“No, but it is your doing, is it not?” Dinah demanded angrily, putting both hands on her hips and feeling the last of her fears melt away. She knew she had a captive audience now and did not want to waste a single word. “You came to Lord Whitehaven’s home earlier today and not only told him that you had tripled the debt, but that you expected him to pay it fully by this evening!” Again, a murmur of surprise and obvious disagreement ran around the room. “You expected him to fail, Lord Irving. You wanted him to fail.”
Lord Irving took a step closer, leaning down to look into Dinah’s face. His eyes were nothing more than dark slits, his expression growing darker with every moment that passed. “Lord Whitehaven made his choice. He could have done as I asked and allowed us to marry and–”
“He would never have done so, not when he cares for me as he does,” Dinah retorted angrily. “And I have come to ensure that you can no longer have any part in his life.”
“Dinah.” Lord Whitehaven’s voice reached her, and she turned her head, seeing him leaning on the back of a chair instead of onto Titania. His eyes were fixed upon hers, blood running down in rivulets from a wound to one side of his head. “Dinah, what are you doing?”
She smiled at him then reassuringly, wanting to go to him but knowing that she could not. “I heard everything,” she said softly, seeing his eyes flare wide. “I know that you were determined not to allow me to enter into a union with Lord Irving, that you were determined I should not even come near the fellow. I knew you could not get the money that was demanded, but clearly you were still willing to come to Lord Irving and take whatever punishment he decided to mete out to you.” She shook her head, her throat constricting. “I could not bear it,” she finished, hating that he had already been hurt by Lord Irving. “I have another way, Whitehaven, and you will permit me to take it.”
“No,” he said, waving one hand and reaching out to her. “No, Dinah, you need not do so. There is no need.”
“There is every need,” she answered quickly, looking back up towards Lord Irving. “You are not guilty of the punishment Lord Irving has demanded from you in place of my hand in marriage, Whitehaven. You have a kind heart and a considerate spirit. You love me, just as I love you. I would not now leave you to your fate.” And, so saying, she pulled out the piece of paper she had taken with her in her pocket, unfolded it, and handed it to Lord Irving, who took it with a narrowed look still lingering in his eyes.
“This will suffice, I hope,” she stated, with unerring strength in both her voice and her stance. “I was, as you are fully aware, unable to get to my solicitors in order to take out such an amount, but it will come to you, Lord Irving. I am not inclined to break my word.”
Lord Irving sniffed, although his eyes still lingered on the paper. “No, you are much too pious for that,” he replied, as though this was some great failure on her part. “And you state that you are quite willing to give this to me in its entirety?” His eyes lifted from the page and fixed upon hers. “This is to remove Lord Whitehaven from his debt?”
Dinah nodded. “It is,” she said, seeing Lord Whitehaven drop his head but feeling no concern within her heart that she was somehow doing wrong. “What say you, Lord Irving?”
Lord Irving bit his lip, tipped his head, and then slowly began to smile. It was not a smile of warmth but one of dark malevolence, as though he had only just thought of something so truly awful that he could not help but laugh inwardly over it.
“It is enough, yes,” he replied, handing Dinah back the letter from her solicitors, declaring just how much money she had waiting for her. “But it is not, as you state, present with you this evening.”
Dinah flushed red, her palms curling into fists. “You know very well that I–”
“Then might I suggest that you and I play a little game?” Lord Irving continued, interrupting her. “As you know, I am a gentleman who enjoys a good many pleasures, and one is that I much prefer to have a little wager over matters such as this.” He grinned at her, his eyes sparkling now with a grim delight that left Dinah with no question over what he intended. “It is an accepted practice, is it not? Although I must question whether someone such as you should ever understand the rules of such a vice!”
Dinah lifted her chin and looked back at him steadily. She had suspected that Lord Irving would try something such as this and, having suspected it, she and Titania had played multiple games of ‘Faro’ until Dinah not only understood the rules but knew precisely what she had to do in order to try and win.
Although to play against someone such as Lord Irving would be quite a different matter.
“You scoundrel!” Lord Whitehaven cried, his voice rebounding off the walls as he managed to step away from the chair that had supported him and began to walk near to Dinah and Lord Irving. “You blaggard! You dare to suggest that Miss Shepherd, a young lady of propriety, should gamble with the money she has come to offer you?” He turned to the rest of the gentlemen, who were now all watching the unfolding scene with wide eyes, utterly agog. “He would ask this young lady to place all that she has in this world upon the betting table, when she has come here in good faith, offering it to him as it is in order to pay a debt that he has already tripled!” Seeing the shaking of the gentlemen’s heads and hearing the low-voiced murmurs, Dinah looked into Whitehaven’s eyes and saw the anger there also. Would Lord Irving buckle under the strain and the pressure brought to bear by those around him? Would the other gentlemen refuse to allow him to do such a thing?
“Miss Shepherd has offered you everything, Irving,” Lord Whitehaven grated, his eyes flashing with rage. “It is more than I deserve, yet she does it out of the love in her heart for me. Now take it and do not demand more. There is nothing else here for you.”
Lord Irving said nothing for some minutes. The air grew thick about Dinah as she looked up at the gentleman, refusing to drop her gaze and to let him see that she was, in fact, very nervous about what was to occur next. Should Lord Irving insist that they play, then Dinah knew she would have no other choice than to do so – although her chances of winning were rather low. Perhaps now, he would be inclined simply to accept what she had offered, given that so many gentlemen were clearly against his plans.
Her heart sank to the floor, but she did not move an inch.
“No, we will play,” Lord Irving stated firmly, much to the dismay of almost everyone else present. “And the lady shall choose the game.” He gave a long, ornate bow, his eyes glinting with steel a
s he lifted his head. “And should you win, Miss Shepherd, then you can be assured that the money you offer shall remain yours and the debt I have called over Lord Whitehaven’s head will be let free. It shall no longer remain. Thereafter, I shall also retire from London for the rest of the Season.”
Her heart beating furiously, Dinah tried her best to keep her voice steady as she spoke. “And if I should lose?”
Again, he grinned at her, that dark smile frightening her more than she wanted to admit.
“Then I shall be the victor,” he replied quietly. “And I shall have your payment and your hand in marriage, Miss Shepherd.”
“No!” Lord Whitehaven cried, grasping Dinah’s hand and making to tug her away from Lord Irving. “No, indeed, Dinah, this is not worth the struggle! I am not worth it. Please, my love, stay away from this.” His eyes begged her to listen, his fear growing starkly in his expression. “Stay far from him. I would not lose you, my love.”
Dinah swallowed hard but looked directly back into Lord Whitehaven’s face and felt a sudden reassurance fill her. It brought with it a kind of peace to her soul, as though she knew that this was what she was to do. The path, as her mother had said, was beginning to reveal itself once again.
“I shall do as Lord Irving demands,” she murmured, reaching up one hand and brushing it along Lord Whitehaven’s cheek, seeing how he winced and feeling her heart ache for him. “And I shall do it in the confidence that God is with me and that, with His power, I can face even the tallest and strongest of giants.”
Lord Whitehaven seemed to crumple in front of her, his eyes squeezing shut tightly as he caught her hand and pressed it to his heart.