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From his close-cropped golden curls to his gleaming dancing shoes, Lord Deveril was a man envied by men and adored by women.
And he was bloody tired of it.
A leader of the fashionable set, he was dressed tonight for his family’s annual ball in a style slavish young fops had dubbed “Deverilish,” which was marked by a blend of Brummell’s simplicity and a hint of dash. His pristine neck cloth was skillfully tied in a knot called—what else—the Deveril, and was anchored by a ruby stickpin that could keep a young buck in hats for a century or more. The cut of his black coat was looser than in Brummell’s day but the tailoring was exquisite. And at his wrists he wore just a hint of lace.
It was not, he reflected, as he kissed the elderly Lady Sophronia Singleton’s gloved hand and complimented her horrific scarlet turban, that he minded his popularity so much. Given the snubs he’d endured from the hypocritical ton when his father had still been drinking and whoring his way through London, the ton’s approval had been a welcome change at first.
It hadn’t happened overnight, of course. He had been ruthless in his social campaign for those first few years. He’d worked hard to establish himself as a man of substance as well as style. He gambled, but only enough to prove himself honest. He had his share of liaisons with willing widows and even kept a few mistresses. But though he’d enjoyed the affairs while they lasted, always in the back of his mind was the memory that he was proving to the world just how different he was from his father.
And eventually, his diligence had paid off. Whereas he’d left university still in the shadow of his father’s notoriety, now he was considered a good ’un by the gentlemen, and a catch by marriage-minded mamas.
Given what his social status might have been, then, Alec knew just how ungrateful it was for him to admit he was less than satisfied with it. His ennui sprang, he supposed, from the knowledge that if he so chose, this same pattern could continue on into his dotage. Breakfast at White’s, horseflesh at Tattersall’s, seeing and being seen in the park, followed up by some evening entertainment or other. The same people, the same food, the same conversation.
“Why so gloomy, Deveril?” Colonel Lord Christian Monteith asked from his usual post, one shoulder propped against a marble column. “Trouble with the old cravat? Champagne not shining your Hessians as bright as you’d like? Stickpin poking you in the…?”
“Don’t be an ass, Monteith.” Alec raised his quizzing glass and a dark blond brow, channeling his annoyance through the eyepiece.
“Sorry, chap, that thingummy doesn’t work on me,” Monteith said apologetically. “My head’s too thick. Its powers cannot penetrate to my brain.”
With a sigh, Alec tucked the glass away. “Should have known you’d ignore it.”
Taking up a position on the other side of Monteith’s pillar, he nodded toward the ballroom floor. “Why aren’t you dancing?” he asked.
“What, you danced once and having done your duty, retired here to this pillar?” It was unfair for Monteith to shirk his duty when Alec knew full well that there were plenty of ladies who would be without a partner. Ladies like his sisters. He ignored the fact that his own failure to marry someone who could serve as a chaperone for them might also impact their social success or lack thereof.
“For your information, Lord Hauteur,” Monteith returned, “I danced with at least five ladies and now I am resting my tired bones, rather than sprinting to the card room as my less noble spirit would have me do.”
Oh. “Where’s Winterson?”
The Duke and Duchess of Winterson had become good friends with Alec earlier in the season through their investigation of the Egyptian Club, of which Alec had been a member. Theirs had been a rather hasty marriage, but to his delight they seemed blissfully happy together. Winterson and Monteith had served in the campaign against Napoleon together and were often to be seen surveying the crowds at these ton entertainments.
“Keeping watch over his lady wife,” Monteith said with a frown, “and intimidating young swells into paying court to her cousins.”
Alec felt an unfamiliar pang of jealousy. He’d been considering the possibility of marriage as a means of curing his ennui, and the Duchess of Winterson’s cousin Lady Madeline Essex was high on his list of potential candidates. Curvy, blond, and quiet, Madeline would make an excellent viscountess. And her easy manners would endear her to his sisters. But if Monteith beat him to the punch, it wouldn’t matter whether his sisters liked her or not.
