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Confessions of a Viscount
By Shirley Karr
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Shirley Karr
All right reserved.
London September 1816
Alistair, Viscount Moncreiffe, peered into the window of the optician's shop, caught by the glint of sunlight on the gleaming metal body of the eyepiece on display. With growing interest, he read the placard that described its polished glass attributes. Its magnification was much higher than any eyepiece he currently owned. His set of three eyepieces for his telescope was adequate, but he was tired of adequate.
The cacophony of the city, the cries of street vendors, clatter of passing hackneys, all faded as he imagined what he could do with an eyepiece like that. How much farther into the night sky he could see. Perhaps even find undeniable proof that, contrary to what so many people believed, Ceres and Pallas were indeed asteroids, and not planets.
A swift tug on his arm brought him back from the Andromeda nebula.
"I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting, dear," a woman said, tucking her arm through his as she continued walking.
Bemused by the most innovative way any female had sought an introduction, Alistair allowed himself to be towed along by the celestial being at his side, a young miss with sun-kissed blond hair and sky blue eyes. The swell of her full bosom was shown to advantage in her fashionably low-cut gown.
She gave a tinkling laugh, tossing her curls. Her smile was dazzling as she lookedinto his eyes.
Her direct approach was such a refreshing change from the simpering debutantes who'd practically drooled on his coat sleeves at the Knickersons' rout last night, Alistair decided to play along. "You are forgiven, darling, as your timely arrival kept me from spending an inordinate sum on a new eyepiece."
He hid a grin as her step faltered. She quickly recovered, though. "That's just as well, since your old one does the job quite well." She continued walking at a spanking pace, both hands wrapped around his arm as they dodged an orange cart and stepped in unison around a flower girl.
This was intriguing, but where was her chaperone? Footman, maid, outraged male relative . . . "Who--"
She cut him off. "I saw the most darling bonnet at the modiste's just now." She paused only long enough to show off her straight white teeth in a vacuous smile, then continued. "It was a straw poke bonnet, adorned with grapes and feathers and even an ostrich plume. Can you picture how adorable it would be?"
Alistair pictured how it would droop and disintegrate under the slightest bit of rain. Judging by the clouds looming on the horizon, threatening to block the sun, it was just as well she hadn't bought it.
The mysterious miss paused in her chatter long enough to furtively glance over her shoulder. She nibbled at her bottom lip, making it plump and red as a cherry.
She cut him off again. "So happy you agreed to accompany me this afternoon, darling. I love Auntie to death, but she can be rather a sourpuss at times, especially when her gout is acting up."
The last words were said over her shoulder as she stared at the street behind them. Alistair cast a glance behind them as well, but saw nothing untoward, just the usual collection of pedestrians, shoppers, and vendors crowding the sidewalk.
They reached the corner, and Alistair allowed the woman to gently steer them toward the alley. Once around the corner, she picked up the pace even more.
"Just a couple more doors down," she said, her voice now breathy from the effort of walking so fast. She patted his arm and looked over her shoulder. She came to an abrupt halt, staring back the way they had come, her hands falling to her sides.
They were alone in the alley, save for a cat eating its dinner near a pile of rubbish. The orange tabby looked up, a skinny mouse tail waving from between its jaws.
Alistair grimaced and turned his attention back to the young woman. "This has all been very entertaining, but who are y--"
She was gone.
Alistair swept his gaze around the alley. The only other living being in the vicinity was the orange tabby, now busily washing its face after its meal.
Voices drifted from the open door of a shop a few feet away. Alistair poked his head inside and peered past bolts of fabric stacked haphazardly, threatening to spill into the narrow passageway, which was littered with scraps of fabric and thread. He was about to step inside when the modiste's assistant appeared from behind a curtained doorway, her arms overflowing with a rainbow of silks and velvets.
After a startled moment, she dropped a quick curtsy and motioned with her head. "Beg pardon, m'lord, but the entrance is 'round the front."
"Yes, yes, of course. Thank you." He gave her a nod, retraced his steps, and hurried around to the shop's street entrance.
Though he loitered in the late afternoon sunshine near the dressmaker's for a half hour, he saw no one leave who resembled the mysterious miss with the bouncing blond curls. Several fashionable young women entered with their chaperones, but the only person to emerge was an old widow, leaning heavily on her cane.
With a glance at his pocket watch, and one last regretful look at the dressmaker's shop, Alistair hurried home to prepare for the Gatwicks' ball. Pity. She was the most intriguing encounter he'd had in all of London during his reluctant participation in the Little Season, and he hadn't even discovered her name.
Alistair stood next to his friend Nick and eyed the crowded ballroom with distaste. Beyond the swirling mass of humanity, the night sky was visible through the open balcony doors, beckoning to him. Clouds from this afternoon had cleared off, and the moon was in its last quarter, leaving the sky almost as dark and clear as it could get in London. Perfect for astronomical observations.
Excerpted from Confessions of a Viscount by Shirley Karr Copyright © 2006 by Shirley Karr. Excerpted by permission.
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