Chapter Fifty-Five, Part 2

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His momentum was arrested by a hand wrapped tightly around his bicep. "You do not wish to give your father or hers any more rope with which to hang you," Piero muttered in Toad's ear. "For once, think like an Italian, and remove him from public before you act."

"Good God, Harburn," Gills exclaimed, stepping back out of arm's reach. "You'll see us ejected if you hit me, you fool. It was only a kiss."

"Only a..." Toad's temper overflowed its banks, but before he could throw himself on Gills, Piero used both hands to physically hold Toad back, talking to Gills over his shoulder, as Gills danced back out of reach of either of them.

"Lord Joseph Gildeforte, I presume? I am Lord Piero d'Alvieri, and shall make my bow in due course. As you can see, Lord Harburn wishes to speak with you of private matters. So, I suggest we find a private location to do so."

"You are out of your bloody mind, man," Gills said. "He wants to kill me. I'm not going anywhere with him until he settles down."

Piero shook Toad's arm and raised a brow, as if to push him once more to think about his enemies the way Piero did—the way Grand Duke Leopold had, more than once, lectured both boys to do. Toad ceased trying to get his hands around Gills' throat and settled his body into a loose posture that would allow him to lunge.

"Ah. Excellent," Piero said as the manager rushed in, "Charles, isn't it?" Piero kept hold of Toad's arm. "Perhaps you can provide us a private parlour?"

Within a few minutes, Charles did provide them such a room, and left a footman right outside, in the event of damage done to the club or any of its patrons. As soon as the door was shut, Toad made for Gills, who held up a hand to protect his face just a moment too late. Toad's fist slammed into his nose, then pulled back and hit him again.

"Pax, Harburn! Peace!" Gills mumbled from the floor, holding his nose, gushing blood all over his shirtfront, waistcoat, and coat. "If you will control yourself, I can put your mind at ease."

Toad stopped his third blow mid-flight and stepped back. "And how will you do that? You've been trying to poach Sally Grenford for months, and you have never showed any respect for a lady. The whole of England is talking about your loathsome attentions to her! I will not have my wife—my future wife—humiliated by a misbegotten hell-raker like you. You have made her the talk of London."

Piero placed himself between the two men, then gave Gills a hand up and provided a handkerchief to stanch the bleeding. With a nod to Piero's courtesy, Gills continued berating Toad through the handkerchief pinched to his nose, his head held back. "It was not I who ruined your Sally, Harburn, and my sincere offer to redeem her was politely declined. Which is why I wrote to tell you to come home, you lubberwort."

Gildeforte gestured toward his bloody clothes. "Seemingly, I must change my attire, though what my valet will say to this, I cannot begin to guess. Once I have refreshed myself, I would be pleased to stand you to a drink someplace we haven't already scandalized. Perhaps even dinner, if you haven't eaten, for I expect I can ease your mind in ways no one else in London can. And even I must admit, I owe you something for a delightful interlude with the young lady."

As Toad's fist raised once more, Piero surged forward and Gills skittered backward, a maddening smirk on his face, saying, "If, in fact, such an interlude ever occurred. A gentleman would never speak of such goings-on with a lady, you must agree."

"You are no gentleman, Gildeforte," Toad grumbled.

"Yes, there is that," Gildeforte agreed, throwing the bloody handkerchief in the fire and pulling his own out of a pocket. Before he rushed to stop bleeding that had already ruined everything he had on, he poured three brandies from the decanter on the shelves in the corner. He handed them out, then settled himself into a chair on the opposite side of the room where Toad was pacing, leaning his head back. Piero sat himself directly in between the two of them. "Not that I usually sport with innocents... or duke's daughters. Both far too much trouble. But Sally Grenford..."

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