“How is that working?” he asked, careful to keep his tone neutral.
“Not too well.” The taller man grinned. “I don’t think Miss Shelby or Lady Madeline care for being managed by their cousin’s husband. Took quite a bit of convincing to get Lady Madeline to dance with me, and that was only grudgingly done. I do not think the lady cares for me.”
Something in Alec’s gut unknotted. He had come to admire both ladies over the past few weeks. But he had no wish to compete with his friend as a rival for Lady Madeline’s hand. He was quite sure he could hold his own, but Monteith could be charming when he set his mind to it. Things would be much better if Monteith set his sights on Miss Juliet Shelby, the Duchess of Winterson’s other cousin.
Slim and fair of complexion with deep auburn hair, Miss Shelby could have been the toast of the ton were it not for an accident during her teens that had left her with a pronounced limp. Alec had been partnered with her at a card party some weeks ago and found her to be a sensible and witty young woman. She was not one to suffer fools gladly, and he could only imagine her annoyance at Winterson’s interference. If he guessed right, she’d much rather have spent the evening at home working on one of her compositions for the pianoforte.
“On the other hand,” Monteith continued, “Miss Shelby and I had a delightful conversation speculating over the identity of the artist everyone is chattering about. She thinks he’s probably some unknown trying to gain the spotlight. I think it’s probably some chap with a flagging career who wishes to raise speculation about his work.”
“Il Maestro, you mean?”
All of London had been engrossed with learning the identity of the mysterious artist who had begun showing his controversial paintings a little over a month ago. The gallery owner claimed not to know, as did the few who had purchased pieces from the show. And it was generally agreed that the longer he kept his identity a secret the more intrigued the public would become.
“Who else?” Monteith said with something like disgust. “I blame Byron for all of this ado. He swans about with his dark looks, spouting poetry and seducing women, and now every other fellow with the least bit of artistic inclination thinks a foreign sobriquet and risqué art are the shortcut to celebrity.”
“Yes,” Alec reasoned, “but Byron didn’t keep his identity a secret. He makes sure everyone knows it’s himself he’s writing about.”
The other man grimaced. “Just wait. Il Maestro will have a grand unmasking as soon as he’s whipped the ladies into a sufficient frenzy of curiosity.” He smiled. “All except for Miss Shelby, that is. I think a surfeit of chatter about that blighter is what sent her over the edge.”
“What do you mean?” Alec asked, his brow furrowed. “Is she unwell?”
He did not like to think of Juliet ill. And it was the duty of a good host to ensure the comfort of all his guests, of course.
Monteith’s glib tone turned serious. “I think her leg might be paining her a bit,” he said. “And of course her harridan of a mother refused to allow her to take the carriage home.”
On that point, Deveril and Monteith were in firm agreement. Lady Shelby was one of the most beautiful women to grace the ton. She and her two sisters had taken society by storm when they’d made their debuts some two and a half decades earlier. The daughters of an undistinguished Dorset squire, they’d been introduced to the ton by a distant cousin and within months married three of the most eligible bachelors in town. Of the three, Rose was the least admired. Not because of her looks, which had only improved with age, but because of her unpleasant nature.
“It would have surprised me to hear she had done so,” he remarked. “Lady Shelby loves no one but herself. And even those feelings come with conditions.”
The other man made a snort of agreement.
His respite from his guests over, Deveril took leave of his friend and wandered over to the line of chairs that had been set out for the matrons and those young ladies who either did not care to dance, or had not been asked. An empty seat next to Lady Madeline Essex beckoned, but as he glanced up he saw a familiar figure slipping through the doors leading to a hallway off the family rooms. Changing direction, he threaded his way through chattering guests, and finally made his way to the exit.
When he reached the corridor, it was deserted except for a few wandering pairs taking advantage of the less crowded room for quiet conversation. Or perhaps for assignations. He was hardly one to judge.
