"I think not," Adam says, and lays down his hand. He has won. Again.
The candle flame wavers briefly, sending shadows flickering across the fine bones of Adam's fingers and the pierced lace of his cuffs. There's a diamond pin on each wrist and emeralds set into his rings, a baroque setting so old fashioned Adam has made the style his own. Adam's hands are broad, strong, and although his skin is as pale as any hothouse debutante's Kris knows that on a sword hilt or a horse's rein his grip is implacable.
As it is on Kris.
He closes his eyes, takes a breath. The room smells of wood smoke and charred paper, of the sweet heady scent of the peonies on the mantle and the rich Spanish wine Adam insisted on drinking and the patchouli scented powder of his wig. Kris, unscented, plainly clothed, sans wig, sans gloves, coat, boots - and under the card table his stocking'd feet curl nervously against the Persian carpet, damn you Adam - smells, faintly, of horse. He's as out of place here in Adam's library as he ever was in any overheated ballroom.
"Again?" Kris asks. He opens his eyes to see Adam lean back in his chair, the ruffles falling away from Adam's wrist as he raises the wineglass to his mouth. Adam's eyes are narrowed, but he's watching the swirl of wine in the glass, not Kris' face, and for that Kris is grateful. Adam sees too much.
Adam says, "I doubt you have much left to lose." His voice is distant, mildly amused. He takes a sip of wine, the sack so rich a red that Kris could almost imagine seeing the color of it sliding down Adam's pale throat.
Adam says, "My dear, by my calculations you are all but beggared."
Kris looks away. The fire is bright, greedy, and the ashes of his betrothal papers are long devoured. He says bitterly, "Of your devising."
"Indeed so," Adam says. His rings chime against the crystal of his wineglass.
"Sir," Kris says bitterly.
"Oh, come now," Adam says, and from the corner of his eye Kris catches the sudden movement as Adam lays his glass aside and leans forward. "Desist. Am I not your friend in this as in all else? Can you truly say to me that this... this mockery of a marriage was your heart's desire? Kris -" he says, and for a moment he sounds younger, less sure of himself, something more akin to the boy who shared Kris' childhood than the man who came back from Paris painted, perfumed and possessed of such biting wit one barbed aside could make or break any aspiring courtier. "Kris, I had thought -"
"You did not think!" Kris hisses. "You did not consider, sir, the consequences of this... this game you are playing. Did you not think to consider that half the ton must have seen you - us - depart? That by now Lord Cowell must know? Your family? My mother -" He has to stop. Even as a child Adam was impulsive, possessed of sudden starts of enthusiasm and flights of fancy, yet never before had his actions been so destructive. Kris is so angry he can barely think, yet Adam is watching him with a slow and lingering smile that is almost fond.
"My sisters!" Kris says despairingly. "Have you no thought for them at least? Whatever quarrel you may have with me, surely by the friendship your father bore mine you might have spared them the consequences of such an action? If I am ruined, under what name might they shelter? Who would offer marriage to such tainted lineage? Is it not enough that you possess my father's debts? Must you -"
"Stop!" Adam says. He has one hand thrown up, and in the pallor of his face his eyes glitter green. "Did you but govern your face," he says, "Your sisters and your mother would have remained as blind as they must have surely been. One look," he says. "One look at your face, Kris. How could I not act when you looked at me with such despair I could have wept?"
"Is it not enough that you have ruined my name?" Kris spits out. "Must you blame me for it also? It was not I who took me from my fiancé's ballroom - my fiancé, sir, the man to whom in all honor I had promised myself and my father's estate - not I who bundled myself willy-nilly into your coach nor dragged my person half a hundred miles in one single night, drugged and bound -"
"I know you," Adam interjects. He's smiling again, leaning back in the chair with his wineglass again in his hand.
"What difference does that make?" Kris says. "When society judges what you have done - and believe me, sir, I am well aware your wealth will save your good name and my lack of it damn mine - think you they will say, it was just a prank between friends and let the thing pass? A game? Sir, it is a game that has ruination written large across the seal!"
"It is not the wine which brings color to your cheeks," Adam says, "Yet the rose of it - Kris. Am I so foolish? I know your face. Demur all you will, I know how you felt under your fiancé's loving hands. He has ever had a cold grasp and well I know it: think you I could leave you to his mercy when you looked at me as if I were your only hope? If I could I would have taken you then. As it was -" Adam shrugs, and glances down at the table where lie Kris' father's IOUs, his mortgages, the deeds to the London house and to the Dorset estates and the Sussex manor that lies not five miles from Adam's own house. "It took longer than I would have liked. And then did I not give you the chance to win back your estates? It is no fault of mine if a year in Town has not yet polished your skills at table enough to own our game."
Kris' hands are shaking. He says, "It is cruel, sir, to offer hope where there is none."
"There is always hope," Adam says. "Come, Kris, as you asked, one more game. Mayhap your luck will prove true this last time."
Kris says. "You own everything my father willed and more besides. I have nothing left with which to wager."
"No?" Adam asks.
He's not looking at Kris. He's watching the light swirl through his glass, sparkle from the cold crystal and warm the rich red of the wine within, and there's a tilt to his mouth that Kris remembers all too well. It's a sly hint of mischief that even now makes him think, not of last night and this morning, but of stolen apples and wild horse rides and country fairs, amateur theatricals and midwinter guising. There's a part of him that even yet wants to say to the stranger Adam has become, 'Do you not remember, we were friends once?'
"My sister's hand in marriage?" Kris asks. "After you have ruined me? No."
"No," Adam says. "Yours."
A log crumbles in the fire. Somewhere outside the closed door of the library, a floorboard squeaks, one of the servants retiring late. The wine trembles in Kris' own glass, before he raises it to his mouth.
"You must be mad," he says, with conviction.
"Come now," Adam says.
His smile is broader. He gathers the cards, a battered, dog-eared pack Kris recognises from long ago winter evenings, and shuffles. His fingers are long, poised as Adam himself: Kris has ever been envious of Adam's hands. "What have you got to lose?"
'My heart,' Kris thinks, and then has to duck his head for fear Adam could see the truth of the thought in his face. He says, "If I win, you will give me the deeds? The IOUs? You allow me to leave?"
"Yes," Adam says, and deals.