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An Invitation to Sin
By Suzanne Enoch
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Suzanne Enoch
All right reserved.
Lord Zachary Griffin lifted a glass of claret from a passing footman. "For God's sake, hurry it up," he muttered, gazing at the pair of dancers twirling halfway across the room.
Thirty other couples swished about the Tamberlake ballroom, but he scarcely noted them. Likewise the half dozen single young ladies edging toward him along the wall -- they occupied him only insofar as they kept him on the move to stay ahead of the silk and lace-draped gaggle.
Under normal circumstances he had no objection to waltzing with pretty young chits; he enjoyed it, in fact. However, the first order of business tonight was, well, business. He could dance later.
Across the room, his older brothers, Sebastian, the Duke of Melbourne, and Charlemagne, had also declined to waltz. The pair of them were in deep conversation with Lord Harvey and were no doubt finalizing negotiations to buy out the viscount's shares in their shipping business. He wished them well, but just the thought of all the damned numbers and percentages flying back and forth over there made his head ache.
The waltz finally swirled to an end. Most of the dancers headed back to their companions or toward the refreshment table. The pair Zachary was after separated in front of the chocolate cremes. With a last glance at his brothers, he moved in.
"Glad to see you still in London, Major," he said, putting a hand on the gentleman's red-clad shoulder.
John Tracey faced him. "Zachary," he returned with a smile, offering his hand. Zachary shook it. "You look well."
"Is there a reason I shouldn't? Other than your sister deciding she didn't want to marry me, that is."
"None of us expected that," Zachary conceded, his own smile tightening. Damn Nell. He didn't need any complications tonight. "Except perhaps for Melbourne, of course. He tends to know everything."
"He might have informed me then, that Lady Eleanor meant to marry the Marquis of Deverill before he asked if I wished to join the family."
Zachary shrugged, not certain how genuinely perturbed Major Lord John Tracey was by recent events. As much of a handful as his sister Nell had turned out to be, he wouldn't have wanted to be leg-shackled to her. "She eloped with Deverill. We even caught up to them once, and they still got away from us. After that, there wasn't much we could do. Valentine and Eleanor together are rather unstoppable."
"So I gathered. What can I do for you, then? It can't be marriage again. You don't have any other female siblings to send in my direction, and Melbourne's daughter is what, eight?"
"Peep is six," Zachary returned. "Actually, I have a favor to ask of you." "Ask away."
With a deep breath Zachary stepped off the cliff. "I intend to join a regiment and head for the Peninsula with Wellington."
The major laughed. "Oh, that's . . ." He trailed off. "You're serious."
"Of course I'm serious." Damn it all, nobody believed him. Hence this secret conversation out of the Duke of Melbourne's hearing. The laughter and teasing from his family members was becoming bloody tiresome.
"My apologies, then," Tracey said. "But Zachary, you do realize that once you join the army you can't simply change your mind. Not without some dire consequences."
"I'm aware of that," he returned, ignoring the insult to his resolve. "I'm not asking whether you think I should join the army. I'm asking which regiment would give me the best opportunity to see action. I don't intend to end up in charge of lugging whiskey barrels somewhere twenty miles behind the front lines."
"You want my regiment, then. The Forty-fifth Foot," the major answered promptly. "And if you're serious, I'd be happy to put in a word with Major General Picton. Not that you need much of a recommendation, with your family's name and reputation."
"I would appreciate if you would speak with the general," Zachary said, otherwise ignoring the familiar compliment to his family. As far as he was concerned, he had the important qualities -- skill with a weapon and the desire to excel. But if money qualified someone to be a competent soldier, well, he had that, too. "If you could arrange an introduction, I would be in your debt."
"If you promise never to mention my name and marriage in the same sentence again, I would consider us even," Tracey said, smiling again.
Out of the corner of his eye Zachary noticed the meeting breaking up across the room. He shook Tracey's hand again. "That's a promise. And my thanks."
"I'll send word when I can arrange a meeting. The general and I are both returning to Spain in another fortnight, so it'll be soon."
"I'll be waiting."
As the two of them parted, Zachary caught Melbourne gazing at him. Favoring the duke with a lifted eyebrow, Zachary went to find a dance partner. Whether his family in general, and his oldest brother in particular, had decided to take him seriously or not, he was going to decide his own future. And tonight he'd taken a large step in that direction -- which meant that now he could find a chit and enjoy himself.
The next morning Zachary sat at the breakfast table to read the missive Major Tracey had sent over. It seemed that Major General Thomas Picton would be very interested in adding a Griffin to his staff, and that both men would be dining at White's for luncheon. Folding the note and sliding it into his pocket, he turned his attention to the slightly wrinkled copy of The London Times that waited for him. From its condition, he surmised that either Shay or Melbourne had had a tea mishap earlier. He would wager it had been Charlemagne.
According to the latest printed reports, Eleanor and Valentine were enjoying their honeymoon in Venice. Nell's latest letter said the same thing, but he always found it interesting to hear about the Griffin clan's exploits from an outside perspective.
Excerpted from An Invitation to Sin by Suzanne Enoch Copyright © 2005 by Suzanne Enoch. Excerpted by permission.
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