Then Comes Seduction
JASPER Finley, Baron Montford, was twenty-five years old. Today was his birthday, in fact. At least, he amended mentally as he loosened the knot in his neckcloth with one hand while the other dangled his half-empty glass over the arm of the chair in which he slouched, to be strictly accurate in the matter,
He eyed it with a frown of concentration. Now that he came to think about it, he must have it set right one of these days. Why should a clock be forced to go through its entire existence four minutes behind the rest of the world? It was not logical. The trouble was, though, that if the clock were suddenly right, he would be forever confused and arriving four minutes early-or did he mean late?-for meals and various other appointments. That would agitate his servants and cause consternation in the kitchen.
It was probably better to leave the clock as it was.
Having settled that important issue to his own satisfaction, he turned his attention to himself. He ought to have gone to bed an hour ago-or two. Or even better, three. He ought to have come straight home after leaving Lady Hounslow’s ball-except that that would have put him in the house alone before midnight on his birthday, a damnably pathetic thing. He ought to have come after leaving White’s Club an hour or so later, then. And that was precisely what he
He wondered through the mist of alcohol clouding his brain-actually, it was more like a dense fog-if he had invited them. It was deuced forward of them to have come if he had not. He must ask them.
“I say,” he asked, speaking slowly so that he would enunciate his words clearly, “were any of you
They were all in their cups too. They were all slouched inelegantly in chairs except for Charlie Field, who was standing with his back to the fireplace, propping up the mantel with one shoulder and swirling the contents of his glass with admirable skill since not one drop of precious liquor sloshed over the rim.
“Were any of us-?” Charlie frowned down at him, looking affronted. “The devil, Monty, you practically
“Though turning twenty-five is nothing to get unduly maudlin about, old chap,” Viscount Motherham said. “Wait until you turn thirty. Then you will have every female relative you ever possessed down to cousins to the second and third generations and the fourth and fifth removes admonishing you to do your duty and marry and set up your nursery.”
Jasper pulled a face and clutched his temples with the thumb and middle finger of his free hand.
“Heaven forbid,” he said.
“Heaven will refuse to intervene on your behalf, Monty,” the viscount assured him. He was thirty-one years old and one year married. His wife had dutifully presented him with a son one month ago. “The female relatives will rout heaven every time. They are the very devil.”
“No need to stand upon ceremony,” Jasper said, waving his arm in the direction of the sideboard with its impressive array of bottles and decanters, most of which looked seriously depleted. Good God, surely they had been
“What a fellow needs on his twenty-fifth birthday,” Charlie said, “is something to cheer him up. Some new venture. Some exhilll… arrrr… What the deuce
“A challenge? A dare, you mean?” Jasper brightened considerably. “A
“The devil!” Charlie said, lifting a hand to grip the edge of the mantel against which his shoulder already leaned. “You need to get an architect to take a look at this floor, Monty. It ought not to be swaying like this. It’s downright dangerous.”
“Sit down, Charlie,” Sir Isaac advised. “You are three sheets to the wind, old boy-maybe even four or five. Just watching you sway on your pins makes my stomach queasy.”
“I did Brighton and back just two weeks ago, Charlie,” Jasper reminded him, “and came in fifty-eight minutes under the agreed-upon time. It ought to be something quite different this time. Something new.”
“A drinking bout?” Motherham suggested.
“I drank Welby under the table last Saturday week,” Jasper said, “and there is no one in town who can hold his liquor like Welby-or
“It’s the liquor, Monty,” Charlie said. “It will feel even larger in the morning-the head, I mean. Mine too. Not to mention my stomach.”
“Not together, though, Monty,” Sir Isaac said. “We might cause a scandal.”
There was a bellow of raucous and risque mirth for this sorry attempt at humor-and then a collective grimace.
“Agatha Strangelove,” said Henry Blackstone, rousing himself from a semicomatose state in the depths of a leather chair in order to contribute to the conversation for the first time in at least half an hour.
“What about her, Hal?” Sir Isaac asked gently.
Agatha Strangelove was a dancer at the opera house. She had luscious blond curls and ringlets, a pouting rosebud mouth, a figure that was overgenerous in all the right places, and legs that stretched all the way up to her shoulders-or so one wag had observed when she first appeared on the stage a month or two ago, and every man who heard him had known exactly what he meant. She was also very miserly in the granting of her favors to the gentlemen who crowded the green room after each performance begging for them.
“Monty should have to bed her,” Hal said. “In no more than a week.”
There was a small, incredulous silence.
“Devil take it,” Hal said in some surprise, “and so he did. I must be foxed. You ought to have sent us home an hour ago, Monty.”