Chapter 2 Worries and wagers

Cal woke the next morning to a loud and incessant pounding. He thought at first it was in his head, and then realized that he hadn't had near enough to drink the previous night for such a clamor. He raised his head, just enough to see the fancy little ormolu clock set upon the mantelpiece. Barely nine in the morning. Who in hell would be beating his door down at nine in the morning?

He got up, miraculously found his robe and headed toward the door of his suite, irritably wondering where in the world his valet, Phillips, was at. Then he remembered. It was Sunday, and Phillips always had Sundays off. Now he was even more cross. The hotel had best be burning down for someone to be bothering him at nine, bloody, o'clock in the morning on Sunday!

He jerked the door open and nearly got knocked in the head by the fist that had started to pound upon the door once again. He dodged quickly and then blinked in surprise at his visitor. It was Nigel. If there was anyone in the world who was less of a morning person than he, it was Nigel. When they had roomed together during their days at Oxford, Nigel had been perpetually late to their early morning classes. And after the first few attempts Cal had made at trying to wake him, he had wisely given up and let him be. He didn't particularly like having to dodge flying objects first thing in the morning then and he wasn't any fonder of it now.

"Nigel! What in God's name are you doing here at this time of morning," he said grouchily as he straightened back up from the crouch he had assumed to avoid Nigel's fist.

Nigel grinned, a faint blush staining his cheeks, "Oh, sorry old man, wasn't trying to lay you out, but you took forever to get to the door. Still sleeping, were you?"

Cal eyed him warily as he waved him inside. He shut the door then made his way over to the breakfast tray that his man Phillips had been kind enough to procure before he left.

"As I remember it, you aren't exactly a morning bird yourself. Coffee," Cal asked, as he poured himself a large and much needed cup.

Nigel wrinkled his aristocratic nose, "No, thank you. God, Cal, it's utterly amazing to me how you Americans can stand to drink that noxious stuff, especially first thing in the morning,"

Cal gave him a wry grin, "Yes, well, it is an acquired taste, one I guess you Brits are just to thin-blooded to ever acquire."

"Then I suppose I shall just have to muddle along and continue to supplement my thin blood with copious amounts of good British tea." Nigel parried.

Cal took his coffee and collapsed onto the (rather hard) sofa across from his friend. He took a large, scalding swallow then looked back at Nigel.

"Nigel, while I do take a strange and somewhat perverse pleasure in swapping subtle insults with you, I have the feeling that is not why you are here this morning. Either someone has died, you're immigrating to India due to debt and have come to beg money or your mother has finally insisted you do your duty and get married and you've come for sympathy. Now, which is it?"

Nigel looked at his friend somewhat askance, "You've no idea, do you?"

"No idea about what?"

Nigel began to laugh, "Oh, this is famous! The intrepid and urban Mr. Caledon Hockley, beloved of every matchmaking mama, has no idea!" Nigel fell over the side of his chair, laughing insanely.

Cal was eyeing his crazed friend, slightly perturbed and wondering if he should just leave him to it or try to bring him to his senses. He knew from long experience, it was useless to try and get anything out of Nigel until he was quite ready to tell you, a fact which irritated him to no end, sometimes. Cal liked to know what was going on at all times, thank you very much. It had been his experience that surprises usually only meant getting sideswiped by nasty and unpleasant things one would otherwise have avoided.

He was still pondering his options when Nigel sat up, wiping at his eyes with a large, polka-dot handkerchief he had dragged from some inner pocket.

"Oh god, Cal, sometimes you do amuse me so!"

"So glad to be of service," Cal drawled sarcastically.

"Now, don't get your dander up, I didn't mean anything by it. It's just that it rather took me by surprise that you honestly didn't seem to have any idea what the ramifications of your actions last night were. I confess, you actually had me bamboozled for a moment." Nigel confessed.

Now Cal really was confused, "Nigel, what on earth are you talking about? I didn't do anything last night except come here and go to bed. Certainly nothing worthy of you pandering on in that manner about 'ramifications.'"

Nigel looked at Cal closely, "You, really don't know, do you?"

"Know what, Nigel?" Cal said, softly and distinctly.

