A Widows Kiss
Author: Crystal_Linn

Chapter 18
Dismissal

Chapter Eighteen, Dismissal

Blake was uncertain what had caused him to do so, but despite the news that the Earl of Huntingdon had arrived, and his sister and father along with them, he felt the strange need to see Dane first. Usually, he would avoid dealing with any of the rogues that had recently inserted themselves in his older sister’s life, but his intuition – so dependable at times – was urging him to see the man that was currently pining over said female. He had waited two days after their return to London so that they would be rested from their trip and he didn’t catch anyone in a bad mood in case conflict had risen between anyone.

Blake stepped down from his curricle, giving the reins of his greys to the groom that snapped a bow to him. Blake slammed the doorknocker briskly on the door and removed his gloves leisurely, taking care of each finger separately. A moment later, the lord of the manor arrived at the door himself, a bored expression on his face, looking almost sulky. His expression lightened slightly at seeing who his visitor was. “Dane,” the younger of the two greeted with a formal nod. Dane gave a mocking bow, throwing out a hand to gesture him inside. A corner of his mouth tilting upward in reluctant amusement, he entered the comfortable manor. Dane shut the door behind him and moved before him in his usual, charming grace.

“I warn you, my houseguest may decide to be civil at any moment,” he told Blake, moving into the parlor and picking up a bottle of claret, looking at it thoughtfully before shrugging. “Can I offer you a drink?”

“Yes, thank you.” Blake let his eyes move over the parlor, impressed with the furnishings. His own home had been designed by his fashion-conscious wife. He would have preferred there to be a more masculinity to his own home as like with Dane’s manor. The dark, but soft colors were not too forbidding on one’s senses and didn’t make it feel as though it was eternal night. He imagined Nicolas’s manor wasn’t so lucky. Taking the glass that Dane offered, he leaning against a table, noticing that the latter had yet to ask him what his purpose was for visiting. He doubted he received many visitors such as Blake. “You certainly seem comfortable,” he commented.

“Why,” Dane answered with a smirk, “how can I not? This is my home, am I correct in assuming that?” He took a drink of claret, his eyes glittering behind his glass. Seeing that Blake had no intention of retorting to his taunt, he continued, “As it happens, I could use some company that isn’t feeling the need to lecture me. First I hear lectures about God-knows-what from my sister – I wasn’t listening, as you imagine – and then by Nicolas and Casper about how I should stop being lazy. Despite Leon living in my home, he barely says a word to me, but if he ever does, it will be a lecture, mark my words. And let me see...I cannot, however, find myself receiving a lecture from your sister.” A slight smile curled his lips upward.

“For obvious reasons,” Blake snorted. Dane quirked a brow upward, not responding to the implications behind his words. He frowned, saying, “Leon, did you say? The Earl of Huntingdon?” Dane nodded, taking a last drink of his claret before refilling it. “Ah...So...You are aware that Sabrina was in Ireland with him? I heard that he and my father were to return a few days ago.”

“It is no news to me, Shields,” Dane replied in silky tones. He leaned against the mantelpiece, looking every bit the seductive gentleman as he let his hand hang with the glass clasped by his long fingers. “We learned of Sabrina’s supposed engagement to him before she even knew, I should think. Surely you know what you can learn out in the world.”

“You cannot learn something like that when the intended fiancée doesn’t even know, Dane,” Blake said in a stony voice. The blonde smiled a slow, almost feral grin. He pushed off from the mantel and took a drink of his claret before setting it aside. Blake tensed as he ambled towards him, pausing so that there noses were nearly touching. He was revolted to feel the slight tremor of awareness go through his body at the proximity of the other male. Dane let out a soft laugh, leaning forward and brushing his mouth over Blake’s own, who, to his horror, didn’t move.

“You forget that we’re not your every day rake, Blake,” Dane whispered against his lips, smirking as he drew back slightly. “We’re the most reckless hedonists Society has seen.” He raised his eyes to a point over Blake’s shoulder and his eyes turned less amused as he sighed, “So you have decided to see who was staying for such a long time.”

