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ALISON STARED at her brother across a table which bore the remains of a frugal meal, the best she could prepare with the pittance Edmond gave her for housekeeping. "Surely you do not intend going back to Boodle's tonight, Edmond!" she protested. "You have already lost your whole quarter's allowance!"
His handsome face was set in the lines of sullen obstinacy Alison knew and dreaded. "There is more where that came from."
"Only if you force our father to sell more of your inheritance," his sister reminded him quietly. "Have you thought what you will be returning to, when this disastrous Season in London is over?"
"Is it my fault that the old man can't pay the piper? That he sends his only son out into the world ill shod and penny-pinched?"
"That is unfair!" cried Alison, hotly. "He has beggared himself to give you this Season?"
"So I could snare a wealthy girl with a generous father, and restore the family fortune which he himself dissipated over the gaming tables," sneered her brother. Alison caught a deep, steadying breath. It was true: that had been the reason for their coming to London. The last remnants of the Conninge competence--for it had not been a great fortune since their father's reckless youth--had been scraped up to provide a suitable image for Edmond Conninge to present to the Ton. Brother and sister knew that he must marry well if anything were to be saved of Conninge Court and its depleted estates. Looking at her brother's beautiful, petulant countenance, Alison experienced an unfamiliar resentment.
"But you haven't made the effort, have you?" she said. "Instead of attending Almack's to find a suitable parti, you have frequented Boodle'sand White's and--and I know not what other gaming hells, night after night, and now you have lost every penny Father could give you!"
"How do you know that?" The whining tone in her brother's voice set Alison's teeth on edge. "Because I found my purse open on my bureau, and how you expect me to pay the rent and buy food for a week out of the two pounds you left me, I wish you will tell me!"
"I'll win enough tonight to set all to rights," said Edmond with a cozening smile. "You never win," stated his sister categorically. "One would think you would have sense enough to realize your limitations by now. You have neither luck nor skill at gaming, Edmond. Do you not recall how, as a child, I beat you every time we played at cards? You gave away your holdings by the look on your face?"