―Who is it this time?" he asked, because it wasn‘t as if he was completely uninterested.

There was a pause, presumably so that Edward could swallow his food, and then: ―Vickers‘s granddaughter."

Sebastian considered that. Lord Vickers had several granddaughters. Which made sense, as he and Lady Vickers had had something approaching fifteen children of their own. ―Well, good for her," he grunted.

―Have you seen her?" Edward asked.

―Have you?" Seb countered. He‘d arrived in town late for the season. If the girl was new this year, he wouldn‘t know her.

―Country-bred, I‘m told, and so fertile that birds sing when she draws near."

Now that deserved an open eye. Two, as a matter of fact. ―Birds," Sebastian repeated in a flat voice. ―Really."

―I thought it was a clever turn of phrase," Edward said, a touch defensively.

With a small groan, Sebastian heaved himself up into a sitting position. Well, something closer to a sitting position than he‘d been in before. ―And how, if the young lady is the snow-white virgin I‘m sure Newbury insists upon, might one gauge her fecundity?"

Edward shrugged. ―You can just tell. Her hips …" His hands made some sort of odd motion in the air, and his eyes began to acquire a glazed expression. ―And her breasts …" At this he practically shuddered, and Sebastian wouldn‘t have been surprised if the poor boy started to drool.

―Control yourself, Edward," Sebastian said. ―You are reclining on Olivia‘s newly upholstered sofa, if you recall."

Edward shot him a peevish look and went back to the food on his plate. They were sitting in the drawing room of Sir Harry and Lady Olivia Valentine, where the two men could frequently be found. Edward was Harry‘s brother, and thus lived there. Sebastian had come over for breakfast.

Harry‘s cook had recently changed her recipe for coddled eggs, with delicious results. (More butter, Sebastian suspected; everything tasted better with more butter.) He hadn‘t missed a breakfast at La Casa de Valentine for a week.

Besides, he liked the company.

Harry and Olivia—who, incidentally, were not Spanish; Sebastian simply enjoyed saying ―La Casa de Valentine"—were off in the country for a fortnight, presumably in an attempt to escape Sebastian and Edward. The two men had immediately degenerated into their bachelor ways, sleeping past noon, bringing luncheon into the drawing room, and hanging a dartboard on the back of the door to the second guest bedroom.

Sebastian was currently ahead, fourteen games to three.

Sixteen games to one, actually. He‘d felt sorry for Edward halfway through the tournament. And it had made things more interesting. It was harder to lose realistically than it was to win. But he‘d managed. Edward hadn‘t suspected a thing.

Game eighteen was to be held that evening. Sebastian would be there, of course. Really, he‘d all but moved in. He told himself it was because someone had to keep an eye on young Edward, but the truth was…

Seb gave his head a mental shake. That was truth enough.

He yawned. Lord, he was tired. He didn‘t know why he‘d had so much to drink the night before.

It had been ages since he‘d done so. But he had gone to bed early, and then he couldn‘t sleep, and then he got up, but he couldn‘t write because—

No because. That had been damned irritating. He just couldn‘t write. The words hadn‘t been there even though he‘d left his poor heroine hiding under a bed. With the heroin the bed. It was to be his most risqué scene yet. One would think it‘d be easy, just from the novelty of it.

But no. Miss Spencer was still under the bed and her Scotsman was still on it, and Sebastian was no closer to the end of chapter twelve than he‘d been last week.

After two hours of sitting at his desk staring at a blank sheet of paper, he‘d finally given up. He couldn‘t sleep and he couldn‘t write, and so more out of spite than anything else he‘d got back up, dressed, and headed out to his club.

There had been champagne. Someone had been celebrating something, and it would have been rude not to join in. There had been several very pretty girls, too, although why they had been at the club, Sebastian wasn‘t quite sure.

Or maybe they hadn‘t been at the club. Had he gone somewhere else afterward?

Good Lord, he was getting too old for this nonsense.

―Maybe she‘ll say no," Edward said. Seemingly out of nowhere.


―The Vickers girl. Maybe she‘ll say no to Newbury."

Sebastian sat back, pressing his fingers into his temples. ―She won‘t say no."

―I thought you didn‘t know her."

―I don‘t. But Vickers will want the match with Newbury. They‘re friends, and Newbury has money. Unless the girl has an extremely indulgent father, she‘ll have to do what her grandfather says. Oh, wait." He arched his brows, the accompanying furrow in his forehead meant to jog his currently sluggish mind. ―If she‘s the Fenniwick girl she‘ll say no."

―How do you know all this?"

Seb shrugged. ―I know things." Mostly, he observed. It was remarkable what one could tell about another human being simply by watching. And listening. And acting so bloody charming that people tended to forget he had a brain.

Sebastian was rarely taken seriously, and he rather liked it that way.

―No, wait again," he said, picturing a wispy little thing in his mind, so thin she disappeared when she turned sideways. ―It can‘t be the Fenniwick girl. She has no breasts."

Edward finished off the last of his meat pie. The smell, unfortunately, did not immediately dissipate. ―I trust you do not speak from firsthand knowledge," he said.