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Home > Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)(14)

Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)(14)
Author: Lisa Kleypas

“I went carousing with friends for most of last night,” Gabriel admitted. “It ended when we were all too drunk to see a hole through a ladder.”

Sebastian grinned and removed his coat, tossing the exquisitely tailored garment to a nearby chair. “Reveling in the waning days of bachelorhood, are we?”

“It would be more accurate to say I’m thrashing like a drowning rat.”

“Same thing.” Sebastian unfastened his cuffs and began to roll up his shirtsleeves. An active life at Heron’s Point, the family estate in Sussex, had kept him as fit and limber as a man half his age. Frequent exposure to the sunlight had gilded his hair and darkened his complexion, making his pale blue eyes startling in their brightness.

While other men of his generation had become staid and settled, the duke was more vigorous than ever, in part because his youngest son was still only eleven. The duchess, Evie, had conceived unexpectedly long after she had assumed her childbearing years were past. As a result there were eight years between the baby’s birth and that of the next oldest sibling, Seraphina. Evie had been more than a little embarrassed to find herself with child at her age, especially in the face of her husband’s teasing claims that she was a walking advertisement of his potency. And indeed, there had been a hint of extra swagger in Sebastian’s step all through his wife’s last pregnancy.

Their fifth child was a handsome boy with hair the deep auburn red of an Irish setter. He’d been christened Michael Ivo, but somehow the pugnacious middle name suited him more than his given name. Now a lively, cheerful lad, Ivo accompanied his father nearly everywhere.

“You go first,” Sebastian said, browsing among the rack of cue sticks and selecting his favorite. “I need the advantage.”

“The devil you do,” Gabriel replied equably, setting up the game. “The only reason you lost to me the last time was because you let Ivo make so many of your shots.”

“Since losing was a foregone conclusion, I decided to use the boy as an excuse.”

“Where is Ivo? I can’t believe he let you leave him at Heron’s Point with the girls.”

“He nearly worked himself into a tantrum,” Sebastian said regretfully. “But I explained to him that your situation requires my undivided attention. As usual, I’m full of helpful advice.”

“Oh, God.” Gabriel leaned over the table to make the opening break. Staying down on the shot, he struck the cue ball, which struck the yellow ball and knocked it into the net. Two points. With the next shot, he potted the red ball.

“Well done,” his father said. “What a sharper you are.”

Gabriel snorted. “You wouldn’t say that if you’d seen me two nights ago at the Chaworth ball. You’d have called me a prize idiot—rightly so—for being trapped into marriage by a naïve girl.”

“Ah, well, no bull can avoid the yoke forever.” Sebastian moved around the table, set up his shot, and executed a perfect in-off. “What is her name?”

“Lady Pandora Ravenel.” As they continued to play, Gabriel explained in disgust, “I didn’t want to attend the damned ball in the first place. I was pressed into it by some friends who said that Chaworth had spent a fortune for a crew of self-styled ‘fireworks artisans.’ There was supposed to be a ripping exhibition at the end of the evening. Since I had no interest in the ball itself, I walked down to the river to watch the workmen set up rockets. As I returned”—he paused to execute a carom, a three-point shot that hit two balls simultaneously—“I happened to hear a girl cursing in the summer house. She had trapped herself arse-upwards on a settee, with her dress caught in the carved scrollwork.”

His father’s eyes twinkled with enjoyment. “A fiendishly clever lure. What man could resist?”

“Like a clodpate, I went to help. Before I could pull her free, Lord Chaworth and Westcliff happened upon us. Westcliff offered to keep his mouth shut, of course, but Chaworth was determined to bring about my comeuppance.” Gabriel sent his father a pointed glance. “Almost as if he had an old score to settle.”

Sebastian looked vaguely apologetic. “There may have been a brief dalliance with his wife,” he admitted, “a few years before I married your mother.”

Gabriel took a heedless shot that sent the cue ball rolling aimlessly around the table. “Now the girl’s reputation is ruined, and I have to marry her. The very suggestion of which, I might add, caused her to howl in protest.”

“Why?”

“Probably because she doesn’t like me. As you can imagine, my behavior was somewhat less than charming, given the circumstances.”

“No, I’m asking why you have to marry her.”

“Because it’s the honorable thing to do.” Gabriel paused. “Isn’t that what you’d expect?”

“By no means. Your mother is the one who expects you to do the honorable thing. I, however, am perfectly happy for you to do the dishonorable thing if you can get away with it.” Leaning down, Sebastian assessed a shot with narrowed eyes, lined it up, and potted the red ball expertly. “Someone has to marry the girl,” he said casually, “but it doesn’t have to be you.” Retrieving the red ball, he returned it to the head spot for another strike. “We’ll buy a husband for her. Nowadays most noble families are in debt up to their ears. For the right sum, they’ll gladly offer up one of their pedigreed progeny.”

Regarding his father with an arrested stare, Gabriel considered the idea. He could foist Pandora onto another man and make her someone else’s problem. She wouldn’t have to live as an outcast, and he would be free to go on with his life as before.

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