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shana galen

Third Son's a Charm

Third Son's a Charm

Chapter One

London, 1816

Ewan Mostyn, third son of the Earl of Pembroke, prowled the main room of Langley's gaming hell like a golden-maned lion stalked the savannah. Ewan moved through the ornate room with its red and black damask walls, gilded moldings, and glittering chandeliers as though he owned it. He owned a share in the club, so his proprietary air was not wholly without merit. The illusion that he belonged among such opulence and fragility was somewhat less warranted.

As his feet sank into the scarlet rugs, his gaze passed over the club's dealers—men who straightened at his mere glance—over the courtesans—bold women whose eyes dipped, nevertheless, when they met his—and over the patrons—wealthy, powerful men who studiously avoided garnering his attention.

Unless they were idiots, like the two men Ewan approached now.

Charles Langley had politely ordered the anemic son of the Duke of Suffolk out of the club. The pup's debts were mounting, and his frequent bouts of inebriation were becoming tiresome. But since the lad had not taken his leave, he had become Ewan's problem.

Ewan did not like problems.

"She's mine for the night," Suffolk's son said loudly, poking another man in the chest and hauling a painted tart to his side.

The other man was somewhat older than the duke's son and rather more sober. "And I told you, sir, that I have already paid for the lady's charms. Kindly unhand her and scamper home to your father."

Ewan planted his long, muscled legs beside the two gentlemen and crossed his arms over his chest. The older man widened his eyes until his eyebrows all but reached his graying sandy brown hair. "Sir," he said with a quick bow. "I-I-I'm terribly sorry for the disruption. Lord Pincoch and I were having a slight disagreement."

Ewan looked past the older gentleman and fixed his eyes on the duke's son. All around them, conversation ceased or dimmed to mere whispers.

"Get out," Ewan said. He was a man of few words, which meant those he spoke now carried even more weight.

Pincoch was too deep in his cups to realize the danger he faced. "I'll leave when I damn well please, and no half-wit with more brawn than brains will give me orders."

Ewan felt a muscle in his jaw tense. Not personal, he told himself. But it was too late. The old fury bubbled inside him, and he struggled to contain it. His face betrayed none of the struggle, which must have been why the pup swaggered forward, pulling the tart with him.

Ewan took quick stock of the situation. The lad's friends stood behind him, uncertain what to do. The older man had his allies as well. And the tart was gasping for breath beneath Pincoch's tight hold. Ewan's course of action was clear, though Langley would undoubtedly complain about the damage later. Hell would freeze over before Ewan allowed a man to call him a half-wit and walk away in one piece.

With a speed that belied his size, Ewan grasped Pincoch's free hand and wrenched it behind his back. Pincoch immediately released the whore, who sank to her knees and gulped in a breath. Pincoch screeched for help, and that was the signal for his friends, similarly inebriated, to jump into the fray. The four men charged Ewan, who rammed Pincoch up against a gilded mirror with one hand and tossed a man back by the throat with another.

The older man grabbed the woman and pulled her under a green baize table, where several other patrons had taken refuge. Those still out in the open regretted their decision when one of Pincoch's friends heaved a chair at Ewan. It crashed into his back, and he growled with annoyance. Still holding the lad in place, he turned to see another chair sailing toward him. Ewan reached up, caught the furnishing in midair and thrust it back. It crashed into a faro table, overturning table, chairs, and chips.

Bereft of chairs, Pincoch's friends manned a frontal assault. Ewan finally released Pincoch, and when the boy sank to the ground, Ewan shoved a booted foot against his chest to hold him in place. Both hands free now, he threw a punch with his right and slammed one of his attackers back with his left. Something crashed, but Ewan didn't have time to note what it was before the next man hurtled into him. He struck Ewan in the jaw, and the offense landed him a blow to the breadbasket and an elbow to the throat. When he was on the ground, wheezing for air, another man took advantage of the lull to dance before Ewan.

