Weaving a web of revenge can be satisfying, but dangerous to your heart.

London society is shallow and cruel—sending Cassandra Renwick running to her parents’ home in Calcutta, the exotic seat of the British Raj. It’s an interesting place filled with fascinating people—including the dark and mysterious Julian Ritchie. But she never expected that with the magic of this alien land would also come heartbreak.

Julian has always been discriminated against for being only half-English. Embittered, he plots an intricate plan for vengeance with the lovely Cassandra as his pawn. But he soon finds that payback can be painful for the avenger as well when the threads of revenge unwittingly turn into the silken bonds of love.


London, June 1810

Oh, where is he?” Cassandra Renwick strained to see over the heads of the dancers. “He said he would be back momentarily, didn’t he, Olivia?”

“Be patient, Cassandra. He has not been gone five minutes!” Olivia Bradmore laughed at her friend and cousin.

Cassandra sat back in her chair and smiled. Her smile grew, until she too was laughing at herself. “You’re right. I am being a goose! Of course he’ll be back very soon.”

She smoothed the creases from her pale blue gown and adjusted the wide blue velvet ribbon that rested just below her bosom. She was quite thrilled with her gown, knowing that it showed off her eyes and complexion to advantage. She then felt her hair to make sure it was all still properly in place. Thankfully, no loose curls had come out of the intricate arrangement her maid had managed to create.

“My hair hasn’t come out of its pins, has it?”

“No, Cassandra, for the fifth time tonight you look absolutely stunning!” Olivia tried not laugh at her friend again, but did shake her head ruefully.

Cassandra took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. “He is being wonderfully attentive this evening, isn’t he?”

“Indeed. Much more so than Mr. Saunders has been to me, I’m afraid.”

“Oh dear! Poor Olivia! I am so sorry. I’ve been remarkably selfish. All I’ve been thinking about has been myself and Lord Felbridge, when you are trying fix your interests with Mr. Saunders.”

“Oh no, no, I assure you, I am not so set on Mr. Saunders as you are on Lord Felbridge.” Olivia reached out and gave her hand a squeeze. “And your situation is so much more exciting than mine. Why, he might even propose tonight!”

Cassandra sucked in her breath quickly and nearly choked on it. “Do you truly think so? Do you think that is why he asked us to join him here tonight?”

“Well, Vauxhall Gardens is certainly well-known for its romantic walkways. I believe it’s quite easy to slip away and have a little privacy,” Olivia said. The two girls broke into giggles.

Cassandra stopped quickly, however. “No. No, Olivia, I’m certain you’re wrong. Why, we have only been in London for a month! It is certainly much too early to be expecting a declaration.”

“But you’ve known each other since last Christmas. Surely you cannot have forgotten all the fun we had with those silly pantomimes?”

“No, how could I ever forget it? It was the most wonderful holiday I’ve ever had.”  Cassandra sighed as she remembered how Lord Felbridge had caught her under the mistletoe and kissed her. It had been a very brief kiss, but then Olivia and her brother, Charles, had been looking on.  

“And what has brought that beautiful pink blush to your cheeks, Miss Renwick?” Lord Felbridge’s silky, deep voice interrupted her reminiscence.

Cassandra felt her face grow warm. “Oh! Nothing! Nothing at all.”  She laughed self-consciously. “I’m just enjoying the evening, my lord.”

“Ah, I’m happy to hear that. And here I was afraid that you’d be bored, just sitting here watching the dancing.”

Mr. Saunders had returned with Lord Felbridge and was talking quietly with Olivia. The two stood up.

“If you will excuse us, Miss Renwick, Fell, we are going to dance,” Mr. Saunders said, taking Olivia’s hand and escorting her from their box.

Lord Felbridge took Olivia’s vacated seat and Cassandra smoothed down her dress once again.

There was an awkward silence as Cassandra searched her mind for something polite to say. Even after eight years of being taught proper deportment at school, she still found it difficult to start a conversation with a gentleman. Perhaps it was a matter of practice – since she was making her come out with her cousin, she’d been sure to tone down her natural exuberance and follow her cousin’s lead in all things. Olivia was a quiet, demure girl and Cassandra admired her greatly, so she’d deliberately not been the one to take the lead. Now she was paying for it.

Lord Felbridge was looking at her somewhat speculatively, in a way that made her just a bit uncomfortable. He had a half-smile on his face, as if he knew exactly the turmoil that was going on inside her.

They had already thoroughly discussed the weather. And the delights of Lady Broughton’s soiree had also been well-digested earlier, together with the light repast of the shaved ham for which Vauxhall was famous.