Turning into a side hallway, he saw what he was looking for. A familiar man was turning a key in the door of Alec’s office.
“Uncle,” he said, making no effort to hush his approach. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Roderick Devenish gave a start at being caught, but quickly regained his composure.
“Nephew.” He nodded, revealing the extent to which his graying hair had begun its slow retreat toward the back of his scalp. “I was just wondering if you had any of those Spanish cheroots you like so much.”
Bollocks. But Alec did not challenge him.
“Were you, indeed?” he asked blandly, letting his eyes convey what he really thought of that falsehood. “I would have offered one if I knew you wanted one. Of course I didn’t realize you had a key.”
A pregnant silence fell between the two men. Alec marveled at his uncle’s audacity. He was just like Alec’s late father.
“A legacy of my youth, I’m afraid,” Roderick said, fingering the key in his hand. “And I thank you for the offer, but I’ve decided I don’t wish to indulge after all.”
“Then I’ll have to ask you to return to the ballroom,” Deveril said, his voice still calm. “If the other guests find you wandering about in the family quarters then they’ll think we’re actually family.”
At the cut, Roderick let his urbane mask slip.
“You know as well as I do that the same poisonous blood runs in us both.”
His sneer made him look every one of his fifty years.
Unwilling to be led down that path tonight, Alec shook his head. “Get out,” he said simply. The steel in his tone was sharp and cold. “But first give me the key.”
The naked hatred on his uncle’s face was nothing new. It was akin to the look his own father had turned on him so many years ago. Grudgingly, he slapped the key into Alec’s outstretched hand. Turning, he stalked back down the hallway in the direction from which Deveril had come, his displeasure evident in every step.
When he was sure Roderick was gone, Alec let himself into the study to ensure that nothing had been disturbed. To his relief nothing had. He did find, however, a collar—the same sort worn by the housemaids. He had no illusions that it had been dropped in the course of her regular duties. Roderick, it seemed, was as ever, just like his late brother.
The same blood might run in both of them, but Deveril was determined to ensure no woman he encountered would ever find herself a victim of it. He’d built his entire adult life upon that principle.
When he stepped back into the hall, he saw that the door to the music room three doors down was slightly ajar, and strode down the hall. Tonight, it seemed, the ballroom might be the least crowded room in Deveril House.
* * *
Hiding behind a screen was not how Miss Shelby had intended to spend the bulk of the Deveril ball.
When she’d arrived an hour earlier, she and her cousin Madeline had dutifully made their way to the side of the ballroom, where chairs had been set up for the chaperones and wallflowers. Though their other cousin, Cecily, had recently wed the Duke of Winterson, Juliet and Maddie had no illusions that they were now to be accepted among the elite of London society.
After an hour or so of chatting with Maddie, and later Colonel Lord Monteith, a friend of Winterson’s, she’d felt the familiar sting of pain in her left leg. But it was the note in her reticule that made her less than eager to socialize. Pleading a headache, which showed every indication of becoming a real complaint, she excused herself to pore over the cryptic message in private.
Limping through the darkened corridors of Deveril House, she finally found the music room, which was, thankfully, deserted. She’d always admired the room, and had even played the magnificent pianoforte a time or two for the small musical evenings Viscount Deveril’s sisters sometimes held. Though much younger than Juliet and her cousins, Lydia and Katherine Devenish were personable young ladies, and among the few friends the cousins could name among the more fashionable crowds of the ton.
She’d no sooner stepped into the music room than she heard familiar voices approaching in the hall. Cursing fate, she hurried as quickly as her painful leg would allow behind an elaborately decorated chinoiserie screen, where she lowered herself onto a tufted stool and waited for her unwelcome visitors to leave.
