Beyond Scandal and Desire(3)

By: Lorraine Heath

“Someday I will.”

“There’s not a bloke alive to whom I’d grant approval to take you to wife.”

“It’s not your decision to make.”

“With no father about, as your eldest brother, it damn well is.”

The little brat slapped at his upper arm again. “You’re trying to distract me so I won’t pester you with my questions. I won’t fall for it.”

The couple ahead stopped to listen to a small orchestra playing a soft yet somber tune. Stilling as well, he glanced down in order to see his sister’s triumphant expression as he groused, “You’re too smart by half.”

With the praise, she squeezed his arm and smiled brightly. “Tell me everything about them.”

“Shh. Keep your voice low.” He didn’t need someone easing by them to hear his words, to know he did indeed have a keen interest in the couple.

“I will,” she whispered. “Who are they?”

“He’s the Earl of Kipwick, son to the Duke of Hedley—a title he will one day hold.”

“Something about him seems familiar. Can’t we move to the other side of them so I can see him more clearly?”

“No. Not yet anyway.” He had no desire for her to examine the earl too closely, to figure out precisely why he had a keen interest in this particular lord.

“Do I know him?”

“I doubt it. He doesn’t exactly frequent your circles.”

“Does he frequent yours?”

“He will . . . eventually.”

“And the woman on his arm? She’s rather pretty. Tell me about her.”

Because she’d only recently come to his attention, he didn’t yet possess a great deal of information about her, but that would change in time. If his plan went accordingly, she’d eagerly fill in the particulars. “She’s Lady Aslyn Hastings, daughter to the Earl of Eames. Although she’s been the Duke of Hedley’s ward since her parents died when she was a girl.”

Sorrow washed over his sister’s face. She was far too sensitive for the world in which she lived. “Then she’s an orphan, like you.”

She was nothing like him. No one was like him.

“Do you know how her parents died?” Fancy asked, sadness woven through the curiosity in her voice, perhaps because she’d never known her own father, had always referred to herself as a half orphan, a much kinder term than the one attributed to him.

“Not yet.” But eventually he would know every small detail about her: her likes, her dislikes, her dreams, her fears, her hopes, her worries.

“She’s rather pretty. I always think when someone is comely she—or he for that matter—is immune to misfortune.”

“No one is immune to misfortune.”

The couple began strolling off, obviously having grown bored with the musicale. Fancy didn’t hesitate when Mick started walking again, quickening his pace to keep them within sight as they entered an area where the crowds thickened and more entertainers sought to earn their keep, presenting small performances, hoping a coin or two would be tossed their way.

“So why are we following them?” Fancy asked.

“I’m seeking an opportunity to make the earl’s acquaintance.”

“To what purpose?”

“I intend to take from him everything he holds dear—including the lady at his side.”

With her arm snugly entwined around the Earl of Kipwick’s, Lady Aslyn Hastings couldn’t shake off the ominous sensation she was being watched. But then, if she were honest, she always felt under scrutiny. Perhaps it was because of her overly protective guardians or all the dire warnings about the dangers lurking about in the world that the Duchess of Hedley continually cast her way. Or the fact the duchess never left the residence and encouraged Aslyn to follow her example by staying within Hedley Hall. Except Aslyn longed for more: the independence afforded those who weren’t expected to make a suitable match, the carefree moments enjoyed by those not shackled by duty, the excitement offered within the shadows of the night.

Those very shadows were falling rapidly and deepening now. The occasional streetlamp was being lit, but the dim light was little match for the darkness easing in around her. She was hoping to convince Kip to stay within the gardens long past the time proper folk did. She wanted to catch a glimpse of the naughty undertakings that had been alluded to in the newspaper articles and gossip rags she read when no one was keeping a watchful eye over her. They hadn’t gone into great detail—only enough to titillate the imagination.