There were few people in the world that Daniel disliked, but Nigel Coulter, the fourth Earl of Starkly, was definitely one of them. Seeing the raven haired beauty he’d playfully named Nuit talking to the fellow ignited something dangerous within him – something possessive that he had no right or reason to feel. He approached the two of them, coming up behind Lady Nuit just as she turned into him, causing him to spill the champagne he’d been carrying.
“Forgive me,” she gasped.
“No need, my lady,” he said, trying not to follow the direction in which the liquid was going as it ran down her chest. He offered her his handkerchief and returned his attention to the other man. “Lord Starkly,” he ground out, his eyes on the smug face of the earl who was shamelessly perusing Lady Nuit’s figure. It took little imagination to know what was going through his sordid mind and the thought of it made Daniel want to slam his fist right into the blighter’s arrogant smile.
He stopped himself, wary of drawing unwanted attention. It wouldn’t benefit Lady Nuit if everyone present became aware of the fact that she was keeping company with two of England’s foremost scoundrels. There was little comfort to be had in knowing that he was a much better man than the earl, for Daniel was well aware that Society made no distinction between the two of them regarding their reputations. On the contrary, the earl had always been more discreet whereas Daniel in his youthful stupidity had flaunted his conquests and bragged about his escapades to anyone willing to listen.
“Ah, Neville,” Starkly said, his gaze meeting Daniel’s. “So good of you to join us.”
“I hadn’t thought you’d be here – imagined Kingsborough would have better taste regarding his guests.”
“The same could be said of you,” Starkly drawled. “After all, it’s a well-known fact that you’re not accepted into polite society. In fact, I expect this invitation is the only one you’ll receive this year.”
Daniel felt his whole body tense as he fought for a calm composure. His situation was not a secret, but he still doubted that it was one Lady Nuit was aware of, for there had been no recognition in her eyes when he’d introduced himself to her. He feared now that if Starkly said anything further, she’d want nothing to do with him – a thought he did not relish in the least, because as far as marriage prospects went, Lady Nuit was his only option so far. He’d rather hoped to make a good impression on her.
Frustrated, he glared back at Starkly with distaste. “And what of you? From what I hear your membership was revoked from Brook’s last week when you were found cheating at cards.” The barb struck, judging from Starkly’s rigid expression.
“Take care, Neville.” His eyes narrowed with menace. “Considering your uncle’s good health, it will be decades before you outrank me. Until then, I suggest you address me in the manner that is my due.”
“Go rot,” was all Daniel could say to that as he turned away with every intention of removing himself and Lady Nuit from Starkly’s presence, only to find that she was no longer standing next to him.
. In fact, the lady had completely vanished.
Hell and damnation.
“Where did she go?” he asked as he looked around the room. What he really wanted to know was how much of the conversation she’d heard before taking her leave.
Starkly laughed. “It would appear that she’s slipped through your fingers.” Leaning closer to Daniel he lowered his voice to a whisper. “And since it’s just become clear to me that you and the lady are not attached, I do believe I’ll double my efforts to get her into my bed. Care to wager on my success?”
Forcing back a scathing remark, Daniel waited for Starkly to leave before downing the contents of both champagne flutes. He then abandoned the glasses on a footman’s tray and went in search of his quarry, ignoring the disapproving glances that followed in his wake. One would think he’d committed murder the way everyone was treating him. God how he hated the hypocrisy of the ton– as if most of the men present didn’t engage in illicit affairs while their wives turned a blind eye. He’d done far less. For one thing, he wasn’t married and for another, he’d never seduced someone who was. Nor had he ever taken a woman’s innocence. He smiled at that thought. No, there was nothing innocent at all about the women he’d taken to his bed – he’d just been too … blatant about it, he supposed. It didn’t help that he had a penchant for scandalous wagers as well. He ought to be proud of himself for not accepting Starkly’s, but instead he just felt irritable. Where the bloody hell was she?