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A Forbidden Love
By Alexandra Benedict
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Alexandra Benedict
All right reserved.
The young parlor maid bustled through the corridor, a bundle of white linens tucked firmly in her arms. It was but one of a dozen loads that needed to be washed within the next two days, and new to the estate, she was anxious to please her mistress with the timely deliverance of all the tablewear.
Unbeknownst to her, though, a distant pair of sensuous green eyes were roaming the corridor in search of some mild amusement. Those eyes happened to lock upon the fresh-faced maiden, and their evergreen hue brightened at the piquant sight of the well-rounded, petite form bustling along the passageway.
Lord Anthony Kennington, third Viscount Hastings, couldn't resist bestowing a suggestive wink and a dashing smile to the lovely young creature. Nor could the parlor maid resist heeding his flirtatious charm, and promptly stuffed her cheeks into her pile of laundry to conceal her blooming blush.
The two passed in silence. It was only when the servant had scurried far enough away that Anthony released the deep chuckle gurgling in his throat.
Meg, was it? Or maybe Mary? Her name eluded him. But she had proven a delightful treat the night before, when he'd found her, all alone, dusting in the study. Since his father spent much of the day shut up in that room, the maid had only the evening hours to tend to any housekeeping duties, and Anthony was much obliged for that shift in routine. His Mary-Meg was certainly merry, and after a few whispered words of amour on his part, they'd found themselves, under the waning candle glow, in a most exquisite position on his father's large mahogany desk.
Ah, to be in the country again! He must visit his Mary-Meg once more -- twice, if time permitted. Such an accommodating, prime little piece was difficult to find within the boundaries of London's great walls.
Anthony's boots clicked softly, his greatcoat fluttering about his ankles with each long stride. He reached the sanctum of the parlor and flung open the door.
Lady Ashley Winthrop lowered her knitting needles to her lap and cast her assessing green eyes on the viscount. "And what, pray, do you find so amusing?"
Lush memories of his Mary-Meg, that's what, though Anthony thrust such mischievous sentiments aside to respond with more prudence, "Why, the sight of you knitting, of course."
Ashley pursed her lips and his grin only widened at her peevish countenance. He closed the door and approached his twin sister, offering her a kiss on the cheek before he settled in an opposite armchair to meditate on her painstaking stitches.
"Taken up a new pursuit, have you, Ash?"
Her response was to yank at the knotted yarn, prompting the tip of her finger to turn a bright crimson red.
His laughter rumbled throughout the room. "Why don't you leave the knitting to the spinsters and take a stroll through the grounds? The air will do you good."
"Don't be absurd." Brow wrinkled, she tugged and tugged until at last her finger was free. "I've come this far and I intend to finish the pair."
She proudly held up two little misshapen boots of rose-colored yarn.
Anthony winced in sympathy for his infant niece, who was the likely recipient of her mother's valiant efforts. "Aren't those a little warm for Myra? It's the middle of April."
"And I should have the last stitch looped by November," she vowed with grim determination.
Shaking his head in light amusement, Anthony planted his elbows on the armrests, lacing his fingers together and resting them over his belly. "And where is my baby niece?"
"Out in the garden with her father and elder sister."
"So it's safe to assume the entire family has escaped to some refuge on the grounds?"
"All except for Mama and Cecelia, who seek out any commotion in which to immerse themselves."
Anthony withheld his snort, not the least surprised. He dipped his head back, until his neck nestled comfortably in the one sweeping groove of the ornately carved chair, and closed his eyes. "Well, there's certainly plenty of commotion. I've just come from the west wing and it's in utter shambles."
Ashley's eyes darted from her knitting to her brother. "Dare I ask what your eyes beheld?"
"Only the birth of Chaos herself. Orders were shouted over heads, reaching no one's ears. Bodies shuffled aimlessly, all appearing to be busy, but none really knowing where they were going or what needed to be done. The grand dining hall alone is in a frightful state."
"As is the ballroom."
He peeked inquisitively at his twin through the flaxen fringes of his faintly raised lashes. "And what, pray, is going on in the ballroom?"
"Nothing less than a cosmic feat. I've spent all morning overseeing its preparation, only mercifully to be excused by Mama's closest friend, who insisted on taking charge of the extravaganza herself."
"And so here you are."
"And so here I am," she reiterated with a sigh, fatigued at the mere thought of what she'd nearly undertaken. "It will be a miracle akin to biblical proportions to see this whole tiresome affair come together. Really, Anthony, I don't remember my début being nearly so exhausting."
Ashley had celebrated her come-out alone, despite their being twins, for he was not presented at court until after he'd completed his studies at Cambridge. As for their younger sister, Cecelia, the upcoming gala was to be her first formal affair, an introduction of sorts to her fellow peers prior to her official début at St. James's Palace.
"Your début was equally as exhausting, Ash. You just had a livelier spirit in your youth and a little disorder was always welcomed."
She crinkled her brow at him. "We're not that old, Anthony."
Another deep chuckle escaped his lips. "Considering the fact that we're hiding in a parlor to avoid the commotion of a ball, I'm afraid we are."
Excerpted from A Forbidden Love by Alexandra Benedict Copyright © 2006 by Alexandra Benedict. Excerpted by permission.
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