“I cannot account for it, Felicia,” Miss Snowe complained. “It is bad enough that Cecily Hurston has stolen a march on every eligible female in London by marrying Winterson, but now she thinks to foist her ridiculous cousins on the ton. I had thought that Lydia and Katherine had more discernment than to allow such unfashionable people free rein in their ballroom. Or Lord Deveril for that matter. I am sorely disappointed in the Devenish family at the moment.”
“Oh, I agree wholeheartedly,” Amelia’s bosom friend, Lady Felicia Downes, said.
What a surprise. Juliet rolled her eyes.
“It’s insulting to anyone of taste,” Lady Felicia continued. “As if we’ve forgotten how the Ugly Ducklings languished with the rest of the ineligibles these past three years. Does Cecily Hurston really believe that her lucky marriage will erase Lady Madeline’s plumpness or Miss Shelby’s unfortunate limp?”
Juliet could hardly be surprised at Felicia’s unkind words, but hearing them aloud stung. For the three years since their debut, when Amelia had dubbed the unfashionable cousins “the Ugly Ducklings,” they’d been subjected to one unkindness or another from the blond beauty and her friend. Though she had hoped that Cecily’s marriage to the Duke of Winterson would give the cousins a much needed social boost, it would appear with Amelia and Felicia the change in status for Cecily had barely registered. And it most certainly hadn’t erased their derision for Madeline and Juliet.
“Cecily Hurston may have trapped Winterson into marriage,” Amelia said, “but there is no way that Lady Madeline or Miss Shelby can possibly expect to make comparable matches. Why, the idea is preposterous.”
“While it is certainly within the realm of possibility that Madeline will go on a strict reducing regimen,” Amelia continued, warming to her topic, “there is certainly nothing that Juliet can do about her unfortunate limp. I had supposed that one such as she would be confined to her home and not be thrust upon genteel society. I wonder what her parents were thinking to bring her out as if she were any normal girl.”
Juliet felt her cheeks redden with anger. It wasn’t as if she had never heard such sentiments expressed before. Indeed, her own mother had at times said similar things, though she had had the decency to keep her thoughts out of hearing of the public. So long as Juliet kept the true nature of her unfortunate injury secret, Lady Shelby had agreed that her daughter might attend as many society events as she wished. But to hear Amelia Snowe, who had fooled the gentlemen of the ton into believing her to be a sweet and nurturing angel, express such sentiments was infuriating.
“I daresay,” Felicia responded, “they are hoping to marry her off to some aged lord who has already sired an heir. The idea of anyone else wishing to marry such an antidote is laughable. What man would possibly wish for the mother of his children to drag herself around with a walking stick?”
As she listened to the two girls share their mirth at her expense, Juliet vowed to “accidentally” trip Amelia at the first opportunity.
“You don’t suppose they’ve already chosen someone, do you?” Amelia asked, once her giggles had subsided. “Because I would dearly love to be present at that wedding! How does one stumble down the aisle, do you think?”
“At least we would not be forced to see her dance at her own wedding! Imagine what a spectacle that would be! Carroty hair mixed with a halting gait. She will be as amusing as a performer at the circus.” This came from Lady Felicia.
The laughing fit brought on by that bit of mean-spiritedness was interrupted by a cough. A gentleman’s cough.
“Miss Snowe, Lady Felicia,” she heard a deep voice say. “How is it that you are not on the dance floor?”
Juliet could all but hear Amelia’s simpering smile slide back into place.
“Your lordship,” she cooed, “what a delightful entertainment you’ve hosted this evening. Felicia and I were just taking a bit of a rest in between sets.”
“I thank you for the compliment,” Viscount Deveril said smoothly, though was that a hint of annoyance Juliet heard in his voice? “I must ask you to return to the festivities,” he continued, his voice definitely cool. “This room is for family use only.”
And you two are not family, his voice implied. Juliet bit back a cheer.
“We will leave at once,” Amelia said her voice thick with apology. Of course she would not wish to insult an eligible like Deveril, Juliet thought cynically.