Ewan almost rolled his eyes. This one thought he was Gentleman Jackson or another renowned pugilist. If there was somewhere Ewan felt at home, it was in the boxing ring. This man danced more than he fought, and while he did his fancy footwork, Ewan slammed a left hook into his jaw.

Heaving for breath but not willing to show weakness, Ewan turned his head to take in the room. "Anyone else?"

No one moved.

With a nod, Ewan lifted Pincoch's limp body by the arms and dragged him past the broken tables and chairs, past the shattered mirror, and past the cracked marble statue. Ewan winced. That statue was new, and he fully expected Langley to opine about it for hours. A footman opened the door of the club, and Ewan tossed Pincoch out onto the street.

He turned and saw several other patrons donning coats and wraps, preparing to depart as well.

That was just what Ewan needed—for Langley and the club to lose blunt because Ewan had scared the patrons away. Goddamn it. Ewan couldn't do anything right. He tried to do his job as the muscle of the club, but it seemed he was always making some misstep or other. He'd already broken the statue. He couldn't be responsible for a mass exodus as well. Ewan positioned himself in front of the door and pointed back to the gaming tables. "Inside."

"But I..." A man who had just donned his beaver hat tried to move toward the exit.

Ewan pointed to him then at the main room, and the man put a hand to his throat. "Very well. If you insist, I could play a game or two."

He turned back to the main room, followed by the rest of the crowd.

One man, however, stood his ground. He looked as though he had recently arrived and seemed in no hurry either to step inside or flee back out the door. Instead, he leaned on his walking stick and cocked his head. He was a tall man—not as tall as Ewan but taller than average—and he had a thin form and dark hair under a beaver hat. His great coat was fine quality as was the ebony walking stick with a silver handle and tip.

"You are one of the Earl of Pembroke's, are you not?" the man asked.

Resigned, Ewan leaned against the doorjamb, where the footmen welcomed patrons and took their coats. Some of the patrons liked to talk. Ewan had found he was not required to answer.

"Not his heir or even the spare. I know those two well. You are the soldier. The third born—or is it the fourth? I know you have a sister."

Ewan cut his eyes to the man, and then disguised his interest by focusing on one of the flickering candles in a chandelier over a table where a group played piquet.

"Well, no matter. I had heard you were strong. You fought with Lieutenant Colonel Draven in the war."

Ewan kept his eyes on the candle. It was an ordinary candle, sputtering and fighting to stay lit. In this world, even a candle fought for light, resisted being snuffed out.

"Now that I see you, I'm not surprised you survived," the man went on as though the two were having a conversation. "You are uncommonly strong. And you do not like to be called stupid."

Ewan turned his head sharply toward the gentleman, who held up his hands. "For what it is worth, I do not think you stupid. No man with less than all his wits about him survived the war against Napoleon. In fact, I would like to hire you."

Ewan narrowed his gaze, almost disappointed. It was not the first time he'd been propositioned. Men had tried to hire him to perform in entertainments or to box for them. Women wanted him for bedsport. Ewan liked his place at Langley's just fine. He enjoyed the modest income his portion of the club afforded him and parted with very little of it to rent a room on the second floor. As his father would not deign to step foot in a gaming hell, Ewan need not trouble with unwanted visits from the earl or any other member of his family.

"I suppose this is not the place to discuss such matters," the man said. "Would you come to my residence?" He removed a card from a silver case and passed it to Ewan.

Ewan barely glanced at it. The light in the vestibule was too dark to read anything anyway. He put the card in his pocket.

"Right. The day after tomorrow at ten in the morning then, if you are interested. It is honest work, and I will reward you handsomely. I will give you more details when you call."

Ewan moved aside and the gentleman passed. A footman opened the door so the yellow lights and bright sounds of the gambling hell spilled into the dark street. When he was alone again, Ewan withdrew the card and moved into a rectangle of light.

"Rrr—Iii—D," he said slowly, staring at one of the words on the card. "Rid." His head hurt as the letters moved and jumped. He stuffed the card back into his pocket and crossed his arms again.

