A Widow's Gamble
As Emma Greenway opens her doors to the city’s gamesters, tongues are bound to wag. She left Clifton as plain Emma Johnson, the butcher’s daughter. Now years later, she’s returned home only to face the man who stole her heart.
Captain Max Collinson’s heart beats faster when he first sets eyes on Emma, Lady Greenway. Painful memories come flooding back, memories of a passion ignited beneath an Italian sky, and a love now lost.
A sinister threat hangs over them both for Lord Brookes wants Emma and will not be thwarted in his determination to have her. But Emma has a plan. The plan is simple, but it will be a gamble.
The following morning, Max arose in the morning to find his mother already dressed, and sitting in the drawing room reading a novel obtained from the Circulating Library. Beside her was a dish of tea, which she brought to her lips.
“Good morning, Mama,” he said.
Lowering the porcelain dish to the table, Mrs. Collinson reached for the sugar bowl, heaping two large spoonfuls into the dish.
“Ah, there you are, Max,” she said, proffering a powdery cheek for a kiss. “I trust you slept well?”
“Yes thank you, Mama. And you?”
In the midst of stirring the sugar, Mrs. Collinson made a face. “I scarcely slept a wink with worry. What is going on?”
“Please.” She waved a hand to forestall her son. “Don’t try to flummery me. I am already vexed with the worry of it.”
“Will you tell me what it is that’s vexing you?”
“As if you need to ask! If my eyes do not deceive me, there is something going on between you and that Greenway woman.”
“I’m sorry?” he repeated, completely taken aback.
“Don’t keep saying you’re sorry! Call it what you will, a woman’s intuition if you like, but a mother always knows these things! I beg that you will take care, Max! People are talking and what they are saying is not flattering. They say the girl is like a honey-pot, and I am sure I’ve no wish to see you caught in her toils.” There was no mistaking the vindictive note in her voice.
Ignoring the bait, he replied calmly, “There is not the slightest need for you to concern yourself about me, ma’am. I am, neither twenty years of age, nor of a romantic disposition. Lady Greenway and I knew each other once, many years ago when I was in Italy. That is all.”
Mrs. Collinson’s eyes narrowed. She did not for one moment believe ‘that was all’. “I am not without suspicion of what is on her mind. She is a widow in search of a husband.”
“A widow? What are you talking about? She’s married to Greenway.” Max reeled at his mother’s words.
“She’s a widow, I’m telling you and as such is capable of…shall we say…certain inducements.”
“Inducements, Mama? Such as?” he drawled in an effort to remain calm.
“Those related to a warm bed on a cold night, of course! I am fully aware of what that young minx has on her mind!”
Max merely lifted an eyebrow. “You are indeed, a clever woman if you can read the mind of someone to whom you’ve only just been introduced,” he said lightly. “Fear not, Mama. Until I discover a woman even half the equal of you, I shall be content to remain a bachelor.”
His mother sighed. “You were once a provoking child, and now you are a most provoking man, Max Collinson.” She sighed in a despairing tone. “But indeed I don’t know what I would do without you. What do you plan for today?” Mrs. Collinson raised the dish of tea to her lips.
Max smiled, glad of a change of subject. “I need to take a short walk and see if my boots are ready at the makers. This afternoon, perhaps you would care to take a carriage ride along Lady’s Mile? I understand the trees are quite a sight in the autumn.”
“A splendid idea. I will see you later,” Mrs. Collinson enthused, seemingly mollified.