“Seeing as how you have been kicking everyone out the past couple days, you cannot blame me,” the Earl of Huntingdon informed him as Dane drew away from Blake and took the glass of claret he hadn’t finished, pouring more in it and handing it to Leon. He glanced at it and then took it, knowing full well that it had been Dane’s beforehand. His expressionless gaze turned towards Blake who was standing frozen, his hand clutched around his near-empty glass. Dane followed the path of his gaze and plucked the glass out of Blake’s hand and set it near the claret bottle as Leon suggested, “Perhaps you ought to introduce me, Dane?” He carried a mild expression on his face.

“Blake Shields,” Dane obliged the earl, “the Earl of Huntingdon, Leon.” His smile was thin as he looked to Leon. The latter paid him no heed, giving a cordial nod to Sabrina’s brother. Hathaway hadn’t mentioned his son, something he found particularly irritating. But then, it appeared Hathaway had deliberately excluded a great deal of details. He could tell by the way that Blake Shields held himself that, despite the wedding band on the fourth finger on his left hand, he had once had a less innocent and settled life. He suspected that was the only reason Dane suffered his presence.

“My lord,” Blake murmured respectably. “If you’ll excuse me...” Leon merely turned away, strolling towards the windows. Shaking off the strange gaze the earl had fixed upon him, he returned to Dane, saying, “I must discuss with you some things about my sister, Darling.” Dane’s eyebrows drew together and it was clear that Sabrina was the last he wanted to speak of. However, he made a tiny gesture with his hand to indicate for him to continue forward. Grimacing and not caring much if Leon were to hear him, he boldly explained, “It is your intentions with my sister. I cannot allow you to continue with her if there is anything less than innocent of your relationship. And when I say innocent, I mean that I expect you to not leave her with your seed or break her heart. If you are to bed her, then let it be on her grounds.” Dane had an unreadable expression that put Blake on edge and forced him to mutter, “If I discover that you continue on with her under less than honorable intentions...I will expect you at dawn with your seconds.” Dane blinked, that statement hitting him hard as nothing else had. He knew by the reluctant tone in Blake’s voice that dueling him was the last thing he wished.

He would die, Dane thought with certainty. He doubted the boy had ever been in a duel, while Dane had been in many. After having his few days to recover from his hangover and soreness, Dane had returned to his normal self, but the issue of Sabrina still lingered in the back of his mind. “I can assure you, Blake,” Dane said after a thoughtful pause, “that my intentions towards your sister are completely honorable.” He let a pleasant smile ease onto his mouth. “I promise it.”

X

Nicolas tossed down the card with more than a little irritation. Playing Casper was fine and all, but he kept losing and he knew it was because the latter was cheating. He shot Casper a dark look, his teeth digging into his black cigarette, looking as though he might beat the man to death. Casper gave a smooth smile in return. The commotion around them in the gaming hell didn’t bother either of them in the least. It was a clamor they had grown up with and had learned to define conversations from others.

There was a whisper of someone’s breath over the nape of Nicolas’s neck that had him shuddering and turning around, meeting the laughing gaze of his younger brother. He could tell by his careless demeanor that he had put his issue of feelings for Sabrina aside for the time being. Leon, only a few steps behind, took a seat next to Casper, a disgruntled expression on his face.

“Shall we play a game of whist?” Dane cheerfully queried. “Nicolas and I against you and Leon?” Casper glanced at Leon and smirked, seeming to think that he was lucky in whom he had as a partner – which was completely true. Dane couldn’t count how many times he and Nicolas went against Leon and Victoria and continuously lost. Nicolas eagerly tossed his cards on the table, as well as Casper. Dane collected them and shuffled them with an artful grace with his long, fine-boned hands. After doing this, he handed out cards and placed a King of Spades in the middle. The game of whist was generally easy: partners were required; whatever suit that lied in the middle was the trump for that hand, therefore that suit would take precedence over all others. Leon, with his sharp mind and quick fingers, played well, but so did Dane. It was one of the games he won so well at his clubs with Nicolas.

