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B artholomew Dixon, Viscount Weston, future Earl of Hartley, leaned a shoulder against the wall, one ankle crossing the other. All he required was the fifth to win the bloody asinine wager one of the leaping lords of Boodles had challenged him to. Victory was but a hairsbreadth away. He glanced about the elaborately decorated hall with its myriad candles and greenery that covered every post, archway, and tabletop, searching out his final quarry. Lady Evelyn Powell. Her flaxen hair would be piled high, and those cool blue eyes would flash their mocking humor.

But he cared naught, all he required was the ring. Evelyn was a lovely enough widow. Though he knew she was uninterested, he found himself in need of a mistress and she was the ideal solution. Perfect in keeping his wayward thoughts from a certain Swann Goddess seemed fit to punish him, since he'd set eyes on her at her come-out last season.

He preferred experience, not innocence. Evelyn was not so young as to speak only about the weather and current fashions.

Lord Powell was rumored to have been somewhat less than skillful in the bedchamber, and Bartholomew knew he could offer her satisfaction in that area. Had him tempted to throw aside all caution to make her his. Because a wedding is what it would take to bed her. He was not prepared to make that leap. One little kiss as he took possession of the fifth golden ring might change her mind in taking him for a lover. The ring would satisfy the terms of that blasted wager. He scowled. Not surprisingly, it had taken less than ten days to collect the first four rings.

But it was that fifth ring that remained so elusive, trumping up the idea in dashing off a missive to Lady Powell flat out requesting it. Her response returned quickly enough.

Pen of The Dreamer

My dearest Bartie, Whatever have you gotten yourself into now? Their annual Christmas Ball, you know. Not to worry, my friend. I remain forever, your devoted friend, E.

Practically hiding behind the potted trees, are you? A bushy mustache compensated for the receding hairline. Bartholomew covered his shudder with a smirk. Sooner or later all the ladies must make their way to the retiring room. Bah, I knew him before he was titled and just John Henry Edward Swann, now he struts as though he owns the place with his seven ducklings in tow. Bartholomew chuckled even as something in his chest squeezed, constricting the air to his lungs. The procession of light pastels meandering by was a fascinating sight.

All seven chits were dressed in a veritable rainbow of soft shades except for Lady Theodosia. She was pushing the unseemly age of thirty, and permitted to wear a more becoming shade of forest green. As the eldest, she led the pack beside her father, the Earl of Cockswood. The twins, dressed identically in pale rose, were the Ladies Georgette and Edwina.

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It was impossible to tell one from the other, even up close. Each flanked another sister, whose name escaped him. One looked as if trouble were her middle name and still belonged in the schoolroom. Catherine, he thought. Charlotte looked a gentle soul. Too sweet for the likes of him, however, with that expression that appeared so awed by her surroundings. But for his cynical nature he thought he detected a hidden depth of pluck.

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But then his eyes settled on Lady Philippa, along with the familiar rush of longing. He savored the sight as she stood between her two younger sisters.

Dolly Tales: The Sister Swap!

His glance slid over her lithe form. Bartholomew straightened from the wall and pulled his hand from his pocket. Silvery blond locks arranged in an elaborately high coif framed a pert nose and slightly pointed chin. She had a stubborn air about her that did not spell ladylike compliance.

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She would keep a man on his toes or he would pay a hefty price. A challenge he planned on taking up once he'd taken care of this blasted wager business. Her gown, though still considered pastel in its soft blue, shimmered like spun silk. Hell, it probably was spun silk. With each step she took the color seemed to shift from blue to gray, to almost silver in the glow of candlelight.

He frowned at the daringly low cut that showed a creamy bosom just beckoning him. Hastings shook his head in mock sympathy. A sudden need for air attacked Bartholomew.

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She brushed fingers over another boring, blue-hued gown. She abhorred the light colors. Marriage was tempting if only to allow one to don more flattering colors. Besides you look lovely. The light on that silk makes it appear almost pewter. Though Pippa had trouble believing in the wide-eyed innocence Lottie always managed to convey. I suppose he and Mama are quite worn out with the lot of us. Cat had the nerve to giggle. Pippa rolled her eyes, though it was the one thing that peeved Papa beyond endurance.

Sometimes she thought he had eyes in the back of his head. Unable to resist, Pippa glanced over her shoulder at the Duke of Hastings. She did not find the duke so attractive as the man beside him, whose firm lips held a trace of mockery. She turned back to Nora. Pippa knew exactly who he was.

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Viscount Weston. It wouldn't do in letting her sisters know, however. They would plague her to her death with never-ending questions. She'd danced with him before. Her lower back still burned with the imprint of his hand from her one allotted waltz.


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Or perhaps she was just a romanticizing, idealistic fool. His dark hair was pulled back at the nape, his eyes a stormy gray. They bore right through her. A shiver of stark awareness skittered down her spine. And he cares little of her age, beauty, or health. Well, perhaps, health is taking it a step far. He needs an heir. Lottie nodded, wide-eyed.