Home > A Wicked Kind of Husband(5)

A Wicked Kind of Husband(5)
Author: Mia Vincy

“She has the kind of face that seems pretty, until you look closely and realize she is nothing of the sort.”

“And very fashionable.”

“Lord and Lady Bolderwood do run with the fashionable crowd,” Arabella said. “Whether they can afford to is another matter. I hear they are living off the gaming tables now and their debts mount daily.”

Malicious glee danced through her. She tried to quell it but, well, the woman had eloped with Cassandra’s betrothed while Cassandra was still in mourning for her brother.

“I shall not gossip about her,” she said resolutely.

Arabella was unchastened. “We must be allowed to discuss other people’s failings. How else are we to reconcile ourselves to our own? And come now, Cassandra, we both know you are not nearly as good as you pretend. Are you not a little glad that the woman who made off with your former betrothed is suffering some hardship?”

“Even better that Harry is suffering. Lord Bolderwood, I mean,” Cassandra confessed. “I blame him for being stolen more than I blame her for stealing him.”

“When you do end up meeting them, be sure to mention your husband’s great wealth.”

“How vulgar!”

“But how entertaining.” Arabella threw her a wicked look and then smiled at someone over her shoulder. “Oh look, there is the Duke of Dammerton, with the lovely Miss Seaton. I hear he is courting her, and her family is reluctant because of his divorce. There, my dear, is precisely the conversation you need.”



It was a good ten years since Cassandra had last seen Leopold Halton, now the sixth Duke of Dammerton, who used to be a regular visitor to her neighbors, the Bells. In those years, he had inherited a dukedom, grown bigger, and chalked up a scandalous marriage and divorce, but he still wore the same air of distraction covering a sharp mind.

“How do you do, Lady Hardbury,” His Grace said to Arabella, with a gracious nod that she deigned to return. “And Miss Cassandra—I mean, Mrs. DeWitt.” He offered a sleepy half-smile. “Delighted to see you again. DeWitt never mentioned you were coming to London.”

How confounding to hear her husband spoken of thus; it was as if he were a real person after all.

“Mr. DeWitt is a very busy man,” she said. “I’m sure he has much more interesting things to talk about.”

“I cannot imagine any topic of conversation more interesting than our womenfolk. Heaven knows Hardbury never shuts up about his wife.” He indicated his companion with a gallant sweep of his arm. “Are you acquainted with Miss Seaton?”

Introductions were made and agreeable small talk began. They had not long exchanged pleasantries when Cassandra became aware of a disturbance nearby, an extra buzzing above the hubbub of the crowd. She turned to see a tall, dark-haired gentleman charging through the throng toward them, brandishing a roll of papers in one hand.

“Damn you, Dammerton!” the man said when he was still several yards away, apparently not one whit bothered that he interrupted, that he addressed a duke so rudely, that he used such language in the presence of ladies. “Why can you not stay in one blasted place so I don’t have to waste my time looking for you?”

“Perhaps you should get a little bell,” the duke suggested, unfazed. “You could ring it and summon me back from wherever I have drifted off to.”

“Excellent idea!” The man pivoted and barked a syllable at the dapper, dark-skinned gentleman who sauntered after him with an expression of wry amusement. “Make a note. Bells to summon people from a distance.”

It was rude to stare, but Cassandra could not look away. Even after the man came to a stop, the air around him continued to move like a whirlwind, and the thrill of all that energy slid under her skin. His clothes were of excellent quality, from his boots, to his fitted buckskins, to the dark coat tailored perfectly for his uncommonly broad shoulders. Yet those boots were dusty, and his cravat was knotted too simply to be fashionable, and—most shocking—the lower part of his chiseled face was covered with dark stubble, as one might expect of a workman or someone so dissolute that he was better acquainted with the bottle than with his razor. A fine beaver hat covered his dark hair, and a gold hoop glittered in his left earlobe, and she did not know what to make of him at all.

“Listen, Dammerton. I heard the most thrilling news in Bristol,” the man went on. “My man in Somerset, working with new science out of Denmark—electrical power, I tell you! They are getting closer all the time.”

The duke cleared his throat pointedly and gestured at the ladies. “Perhaps, given the company…?”

“The company?” The man frowned and looked around vaguely, as if seeking evidence of this mysterious company, until his gaze followed the length of Dammerton’s arm and landed on the three ladies.

“And?” He sounded genuinely confused, but then he said “Sod the company!”, which shocking language caused Miss Seaton to gasp.

Arabella nudged Cassandra with her elbow, but Cassandra didn’t dare look at her friend; watching other people behave badly was one of Arabella’s favorite sports. Cassandra could only stare at this oddly magnetic man, whose astonishing rudeness made him as repellent as his energy made him attractive.

“There is not a minute to waste! Steam is great, gas is grand, but to harness electricity? It will alter civilization for all time!”

The man’s dark eyes were bright with excitement, and he waved his hands so emphatically he almost hit Miss Seaton with his roll of paper.

Again, Arabella nudged Cassandra, more sharply this time. Again, she ignored her.

“I don’t doubt it,” Dammerton said. “But the company…You might want to…”

“What? What?”

“Be more polite,” Cassandra said, without thinking. Oh dear: She was so used to managing her sisters that she had become impolite too.

But the stranger merely gave his head a little shake and started up again, as if Cassandra had not spoken.

“Devil take you, Dammerton. The most exciting period in history and you want me to chatter with ladies for the sake of being polite? Time is short enough as it is without wasting more on nonsense like that.”

Well, this was too much!

“If you spent less time complaining about how little time you have, sir, perhaps you would have more time to be polite,” Cassandra said, in the amiable, cajoling tone she used on Lucy.

His frown deepened and he whipped his head around to look at her, his eyes roaming wildly over her face. She endured the insolent examination stubbornly, dimly astonished that she was embarking on a public squabble with an ill-mannered, disheveled stranger.

“Did you scold me?” he said.

“I wish only to point out that being polite takes less time than complaining about being polite.”

Arabella now gripped her arm, in a most unlikely fashion, but Cassandra could not turn away from that intense, dark gaze.

His Grace chuckled. “She’s got you there,” he said.

“It is a matter of efficiency,” the man said. “Already you have wasted more of my time.”

“Had you greeted us politely, neither of us would be wasting this time.”

“Had I greeted you politely, you would have taken that as an invitation to blather on about balls and bonnets and I don’t know what. And what are you laughing at now, Dammerton?”

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