“So have you three received any news?” Leon asked halfway through the game, watching Casper’s moves carefully to make certain they corresponded well with his and were not mistakes.

“We should have by now,” Casper grumbled, sliding his cards into a single pile, bending them slightly to keep their faces hidden from the two Darling brothers. “We have an Underworld man looking into things and he generally hears things that we don’t as long as you pay him well.” He flashed a smug leer. “And as it happens, I paid him rather well.” Leon gave him a placid look before turning to look at his cards.

“Can this man be trusted?”

“Not precisely,” Nicolas replied from across him, his eyes flicking to Casper with a grimly humored look upon his face. “Especially since the man particularly hates us. You can only wave money in front of his face for so long, Casper. Eventually he will lose interest of it.” Casper released a dubious snort. “And besides, if he hasn’t reported to us by now, that likely means that there is nothing to worry about at the present time – or he simply is toying with us. It sounds like something he would do.” He paused, growling at his cards. “With reminds me, Hathaway finally got rid of the leeches that were following me. It was about time.”

“Indeed,” Dane murmured, “I bet it was. I know how crowded you feel when someone follows you for longer than a day.” Nicolas glanced at him and then chortled beneath his breath with reluctant agreement. Dane raised a finger from his cards and pointed it at Casper, saying, “But don’t inform him about the new problems that arose, Casper. If anything, he has aided them in thieving from Sabrina and will likely report that we’re onto them.”

“Mmm, very well,” was Casper’s distracted murmur as he inspected his cards.

Astonishingly, it was Leon and Casper who lost the game after Casper, without much of a thought, made an unwise move that even Leon hadn’t noticed until it was too late. Dane smiled as he and Nicolas collected their winnings and tossed the cards in the center of the table. In the past, Leon had rarely allowed himself to do so much as speak with Nicolas and Casper. That Leon had even allowed Dane to persuade him to join him at Casper’s gaming hell was an interesting development. He imagined other such events as this would unfold.

X

Blake was shown into his sister’s drawing room and his irritation for her and his suspicions for Dane, as well, dissolved into nothing, seeing that she was distressed. He had known, from his father’s information in the past, that Sabrina had been in such a state of disarray more than enough times while being married to Mackin. True enough, Sabrina raised her head to meet her brother’s gaze and gave a wan smile, rising to her feet and approaching him. He took her in his arms readily, feeling her smaller frame tremble. “Oh, Blake,” she moaned helplessly, “I am so afraid.”

“Of what, sister?” He questioned, laying his cheek against her head.

“Of so many things,” she responded, her hands curled to her chest as she rested in her brother’s familiar embrace. After a pause, she raised her head and searched his face with her eyes, seeing nothing but worry and comfort. Sighing, she withdrew and turned her face from him, twisting her fingers anxiously. She would not dare reveal the truth of her indiscretions to her brother. He would only be horrified to learn that she had become involved in the criminal class and that was hardly something she wished for her younger brother to learn of. The other thing, however, she would tell him, because he, of all people, would know what to do with it. “Blake...I fell in love with John, did you know that?”

“I suspected it,” he admitted, puzzling over her strange behavior. Was this about her deceased husband? She had been in mourning long enough to pass over him. Why was he suddenly resurfacing to her mind? “Sabrina – ”

“It was too late,” she interrupted, staring at the fireplace that blazed with glowing embers. “It was too late for me to tell him, even though I knew how much he loved me. I...I am lucky, I suppose, Blake to have learned that...” How can I tell him when I can barely tell myself? Why has it always been such a problem for me? Sabrina shivered. Because of my own mother’s indifference towards me. Because the only people I have ever truly allowed myself to love are the only people I can trust in this life...Or have been able to trust. Her body shook again and she drew in a deep, steadying breath. “I...I am not completely certain how to go about this...” Blake stared at her and then looked away quickly as she turned. He been given a glimpse of that desperate expression on her face, heard the underlying fear beneath her voice.

