Read A Night Like This Online

Authors: Julia Quinn

A Night Like This

A Night Like This

Julia Quinn

Contents

Dedication

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Epilogue
About the Author

By Julia Quinn

Copyright

About the Publisher

Dedication

For Iana, one of the strongest people I know.

And also for Paul, even though

I still don’t understand

why anyone might need seven sleeping bags.

Prologue

“W
instead, you bloody cheat!”

Daniel Smythe-Smith blinked. He was a little bit drunk, but he
thought
someone had just accused him of cheating at cards. It had taken him a moment to be sure; he’d been the Earl of Winstead for barely a year, and he still sometimes forgot to turn when someone caled him by his title.

But no, he was Winstead, or rather Winstead was he, and . . .

His head did a bob and then a weave. What was it he had been thinking?

Oh, right. “No,” he said slowly, still rather puzzled by the whole thing. He raised his hand to protest, because he was quite certain he hadn’t been cheating. In fact, after that last bottle of wine, it was possibly the only thing he was certain of. But he didn’t manage to say anything more. In fact, he was barely able to hop out of the way when the table came crashing toward him.

The table? Holy hel, how drunk was he?

Sure enough, the table was now sideways and the cards were on the floor, and Hugh Prentice was screaming at him like a lunatic.

Hugh must be drunk, too.

“I didn’t cheat,” Daniel said. He lifted his brows and blinked, as if the owlish motion might remove the filmy layer of intoxication that seemed to obscure, wel, everything. He looked over at Marcus Holroyd, his closest friend, and shrugged. “I don’t cheat.”
Everyone
knew he didn’t cheat.

But Hugh had clearly lost his mind, and Daniel could only stare at him as he raved, arms waving, voice rising. He brought to mind a chimpanzee, Daniel thought curiously. Minus all the fur.

“What is he talking about?” he asked, to no one in particular.

“There is no way you could have had the ace,” Hugh railed. He lurched toward him, one of his arms outstretched in an unsteady accusation. “The ace should have been over . . . over . . .” He shook his hand at some spot in the general vicinity of where the table had been. “Wel, you shouldn’t have had it,” he muttered.

“But I did,” Daniel told him. Not angrily, not even defensively. Just matter-of-fact, and with a
what-else-is-there-to-say
sort of shrug.

“You couldn’t,” Hugh shot back. “I know every card in the deck.”

It was true. Hugh always knew every card in the deck. His mind was freakishly sharp that way. He could do maths in his head, too. The complicated kind, with more than three digits and borrowing and carrying and all that rot they’d been forced to practice endlessly at school.

In retrospect, Daniel probably shouldn’t have chalenged him to a game. But he’d been looking for amusement, and honestly, he had expected to lose.

No one ever won a game of cards against Hugh Prentice.

Except, apparently, him.

“Remarkable,” Daniel murmured, looking down at the cards. True, they were now scattered on the floor, but he knew what they were. He’d been as surprised as anyone else when he’d laid down the winning hand. “I won,” he announced, even though he had a feeling he’d said as much already. He turned back to Marcus.

“Fancy that.”

“Are you even listening to him?” Marcus hissed. He clapped his hands in front of Daniel’s face. “Wake up!” Daniel scowled, scrunching his nose at the ringing in his ears. Realy, that had been uncaled for. “I am awake,” he said.

“I will have satisfaction,” Hugh growled.

Daniel regarded him with surprise. “What?”

“Name your seconds.”

“Are you chalenging me to a duel?” Because that was what it sounded like. But then again, he
was
drunk. And he rather thought Prentice was, too.

“Daniel,” Marcus groaned.

Daniel turned. “I think he’s chalenging me to a duel.”

“Daniel, shut
up
.”

“Pfft.” Daniel brushed Marcus off with a wave of his hand. He loved him like a brother, but he could be so stodgy sometimes. “Hugh,” Daniel said to the furious man in front of him, “don’t be an ass.”

Hugh lunged.

Daniel jumped out of the way, but not fast enough, and both of them went crashing to the floor. Daniel had a good ten pounds on Hugh, but Hugh had rage, whereas Daniel just had befuddlement, and Hugh got at least four punches in before Daniel managed even his first.

And even that didn’t make contact because Marcus and a few other people leapt between them, puling them apart.

“You’re a bloody cheat,” Hugh rasped, struggling against the two men holding him back.

“You’re an idiot.”

Hugh’s face darkened. “I will have my satisfaction.”

