The Second Shot (The Dueling Pistols) (9 page)

BOOK: The Second Shot (The Dueling Pistols)
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"While we didn't find anyone in London who gambled away a fortune thanks to Lungren, he did fleece half of the raw recruits. His murder could have resulted from a long-standing grudge," speculated Randy.

"Perhaps we should not simply hand over the title to the estate," said Tony. It wasn't wise to abandon any advantage until the motive became clear, and the letter muddied the waters a bit.

Bedford shook his head. "I don't want any part of it."

"You don't want to find his murderer?" asked Tony.

"Not by being the next victim, I don't."

"He obviously trusted you enough to send you a warning." Randy held up the letter. "He must have suspected all might not go as he planned. He thought it mattered who owned his estate, and warned you to keep quiet about it."

"Appears to me, he was counting on your assistance," Tony added. "We three do have the advantage of knowing that Lungren was murdered, while the killer believes he's gotten off scot-free."

Bedford swallowed hard. "All right."

"Well, then, we shall just have to stick together, won't we, gentlemen? We do not want any more suspicious deaths." Tony looked at Bedford. "It should be quite interesting to see who is most concerned about the whereabouts of the title."

"What is our next step?" asked Randy.

"Why, I think we should make a condolence call on Lungren's sisters tomorrow afternoon and dine together at the Boars Head Inn afterward."

"Not today?"

"No, I have another call I need to make this afternoon." If Felicity thought she could be rid of him so easily, she had another thing coming.

* * *

Felicity took one look at Charles in long pants and spun on her heels. Once out of the room she clenched her fists and slammed through the rooms until she located her parents in the breakfast parlor.

"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded.

"What is the meaning of what, dear?" Felicity's mother split open a scone and buttered it.

Felicity practically sputtered. "Charles is wearing a skeleton suit. Why is he out of short coats?"

Her father lowered the newspaper he held. "I told you I was taking him to my tailor. He doesn't need to be in mourning anymore."

"I said for you to have some short coats made up. He was not to wear long pants until the age of six."

"He's nearly six years old now," said her mother.

"Not until April. This is not good."

"Felicity, no one will remember that he was a little early. No one pays much attention to children."

"I'll never get him out of them now." What boy would willingly go back to short coats? What were her parents thinking?

Her father raised the newspaper.

"It would have been a waste to have new short coats made up when he will only wear them two months," argued her mother.

She could afford to have clothes made for each wearing and dispose of them afterward without making a dent in her wealth, let alone touching Charles's.

Felicity wanted to rail at them, but she clapped her mouth shut. She didn't want to have a childish pet in front of her parents. That would only make him think she needed chaperoning even more. She forced herself to breathe slowly. "I cannot fathom why you thought I would condone the slight to Layton's memory."

"We weren't trying to dishonor Layton's memory," said her mother with a wavering voice.

"Trying or not, you did. You may not have cared for Layton's social status, but he was a good enough man to save me from certain disgrace. And his money is now saving you from ruin."

Her father threw down the paper and left the room.

"He doesn't like to be reminded, and we just thought it would save you a little to have Charles move directly from mourning clothes to long trousers."

"It would be best if you and Papa made arrangements to return home."

Her mother put her fingers in front of her mouth and went teary-eyed. "Oh, no. We
can't
do that."

"Why not?"

"A young woman cannot live alone. Your father and I would never forgive ourselves if there was a whisper of scandal. And how could you avoid it if you insist on being part of polite society?"

"I'll hire a companion."

"Felicity, you know that is not enough."

"What is enough?"

"If you had a husband to look after—"

Felicity almost stamped her foot. "I can't marry. I'm in mourning. To marry would be far more scandalous than living on my own, with my son and my niece in residence."

"I know that you can't marry, but if you were to enter into an agreement with a gentleman..."

Felicity wanted to yank out her parents' twiddle-brains and feed them to the birds. Didn't they understand that it was being engaged that had got her into trouble in the first place?

