A Dash of Scandal(10)

Chandler had finally admitted to himself, but to no one else, that his mother was right. It was time for him to take a wife and beget a son to carry on the Dunraven title.

He didn’t want his friends to know he was searching for a bride. They would badger him without mercy, and the matchmaking mamas would be lining up to parade their innocent daughters before him. No, he had long ago realized he had no desire for a giddy girl right out of the schoolroom.

Chandler’s mother had not held a party in their town house since his youngest sister married. This year she had broken her vow of staying in Kent and had hosted one of the first parties of the Season, hoping to encourage her son to pursue thoughts of a wife.

The morning after the party Chandler was stunned and outraged when his housekeeper had informed him that the Mad Ton Thief, as the London papers had dubbed the robber, had stolen his family’s priceless heirloom, the golden raven, from its place of privilege on the tall mantel in Chandler’s library.

Thoughts of finding a wife had vanished. His mother had announced she was taking up residence at their home in Kent, and she intended to remain there until he became serious about choosing a wife.

He was serious about finding a wife. It just wouldn’t consume him until he caught the Mad Ton Thief and reclaimed the golden raven for his family before it was sold or melted down.

The sound of billiard balls smacking together broke Chandler from his reverie. He sipped his drink. The only thing his mother’s party had done was allow the Mad Ton Thief entrance into his home to rob him. He had not seen one woman, innocent or widow, who caught his eye. No lady had enchanted him like the young lady last night since his brief but fervid affair with the beautiful Lady Lambsbeth.

As the tittle-tattle had indicated, he was damned unhappy about his unsuccessful meeting with Mr. Percy Doulton of the Bow Street’s elite Thief Takers, who were investigating the rash of thefts in London’s finest homes. But how had the scandal writers known that?

Doulton was Bow Street’s number-one member of Thief Takers and so far he and his Runners had made no headway in finding the Mad Ton Thief. All they had succeeded in doing was making most of the members of the ton feel as if they were under suspicion by inappropriate and inane questions about the stolen artwork and jewels.

Chandler agreed that it was most peculiar there had been a theft at three different homes and that not one person had admitted seeing anyone who remotely looked suspicious. But as he reminded Doulton, one seldom saw a pickpocket nab a man’s coin purse.

Criminals were skilled at such behavior. The strange and difficult thing was that almost all the guests who attended the parties were known to someone in Society. Few, if any, strangers attended the private parties of the Season. That meant there was a robber among them passing himself off as a gentleman.

“Good. You’ve ordered a bottle. But what’s this? Only one glass? Did you forget I was joining you? How quickly we neglect our friends.”

Chandler looked up into the dark brown eyes of his longtime friend John Wickenham-Thickenham-Fines, better known in Town as Lord Chatwin. Fines was a tall, handsome fellow with thick hair as dark as his eyes. Like Chandler, his friend was broad in the chest and shoulders. He carried himself with just the right amount of self-importance, and he had a smile that made all the ladies swoon.

“Actually, you are so late I thought you had decided not to show. I was just thinking about calling it a night.”

“Sorry to be delayed.”

“No harm done,” Chandler said. “I thought you must still be dallying—I mean dancing with the young ladies. There seem to be more of them this year.”

Like Chandler and Andrew, Fines worked at seeing how many of the coming-out ladies he could convince to take a forbidden walk in the garden with him. No matter how bad the Threesome’s reputation got, there were always one or two new ladies each Season who couldn’t resist them.

“You must be deep into your cups, man. It’s near dawn. All the parties were over hours ago. I truly thought you’d be long gone but had to check just in case you were here, and it’s a good thing I did.”

Fines looked around the room, spotted a waiter, and motioned for a glass before he plopped down in the seat opposite Chandler and made an attempt to loosen his neckcloth.

Chandler shifted in his chair and looked around the dimly lit room. Most of the tables in the taproom were empty. No doubt the gaming rooms would have thinned as well by this hour, with only the stout gamblers and drinkers around to see the morning break.

Amelia Grey's Books