When the last patron had left the tables and the sun was peeking over the horizon, Ewan did one last turn about the club. Maids swept and dusted. Sweet girls, most of them smiled at him when he passed. Ewan headed to the kitchen. Another perquisite of living here was the food. For as long as he could remember, he'd always had a voracious appetite.

In the kitchen Mrs. Watkins had a plate ready for him, the mountain of food buried under a thick slab of buttered bread. "Now, Mr. Mostyn," she said, wiping her red hands on her apron. "You sit down right here. I have some nice potatoes and a stew."

The kitchen was comfortable and inviting, and Ewan sat, feeling the chair creak under his weight. He drank deeply from the ale in the glass before him, but he did not shovel food into his mouth as he usually did. Instead he reached into his pocket and laid the card on the table. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about it.

The cook frowned at it and picked it up. Her kitchen maid, a mousy girl who couldn't have been more than fourteen, glanced his way timidly then continued scrubbing the pots. The cook held the card close to her round face, red and glistening from the heat. "It's the card of the Duke of Ridlington." She put a hand to her heart. Then she laid the card on the table again and pointed to the words. "See, it says His Grace the Duke of Ridlington."

Ewan nodded slowly. He was surprised a duke wanted his services. This was no mere request for an exhibition of strength then. It might be legitimate work. Ewan pointed to the other words on the card.

The cook turned the card and peered at it. "That's his house—2 Berkeley Square."

"Thank you." Mildly intrigued, Ewan lifted the card and stuffed it back in his pocket. Now he dug into his dinner. His mother would have fainted if she had seen him eating thus. But his mother was dead, and Mrs. Watkins only cared if he enjoyed her food, not if he used the correct fork or a napkin to dab his mouth.

"I wonder why the Duke of Ridlington gave you that card," the cook said, wiping the table where he sat, although it was already clean. "I think he hopes to steal you away."

Ewan wondered the same, but he didn't want to show his interest. He lifted one shoulder then ate another helping of potatoes.

"Seems like you could do better than this." She gestured to the kitchens, which were as nice as any Ewan had seen. "Surely your own father could find a place for you."

And this was why Ewan hadn't wanted to show interest. He didn't always like where such conversations led. Talk of Ewan's father soured his stomach. As the third born son, he was expected either to become a soldier or enter the clergy. Ewan had done his part for his country. After Napoleon was defeated, Ewan had sold his captain's commission and left without a backward glance. His father had probably wished he'd died in the war, but Ewan had lived. Now, no one and nothing could ever force him to join the army again.

As for the clergy—that prospect was laughable. Ewan couldn't even read the Bible, much less stand up every Sunday and drone on about it. If God had wanted Ewan to enter the church, He shouldn't have made him such a lackwit.

No, Ewan liked working at Langley's just fine. Ewan had the money he had made from his days in the army and the sale of his commission, but a little more never hurt and it gave him something to do. He didn't exactly belong, but then he'd always been a misfit. He didn't belong anywhere—anywhere but The Draven Club.

Ewan shoved the last bite into his mouth, nodded at Mrs. Watkins, and carried the plate to the kitchen maid so she could wash it. Then, ducking his head so he wouldn't bang it on the low lintel, he left the kitchen and made his way through the club's back rooms, with their gilded mirrors, mahogany tables, and red velvet chairs and couches. His mother would have called it garish, but Ewan rather liked it. After ensuring all was as it should be, Ewan climbed the stairs to his room. Using the small key, he opened the door and stepped inside, locking the door after him.

He sat on the bed, removed his boots and coat, set Ridlington's card on the floor, and flopped down on the bed. In addition to the bed, the room held a wardrobe and a table with a basin for washing. The room had one small window, which Ewan had covered with black cloth to block the sun. The room held nothing else—no books, no papers, no personal mementos. The walls were white and unadorned with paintings.

The room, simple in purpose, was just as he liked it. Nothing to confuse or distract him. He closed his eyes and slept.

