Olivia rolled her eyes. ―There must be something in that statement that will get you banned from church."

―It‘s too late for that," Seb murmured.

―I think you need a wife," Olivia said, turning to him with strategically narrowed eyes.

―You are in danger of losing your status as the perfect woman," he warned.

―You never did tell me what I had done to earn it."

―First and foremost was your heretofore restraint at nagging me about marrying."

―I shan‘t apologize."

He nodded in acknowledgment. ―But there is also your sublime penchant for not being shocked at anything I say."

―Oh, I‘m shocked," Olivia said. ―I just hide it well."

―Just as good," Seb told her.

They walked for a few moments, and then she said it again. ―You should marry, you know."

―Have I given any indication that I‘m avoiding it?"

―Well," Olivia said slowly, ―you haven‘t taken a wife…"

―Merely because I haven‘t found the perfect woman." He gave her a bland smile. ―Alas, Harry got to you first."

―Not to mention that you‘ll do better if you marry before your uncle begets himself another heir."

Sebastian turned to her with perfectly feigned shock. ―Why, Olivia Valentine, that is positively mercenary of you."

―It‘s true."

―I‘m such a gamble," Sebastian said with a sigh.

―You are!" Olivia exclaimed, with enough excitement that he thought he might be frightened.

―That is exactly what you are! You are a gamble. A risk. A—"

―You overwhelm me with compliments."

Olivia ignored him. ―Trust me when I tell you that all of the young ladies would prefer you to your uncle."

―Again, the compliments."

―But if he gets an heir, you get nothing. So do they take a risk with you? The handsome rogue who might inherit or the portly earl who already has the title?"

―That is about as kind a description as I have ever heard applied to my uncle."

―Many would choose the bird in hand, but others would think, ‗If I bide my time, I could have the handsome rogue and the title.‘"

―You make your gender sound so appealing."

Olivia shrugged. ―We can‘t all marry for love." And then, just when he‘d decided this ought to depress him, she patted his arm and said, ―But you should. You‘re far too lovely not to."

―And again, I am convinced," Seb murmured. ―The perfect woman."

Olivia gave him a sickly smile.

―Do tell," Sebastian said, steering her away from another disgusting pile, this time of the canine variety, ―where is the perfect woman‘s perfect husband? Or in other words, why did you require my services this fine morning? Other than to hone your matchmaking skills, of course."

―Harry is deep in his current project. He won‘t see the light of day for a week at least, and I"—

she patted her belly, just rounded enough to indicate her pregnancy—―needed air."

―Still working on the Sarah Gorely novels?" he asked casually.

Olivia opened her mouth to speak, but before she could make a sound, the air was cracked by the sound of gunshot.

―What the hell was that?" Sebastian almost yelled. Good Lord, they were in the bloodypark . He looked around him, aware that his head was jerking back and forth like some half-mad horizontal jack-in-the-box. But his heart was pounding, and the damned sound of the shot was still echoing in his head, and—

―Sebastian," Olivia said gently. And then: ―Sebastian."


―My arm," she said.

He saw her swallow, then looked down. He was clutching her forearm with a ferocious grip. He let go immediately. ―Sorry," he mumbled. ―I didn‘t realize."

She smiled weakly and rubbed the spot with her other hand. ―It‘s nothing."

It wasn‘t nothing, but he didn‘t want to go into it. ―Who is shooting in the park?" he asked irritably.

―I believe there is some sort of competition," Olivia said. ―Edward mentioned it to me this morning."

Sebastian shook his head. A shooting competition in Hyde Park. Right during the busiest time of the day. The foolishness of his fellow man never ceased to amaze him.

―Are you all right?" Olivia asked.

He turned, wondering what she thought she was talking about.

―The noise," she clarified.

―It‘s nothing."

―It‘s not—"

―It‘s nothing," he said curtly. And then, because he felt like an ass for using such a tone of voice, he added, ―I was taken by surprise."

It was true. He could sit and listen to guns exploding all day as long as he knew it was coming.

Hell, he could probably sleep through the cacophony, assuming he was able to fall asleep in the first place. It was just when he wasn‘t expecting it. He hated being taken by surprise.

That, he thought dryly, had been his job. Señor Sniper . Death by surprise.

Señor Sniper. Hmmm. Maybe he should take up Spanish.


He looked over at Olivia, who was still regarding him with some concern. He wondered if Harry had reactions like these, too; if his heart raced like a rabbit at unexpected noises. Harry hadn‘t said anything, but then again, Seb hadn‘t, either.

It was a stupid thing to talk about.

―I‘m fine," he said to Olivia, this time in a considerably more typical tone of voice. ―As I said, it was just the surprise of it."

Another gunshot cracked in the distance, and Seb didn‘t even flinch. ―See?" he said. ―Nothing to it. Now then, what were we talking about?"