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Her Notorious Viscount
Jane Fenton watched as another group of giggling, simpering young women spun by her in the arms of the current group of eligible bucks and titled lords. She held back a sigh and tried to keep her toes from tapping to the beat of the country jig, beneath her plain, serviceable gown.
How quickly things changed. Just two years ago, she had been one of those silly girls, enjoying her Season with all the hopes in the world for the future."Jane," the Countess Ridgefield said at her side. Her employer lifted the gold-rimmed spectacles she kept on a chain around her neck and scanned the crowd. "Do you see anyone of my acquaintance?"
Jane stifled a smile at the picture Lady Ridgefield made. The feather Jane had placed in her employer's hair earlier in the evening had begun to list downward, sticking out at an odd angle to the side of her head. Her spectacles, which she really should have been wearing all the time, although she argued that point with Jane incessantly, were crooked and gave Lady Ridgefield a madcap appearance that lightened Jane's heavy heart considerably.
Although flighty, Lady Ridgefield was one of the kindest women Jane had ever met. She knew full well she was lucky to have obtained a position as her lady's companion. Other young women of her acquaintance had not been so fortunate in their employers.
Rising to her tiptoes, Jane scanned the crowd.
"Lady Williamston is over by the punch bowl," she said, then lowered her voice to indulge in Lady Ridgefield's love of gossip. "Likely putting whiskey in her cup from that secret stash she keeps in her reticule."
Her employergiggled like a school miss. "Anyone else?"
Jane continued to whisper little details of the attendees around the room, adding her own commentary to the descriptions until Lady Ridgefield's cheeks were pink with pleasure.
"Whom would you like to speak to first?" Jane asked with a pull of dread in her chest.
Once they were with the other ladies of her employer's rank, she would be forgotten again, despite the fact that many of the women had once been friends of her mother and father. This constant reminder of what she'd lost was never easy for Jane, no matter how she prepared herself for the inevitable.
"There is a commotion over there," Lady Ridgefield said with a wave of her fan. "What is happening, Jane? I cannot see!"
Jane turned toward the entrance to the ballroom. As silly as she was, Lady Ridgefield could be quite observant when it came to matters of Society. Indeed, an unnatural crowd had formed at the entrance to the ballroom. Someone very important must have entered. How pleased Lady Ridgefield would be if Wellington or even the prince himself joined their party tonight. It would keep her employer happy for months, which Jane had come to see as a lofty life goal.
Finally the crowd parted, almost as if Moses himself were moving them aside. But it wasn't a biblical figure who stepped away from the fray. No, indeed, the man who sauntered into the ballroom did not look like the kind to read a Bible, let alone belong in one.
Rather, he looked like sin.
Jane sucked in her breath despite herself. The stranger was tall, very tall. More than half a head bigger than any of the men who surrounded him. But it was more than his superior height that drew her attention. He had a presence about him. A strength that was reflected both in the lean lines of his body and the way he moved.
He was dressed . . . oddly. His coat was a few seasons behind the fashion and his shirt looked a little faded. Plus the items were ill-fitted, too tight in some places and far too loose in others.
Certainly he was aware of the scrutiny of those around him. One would have to be daft not to see and feel it. And it wasn't friendly interest, either. Shock, anger, even disgust were reflected on the faces in the crowd.
Jane looked at the interloper more closely, surprised by the ire he inspired. There was something familiar about him, but she didn't think they had ever met.
"It is a man," Jane murmured since Lady Ridgefield had now begun tugging on the woolen sleeve of her ugly gown. "I do not know who he is. I feel like I've seen him before, but . . ."
She trailed off. He was getting closer now, and for some odd reason her heart began to pound.
"I know who it may be!" Lady Ridgefield whispered. "Oh, I had heard he might be making a return to Society, but I never thought he'd dare come here tonight!"
"Who is he?" Jane asked, ever more distracted the nearer the man came.
His eyes, God, they were beautiful. Bright, almost painful blue against his tanned skin and dark, close-cropped hair. She started when she realized one of them was faintly blackened, as if he had recently been in a fight.
And then he turned his gaze on her. Those eyes that had so surprised and captivated her moved over her in one sweep. If Jane's heart had pounded before, now it felt as though it stopped completely. As though time had frozen as this man looked at her.
But then he moved on, dismissing her just as everyone dismissed her.
"Yes, indeed," Lady Ridgefield crowed as she lowered her spectacles and grasped Jane's arm in a death grip. She was practically vibrating with excitement. "That is him! His name is Viscount Nicholas Stoneworth. He just inherited the title from his poor late brother—"
"Anthony Stoneworth," Jane finished, her gaze rushing to the man who now had a name to go along with his harsh, handsome face.Her Notorious Viscount. Copyright (c) by Jenna Petersen . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.