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Justin Trentham crossed his booted ankles and sank deeper into the narrow maroon brocade seat. Opera chairs were not made for men who towered over six feet, so how the four ornate spidery legs held his weight he would never know. Perhaps a hardwood such as cedar was used in its construction? He yawned broadly and then raised one ungloved hand a fraction later than could be considered polite.
To contemplate the necessary solidity of one's chair at the Drury Lane theatre wasn't quite the done thing but it was another way to pass the evening without killing someone. And Justin wanted to. Badly. The chair distraction could very well have saved a life.
"Will you cease your fidgeting," the Countess of Billington chided, her thin brows lifted and her mouth pursed.
"I wasn't aware of any fidgeting," he replied with mock innocence. What did she expect from him? Rapture? The damned show hadn't started yet and already his neckcloth itched as perspiration trickled down his back.
"Sit still," his mother hissed. Her tone reminded him of a period long ago when the only moments she would deign to acknowledge his existence was with that hiss. But he had since learned her true nature wasn't in the least snakelike at all. More that of a rabid badger.
Justin plastered a charmer's smile on his lips and nodded his acquiescence in her direction. Why the devil had he agreed to accompany his family to the opera anyway? It wasn't as if he didn't have anything better to do, any place more interesting to be. The warm press of reeking bodies and stifling, stale air brought on a sudden gag.
Toe the line, toe the line. The mantra repeated in his mind.
For six months he'd made his family believe he'd changed his ways, that the revenge he longed for was a phase in his life he'd outgrown. He was the third son. Neither the heir nor the spare. His family reminded him every second of every day that it didn't matter what he did.
That he didn't matter.
They had come to lower their expectations and he had learned to disappoint with much style and little remorse.
Justin muttered beneath his breath, which earned him a sharp kick to the ankle from his eldest brother and heir to the earldom. Just one of the many family thorns to forever poke in his side.
He pretended he hadn't felt the gentle nudge and concentrated instead on the lowest gallery as he leaned over the balcony to get a glimpse of how the lesser half lived. How he wanted to tear the shirt from his back and leap over the barrier separating him from them, from the chance to experience a real life. That kind of display was certain to give his mother something else to swoon over.
He could do it that easily. He could shed the clothes that labeled him a gentleman, mingle with the peasants and lose himself in their world. A world where parents loved and adored their children for the equals they were and not what they would become. A world that didn't seem to hold to society's strict rules of propriety, titles and not much else.
But that would get him nowhere. He would be forever hunted, forever stuck with the name given him at birth, the name he would at all costs be rid of before he took his last breath on earth.
Damn. He shook his head. He shouldn't have enjoyed that bottle of wine in the carriage; he was becoming morbid. But then again, liquid fortification always helped when doing battle with his mother, even if theirs was a war of wills rather than fisticuffs on the street or pistols at dawn.