“We apologize for the intrusion, my lord,” Felicia cooed.
Juliet bit her lip to keep from laughing at the insincerity.
“There is no harm done, ladies,” Deveril assured them with more generosity than they deserved. “And I pray you,” he added, “try not to stumble down the hall. One would hate to see the two of you make a spectacle of yourselves. This isn’t the circus, you know.”
Behind the screen, Julie’s mouth fell open in astonishment. Had the Viscount Deveril, leader of the fashionable set, just delivered a set down on her behalf? It was not to be believed!
In the room at large, an awkward silence fell, no doubt while Amelia tried to come up with a suitable response. Apparently she was unable to do so, because Juliet soon heard both ladies thank his lordship again for the warning and hurry away in a rustle of silk skirts and the firm click of the closing door.
Waiting a few minutes more to ensure the room really was empty, Juliet was making to rise from her seat behind the screen when she heard the viscount’s now familiar voice.
“You may come out now, Miss Shelby. Your detractors have gone back to the ballroom.”
Juliet dropped her head into her hands in frustration.
He had known she was there the whole time.
Damn. And double damn.
Schooling her features, she rose awkwardly from her seat and stepped out from behind the screen.
* * *
When he’d overheard Miss Snowe and Lady Felicia mocking the ducklings, Alec had been surprised by the jolt of anger he felt on their behalf. Especially when Amelia made her degrading remarks about Miss Shelby. There was no other young lady of the ton who had both red hair and a limp. That her hair was a rich auburn, rather than the hue of carrots as the two spiteful ladies had implied, was, he supposed, beside the point.
“Come now, Miss Shelby, you are not going to ignore me, are you?”
Alec stepped farther into the room, and feeling the chill in the air, crouched before the fireplace to stoke it a bit. And to give his companion another moment to emerge from her hiding place. He was rewarded after a minute or so with the sound of a gown rustling and an uneven gait sliding along the thick Aubusson carpet.
“Here I am, my lord,” she said from behind him. “I had best leave now. I too am sorry for intruding in the family rooms.”
Alec rose easily from his crouching position before the fire. It was clear from her expression that Miss Shelby wished to be quit of his company. And he could hardly blame her. But, coming upon her here had given him an idea.
“I’m afraid that was a bit of a fib I told Lady Felicia and Miss Snowe in order to hasten their departure. This is one of the family rooms but you are more than welcome to stay.”
He watched a series of mixed emotions flicker over her face. Chief among them confusion. As her green eyes narrowed he realized that she was really quite pretty when one stopped to actually see her. He supposed he was as guilty as anyone of defining her by her injured leg.
“Indeed?” she asked, regaining her composure. “I thank you for the compliment, but I will leave as well. I feel sure my cousins will have missed me by now.”
As she turned to go, walking stick in hand, Alec reached out a hand to stay her. But the touch must have startled her, for she gasped and the sheet of foolscap she clutched floated to the floor.
“My apologies,” he said, releasing her immediately, then bent to retrieve the paper for her. “I only meant to request you to stay for a moment and talk with me. I have something I wish to discuss with you.”
He handed the note to her, and saw wariness in her green eyes as their gloved hands brushed.
“What do you want of me?” she asked, distrust oozing from every pore as she tucked the note into the reticule hanging from her wrist.
What was this? Alec wondered. She suddenly behaved as if he were some kind of lecher.
“I mean you no harm, Miss Shelby,” he assured her. “Truly.” She must have found something trustworthy in his disclaimer, for she nodded once and allowed him to direct her to a chair near the enormous harp his sister Lydia played from time to time.
“What was that about?” he asked before he thought better of it. He knew it was smart for a young lady to look out for herself, but there had been something else there in her eyes when she’d watched him.
A faint blush suffused Juliet’s cheeks, and Alec was struck by her prettiness. Her features were sharp, with a pointed chin and a narrow nose, and a creamy smooth complexion, but it was her expressive green eyes that made her so attractive.