When he awoke several hours later, it was to the rumbling of his belly. He might have gone down to the kitchens and found bread and cold stew, but when he sat up and dropped his feet onto the floor, they landed on Ridlington's card. He still did not know what to do about it, but he knew who could tell him. Neil Wraxall would know what to do. Neil always knew.

And Neil would be at their club.

Ewan stripped, washed, and dressed again in one of his finer coats. He didn't don a cravat. He didn't like anything tight on his neck. The club didn't require a cravat. The club didn't require anything except that the members had served in Lieutenant Colonel Draven's special unit.

The suicide unit, as Neil called it.

The survivors called themselves The Expendables. They called Ewan The Protector.

Ewan might have taken a hack to The Draven Club, but it was a sunny, though unseasonably cool, spring afternoon and the walk from Langley's on Piccadilly and St. James's to King Street was short. Besides, he liked to pass Boodles. The ancient lords hobbling inside always hobbled a bit faster when they caught sight of him.

He hadn't walked very far when he was surprised by a streak of brown and white bounding past him and into St. James's, which was crowded with carts and carriages at this time of day. The creature barely avoided being trampled by a horse pulling a cart filled with produce. It scurried away from the large hooves and wheels and then huddled, frozen, in the center of the street.

"Watch out!" a woman's voice called right before she barreled into him. But as he was large and she was womanish in size, the impact sent her reeling. He might have caught her and set her on her feet if she hadn't scrambled away, heading directly into the street.

Ewan watched in disbelief as she stumbled directly in the path of a coach and four, whose driver had obviously given his horses free rein. She looked up, saw the approaching conveyance, but instead of jumping back onto the curb, she ran into the coach's path and scooped up the little brown and white scrap of fur. Now both she and the furry creature would be trampled and run down.

Ewan didn't think. He acted. Heart pounding in his suddenly tight chest, he jumped into the street, crossing to the woman in two huge strides. He yanked her out of the path of the coach and four, feeling the breath of the horses on his neck as he shoved her to safety on the other side of St. James's. His heart thudded painfully against his ribs with what he recognized as fear and panic. They'd almost died. For a moment, St. James's became a blood soaked field, the clatter of hooves the sound of rifles. Ewan closed his eyes and drew a slow breath. And then he shook the memory off and came back to the present.

But his hands were still shaking.

Ewan had shoved the woman a bit hard, and she'd fallen to her knees. He would have to beg her forgiveness, though she should really be the one groveling at his feet with gratitude. But instead of looking up at him with appreciation in her eyes, she scowled. "I almost crushed Wellington."

Ewan looked right then left for the duke. Not seeing the general, Ewan glanced in confusion back down at the woman. She pointed to the fur ball. "My dog. You pushed me so hard I almost crushed him."

So the dog was named Wellington, and she blamed Ewan for the danger to the animal. Ewan frowned at her. Was he supposed to apologize for saving her life and that of the beast? Perhaps she had become momentarily disoriented by the tumult. "You ran into the street," he pointed out. Anyone could see the street was busy and dangerous.

She waved a hand dismissively, as though the fact that she had almost been flattened under the hooves and wheels flying past them was but a small matter. "Wellington escaped his collar and leash at Green Park. I have been chasing him all this way."

That explained why she had been on St. James's Street, which was typically the domain of men, and why the dog was running. It did not explain why she did not thank him, but he'd come to expect women to be difficult. Ewan grasped her arm and pulled her to her feet. Belatedly, he realized he should have offered her his arm, but now it was too late. "Where do you live?"

Now it was her turn to frown. She had light green eyes framed by delicate brows, which slanted inward in confusion. Then she blinked. "Oh, dear no. You must not escort me home. You look like some sort of Viking warrior or Norse god. My mother would...well, best not to discuss what my mother might do."

Ewan crossed his arms and stared down at her. This pose usually elicited tears from those of the fairer sex. But this one shook her head again, in defiance. "My maid is probably wringing her hands at the park. I must return."

