A seductive beauty turns the tables on a gentleman gaming for the guiltiest of pleasures in this rich and sensual Regency romance from beloved newcomer Cecilia Grant.
Lydia Slaughter understands the games men play--both in and out of the bedroom. Not afraid to bend the rules to suit her needs, she fleeces Will Blackshear outright. The Waterloo hero had his own daring agenda for the gaming tables of London's gentlemen's clubs. But now he antes up for a wager of wits and desire with Lydia, the streetwise temptress who keeps him at arm's length.
A kept woman in desperate straits, Lydia has a sharp mind and a head for numbers. She gambles on the sly, hoping to win enough to claim her independence. An alliance with Will at the tables may be a winning proposition for them both. But the arrangement involves dicey odds with rising stakes, sweetened with unspoken promise of fleshly delights. And any sleight of hand could find their hearts betting on something neither can afford to risk: love.
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May 29, 2012
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Excerpt from A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant
Three of the courtesans were beautiful. His eye lingered, naturally, on the fourth. Old habit would persist in spite of anything life could devise.
Will leaned on one elbow and rested his cheek on his palm, a careless posture that suggested supreme confidence in his play while also allowing him to peer round the fellow opposite and get a better view of the ladies. Not to any purpose, of course. He'd come into this establishment on a solemn errand, and courtesans had no part in his plan.
Still, a man could look. A bit of craning here, a timely turn by one of the ladies there, and he could assemble a fair piecemeal picture of the four. So he'd been doing all evening as they'd sat down in different combinations at their card table, some fifteen feet removed from the great tables where the gentlemen played. And while every one of them--�from dark temptress to flame-�haired sylph to crystalline-�delicate blonde--�gratified his eye, only one thus far had managed to trifle with his concentration.
He watched her now, her eyelids lowered and her fingers precise as she fanned out her freshly dealt hand. Not beautiful, no. Pretty, perhaps. Or rather handsome: a young man could have worn that aquiline nose to advantage, and that fiercely etched brow.
She studied her cards without moving any of them--�though the game was whist and all three of her companions were rearranging their cards by suit--�and glanced across at her partner. Gray-�blue eyes, expressive of nothing. She could hold all trumps and you'd never know.
"No sport to be had there, Blackshear." The words rode in on a wash of tobacco smoke from his right, barely audible under the clamor of a dozen surrounding conversations. "Those ones are all spoken for." Lord Cathcart switched his pipe from one side of his mouth to the other while inspecting his hand. A queen and a ten winked into view and out. Luck did like to throw itself away on the wealthy.
"There'd be no sport even if they were at liberty. A youngest son with no fortune doesn't get far with their kind." Will replied at the same low pitch and lifted a corner of his own card, a seven of clubs to go with his seven of spades.
"Oh, I don't know." The viscount's fine-�boned profile angled itself two or three degrees his way. "A youngest son who's just sold his commission might set his sights beyond the occasional adventurous widow."
"Widows suit me. No taint of commerce; no worries over whether you've seduced a lady into something she'll regret." The words felt flabby and false on his tongue, a stale utterance left over from the life that used to be his. He nodded toward the courtesans' table. "In any case your birds of paradise are a bit too rich for my blood."
"Ha. I'll wager your blood has its own ideas. Particularly concerning the sharp-�faced wench with the Grecian knot. Stick," he added to the table at large as his turn came.
"Split," said Will, and turned up his sevens. His pulse leapt into a hasty rhythm that had nothing to do with any sharp-�faced wench. He pushed a second bid forward, and gave all his attention to the two new cards.
An eight brought one hand to fifteen. Good chance of going bust on a third card and not much chance of besting the banker if he stuck. The second hand was better: an ace gave him the option to stick at eighteen, and also tempted him with the possibility of a five-�card trick, if he counted the card for one instead of eleven and if the next three cards fell out in his favor.
Were the odds decent? Twenty-�one less eight left thirteen. How many combinations of three cards came to thirteen or less? With one hundred and four cards in play . . . eight aces, eight twos, et cetera, and eleven other men at the table who must already have some of those cards in their possession . . . hang it, he ought to have paid better attention in mathematics classes. Fine return he'd brought his father on a Cambridge education, God rest the man's soul.
"I'll buy another on both hands." Twenty more pounds in. Best to cultivate the appearance of recklessness early in the evening, when wagers were small. Prudence could wait until several hours hence, when most of these men would be drunk--�make that drunker--�and inclined to put up sums they'd regret the next morning.
The new cards dropped in and he lifted their corners. Five and three. Twenty and twenty-�one. Or twenty and eleven, with two cards and ten pips between him and the double payoff of the five-�card trick.
He flicked idly with a gloved fingertip at the corner of one card. Was he really considering it? Buying another card when he might stick on a total of twenty-�one? His first night in the place, not two hours yet at the table, and already he was goading Fortune to do its worst.
Well, there'd be no novelty in that, would there? He had a fair acquaintance with the things Fortune could do. A loss of thirty pounds would barely merit mention.
"One more here." He pushed another note out in front of his second hand.
A knave of hearts grinned up at him when he lifted the new card, and quiet relief poured through him, loosening places that had wound themselves tight. No five-�card trick, but neither would he be dunned for his recklessness. Unless the banker beat him with a twenty-�one of his own, he'd have at least one winning hand. Maybe two.
"Stick," he said, and leaned his cheek on his palm again as the play passed to his left. The ladies played two straight tricks of clubs while he watched, the sharp-�faced one producing her cards with smooth efficiency from their disparate places in her hand.
Cathcart could needle him all he liked. She gave a man's mind places to go, did such a girl. Let beautiful women air their attractions like laundry on a line, flapping for all the world to see. The woman who kept something back--�who wore her graces like silk underthings against the skin, and dared a man to find them out--�would always be the one to set his imagination racing.
Even if he couldn't afford to let any other part of him race along. He heaved a quick sigh. "What's a Grecian knot?" he said, sinking his voice again. "Do you mean the way she's got her hair?"
"Hopeless," the viscount hissed round the stem of his pipe. "Must not be a particular lot, those widows you favor. Mind you, I don't suppose your hawkish Aphrodite is any too discriminating herself, judging by the company she keeps." With a jerk of his chin he indicated a fellow down the table, a square-�jawed, blandly handsome type who'd assured himself the next deal by reaching twenty-�one on his first two cards.
Curiosity buzzed wasplike about Will's temples. He brushed it away. He hadn't come here to gossip. The lady's choice of protector was her own concern. "Hawkish, truly?" He leaned back and stretched his arms out before him. "Try to be civil."
Though admittedly this wasn't much of a place for that. Bottles at the table. More men than Cathcart smoking, despite the presence of ladies, or at least women, in the room. Granted, a true gaming hell was probably worse. Gillray, the artilleryman, had claimed you could actually smell the desperation by four or five o'clock of the morning. Rolling off the pigeons in waves, he'd said, a stinking sweat more acrid than the sweat of healthy exertion. And why not? Fear had a scent, reportedly--�you'd think battle would be the place to find that out, but amid the perpetual cacophony of scents, no one had ever risen up and proclaimed itself as fear--�so why not desperation as well?