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The important thing to remember when about to fight a duel for the honor of a beautiful woman is to wear the correct style of shoes.
Lord Lucien Severn had been most explicit with his valet as to the exact shade of dove grey suede that would complement his trousers with their cuffs carefully turned up in the most recent style, a l'Anglaise.
Unfortunately, Lucien had not anticipated the early morning dew covering the grass in the Bois de Boulogne. This was not surprising, considering he had not been out before noon since he'd arrived in Paris. Or rather, he'd not been in until five orout before noon.
The suede was damp with mud and he was starting to doubt his choice of white satin waistcoat. Too formal? If he were actually shot, the blood would be the devil to clean. Of course, Lucien would never have the bad taste to be shot. No, if anyone would be cleaning blood from a waistcoat, it would be Freddy, who was nervously examining the barrel of his pistol as if he had never seen one up close before.
The newsmen gathered along the edge of the meadow, frantically jotting descriptions of the cut of his coat. Lucien wondered if his tailor would be grateful enough for the publicity to stop hounding him for that trivial matter of payment.
"My Lord," called one from the line, "Paris Herald here! Any last words you would like us to deliver to La Belle Russe?"
Lucien paused and straightened the white orchid pinned to his lapel; the contrast was striking between the delicacy of the blossom and the strength of his long, tapered fingers.
"Any gentleman would gladly leap into the grave to defend La Belle Russe from the grievous insult dealt her by this perfidious blaggard."
"I say!" exclaimed Freddy indignantly, blushing like a school-girl, "I only offered her the statue as a tribute. I never meant to imply-that is, dash it, Severn, she knows I only worship her!"
"Quite. Well, Freddy, shall we get this business over with then? I'll buy you a stiff drink at Maxim's once the surgeon's patched you up."
Lucien's second, still dressed in tails and slightly foxed, handed him the pistol with a tipsy bow.
"All right, then, you both know the rules. Twenty paces and one shot each. Gentleman of the press, clear the way!"
Lucien took the fist step, deliberately placing one foot directly in front of the other as if executing the steps of a complicated dance.
He looked out at the leaves, just beginning to turn gold and red along the edges – everything seemed brighter, clearer, more real-
He could hear the slight breeze whistling and shaking the poplar leaves like tiny symbols. In the distance, a bird trilled, calling to her children in the nest.
He felt the old familiar pull of oblivion, darkness-. As he stepped, his fingers gradually loosened on the pistol.
The forest floor rumbled with vibrations, steadily growing stronger; the poplar leaves trembled in the still morning air; the vibrations turned to the clatter of hooves.
A dark shape burst from the brush and reared up over Lucien, a dark and monstrous silhouette like the nightmares of his childhood- a confusion of rearing hooves, wild rolling eyes, and nostrils blowing smoke in the cold air.
As Lucien stared in frozen bewilderment, the shape settled and transformed into recognizable shapes – a black horse rearing and then settling and pawing at the ground, a dark figure in a billowing cloak, holding tight to the reigns and forcing the powerful beast to an abrupt stop from a mad gallop.
"Hold there – settle, you devil!" growled the figure in a deep, raspy baritone.
Lucien straightened up, caught his pistol as it slid to the tip of his fingers, and tossed it up, catching it midair.
"Why, hullo, Max, what brings you out so early in the morning?" he drawled.
It was his brother, the Duke of Warwick, and his calm expression could not mask the formidable temper that Lucien remembered all too well from boyhood.