He hadn't looked very closely at the woman, but now he noted her fine quality dress and spencer. Both were soiled with dirt and animal hair from the fur ball. She was a lady. Now the lack of gratitude made sense. He'd known many such ladies. They looked down their nose at everyone. This time Ewan made certain to offer his arm. She looked at it in horror. "Do you want my mother to confine me to my room?" she asked.

Ewan did not know the answer to this inquiry, so he merely continued to stand with his arm crooked. She pushed it down—or rather he allowed her to push it down. "No, thank you, sir. I am perfectly capable of returning to the park on my own. If I encounter any difficulty, Wellington will protect me."

Ewan glanced at the fur ball. The dog wouldn't have scared a flea.

"Good day." She hoisted the fur ball in her arms, cradling it like an infant. She must have been completely daft. That was the only explanation for her delusions.

Or perhaps she was just a woman. He did not claim to understand women. He left that to Rafe. The daft woman marched off, thankfully looking both ways before crossing St. James's, and disappeared into the hawkers and vendors on the other side. He could have gone after her, but if he did it would only be to protect anyone else who happened to fall into her path.

Ewan stared after her for a long moment before being jostled back into motion. The remainder of the journey was uneventful, and Ewan arrived at the club just as Jasper, the best tracker Ewan had ever known, was leaving. Porter, the club's Master of the House, stood in the doorway, silver head held high.

The two former soldiers paused on the steps and nodded to each other. Jasper's face had been horribly scarred during an ambush that cost Draven two men, and he wore a length of black silk tied about his hair and a mask to that hid most of one side of his face, including the scarred flesh. "You looking for Wraxall?" Jasper asked.

Ewan nodded.

"He just finished yaffling."

Jasper worked as a bounty hunter and often spent time with the thieves and rogues. He often lapsed into their cant, speaking it as fluently as if he'd been born in the rookeries rather than to one of the oldest noble families in England. At the mention of yaffling—the cant for eating—Ewan felt a pang of hunger in his belly. Was the club still serving or had he missed the meal and would now have to wait until supper?

Jasper slapped Ewan on the shoulder. "You always did have a wolf in the stomach, Protector. If the soup is gone, the cook will always serve you Galimaufrey."

Ewan pulled a face. He didn't particularly want scraps and leftovers. The tracker patted his arm then stared back down the steps. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you only came here to grub."

It wasn't far from the truth. If the club hadn't served meals, Ewan would have attended far less frequently.

He entered and Porter closed the door behind him. "Good to see you again, Mr. Mostyn," the distinguished older gentleman said. "The dining room, sir?"

Ewan cocked his head in that direction.

"Very well. This way."

Although he could have found the way with his eyes closed, Ewan followed Porter through the wood paneled vestibule lit with a large chandelier. A suit of armor stood on one wall and two Scottish broadswords on that opposite. The place looked like the sort of establishment Henry VIII would have frequented. But the object that always drew his attention also made him more than a little melancholy. It was a large shield mounted on the wall opposite the door. A big medieval sword cut the shield in half. The pommel of the sword had been fashioned into what Neil had once told him were fleur-de-lis. A skeleton stared at him from the cross-guard. Around the shield were small fleur-di-lis that marked the fallen members of The Expendables—those who hadn't made it back from the war. The shield reminded Ewan that his lost friends were here in spirit.

Still following Porter, who only had one leg, Ewan was forced to move slowly. Porter's wooden peg thumped on the polished wood floors as he led Ewan past the winding staircase carpeted in royal blue and into a well-appointed dining room. Like the entryway, the dining room was paneled in wood. The ceiling was low and whitewashed, crossed by thick wooden beams. Sconces lined two walls and a fire burned in the mammoth hearth. Four round tables covered with white linen and set with silver had been placed throughout the room. At a fifth table, Neil Wraxall, aka The Warrior, sat with a glass of red wine centered before him. Neil liked order. He liked both giving orders and order in his life. He dined at the club four days a week precisely at noon. He always sat at the same table and in the same chair. No one else ever dared sit in that chair if there was a remote possibility Neil might drop by the club. And if he came unexpectedly, the man in the chair vacated it without being asked. They'd all served under Major Wraxall long enough to know that while he could be flexible when the situation called for it, he preferred routine and predictability.