“...Is this about Dane, Sabrina?” He quietly inquired.

“You know it is.” He clenched his eyes tight, his jaw following suit. He swore softly beneath his breath and whipped around to look at her.

“He’s a blackguard, Sabrina! How could you let yourself fall for him, of all people? Please don’t tell me that you are mistaking lust for love. I would not be able to bear watching my sister breaking under that sort of circumstance. Women who I have slept with made the mistake of that and I have seen too many, heard of too many women falling under the Darlings and Casper’s spell.”

“It isn’t lust, Blake.” Her determined, frightened tone made him pause in his rage. He peered through the redness that spotted before his eyes and saw that, no, it wasn’t lust that had his sister looking to Dane Darling. At the funeral, he had seen a similar expression on her face when she gazed down at the corpse that was once her husband. He supposed he should be thankful, as she was, that she had discovered the truth as soon as she had. “It isn’t lust...” She repeated softly, casting her eyes down. “This may come as a surprise, but I know lust and this is nothing like it. Yes, he is a rogue. I have been aware of that fact since I met him, but...But I cannot help what my heart feels. I hate being alone and without him. These past days he hasn’t visited me and I haven’t put it upon myself to do the same; but I want to see him. If you tell me that it’s lust, I would gladly accept that.” She raised her eyes to Blake’s and saw the undeniable truth lying in his emerald depths. “No...I didn’t think so.”

Blake sighed and swept the room with a glance. His eyes landed on a bottle of brandy and he went to it, taking a glass out from the glass cupboard beneath, filling it with the alcohol and drinking deeply. He stared bleakly at the painting that hovered above the cupboard, irritated by Claude Monet’s calm brush strokes. Turning away from it angrily, he settled the brandy carefully on the glass case and let a sigh ease through his nostrils, if only to take away the feeling from his shoulders.

He knew what would ensue: the longest courtship ever. It was one thing for Blake, an average rouge, to take his time in accepting his feelings and quite another when Dane Darling, an expert at seducing women and playing with their emotions, would. He had seen it in Dane’s face that the subject of Sabrina was an uneasy one with him at the moment, which brought him to believe there was something underlying the solemnity of his words of honor: “I promise it.” And Dane was only one of the two difficult factors. His sister had avoided saying the word, “love” with Dane’s name and knowing her, it would take just as long for her to confess herself to him.

Damnation, he cursed within his mind, why these two? They will be old and wrinkled before they admit anything to anyone. It was mere chance that Sabrina told me. I doubt there is anyone else that she would allow this to slip to.

“I was almost engaged, as you may be aware of,” Sabrina spoke up, dragging his attention back to the present world. “To the Earl of Huntingdon. It wasn’t so much the thought of marrying again to a man that I disliked that upset me. It was the thought of not being married to...Dane...that made me panic. I wish...” She trailed off, staring at her bunched hands in her skirts. He sighed gently and went to her, raising her hands and kissing them.

“Sabrina. There are a small amount of men in this world that I would trust you with.” Her wide, sapphire orbs stared at him calmly. “Dane is one of them. I have yet to cast judgment on Nicolas and Casper, due to Nicolas’s past actions and Casper’s rather scandalous past. Dane has always been careful with you, no matter what his intentions have been. I think it can be perceived that there is something beyond his actions. Give him time; let him make the first move. Melissa forced that position upon me and when it comes to us libertines, that is the only way to go.” He smiled reassuringly towards her and her own mouth curved upward.

“Thank you, Blake,” she whispered in his ear as she hugged him around the neck. He sighed lightly.

“Your welcome.”

X

Dane grimaced a bit as he exited his carriage. By the pointed jibes Leon had been throwing him ever since they returned from Casper’s hell, Dane suspected he was calling him some nasty words in his mind. It didn’t help that when Victoria poked her head in briefly with Melissa Shields in her wake, suggesting he visit Sabrina since it was reported that he had yet to do so. Nicolas and Casper had loyally remained silent, more bothered by other pressing matters. Nonetheless, Dane had put off the visit for long enough.

