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Alas, My Love
"It's time I went home," he said. The room was dark and hot, and stank of smoke and too many men crammed together for too long. The windows were covered with thick draperies, so no one could see out. But one man knew what time it was. Amyas St. Ives filled his pockets, pushed back from the gaming table, and announced he was leaving.
"Aye, with all our money," another gamester at the table grumbled as he eyed the diminished pile of coins in front of him.
"Leave the lad be. He had the Devil's own luck with the dice," a thickset gentleman muttered, looking up at the departing man with bleary eyes. "We'll even up the score next time, St. Ives." Then he blinked against the guttering candlelight and groaned. "Damme if the play didn't run so deep it stole my wits. Forgot the hour entirely. Must be dawn or past it." He fumbled, trying to dip two fingers into a waistcoat pocket that was stretched tautly over his ample stomach. "Damme if I ain't been robbed," he exclaimed. "My watch is gone!"
Amyas paused, reached into his own pocket, and drew out a golden watch. He flipped it to the seated man. "Here it is. You lost it, all right, to me. Remember?"
The other men laughed as the heavyset fellow turned red. "No, no," he protested, handing back the watch. "Now I remember, lost it fair and squarely. It's yours, St. Ives. I'll win it back tomorrow night."
"Keep it," Amyas said. He stretched his long limbs and stifled a yawn. "At least, keep it safe for me. Because we won't meet at a table again for a long time. As I said, I'm going home."
A dark young man sitting at the table suddenlylooked up from counting his winnings.
"Aye," Amyas told him. "All the way home. I'm going back to Cornwall, gents. London town won't see me soon again."
"You, rusticate for long? In a pig's eye," the thickset man said on a laugh. "Ain't a Hell or a bawdy house big enough to keep your interest in a backwater like that for long. Don't know why you're going at all, come to think on. Nobody we know lives there, and I didn't think you did. You always win, so I know you ain't got pockets to let neither, so you ain't going there on a repairing lease ... Unless you're getting shackled?" he added, looking up with interest. "Who's the lucky girl?"
"I may find out," Amyas said lightly. "That, among other things. Give you good night. I mean, good morning, gentlemen."
Amyas shook hands with the thickset man, sketched a bow to the others, and left the room. He took his hat and cape from a footman, then left the gloom of the private gaming Hell and trotted up a short stair to the street.
The dark young gentleman who had been at the hazard table fell into step beside him. "Amyas," he said, "you're not, really. Going to Cornwall, I mean."
"Oh, but I am," Amyas said, blinking against the sudden gray light. He took a deep breath. "Even London smells good at dawn, doesn't it? Lord! I've missed filling my lungs with clean, sweet air. I'm ready to leave town for more reasons than even I knew."
"I also long for the smell of open fields sometimes. But Cornwall? You've got to be joking."
"No jest, Daffyd," Amyas said, as they walked up the street together. "You knew I always meant to go there one day. So why not now? We've sorted out things here, and the future is ours, at last. We're back in England, with no debts, no worries. We've seen our friends restored to their rightful places. We've got plenty of money and respectability, or at least, the best kind money can buy."
"Money and friendship," Daffyd corrected him.
"Yes, well, being friends with an earl helps wonderfully. We're not exactly acceptable, but we're admitted to most high places."
"Because they don't know what we are. They'd toss us out the door if they knew we were convicts."
"We were," Amyas agreed. "And what of it? We're not now. And we're not lying about who we are."
"We're not telling, neither."
Amyas shrugged. "Why should we? Look, we were in and out of the nick a few times in our youth, true. And it's only bad luck I picked a pocket that had a pound note in it and showed it to you. They nabbed you for holding it and me for lifting it, and it was transportation for us, true. But you were eleven and I had only a year or so more to my name."
"Old enough to be hanged," Daffyd muttered. He was a dark, trim young man of medium height, with a thin, aristocratic nose, shining blue-black hair, and startlingly blue eyes.
"Aye," Amyas said. "But we were lucky. We did our time and earned our pardons, and now we're not convicts. Now we're only gents of indeterminate origin."
"We're determinate enough for the Quality," his companion said glumly. "They know we don't have 'names.' Men with names use them. Them what don't are looking for trouble. Don't look at me like that," he told Amyas. "It's what some gentry mort told me the other night, when she didn't recognize my name. She looked like she expected me to devour her, too."
"And did you?"
The dour face broke into a grin. "No. But she wanted me to. It was as much fun disappointing her as obliging her would have been. No, more, I think. She was dead respectable. If I'd had her, there'd have been enough weeping, wailing, and bemoaning to raise the dead, or at least her family, ten seconds after. She was a society virgin. Having her would have got me a bucket of tears down my neck and another stretch in Newgate, or a quick wedding ..."Alas, My Love. Copyright © by Edith Layton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.