“Do you plan on attending the races at Haymarket next weekend?” she blurted out. She immediately realized that such a question from a young lady was quite inappropriate. She wasn’t supposed to know of such things, or at least not take an interest in them. Olivia would have been content to stay quiet, Cassandra supposed. She just couldn’t!

“Cousin Charles has been talking about it nonstop for the past few days,” she added hastily.

Lord Felbridge quickly schooled his face into impassivity. She couldn’t quite tell whether he had been shocked or amused that she had asked.

“Er, yes. I plan on driving down with Bradmore.” 

This was when Cassandra noticed the two ladies in the box directly across from her. They had been staring at her ever since Lord Felbridge had sat down. But now they had their heads together, whispering something while stealing glances over toward her.

Cassandra smiled a little to herself. They were probably talking about what a handsome couple she and Lord Felbridge made.

She turned a bright smile on to her companion and hoped she wasn’t looking too forward.

He really was absolutely perfect for her. Tall and blond just as she was, although his eyes were a velvety brown while hers were blue. He was always impeccably dressed in the first stare of fashion, and she assured herself that she was certain to do likewise. Did she not have another appointment with her modiste just the following day?

Yes, the two ladies across from her were probably commenting on how very lucky Cassandra was to have caught one of the most eligible young men of the ton.

“Miss Renwick, would you care to go for a stroll about the gardens?” Lord Felbridge asked, interrupting her musing.

Cassandra’s breath caught in her throat. This was it! Maybe he was going to propose after all! She took a deep breath to calm herself. She didn’t want to sound overly enthusiastic.

A proper young lady is never too enthusiastic. She must remain calm and poised at all times. The words of her school’s headmistress sounded in her ears. Just like Olivia, Cassandra reminded herself, calm and demure.

“That sounds lovely, my lord, thank you.”  She placed her hand in his outstretched one and allowed him to lead her from their box.

“It is so romantic here!” Cassandra could not help herself. The twinkling of the colored lanterns in the trees, the soft music coming from somewhere just beyond the path, and the moonlit night all combined to create an atmosphere of festivity and romance. This was most definitely Vauxhall Gardens at its best.

A deep chuckle answered her enthusiasm. “Yes, they work very hard to create this aura of romance. And they do rather a good job of it too… if you are in the mood to succumb to it.” 

Lord Felbridge leaned closer to Cassandra. She could smell the wonderful musky scent of his cologne. As his lips brushed against her hair, he whispered softly in her ear, “Are you in the mood, Miss Renwick?” 

Cassandra shivered, but couldn’t restrain her embarrassed giggles. Oh, yes, she certainly was in the mood, especially with Lord Felbridge so close to her. She stole a quick glance up at him and then leaned a little closer on his arm, but retained her modesty by saying nothing.

The music and sounds of the more populated area of the gardens faded softly as they moved ever closer to the wooded pathways for which Vauxhall was so well known.

“Have I told you how lovely you look tonight, Miss Renwick?” Lord Felbridge asked quietly.

“Not as yet, my lord,” Cassandra answered saucily, becoming bolder as they gained more privacy.

Lord Felbridge laughed. “Well, then, I have been horribly remiss, haven’t I? Please do accept my humble apologies and know that I believe you to be one of the most beautiful girls here.”

“Oh, now you are coming on too strong, my lord.” Cassandra giggled.

“No, indeed. I am absolutely serious.”

“Felbridge! Is that you?” A gentleman stopped in the near-darkness directly in front of them.

Lord Felbridge and Cassandra stopped walking.

“Harkins! What a pleasant surprise! Haven’t seen you in ages. Been rusticating?” Lord Felbridge reached out and shook the man’s hand.

Cassandra suddenly felt as if she had been completely forgotten. But then Lord Felbridge turned to her and said, “Miss Renwick, this is my very good friend, the Earl of Harkins.”

Lord Harkins bowed over her hand. “How do you do?”

Lord Felbridge grasped his friend’s arm and began walking back the way they had come. “If you will excuse us for just a moment, Miss Renwick. I have some urgent business with Lord Harkins. But, I promise you, I won’t be more than a minute.”

Cassandra was shocked as she watched the two men walk around the corner and out of sight. She was being left alone on a dark pathway while her escort chatted with his friend? She had always thought Lord Felbridge to have the most perfect manners.

A minute passed by while Cassandra stood alone in the dark. She shivered. Her annoyance dissipating while mild apprehension overtook her. Vauxhall Gardens was full of people, she told herself. She was in no danger at all. Yet, being alone at night in a near forest was rather frightening, despite the faint sounds of laughter, and the mumble of voices and music from so far away.

