To Love and to Loathe Page 1


July 1812

Diana Bourne was only eighteen, but she knew one thing already: men were fools. Adorable fools sometimes, enticing fools occasionally, but fools one and all.

This was not a complaint—for Diana’s purposes, the fact that most men of her acquaintance seemed to have little more than a few bits of cotton wool floating around between their ears was really rather ideal. Because Diana’s purposes, quite simply, were to be wed to a man of means—one did not need to possess intellect to boast a hefty purse, and furthermore, in her experience thus far, the two qualities seemed to be mutually exclusive.

Take her brother, Viscount Penvale. Penvale was a touch addlepated, of course, by virtue of the male anatomy he possessed, but he was well-read, a deft hand at cards, and, at times, unsettlingly observant—a shining beacon of intellect compared to other gentlemen of his set. And yet, he had pockets to let. The poor boy didn’t have two pennies to rub together—which, unfortunately, meant that she was in similarly dire straits.

“And what are you hunting for tonight, dear sister?” His voice came from behind her, startling her out of her thoughts as she stood, glass of ratafia in hand, at the edge of a crowded ballroom.

She turned, schooling her features into the expression of bland innocence that she knew men found so appealing—which would not fool her brother for a moment.

Sure enough, he arched an eyebrow at her in amusement. He refrained from comment only because next to him stood Jeremy Overington, the Marquess of Willingham, one of his best friends. And, oh. If only a handful of men could be said to be enticing fools, Willingham was one of them. Tall, golden-haired, and possessing shoulders that were just the right width to be attractive without making him appear unfashionably brawny, Willingham made female heads turn in every room he entered. Aside from his objective aesthetic appeal, there was something about him—a certain knowing gleam in his eye, a heaviness to his gaze—that set Diana’s heart beating just a touch more rapidly than it should have done whenever she was in his presence.

This was inconvenient, because despite his aforementioned positive attributes, he was also overly fond of drink and women and, most disqualifying of all, deeply in debt. Useless in regard to her current objective, in other words. It was therefore maddening that her traitorous heart sped up each time he came within fifty feet of her.

“Lord Willingham,” she said coolly, pleased to hear that her voice sounded bored rather than breathless. “Would you be so kind as to remove my irritating brother… elsewhere?”

“Angry I’ve caught you out?” Penvale asked genially, never one to be put off by a barb from her. “You needn’t pretend for Jeremy’s sake; I’ve told him you’ve been calculating marriage the way some men consider an investment scheme.”

“And aren’t they more or less the same thing at heart?” Diana asked sweetly.

Lord Willingham let out a surprised laugh, which relieved her—he had been watching her in a way that made her feel quite unsettled, and she was pleased to have broken his calm.

“Too true, Miss Bourne,” Willingham said. “Why don’t you tell me all about your hunt whilst dancing this waltz with me?”

Diana consulted the dance card attached to her wrist. “I’ve promised this waltz to Lord Snidewhistle.”

Willingham leaned in close. “Snidewhistle is up to his ears in gambling debts; it’s not widely known yet, but it will be soon.”

This was, in fact, rather disappointing—despite his unfortunate name, Snidewhistle had been one of the younger gentlemen on her list of potential husbands, and one of the few with whom the idea of sharing a bed had not been entirely repellent.

“In fact,” Willingham continued, “I saw him at the hazard tables not five minutes ago, and he was so deeply immersed in his game that I doubt he remembers what day it is, much less that he is engaged to waltz with so charming a lady as yourself.” These words were laced with the slightest trace of sarcasm.

Diana scowled at him. “I will dance with you,” she said, lifting her nose into the air, “but only because I cannot stand to be a wallflower.”

Her brother snorted.

“I don’t think you’ve much to worry about there,” he said.

And he was, in some sense, correct. Diana had attracted her fair share of male attention in the weeks since her debut—unsurprisingly, given her honey-colored hair, hazel eyes, and a bosom that one Almack’s patroness deemed “rather vulgar.” However, she also had a decided lack of fortune—indeed, her pin money amounted to a sum that would have made a lesser lady weep—and, as a result, she found herself with a decided lack of decent proposals.

And with a fair number of indecent ones.

“Come, Miss Bourne,” Willingham said, taking her arm without so much as a by-your-leave and leading her onto the dance floor as the opening notes of a waltz drifted through the room.

“I suppose you expect me to thank you for the tip about Snidewhistle,” Diana said as they took their positions, her hand on his shoulder, his hand at her waist.

Willingham flashed her a grin. Thump, thump, went her heart. “I would never be so foolish as to expect the Honorable Diana Bourne to thank me for anything,” he said, pivoting her slowly about the room as the waltz began. “Though, of course, if you wanted to consider yourself in my debt, I shouldn’t object.…”