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Authors: Dangerous Games

Amanda Scott (8 page)

BOOK: Amanda Scott
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“But they would. At such an hour as this, the very idea is outrageous.”

“Not if I say it is not, Melissa.” The grim note had returned to his voice, and the look he gave her dared her to contradict him. When she remained silent, he said, “That’s much better. Now, if you are going to brush your hair, do so at once.”

Obediently, she dragged the brush through her tangled hair, but though she would have drawn the process out as long as possible, he soon took the brush from her and wielded it with energy enough to bring the tears back to her eyes.

“There,” he said at last. “Now, pin it up or whatever you do, but do it quickly if you don’t want me to do it for you.”

Stepping away from him without a word, she twisted the silken strands swiftly into a knot at the nape of her neck and pinned it in place. Then, seeing that he held her cloak ready for her, she did not point out that her only gown was wrinkled and needed both washing and pressing, but allowed him to drape the cloak around her shoulders. When he opened the door she said, “My gloves, Papa?”

“Yes, yes, put them on.”

“Must you not order horses saddled for us, sir?”

“We’ll walk.”


“We’ll walk, I said. It is no more than a few blocks, and if you don’t want to suffer another lesson in obedience before we leave, you will hold your tongue. In fact, don’t utter another word until we find Yarborne.”

Believing he would do what he threatened, Melissa pressed her lips tightly together. Downstairs, when they encountered a surprised look from the landlord, Sir Geoffrey said, “Going to take my daughter for a little stroll up the street. Been cooped up here all evening, you know. She will be the better for a breath of air.”

“To be sure, sir, but you won’t want her walking along the public street. You’ll find the small garden behind the stables much more to your liking. You won’t see my rib’s flowers a-blooming in the dark, but there’s a moon up, so you’ll see the path well enough without needing a lad to light your way.”

“Thank you,” Sir Geoffrey said, giving a clear impression that he intended to take the advice. In the yard, however, he did not so much as turn toward that garden behind the stables, urging Melissa forward to the High Street. She put up her hood to hide her features from passersby, knowing that no one who saw her walking there at such an hour would take her for a gentlewoman. Fifteen minutes later, when they arrived at the White Hart, she kept her face down and her hood up as Sir Geoffrey hustled her inside.

When a porter approached to ask how he might serve them, Sir Geoffrey said, “Has Lord Yarborne returned yet?”

“Oh, it’s you, sir. Well, the fact is, he ain’t back and most likely won’t get back yet a while. Even with the sweepstakes tomorrow, many gentlemen won’t leave the tables before dawn. Not that his lordship generally stays out so late, but as I said before, I doubt we’ll see him before midnight. Do you want to wait for him? I cannot offer you a private parlor, for they’re taken, and without his lordship having warned us to expect you, I can’t let you wait in the one he hired for himself.”

“No, no, I won’t ask that of you,” Sir Geoffrey said. “What I would like to do, however, is to seek him out, if you know where I might find him now.”

“As to that, I can’t say for certain, sir, but I do know as how he’s partial—like so many other gentlemen—to what they call the Little Hell. He don’t like the food there, which is why I didn’t send you round before, knowing as I did that he meant to dine with his son, who arrived today from Oxford.”

“Thank you, we’ll look for him there,” Sir Geoffrey said, reaching into his waistcoat pocket and handing the man a coin. “Back up the High Street, is it not?”

“Aye, sir, in Kingston Passage. The entrance is on the right just before you reach All Saints Street.”

Melissa watched the porter through her lashes and saw that he was regarding her with curiosity. Since he made no attempt to dissuade Sir Geoffrey from taking her with him to find Yarborne, she decided he believed her to be a strumpet.

Out in the street, she said quietly, “Please, Papa, don’t make me go with you. A place with a name like that cannot be one where I ought to be seen.”

“Then keep your hood up, and take a lesson from this, for it is all your own fault. Had you obeyed me earlier, you would not now find yourself in such a case.”

“Please take me back. I’ll stay at the inn, I promise.”

“I’m not letting you out of my sight until I’ve kept my bargain with Yarborne.”

The passageway to which the porter had given him directions was a narrow, cobbled alley. When a man stepped out of the shadows to confront them, Melissa drew her hood more securely into place.

