A duel at dawn leaves Victoria Torrington under obligation to one of London's foremost rakes, Simon St. John, Earl of Travis. Together they face an enemy armed with the secrets of Simon's past.
“Are you ready, gentlemen?”
Simon (Satan) St. John, seventh Earl of Travis, nodded. Simon sensed a similar movement from Yelverton at his back. The dueling pistol felt comfortably familiar through the thin kid-leather of his glove. Simon eased his grip.
A damn duel over what amounted to little more than a handful of guineas and a property in Kent already mortgaged to the hilt. Vowels left strewn on a battered gaming table in one of London’s grimy hells and none of it worth a man’s life at twenty paces.
Distant trees loomed from the fog like harbingers of death, gallows arms spread wide. The early morning mist, laced with the smell of London’s thousands of coal fires, felt damp on his hair and cheeks and burned his tongue with its acrid taste. Each intake of breath rasped loudly in his ears.
“One,” counted the seconds.
Simon’s heart picked up speed. He took the first of ten paces that would somehow satisfy honor. His shining black boots scattered and crushed the fog’s crystalline residue on the emerald grass.
Curse Yelverton for a hotheaded fool. He had allowed Ogden’s taunts to aggravate the quarrel until the only option left had death lurking on their shoulders in Green Park.
Damn it. If he killed Yelverton, he’d have to leave the country. A second, fatal duel in a year would not escape Bow Street’s attention. He didn’t particularly wish harm to Yelverton and he didn’t want to leave. He had other plans.
“Ten.” He turned and faced his opponent, small across the open space. Mist eddied like sea-foam around Yelverton’s feet. A light breeze ruffled his hair and tugged at the greatcoats of those watching with morbid curiosity, the seconds, the doctor and the coachmen with their carriages some distance off. The horses’ steaming breaths drifted to mingle with the summer fog.
How odd that men should want to kill each other in the face of such peace.
Simon drew breath in a steady, even rhythm and lifted his arm. He obliterated all but the feel of the pistol in his hand and saw only the man who wanted him dead. His eye drew a line, a gossamer thread, from his outstretched pistol to the center of his opponent’s forehead. The path the bullet would follow.
A flutter of white. The handkerchief hung suspended, then dropped to the ground.
Yelverton lifted his arm. He swayed and the thread wavered. Hell and damnation. The fool was drunk. What a bloody mess.
Yelverton fired. Simon saw the spark, then the puff of smoke. The explosion ripped the quiet asunder. Rooks took wing from nearby trees with harsh cries. The bullet buzzed, hot and angry, past his ear.
His gaze traveled down his line. An easy mark, the madman didn’t even have the sense to turn sideways.
Simon carefully adjusted his aim. He fired.
Yelverton crumpled to his knees with a strangled cry. Honor was satisfied. Impetuous fool! Perhaps other young bucks anxious to try their luck against Satan would learn a lesson from this, but he doubted it.
From behind came the sound of feet scuffling through the grass and breathless sobs. Simon turned. A young woman, with long, black hair streaming behind her, ran toward him. Her straw bonnet, its ribbons tied around her throat, bounced against her shoulder. Her skirts, lifted high in one hand, revealed shapely ankles. A Dresden shepherdess in full flight, lacking only her crook and her sheep. Except that no artist, no matter how good, could capture the anguish on this beauty’s face. What in hell’s name was she doing here?
Ogden’s voice rang out behind him. Simon whirled around. Both seconds were running for Yelverton. Simon frowned. He had fired wide. He knew he had. He never made a mistake. His gaze riveted on his opponent. The dueling pistol discarded by his side, Yelverton pulled another weapon from his pocket.