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In the Night
By Smith, Kathryn
Avon BooksISBN: 0060740663
"I dare you."
She did, did she? What did she think he was, a boy unable to resist any gauntlet thrown down before him?
Probably. And she would be right -- to an extent. Her words needled him, but it would take more than a taunt to spur him to action. Wynthrope Ryland turned to his companion with a cool but charming smile. "I am afraid that is a challenge I cannot take."
The buxom woman waved her fan before her cleavage in a slow, seductive manner. Her surprise at his refusal was evident on her fair features. "Why on earth not?"
Returning his attention to the dancers twirling and prancing before them, Wynthrope allowed his smile to cool even further. This was why he despised winter parties -- conversation was unavoidable. "Because I already know what would happen should I ask the lady in question to dance."
Lady Dumont was not satisfied with so cryptic a reply. "And what is that, dear sir?"
He polished off the rest of his champagne before replying, gesturing with the empty flute as he did so. "Her sister would no doubt pitch a fit of hysterical proportions."
Melodramatic delivery to be sure, but that did not take away the truth of the words. Most women seemed intimidated by him, and that suited him just fine. Those who did end up presented to him like so much Christmas goose were generally those in need of finances, or simply trolling forconnections. Obviously, good connections were not a consideration, not when they involved his family. The Rylands -- even the more distant branches -- were not exactly known as "good" ton.
Still, that part of him that could not back down from a dare of any kind forced him to cast his gaze in the direction of the very pretty and popular Minerva Banning and her watchful elder sister Moira, Viscountess Aubourn.
Personally, he thought prettiness was a much overrated quality. And popularity among this bunch simply meant one knew the right things to say. How utterly boring. Still, his gaze had been straying to the sisters all evening. He must have been totally obvious for his companion to notice. Usually he was much more careful than that.
Now, if Lady Dumont had challenged him to steal a kiss instead of begging a dance, that might be a dare worth accepting. Begging was not something he did -- ever. Stealing, on the other hand, was something he was quite adept at.
Apparently Lady Dumont had no interest in extending such a challenge. More's the pity. "Do you plan to attend your sister-in-law's soiree tomorrow evening, Wynthrope my dear?"
Setting his empty glass on the tray of a passing footman, Wynthrope turned once more to face his companion. Ten years his senior, Lady Dumont was an attractive woman with silvery blond hair and a lush figure. Calling him by his Christian name was not a forced attempt at intimacy -- that had taken place years ago. He had shared her bed for a good many months, before and after relieving her of some of her late husband's artwork.
Of course, back then he had thought his criminal activity was all for the good of England. Shagging had been a lovely perk. How young and stupid he had been.
"Of course I plan to attend Octavia's party," he replied, putting thoughts of the past out of his mind. "She has given me no other choice." And even if she hadn't, he wouldn't dream of letting her down. Octavia had earned his loyalty the moment she became his brother North's wife. North was his confidant, his conscience. If Octavia was good enough for North, she was good enough for him.
Lady Dumont flashed a coy smile as she continued the lazy flourish of her fan. "Ladies. The sole weakness of the Ryland men."
Wynthrope made a scoffing noise low in his throat -- better that than the expletive he first thought of. "Hardly the sole, rather one of many."
"That is rather harsh, is it not?"
He shrugged. This conversation was quickly becoming tiresome. It was boredom that made him want to turn his back on his former lover and walk away, not a perverse need to keep silent about his family, even though he had been the one to remark against them. He had never spoken of his past to this woman when he shared her bed; what made her think he would do so now?
"I think I may take you up on that challenge after all. Please excuse me, my lady." Out of habit, he bowed, but his attention was already diverted. Focusing on his quarry alleviated the restlessness gnawing at Wynthrope's mind. He would never admit, not even to his brothers, that he felt as though something was missing from his life. If only one of his brothers were close at hand, he might use him to ease the feeling. Even Brahm quieted his spirit, damn him.
But his brothers weren't there. North was at home with Octavia. His younger brother, Devlin, was currently traveling up from Devonshire with his wife for Christmas, and Brahm wasn't generally welcome in society, although the general opinion of him had improved somewhat since the season. Perhaps that was why he was so intrigued by this woman -- she had her sister at her side almost constantly. Realistically he knew that would become bothersome after a while, but for now he envied it ... Continues...
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