Louise M. Gouge
the poser strutted into the Great Hall with the same gait, the same posture,
and even the same arrogant smirk on his identical face, Drake knew straightaway
that this was not Viscount Nicolas, the man with whom he had dueled, the man
whom he had undeniably killed.
his own eyes, Drake had observed the writhing death throes of Nicolas. He’d
watched as the lifeblood flowed from the man’s chest and neck, his corpse turning
pale in death, and his eyes staring lifelessly into the blazing sky. Drake had
sufficient experience in battle to know death when he saw it. This imposter did
not even bear a scar from the deep wound to his cheek that Drake had inflicted.
when the man scanned the occupants of the hall, briefly stopping to gaze at
Drake, his eyes didn’t flicker with recognition, much less the hatred with
which Nicolas had ever viewed Drake. Nor did he settle a knowing gaze upon his
supposed betrothed, Lady Elizabeth, who stood beside Drake. Who was this man? A
twin brother? A cousin? Some village wench’s by-blow whom his father sired and
then trained to be Nicolas’s double in case of an emergency?
thought shocked Drake more than he wished to admit. Had he killed the double instead
of the actual viscount? After all, the duel had been precipitated upon an
insult to Drake’s sister, not the behavior of a gentleman to a lady of noble
birth. Drake had acted immediately, not bothering to check his opponent’s
breeding. Challenge made, challenge accepted, swords drawn and Lydia’s honor
avenged, all within the space of a half hour. Drake’s adversary had exhibited great
cunning with his weapon sufficient to warrant his claim to the title. But even
a village brat could be trained to the sword. Was this, then, the real
viscount? Surely not.
sycophant at the man’s elbow tugged upon the viscount’s sleeve, and the
imposter leaned in his direction all too willingly, perhaps even familiarly.
Drake held a certain affection for his closest servants, but none of them
expected to be treated with like regard in such exalted company as a Valentine
Ball for nobles and aristocracy. The sycophant whispered to Nicolas and nodded
toward Drake and Lady Elizabeth. The two then made their way across the crowded
hall, the viscount shoving important people aside as he strutted toward them.
eyed his comely companion. Only moments ago, she’d taken his arm and accepted
his escort into the Great Hall, albeit somewhat dejectedly, and he’d vowed to
make her grant him one of her glorious smiles. Yet now she clutched that arm
almost in desperation. A soft gasp, followed by a soft sigh escaped her, and
Drake’s heart swelled with emotion, even as his hand went to his sword. He
would protect Lady Elizabeth just as he’d protected his sister. She had but to
indicate her displeasure with her supposed fiancé. For his part, Drake saw no
affection in the viscount’s eyes as he looked at the fair lady, only the vilest
and most improper attraction, which alone deserved nothing less than a duel for
stopped in front of Lady Elizabeth, and the interloper took her hand, raising
it to his lips for an elaborate kiss. “My dear betrothed bride, at long last we
meet. You are nothing short of ravishing, just as I was promised by your good
father.” He touched her ivory cheek with one finger, running the crooked
appendage down the length of it to her chin. Drake clutched the hilt of his
the rake continued. “We must hasten our wedding, poppet, for I am eager to beget
an heir. Are you of the same sentiment?”
Elizabeth started at his improper address. “How dare you…?”
inched his sword from its scabbard.
Nicolas, or whoever he was, stared now at Drake. “There you are. Now, tell me
sir, what does a man say to the villain who has killed him?” He chuckled in an
evil way. “Indeed, what does a man say to the man he believes he had killed?”