"...a gentleman we could trust to watch out for you and well..."

"Marry me by special license and damn the scandal if it should prove necessary?"

"If you are going to be so forthright about it, well, yes, Felicity. You could certainly afford to take a wedding trip to the Continent should there need to be some ambiguity about certain dates."

Felicity threw up her hands. "Very well."

* * *

Tony stared at the note that had arrived just as he was showing Bedford and Randy the door. It was short and to the point:

 

If you still wish to call on me today, I shall be at home until noon.

 

Not much time, and no signature. But that was common when ladies made assignations. However, assignations didn't normally take place in the morning, and he needed to walk Phys first. Well, there was no point in appearing too eager to play fiddle to her bow. And he was none too sure of her mood.

He ought to have his head examined for wanting to bother with such a mercurial woman. The only thing he knew was that Felicity was passionate when it counted. He'd never met a woman before or since who made his blood rise to such a fever pitch.

Tony rubbed his thigh as he stood in front of her town house and raised the brass lion's-head knocker. He had perhaps overtaxed his leg the night before, going about town trying to discover if Lungren had made any mortal enemies with his propensity for fleecing others.

The butler took his card and nodded. "I'm to put you in the green drawing room. If you would follow me, sir."

Tony entered the house. Like most London houses it had a simple design, although with a grander simplicity than most. The colonnaded entry hall led to a wide staircase with gleaming mahogany risers. Tony's boots clicked unevenly on the finely veined rose marble as he followed the butler. The carpet on the stairs absorbed all noise and made Tony feel as if he walked on clouds, especially since the midday sun gleamed down on the wide staircase and glinted off the gold-plate-and-Venetian-glass gas girandoles in the entry hall.

Tony had the sinking realization that if he had married Felicity, she would have lived in tents or cramped quarters that would have fit in her London entry hall with room to spare, much like the Spartan quarters he lived in now.

Could he really fault her for throwing him over?

A footman and two maids scurried by as Tony was shut into a spacious room. The butler drew back the heavy green velvet drapes and tied them with thick gold-braid cords. In spite of the coal fire burning in the grate, the room had the feel of little use.

The plush mint-and-emerald carpet felt comfortably thick under his feet. Sphinxes and lions seemed ready to leap at him from the legs of the furniture. An ornately decorated chaise longue invited a body to recline and become bait for the snapping crocodiles that curled up the carved legs. Did she mean to use the chaise for a tryst?

Heat rushed to his lower half as he tried to banish the thought.

The door clicked open, and Tony turned from the window.

Felicity entered the room wearing a lavender wool pelisse with gray-corded trim, and a matching gray bonnet already on her head. He should have realized the first time he saw her that she was in half-mourning. He ticked off almost forgotten society rules in his head. That meant she'd been a widow more than six months but less than a year.

What dismayed him more was that she had gone so far as to purchase outerwear in half-mourning colors. Most people didn't bother.

"Have the carriage brought round, if you please. We shall be leaving shortly," she said to the servant then closed the door behind her.

Which would give him fifteen minutes or less. Surely she didn't mean for him to perform so quickly. No, the hat and pelisse signaled she was leaving shortly. Perhaps she had summoned him to give him particulars of a later assignation? His blood thrummed in his veins.

"We don't have much time, so I'll be brief." Felicity moved across the room and perched on the edge of the chaise longue.

She turned and met his eyes, and a flood of tenderness rushed through him. Her look was uncertain, much the same as it had been all the years ago when she met him at the basement door and smuggled him up the servants' stairs to her bedroom. Was he about to be met with a similar offer?

He stepped forward and was stopped short by his limp. "Please accept my condolences for your loss. I hadn't realized before yesterday."

She batted away his words with an impatient hand. "It was a blessing, really."

"Your husband was ill a long time, then?"

She blinked, then looked down at her gloved hands. "Yes, several years." Her voice firmer, she said, "Do sit down, Tony. I have a request. I can't make it if you are hanging over me."

