She lost the thought. His fingers were warm on her back and his touch was singing through her dress.

Plus he was pushing against her again. Dimly, she realized that pushing was definitely part of male strategy. Mating strategy, one had to assume.

Fine.

She liked it.

She wiggled a bit in response, and then noticed that his breathing got a little ragged, and she thought, aha, and did it again.

The trouble with Jemma’s too-tight gowns was immediately clear when Damon wrapped his hand around the part of her breasts that plumped above her bodice. The bodice promptly lost its moorings and took her corset with it, leaving her whole breast open to his caress.

Dimly, Roberta knew that this had to stop.

For some reason Damon was taken with the idea of kissing her, and acting as if he wanted to seduce her—all right, she was willing to admit that he did want to seduce her. But he wasn’t the man she was in love with.

She jerked away from him.

He made an odd little groaning sound, and then: “I was enjoying that.”

“Do you really want to kiss a woman who’s thinking of another man?” she asked him, angry for some reason.

He froze for a second. “I suppose not. Particularly, I must admit, if you were thinking of Villiers. All that passion for chess. All that white hair. No, thank you. I like my hair as it is, and I find chess deadly boring. Don’t you?”

“I’ve never played.”

He shuddered. “My father made Jemma and myself play for hours and hours when we were children. Some pieces go one way and others go the other way. It’s all about the queen, which”—he grinned at her—“I found tedious and Jemma did not.”

“I shall learn to play.”

“No point. Villiers will find it monotonous to play you, since you’re a beginner. And he’s not the type to suffer fools gladly.”

“I shall think of ways to make it interesting for him,” she said obstinately.

He looked amused but said nothing. A tale one of her father’s courtesans had told her came to mind. “We’ll play naked,” she said.

He stopped short. “Roberta St. Giles!”

She dimpled at him. “Reeves breed true,” she said, and took off with a toss of her head. They walked through the spinney to discover that Teddy was swimming like the proverbial fish, and Mr. Cunningham had taken an unlucky spill into the water.

“Do you know what I found?” Teddy shouted. And he pranced out of the water, his little pizzle waving for all the world to see, uncurled his fingers and showed her his discovery.

“A treasure?” she asked. For a little boy, he was really quite beautiful. He had his father’s tawny hair but his eyes were darker, and shot with amber specks.

His treasure was a piece of bottle glass, worn smooth.

“Hmmm,” she said.

“Do you think it’s beautiful?” he asked.

“Not particularly. Do you?”

“Yes, because”—he stuck a plump finger at the middle of it—“a star is there, just there. Do you see?”

Roberta leaned over and sure enough, in the very middle was a tiny, lopsided etching of a star. She thought about correcting his sentence structure and dismissed it. “That is beautiful,” she said.

When he smiled, one noticed that he was missing several teeth, which was a surprisingly attractive look. “I expect this piece of glass was owned by a smuggler,” he said. “That’s what I expect.”

“Where did the star come from?”

“That’s a mystery,” he said. And ran away.

Chapter 16

W hen Jemma took a bath, she invariably thought about chess. Once, six years ago, a Frenchman joined her in the bath and diverted her attention, but generally speaking, chess and the pleasures of warm water were intimately connected.

But this evening she couldn’t seem to focus. Of course, both games had just begun, and there was much to think about. She had no idea what Villiers would play next, since they both made conventional pawn openings. Nor could she say what Elijah would do, though she could presumably hypothesize based on the games they played in the past. Jemma remembered every game she had played, and if she paid some attention, she could visualize the chess pieces moving, as if the years hadn’t passed. Yet she and Elijah had played only three games, all in the first month of their marriage, before she discovered him tumbling his mistress.

She had won all three, but not easily. He played with a brilliant sense of forward strategy, but he was far more protective of his pieces than she was.

She played through one of their early games in her head and then leaned back with a sigh and wiggled her toes. She would beat him again. In all likelihood, he hadn’t picked up a piece for years. Unless his mistress played.

One had to wonder whether his mistress was still au courant, as it were. Was her husband a man of loyalty? Did he have the pleasant, if foolish, habit of keeping to one mistress these many years, or had he moved on to a younger, fresher version of the same?

The thought made her feel sad—stupid emotion!—so she shook her head. “Brigitte, did you get a chance to speak to any of Villiers’s footmen?”

Brigitte smiled the dimpled, triumphant smile of a Frenchwoman who eats English footmen for son petit déjeuner. “I have met a certain Joseph,” she said. “He is not terrible. Red-haired, which my maman always called the mark of Cain. But not terrible. He is taking me to a certain gardens next week, where I will ask him the correct questions.”

“You are brilliant,” Jemma said. “I do hope you enjoy your evening.”

“He has nice shoulders,” Brigitte said. “But here is a question. The butler, that ungraceful one by the name of Fowle—an abhorrent name—asked me to inform you that he has received several solicitations to disclose the state of your various chess games.”

“The games with Villiers and my husband?”

“Oui, those. The requests come from various newspapers, and also from a club called White’s. They propose to pay Fowle a sum of the money if he will inform them every day of the position of the games with His Grace and the Duke of Villiers.”

Jemma slid down in the water. “I see.”

“Of course, Fowle cannot do so without my assistance,” Brigitte said. “And frankly, I told him that the thing cannot be done without your permission. The duchess plays many games of chess at the same time, all in the head, I told him. Bah! He does not understand chess, that one.”

Jemma thought about it. There was only one reason to keep the information to herself that she could think of: the scandal of it. Elijah would loathe having the matches tracked in the press, or bets placed on his victory at White’s.

“I’m afraid the answer is no,” Jemma said. “I’m sorry, Brigitte. I know that the newspapers would have paid well for the information.”

Brigitte shrugged philosophically. “Fowle would likely have feathered his nest with most of it. Besides, I have Joseph to keep my feathers warm.” And she laughed as only a Frenchwoman can.

Chapter 17

April 13

Day two of the Villiers/Beaumont chess matches

Beaumont House

E lijah woke the next morning as the very first light came through his windows and almost groaned aloud as the details of the day before him burst into his head. Actually, they had been in his head all night long, because now he realized that he had been in the middle of a terrible dream in which the inner circle of Pitt’s advisors had been invited to breakfast. He had found the room, but left to use the privy. And then wandered for hours through labyrinthine passageways under Lords trying to find his way back to breakfast. At one point he was in a room lined entirely with costumes, and a smirking Lord Corbin told him that a man of wit would always triumph over a laborer. Which, Elijah realized belatedly, referred to himself.

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