Regency Masquerade

Regency Masquerade by Joan Smith Read Free Book Online

Book: Regency Masquerade by Joan Smith Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joan Smith
Tags: Regency Romance
begin that game of cards?”
    Hartly was surprised to see Lady Crieff and Sir David occupying the settee in front of the grate. They paid no attention to the card players, however. The inn was so informal that a few other ladies were also making use of the Great Room, as an alternative to retiring to their small chambers so early. Lady Crieff was thumbing idly through the journals. After ten minutes, Sir David rose and sauntered closer to the card table to listen to the conversation.
    The card game with the locals was for small stakes, and friendly in nature. Over the space of two hours, Hartly won a few guineas. When Stanby suggested they get together for a “more interesting game” another time, he agreed. It was an old trick: to allow a victim to win a small sum to put him at his ease and feel safe playing for higher stakes another time. Stanby had done a little discreet questioning to discover how deep his partner’s pockets were, and Hartly had painted himself as a young provincial with more money than brains.
    They were just about to leave the table when a new guest entered. Moira glanced up to see who was arriving so late at night. The man wore a drab driving coat with not less than a dozen collars. Once the coat was removed, he stood revealed as a slender fellow. He had not changed into evening clothes, but his well-cut jacket, his intricate cravat, and his blond hair, brushed forward in the Brutus do, proclaimed him a very tulip of fashion.
    “I say, not breaking up the game so early?” he exclaimed. “It is only eleven bells. Damn, split open another bottle and let us have a few hands. I have just arrived from London with my pockets bulging. Won a thousand off Lord Felsham last night. Forced to rusticate a while. Did I introduce myself? I am Ponsonby. Killed my man this morning at dawn,” he boasted. “That will teach him to impugn the name of Ponsonby. Bow Street is after me. If they send one of their runners creeping about, you have not seen me. There’s a good fellow.” He reached out and patted Stanby on the shoulder. “I don’t believe I caught your name.”
    “Major Stanby, and this is Hartly. I have had enough cards for one evening,” Stanby said, “but if you would care to join Hartly and myself, we will be playing tomorrow evening.”
    “That’s a dashed long time to wait. Still, there are other amusements, eh? How are the serving wenches here? Are they pretty?”
    “They are the innkeeper’s daughters,” Stanby replied. “I would not meddle with them if I were you.”
    “Damn, what sort of Methodist inn have I wandered into? I shall drive on tomorrow.”
    “What a good idea,” Hartly murmured. Ponsonby had not observed Lady Crieff, but Hartly feared that once he did, he would become obstreperous.
    “Dashed odd thing, by God,” Ponsonby continued. “I heard the Owl served the best brandy in England, and here I find you drinking this catlap.” He wrinkled his nose at the glasses of ale on the table. “Thought I might take a keg or two back with me, what? Treat the lads. Where is mein host? Bullion! Bullion, I say. Brandy for me and my friends. We shall drink a bumper to Noddy. Did I tell you I killed him? Well, nicked him, at least. Daresay he will stick his fork in the wall. Just like the gudgeon.”
    Bullion came scurrying forward. “Hush now, sir,” he said to Ponsonby. “I can let you have a drop, but you must not be so clamorous about it. It’s agin the law, you see.”
    “Fie on the law! Bring on the brandy.”
    Bullion disappeared and soon returned to place a bottle on the table. Ponsonby poured for them all and proposed a toast to Noddy.
    “This is excellent stuff!” Stanby exclaimed, after tasting it. “By God, I have not had such fine brandy in a twelvemonth. I shall take a keg of this away with me when I leave.”
    Bullion stood, smiling at his guests. “We get the real thing here, gentlemen. That fishing boat you saw unloading at twilight—this batch was

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