Home > Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)(15)

Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)(15)
Author: Lisa Kleypas

Except . . .

Except he couldn’t seem to stop brooding over Pandora, who was like annoying music he couldn’t get out of his head. He’d become so obsessed with her that he hadn’t even visited his mistress, knowing that even Nola’s extensive repertoire wouldn’t serve to distract him.

“Well?” his father prompted.

Preoccupied, Gabriel was slow to reply. “The idea has merit.”

Sebastian glanced at him quizzically. “I rather expected something more along the lines of, ‘Yes, dear God, I’ll do anything to avoid spending a lifetime shackled to a girl I can’t abide.’”

“I didn’t say I couldn’t abide her,” Gabriel said testily.

Sebastian regarded him with a faint smile. After a moment, he prodded, “Is she pleasing to the eye?”

Gabriel went to an inset sideboard to pour himself a brandy. “She’s bloody ravishing,” he muttered.

Looking more and more interested, his father asked, “What is the problem with her, then?”

“She’s a perfect little savage. Constitutionally incapable of guarding her tongue. Not to mention peculiar: She goes to balls but never dances, only sits in the corner. Two of the fellows I went drinking with last night said they’d asked her to waltz on previous occasions. She told one of them that a carriage horse had recently stepped on her foot, and she told the other that the butler had accidently slammed her leg in the door.” Gabriel took a swallow of brandy before finishing grimly, “No wonder she’s a wallflower.”

Sebastian, who had begun to laugh, seemed struck by that last comment. “Ahhh,” he said softly. “That explains it.” He was silent for a moment, lost in some distant, pleasurable memory. “Dangerous creatures, wallflowers. Approach them with the utmost caution. They sit quietly in corners, appearing abandoned and forlorn, when in truth they’re sirens who lure men to their downfall. You won’t even notice the moment she steals the heart right out of your body—and then it’s hers for good. A wallflower never gives your heart back.”

“Are you finished amusing yourself?” Gabriel asked, impatient with his father’s flight of fancy. “Because I have actual problems to deal with.”

Still smiling, Sebastian reached for some chalk and applied it to the tip of his cue stick. “Forgive me. The word makes me a bit sentimental. Go on.”

“For all practical purposes, Pandora would be of no use to me other than in bed. She’s a novelty. After the newness wore off, I’d be bored within a week. More to the point, she’s temperamentally unsuited to be my wife. Anyone’s wife.” He had to finish his brandy before he could bring himself to admit huskily, “Despite all that . . . I don’t want anyone else to have her.” Bracing his hands on the edge of the table, he stared blindly at the green baize cloth.

His father’s reaction was unexpectedly sanguine. “To play devil’s advocate—has it occurred to you that Lady Pandora will mature?”

“I’d be surprised,” Gabriel muttered, thinking of those heathen blue eyes.

“But my dear boy, of course you would. A woman will always surprise you with what she’s capable of. You can spend a lifetime trying to discover what excites and interests her, but you’ll never know it all. There’s always more. Every woman is a mystery, not to be understood but enjoyed.” Picking up a billiards ball, Sebastian tossed it into the air and caught it deftly. “Your Lady Pandora is young—time will remedy that. She’s a virgin—well, there’s a problem easily solved. You anticipate marital ennui, which, forgive me, is a pinnacle of arrogance unmatched by anyone except myself when I was your age. The girl sounds anything but boring. Given half a chance, she may please you even more than Mrs. Black.”

Gabriel sent him a warning glance.

His father had made no secret of his disapproval of Gabriel’s mistress, whose husband was the American ambassador. As the young, beautiful wife of a former Union Army officer whose war injuries prevented him from satisfying her in the bedroom, Mrs. Nola Black took her pleasures where she found them.

For the past two years, Nola had fully indulged Gabriel’s every desire, their encounters unhindered by morals or inhibitions. She always knew when to push the limits farther, coming up with new tricks to spark his interest and satisfy his complex desires. Gabriel didn’t like it that she was married, he resented her temper and her possessiveness, and lately he had begun to realize that the affair was turning him into the worst possible version of himself.

But he kept going back for more.

“No one pleases me more than Mrs. Black,” Gabriel said with difficulty. “That’s the problem.”

Slowly his father set the cue stick onto the table, his face impassive. “You fancy yourself in love with her?”

“No. God, no. It’s just that . . . I . . .” Lowering his head, Gabriel rubbed the back of his neck, which had begun to crawl with discomfort. Although he and his father had always spoken freely on a great variety of subjects, they rarely discussed personal sexual matters. Sebastian, thank God, was not one to meddle in his sons’ private lives.

There was no easy way for Gabriel to describe the dark side of his nature, nor was he particularly eager to face it. As the Challon family’s oldest son, he had always strived to meet high expectations—his own and other people’s. Since a young age, he’d been aware that because of his family name, wealth, and influence, many people actively wanted him to fail. Determined to prove himself, he’d earned high marks at Eton and Oxford. When other boys had wanted to test themselves against him by picking fights or trying to best him in athletics, he’d had to prove himself repeatedly. Whenever he’d identified a weakness in himself, he worked to overcome it. After graduating, he had managed his family’s financial affairs competently, and he’d made his own investments in fledgling businesses that had paid off in spades. In most areas of his life, he was self-disciplined and hardworking, a man who took his responsibilities seriously.

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