Chapter One England1815"Oh, there you are, Jason," the raven-haired beauty said to her husband's reflection in the mirror above her dressing table. Her gaze slid warily over his tall, rugged frame as he came toward her; then she returned her attention to the open jewel cases spread out before her. A nervous tremor shook her hand and her smile was overly bright as she removed a spectacular diamond choker from a case and held it out to him. "Help me fasten this, will you?"Her husband's face tightened with distaste as he looked at the necklaces of glittering rubies and magnificent emeralds already spread across her swelling breasts above, the daring bodice of her gown. "Isn't your display of flesh and jewels a little vulgar for a woman who hopes to masquerade as a grand lady?""What would you know about vulgarity?" Melissa Fielding retorted contemptuously. "This gown is the height of fashion." Haughtily she added, "Baron Lacroix likes it very well. He specifically asked me to wear it to the ball tonight.""No doubt he doesn't want to be troubled with too many fasteners when he takes it off you," her husband returned sarcastically."Exactly. He's French -- and terribly impetuous.""Unfortunately, he's also penniless.""He thinks I'm beautiful," Melissa taunted, her voice beginning to shake with pent-up loathing."He's right." Jason Fielding's sardonic gaze swept over her lovely face with its alabaster skin, slightly tilted green eyes, and full red lips, then dropped to her voluptuous breasts trembling invitingly above the plunging neckline of her scarlet velvet gown. "You are a beautiful, amoral, greedy...bitch."Turning on his heel, he started from the room, then stopped. His icy voice was edged with implacable authority. "Before you leave, go in and say good night to our son. Jamie is too little to understand what a bitch you are, and he misses you when you're gone. I'm leaving for Scotland within the hour.""Jamie!" she hissed wrathfully. "He's all you care about -- " Without bothering to deny it, her husband walked toward the door, and Melissa's anger ignited."When you come back from Scotland, I won't be here!" she threatened."Good," he said without stopping."You bastard!" she spat, her voice shaking with suppressed rage. "I'm going to tell the world who you really are, and then I'm going to leave you. I'll never come back. Never!"With his hand on the door handle, Jason turned, his features a hard, contemptuous mask. "You'll come back," he sneered. "You'll come back, just as soon as you run out of money."The door closed behind him and Melissa's exquisite face filled with triumph. "I'll never come back, Jason," she said aloud to the empty room, "because I'll never run out of money. You'll send me whatever I want....""Good evening, my lord," the butler said in an odd, tense whisper."Happy Christmas, Northrup," Jason answered automatically as he stamped the snow off his boots and handed his wet cloak to the servant. That last scene with Melissa, two weeks earlier, sprang to his mind, but he pushed the memory away. "The weather cost me an extra day of travel. Has my son already gone to bed?"The butler froze."Jason -- " A heavyset, middle-aged man with the tanned, weathered face of a seasoned seaman stood in the doorway of the salon off the marble entrance foyer, motioning to Jason to join him."What are you doing here, Mike?" Jason asked, watching with puzzlement as the older man carefully closed the salon door."Jason," Mike Farrell said tautly, "Melissa is gone. She and Lacroix sailed for Barbados right after you left for Scotland." He paused, waiting for some reaction, but there was none. He drew a long, ragged breath. "They took Jamie with them."Savage fury ignited in Jason's eyes, turning them into furnaces of rage. "I'll kill her for this!" he said, already starting toward the door. "I'll find her, and I'll kill her -McNaught, Judith is the author of 'Once and Always' with ISBN 9780671737627 and ISBN 0671737627.