He moved to the end of the chaise longue and risked the crocodiles and sat down. He reached for Felicity's hands. He wanted an affair, now that he was on the verge of getting that he contrarily wanted to comfort her.

She allowed him to take her hands in his. His heart stepped up a notch as he rubbed his thumb over the fine kid leather of her glove. Next time he'd pull off the glove and caress her skin.

"I have to leave soon to fetch my niece." She hesitated and then began again in a rush of tumbling words, "This is a horrid room, is it not? But we shan't be disturbed. We hardly ever use the room, because the carvings used to scare Charles, and we got out of the habit. The rose drawing room is much more cozy."

He didn't want to hear about her son with this Merriwether fellow. Although he empathized with his sentiments about the carvings "Mmmmm."

"I shall redecorate it one of these days, but I have had no time to spare. It was like this when Layton bought the house for me."

His blood curdled. He really didn't want to hear anything about her dead husband's gifts to her, either. "What is your request?"

She bit her lip and then spit out, "I should like you to tell my parents you are affianced to me." She hesitated a moment while he grappled with what she said. "Again."

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

"No!" Tony jerked to his feet. His leg nearly faltered, and he ground his teeth, fighting for control, standing still instead of stalking to the door. "I have no desire to marry you."

"I know that. I don't want to marry you. I want you to tell my parents that you
intend
to marry me, so they will go home."

The scorn in her voice scorched him. He wasn't sure if her not wanting to marry him hurt worse than her vehemence about knowing he didn't want to marry her. He checked his emotions, the only thing he wanted from her was an affair. Engagements, pretend or otherwise, weren't worth thinking on.

The silk of her gown rustled behind him. "I'm making a hash of this. I thought I'd have more time to explain. I don't want a public announcement. I couldn't possibly announce that I'm engaged. I'm still in mourning for another four months. I just want—"

"An affair?" he swiveled around and stared at her. His leg was killing him, so he lurched forward to lean his weight against the back of the chaise longue, inches from where she sat primly on the edge.

"No, absolutely not." Her eyes flashed, but she had much the guilty look of someone telling a falsehood.

That passionate nature of hers would win out in the end. There was only one way to know for certain. He reached out and touched her cheek.

Her breath spilled out. Bending toward her, he caught the tail end of her gasp against his mouth. A half-dozen years dropped away as his lips pressed against hers and her lips parted. She tasted sweet and tart—lemons?

A cannonade of bombardment went off in his gut and lower. He'd missed her. No other woman ever made him burn the way she did.

Her bonnet knocked him in the forehead, and he wanted to swing around from the back of the chaise and deepen the kiss. Yet he didn't want to fall on her, and his leg was giving him every indication that it would buckle the minute he tried to put weight on it.

He pulled back. With her eyes closed she leaned toward him. He feathered a gentle kiss on the corner of her mouth.

Her eyes popped open, and she pushed him back. "Stop it."

"Certainly," he said, dragging his thumb across her fuller lower lip. He drank in the deep, soulful look in her brown eyes. He almost wanted to say yes to any request she made.

"Listen. I've thought this out. If you pretend to be my fiancé, my parents will go home, and then, when you leave for India I shall just tell them you jilted me"—she frowned—"or I jilted you."

"I think you've forgotten who jilted whom."

Her eyes flashed. "I haven't forgotten." She pushed his hand away from her cheek.

He folded his arms and leaned against the back of the chaise longue. He would get his answer before he left the house. Why had she jilted him all those years ago?

"You see, when my parents wanted to come with me to London, I thought it would be beneficial change of scene for them. Society provides so many pleasant diversions for young and old, don't you agree?"

She talked faster and faster, without waiting for his reply.

"But now they think that the only reason I am here is to get a husband for myself. They are practically ignoring that I intend to present my niece. You know, they are ashamed of her lineage. I can't get them to leave by fair means or foul."

BOOK: The Second Shot (The Dueling Pistols)
11.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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