To Save a Sinner

By Adele Clee

Romance, Historical fiction

Paperback, eBook

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463
5 mins

 

Chapter 1

London, 1820

It took a certain type of gentleman to bring a ballroom to its knees, Helena Ecclestone thought, as her gaze drifted up the stairs to the sinful-looking rogue located at the top.

Descending with a slow, predatory grace, he acknowledged the stunned crowd with a smirk and the name Lucas Dempsey floated past her ear on a breeze of muttered whispers.

“So, the gossip’s true,” Amelia said patting her hands together with excitement.

Helena raised a curious brow. “What, that Lucifer vowed to don an evening coat and torment us with his presence?”

“No, that Viscount Harwood has brought his brother back to the fold after years of living in exile.” When Helena appeared unimpressed, Amelia added, “You do know Mr. Dempsey killed a man. Though I don’t suppose it matters when you have a face like that. Is he not the most handsome man you’ve ever seen?”

Helena glanced across the room. She had to admit there were not many men who could claim to be as handsome as Lucas Dempsey. Although upon further reflection, his features lacked a level of compassion and kindness she found particularly desirable. His rigid jaw looked as though it had been carved from a smooth slab of marble as a perfect example of defiance. His angelic blue eyes were just a mask for a cold and cynical gaze and his black hair hung in a rebellious wave over his brow. Indeed, Lucas Dempsey looked every bit the master of his own world; a world where rules were for the weak and integrity for fools.

“It appears Lady Colebrook is equally impressed,” Helena announced with mild amusement. “She is practically hanging from his coattails. Let’s hope he doesn’t quickly change direction as she’ll find herself skating across the dance floor.”

“I’ve heard that Lady Colebrook is his mistress.” Amelia gave an exaggerated sigh and trailed her fingers along the neckline of her gown. The movement suggested the idea of being on intimate terms with a murderer was more than pleasing. “Although I believe he’s not short of ladies offering to step into the role.”

Yes, and Amelia dreamed of being one of them.

“Where do you get all your information?” Helena asked, deciding to test the theory that her sister had concocted the story for her own amusement or at least added the odd embellishment.

“From Millicent,” she said, her lips forming an exaggerated pout. “Her brother is a friend of Viscount Harwood.” Amelia glanced across at Lucas Dempsey as though the gods of Olympus had opened up the heavens and delivered their most coveted disciple. “Millicent said he has come back to England to find a wife, and I find he has much to recommend his suit.”

“And you’re happy to overlook the fact that he killed a man?”

“He killed a man in a fight, Helena,” Amelia said flicking her fan in frustration. “I’m sure he wouldn’t dream of killing his own wife.”

It appeared Amelia’s logic knew no bounds. So she decided she ought to quash whatever idiotic notion had entered her younger sister’s head.

Mr. Dempsey is not looking for a wife,” Helena scoffed, sneaking a glance at the man in question.

“How do you know?”

“Because he seems thoroughly disinterested in everyone and everything, as though he has already experienced all life has to offer, and nothing else could ever meet with his lofty appraisal.” Helena pursed her lips to suppress a snigger. “Look, even Lady Colebrook with her generous bosom is struggling to keep his attention.” Feeling relatively pleased with her assessment, she added, “He does not want to be here, Amelia, and he is certainly not looking for a wife.”

“You’re just saying that because you know he wouldn’t even consider you.” Amelia’s gaze flitted to the sleeves of Helena’s dress. “I don’t think anyone would consider you, not while you’re wearing that dress. You have so many ruffles I believe if you flapped your arms you could fly around the room.”

She put her hand to her mouth and chuckled, obviously pleased with such a witty observation.

Helena sighed.

It was easy to judge when blessed with natural beauty and when it came to Amelia she would always pale in comparison. While Amelia’s honey-gold hair shimmered in the candlelight, Helena’s was a dull, muted brown, styled with excessive curls to disguise her elfin features. Amelia’s blue eyes were as rich as lapis lazuli while hers were so light a green they were often mistaken for grey.

Indeed, while Amelia needed no trinkets or adornments to enhance her features, their mother insisted that Helena wear a band of roses in her hair. Nestled amongst the curls, the pale pink roses drew out the natural tones; the dark green leaves enhanced the depth of her eyes. The frilly sleeves gave the impression hers was a more robust, more voluptuous frame, as opposed to the slender, willowy form she was born with.

“When one does not possess natural beauty, a way must be found to cultivate it,” her mother had said.

Helena did not have the strength to argue. What was the point of discussing the merits of character over beauty when it only mattered to her?

Awakened from her reverie by the sound of a playful shriek, Helena followed Amelia’s gaze to Lady Colebrook and the portly gentleman who’d stolen a grape from her elaborate coiffure and dropped it down her impressive cleavage. Helena had no idea who the gentleman was but noticed that Lucas Dempsey had disappeared.

“What happened to Mr. Dempsey?” Helena asked, a little surprised the words had fallen from her lips. “Let me guess. He turned into a three-headed dragon and flew off in the vicinity of the ornamental gardens.”

“Obviously not,” Amelia said standing on her tiptoes and raising her chin. “I lost him between the stone pillar and the doors to the terrace. Perhaps he has gone for a stroll in the garden or to get some air.”

Helena imagined him on the hunt for something far more satisfying than fresh air.

“Perhaps someone should tell Lady Colebrook,” Amelia continued, “as she seems oblivious to the fact and is using every tactic possible to attract his attention.” Amelia turned to Helena, but her expression grew grim as she spotted something in the distance. “Mother is making her way through the crowd and is heading in this direction,” she said with a mild sense of panic. “No doubt she intends to chastise us for hanging back like wallflowers while our adversaries dance with all the eligible gentlemen.”

Helena turned to scan the sea of heads but being somewhat smaller in stature could only see two ostrich feathers sticking out of a pea-green turban. When her mother eventually broke through, her exaggerated scowl reminded Helena of Aunt Augusta’s pug.

“Have I not stressed the importance of making yourself available?” Esther Ecclestone complained. “How do you expect to attract attention when you’re huddled in the corner like a couple of old matrons?”

Her mother’s reproachful gaze fell to Helena’s slippers before drifting up to her hair.

“You more than anyone must make a good impression,” she continued. “I am not adverse to you standing with your sister. On the contrary, Amelia has always been adept at attracting a gentleman’s eye, but I expect to see you in the company of at least one eligible gentleman this evening. Surely, that is not too much to ask,” she said, the words accompanied by numerous sighs and tuts. “Now, I believe your sister has just escaped through the terrace. Find her and make haste else the night will be over before either of you have had a chance to dance.”

Helena turned sharply, but the only thing standing behind her was a potted fern.

“Well, off you go.” Her mother shooed her away like a mangy dog. “You do not have all night.”

Amelia would feel the sharp edge of her tongue for abandoning her, Helena thought, as she stormed out onto the terrace. But other than Lord and Lady Fanshaw, who were only concerned with staring into each other’s eyes and giggling like children, the terrace was empty.

Helena muttered an unladylike curse.

How was she supposed to catch the attention of a suitable gentleman when she spent most of her time traipsing about after Amelia?

She walked to the top of the steps leading down into the dimly lit garden, placed her hands on her hips and scoured the shadows. Surely, Amelia was not silly enough to walk in the garden alone. Then Helena remembered that was where she thought Lucas Dempsey had gone. What better way to glean a marriage proposal than to be caught in an illicit embrace.

Compelled by a sudden wave of panic, Helena stole down the steps and out into the garden in search of her wayward sibling.




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