Chapter 1

London, June 1763

The doors of the Savoir Faire club opened, throwing a path of light into the midnight street, and causing a flurry among the idling servants. Linkboys ran forward, torches streaming, to offer the gentlemen light on their way home. A hovering footman blew a whistle, however, and a response shrilled back from one of the coaches lined up in the street. The coach's lamps sprang to light, and a groom could be seen removing nose bags from the two horses.

The liveried footman turned back to be sure the pesky linkboys didn't bother his master, the great Marquess of Rothgar, and his lordship's half-brother, Lord Bryght Malloren. With a few cheeky comments, the lads drifted back to an abandoned dice game in the shadows.

Despite precious lace gleaming pale at throat and wrist, and the flash of fire in jewels, the marquess and his brother didn't need protection. Both wore small swords, and gilded scabbards and ornamental ribbons did not make them any less lethal, especially in their hands.

They chatted as they waited for the coach to pull up in front of them. Then the doors of the fashionable club opened again, and a new group emerged laughing, one man singing badly out of tune.

Then the song changed:

"For chastity's a noble state,

A pity it don't wear, eh ?

The lady doth protest too much

For the gentleman was bare, eh! "

Both brothers turned, swords hissing from their scabbards.

"I believe," the marquess said softly, "that song went out of fashion nearly two years back. You will, of course, apologize for being so out of style, sir?"

The song was one of the scurrilous ones which had flown about town when Lady Chastity Ware had been found in her bed with a naked man. The young lady had declared her innocence, but it had taken Malloren intervention to prove it, and have her restored to society. Chastity was now the wife of the marquess's youngest half-brother, Lord Cynric, now Lord Raymore.

The blond man who had been singing, disordered perhaps by drink, sneered at the swords. "Damned if I will. A man can sing a song."

"Not that one!" snapped Lord Bryght, blade point moving to touch the other man's throat. The singer didn't flinch, though his companions shrank back, pop-eyed.

The marquess used his blade tip to push his brother's away. "We'll have no street brawls, Bryght, or murders." He eyed the insolent singer. "Your name, sir?"

Most men in London would quail under the icy tone of the man many called the Dark Marquess, but this one only sneered more. "Curry, my lord. Sir Andrew Curry."

"Then, Sir Andrew, you will apologize for singing out of tune."

Nostrils flared, but the sneer stayed in place. "Don't tell me you're still trying to shovel blossoms over the dung heap, my lord marquess. Wealth and power can only do so much, and a stink will always linger."

"Especially in a corpse," the marquess remarked. "I fear we must meet, Sir Andrew. Your second?"

Instead of alarm, Curry smiled. "Giller?"

One of his hangers-on, overdressed and pug-faced, seemed to gulp, but said, "Of course, Curry. Your servant."

"Lord Bryght will act for me," said the marquess, "but we can settle the details I'm sure. Weapons?"


"Swords at nine, then, at the pond in St. James's Park. The one so popular for suicide." He sheathed his sword, then entered his crested carriage.

Lord Bryght sheathed his own sword, made wary by Curry's good humor. "Giller? Step aside with me if you will."

"Why?" asked the pudgy man in alarm.

"Because you're my second, you numbskull," Curry said. "Lord Bryght is evidently meticulous about these things. Go and assure him that I won't apologize."

Giller teetered over on high heels, looking as if he feared to be skewered.

Bryght said, "It is our duty, Mr. Giller - "

"Sir Parkwood Giller, my lord."

"My apologies, Sir Parkwood. It is our duty to try to effect a reconciliation. Talk to Sir Andrew, and if he changes his mind, contact me at Malloren House, Marlborough Square."

"Changes his mind!" declared Giller. "Curry? I should think not. Try instead to convince the marquess not to commit suicide." He turned, nose in air, and teetered back to his friends.

So it was as he suspected. Curry was a professional duelist.

Bryght entered the carriage and it moved on, but behind them, singing started again. Bryght cursed but his brother put a hand on his arm. "It will be dealt with tomorrow in proper fashion, Bryght."

"Proper fashion? Why the devil are you fighting a man like that? You could have taken a whip