Roberta was longing to ask about Teddy’s mother, but didn’t quite dare. And she felt dimly ashamed of herself as well. Would she have done the same for Teddy? The thought made her feel shallow and—
Damon took her hand. “There’s no explaining it until you have one of your own,” he said. “It was a moment of madness. If I tell you that his grandmother handed over an infant with a soggy nappy…does that demonstrate just how remarkably deranged I became?”
“Yes,” she said. But she didn’t think he sounded deranged.
“What would you like to do now?” Damon asked. “Shall we rejoin the party or shall we do something utterly scandalous like walking in the garden?”
“No one will even notice that we are absent,” she said rather sourly.
“I must admit that the young lady whom Jemma presumably invited to be my escort shows little interest in my company.” His tone was so funny that Roberta started laughing. “She is spending the evening hanging on every word that has dropped from Beaumont’s lips, though it doesn’t seem to bother my sister.”
“No,” Roberta said. “I’m afraid it doesn’t. How the mighty are fallen. I’m sure you were introduced to me as the gentleman whom all marriageable maidens desired…except, it seems, Miss Tatlock.”
“I’m not marriageable anymore,” Roberta pointed out. “I’m engaged to the man currently playing a game of chess for the right to your sister’s bed.” She clapped a hand over her mouth. “I shouldn’t have said that!”
But Damon was laughing. “That’s calling a spade a spade.” He seemed to be steering her outside, but the last thing Roberta wanted was to walk about under the smudgy London sky smelling of coal smoke. Besides, what Damon likely wanted was to push her against a tree and kiss her senseless, and she saw no reason why that couldn’t happen in more pleasant surroundings. In fact…
“Wait here a moment!” she said, and flew back up the stairs.
Two seconds later she was back, a box tucked under her arm.
Damon looked at it, and then his eyes widened.
“I believe,” Roberta said, “there is a chess game going on in the ballroom. Shall we take the library, or perhaps my chamber?” She knew full well that the diabolical smile in his eyes was echoed on the edges of her mouth.
“A friendly game of dominoes between cousins?” he enquired.
“Dollymop dominoes,” she said firmly. “I’ve heard it’s played in all the best households.”
“I”—he said, leaning over and taking the box from her—“have made it one of my lifetime missions never to disappoint a family member.”
“Then you’ll need to show me a game that’s truly superior,” she said, making her voice into a purr and feeling a thrill at her own sophistication. “And not just your skills at the game either.”
“I live to please,” he said.
And since his voice brought back to mind an image of a beautifully defined chest, muscles rippling as he threw a cowpat, Roberta had no doubt but that his reputation would be unflawed by a vigorous game of dominoes.
J emma was a trifle irritated. She and Villiers played a side game of chess, but it was over almost before it began. Villiers set two traps for her simultaneously. She saw the chance to capture his bishop, but missed the chance to capture his knight. Either way, she lost her queen.
The moment she rose from the table, Harriet pulled her over to a small sofa. “Things are going so well,” she said happily.
“They could be better,” Jemma replied. If she had moved her knight to Queen’s Bishop Three in the fourth round…
“I don’t mean the particular game,” Harriet said. “I mean your strategy. Villiers is set to be married. It was such a brilliant twist to invite your husband to play a game at the same time.”
“I didn’t invite him; Beaumont challenged me.”
“Challenged you! Perhaps he is hoping that your marriage will improve.”
Jemma shrugged. “I take one look at his John the Baptist face and I feel the weight of every one of my sins. There’s no possibility of that.”
Harriet hesitated. “You wouldn’t fall in love with Villiers, would you? I should feel terrible if I led you into something that might hurt you.”
Jemma laughed. “You think that Villiers will cause some overset of my reason?”
“I don’t know. I still feel such shame about the night that I—that I gave in to him,” Harriet whispered. “It’s almost as if Benjamin died that night.”
“Listen to me,” Jemma said, leaning forward. “You did not betray Benjamin. You were close to it, but that is not the same. I know. I’ve betrayed Beaumont several times, though never before he did so to me. And the first time was shocking.”
“Do you know what grips me to the heart?” Harriet said. “What if Villiers told Benjamin? What if—”
“Benjamin did not end his life because of a stolen kiss in a carriage,” Jemma snapped, truly alarmed at the strained look in Harriet’s eyes.
“But what if he did? What if Villiers did not tell the truth of that evening?”
“Do you accuse Villiers of embellishing his account?”
Harriet’s eyes were agonized. “What if he did?”
“I don’t think it of him. He is not an unscrupulous player, nor is he a canny one. His play is actually similar to mine, which is why I will win the match.”
“I know it’s petty, but would you dedicate the match to Benjamin? No one talked of the fact that Villiers drove Benjamin to it. No one.”
“I will do my best,” Jemma said. “Please don’t worry, Harriet. Would you like me to ask Villiers if he spoke to Benjamin about you?”
“Of course not!”
“Chess is the most intimate game in the world. It’s like making love. By the time we finish our first slow game, I will know all his thoughts.”
“What’s different about a slow game from a quick one?”
“I think about his move, and my move, all day long,” Jemma said. “It lurks in the back of my mind, a hundred intriguing possibilities. I shall know him to the core when this game is finished, let alone when we have played out a match.”
“Good,” Harriet said. “Stab him in the back!”
“The engagement went off just as you planned,” Harriet said, changing the subject. “But you’re right about Damon. I had a hard time getting him to stop looking at Roberta for all of five minutes.”
Jemma frowned. “My brother is so used to being chased by marriageable maidens that I’m afraid he can’t quite accept the fact that Roberta thinks herself in love with Villiers.”
“Does she?” Harriet was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry for her.”
“I’m not. Being in love is great fun, don’t you think? It may not last forever, but she’s enjoying herself.”
“I don’t know,” Harriet said sadly. “I have only been in love with Benjamin, and now I’m so angry at him that it poisons all my memories. Isn’t that awful, Jemma? To be so angry at someone who is dead?”