Neil looked up when Ewan entered. Porter paused, waiting for a sign from the de facto leader of The Expendables. When Wraxall flicked his gaze to the empty chair at his right, Porter led Ewan to it and pulled it out. Ewan sat.

"Wine, sir?" Porter asked Ewan.

Ewan nodded.

"And would you like dinner, Mr. Mostyn?"

Ewan looked at the man as though he'd asked if Ewan wanted to be run through with a bayonet.

"Very good then. I will bring the first course. Mr. Wraxall, more wine?" Porter inquired.

The Warrior looked at Ewan. "Will I need it?"

Ewan shrugged. Neil shook his head. "No, thank you, Porter."

Ewan wasn't certain how much Neil drank away from the club, but he was always moderate in his consumption in The Expendable's company. Once Neil had told him he always kept a bottle of gin beside his bed to calm the tremors when he woke fighting a battle. Ewan had known what he meant. They all had nightmares about the terrors they'd seen during the war. It was the horrors they'd committed themselves that woke them up at night, a scream lodged in the throat.

For Ewan, life in London had gradually begun to seem more real than the memories of the violence and battle. But he suspected it was different for Neil. He suspected Neil was still fighting the battles nightly, hoping to change the outcomes.

For a long while Ewan and Neil sat with only the crackling of the fire to break the companionable silence. They'd spent many nights thus on the Continent during the war against Napoleon—a dozen or more men huddled around a campfire, knowing death would probably come in the morning and willing to make that sacrifice for king and country. If Ewan had to die, he'd wanted to die with Neil at his side. He trusted the man implicitly, and he respected him as much as he respected Draven. When they'd been in the army, they could always count on Rafe Beaumont to break long silences or tension with frivolous chatter. Now Ewan wished he knew what to say to his friend to ease the pain, but Ewan was not good with words. At the moment, it seemed Neil could not find words either.

"Knocked any heads together lately?" The Warrior asked at last. It was more of a command than a question. The Warrior almost always spoke in commands and orders. Ewan smiled, thinking of the pup last night.

"Good," Wraxall said. "Keep in practice. Give me a report on Langley. I should pay him a visit."

"He'd like that," Ewan said.

Neil gave him a wry look. "I'm sure he would. I always lose at the tables. I'll order Stratford to accompany me. Then I'll have a chance."

Stratford was another of The Expendables and known for his skill with strategy. Ewan frowned, thinking of Langley's losses. But Neil wouldn't go to Langley's. Neil didn't want light and laughter.

Porter returned with a white soup for Ewan and refilled his glass of wine. Ewan's belly rumbled again, but he remembered the card. He'd trusted Neil with his life on the Continent. He could trust Neil with whether or not to pay a call on Ridlington. Ewan slapped it on the table before lifting his spoon.

Wraxall picked the card up and turned it in his fingers. "The Duke of Ridlington? What does he want?"

Ewan sipped his wine and met Neil's gaze. Why did anyone seek out The Protector?

Neil drummed his fingers on the table, probably forming a report in his head. "He's a good man. I don't know him well, but I've not heard anything said against him. Do you want me to ask the others to report what they know of him?"

Ewan held the spoon midway between bowl and mouth. Was that what he wanted? A sense of the man before he decided to hear the duke's proposition? Ewan nodded.

"I have other business tonight, but I'll send Beaumont to Langley's with my findings. I doubt he has anything better to do, and an assignment might keep him out of trouble."

Ewan raised a brow. There was plenty of trouble to be had at Langley's, and Rafe Beaumont was a lodestone for mischief. Still, Ewan appreciated his friend's thoughtfulness. Most men would have sent a note, but Wraxall knew how arduous reading was for Ewan, though the two men had never discussed it. Besides, it would give Neil the chance to order Rafe about, and Neil did like giving orders.