Perhaps, Cassandra thought, she could move to where she could at least see the two men. And surely their brief business discussion was over by now.

As she had expected, the two gentlemen were not far. She smiled as she caught the last words from Lord Harkins. Their business was, indeed, concluded.

“Then that’s settled, Felly. A hundred guineas on Waving Wind.”

The men shook hands and were about to part, when Lord Harkins turned back.

“Now tell me this, Felly, my boy, who is this chit? Never heard of the Renwicks.”

Cassandra shrank into the shadows, eager to hear the rest, but knowing full well that she shouldn’t.

Lord Felbridge laughed briefly. “Oh, she is a nobody I am amusing myself with. Of no importance whatsoever, I assure you. You in town for long? You must come and see this new gaming hell that has opened up. It’s quite good. I won six hundred off of Barnslow last night.”

“Count me in, my friend. See you there about one?”

“Oh no, I’ll be there much before that. Another fifteen minutes of making love to this girl and I’ll be bored beyond belief. Besides, she’s a proper young miss, so I’m not likely to get very far. I’ll try my luck, but I expect I’ll be at the club before too long.”

His friend smiled broadly at Felbridge, his shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter.

“You’re always a card, Felly!”

“Am I? Well, you have yet to hear the really amusing part.” Felbridge paused, his voice shaking with laughter. “She thinks she may actually have a chance of getting me into the parson’s mousetrap! As if I would even consider the daughter of a baronet. It is utterly ridiculous! You should have seen Sefton’s face when I told him. He was hysterical with laughter—in fact most of the fellows at the club were.”

Harkins gave up his fight to suppress his laughter. As his chuckles subsided, he patted Lord Felbridge on the back. “Enjoy your game. Until later, then.”

Cassandra quickly jumped back to where she had been left. He had told the other gentlemen at his club and had a good laugh about her? That meant that rumors were already spreading through every drawing room of the ton.

She was ruined!

How could he have done this to her? Cassandra bit her lip to hold back her tears.

Lord Felbridge, still smiling when he rejoined her, deftly put his arm around her waist. “Now where were we? Ah yes, I was saying how lovely you look this evening, was I not?” 

Surreptitiously wiping at her wet cheeks with her hand, Cassandra was grateful for the darkness. She would not let this incredibly rude and horrible man see how upset she was. That would not do.

“If you do not mind, my lord, I would like to go back to the table,” she said as calmly as possible while moving away from him.

I do not want to bore you any more than I already have, she added silently to herself. Nor do I want to provide any more fodder for the ever-hungry gossips of the ton. She longed to let this thoughtless, haughty man know that she had overheard him. But, of course, that would only increase his amusement. So it wasn’t even worth wasting her breath.

“Oh come now, Miss Renwick,” Lord Felbridge said, taking hold of her hand. “You are not upset because I stopped for a moment to speak with an old friend, are you?”

“No, of course not…”

“No, you are much too knowledgeable in the ways of society for that.”

Now he was laughing at her! She was sure of it.

“My dear Cassandra, come now, give me a kiss and say you’ll forgive me?”

Cassandra was shocked! He wanted her to kiss him? She would sooner kiss a toad! She looked around her for a good way to get out of this, but was chagrined to see that he had led her into one of the dark alcoves. There was no one in sight.

He moved closer, putting his hand on the small of her back to make sure she couldn’t run away.

“P-please, Lord Felbridge. I would rather you took me back to my cousin.”  She put her hands on his chest to stop him from coming any closer, but already it was almost too late. She turned her head away as he bent toward her, ready to press his lips to hers. “Please, my lord! Don’t make me scream for help.”

Lord Felbridge froze where he was, less than an inch from her face. Then he straightened up and shrugged. “Very well, if that is the way you feel. I thought that you had warmer sentiments toward me than that. But if you wish to go, then, by all means, let us return to your cousin immediately.”

He took a step back and once again held out his arm for her to take, as if nothing had happened.

Upset as she was, she contemplated not taking it. But that would not do. She could not show the world how she was feeling. She had been taught well at school. She took a deep breath, straightened her back and took Lord Felbridge’s arm.

When they reached their box, she sat down next to Olivia while the gentlemen stood behind them and talked quietly together.

“Well?” Olivia whispered, leaning close.

“I want to leave, Olivia,” Cassandra whispered back. “I want to leave Vauxhall Gardens. I want to leave London. I want to leave England, altogether.”  She paused in thought for a moment.

“I want to go to my parents in Calcutta.”