My Heart's True Delight (True Gentlemen #10) - Grace Burrowes

Chapter One

“If you are so unforgivably clodpated as to challenge William Chastain to a duel,” Ash Dorning said, “I will shoot you in the arse myself, Tresham. And lest you forget, I was raised in the country. My aim is faultless.”

“You won’t shoot me,” Jonathan Tresham replied. “Lady Della would never forgive you for wounding her devoted brother. Besides, I’ll need you to serve as one of my seconds.”

Ash poured two fingers of brandy from the better stock kept behind The Coventry Club’s bar. At this midmorning hour, the cleaning crew had already come through. The room was tidy and deserted, and a perfect place to talk sense into Tresham.

Or try to. He passed Tresham the medicinal tot and poured one for himself. “If you add fuel to the flames of gossip by involving Lady Della’s name in a matter of honor, you will be the brother she never forgives. As far as polite society is concerned, the Haddonfield menfolk are her siblings, and your involvement in the situation would only cause the wrong kind of speculation.”

Lady Della’s mother and Tresham’s father had had an affair while married to other people. The tall, blond Haddonfields affectionately referred to the petite brown-haired Lady Della as their changeling, but anybody who took a close look at Della and Tresham side by side would see an uncanny resemblance.

If those people had any sense, they’d speculate silently. Della was fiercely loved by all of her siblings and by any number of relatives and family connections.

Della was loved by Ash, too, not that his sentiments signified.

“Why did she do it, Dorning?” Tresham took his drink to the roulette table and gave the wheel a spin. “Why run off with Chastain? He’s a bounder and an inept card player, and worse yet, a rake.”

Because Ash was a co-manager of The Coventry Club, he knew exactly what Tresham meant. The more heavily William Chastain lost, the more heavily he drank, and the more heavily he bet. Ash had a fine grasp of probabilities, while Chastain had a fine grasp of the brandy decanter.

“To young men just down from university,” Ash said, “Chastain offers a certain shallow-minded bonhomie. He looks the part of the man about Town. He pays his debts, or we’d not let him back in the door.” Though how he paid his debts was something of a mystery.

“His damned father must be covering his markers,” Tresham muttered. “Last I heard, Chastain was engaged to some French comte’s granddaughter, so his papa is doubtless keeping Chastain out of trouble as best he can until the vows are spoken. I really do want to kill him.”

So do I. “That won’t help. Chastain traveled no farther with Della than Alconbury. If he wants to live, or ever sire children, he’ll keep his mouth shut. The whole business will remain a private regret for both parties.”

By daylight, the game room looked a little tired, even boring. The art on the walls depicted good-quality classical scenes—scantily clad nymphs, heroic gods—but nothing too risqué and nothing too impressive either. Without the click and tumble of the dice, the chatter of conversation, or the sparkle of the patrons’ jewels, the room was simply a collection of tables and chairs on thick carpet between silk-hung walls.

Any Mayfair town house would have been at least as elegant. But that was the point: The Coventry’s elegance was comfortably bland, not showy, not distracting. The focus of the patrons was to be on the play and on each other.

Ash’s focus was on Della Haddonfield, whom he had given up trying to forget months ago.

“Chastain drinks when he loses, and he loses nearly every time he plays,” Tresham said, wandering between the tables. “Sooner or later, he’ll drink too much and start wittering on about the elopement with Lady Della. He spent half the damned night with her in that inn, Ash. I should kill him for that alone.”

“I know, Tresham,”—God, do I know—“but Della apparently went with him willingly. Would her family tell you if that wasn’t the case?”

“I have no idea.” Tresham perched on a dealer’s stool and took up a deck of cards. “I hate this,” he said, shuffling the deck with casual expertise. “Chastain is an affront to good society and somebody needs to take him in hand.”

Somebody needed to put out Chastain’s lights. “Deal me in.” Ash took up a stool at the same table. “Has it occurred to you that Della might be smitten with Chastain? She might be heartbroken that Chastain’s