“Perhaps you can find yourself another group of players,” the Earl of Winston said, knowing she wasn’t ready to end the game they had been playing. But the others had quit as well and it was highly unlikely she could replace them, considering the incredible stakes and the way her luck had been running.
Only Harcourt remained, the last man still seated at the green baize table. He lounged back in his chair, long tanned fingers casually fanning a large stack of chips. If you’re so determined to lose your money, why don’t we play one last hand? All or nothing. A single card each. High card wins.”
Kitt stared down at the pile of money she had amassed, more than she had ever won before. She didn’t want to bet so much on just one hand. She started to decline–and she would have–if she hadn’t seen the flicker of amusement on Harcourt’s sensuous lips.
He wants me to back down. He’s certain I will–damn his dark eyes to hell!
Kitt set her jaw. The group of watchers had continued to swell, men in perfectly fitted tailcoats, ladies in glittering jewels and high-waisted gowns. Seeing the young unmarried daughter of a viscount gaming with a rake like Clayton Harcourt pinched their faces into tight, unflattering lines–which made Kitt’s decision crystal clear.
“We’ll need someone to shuffle the cards,” she said airily, accepting the wager just to watch the women’s powdered eyebrows shoot up.
Behind her, a man’s bony fingers reached down and plucked up the deck. Anything to oblige a lady.”
Kitt ignored William Plimpton’s sarcastic tone. It was hardly proper to be involved in such a game, but the lure of a victory over Harcourt was simply too great to resist. Plimpton cut the deck, shuffled several times, and set the cards back down on the table.
“Ladies first,” Clay drawled, goading her in some way, though she wasn’t quite sure how.
Her hand trembled. She steeled herself. Reaching down, she cut the pack and turned over her card.
“Queen of hearts,” Clay said, his mouth curving faintly. “Very appropriate.”
For the first time she allowed herself to look at the card in front of her. The sight of the lovely red queen made her dizzy with relief.
She glanced at Harcourt, arched a dark red eyebrow in his direction and smiled. I believe it’s the gentlemen’s turn…though in your case…” I’m not sure you qualify.
Harcourt didn’t miss the unspoken words. He cast her a faintly mocking glance and leaned forward in his chair, pulling his velvet-collared tailcoat snug across the considerable width of his shoulders. With his usual confident air, he reached out, cut the deck, and held up his card.
Kitt read it and her stomach contracted at the same time her mouth flattened out. King of spades. The only card more appropriate would have been the knave.” He laughed as she shoved back her chair. Congratulations, Mr. Harcourt. It would seem you are the winner.”
His eyes were laughing. He was amusing himself at her expense and it made her want to hit him.
Clay also slid back his chair. Perhaps your luck will be better the next time we play.”
“Assuming there is a next time,” she said, which she highly doubted.
“Oh, there will be, sweeting. But perhaps the game won’t be cards.”
Not quite certain what he meant, she simply ignored him. If you’ll excuse me, I believe it’s time I joined my companions.” He gave her a look that said she never should have left them and stood politely as she rose from her chair. His gaze moved over her one last time, gold flecks shimmering like hot sparks in his eyes.
Ignoring the whispers and smug expressions that seemed to say, See? You got what you deserve, she crossed the gaming room toward the French doors leading out to the terrace, desperate for a breath of fresh air. Ten thousand pounds, she thought glumly. More than she had ever lost at one time–though most of it belonged to the other players. Still, it rankled her to lose, especially to him.
Silently, she wished Clayton Harcourt straight to the devil. Or perhaps he was the devil. He was certainly as handsome as sin with his straight, aristocratic nose; hard, carved jaw; and solid, broad-shouldered build. He was also one of the most notorious rakes in London, a man with the single-minded purpose of bedding every woman unfortunate enough to cross his path.
Kitt shook her head, determined to wipe away his too-handsome image.
She wondered why it was always such a difficult thing to do.
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