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- George! cria Billie.

Enfer et damnation ! Il avait presque réussi à s'échapper.

- Oui ? murmura-t-il en repassant la tête dans l'entrebâillement de la porte.

- Nous avons besoin de toi.

- Faux. C'est d'une nourrice que tu as besoin. Tu peux à peine marcher.

- Je marche fort bien, rétorqua-t-elle, avant d'effectuer quelques pas en clopinant. Tu vois? Je ne sens rien.

George se tourna vers Andrew, sans s'attendre que celui-ci fasse preuve d'une once de bon sens.

- J'ai le bras cassé, déclare-t-il, ce qui était sans doute censé servir d'excuse.

- Vous êtes idiots. Tous les deux.

- Des idiots qui ont besoin d'autres joueurs, déclara Billie. On ne peut pas jouer à deux.

Techniquement c'était la vérité. Le Pall Mall se jouait normalement à six, même si, en cas de nécessité absolue, tout chiffre supérieur à trois faisait l'affaire. Mais George savait à quoi il s'exposait. Les autres joueurs ne servaient que de témoins aux manœuvres retorses et brutales d'Andrew et de Billie. Pour ces deux-là, il s'agissait moins de gagner que d'empêcher l'autre d'y parvenir. On ne demanderait rien d'autre à George que de faire rouler sa balle quand l'occasion se présenterait.

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"George," she said cautiously,"I know that this will work, because, goodness, it has worked for centuries, but I have to say, this does not look comfortable." She swallowed. "For me."

He kissed the corner of her mouth. "Trust me."

"I do" she assured him. "I just Don't trust that."

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"Just the person I'd hoped to find,' she said with a smile.

" Words to strike terror in his heart," Andrew drawled.

So true, George thought, although not for the reasons Andrew supposed.

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"You disapprove of everything about me."

He stepped toward her, his hand tightening on her arm." That is so far from the Truth as to be laughable."

Billie's mouth fell open.

Then she realized that George looked as shocked by his words as she did.

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"Perhaps I might help in the planning," Andrew suggested.

"You'll certainly be better at it than I am," Billie said.

"Well, that goes without saying."

She poked him in the leg with one of her crutches.

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" The point is," she continued,"that as long as I'm here with you…"

Her face went suddenly pale. Even her eyes, normally a fathomless shade of Brown, seemed to blanch down to Something decidedly more tepid.

George's heart stopped. He had never, ever seen Billie Bridgerton with such an expression on her face.

She was terrified.

"What is it?" he demanded.

She turned to him. "You Don't think …."

He waited, but she seemed beyond words." What?"

Her ashen face took on a greenish hue. " You Don't think that someone would think that you… that we….". She swallowed. "That we disappeared … together?"

George's entire world lurched. "God,no," he said. Instantly.

"I know," she agreed. With equal alacrity. "I mean, you. And me. It's laughable."


"Anyone who knows us…"

"Will know we'd never.."

"And yet.." This time Billie's words did not merely trail off, they sank into a desperate whisper.

He gave her an impatient look. "What?"

"If Andrew doesn't come along as expected… and you're missed.. and I am missed…" She looked at him, her eyes huge and horrified in her face. " Eventually someone will realize that we've both been missed."

"Your point?" he snapped.

She turn to face him directly. "Just that why wouldn't someone assume…?"

"Because they have a brain in their head," he shot back. "No one would ever think I would be with you on purpose."

She lurched back. " Oh, well, thank you."

"Are you saying you wish someone did?" he retorted.


He rolled his eyes. Women. And yet, this was Billie. The least womanly woman of his acquaintance.

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And somehow everyone Always forgave her. She had that way about her- it wasn't charm exactly- it was that crazy,reckless confidence that made people flock to her side. Her family, his family, the entire bloody village- they all adored her. Her smile was wide, and her laugh was infectious, and God in Heaven but how was it possible he was the only person in England who seemed to realize what a danger she was to humanity?

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