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"The woman must be stopped."
Jeremy Vaughn, the Duke of Kilgrath, looked up from his snifter of port with a frown as he watched his friend Anthony Wharton storm around the private room at Worthington's Club.
"What woman?" he asked before he took a long puff of his cigar.
David Forster, the Marquis of Chartsford glared at him. "Great God, Kilgrath, what do you mean what woman? We're talking about Penelope Norman."
Anthony nodded his head, his scowl deepening. "Exactly. The woman is a deuced menace."
Jeremy shrugged, grinding out the remains of his cigar in a sterling silver ashtray as he pictured Lady Norman. With her lithe frame, long, flowing blond hair, and turquoise eyes, Penelope wasn't exactly the kind of woman a man of his appetites could ignore. And even if he could, her recent crusade against the sensual excess of the men of the Upper Ten Thousand was making her the current talk of the ton.
Still, he could hardly believe she was worth all this ruckus. He came to Worthington's and met with his friends in order to avoid this kind of gossipy foolishness.
"How much effect can one woman truly have?" he asked mildly.
The other five men in the room all stared at him. These were his best friends. All men of means, aside from Ryan Crawford, whose father had cut him off years before. And all were men of appetites. They enjoyed every advantage their names and wealth afforded them. Especially ones that involved women.
They called themselves "the Nevers," a silly name coined by Jeremy's younger brother, Christopher,after a drunken night when the group of them had all vowed never to change or falter or love.
So far, only Jeremy's brother had gone against that vow. Christopher had married six months before, and was the only one absent from their meeting tonight. Jeremy winced at the thought.
Finally, Anthony gave an outraged snort. "How much effect? Are you bloody daft? The woman stole my mistress."
Jeremy bit back a laugh, but only because he knew the subject was a sore one with his friend.
"Come, Wharton," Ryan Crawford said as he leaned back into a leather chair. "That is exaggerating it a bit. You act as though Lady Norman swooped in and kidnapped Fiona. Fi went of her own volition."
Nathan Ridgemont, the Earl of Dunfield, tipped his head back with a laugh. "Perhaps she thought this Penelope could satisfy her more."
Jeremy would have taken a moment to enjoy the spectacular image such a statement put into his mind, but he couldn't. Anthony lunged at Dunfield with a curse, and the room erupted in shouts as various friends grabbed for the scrapping pair. Jeremy caught Anthony by the arms and pulled him back as his friend struggled.
"Wharton," he growled. "Come on, you know Dunfield is only being an ass."
"And you aren't the only one who has suffered," Chartsford pouted when Anthony stopped fighting to be free and some semblance of calm returned to the assembly. "My wife, who was always so pliable and didn't give a damn where I went or who I went with, is now haranguing me night and day and demanding I give up my mistress. And all because of that wretched woman."
Jeremy released Anthony slowly and backed away. Wharton had become the closest thing he had to a best friend ever since Christopher abandoned him for the pleasures of hearth and home. Jeremy had a hard time reconciling this angry, red-faced man with the normally carefree gentleman he called a friend. Truly, Penelope Norman was more than just a mere annoyance for Wharton. She had come to represent the other man's deepest humiliation.
"What do you suggest we do about her?" Viscount John Lockwood asked from the corner where he had been sitting quietly, watching the entire exchange. He was the only one who had made no move to interfere with the fight.
Chartsford and Anthony exchanged a look that made clear what they would like to do to Penelope, but said nothing. In fact, it was Dunfield who stepped forward.
"There are six of us here," he said with a grin. "And we each have a certain reputation. Surely one of us could change her mind, put a stop to her meddling somehow."
"How?" Wharton snapped with a peevish scowl. "What is your plan, if you even have one?"
Dunfield shrugged. "Seduction is one way. It would open the door to blackmail or exposure."
"Seduce her?" Chartsford barked with an incredulous shake of his head. "Not bloody likely. She's not called the Ice Queen for nothing."
"Tried with her and failed, did we?" Jeremy asked as he tipped up his glass and took another slow sip of port.
Chartsford glared at him, but didn't refute the charge. As the other men began to debate the subject, Jeremy let his mind slip, once again, to Penelope Norman.
He had never felt the epithet of Ice Queen fit her. She might appear cold and distant at first blush, but he'd observed the young woman many times over the past two years. He saw her watching everyone around her. And sometimes, when she thought no one was looking, he saw a hint of burning lust in her pretty eyes. Unsatisfied desire, even before her husband tipped up his toes a year before.
No, Penelope Norman was no ice queen. Or if she was, she could easily be melted by the right man.
"Come on Kilgrath, draw a straw," Anthony barked, stirring him from his thoughts. Jeremy looked at his friend in wide-eyed surprise. Some time during his private musings, his friend had collected a batch of matchsticks and was now holding out a fistful expectantly. "You are not serious," Jeremy said as he stepped away.
Anthony advanced forward, his fist tightening. "Hell yes, I am! That little bitch Penelope Norman stole my mistress, and if she keeps up her crusade against men like us, it could be more than just Chartsford and me who suffer. I want her stopped. One way or another. And we are the only ones who have the balls to do it. Draw."Something Reckless. Copyright © by Jess Michaels. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.