harmless. She will toss her golden curls and go on her merry way, leading more men to make fools of themselves for her private amusement. Now that her impropriety has been exposed, it is up to those in good society to decide what price, if any, she will pay for her shameless ways. Let their judgment be a warning to other young temptresses that it is wicked—nay, fiendish—to toy with the affections of honorable young men, and degrade herself in the process.

In short, let Lady C serve as an example.


Tom was dumbstruck by the sheer malice of the column. It was character assassination. He’d never seen nor heard of such a public attack on an innocent girl. If it was retaliation by Lord Lambert for having been rejected, it was so wildly disproportionate a response, one had to question his sanity. And now that the rumor had entered the public domain, it would be taken up by women in society, who weren’t generally known for showing mercy to their own kind.

Before the week was out, Cassandra would be a pariah.

“Why would the editor agree to publish this?” Tom demanded, shoving the paper back at him. “It’s bloody libel.”

“No doubt he’s banking on the fact that Cassandra’s family won’t want to put her through the ordeal of a lawsuit. Furthermore, it’s possible this ‘Anonymous’ has some kind of leverage against him or the paper’s owner.”

“I’ll find out who wrote the column,” Tom said.

“No,” St. Vincent said instantly. “Don’t take the matter into your own hands. I’ll convey your offer of assistance to the Ravenels. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. But it’s for the family to decide how to handle the situation.”

The porter came with St. Vincent’s coat and helped him into it, while Tom stood there brooding.

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