He swept up towards the steps and paused, a thoughtful expression crossing his face as he glanced behind him. Technically, it would be unfit for a male, much less a male of his reputation, to call on a gentlewoman in the night. Brightened by this new escape, he took a step back to leave, but the door opened and Sabrina was standing there, blinking. “Oh, Dane,” she said, her eyes wide. “I thought I heard something out here, but I was uncertain.” He forced a suave smile onto his lips.

“May I come in?” He queried. She glanced from him and then beamed, nodding and stepping away. Inside, the manor was strangely quiet. Instead of leading him to the parlor or the drawing room as he had expected, she let him into the den. It was a good deal more spacious and comfortable. Dane let his eyes stroke the divan, but he wrenched his mind from such thoughts. He had come as a simple visit, not a seduction, especially after being threatened by her younger brother. It was a weak threat, but one nonetheless. He doubted his spearing Blake would put him in good light with Sabrina in any case. “I apologize for not coming sooner,” he said as she settled on the divan where a book was located. He saw her mark her place with a strip of ribbon and wondered why. “I have been detained, it happens, by a number of business problems that arose while I was gone.” A tiny lie never hurt, especially not in this manner of circumstances. Sabrina, ever the innocent, believed it completely.

“It’s fine, Dane,” she assured. “Please, sit. You’re making nervous standing as you are.” He glanced at the other pieces of furniture and his mind turned towards the comfortable chair near the fireplace, but instead his legs led him to the divan Sabrina was sitting on. A tiny part of him was working towards what would ultimately lead to something he would regret later. She set her book on the table and he swallowed, finding that without the tiny object lying between them, it was almost an invitation.

“Ah...I shouldn’t stay long,” he remarked as she turned slightly, sliding her legs beneath her. “I would hardly wish to ruin your reputation.”

She laughed and said, “I’m a widow, Dane. My reputation is hardly important.” Her eyes glittered with mirth and what he knew was expectance. His body stirred, not accustomed to disappointing a woman and lusting heavily after this particular woman. He clamped down on it ineffectually; his self-control was not infinite. Smothering a curse, he closed the space between them, digging his fingers in her hair and tipping her head back. She blinked her shimmering eyes at him, a dull pink lighting her fair features. Her lips parted slightly and it was all Dane needed to continue forward. He bent his head and covered her mouth with his, triumph soaring through him as her mouth softened against his. He kissed her slowly, intent on seduction, tasting the sweetness that he knew he would always attribute to her. He was accustomed to making quick the kisses, but with Sabrina, everything would be different and he promised himself that even as he continued to kiss her, softly and intently.

She gave a soft purr of satisfaction, moving her hands up to his shoulders, her nails digging lightly as he unfastened her bodice, letting it slip from her shoulders, never once halting his consuming kiss. Passion drove her to ease the tickling of uncertainty, caused her entire body to rise up in invisible flames. She knew, without having to think about it, that she was his. He kissed her throat, then, his mouth hot against her cool skin, hungering for more. His hand slid beneath her bodice to cup the curve of her breast, his teeth grazing the silken flesh of her throat. She shuddered and uttered a quiet, feminine sound as his thumb brushed her nipple. Her skin tingled and her breasts swelled, filling his hand with her soft flesh. Her breath, already quick, wavered as his fingertips burned against her.

Hearing a sound from somewhere in the house and becoming aware that they were not alone, he raised his head and looked to the open doorway with heavy lids. His earlier logic had vanished in the midst of passion. When he returned to look at Sabrina, he saw her mouth swollen from his kiss, her face flushed. A lazy smile eased his lips upward and he collected her in his arms, saying in a silky voice, “You will have to give me directions to your room, my dear.” Her lashes fluttered, but she gave no protests. He paused in the doorway, listening to the chattering voices down the hall in the dining room. Satisfied, he glided towards the stairs and with her vague gestures, he found his way to her room. He shut the door with his foot and at his indication, Sabrina locked it.

End Chapter Eighteen

 

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