Susan Trenchard lay in bed listening to the Church bells of All Saints, Isleworth. Every now and then she could hear the noises of the river: watermen calling to each other, the splash of an oar. She looked round the room. It was decorated like a bedchamber in a great house rather than a lodging, with heavy brocade curtains, a classical chimney piece and a fine four poster which she found so comfortable. Another woman might have been alarmed to discover that John Bellasis kept a small house in Isleworth with a single room for eating, a large and luxuriously appointed bedroom and more or less nothing else beyond a service area and presumably a room for the near-silent man who ministered to them. Again, the fact that the servant had asked no questions when they arrived but simply produced a delicious luncheon before ushering them into a bedroom where the curtains had been drawn and the fire lit might have implied that he knew the form for this type of encounter a little too thoroughly for comfort. But Susan was too content, too satisfied – indeed, more satisfied than she had been in years – to pick holes in her present happiness.
‘You should probably get dressed.’ John stood at the foot of the bed, buttoning his trousers. ‘I’m dining in town, and you should be back in time to change.’
‘Do we have to?’
Susan propped herself up in the bed. Her auburn hair snaked in curls over her smooth white shoulders. She bit her plump bottom lip as she looked up at John. In this mood, she really was quite irresistible and she knew it. John walked over and sat down next to her, running his index finger down the side of her neck, tracing the curve of her collarbone, while Susan closed her eyes. He cupped her chin and kissed her.
What an extraordinary proposition Susan Trenchard had turned out to be. Their meeting at his aunt’s soirée had been quite fortuitous and entirely unplanned, but she was his best discovery this Season. He really believed she would keep him entertained for weeks.
He had Susan’s maid, Speer, to thank for the ease of their adventure. For a wiry, miserable-looking woman she was prepared to be remarkably complicit in her mistress’s seduction. Not that Susan had really needed much encouragement, especially when faced with someone as proficient in the bedroom arts as John. He’d always had a sharp eye for a woman who was likely to stray. Her boredom and lack of affection for her husband had been obvious to him as soon as he’d approached her that evening at Brockenhurst House. All he’d had to do was flatter her a little, tell her how pretty she was, frown with interest at her opinions and slowly but surely, he knew he would be able to prise her away from the weak-looking Oliver Trenchard. In the end, women really were very simple creatures, he thought now, looking into her pale blue eyes. They might tremble with indecision, affect shock and dismay at the very idea, but he knew these for the stages they felt obliged to go through. From the moment she’d laughed at his jokes, he knew he could have her whenever he wanted.
He’d followed up that first encounter in Belgrave Square with a letter. For discretion’s sake, he had sent it by post, for the price of a new penny red. In it he declared, in the most florid and romantic of terms, how much he had enjoyed their conversation, and how rare a beauty he thought she was. It was impossible to get her out of his head, he’d enthused, smiling as he imagined her reading his words.
He’d suggested they meet for tea at Morley’s Hotel in Trafalgar Square. It was a well-frequented establishment, but not usually by anyone with whom John was closely acquainted. The invitation had been something of a test. If Susan were the sort of woman who could manufacture an excuse to travel across London and meet him in the middle of the day, then she was a woman who was free with the truth, capable of duplicity and therefore worth pursuing. He barely managed to contain his feelings of triumph as she walked through the glass revolving door of the hotel, accompanied by Speer.
Of course it must be said that in most of this John was entirely mistaken. He thought so much of his powers of seduction that it never occurred to him that Susan Trenchard had no need to be seduced. The truth was that when she learned of John’s dazzling prospects, coupled with the very real attraction she’d felt for him at their first meeting, Susan had decided that she would be first John’s mistress and then, if things went well, she would decide how far things might progress. He should have known that the mere fact she’d brought her maid into the secret – as she must have done by getting her to accompany her to the hotel – meant that she was an active, and not a passive, participant in the plan. Susan knew well enough that no one would...