"But one of them was a playwright," Kieran replied. "And I happen to write very emotionally abundant poems, myself, so I consider all efforts well spent."
Dom's hand slapped on the table, startling both Finn and Kieran. "If the two of you are done lobbing quips at each other like a shuttlecock, I'm for home."
Finn traded a worried look with his brother. True, Dom had never possessed a personality ripe with sunshine, but he used to enjoy running from one end of London to the other with the Ransome brothers. Since that fateful day last spring, though, he'd grown more and more surly, barely able to tolerate anyone's company for more than a quarter of an hour.
"We must address the issue of locating brides for both of you," Kieran said flatly. "Given that we're all culpable for finding ourselves in this position, each of us has to do our part to remedy our circumstances."
Dom glowered but didn't object. For his part, Finn did the very important work of using the moisture beading on the outside of his tankard to draw patterns of cleanliness on the filthy tabletop.
"Have either of you any candidates for a potential bride?" Kieran pressed. At their silence, he muttered, "You haven't even made an effort, have you?"
"Not precisely," Finn prevaricated. "I'm still formulating a strategy."
"For a man who handsomely supplements his income through gambling," Kieran drawled, "you're being exceptionally unsystematic about it."
"These things take time."
"We don't have time," was the reply.
Kieran had often been Finn's champion whenever their parents' disdain for him grew exceptionally poisonous, and having his younger brother look at him with disappointment made Finn want to slouch in his seat and avoid his gaze. It was much the same way he used to behave whenever his father lambasted him for his appalling academic performance.
What could Finn tell Kieran, when he himself didn't know why he'd been so slow to begin his bride hunt? For twenty-nine years, he'd lived an unencumbered life. Unlike Kieran—before Celeste—who'd had plentiful lovers, Finn remained alone. When he did find someone to share his bed, it was never for long, and with the understanding that the arrangement would be brief. It was simpler that way.
Assessing risk versus reward led him to one conclusion: it was neater and more manageable to walk a solitary path. When he had physical needs, he found a partner for a night, and then returned to his life, unaccompanied.
"I've someone in mind for Dom," he said abruptly.
Kieran's brows lifted, while his friend regarded him suspiciously.
"This isn't Smithfield Market," Dom said with narrowed eyes, "where you decide I'd like mutton instead of beef."
"I'd never liken a woman to a meat," Finn answered, "but in this case, I wasn't on the hunt when the lady came across my sights."
Kieran rolled his eyes. "Insulting metaphors aside, who's the fortunate woman?"
"Miss Tabitha Seaton."
Kieran had been taking a drink of his ale and promptly spat it onto the table, which actually improved the table's appearance. "The wallflower bluestocking?"
"The same." Finn had met Miss Seaton at a ball several months prior. It had been a brief, but memorable encounter. He had a vivid impression of mahogany hair, a pointed chin, angular cheekbones, and terrifyingly incisive blue-gray eyes, and she'd had little use for a man of his raffish reputation. With a few words and one look of her rapier-like eyes, she'd cut him into a neat pile of shredded black silk on the ballroom floor. She had quit the chamber, carrying a book she'd brought with her, clearly preferring its company to his.
"You'd mentioned her before as a possibility for Dom," Kieran said, appalled, "but I thought you were joking."
"She sounds promising," Dom said with heavy irony.
"Item the first," Finn said, holding up a finger, "she is Viscount Parslow's only daughter. Given that your father would prefer you to wed a woman of the gentry, she fulfills that criterion."
Dom crossed his arms over his massive chest, but didn't argue that point. It had been pure happenstance—at the time it had seemed like good fortune, though that had been a misjudgment—that Dom, a man of common birth, had fallen in love with Willa, an earl's daughter, as she had fallen in love with him.
Naturally, lightning wouldn't strike twice, which brought Finn to his next point.