“My apologies, my lord,” she said. “I’m afraid I was overset and I took out my pique on you.”
“Bad news?” he asked, his gaze dropping to her reticule.
“Indeed,” she said. “I … that is, my friend has been called away on personal business.” Her eyes clouded. “I would not be so worried, but she has, in the past, been stricken with melancholy to such a degree that…”
“You fear she might harm herself,” Alec said, understanding at once why she would be upset. He knew from personal experience what melancholy might make a woman do.
“Yes,” Juliet said, her expression relaxing at his words. “My friend—I dare not say her name, because she has told me of her struggles in confidence—says that she is going to visit family in the north, but I was given to believe that she had no family. So I am worried that her tale might be just that. A tale to stop me from worrying.”
Alec took this in. While he did not discount Juliet’s assessment of the situation, he also knew the degree to which friends and family of those who suffered from melancholia tended to see every expression of sadness as a sign of impending relapse.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” he asked. “Perhaps I could have someone check into her whereabouts?”
She gave a sad smile. “I thank you for your kind offer, my lord,” she said, “but I feel sure that my friend would see such an act as a violation of her privacy.”
Alec gave a nod. He’d suspected as much, but seeing this young woman who clearly had her own struggles to endure had prompted him to make the offer. He mentally cursed Amelia and Lady Felicia for causing her even more distress.
* * *
“But you wished to speak to me of something else?” his companion prompted. “I can hardly think what it might be, given the chasm that gapes between us.”
Her words stung. Perhaps because there was some truth to them. Still he could not fail to ask, “Because it is so unthinkable for ‘someone like me’ to wish to speak with ‘someone like you’?”
“Well, you must admit that you are considerably more socially successful than I am,” she defended herself. “Only consider how Miss Snowe and Lady Felicia mocked me. And they are hardly the only members of the ton who say such things.”
“Speaking of those two,” Alec said, “whatever have you and your cousins done to incur the wrath of Miss Snowe?”
Juliet stiffened. “I hardly think that we are to blame for Miss Snowe’s incivility,” she said with a frown. “However,” she conceded, “I believe she is currently annoyed with Cecily for stealing the Duke of Winterson from her. Of course, she does not account for the fact that Winterson had no intention of marrying her in the first place, but then Miss Snowe is not known for her ability to perform logical deductions.”
“I do apologize,” Alec said quickly, “I did not mean to imply that you brought on her enmity.” His brows furrowed. “But she did seem particularly harsh about you, I think. Did you perhaps steal one of her beaux as well?”
He meant the last line to be teasing, but Miss Shelby’s laugh was mirthless. “Hardly, my lord.
“I believe,” she went on, “that Miss Snowe singles out my cousins and me because she failed to bring my elder brother up to scratch several years ago in Bath. When Matthew chose to marry someone else, Miss Snowe decided to take out her disappointment on us.”
“Three years is a long time to nurse a grudge,” Alec said, leaning his shoulders against the Adam fireplace.
“Well, I daresay if she had managed to marry someone else in the interim—Winterson, perhaps—she might have given up,” Juliet said. “But since she has as yet been unsuccessful on the marriage mart, she still has anger enough to fuel her spite.”
“It must be unpleasant for you.” Which was an understatement, he knew.
“In truth, it does not bother me,” Juliet assured him. “I am accustomed to being singled out. I dislike it when she vents her spleen on my cousins, however. They are not as skilled at deflecting such venom as I am.”
“That being the case, however,” he said, “I dislike hearing her mock your…”
Juliet looked up, one dark red brow raised in good humor. “My injury, shall we call it?”
At his mute nod, she went on. “I wish you would not let it concern you, my lord. I have been subjected to worse.” She smiled wryly. “And at least in one respect, Amelia is perfectly correct. I cannot dance.”
