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"Care to dance, my lady?"
The murmured words tickled the skin on her nape, sending chills down her spine. Pressing her lips together, Julia scanned the crowd, desperate to keep her expression calm.
Her stomach turned over, and her knees weakened. Literally weakened. All at the sound of a deep voice coming from behind her and the sensation of warm breath breezing across her skin. Her reaction toward the gorgeous and charming Earl of Bedingfield was foolish, hopeless.
Yet there it was, almost frightening in its intensity. He knew it too and teased her with his presence at almost every ball, musicale and soiree she attended, which were many since she'd accepted every invitation she received in the hope of seeing him. It had been years since she'd attended a season, and she wanted to make the most of it, despite her lack of wardrobe or funds.
Tonight, if she was brave enough, she'd let her...feelings for him be known. Not that they were feelings.
No, pure lust was not an emotion. It certainly drove her to distraction and made her think of him constantly, but she didn't have any feelings for him beyond reasonable fondness since she'd known him for so long.
But she lusted. Coveted. Wanted him more than she had any other man she'd ever encountered, and that included her deceased husband. Guilt abandoned her at the realization. She wasn't dead. She had every right to search out a man, take a lover, find her pleasure. She didn't want marriage.
She wanted Bedingfield; temporarily, of course. There was something about him, a certain charisma. The way he spoke to her, looked at herhe wove a spell around her.
"Surely you jest. You've never asked before," she replied, continuing to stare at the dance floor, wondering at the breathless quality of her voice. She rested a hand briefly over her rapidly beating heart and willed herself to calm down.
She could do this. She knew she could. He was what she wanted. He just didn't know it yet.
"I never jest when asking a lady to dance. Will you do me the favor, Lady Renwick?" He moved before her, elegantly handsome in evening dress, the stark black jacket making his shoulders impossibly wide, his chest impossibly broad. Images of being held in his arms as he swept her into a waltz flitted through her mind, and her fair skin heated. She hoped he wouldn't notice the telltale blush. The air between them fairly crackled with sensual awareness.
She'd never danced with him before, but his request went perfectly with her plan. She had a purpose this evening, one she'd never pursued before. Since coming out of mourning, she'd been terribly lonely and had toyed with the idea of taking the occasional, very discreet, lover. She'd just never found a man who interested her enough to do so.
Once she considered him, the choice was made. She was going to take a lover. And Bedingfield was the one she wanted.
But she wasn't the only one. Accompanied by their overeager mamas, fresh-faced debutantes crowded the sidelines of the ballroom, vying for the attention of the most eligible bachelors, the titled gentlemen with much to offer. Gentlemen like Lord Bedingfield.
"Aren't there plenty of other, more appropriate, ladies whom you could ask to dance?"
"I'm not interested in them." His smoldering blue gaze met hers, full of so much intensity and heat that it very nearly singed her where she stood.