His Dark and Dangerous Ways
"As you were saying?" the lady cooed to her gentleman caller, when he paused for a moment. She was artfully displayed on a settee in her front parlor. She reclined, pleading a slightly turned ankle, and her flowing yellow morning gown was arranged so that it showed a peek of that one slender exceedingly well-turned ankle. Her gown also gave an idea of the generous form beneath. Gold curls and long-lashed blue eyes showed her pretty face off to perfection.
Ordinarily, a lady would not be wearing such casual attire or be seen in such a casual attitude when receiving a morning caller. But Lydia Stanton, Lady Harwood, was no ordinary lady. She was a little on the raffish side and a lot on the willful one, and as a lady and a widow, there was a great deal she could get away with. Especially when she had a caller in her parlor with whom she'd obviously like to get away with a good deal more.
Which was surprising, the gentleman thought. She was already involved with a wealthy young gentleman, or so he'd been told. That was why he was here. Simon Atwood, Lord Granger, was a match for the lady, at least in looks, and he surpassed her in charm. Tall, dark and deliciously sardonic, he was even richer than she was, and his title was inherited. She'd married into hers. And was now obviously contemplating adding a newer one.
It was becoming clear that she'd hit upon the idea of a hurt ankle the moment his name had been announced. He'd had to wait in the hall a few minutes, which was odd, because though he hadn't given advance notice of his visit, it was the proper time for a morning call. When he wasfinally shown in, she was a little flushed and looked as though she'd only just settled into her poised invalid pose. She wore no bandages, only a knowing smile when he found himself looking at her ankle.
He was a little disconcerted by this unexpectedly warm reception, and sought a distraction so he could have time to think. So he cocked his handsome head to the side as though listening, although it didn't take much concentration to hear what he was paying attention to.
The door to the front parlor where they sat was ajar. Even a lady such as this couldn't entertain a gentleman with it closed, at least not in the morning when another caller might drop in. So the hysterical giggling and high-pitched screaming coming from down the hall was clearly audible, along with the sound of marching, jumping, and clumping feet.
"Your moving men certainly are jolly fellows, my lady," he commented. "I didn't know you were relocating. May one ask where you are going?"
"Nowhere," she snapped. She was ambitious, but no fool; her smile reappeared in seconds. "I have a young daughter," she said. "Today she has a dancing lesson, and we invited some of her little friends to join in."
"Dancing lessons," he said with a great show of surprise. "But, surely, she's an infant."
She smiled again. "So she is. She's but an infant with only two years in her cup. But I love to hear her laughter." She cast down her gaze modestly.
"You certainly have opportunity to," he said as great thumping sounds of marching were heard, accompanied by the hammering of a tin drum and much giggling.
"The dear creatures, I should love to see them," she said piteously. "But they are exiled to the ballroom because there are so many things to break in here."
"Like eardrums," he said agreeably.
"Should you like me to ring and ask them to stop?" she asked eagerly, raising an arm to the tasseled cord hanging beside the settee, as another gust of laughter was heard.
"No, not at all," he said. "They seem to be enjoying themselves enormously. I don't want to be the cause of their being told to be still. Children need exercise and dancing can't be taught too early." He rose to his feet. "I came without warning, as it is. May I come another morning when they are out of doors, so we can speak? Or better yet, when your ankle is healed so that we can go for a ride to the park?"
"Oh yes," she said with a sparkling smile. "What a good idea. In a day? Two days, perhaps? I should be vastly improved by then."
He had a fairly good idea that she could hop off the settee in an instant and leg it down the hall, but her pose on the couch was alluring and the excuse for it had condemned her to remaining with it today.
"In two days then," he said, bowed, and left the room.
But he didn't leave the house. Instead, he stopped in the outer hall, cocked his head to the side again, listening. "They're having such a good time," he told the butler. "I'd love to see them at their play. May I?"
"Certainly, my lord," the butler said, and led him down the hall to the source of the merriment.
The ballroom was shrouded in white drop cloths, but they had been pushed back to clear the polished wood center. An aged governess sat at a pianoforte and pumped out music, but the noise from the children was louder. Simon stood in the doorway and watched as a ragged, giggling parade of them passed by him. An extraordinary young woman led the ragtag procession. She had a lithe body, padded sweetly where it ought to be. But it was her legs he noticed first. He could hardly help it.
She'd hitched her skirts up and swagged them at her waist, so that they dropped to her knees, leaving the rest of those shapely limbs free and unencumbered. Her straight honey-colored hair had also been pulled up on the top of her head, but now strands of it came coiling down around her oval face, which was pink with exertion. A passably lovely young woman, he thought. But at the moment she looked more like a goose than a goose girl. He smiled. His Dark and Dangerous Ways
. Copyright � by Edith Layton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.