“Beg pardon, sir, but this be no area to walk with a lady.”

Sir Geoffrey said haughtily, “I am expected here, my good man, if this is the place known hereabouts as the Little Hell.”

“It be that right enough, sir. I’m their orderly man, you see. No females admitted, I’m afraid.”

“This one is expected just as I am, fellow, and I certainly cannot leave her out here in the street.” To Melissa’s dismay, Sir Geoffrey chuckled then and added in a conspiratorial way, “She is by way of being a gift for Lord Yarborne, you see.”

The man grinned appreciatively and said, “Well, in that case …” He led them to where the passageway opened into a cobbled courtyard and light spilled from a number of windows, then ran nimbly up a set of narrow steps to open a tall door crowned by a lighted fanlight.

Digging in her heels, Melissa said desperately, “Don’t do this, please!”

Sir Geoffrey pulled her past the grinning orderly, into the house.

They found themselves in a narrow but elaborate entry hall. It was unoccupied, but from a room ahead of them came a rumble of conversation, punctuated by frequent shouts and laughter. Sir Geoffrey hustled Melissa toward the doorway.

Numerous chandeliers and wall sconces lighted the room. Melissa saw only men present, and tried again to pull away from Sir Geoffrey, but his grip tightened around her arm. Pausing just inside the doorway, he said in a carrying voice, “I say, Yarborne, I’ve been looking for you. I’ve come to deliver what I owe you, sir!”

A Win Reveals False Play

devil?” Other men made similar exclamations, and play came to a halt when everyone in the room turned to look at the newcomers.

Nick, too, had glanced up at the disturbance, and watched through narrowed eyes as Sir Geoffrey Seacourt dragged the girl past their table, through the crush of gamblers parting before them, to the opposite side of the room. He had recognized Seacourt’s voice at once, but he did not think he would have recognized the girl.

The sable-trimmed hood of her blue cloak fell back as Seacourt yanked her along. Flying wisps of flaxen hair, loosened from the twist at the nape of her neck, framed her flushed, oval face. She looked frightened and untidy, like a child dragged after midnight from her bed. The heavy cloak concealed her slender—and memorably supple—figure in its swirling folds.

“Who is that fellow?” Tommy demanded, putting down his cards and getting up.

The din diminished abruptly to a buzz of curiosity, and Nick’s calm voice carried easily when he said, “Sir Geoffrey Seacourt.”

“Oh, yes,” Tommy said, nodding. “Seen him at the Billingsgate, I think.”

Nick said, “Not a stunning recommendation of the place, if that’s where he learned to drag females about, or to enter a room shouting a man’s name for all to hear. But no doubt you’re right. He seems to know Yarborne, at least.”

“Yes, yes, I remember him. Must be in his cups now, for as I recall, he’s a pleasant fellow. Plays deep, but so do we all. Still, what the devil is he about to be bringing his peculiar into the Little Hell?”

“I think you will discover that she is not his peculiar.” Nick wished that he had not drunk so much brandy. His mind was not working in its usual reliable way. He dragged his gaze from the girl back to Seacourt. The man’s lips were moving, but Nick could not hear the words.

A hush fell when the rest of the men realized Seacourt was speaking, and his words floated across the room. “… and I always pay my debts.”

“Do you indeed?” Yarborne said evenly. “I don’t recall that our agreement included such prompt or public delivery, however.”

Tommy looked astonished. “Delivery?” he muttered under his breath. “What can he mean by that?”

“Hush, rattle,” Nick said, “I want to hear this.”

So, apparently, did everyone else, for aside from the astonished muttering that accompanied Tommy’s exclamation, not another sound was heard until Seacourt said, “As I recall the matter, Yarborne, I agreed to fetch the chit and deliver her to you here at Newmarket.” He glanced away, seemed to become aware of his audience, and smiled, saying to the room at large, “Yarborne agreed to accept an heiress in exchange for those of my vowels that he has collected to date. This is she.”

When a collective gasp greeted this announcement, his smile widened, but he said, “Now, now, gentlemen, no need for that. Yarborne intends to marry her.”

Yarborne, looking at the girl with a sneer, said, “You overstep yourself, sir. As I recall our agreement, I agreed to accept this little bird as payment for your debt, but I don’t believe I am bound in any way to marry her. She is but a prize in the game, fairly won, so I can do as I please with her, can I not? When she begins to bore me, would you not agree that I can simply discard her or stake her as the prize for another hand?”

