“It’s tawdry. It’s one thing to participate in such behavior but another to speak so openly about it.”
Rathmore frowned and Raithe realized he should get this conversation moving before the men began to squabble. That could come later. “Gentlemen,” he started, clearing his throat. “I’m having a party at the end of next week. You are the premier guests on the list.”
Crestwood slapped the table, his attitude completely changing. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
Craven continued to grimace; his face a complete mask. “What sort of party?”
“The sort men of your kind would like.” He winked. Raithe had a particular sort of reputation for having parties filled with women and liquor. That wasn’t what this was going to be and so he wouldn’t outwardly promise such delights. It would give him plausible deniability later.
Rathmore dropped his arms to his sides. “Next week? I couldn’t possibly.”
Raithe tried not to frown. The duke, once a notorious rake, had hardly been seen at the gaming hells or at parties of ill repute. Coupled with his comments to Crestwood, that made him the most important candidate of them all.
Hartwell stepped forward. “We’re headed to the coast to check in on some of our properties.”
Excellent. He tightened his grip around his glass. “Then you’ll be close to my home. Surely, you can spend a few days with us.”
Hartwell shook his head. “My sister will be traveling with me. I seriously doubt she is suited to one of your parties.”
Raithe didn’t respond. This gathering would be perfectly appropriate for such a lady but he wasn’t about to tell them all of that. Besides, Charlie was the last woman he wanted in his house, under his roof, near his bed. “That doesn’t mean Rathmore can’t attend. For a few days at least.” He leaned forward. “Tell me you’re not craving something different.”
He saw the flicker of indecision in the other man’s eyes.
Victory roared in his blood.
“Count me in,” Crestwood crowed. “What about you, Dashlane?”
Dashlane took a sip of his drink. “Why not? I could use a change of pace. Craven?”
The third man frowned. “I suppose.”
Raithe didn’t care if Craven attended or not. In fact, he’d prefer he didn’t but the three were often together, making Craven a necessary evil. “Rathmore?”
“I’ll think on it,” Rathmore shrugged, staring at the far wall.
“I’ll attend,” another voice called from the corner. Raithe turned, his jaw clenching when he’d seen who spoke. His Grace, the Duke of Danesbury, sat partially obscured by shadow. The man was rarely seen out, his face having been scarred on one side from some accident or another. Raithe’s eyes widened to see the man here on such a busy night. “Your Grace?” he asked. Strictly speaking the man was not invited, but as a duke, he’d be difficult to refuse.
“I’ve heard of your parties, Balstead. I’ll come if you’ll have me.”
Raithe swore softly under his breath. This was not one of the carefully chosen men. He didn’t know what sort of man Danesbury was and didn’t wish to find out. “Of course, Your Grace.”
Raithe sat back in his chair. He had five men after all. Not the five he’d originally set out to invite, but still… that ought to give Cassandra some choices…
Lucas Marks, the Earl of Crestwood, assessed the stately manor as the last rays of sun set in the sky. How nauseatingly pretty, Luke thought as the bright rays bathed the red brick in brilliant hues of orange and yellow. Below him, the ocean beat against the high rocks of the bluff, creating a scene fit for a work of art.
This house was like the rest of Seabridge Gate, the village in which he currently found himself stranded. Disgustingly wholesome.
He sighed, regretting his decision to come to this dinner, and he hadn’t even gone inside yet. Which was ridiculous. This entire affair had been his idea to begin with. In his defense, the meal with the Moorish family was a sound plan. First because he needed Mr. Moorish’s help. The man ran a shipping business out of Seabridge Gate and catching a ride on one of those ships was his best chance of getting out of this quaint little hellhole and making his way north to a deliciously debaucherous gathering being held by the Baron of Balstead.
Just thinking of that party and all the delights that would surely greet him made his spine straighten with determination. The bridge to the north had washed out, making the trip to Balstead’s property in Haversham days longer than necessary. Meanwhile, if he could catch a boat, say tomorrow morning, he’d be at Balstead’s by lunch. And wrapped in a beautiful woman’s arms by dinner.
And so he raised the knocker on the door letting it fall from his hand. Luke heard the sound echo through the house. The door immediately opened, a sharp-looking butler giving him a solemn stare. “Good evening. Lord Crestwood, I presume?”
“Correct,” he answered. “I’ve clearly arrived at the right place.”