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By Suzanne Enoch
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Suzanne Enoch
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"Caine, where the devil are my boots?" Charlemagne Griffin bent to look beneath his bed, flinging up the blankets and groping into the murkiness. His fingers touched a lone book, but no boots.
"They're on their way up, my lord," the valet returned in his light Irish lilt, his expression horrified as he gazed at his master rooting about the bedchamber. "We had some difficulty getting that mud off them after your trip to Tattersall's."
Charlemagne straightened, dusting off his pantaloons. He flipped over the book he'd found to look at the cover. A Hundred Days in Rome. So that was where he'd left the damned thing. "Go encourage them to hurry," he said absently, settling on the corner of the bed and flipping the book open. "I refuse to be teased for being unable to dress faster than a female."
Caine stooped in a bow, backing out the door as he did so. "Right away, m'lord."
A knock came at his bedchamber door just as Charlemagne had begun reacquainting himself with day thirty-seven in an adventurer's exploration of Rome. "Enter," he said, looking up from the book.
His younger brother, Zachary, strolled into the room. "You can't go to a party in your stockings, Shay."
"My thanks. I'd be a social pariah without you."
Zach nodded. "Glad you realizedthat." He wandered closer. "Rumor has it that you were busy today."
"Is that your way of saying that you heard I purchased Dooley's bay hunter?"
"Aha. As soon as I came across Dooley in White's, and he was practically in tears over letting the horse go at such an abysmal price, I knew it had to be you who bought it."
Charlemagne smiled. "It was a good price, if I say so myself."
"So tell me your secret. Do you use witchcraft to put spells on your opponents? I can't think of any other reason that otherwise sensible men would sell you the entire moon for a stick and a broken wheel."
"I wouldn't have much use for the moon."
The valet scratched at the door and pushed it open. "Your boots, my lord. Good as new."
Looking over Caine's head as the valet knelt to shove on the Hobys, Charlemagne chuckled. "Since you asked, Zach, the secret is patience. Patience and observation. A hunter at any price, for instance, is no good to a man who can't afford to pay his household wages."
"That sounds a bit coldhearted."
"That's why we call it business, and not pleasure." Charlemagne stood, stomping into his left boot. "Besides, Dooley's hunter wasn't my only target for the day. I--"
"For God's sake," Zachary cut in, leading the way out to the stairs, "we're going to a party. I don't want to have to look at all the other guests and secretly know how many of them you've ground into dust during the course of the day."
"Fine," Charlemagne returned with a half scowl, somewhat amazed that, with Zachary's aversion to the harsh realities of business, his younger brother had managed to survive long enough to marry. "I don't expect you to be able to grasp the nuances of a business deal."
"Good. Tell someone smarter than I am."
"That hardly narrows it down."
From the noise at the foot of the stairs, the rest of the Griffin clan had arrived. Over the past year their family had expanded by two--Eleanor's husband, Valentine Corbett, Marquis of Deverill; and Zachary's wife, Caroline. Happy as he was for his siblings, at times Charlemagne could do without the resulting chaos.
"There you are, Shay," Eleanor said, sweeping forward to kiss him on the cheek.
"You look lovely, Nell, as do you, Caroline." His gaze found Sebastian, the Duke of Melbourne. Their eldest sibling, Seb was the only other Griffin who shared his own affection for business. The duke stood in his office doorway with Valentine. Charlemagne joined them. "How was your meeting with Liverpool?" he asked.
"Promising," the duke returned. "I think he's finally beginning to realize that pride is no reason to keep from doing business with the Colonies."
"Pride might not be a reason, but lack of imagination is even more difficult to overcome," Charlemagne put in.
"You won't hear me arguing with that. How did your own venture go today?" Zachary came up behind Shay and clapped him on the shoulder. "He made Dooley cry. I saw it myself."
Satisfying as it had been to acquire a prime hunter for a great deal less than it was worth, his second trip out had been far more interesting, and with far more possibilities. Charlemagne stifled a frown. "Dooley didn't have to accept my offer. As for my conversation with Cap--"
"Did Valentine tell you his news?" Melbourne broke in.
"The news is hardly the sole property of Valentine," Eleanor said, moving forward to take her husband's arm.
Zachary whooped, pounding Valentine on the back. "You old dog. And to think that a year ago the idea of marriage made you shriek like a chit."
"And now I seem to be procreating. It's been an odd twelve months," the marquis agreed, lowering his head to kiss Eleanor. "Glad I didn't miss it."
"Mm, so am I," she returned, chuckling.
Charlemagne took a step back as the congratulations circled around and around. Another member of the family. The babe wouldn't bear the Griffin name, but it would carry on the Griffin bloodline, just as Melbourne's seven-year-old daughter Penelope did. And from Caroline's expression, whatever she'd said about not having room in her life to be domestic, the thought was beginning to cross her mind, as well. Good. The more the merrier, he supposed.
The talk turned to baby names, for which Valentine was apparently willing to accept bribes, and Charlemagne backed to the front door. "I'm supposed to meet with Shipley in twenty minutes," he said in a low voice to the butler as Stanton handed him his hat and gloves. "I won't disturb their fun, but if anyone should miss me, tell them I went on ahead to the party."
Stanton nodded. "Very good, my lord."
Excerpted from Something Sinful by Suzanne Enoch Copyright © 2006 by Suzanne Enoch. Excerpted by permission.
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