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A Lady Never Tells(2)

By:Candace Camp

Her sisters were right behind her; indeed, Camellia, the swiftest of them all, had almost caught up with her. But the wiry thief who had taken her case was faster than any of them. As they rounded a corner, she spied him half a block ahead, and realized, with a wrenching despair, that they could not catch him.

A few yards beyond the thief, two men stood outside a door, chatting. In a last, desperate effort, Mary screamed, “Stop him! Thief !”

The two men turned and looked at her, but they made no move toward the man, and Mary knew with a sinking heart that her sisters’ future was disappearing before her eyes.

Sir Royce Winslow strolled out of the gambling hell, giving his gold-headed cane a casual twirl before he set its tip on the ground. A handsome man in his early thirties, with blond hair and green eyes, he was not the sort one expected to see emerging from a dockside gaming establishment. His broad shoulders were encased in a coat of blue superfine so elegantly cut that it could only have been made by Weston, just as the polished Hessians on his feet were clearly the work of Hoby. The fitted fawn trousers and white shirt, the starched and intricately tied cravat, the plain gold watch chain and fobs all bespoke a man of refinement and wealth—and one far too knowing to have been caught in the kind of place frequented, as his brother Fitz would say, by “sharps and flats.”

“Well, Gordon, you’ve led me on another merry chase,” Sir Royce said, turning to the man who had followed him out the door.

His companion, a man barely out of his teens, looked a trifle abashed at the comment. Unlike Sir Royce’s, Gordon’s clothes evinced the unmistakable extremes of style and color that branded him a fop. His coat was a yellow reminiscent of an egg yolk, and the patterned satin waistcoat beneath it was lavender, his pantaloons striped with the same shade. The shoulders of the coat were impossibly wide and stuffed with padding, and the waist nipped in tightly. A huge boutonnière was thrust through his lapel, and his watch chain jangled with its load of fobs.

Gordon drew himself up in an exaggeratedly dignified manner, though the picture he hoped to create was somewhat marred by the fact that he could not keep from swaying as he stood there. “I know. I beg your pardon, Cousin Royce. Jeremy should never have told you.”

“Don’t blame your brother,” the other man replied mildly. “He was worried about you—and rightly so. You were being fleeced quite royally back there.”

Gordon flushed and started to argue, but the other man stopped him with an adroitly cocked eyebrow and went on, “You’d best be grateful to Jeremy for coming to me instead of going to the earl.”#p#分页标题#e#

“I should think so!” Gordon admitted in shocked tones. “Cousin Oliver would have prosed on forever about the family dignity and what I owed to my parents.”

“With good cause.”

“Here, now, don’t tell me you and Cousin Fitz never kicked up a lark!” the younger man protested.

A faint smile curved Sir Royce’s well-formed lips. “We might have done so, yes—but I would never have gotten myself kicked out of Oxford and then gone to town to throw myself into yet more scrapes.” He narrowed his gaze. “And I would never have taken it into my head to wear that yellow coat.”

“But it’s all the crack!” Gordon exclaimed.

However, his companion was no longer listening to him. Sir Royce’s attention had been caught by the sight of a man tearing down the street toward them, clutching a small leather satchel. What was even more arresting was that running after him was a young woman in a blue frock, her dark brown hair loose and streaming out behind her and her gown hiked up almost to her knees, exposing slender stocking-clad legs. Behind her were two more young women, running with equal fervor, bonnets dangling by their ribbons or tumbling off altogether, their faces flushed.

“Stop him!” the woman in the lead shouted. “Thief !”

Royce gazed at the scene in some amazement. Then, as the thief drew almost abreast of him, he casually thrust his cane out, neatly catching the runner’s feet and sending him tumbling to the ground. The man landed with a thud and the case went flying from his hands, skidding across the street and coming to a stop against a lamppost.

Cursing, the runner tried to scramble to his feet, but Royce planted a foot on his back and firmly pressed him down.

“Gordon, fetch that leather satchel, will you? There’s a good lad.”

Gordon was gaping at the thief, twisting and flailing around under Sir Royce’s booted foot, but at the older man’s words, he picked up the case, weaving only slightly.