* * *
What the devil was she doing enclosed in an antechamber conversing with Lord Deveril of all people? Juliet wondered.
She’d been pleased to have him rout Miss Snowe and her henchwoman Lady Felicia, but now she needed to make her escape before someone saw them together. But to her dismay, her host showed no signs of allowing her to leave.
“Have you ever tried to dance, Miss Shelby?” he asked, his angelic countenance contorted into a frown. For a moment, Juliet imagined him as an avenging angel rushing to her defense. It was a heady thought.
“Though I imagine her situation is quite different from yours,” Deveril continued, “I know that my great-aunt Augusta, who suffers from a similar problem, found that while she cannot walk without a limp, she was rather good at dancing. Something to do with having a compensatory sense of balance.”
Though she knew he meant well, Juliet rather doubted that Lord Deveril’s Great-aunt Augusta’s ailment was quite as severe as her own. Still, it was kind of him to suggest it.
“I have not tried to dance, my lord,” she said, “but I can assure you that there is little chance of my being able to do so. I’m afraid my—”
“I beg your pardon, Miss Shelby,” he interrupted, “but if you haven’t tried, then how can you possibly know?”
His audacity surprised her. For as long as she’d known him, or more accurately known of him, Lord Alec Deveril had been held up as a pillar of good breeding and elegant manners. He was hardly the sort of man one would expect to interrupt a lady. Still, his question gave her pause.
How could she know without having tried? She thought of the dance card that her cousin Cecily had given to her a week ago.
Earlier that season, when Amelia Snowe had left her reusable ivory and filigree dance card in the ladies’ retiring room at the Bewle ball, Cecily, then Miss Hurston, had snatched it up in hopes of using it herself. After all, it had been signed by the most eligible gentlemen of the ton and Amelia had just proven herself once more to be the most unpleasant and hateful young lady of the cousins’ acquaintance. But now that Cecily was happily married, she had passed it on, as a sort of good luck token, to Juliet. She was not bold enough to trick the gentlemen into thinking they had signed up for dancing with her rather than Amelia, as Cecily had done, but she would like to put the dance card to use on her own. Perhaps have the gentlemen of the beau monde scrawl their names on the ivory slats of the dance card in hopes of taking a turn about the room with her for a change.
But since it had come into her possession, Juliet had been wondering just how she could make that happen. It was perfectly acceptable for young ladies who were unable to dance to sit out the set with a gentleman. But what if Lord Deveril was right? What if she could actually dance? The very idea was revolutionary. It could change everything.
“I suppose you are right,” she conceded at last. “I cannot know, never having tried. But I would hardly wish to try it in a ballroom full of spectators. If my mama was worried that my playing the pianoforte would create a spectacle, she would have an apoplectic fit if she knew I was considering dancing.”
“Which,” his lordship said with a grin, “is why you should have a select group of people teach you. Perhaps just your cousins and a few other ladies and gentlemen.”
He looked so pleased with himself that Juliet nearly laughed aloud. “And I suppose you would wish to be a member of the party?” she asked.
“Well, it was my idea,” he said guilelessly.
Juliet found herself smiling. “I have no doubt that Cecily will be happy to host such a party at Winterson House.”
“What sort of hostess duties are you committing me to, Juliet?” the Duchess of Winterson demanded from the doorway. “And what on earth are you doing closeted with Lord Deveril? I know you have no care for your reputation, but if your mama were to know she’d have the two of you married before morning.”
Apparently unfazed by the duchess’s warning, Lord Deveril merely grinned, and bowed to her cousin. “I shall leave you to explain your plan to the duchess, Miss Shelby. I enjoyed our conversation very much.”
When he had gone, Cecily looked speculatively at her cousin.
“Yes, Juliet, explain your plan to your cousin,” she said. “And please include the part that involves the gorgeous man who just left the room.”
Cursing the blush she felt rising on her fair skin, Juliet did just that.
Copyright © 2012 by Manda Collins