Today I am so pleased to welcome Cat Sebastian to Joyfully Jay. Cat has come to share an exclusive excerpt from her latest release, A Gentleman Never Keeps Score. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Hartley considered telling Fox everything, letting him know exactly who he was getting mixed up with. He had no reason to believe that Fox would be repulsed by him even if he possessed all the sordid details of Hartley’s past. But if Fox really wanted to know, he could find out easily enough without Hartley having to talk about it.
“All right then,” Fox said, slapping his thighs in a way that suggested he thought it was high time that they be getting on with things. “I can’t let you steal the painting for me. It’s not fair for you to do all the dirty work. What do you get out of it?”
Hartley pressed his lips together into a mirthless smile. “Trust me that I’d get something out of it. You’ve only given me an idea that would likely have occurred to me sooner or later.” For two months he had been thinking of revenge, and now he had a way to chase after it. Destroying the paintings would do Martin no harm, and nothing would ever again harm Sir Humphrey, but Hartley decided that destroying the paintings had the flavor of revenge, and revenge was a taste he was increasingly hungry for. “And I just realized I can bring mineral spirits. That’ll nicely ruin the paintings without going to the trouble of burning them or the effort of slicing them apart. Or a pail of paint. See, I can manage this on my own quite nicely.”
Fox looked skeptical. “You’ll need a lookout.”
Hartley waved his hand dismissively. “I’m not worried about being caught.”
Fox didn’t even twitch an eyebrow at this obvious lie, for which Hartley was grateful. “You ought to be.”
“Be that as it may, I’m choosing not to.” He had made plenty of bad decisions already; adding one more to the tally hardly seemed to matter. He got to his feet and walked to the window. The curtains were drawn, and it was too dark to see outside anyway. He smoothed his palms against the velvet of the curtains because it gave him something to do, something to feel other than the angry thudding of his heart. “It’s my neck.” The words came out snippier than he meant.
“All right, now. No worries.” The words were low and soothing and they came from right behind him. Hartley turned so his back was against the window. Fox stood about two feet away, slightly farther than normal speaking distance, but he was so large that he seemed to loom over Hartley. As if sensing his fear, Fox took a step back and held up his hands in surrender.
“You don’t need to do that,” Hartley said.
“Maybe not. I reckon there are a lot of things I don’t need to do. But I know what it looks like when a person is afraid, and it’s not something I fancy seeing.” There was something in the way he frowned that made Hartley think maybe Fox had his share of bad memories. And of course he did. Hartley knew he was hardly alone in misfortune, although lately his own troubles had consumed his thoughts like a nagging toothache—tiny, in the grand scheme of things, but really quite bad enough to be all one thought about.
“I’m not usually like this.” Hartley’s voice was a whisper.
Fox waited a moment before answering. “Like what?”
Jumpy as a cat? Snappish and clumsy and rude? Hartley didn’t even know where to start. “I’m usually very genteel,” he said with what he hoped was an obviously ironic sniff. “Sophisticated, even.”
Fox’s face broke into a wide grin, and Hartley realized it was the first time he had seen the man smile. One of his eye teeth was chipped and Hartley found he liked it. “Your waistcoat is buttoned wrong. Is that what the sophisticated gentlemen of London are doing this season?”
Hartley glanced down, squinted, and saw that Fox was right. “Oh blast. I need spectacles.” Or he needed another valet, but that was dashed unlikely. He bent his neck to see where he had gone wrong. Right at the top button. He was going to have to unbutton the whole thing and start over.
“Don’t,” Fox said, when Hartley had undone the top button.
“I really don’t care what state your buttons are in. And, besides, it’s—” He stopped abruptly, as if realizing that he shouldn’t end the sentence in whatever way he had been planning, which only made Hartley absolutely need to know what he hadn’t said.
“Rather . . . adorable, if I’m honest.”
Was Fox making an approach? If so, Hartley was on familiar—if uncomfortable—ground for the first time this evening. He cast his eyes down, then looked coyly up at the other man. “You can unbutton them yourself, if you like.” Scripted lines in a bad play, and he was weary of it all. It was a fool’s errand to try this again. It had been ages since he managed to go through with it; there had been a few moderately successful ventures after Easterbrook was through with him, when the pleasure had slightly outweighed the terror of the encounter. But in the three years since inheriting this house, he had hardly even wanted to try, and there was no reason to believe things would be different with Fox.
Fox didn’t move any closer, though. Instead he frowned. “I didn’t think you liked being touched.
Perhaps he hadn’t been making an approach, which was rather mortifying. But how had Fox figured out Hartley’s problem? Probably when he had gone half off his head during last week’s brandy spill. “I don’t,” he said, pitching his voice low and trying to imbue it with as much of an invitation has he could muster, “but you can do it anyway.” That was what he had done in the span between Easterbrook’s death and inheriting the house: one-sided encounters where he let things happen to him.
Fox let out a sigh. “No, mate, that’s not what I want. I don’t want you to let me touch you. There’s no fun in it if I think you’re just going along with it.”
Hartley felt the words like a slap to the face even though Fox’s tone was kind. Fox’s gentle rejection was a stark reminder of everything Hartley had lost. He smiled tightly and thought of revenge.
Once beloved by London’s fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.
Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.
Cat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.