Incognita (Fairchild Book 2)

By: Jaima Fixsen

CHAPTER ONE





There were worse things than being spectacularly jilted, Alistair knew. Losing one’s leg, for instance. Losing a fortune—or worse, never having one in the first place. Of course, he didn’t have a fortune of his own, but since most of his relatives did, it was almost the same thing.

Malaria. That would be terrible. Or tying yourself to a wife like the one Captain Fitzhubert had so recently acquired—plaintive and spotty. Better to be jilted than to marry one like that.

“Don’t forget pox. Most uncomfortable, I’m told,” said his cousin Jasper.

Alistair grimaced. Yes, there were plenty of worse things. Trouble was, none of them had happened to him, but he had been jilted by Sophy Prescott.

“This isn’t helping,” he growled.

“Really?” Jasper looked down at the list he held in his hand. “What about bad fish? I had some once . . . . ” He caught Alistair’s dark look and pulled his mouth shut.

Voices from the direction of the door warned of newcomers making their way into the room. Alistair sank deeper into his chair as Jasper set down his pencil, signaling the waiter to bring them another bottle. Once his glass was filled, Alistair reached for it, taking the opportunity to dart a glance at the new arrivals. Two of Jasper's cronies . . . and a ginger-haired fellow sporting scarlet regimentals. Didn’t recognize him, but the other two were cowards. They’d laugh at his expense in private, but would give him a wide berth here.

“Stop glaring at everyone,” Jasper muttered. “You just give them more to talk about when you sulk like a wounded bear. You said you were going to pretend like it didn’t matter.”

Indifference had sounded like a good plan when he and Jasper set out for the club, but acting the part was harder than expected—watching the sideways glances and discreet whispers.

“You aren’t the only scandal in London,” Jasper said, a little wearily, as Alistair’s hand tightened around his glass. “Well, you won’t be for long,” he amended. “But if you pick a fight with Protheroe, I’m dropping you. He’s a friend of mine.”

“I know,” Alistair said, swirling the wine in his glass. Better if he just didn’t look at anybody.

Jasper gave a low whistle. “Looks like someone just lost another thousand.” Over at the card table, one player was rummaging through his pockets for a scrap of paper to scrawl out another IOU. Two hours ago he’d been up nearly four thousand pounds, but now he was plunging deep and scribbling vowels, doggedly playing on, convinced his luck would change. His opponent was unmoved, despite the pile of coin and paper in front of him. Undue excitement was gauche, of course, but this fellow looked bored . . . indifferent even. And why not? Word was, he’d dipped worse himself just last week. Such reversals were fairly commonplace at Watier’s.

To tell the truth, Alistair wasn’t especially fond of the place—ran into his brother here far too often for his liking. It was a problem. Stifling a sigh, Alistair turned back to his cousin. “What?” He was tired enough to be provoked into words, instead of using his usual lifted eyebrow.

“I didn’t expect you to mind so much,” Jasper said. “Didn’t think you were that attached to my sister.”

Alistair hadn’t thought so either. Oh, he liked Sophy well enough. She was an admirable choice. Marrying her would allow him to sell out of the army, and he was tired of getting shot and killing the French—cowardly impulses, but ones he couldn’t deny in his private thoughts. Unfortunately, his arm was mostly healed and he wasn’t marrying a comfortable fortune, so he’d have to return to his regiment. Alistair didn’t shrink at the thought—thank God—but it made him incredibly weary. Almost made him wish he’d gone for a career in the church.

It would be nigh impossible to find himself another bride, embroiled in Sophy’s scandal. True, there might be other ways out if he were desperate, but was he? He couldn’t tell. It was hard to know exactly how he felt under the smart of Sophy’s rejection. He was too proud, that was the problem. Never in his life had he expected to be thrown over by a girl like her—ladies usually went out of their way to oblige him.

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