One More Kiss

Foxley’s Gaming Hell

London

December 1819

JESS PENNISTAN WAS in a world of trouble with no one to blame but himself. He rubbed his neck as he stared at the losing play, then looked at Crenshaw, acknowledging the bastard’s win with a nod. He forced himself to maintain his façade of bored patience even as a string of curses echoed through his head.

Bigger fortunes had been won and lost at this very table. What had just been wagered, a tract of land, seemed innocuous enough, but in his family wagering land was simply not done. More than not done. To wager land left to him by his mother was akin to spitting in his family’s face.

No one else seemed to be aware of this drama. Play went on accompanied by shouts of triumph, the occasional groan of loss, and the laughter of men and women who were playing an entirely different game.

The place was overheated, which exaggerated the cloying perfumes that only partly covered the stink of men and women who had decided that washing was an unnecessary annoyance.

Baron Lord Crenshaw was the exception. Despite the amount of brandy he’d imbibed and the hours he’d spent gaming, Crenshaw looked refreshed, his linen still spotless, his smile an invitation to play on.

“If you will accept my voucher, Lord Crenshaw, I will bring you the land’s worth in gold within a fortnight.” Surely he was due for a big win soon.

“Perhaps,” Baron Crenshaw allowed, swirling the brandy before drinking it down in one swallow.

Jess waited, well aware that Crenshaw was hoping to test his tolerance to the breaking point.

“I tell you what, Pennistan, I will hold the voucher if you will include with it the whore beside you. She’s the one that you won from Delcroft earlier this evening, is she not?”

Jess nodded and did not have to look at Sadie to feel her anxiety. “Damn it, Crenshaw, she is barely sixteen.”

“Del tells me the bitch needs someone with my talents to broaden her experience,” Crenshaw said, ignoring Jess’s objection. Then the man closed his eyes, smiling at some private thought. The idea alone aroused the sadistic pig, and the slut next to him whispered something in his ear. Crenshaw grabbed her hand and pushed it into his crotch. Jess turned away.

Sadie was watching him and Jess gave her the slightest shake of his head to reassure her. Tears began to leak from her eyes and trickle down her cheeks. How had this silly, stupid girl wound up here? She should be wife to some farmer in the Midlands, spending her days tending children and baking bread, not in London spreading her legs for anyone with money.

“If you do not care to share, Pennistan, then I refuse the voucher and will take the land. I assume the acreage is worthless but, oh, the joy it brings me to know that your brother, the duke, will be enraged.”

Yes, Jess thought. This had been Crenshaw’s goal all along. And what did it say about Jess himself that he had been bored enough to take the risk of gambling with a man whom the world thought he had cuckolded?

“Unless you wish to wager something else of value, I will be going upstairs to allow Merribeau to finish what she has so delightfully started. Would you and your whore care to watch? It adds a certain piquancy to the experience especially when there are ropes and chains involved.”

Crenshaw stood up and pulled the willing Merribeau by the hand. “You see, Pennistan, I am more than willing to share. Indeed if you had not been so set on freeing me of