Nick realized he had clenched his teeth, and consciously relaxed his jaw. It was, after all, no business of his what Seacourt did with his daughter. Reaching for his glass, he sipped. The girl had squared her shoulders at the end of Yarborne’s discourse. She no longer looked like a child. When she tossed her head and reached to push strands of her silky hair back from her face, he saw a bruise darkening her cheek, and stiffened, wishing he might be granted a few moments alone with Sir Geoffrey Seacourt.

Unruffled by Yarborne’s speech, Seacourt said with a shrug, “She is yours to do with as you please, Yarborne, but you’d do well to remember the reason you agreed to take her in the first place.”

“Ah, yes,” Yarborne said, “the inheritance. I must say, if she is the great heiress you declared her to be, I don’t know why you would display her to all and sundry in this fashion. I’m by no means certain that I want a wife who has been exhibited as a public spectacle.”

“Perhaps I was impetuous to deliver her to you at once,” Seacourt said in the same smooth tone that Yarborne had employed. Clearly enjoying himself now, he added, “You may certainly do as you please with the chit once you have her, but her inheritance will do you no good if you don’t marry her.”

“That’s a point to you, certainly,” Yarborne said, shifting his gaze to the girl. “What is your given name, my dear?”

She hesitated, and Nick could almost feel her trembling. He resisted an impulse to stride across the room and snatch her away from both men. Though he did not doubt he could do it, he knew that such an act would accomplish little. Not only did he not have the slightest idea what he would do with her once he had rescued her but Seacourt would still be her father, with the right to give her in marriage to anyone he chose, or to slap her again. The bruise on her face showed plainly that he had already done that at least once. The most Nick could accomplish would be to remove her from the present humiliating situation, and if his action resulted in more of the same Turkish treatment she had already endured, she would be unlikely to thank him.

Just then, she looked at Yarborne and said with grave dignity, “My name is Melissa, sir, but you should know that I am here against my will.”

“Are you indeed?” Yarborne said. A cynical smile touched his lips. “Do you know, my dear, that does not surprise me. I cannot imagine any lady of gentle birth setting foot in Little Hell by choice. You are clearly an obedient young woman, who will make an equally obedient wife.”

“But not your wife, sir,” she said. “No clergyman will force me to marry where I do not want to.”

Another wave of murmurs met this remark, but they hushed when Yarborne said, “Your reputation has suffered merely by your presence in this place, my dear, and I have agreed publicly to accept you in exchange for Seacourt’s debts. It is of little moment to me if I marry you or not, but I think you will agree that the best course for you under the circumstances will be to accept marriage if I do choose to offer it.”

The general murmuring stirred again, its tone making clear that nearly everyone present agreed with his statement.

Miss Seacourt flushed deeply, but Nick could see that she still met Yarborne’s gaze directly. She said, “I do not agree that my only course is to marry you, my lord, although I can see that I will be ruined if I don’t. However, you should know that my inheritance is not nearly so certain as you have been led to believe.”

“That’s enough, Melissa,” Seacourt said sharply. “You don’t know what you are saying. Women know nothing about financial matters.”

She kept her eyes fixed on Yarborne and said, “I have no money of my own, sir, beyond the pin money my stepfather allows me. My expectations derive from the possibility that Sir Geoffrey will predecease me without having sired a son, and from my mother’s great-aunt, who is a woman of independent means.”

“A singularly wealthy woman of great antiquity,” Seacourt said. “Now, be silent, Melissa, or you will displease me excessively, which I am sure you don’t want to do. If his lordship has questions about your inheritance, he will discuss them with me.”

“Who the devil is that chit?” Tommy demanded. “If she’s his stepdaughter, he’s a damned rogue. That’s all I can say.”

“He’s worse than that, but hush, I want to hear this,” Nick said, realizing from his friend’s question that neither Yarborne nor Seacourt had yet identified her as the latter’s daughter.

Yarborne said, “Well now, Seacourt, if I understand the chit, she suggests that I might not ever get the money you promised. What have you to say to that, sir?”

BOOK: Amanda Scott
6.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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