The Choiceby Edith Layton
Lady Of Beauty . . . And Mystery
A lovely young woman whose ethereal beauty has enchanted the London ton, Miss Gillian Giles can combat a suitor's unwanted embrace with deadly efficiency. But her talent for self-protection can't help her stave off the most proper advances of one Damon Ryder, the Season's most eligible bachelor. Caught in a compromising/p>… See more details below
Lady Of Beauty . . . And Mystery
A lovely young woman whose ethereal beauty has enchanted the London ton, Miss Gillian Giles can combat a suitor's unwanted embrace with deadly efficiency. But her talent for self-protection can't help her stave off the most proper advances of one Damon Ryder, the Season's most eligible bachelor. Caught in a compromising position with him--one that could irreparably ruin her reputation--Gilly is dismayed when Damon unhesitatingly offers marriage.
Most young ladies would be thrilled to land such a handsome, wealthy husband. Gilly, however, has a mind of her own--and more than a few secrets to hide. She believes marriage to Damon to be impossible, but Damon is equally determined to convince her otherwise. And if he isn't enough trouble, two other suitors, both charmingly irresistible, have now set their sights on winning her, too. Pursued by three devilishly persuasive men, how can the headstrong Gilly possibly resist falling in love?
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It was mild, but coot in contrast to the ballroom. The trees above him were in full green leaf, the music from the ball seemed faint and faraway, and somewhere a nightingale did scales.
It was a small walled garden, cleverly designed, Damon thought. London had built itself up at an incredible pace since he'd gone abroad, but the best townhouses still had gardens. Damon was grateful for it. He stood alone in the shadows, near a stone cherub tipping his pitcher of water so it spilled into a small pool. The tumbling water sounded better to Damon's ears than the music of the waltz he heard faintly from afar. There was a bench, but he stood, his back against a tree, one ankle crossed over the other, relaxing, smoking his thin cheroot. His friends thought it was a filthy habit he'd picked up on his travels. It was. But he thought it better than shoveling snuff up his nose, the way they did. And it had gotten him outside now. He stared up at a camellia-colored moon and decided the fashionable world of London was much better seen through a thin blue smoky haze.
He soon saw it much more clearly.
"Here!" a male voice called excitedly. it was so close, Damon's pulse raced. He dropped his cheroot, grinding the glowing ash beneath his heel. From force of habit, his hand snaked into an inner waistcoat pocket, closing around the small pistol he always carried there.
There was a patter of footsteps on the shell path as a gentleman and a lady suddenly exploded from the shadows into the moonlight in front of the cherub. Damon's shoulders relaxed. They were unaware of him.
The moon lit them theatrically. He had to think fast. Anassignation, probably. Why else would a man and a maid stray from a ball, and go off alone into the moonlight? A married or engaged couple wouldn't have to, a proper couple wouldn't dare. it would be awkward for all of them if they noticed him. Maybe they'd move on. He hoped so. From where he stood it was better than a front row at the theater. And just as bad. Because a man leaving a front row seat before the act was over made himself noticed by everyone in the audience, and was an insult to the actors, too.
But there was no place Damon could go without being seen. There was nothing but bushes at his back, and the garden wall behind those. He was a captive unless they left. Even if he stepped lightly he'd set the shrubbery to rattling. He sighed and resigned himself to being uncomfortable-bored, at best. Or so he thought until he saw the lady clear.
"Where is the poor thing?" she asked worriedly, looking into the shadows.
Damon shrank back. The sprite! Unmistakable. He'd noticed her earlier, inside, at the ball. He'd noticed little else after that. She wore a pale gauzy green gown that showed a small, delicately curved figure to perfection. She was so lithe, it had taken him a moment to realize, she had all those curves when she'd first danced into his view. Because, for once, it hadn't been the first thing he'd seen.
Hair pale as moonlight, little animated oval of a face glowing bright as sunlight. Her small, even features made a man look twice at that pretty pink mouth. He couldn't see the color of her eyes from where he'd stood. She was the most enchanting female he'd seen since he'd come to London. She'd looked ethereal as she'd stepped through the intricate paces of the country dance.
He'd forgotten what he was about to say.
"Even you?" His friend laughed when he saw it. "Even such a rebellious jaded rogue as you, Damon, find her delectable? Well, but she is something, isn't she? Utterly ineligible, of course. At least for you and me. Too well-connected to sport with. Not half enough to wed. But something to look at, isn't she?"
"Ineligible? How so?" he asked, his eyes never leaving her.
"Award, merely, of the Viscount Sinclair's. But there's no birth there at all. No money neither, except for whatever Sinclair decides to settle on her. She and her sister are orphans. Their parents were great friends of the family or somesuch, who knows? There it is. Obscure or nonexistent family, parents complete unknowns. Lovely piece though, ain't she? Why can't I find needy orphans like that? if Sinclair wasn't ... the man defends her like she was his daughter. And he, the greatest rake in London Town after his wife died, until he wed again. Still-who better than he to know a fellow's evil intentions? He's a devil with the sword and a demon with pistols. Yet there's that wretched Dearborne prancing with her. He'd better watch his step in more than the dance. So should she, A rake's one thing. But there's no greater cad in London than Dearborne."
Damon had watched, waiting for the music to stop. But when it did, the sprite immediately waltzed off with another gentleman.
"Fortune or no, her dance card's probably filled," his friend said with a smug smile. "Serves you right for coming so late. Don't worry, you won't be alone long. Most of the females in the room are watching you, hoping you'll claim their next waltz. Daresay not a few would burn their dance cards for the chance."
He had been noticed, Damon knew that. Not only by eager mamas and their wallflowers. Many of the dancers were looking at him, too, even as they whirled around the floor with other men. He'd been told he was attractive, and had used that information to his benefit many times. He also had funds now, and supposedly everyone knew that, too. But that wasn't the reason for the fascinated stares he was attracting...The Choice. Copyright © by Edith Layton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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