“Oh, no, you won’t,” Daniel spat. At some point—probably when Hugh had slammed his fist into his jaw—Daniel’s confusion had given way to fury. “
I
will have

“Oh, no, you won’t,” Daniel spat. At some point—probably when Hugh had slammed his fist into his jaw—Daniel’s confusion had given way to fury. “
I
will have satisfaction.”

Marcus groaned.

“The Patch of Green?” Hugh said cooly, referring to the secluded spot in Hyde Park where gentlemen sorted their differences.

Daniel’s eyes leveled against his. “At dawn.”

There was a hushed silence as everyone waited for either man to come to his senses.

But they didn’t. Of course they didn’t.

The corner of Hugh’s mouth tipped up. “So be it.”

“O
h, bloody hel,” Daniel groaned. “My head hurts.”

“Realy,” Marcus said sarcasticaly. “Can’t imagine how that came to be.”

Daniel swalowed and rubbed his good eye. The one Hugh hadn’t blackened the night before. “Sarcasm doesn’t become you.” Marcus ignored him. “You can still put a stop to this.”

Daniel glanced around, at the trees surrounding the clearing, at the green, green grass that spread before him, all the way to Hugh Prentice and the man next to him, inspecting his gun. The sun had come up barely ten minutes earlier, and the morning dew still clung breathlessly to every surface. “It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”

“Daniel, this is idiocy. You have no business shooting a pistol. You’re probably still foxed from last night.” Marcus looked over at Hugh with an alarmed expression. “And so is he.”

“He caled me a cheat.”

“It’s not worth dying for.”

Daniel roled his eyes. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Marcus. He’s not actualy going to shoot me.” Again, Marcus looked over at Hugh with concern. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that.”

Daniel dismissed his worries with another roll of his eyes. “He’ll delope.”

Marcus shook his head and walked over to meet Hugh’s second in the middle of the clearing. Daniel watched as they inspected the guns and conferred with the surgeon.

Who the bloody hell thought to bring a surgeon? No one actualy shot each other at these things.

Marcus came back, his expression grim, and handed Daniel his gun. “Try not to kill yourself,” he muttered. “Or him.”

“Will do,” Daniel said, keeping his voice just jaunty enough to annoy the hellout of Marcus. He took his mark, raised his arm, and waited for the count of three.

One.

Two.

Thr—

“Bloody hel, you shot me!” Daniel yeled, looking up at Hugh with furious shock. He looked down at his shoulder, now oozing with blood. It was just a muscle wound, but good God, it hurt. And it was his shooting arm. “What the hell were you thinking?” he shouted.

Hugh just stood there staring at him like a moron, as if he hadn’t realized that a bulet could draw blood.

“You bloody idiot,” Daniel muttered, raising his gun to shoot back. He aimed off to the side—there was a nice, thick tree that could take a bulet—but then the surgeon came running over, blathering on about something, and as Daniel turned toward him, he slid on a damp patch, and his finger tightened on the trigger, taking the shot before he’d meant to.

Damn
, the recoil hurt. Stupid—

Hugh screamed.

Daniel’s skin turned to ice, and with dawning horror, he raised his eyes to the spot where Hugh had once stood.

“Oh, my God.”

Marcus was already running over, as was the surgeon. There was blood everywhere, so much of it Daniel could see it seeping through the grass, even from across the clearing. His gun slipped from his fingers and he stepped forward, trancelike.

Dear God, had he just kiled a man?

“Bring me my bag!” the surgeon yeled, and Daniel took another step forward. What was he supposed to do? Help? Marcus was already doing that, along with Hugh’s second, and besides, hadn’t Daniel just shot him?

Was that what a gentleman was supposed to do? Help a man after he put a bulet in him?

“Hold on, Prentice!” someone was pleading, and Daniel took another step, and another, until the coppery stench of blood assaulted him like a blow.

“Tie it tight,” someone said.

“He’ll lose the leg.”

“Better than his life.”

“We’ve got to stop the bleeding.”

“Press harder.”

“Stay awake, Hugh!”

“He’s still bleeding!”

Daniel listened. He didn’t know who was saying what, and it didn’t matter. Hugh was dying, right there on the grass, and he had done it.

It had been an accident. Hugh had shot him. And the grass had been wet.

He’d slipped. Good God, did they know that he had slipped?

“I . . . I . . .” He tried to speak, but he had no words, and anyway, only Marcus heard him.

“You’d best stay back,” Marcus said grimly.