Ewan spent the rest of the afternoon in the dining room, then followed Neil to the card room and watched a game of piquet between Neil and another member of The Expendables. Neil lost, of course. The man was too predictable. It was an enjoyable day, and it took Ewan's mind off Ridlington and the mad female he'd encountered earlier.

Finally Ewan made his way back to Langley's—the return trip uninterrupted by daft women or racing fur balls—and instructed the footmen to fetch him if Beaumont arrived. Of the eleven other surviving members of The Expendables, Neil Wraxall and Rafe Beaumont, were the men Ewan felt closest to. He saw the other men at the club, and he drank or played the odd game of dice with them, but none knew him like Neil and Rafe. He considered them more than friends. They were brothers.

About half past eleven, a footman fetched him, and Ewan stepped outside the club where Beaumont had struck a pose. Ewan was not in the habit of thinking men pretty, but there was no other way to describe Rafe Beaumont, also known as The Seducer. He wasn't feminine in appearance, but he had a perfect face and enough charm for two men. His dark hair and bronze complexion made him the opposite of Ewan's honey blond hair and fair skin.

As usual, Beaumont had a woman on his arm. Ewan's only surprise was that there was but one. "Mr. Mostyn." Rafe bowed with a flourish. Ewan was used to his friend's courtly behavior and ignored it.

"My dear, this fearsome man before you is Mr. Mostyn. He is undoubtedly one of the best men I know. He saved me in the war more times than I can count. Don't let his glare scare you off. He doesn't bite." Then to Ewan. "You don't bite, do you?"

Ewan tried to decide whether or not he was required to answer. Rafe often spoke to hear his own voice.

The woman fluttered her lashes at Ewan. She had reddish hair, freckles, and pretty brown eyes. Her lips smiled broadly. "I could just eat you up, Mr. Mostyn." She winked at him.

Ewan gave Beaumont a look of concern. Unlike Beaumont, Ewan never knew what to say to women. He knew what to do with them, but he preferred not to speak while doing it.

"Save your appetite for later, my dear. Would you give Mr. Mostyn and me a moment alone?"

"Of course. I'll wait inside." She looked up at Ewan as though for approval. He moved aside to allow her to enter through the door a footman held open. The gambling hell permitted women, but most were courtesans or women who thrived on scandal. Clearly, this woman did not concern herself with her reputation.

When she'd gone inside, Beaumont sighed. "Hell's teeth! I thought I'd never be rid of her."

Ewan gave his friend a look of incomprehension. If Rafe didn't want her company, why not just tell her so? But then Beaumont seemed to attract women whether he wanted to or not. That was one skill they'd found invaluable in the war.

"Let me think now. If I mess this up, Wraxall will have my head. I'm to tell you Ridlington is an oak. Those are Neil's words, not mine. I don't describe men in terms of foliage, you know. In any case, Wraxall says, no one has a word to say against the duke. Apparently the man does not overindulge in drink, cards, or women. I can't think why Neil should call this a recommendation. The duke sounds like a bore to me, but there you are. Why does he want to hire you?"

Ewan lifted a shoulder.

"Well, don't agree unless he pays you at least double what you make at this club each week. You are worth it, Ewan."

Ewan couldn't have said why, but at the compliment, his throat constricted.

"Now I must be off. I haven't slept in two days, and if I'm forced to drink even one more glass of champagne I'll cast up my accounts. Good night." He slapped Ewan on the shoulder.

"What about...?" Ewan motioned to the hell behind him.

"Good God. Don't tell her where I've gone. I doubt she'll come looking for me. She'll find other amusements." He doffed his beaver hat and strolled off, turning heads as he walked.

Ewan pulled the card from his pocket and read it slowly. Berkley Street at ten in the morning. He'd go, but he wouldn't wear a cravat.

© Shana Galen

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