A Dash of Scandal(9)

And she was daring, too. Yes, uncommonly bold to remain in his presence and talk to him so long when it was obvious she was a young lady of quality. Most of the gentlewomen of the ton would never have spoken to him without benefit of proper introduction for fear of their reputations being ruined beyond repair. She had no such compunction. That was a very good indication she had no idea who he was.

Some young ladies tried to gain his attention by fluttering their lashes or fans, dropping their handkerchiefs or talking in a voice so soft and low he could hardly hear them. But this enchanting lady was so confident in herself that she was willing not only to talk to him but to challenge him with her wit. He felt certain she wasn’t in any way trying to gain his attention, but that is exactly what she had done.

Chandler knew she liked his looks by her bold appraisal of him before she’d been confident enough to tell him she thought he was handsome. She had sent heat flashing through him like no other woman had. He could tell by her approving expression when her gaze skimmed his face that she appreciated his features. Chandler smiled to himself, remembering how it had pleased him and astonished him at the same time. Who was she? And was she the kind of lady he had been looking for to share his life?

Chandler shook his head, not ready for where his thoughts had taken him. It was way too soon to start asking himself questions like that about a lady he didn’t even know by name. He would admit there had been too many things to like about her, but that was as far as he wanted to go with that idea.

After they had parted, he noticed her more than once during the remainder of the evening. She appeared poised and self-assured when she talked with people but not forward. He wasn’t sure he wanted to admit even to himself that he’d actually been watching her.

Now here he was sitting at White’s, waiting for his friend and thinking about her when he should have been concentrating on the damned thief who had stolen the raven. The solid gold bird had come from the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh and had been a part of the house since the Dunraven estate was built, close to one hundred years ago. He refused to be known throughout all time as the earl who had lost the most precious family heirloom.

Chandler swirled the brandy in the glass and forced himself to shake thoughts of the young lady who had caught his attention so effortlessly during the evening—for now. He would see her again. If she didn’t see to it they were introduced in the next night or two, he would. He would find out who she was. He’d make sure of that.

He leaned his head back and relaxed in his comfortable high-backed chair. The sounds of the club surrounded him—muted conversations, loud laughter, and the clank of heavy glass hitting wooden tabletops. He listened to the noise for a moment before he shut it out and let his mind drift back to the events in his life that had led to the theft of the raven.

Chandler had inherited the title earl of Dunraven at age fifteen. As head of his family, he took his position seriously and finished his education at the top of his class. He quickly became a good steward of the vast holdings his father had left him and had added to his wealth each year.

Over his mother’s strident objections he decided to see his three younger sisters properly married before he considered marriage for himself. He contented himself with enjoying his ever-changing mistresses.

After his youngest sister had married, his mother told him he could wait no longer. He must marry and produce an heir to ensure the title. Since that time, Chandler had resisted all her attempts to marry him off to a suitable young lady.

Chandler found that his first complete year without a sister to escort to ton parties and to Almack’s was like sprouting the wings of an eagle. With his two good friends from Oxford, John Wickenham-Thickenham-Fines and Andrew Terwillger, he drank too much, gambled too often on cards and horses, and dallied regularly with more than one mistress at a time.

That he was a constant feature in the gossip columns irritated him. Most of the information written about him and the other two members of the Terrible Threesome, as the tittle-tattle liked to refer to Chandler and his friends, was untrue. Chandler had never bothered to dispute any of the absurd claims until about a year ago when he was very nearly brought to dueling over a story published in one of the columns.

There was nothing he would like better than to know the identity of the person who spied on unsuspecting people and wrote those wretched things.

He couldn’t deny the debauchery of his late youth and his enjoyment of it, free from responsibilities, but recently his carefree lifestyle had lost its appeal. He had slowly, confidently let go of his wild days.

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