“Is he . . .” Daniel tried to ask the only question that mattered, but he choked.

And then he fainted.

W
hen Daniel came to, he was in Marcus’s bed, a bandage wrapped tightly around his arm. Marcus sat in a nearby chair, staring out the window, which shone with the midday sun. At Daniel’s waking groan, he turned sharply toward his friend.

“Hugh?” Daniel asked hoarsely.

“He’s alive. Or at least he was last I heard.”

“He’s alive. Or at least he was last I heard.”

Daniel closed his eyes. “What have I done?” he whispered.

“His leg is a mess,” Marcus said. “You hit an artery.”

“I didn’t mean to.” It sounded pathetic, but it was true.

“I know.” Marcus turned back to the window. “You have terrible aim.”

“I slipped. It was wet.” He didn’t know why he was even saying it. It didn’t matter. Not if Hugh died.

Bloody hel, they were friends. That was the most asinine part of it al. They were friends, he and Hugh. They’d known each other for years, since their first term at Eton.

But he’d been drinking, and Hugh had been drinking, and everyone had been drinking except Marcus, who never had more than one.

“How is your arm?” Marcus asked.

“It hurts.”

Marcus nodded.

“It’s good that it hurts,” Daniel said, looking away.

Marcus probably nodded again.

“Does my family know?”

“I don’t know,” Marcus replied. “If they don’t, they will soon.”

Daniel swalowed. No matter what happened, he would be a pariah, and it would rub off on his family. His older sisters were married, but Honoria had just made her debut. Who would have her now?

And he didn’t even want to think what this would do to his mother.

“I’m going to have to leave the country,” Daniel said flatly.

“He’s not dead yet.”

Daniel turned to him, unable to believe the plainness of the statement.

“If he lives, you won’t have to leave,” Marcus said.

It was true, but Daniel couldn’t imagine that Hugh would pull through. He’d seen the blood. He’d seen the wound. Hel, he’d even seen the bone, laid bare for all to see.

No one survived such an injury. If the blood loss didn’t kill him, infection would.

“I should go see him,” Daniel finaly decided, pushing back against the bed. He swung his legs over the side and had almost touched down by the time Marcus reached him.

“That’s not a good idea,” Marcus warned.

“I need to tell him I didn’t mean it.”

Marcus’s brows rose. “I don’t think that’s going to matter.”

“It matters to me.”

“The magistrate may very well be there.”

“If the magistrate wanted me, he would have already found me here.”

Marcus considered that, then finaly stepped aside and said, “You’re right.” He held out his arm, and Daniel took it to steady himself.

“I played cards,” Daniel said in a holow voice, “because that’s what a gentleman does. And when he caled me a cheat, I caled him out, because that’s what a gentleman does.”

“Don’t do this to yourself,” Marcus said.

“No,” Daniel said darkly. He would finish. There were some things that had to be said. He turned to Marcus with flashing eyes. “I shot to the side, because that’s what a gentleman does,” he said furiously. “
And I missed
. I missed, and I hit him, and now I’m going to bloody well do what a
man
does, and go to his side, and tell him I’m sorry.”

“I will take you there,” Marcus said. It was all there was to say.

H
ugh was the second son of the Marquess of Ramsgate, and he had been taken to his father’s home in St. James’s. It did not take long for Daniel to ascertain that he was not welcome.

“You!” thundered Lord Ramsgate, stretching out one arm to point at Daniel as if identifying the devil himself. “How dare you show your face here?” Daniel held himself very still. Ramsgate had a right to be angry. He was in shock. He was grieving. “I came to—”

“Pay your respects?” Lord Ramsgate cut in derisively. “I’m sure you’ll be sorry to hear that it’s a bit early for that.” Daniel alowed himself a glimmer of hope. “Then he lives?”

“Barely.”

“I would like to apologize,” Daniel said stiffly.

Ramsgate’s eyes, already bulbous, became impossibly huge. “Apologize? Realy? You think an apology is going to save you from the galows if my son is dead?”

“That’s not why—”

“I
will
see you hang. Don’t think that I won’t.”

Daniel did not doubt it for a second.

“It was Hugh who issued the chalenge,” Marcus said quietly.

“I don’t care who issued the chalenge,” Ramsgate snapped. “My son did what he was supposed to do. He aimed wide. But you . . .” He turned on Daniel then, venom and grief pouring forth. “You shot him. Why would you do that?”

“I did not mean to.”

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