There was still something prickling the edge of his mind about these matches. Wasn’t it odd that she summoned him to play the very moment she reached England?
It couldn’t be that Beaumont was behind it. He thought of his old friend’s furious, cold eyes and knew that Elijah had no knowledge of his presence at the ball, nor any idea of the proposed chess game.
So it had to be for the chess.
Or did she want a whipping boy? She thought she could simply trounce him, the best player in England, by asking provocative questions at the right moment?
A flash of pure rage went through his spine. The hell with her provocative games. Had he ever resisted lust? Indeed he had. And from now on, he was going to resist her.
No woman was going to trap him, with her beauty or her chess skill.
A smile grew on his face.
It was time he married. The ultimate lust killer, in his opinion. It pleased him to think that Jemma would find him planning a marriage at the same time he offered to bed her. It would keep her from refining too much on her little success.
Yes, that was the solution.
R oberta greeted the news that her father had just arrived and was waiting for her in the drawing room with a feeling that could only be described as near hysteria. Surely not. He couldn’t do this to her!
“Is he alone?” she asked, trying in vain to school her features into calm.
“I believe the marquess has a companion,” the footman replied, his face not yielding even a flicker about that companion.
Of course he wasn’t alone, she thought, despairing. Of course Mrs. Grope was with him.
“Is the duchess in her chambers?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t know, your ladyship. Would you like me to enquire of Her Grace’s maid?”
Unfortunately, he reported a few minutes later that the duchess was playing chess with the Duke of Villiers, although she promised to join Lady Roberta at her first opportunity.
She had to decide what to do. Figure out how to make her father leave. It was like a musical beat in her head. He had to leave, leave, leave.
“Please send Lord Gryffyn my compliments and ask him if he would meet me in the library,” she said to the footman.
He hesitated. “What shall I tell the marquess, your ladyship?”
“Please convey my apologies. Tell him I am not ready to receive visitors. I shall attend him at the earliest possible moment.”
It didn’t help when Damon burst into laughter on hearing her request.
“Help you get rid of your father? An uncharitable act, and not worthy of a member of the family of Reeve.” He gave her a lofty look.
“Please,” she said. “Please! You have no idea what he’s like. He’s going to ruin everything.” Tears were threatening.
“What can I possibly do?” He frowned at her. “No crying. Thoughtless rakes like myself can’t bear to see a woman cry; it reminds us of all those we left weeping on the roadside.”
She couldn’t even manage a smile at his foolery. “It’s not that I don’t love him,” she said, gripping her hands together. “It’s just that he’s eccentric. He doesn’t care what people think.”
“Not at all?”
“Never! He never has. You’ll see what I mean when you meet him. Mrs. Grope is only the latest of the courtesans with whom he has been passionately in love. She has lived with us for the past two years.”
“Mrs. Grope?” Damon asked with some interest. “Is there a Mr. Grope still?”
“I have no particular belief in the existence of Mr. Grope. Except…”
“Who would choose that name on its own? I agree entirely.”
“Please take me seriously,” Roberta said, dropping into the couch. “I simply cannot stay in London if my father is here. Please!”
Damon sat down beside her. “Am I allowed to call you Roberta yet?”
She sniffed. “We shouldn’t.”
“Kissing cousins,” he said, dropping a kiss on her eyebrow.
“You really shouldn’t do that.”
He ignored her. “What’s so terrible about your father, then?”
“Mrs. Grope,” Roberta said, “is something of a liability in terms of my reputation.”
“There are liabilities and liabilities. One would think that Teddy would be a liability, for example, but his presence in my home doesn’t seem to have put off the matchmaking mamas a bit.”
“If you don’t mind deserting the fascinating topic of your popularity for one moment,” Roberta said, “no matchmaking mamas are going to enter this house while Mrs. Grope is here.”
“I knew you would prove useful,” he said, grinning at her. “Mrs. Grope won’t stop your old roué from entering the house, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Villiers is not a roué!” she scolded.
“Close enough. But the point is that you can seduce him here or—”
“That is not the point. You have no idea how humiliating it is being around my father.”
Damon wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her a little closer. “Tell me your tales of horror and I’ll do my best to comfort you.”
“No!” Roberta said, but as usual he paid no attention to her. He bent his head and kissed her cheek, which wasn’t very intrusive, so she ignored him. “My father is prone to falling on his knees and bursting into tears.”
“Interesting,” Damon murmured, kissing her ear.
“It is not interesting,” Roberta said fiercely.
“I know he fell to his knees and implored the heavens for a husband who would never kiss you in public. Obviously, I would not qualify.” His lips had drifted down and he was kissing her neck now.
“No,” Roberta agreed. There was something oddly distracting about those feathery touches of his lips.
“That was bad enough,” she said, struggling to get her mind back to her story, “but then Rambler’s Magazine—”
At the end of that story, he stopped kissing her and actually looked at her with something approaching sympathy. For a moment she felt a thrill that he finally understood how dreadful her situation was, but: “You are nothing more than an example of incestuous inbreeding and I never noticed!” he cried. “I’ve sinned by having anything to do with you. Give me my sin again…”
He grabbed her and for a moment Roberta lost track of her complaints because he was saying things about sin in a husky voice, and his hands touched her front in an improper manner that turned her mind to smoke.
“Feeling better?” he enquired, sometime later.
Roberta blinked at him for a moment and then straightened up. “I think so,” she said weakly.
Damon looked pleased with himself.
“Is this your kindly way of assuring me that you’re going to convince my father to go back home so that I can marry the Duke of Villiers?”
“Will you reward me for my services?” he asked with a ridiculous leer.
“Why don’t you go kiss one of those girls who want you so much?”
“Are you saying that you don’t enjoy my kisses?”