Beyond Scandal and Desire(8)

By: Lorraine Heath

Her face fell, no doubt because she’d realized to argue with him was a losing battle. Men with far more worldly experience could not stand up to him, so how could a mere slip of a girl? “I want to see the fireworks.”

He was impressed she managed not to sound too churlish or petulant. “Then let this go.”

She quickly stuck her tongue out at him before marching forward. Her short legs were no deterrent for his longer ones, and he easily caught up with her. Odd that she didn’t realize her childish actions proved his point: she was not made for the world in which he survived.

Kipwick and Lady Aslyn were waiting in an open area that would give them a clear view of the sky. The lady moved to greet Fancy as though they were long lost friends, which left the earl and Mick standing behind them. He should have used the opportunity to study his foe, but he couldn’t seem to drag his gaze from Lady Aslyn’s profile as she smiled and spoke with his sister.

Her features were not perfect. The end of her nose tipped up ever so slightly as though she’d spent her youth with it pressed up against a shop window, longing for something she’d spied on a shelf. A distant light glinted off her eyelashes, which were unusually long, and he suspected when she slept, they fanned out over her cheeks. Her eyes tilted up slightly as though the corners near her temples were shoved into place by her overly high cheekbones. Yet each imperfection wove into the fabric of her face to give her the appearance of perfection.

Her alabaster skin was flawless, not a freckle in sight, and he doubted she’d ever allowed the sun to touch her face. Nor a man for that matter. Beneath her frilly hat, a few blond tendrils, curling and loose, had broken free of their pins. He suspected they were the most rebellious part of her. Her posture, the way she held herself stiffly, the lack of animation in her movements spoke of a woman who understood she was continually on display and must constantly portray control and a proper bearing.

He was quite looking forward to the challenge of destroying that control.

“Have we met before?” Kipwick asked quietly.

Mick slid his gaze over to the man, who was perhaps an inch shorter than he and much more slender. But then his lordship had never had to haul rubbish out of the city in order to earn a few shillings so his family didn’t go hungry. “No.”

The earl’s thick dark eyebrows drew together, causing a deep crease to form between them. “You look familiar. I could swear our paths have crossed at some point.”

“I don’t move about in your circles, my lord. And I doubt very much you move about in mine.”

Kipwick blanched, averted his gaze. Mick wasn’t surprised. He’d learned enough about the earl during the past few months to have a relatively good idea of the circles he preferred. Before summer drew to a close, they would be his downfall.

“Although it’s quite possible you saw me in passing at the Cerberus Club. It seems to be a crossroads for the various stations in life, a place where the upper and lower classes don’t mind mingling because their common interests override all else.”

“Hardly likely I’ve seen you there, as I haven’t garnered a membership.”

Mick was well aware Kipwick had been making inquiries about the club, knew he’d never been. The establishment was merely a lure, the first step in guiding the earl toward his downfall. “Membership isn’t required. Merely a hefty purse.”

He was acutely aware of the earl coming to sharp attention. Disappointment washed through him. He’d anticipated a bit of a challenge, had hoped Kipwick would at least resist being led to slaughter. Nothing in Mick’s life had ever come easy. He didn’t want revenge handed to him on a silver platter without his having worked for it.

“To be honest,” Kipwick said hesitantly, “I wasn’t certain the place truly existed. No one of my acquaintance has ever admitted to spending time at the gaming hell.”

“I’m not surprised. Most of the aristocrats who frequent the place have been barred from the more respectable clubs. Admitting to frequenting Cerberus hardly improves one’s reputation.”

“You think I’ve been barred?”