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Alex Thornton was fresh out of new scandals. Standing beside his friend Edmund Blackwell, he sighed as he watched the hall full of glittering couples dancing merrily beneath vaulted ceilings.
It had been eight months since he'd given his twin brother Spencer's identity back to him. Eight months of constantly explaining to disappointed people that he'd only posed as the viscount.
Alex had vowed to enjoy his own life again, without the responsibilities of a noble title. He would do as he pleased, drink, gamble himself into oblivion, and find willing young women to enjoy it all with him.
Sad to say, those pleasures had grown almost...tiresome of late. Each party blurred into the next. He needed a change, something new to interest him.
"Edmund, are you as bored as I?"
Edmund shrugged, and his gaze surveyed the crowd. "I doubt it."
Of course Edmund wasn't bored he hadn't grown up among the nobility. He was one of those rare men who'd worked hard since childhood to achieve success, and had been knighted for his efforts.
Alex almost envied him.
"We need to enliven the evening," he continued. "I propose a wager."
Edmund rolled his eyes. "You know you can outdrink me."
"No, something new." He met the bright gaze of a lady and gave her a smile. "We seem to have the attention of several young women this evening."
"Until their mothers see where they're looking," Edmund said dolefully, folding his arms across his chest.
"And there is our challenge. I wager that I can get one dewy-eyed innocent to kiss me beforeyou can find one who'll kiss that face of yours."
"A virgin? I'd be beetle-headed to accept such a thing!" Edmund scoffed. "You've stolen kisses from half the girls here."
"Not the challenging ones, I haven't," Alex said. "So to make this interesting, I shall pick out the girl for you, and you shall pick out mine."
A slow grin eased Edmund's deceptively hard face. "I'll wager five sovereigns. But what happens if an angry father decides that one kiss compromises his daughter?"
Alex shrugged. "We have to marry sometime, do we not?"
"As if you would ever be trapped against your will," Edmund said. "Very well. I'll be magnanimous and allow you to choose first."
They turned to look out on the great hall. Couples whirled about, and women were lifted in the air by their partners. Crowds of people talked and ate and laughed. Who to choose for Edmund?
Then he saw her blond, pretty, and not ranked highly enough to look down upon Edmund, who'd begun manhood as a common soldier. Due to her overly protective family, it would be difficult for Edmund to get even close to her.
Alex cleared his throat and clasped his hands behind his back. "I have the perfect girl. Elizabeth Langston."
Edmund looked doubtful. "Her name is not familiar."
Alex pointed to where she stood alone with her parents, not dancing.
"She is quite beauteous," Edmund said. "But surely you had a specific reason in choosing her?"
"I shall just warn you to beware her father and her brothers."
Edmund sighed and continued to search the crowd. Finally he displayed a triumphant smile. "Ah, now there is a woman who'd be a challenge for you."
"Who?" Alex asked, feeling a pleasant sense of anticipation.
Edmund inclined his head toward the merry dancers. "Lady Blythe Prescott."The younger daughter of the Marquess of Kent. When the crowd parted he saw her laughing face, her shining hair the color of the finest chocolate from the New World. Though he'd never conversed with her, he had often noticed her loveliness and her musical laugh.
He was almost...disappointed.
Oh, she was pretty, but the flirtatious glances she bestowed on every dance partner suggested a woman easily kissed.
Edmund laughed. "Do not be so disgruntled, my friend."
"She will be no challenge. Is there something you are not divulging?" Alex asked, his interest returning as Edmund smirked.
And then he saw another woman, an older, paler imitation of Blythe, approaching the girl while wearing a censorious frown. Blythe gave her partner an apologetic look, slid her arm into the other woman's, and walked away.
"And who is that?" Alex demanded.
Edmund grinned. "That was Lady Emmeline Prescott, Blythe's sister."
"Let me guess a spinster," Alex said with a groan.
Edmund's smile showed almost every tooth in his head. "I am certainly going to relish taking your money."
"You haven't won yet, my good man. There is not a woman born I can't cajole. It will be easy to elude one sister in pursuit of the other."
Edmund gave him a formal bow. "Then I wish you luck, sir you'll need it. Shall we begin?" He took himself off without a backward glance.
Alex's gaze returned to the two sisters, now standing together near the banqueting table. Blythe's smile was lively as she listened to her sister's obviously serious words. Emmeline had none of Blythe's vivaciousness, and her dark hair had a reddish tinge to it. Perhaps if she smiled occasionally, she would have ensnared a man by now.
Yet she was the daughter of a marquess surely men must be lining up at her door, if only for a share of her wealth. So why had she never married?
Hell, he didn't have to care about the sister; he only had to outwit her. And for that to succeed, he had to win the younger sister's cooperation.
So he began to follow Blythe about the room, sending longing glances her way, ready for the moment their eyes would meet.
It came as she was talking to Emmeline, whose back was to Alex. Over Emmeline's shoulder, Blythe glanced up and saw him there, not ten paces...His Scandal. Copyright (c) by Gayle Callen . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.