Had the Duke Tremontaine noticed the anxious care with which his wife chose her gown that morning—silk the color of pale irises trembling open at the break of dawn, lace as fine as spiderwebs gathered at the cuffs, the bodice almost as exquisite as the collarbone it was cut to reveal—and the equal care she devoted to selecting the unutterably drab cloak with which she covered up all that silk and lace, it might, perhaps, have occurred to him to wonder exactly what impression she was trying to make, and why it was so vital that she do so. If he had seen her frown almost imperceptibly at the confusion her footman displayed when, rather than her own carriage, she bid him order an unmarked one from the hotelier in Napier Street, if he had overheard the strange address to which the driver was instructed to bear her, if he had observed the driver’s respectful assertion that he must have misunderstood and her subsequent denial of that assertion, he might have taken a moment to ask himself with what urgent aim, as the carriage wheels began to click and then to clatter over the cobblestones, she was leaving the ducal mansion.
Then again, he might not have. The duke had spent the better part of two decades not noticing things about his duchess, after all, and, unbeknownst to him, it had served him well.
Alas, that the good fortunes of men do not always remain so.
Someone was destroying Rafe’s room.
It was giving him a headache.
“If you are going to insist,” he said, burying his face as deeply into the tangle of bed linens and brown wool blanket as he could manage, “on entering my chamber in the middle of the night, by means of what blandishments do you suppose you might be prevailed upon to approach the task with slightly less vigor?”
“Develop a little talent for observation, pet.” Ah, the baritone voice meant the situation was as he’d feared. Rafe heard the sound of the curtains being flung open and squeezed his eyes shut tight; they were in no condition to be assaulted by the cold morning light. “The University bells rang fully two hours ago.”
“How barbaric. Have we been suddenly transported to Arkenvelt without my knowledge?”
“Oh, pigeon, do I have to do everything for you?”
Footsteps approached the bed. Rafe knew what was coming next, but moving quickly enough to prevent it would make his head hurt even worse. He therefore resigned himself to misery as he felt the bedclothes slip pitilessly off his naked body. He groaned and rolled onto his back, his arm flung over his eyes. “Besides,” said the invader, “I want sausages.”
“Joshua,” said Rafe with all the patience he could muster, “this is Liberty Hall. You are most welcome to procure yourself as many sausages as you like, and, having done so, to insert them with gusto into your—”
“I see you’re having one of those days again.” His dear friend’s voice was as smug as ever. “If you listened to my advice, you know, you’d have far fewer of them.”
“If I wanted a big brother I would have asked—”
“Yes, yes, you would have asked your father for one long ago. As well you should have.” A shuffle of foolscap pages. “On the Causes of Nature,” said Joshua. “You couldn’t pick a drearier title for your book, pigeon?” This was unworthy of a reply. “My, you certainly have scratched these equations out savagely. I take it last night’s measurements were of no more use than the rest?”
“That bad, was it?” The groan grew more fervent and finally trailed into silence. “What was his name?”
“Matthew,” said Rafe. Joshua was silent. “Anthony. Seth, Robert, Giles, the Horned God, your sister.”
“The giggly one. How in the Seven Hells should I know what his name was, when neither one of us asked and neither one of us offered? And how, for that matter, could you suppose I give a whore’s left tooth about it in the first place, especially after all that port?”
“Well, you should give a whore’s left tooth about it.” Rafe could feel disapproval radiating from Joshua like heat from winter coals. “Go through every man in Riverside and half the dogs, Rafe, and I’ll raise a glass to you. But sooner or later, when it happens with the same man a second time—”
“On the day the river flows uphill. Through what perversity do you still refuse to believe me when I tell you I have sworn an oath that such a thing will never come to pass?”
“Sooner or later,” continued Joshua, as if Rafe had not spoken, “when it happens with the same man a second time, you won’t know what to do with yourself. You’re annoying enough as it is when you’re not infatuated.”
“I,” said Rafe with extreme politeness, “am not the one who is being annoying.” Joshua said nothing. “Aren’t you going to ask me how he was?”
“How was he?”
This was enough to move Rafe to lift his arm from his face and open his eyes—in a squint, to be sure; there was, after all, only so much light the human body was designed to take in at this...