Read an Excerpt
Good lord, but he was beautiful. Not the right word for such a masculine man. Not exactly the wrong one either. He moved like a freshening breeze through a field of ripened grain as he crossed the crowded ballroom. Bodies shifted to form a path, voices murmuring in his wake. Bright as the sun and cool as deep water. He was, Eve thought, surely the most handsome man she'd ever clapped eyes on. But what was odd was that his brilliant dark brown gaze seemed fixed only upon her.
Eve turned her head to see whom he was staring at as he approached. The sea of transfixed females standing behind and beside her on the fringes of the dance floor didn't offer a clue. Dewy miss to dowager, they were all staring at him. So she turned back to get a closer look at the newcomer, the fascinating Aubrey Ashford, before he passed her by.
He was everything they said, but much more so: tall, lithe, and graceful. Well dressed, of course, in immaculate linen, a high neckcloth, a dark tightly fitted jacket stretched over his wide shoulders, and formal breeches and stockings that showed off straight, strong legs. But it was his face that stopped her breath. He had thin dark brows arched over watchful eyes. His complexion was smooth, his dark hair slightly overlong, his cheekbones high, his mouth classical. A pronounced chin was the only thing that gave that glorious countenance a slight imperfection, making it seem a bit more human than a face seen in marble in a museum. And so, far more accessible.
He stopped, directly in front of her.
Eve was caught in his steady gaze. She wondered vaguely if she should move aside. She was too enthralled, head back, staring at him, to think clearly. She tried to shake herself to action so she could step away. She was many things, but not a ninny.
She was Eve Faraday, a woman of three and twenty, and no fool. She was a bit too short for fashion, though a little too tall to be called a "pocket Venus." She was wearing a charming gown tonight, in green, her favorite color. Her figure was slender, with just enough bosom to do justice to the low neckline, but she knew it wasn't spectacular. Her short wavy curls were brown. Her eyes were brown. She'd been called an "imp" by her father and a "pixie" when she grew older. She'd had beaux and never propped up the walls at a ball.
But she knew very well she wasn't a raving beauty or in fashion. She wasn't a swan-necked beauty like Miss Simpson, standing nearby. Or a classic English lovely like blond, pink-cheeked Miss Lord, or dark-haired and exotic like Miss Lake, the current rage of the Season.
Although her family was well to do, she wasn't fabulously rich or titled. And everyone in the ton knew this gentleman before her was from an old family, and said to be incredibly wealthy. Mr. Aubrey Ashford didn't need her family's money. So there was absolutely no reason for him to be standing still, looking down at her, and smiling. He'd recently returned to Town after a long absence. Maybe he mistook her for someone else?
"Miss Faraday?" he said in a soft, melodious voice.
She nodded, unable to speak.
"I couldn't wait to find someone to introduce us. I am Ashford. May I have this dance?"
She blinked. "Why?" she blurted.
He smiled. "Because I wish to dance with you."
"Oh," she said.
He offered her his arm.
She took it, and dazed, stepped into the dance with him.
They were playing a waltz. She was glad for two reasons. One, that she was old enough to have permission to dance it with him. And two, if she was not many things, she was, at least, a good dancer.
But while she was good, he was sublime. They moved around the floor as though dancing on air. Yet she didn't forget they were on earth. She couldn't, not in his arms. He was cool and yet warm, distant, and yet somehow he made her feel as though he was concentrating on her alone. He wore gloves, as was proper, but the touch of his hand on hers and the feeling of his other hand at her waist made her whole body tingle.
She caught a sudden scent, leaned closer, and inhaled. Yes, the glorious fragrance of sweet grasses and deep woods emanated from him. Most men wore lavender or sandalwood, if they wore any scent at all. He smelled of the whole spring earth. He smiled to see her nostrils widen. She opened her eyes, saw his expression, and embarrassed, moved away as much as the dance allowed.
All the while they danced he smiled down at her. She avoided his gaze because she didn't know how to respond. So she let herself move with him and the music and found herself feeling treasured and excited, anxious and yet thrilled by how well they moved together. She wished she were the swan-necked Miss Simpson or the exotic Miss Lake. But she was who she was, and so resolved to enjoy the dance until she had to stop and face reality again.
She was both glad and sad when the music ended. He walked her to the sidelines, but didn't leave her side.
"They're playing a country dance now," he remarked. "I think I'll wait until the next waltz before we dance again."
"You're going to ask me again?" she managed to say.
Now, suddenly, she once again became aware of herself and her surroundings. She gathered her wits. She had to know. "Why me?" she asked, tilting her head to the side. "I'm flattered, of course. But also puzzled. We're in a room filled with beautiful, rich, and educated females just perishing to be asked by you. Now, what's the jest, please?" Her tilted brows came down as a thought occurred to her. "Oh. I think I see. Was it a friend of the family? No!" she gasped, aghast. "Was it my brother? Did you lose a wager with him?"Bride Enchanted
. Copyright © by Edith Layton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.