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Breaking the Chains of Convention
Chapter 6

see disclaimer chapter 1

Tessa wandered through the boutique, admiring the latest Parisian fashions. Two voices drifted across the room to her.

"Someone told me he goes there almost every night," said a feminine voice.

Another one joined in, "But I thought he is supposed to be looking for a wife."

"Well, everyone knows the family fortune is declining. The duke must marry to increase the family coffers. I know his uncle is counting on it. It's a shame the Duke of Albany doesn't seem to be interested in anyone acceptable, only the trash at that house."

Tessa's temper flared. Who were these women that they should label her girls as trash? She rounded a corner and spotted two well dressed ladies. "Excuse me please." She paused, "Mrs. Stephenson, how nice to see you!" Two jaws dropped. "Would you be so kind as to tell your husband that we have missed him at the Salon?" Tessa walked away with a catty smile on her face as Mrs. Stephenson sputtered.

Outside, Tessa lost her bravado. Her heart ached. Leo was to marry. How had she missed that piece of information? She knew what she had to do; she must dissuade him from seeing her again. But could she? She did not want to look too closely at her heart to find the truth.

That night Tessa stayed in her rooms. Cherie informed her that Leopold was waiting for her, but Tessa sent a message informing him of a headache. Somehow she needed to end this.

Leopold received Tessa's message and his first instinct was to rush to her side, but the look Cherie gave him held him from doing so. He decided to spend the evening at his club. It had been a while since he had been there. Maybe an evening of cards would distract him from the horrible notion running through his mind, that Tessa no longer wanted to see him.

Hours later, Leopold was sitting at the card table; smoke hanging in the air, masculine laughter ringing in his ears. He had met up with his childhood acquaintance, Edward, Earl of Sussex. They had played several rather bad hands of cards with some of their other friends and were now involved in a very spirited discussion of the fairer sex. Leo was not paying too much attention, as he had very little to offer on this subject, but he paid a little more heed when he heard Tessa's Salon mentioned.

The men were comparing the attributes of their favorite girls, their looks and their talents. Leopold listened carefully. He was not sure he approved of the way this was going.

"Well, I don't know about the rest of you chaps," Edward slurred, "but I've had the pleasure of experiencing the talents of the queen herself."

A red haired man across the table from Leo snorted. "You don't mean Tessa?"

"I do," Edward replied.

Another man piped up. "Everyone knows that Tessa won't take any man to her bed."

Leopold had to hold his tongue in check. He definately did not like the direction of this conversation.

"She made an exception for me," Edward continued. "Couldn't resist my charms, she told me so."

"Sussex, I think I should see you home," Leopold stood. "You've had too much to drink."

"I'm not ready to go," Edward whined. "Don't be such a prig, Albany. Loosen up."

Leopold frowned. "I think you are loose enough for both of us."

"I know!" Edward shouted, as he stood up. "Let's go to Tessa's tonight!" He teetered unsteadily on his feet. "Who's with me?" Every man at the table agreed to go except Leo. He would have no part of it. As it was, he felt dirty and disloyal spending time in the company of these hooligans. He parted ways with them at the door and struck out for home.

But home is not where he wanted to be. He wanted to be in Tessa's arms, to hear her sweet voice. So he had his horse brought up and rode at a gallop to where his heart already was.

Tessa was in the midst of a crisis when Leopold walked through the door. Several gentlemen had arrived, reeking of spirits and cigars, wanting to be entertained. For the most part, they behaved themselves, except one, the young Earl of Sussex. He seemed hell bent on tormenting her. Why he had singled her out, Tessa would never know, but he was making a spectacle of himself. He had been trying to kiss her when he lost his balance and fell. Tessa caught him and that is the precise moment Leopold entered.

His hazel eyes darkened when they fell upon Tessa locked in an embrace with Edward. Obviously, Sussex had been telling the truth. Leopold was not the only man she had taken a liking to. Anger burned in him. He knew he should turn and walk away, but he couldn't. Instead he grabbed the hand of the nearest girl and practically dragged her upstairs.

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