Nearing three of the clock, as the party below was winding to a close, Stiles put his candle holder with it's stub of candle down on the hallway table where it was mostly hidden by an empty vase and then smoothed out the creases on his night shift and his hair before taking a deep breath to calm his nerves.
The plan was flawless. He knew exactly what he was about but it was still a huge thing to do.
He was going to take advantage of his own destiny.
After tonight his step mother, Natalie, would have to agree his engagement to Mr Jordan Parrish, a sensible man with a future as a barrister, and forget about her plan to see him married to Adrian Harris, Lord of Carstairs, and a man who had tried to force himself upon Stiles and when he had run to his stepmother with a blacked eye and split lip and Harris' promise to train Stiles to behave and instead of protecting Stiles from him she had been starry eyed over his title and agreed to his proposal to restore Stiles' honour. Natalie had married Stiles' father when Stiles was twelve, barely three years after the prolonged death of Stiles' mother, providing him with a respite from his grief and providing Stiles with two sisters, Lydia who was of an age with him, and Felicity who was two years younger, and then three years ago an alpha brother, Aleksander. With his father, Sir Noah Stilinski, abroad on the continent Natalie made the decisions regarding the seasons of the two eligible omega -Felicity was too young- and had quickly become almost drunk on the parade of luxury at the balls they attended with her in place as supposed chaperone, though she was most often found at the card tables. It was this laxity that saw Lord Carstairs able to force Stiles into an alcove and try to force his attentions upon him at a society ball.
It would not do.
Stiles would not marry the man.
Desperation had made him seek out his childhood friend and perhaps the only person who would countenance such a plan, Scott McCall, who had agreed it was the best option of a truly awful sequence of options, which put it a hairsbreadth better than shrieking and running into the night to be collected in the morning for delivery to an asylum for he had surely lost his wits, and stoked by several fortifying mouthfuls of Lady Argent's decanted ratafia Stiles stood outside a gentleman's door with the plan to be spoiled and forced into marriage with the alpha he wanted to marry, and not the titled asshole who wanted him.
With the close of his first season Stiles had been delighted to be included with his sisters, his infant brother left with the nurse in Hampstead, to visit with Vidama Allison Argent, for he had not expected it as Allison was Lydia's dear friend and he was not sure that in the years of their acquaintance that they had shared ten words. Male omega were a rarity and as such were treated in the same manner that one would an odd duck, he was afforded all of the titles and deference given to an omega but with the expectation he would not be interested in things like fashion, which was a fair assumption for he was not, or novels or giggling in corners about alphas, especially alpha poets.
This was not entirely true for he had had his head turned by a fine pair of calves on an alpha, and was often found with his nose stuck in one novel or another and given the opportunity many of his trips to the city were not for shopping, as it was with his sisters, but to the lending library or the museums.
So it had been surprise when Lady Argent had included him by name in her invitation and how she hoped to see him there in particular. Stiles had shared few words with Vidama Argent and fewer still with her mother but the inclusion had upended the entire household for Stiles, unlike his sisters, had nothing appropriate for such a house party. He only had one riding habit suitable for company, which was quite distinct from the clothes that he actually wore for riding - he was ill at ease on a horse and the idea that he ride sidesaddle which meant he could not grip with his legs made him feel even more insecure. He did not have enough caps, and could not just add a riband to one of his sister's bonnets and Natalie had written to his father on the continent to explain the extra expense, and Natalie considered it worth it for she had arranged for Lord Carstairs to meet him there with the hope that they could announce their engagement, not that she had told Stiles that.
Stiles had learned that he had been invited to make sure there were enough people to attend the dance which was scheduled for the last night of the party when many of the luminaries of Bath would be invited. Stiles was not offended in learning this, he knew that he was an odd duck even for omega, he was too tall, too thin, his hair was a flat dark brown and his eyes, which many considered to be his best feature, had a habit of seeing more than they ought. He was a flitterwit who forgot about propriety and dressed shabbily and that Mr Parrish had tried to offer for him had been a surprise to most. Mr Parrish was an alpha who had a fine future ahead of him as a barrister and although he would offer Stiles only a life in the lower echelons of society it would be a stable and happy one, for Mr Parrish was a stable gentleman who was reliable and sensible and as such desirable. He did not even query Stiles' small dowry of five hundred pounds and lack of good society contacts.
The only time that Stiles had seen Mr Parrish impassioned was when he had professed his love for Stiles.
Stiles could be content with Mr Parrish with a small house in London that would be his own and children and he could ask for nothing more. Lydia might want glittering balls and people to dote on her, and Felicity fantasised about travel to foreign places on maps she kept hidden in her pockets from her mother, but Stiles could be happy as Mr Parrish's mari and when he returned from the continent his papa would agree to the marriage and they would be content.
Then Lord Carstairs had ruined it all by pushing Stiles into an alcove and trying to open his shirt whilst he mashed their faces together. Stiles had tried to pull away and Lord Carstairs had cuffed him hard about the face, blacking his eye and splitting his lip, telling him not to struggle, it would just make him more excited, he had never had a male omega before. He had been rescued by Scott and had gone to Natalie to ask her to protect him but she had been more worried about the scandal than her step son, and now Lord Carstairs was attending the party hoping to use the next night's celebration to announce their engagement. It had turned a pleasant opportunity into a dread that lurked in his belly like a millstone.
He was even desperate enough to listen to Scott and his desperate plan.
He would do his best to duck Lord Carstairs until it was time to retire, knowing that Natalie would be at the card tables until dawn. It was a plan, even if it was not necessarily a good one.
He was stood at the refreshment table, Lady Argent had not put on a sit down dinner or hired a band to play but enough people had availed themselves of her hospitality that she had opened up the recieving rooms that any who travelled to the estate might at least collect a glass of lemonade, doing his best to avoid Lord Carstairs despite Natalie's insistence that Stiles spent at least some time with him, when the furore started.
Stiles didn't turn from the table to see what it was. Unless Lord Carstairs had taken a terrible spill on the marble steps and was now dead he did not care.
"It is the demon duke," one lady said with a turned up nose. "He has a cheek showing up here, you know what he did," she told her companion. Stiles did not know but got the impression if he lingered by the lemonade he would learn in short order. It was that sort of gossip.
"Why, it is the talk of London," the woman's companion, a portly gentleman who kept wiping at his forehead with a silk napkin like he was under a perpetual drip, "that he murdered his sister for the title."
"I do not know why anyone does anything about it," a third said interjecting themselves into the genial disgust.
"He is a duke," the first said, "one would find it easier to speak out against Prinny." They laughed amongst themselves as if it was the very best joke, "but you would think he would keep himself out of society."
"I heard," the portly gentleman with the napkin said, "that he is on the hunt for a new bride, and after what happened to the last one."
"I heard that he had been married," the third said, flicking the drooping feather from her turban out of the way of her face, "of course he will have no trouble catching some new dupe with that title, strangle her and bury her in the family chapel like the last one."
"I heard," the first woman said, "that he fought in duels," it was at that point Stiles stopped crediting their gossip. Lady Argent had invited the demon duke, and it was not like a duke could be cut in polite circles, even if he had strangled his wife and murdered his sister, Stiles did not care, he had his own things to worry about.