“Winstead, you bloody cheat!”
Daniel Smythe-Smith blinked. He was a little bit drunk, but he thought someone had just accused him of cheating at cards. It had taken him a moment to be sure; he’d been the Earl of Winstead for barely a year, and he still sometimes forgot to turn when someone caled him by his title.
But no, he was Winstead, or rather Winstead was he, and . . .
His head did a bob and then a weave. What was it he had been thinking?
Oh, right. “No,” he said slowly, still rather puzzled by the whole thing. He raised his hand to protest, because he was quite certain he hadn’t been cheating. In fact, after that last bottle of wine, it was possibly the only thing he was certain of. But he didn’t manage to say anything more. In fact, he was barely able to hop out of the way when the table came crashing toward him.
The table? Holy hel, how drunk was he?
Sure enough, the table was now sideways and the cards were on the floor, and Hugh Prentice was screaming at him like a lunatic.
Hugh must be drunk, too.
“I didn’t cheat,” Daniel said. He lifted his brows and blinked, as if the owlish motion might remove the filmy layer of intoxication that seemed to obscure, wel, everything. He looked over at Marcus Holroyd, his closest friend, and shrugged. “I don’t cheat.” Everyone knew he didn’t cheat.
But Hugh had clearly lost his mind, and Daniel could only stare at him as he raved, arms waving, voice rising. He brought to mind a chimpanzee, Daniel thought curiously. Minus all the fur.
“What is he talking about?” he asked, to no one in particular.
“There is no way you could have had the ace,” Hugh railed. He lurched toward him, one of his arms outstretched in an unsteady accusation. “The ace should have been over . . . over . . .” He shook his hand at some spot in the general vicinity of where the table had been. “Wel, you shouldn’t have had it,” he muttered.
“But I did,” Daniel told him. Not angrily, not even defensively. Just matter-of-fact, and with a what-else-is-there-to-say sort of shrug.
“You couldn’t,” Hugh shot back. “I know every card in the deck.”
It was true. Hugh always knew every card in the deck. His mind was freakishly sharp that way. He could do maths in his head, too. The complicated kind, with more than three digits and borrowing and carrying and all that rot they’d been forced to practice endlessly at school.
In retrospect, Daniel probably shouldn’t have chalenged him to a game. But he’d been looking for amusement, and honestly, he had expected to lose.
No one ever won a game of cards against Hugh Prentice.
Except, apparently, him.
“Remarkable,” Daniel murmured, looking down at the cards. True, they were now scattered on the floor, but he knew what they were. He’d been as surprised as anyone else when he’d laid down the winning hand. “I won,” he announced, even though he had a feeling he’d said as much already. He turned back to Marcus.
“Are you even listening to him?” Marcus hissed. He clapped his hands in front of Daniel’s face. “Wake up!” Daniel scowled, scrunching his nose at the ringing in his ears. Realy, that had been uncaled for. “I am awake,” he said.
“I will have satisfaction,” Hugh growled.
Daniel regarded him with surprise. “What?”
“Name your seconds.”
“Are you chalenging me to a duel?” Because that was what it sounded like. But then again, he was drunk. And he rather thought Prentice was, too.
“Daniel,” Marcus groaned.
Daniel turned. “I think he’s chalenging me to a duel.”
“Daniel, shut up.”
“Pfft.” Daniel brushed Marcus off with a wave of his hand. He loved him like a brother, but he could be so stodgy sometimes. “Hugh,” Daniel said to the furious man in front of him, “don’t be an ass.”
Daniel jumped out of the way, but not fast enough, and both of them went crashing to the floor. Daniel had a good ten pounds on Hugh, but Hugh had rage, whereas Daniel just had befuddlement, and Hugh got at least four punches in before Daniel managed even his first.
And even that didn’t make contact because Marcus and a few other people leapt between them, puling them apart.
“You’re a bloody cheat,” Hugh rasped, struggling against the two men holding him back.
“You’re an idiot.”
Hugh’s face darkened. “I will have my satisfaction.”
“Oh, no, you won’t,” Daniel spat. At some point—probably when Hugh had slammed his fist into his jaw—Daniel’s confusion had given way to fury. “I will have
“Oh, no, you won’t,” Daniel spat. At some point—probably when Hugh had slammed his fist into his jaw—Daniel’s confusion had given way to fury. “I will have satisfaction.”
“The Patch of Green?” Hugh said cooly, referring to the secluded spot in Hyde Park where gentlemen sorted their differences.
Daniel’s eyes leveled against his. “At dawn.”
There was a hushed silence as everyone waited for either man to come to his senses.
But they didn’t. Of course they didn’t.
The corner of Hugh’s mouth tipped up. “So be it.”
“Oh, bloody hel,” Daniel groaned. “My head hurts.”
“Realy,” Marcus said sarcasticaly. “Can’t imagine how that came to be.”
Daniel swalowed and rubbed his good eye. The one Hugh hadn’t blackened the night before. “Sarcasm doesn’t become you.” Marcus ignored him. “You can still put a stop to this.”
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