Oh, this could be not good. Nigel did not want to be the one to inform Cal of something he apparently did not know. He knew that tone of voice. He had heard it any number of times, usually directed at someone else. Cal never raised his voice when he was upset, in fact, the opposite was true. He could always tell when Cal was nearing the end of his rope when he became very quiet and clipped in his speech. It was a definite danger sign and perhaps the only thing about his friend that had ever given him cause to worry. Nigel had never really been able to figure why, but Cal carried a very dark anger in him that had a tendency to burn like blue fire at the drop of a hat.

He chose his words carefully, "Mother told me last night that you danced with the Bukater chit. Did you enjoy it?"

"Yes, of course I did! What has that to do with anything," Cal asked irritably.

"Mother also said you left directly thereafter. I remember you came by the card room, but I didn't know til later that you left."

"What of it, Nigel?"

"Well, I went to m'club for breakfast this morning. Mum roused me out early this morning cause she needed an escort to church later, so I decided to pop over to White's for a bit of a catch-up since I hadn't been since getting to Town," Nigel realized from the look in Cal's eye he'd better get back to the point, "Anyways, while I was breakfasting, I overheard some gentlemen at a table near me mention your name. So I listened a little closer and, well…it seems you've been placed down in the betting books as offering for Miss DeWitt Bukater before the Season's out," Nigel blurted out, anxious to get it out and somewhat fearful of his friend's reaction to the news.

However, instead of the blow-up he'd been expecting, Cal only gave him an indecipherable Look over his coffee cup and, with a slight quirk of his lips said blandly, "Ah. Well, and what if I do? Any bets on whether or not she'll accept?"

Nigel sputtered, knowing his mouth was hanging open and that he must look like the veriest nitwit, but unable, for the life of him, to think of a rejoinder to that comment.

"Do shut your mouth, Nigel. Something might fly into it."

Cal was quite tempted to laugh at his friend's confounded expression. He knew Nigel had expected him to be incensed over his tidings and, truth to tell, he wasn't exactly pleased, he'd never had any patience with those who would bet on the happenstances of another's life. Even so, since he did have every intention of asking Rose to marry him before he left London, he couldn't exactly find a reason to be angry that others had guessed his intentions as well. It simply left the playing field that much more open for him.

Nigel found his voice, "Is it true then? Are you actually going to make a bid for the Ice Queen?"

"Nigel, my good fellow, I have every intention of making her my wife. That being said, I would appreciate it if you would not refer to her in that way again," Cal stated calmly.

Nigel sprawled back in his chair, his amazed expression fixed on Cal, "Well, I'll give you this much, you've more pluck than anyone I know. I personally would be afraid she might emasculate me before agreeing to marry me. Then again," Nigel mused, "you're American and she's American. Who knows? You just might suit."

Cal did laugh at that, "Is that your prerequisite for a good marriage? Being from the same country?

Nigel smiled sheepishly, "Well, you have to admit, it can't hurt." Suddenly Nigel sat up, "Cal, what time is it?"

Cal looked around for a clock and then spotted his pocketwatch on a little side table. Picking it up, he popped it open and said, "Ten til ten."

Nigel's freckled face paled, "Oh, bollocks! I'm late!" He jumped up from his chair and headed quickly for the door. Cal trailed him, still laughing intermittently and sipping his coffee.

"Late for what, if I may ask?" He tried to hide his grin behind his cup at the sight of his friend, frantically looking around the doorway as if he'd lost something.

"Where's my hat? Have you seen my hat?"

Cal decided to take pity on him and snagged his hat from the hat tree near the door where Nigel had put it when he came in. He dangled it in front of Nigel's face for a moment before the harried young man saw it and grabbed it. Slapping it down over his thick red hair, he gave Cal a grin, "I told you, Mum needs an escort to church this morning and since Father's out of town, I'm the duly elected appointee. Now, I must go, if I make her late she'll have me sacrificed on the altar or something!" With that, he was gone, the door whopping shut behind him.

Cal shook his head at his excitable friend and wandered back into the sitting room, laughing at the image of the tiny, round Lady Roxley, dressed in feathers and holding a knife, standing over her son, trussed up like a goose on an altar.