The Problem with Seduction - By Emma Locke
SURELY THIS WAS THE FIRST and only time Lord Constantine Alexander would ever approach another man and utter the words, “Pardon me, sir, but I believe you have my baby.”
Activities at the closest gaming tables ceased. Patrons cocked their heads or leaned forward in expectation of witnessing a scene that would no doubt be fodder for the better part of the night, if not the week. Con did his best to conceal his nervousness. A slightly mocking smile curled his upper lip. It felt more like a grimace. He had no idea how Captain Nicholas Finn would reply to his allegation—or indeed, if the larger, more seasoned man would even use words. An accusation like the one Con had just made could end in fisticuffs, or a call for his second.
He would really rather not get shot tonight.
Captain Finn’s mouth slowly snapped shut. Con had carefully rehearsed his speech to make it leap out like a pithy charge, but the captain had been given no such notice to prepare his rebuttal. Con clearly had the advantage of surprise.
The captain’s brown eyes narrowed in hard-edged disbelief. A muscle at his jaw tightened. Otherwise, he maintained control. “Who the hell are you?”
“Lord Constantine Alexander, at your service.” Con inclined his head, then capped the introduction off with a rakish flourish of his arm. He quelled the urge to shift under the other man’s rancor. He couldn’t afford to fail his mission, and that meant Finn couldn’t have any reason to doubt his claim. But Con didn’t like how it made him feel, having Finn look at him like some disgusting thing that had attached itself to the bottom of his boot.
Con tightened the smile on his lips into a smirk. A man who’d just publicly claimed to have impregnated another man’s mistress would smirk, wouldn’t he? Otherwise, if he were not a cocky cad intent on embarrassing his opponent, he would have done it all in private. “Well, do you or don’t you have my son?”
Finn didn’t respond. Con was careful not to twitch his fingertips against his leg. He must look sure of himself. He must look, well, cocky. He tilted his head to the right, as if having to do complicated maths in his head were a feat that required his full attention, and yet clearly conveyed that Con already knew the answer. “By my counting, you do.”
Finn thumped his empty tumbler onto the cloth-covered gaming table, causing a hollow knock that shook Con in his boots. Finn rose. Even standing, he had to tilt his head to glare into Con’s face. “I don’t need to count backward to know my own son.”
“Measure twice, cut once, my tailor says.” Con grinned, though he didn’t feel like grinning—far from it. But appearances had to be maintained. The first requirement of his assignment was clear: he wouldn’t see a shilling until the baby was returned to its mother. The ten thousand pounds he’d then receive would stop the moneylenders in their tracks. He needed this to work. It all added up to his freedom—each crisp bank note guaranteed he wouldn’t have to spend another night in King’s Bench, the debtors’ prison that all but had his name etched into a cell wall. If he failed at this tonight, there’d be no second chance.
He grinned again, as if the rest of his life didn’t hinge on the next few moments. “I believe this has all been a misunderstanding,” he explained loudly enough for anyone listening to hear. “Please, allow me to set the events straight so there can be no doubt.”
The second stipulation of his assignment dictated that Finn could have no recourse. If all went to plan, the men right here in this room would spread their accounting of this debacle across every club in London, leaving Finn no possibility of reneging once the baby had been restored to its mother. It was up to Con to cast that doubt.
“Four months ago,” he said, “you were summoned to a tiny hamlet in Devon by the notorious courtesan Elizabeth Spencer, who had been your mistress for the majority of three years. You were presented with an infant you were led to believe had sprung from your loins. Do I have the right of it so far?”
Finn didn’t spare a glance for the ring of men watching with unabashed interest. He didn’t stop to suggest that he and Con retreat out of doors, out of earshot. Instead, his eyes bored into Con’s with