“Wait,” he hissed, seeing that, as yet, Dinah had not won a single bet. “I think there is more to this game than meets the eye. Watch.” He held his gaze over the dealer again, whispering to Titania to do the very same, which she did without question. Minutes passed as another round of betting took place and still, nothing untoward occurred. Titania whispered something, which Grayson ignored, making it quite plain that she was still to watch the dealer closely.
And then, it happened. The dealer threw another glance towards Lord Irving and the gentleman merely smiled, perhaps in confirmation that the dealer was doing precisely what he had asked for.
Beside him, Titania gasped.
“You must say something,” she hissed, as Dinah lost yet another bet. “He is a scoundrel and–”
Grayson waved one hand high in the air, catching everyone’s attention as he did so. Lord Irving narrowed his eyes at once, the smile fading from his lips as he looked back at Grayson.
“What is it, Whitehaven?” he asked, sounding entirely bored. “You may speak when the game is at an end, if you wish, which I do not think will take long.” He chuckled darkly, throwing a hard look towards Dinah who remained utterly silent, her eyes flickering between Titania and Grayson.
“I have a question,” Grayson continued, feeling his heart begin to beat a little faster as the moment grew near. There was still a chance that he was wrong about this, that there was nothing wrong with the dealer box or with the dealer himself. If he was mistaken, then all he would be doing would be calling out Lord Irving’s behavior as ungentlemanly and suggesting he was nothing more than a cheat which might, if proven wrong, bring about even more consequences. But he could not wait. He had to risk this and trust that he was right about it all. “I have a question about the dealer that you have chosen, Lord Irving.”
Lord Irving snorted. “I did not choose him, Lord Whitehaven. He merely came forward.”
“That may be so,” Grayson retorted, as each and every gentleman turned to look at him. “But I have little doubt that you and he already have an understanding. Most likely, you use him whenever you wish to win a game of Faro or some other such game, Lord Irving.”
Lord Irving’s face began to go red, his lips thinning all the more and one hand curled into a fist which was then thumped hard on the table.
“You are accusing me of–”
“If you might take the dealer’s box, Lord Thorngood,” Grayson continued, interrupting Lord Irving without hesitation. “If I am wrong, then I shall admit it here and now and shall take every consequence that comes thereafter. However, if I am correct, Lord Thorngood, then the dealer’s box shall be somewhat unusual.” He gave the gentleman a firm nod, praying that the fellow was not too inebriated to do as Grayson asked. Thankfully, the man did as was requested and picked up the box, as the dealer sat back in his chair, a murmur of protest on his lips.
The room went still. Grayson locked eyes with Dinah, seeing the hope in her eyes and fearing that searing disappointment would soon fill them if he was mistaken. He did not look anywhere but her face, telling himself that he was correct, telling himself that he had done the right thing. Beside him, Titania held onto his arm, her fingers digging through his shirt sleeve and almost bruising his skin such was the intensity of her grip. His breath refused to leave his lungs, the blood roaring in his ears as he waited for Lord Thorngood to make his decision.
“This box has been tampered with!”
The cry of Lord Thorngood sent the room into uproar. Grayson closed his eyes, swaying just a little as relief poured into his heart. He had been right. The dealer and Lord Irving had been working together. Lord Irving was clearly determined to win by any means necessary and would not simply give up his chance to have both Dinah and a good deal of money by playing a game of chance. He had needed to win and had done the only thing he could. He had cheated.
“Lord Irving!” shouted another man, slamming Lord Irving on the back with a heavy hand. “You scoundrel!”
“I have done nothing wrong!” Lord Irving cried, his face now bloodless. Clearly, he had not expected Grayson to be proven correct, although why he had not expected Lord Thorngood to notice the altered box, Grayson did not know. “I have no understanding of what has occurred.” Rising to his feet, he sliced the air with his hand, rendering the room suddenly silent. A little concerned about what was to happen next, Grayson moved towards Dinah, putting one hand on her shoulder and feeling her fingers touching his as he did so.
“I have done nothing wrong,” Lord Irving protested, glaring at Grayson. “This is a mistake. This fellow,” he gestured to the dealer, “is not known to me. Lord Thorngood may have discovered a dealer’s box that has been tampered with in some way, but I have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” His voice was loud and filled with authority, leaving Grayson to fear that the gentlemen would believe him and that thereafter, he would have to play again against Dinah. Perhaps this was not over, as he had first thought.
And then, Dinah spoke.
“How very strange that is,” she said, her voice seeming to fill the room even though she spoke with quietness. “For I was certain that it was you who encouraged the dealer to the table and who, thereafter, fetched the dealer’s box and set it in its place.” She tipped her head and looked steadily back at Lord Irving. “If there is a question over your honor, Lord Irving, then I must truly wonder whether or not I can trust playing against you.”
“And I will not be silent,” Lord Thorngood said, waving the dealer’s box around a little unsteadily. “You have done such a thing before, Irving. I know of it, as do many others.”
“Thorngood,” Lord Irving grated, his warning clear, but Lord Thorngood shook his head, evidently emboldened by Dinah’s words to carry on.
“No, Lord Irving, I shall not be silent,” the man continued, saying the very same thing as he had done before, as though to emphasize his lack of unwillingness to keep his secrets. “Lord Irving has cheated on many a game before this time, using boxes such as this and dealers to whom he has promised a share of the winnings.” He swallowed hard and looked at Lord Irving, who had gone a shade of purple such was his evident fury. “I know this because I have been used in such a way myself.” He shook his head, hearing the angry murmurs that followed thereafter. “It is my shame, and I will not shirk from it, gentlemen. I have been struggling to recoup some of my losses, and Lord Irving suggested this scheme so that I might change my circumstances and, to my sorrow, I admit that I accepted it without question.”
Lord Irving shook his head, his jaw working furiously.
“You have been found out, Irving,” Grayson said firmly. “This is at an end. The debt is forgotten. You shall not have Dinah nor shall you remain victorious as you had intended. Instead, the shame you intended to push upon me has now become your own.” He smiled down at Dinah, who rose from her chair to lean into him, her head nestled on his shoulder. “We are free of you, Lord Irving, just as society shall soon be free of you, I think.” He gestured with his free hand to the many gentlemen, who were now clearly very angry with their gazes turned towards Lord Irving. Men who suspected they had been cheated out of winnings. They would not allow Lord Irving’s behavior to go unpunished. Society would be free of him now, just as he and Dinah would.
“Let us go home,” he murmured in Dinah’s ear, as Lord Irving began to protest, putting up his hands in a gesture of defense to those who began to approach him. “Let us go home so that I can tell you just how wonderful you are, Dinah, just how brave and determined and overwhelming in your beauty.” Unable to help himself, he bent his head and caught her lips quickly, seeing the tears in her eyes that came with one of the most beautiful smiles he had ever seen. “I love you desperately.”
“As I love you,” she whispered, before Grayson led both her and Titania out from Elders View.
“And that is the last of them.”