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"Isn't the night beautiful?" the woman said soulfully.
"No." Martin's deep voice was as flat as the moonlit sea upon which he gazed.
Abigail would never have said something so banal. He was vaguely tempted to smile at the affronted look Lady Ellen Causely gave him at his answer. Vague emotions were about all he was up to this evening, about all he'd been up to for some time. This ennui and indifference almost annoyed him.
Lady Ellen tried again. "The sea air is so refreshing."
"It smells of salt and dead fish."
"The moonlight on the water sparkles like diamonds."
"You've always had a fondness for diamonds, my dear, but you won't get any from me."
Abigail would have tapped him on the arm and told him he wasn't getting into the spirit of the thing. Lady Ellen gave a furious gasp, whirled around in a froth of skirts, and marched backindoors, where music, laughter, and more genial prey beckoned. Abigail would have commented that the lady gave up too quickly if she'd really set her husband-hunting sights on Lord Martin Kestrel. Abigail had informed him on more than one occasion that when he was not with his daughter or performing his diplomatic duties, he was a wretched man with the tongue of an adder and the hide of a rhinoceros, and everyone knew it. People needed to be prepared for encounters with him.
"Lady Ellen has not done her lessons," he murmured, relieved to have the deck of the yacht to himself, as he had intended to have it all along when several people had followed him out of the party. He'd used his acerbic tongue to send them back, one by one, among people who actually wanted to share company. WhenFreddie had invited Martin for a fortnight holiday on the yacht and at Freddie's estate on the Isle of Wight, his old school chum had not mentioned how many other guests there would be. That many of them were unattached, eligible ladies had everything to do with Sir Frederick Hazlemoor's recent and still blissful wedded state. Freddie and his lady were of the opinion that everyone should be happily married.
"This will not do, old boy," Freddie said, coming up behind him.
Martin hid the fact that he was startled at his friend's sudden appearance. He'd spent some time staring at nothing, he supposed, with his mind as blank as blank could be. Better blank than thinking about marriage.
"I've been rude and ungracious to a flower of British femininity, and you've been sent by your wife to reprove me."
"I've been sent to express concern." Freddie clapped him on the shoulder. "You're not unsociable by nature, Martin, but you've been a bear with a toothache since coming on board. There's a movement growing among the ladies to chuck you overboard, or at least to find a deserted island and put you off on it."
Martin rubbed a thumb along his jaw. "I rather like the deserted island scheme. Would I be allowed to pack a few books?"
"No. The point would be to punish your wretched behavior."
"Ah. So Lady Ellen's volunteered to accompany me. Or is it the whining Miss Greer?"
"Being in their company is not a punishment. Is it because they're respectable that you're not exhibiting your usual charm?" Martin caught himself from saying that being in anyone's company at present felt like punishment, for that would be rude and ungrateful. He had accepted Freddie's well-meant invitation; he had no one to blame but himself. "My reputation is not that stained, surely."
"Hardly, old friend. But I'm relieved you chose to spend time in calmer company than with some of your recent friends."
"You've heard about the gambling and debauchery at Sir Anthony's parties?"
"I did receive an invitation to that notorious gentleman's house party," Martin admitted. "But Ihaven't been thinking I'd rather be there. Still, my mood's been ruining your party. I know it, and I am sorry."
Freddie eyed him critically. "Apology accepted, but is your behavior going to change?"
Martin was very tempted to say no. He gave himself a stern, swift, silent lecture, and said, "I will make an effort to be more amiable."
"Then come inside, where your expertise is wanted." Freddie draped an arm over Martin's shoulders, effectively trapping his guest as he guided him toward the main cabin.
"Expertise in what?" Martin asked. "Whatever do the ladies have in mind?"
"You needn't pretend to be scandalized, old man.Mybeloved bride has decided that we will entertain each other with amateur theatricals." Martin groaned and glanced over his shoulder at the quiet sea. "Perhaps I'll throw myself overboard now."
"Oh, no, I'm not letting you off that easily."
"I'm a terrible actor."
"You're a premier diplomat."
"That's different. That's a game of bluff and bluster and figuring out who's the most dangerousliar in a room full of dangerous liars. It's not the same as spouting off poorly written doggerel." "We shall be performing Shakespeare."
"Very well, spouting off well-written doggerel."
"It doesn't matter, Martin." They'd reached the door. "We aren't rehearsing dialogue this evening." Inside Martin saw that most of the furniture had been pushed aside, leaving a cleared space in themiddle of the cabin. He also found himself standing in the center of this area with his host, all eyes-most of them female -- turned attentively upon him. "Take off your coat, oldman," Freddie advised. Someone tossed a pair of practice foils to Freddie, who turned on Martin with a smile. "Tonight you're going to teach us fencing." Too Wicked to Marry. Copyright � by Susan Sizemore. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.