Daniel glanced around, at the trees surrounding the clearing, at the green, green grass that spread before him, all the way to Hugh Prentice and the man next to him, inspecting his gun. The sun had come up barely ten minutes earlier, and the morning dew still clung breathlessly to every surface. “It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”
“Daniel, this is idiocy. You have no business shooting a pistol. You’re probably still foxed from last night.” Marcus looked over at Hugh with an alarmed expression. “And so is he.”
“He caled me a cheat.”
“It’s not worth dying for.”
Daniel roled his eyes. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Marcus. He’s not actualy going to shoot me.” Again, Marcus looked over at Hugh with concern. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that.”
Daniel dismissed his worries with another roll of his eyes. “He’ll delope.”
Marcus shook his head and walked over to meet Hugh’s second in the middle of the clearing. Daniel watched as they inspected the guns and conferred with the surgeon.
Who the bloody hell thought to bring a surgeon? No one actualy shot each other at these things.
Marcus came back, his expression grim, and handed Daniel his gun. “Try not to kill yourself,” he muttered. “Or him.”
“Will do,” Daniel said, keeping his voice just jaunty enough to annoy the hellout of Marcus. He took his mark, raised his arm, and waited for the count of three.
“Bloody hel, you shot me!” Daniel yeled, looking up at Hugh with furious shock. He looked down at his shoulder, now oozing with blood. It was just a muscle wound, but good God, it hurt. And it was his shooting arm. “What the hell were you thinking?” he shouted.
Hugh just stood there staring at him like a moron, as if he hadn’t realized that a bulet could draw blood.
“You bloody idiot,” Daniel muttered, raising his gun to shoot back. He aimed off to the side—there was a nice, thick tree that could take a bulet—but then the surgeon came running over, blathering on about something, and as Daniel turned toward him, he slid on a damp patch, and his finger tightened on the trigger, taking the shot before he’d meant to.
Damn, the recoil hurt. Stupid—
Daniel’s skin turned to ice, and with dawning horror, he raised his eyes to the spot where Hugh had once stood.
“Oh, my God.”
Marcus was already running over, as was the surgeon. There was blood everywhere, so much of it Daniel could see it seeping through the grass, even from across the clearing. His gun slipped from his fingers and he stepped forward, trancelike.
Dear God, had he just kiled a man?
“Bring me my bag!” the surgeon yeled, and Daniel took another step forward. What was he supposed to do? Help? Marcus was already doing that, along with Hugh’s second, and besides, hadn’t Daniel just shot him?
Was that what a gentleman was supposed to do? Help a man after he put a bulet in him?
“Hold on, Prentice!” someone was pleading, and Daniel took another step, and another, until the coppery stench of blood assaulted him like a blow.
“Tie it tight,” someone said.
“He’ll lose the leg.”
“Better than his life.”
“We’ve got to stop the bleeding.”
“Stay awake, Hugh!”
“He’s still bleeding!”
Daniel listened. He didn’t know who was saying what, and it didn’t matter. Hugh was dying, right there on the grass, and he had done it.
It had been an accident. Hugh had shot him. And the grass had been wet.
He’d slipped. Good God, did they know that he had slipped?
“I . . . I . . .” He tried to speak, but he had no words, and anyway, only Marcus heard him.
“You’d best stay back,” Marcus said grimly.
“Is he . . .” Daniel tried to ask the only question that mattered, but he choked.
And then he fainted.
When Daniel came to, he was in Marcus’s bed, a bandage wrapped tightly around his arm. Marcus sat in a nearby chair, staring out the window, which shone with the midday sun. At Daniel’s waking groan, he turned sharply toward his friend.
“Hugh?” Daniel asked hoarsely.
“He’s alive. Or at least he was last I heard.”
“He’s alive. Or at least he was last I heard.”
Daniel closed his eyes. “What have I done?” he whispered.
“His leg is a mess,” Marcus said. “You hit an artery.”
“I didn’t mean to.” It sounded pathetic, but it was true.
“I know.” Marcus turned back to the window. “You have terrible aim.”
“I slipped. It was wet.” He didn’t know why he was even saying it. It didn’t matter. Not if Hugh died.
Bloody hel, they were friends. That was the most asinine part of it al. They were friends, he and Hugh. They’d known each other for years, since their first term at Eton.
But he’d been drinking, and Hugh had been drinking, and everyone had been drinking except Marcus, who never had more than one.
“How is your arm?” Marcus asked.
“It’s good that it hurts,” Daniel said, looking away.
Marcus probably nodded again.
“Does my family know?”
“I don’t know,” Marcus replied. “If they don’t, they will soon.”
Daniel swalowed. No matter what happened, he would be a pariah, and it would rub off on his family. His older sisters were married, but Honoria had just made her debut. Who would have her now?