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His raised eyebrows told her he was both dumbfounded and disapproving. "Miss Sterling, one never admits to one's funds being at low ebb. An English gentleman may be hopelessly in debt with the cent percenters hounding him relentlessly, he may be planning to flee to Calais before tomorrow's dawn, but still he dons his best evening attire and spends his final night in London, perhaps the last night he will ever spend in England, at Almack's or White's or whatever his favorite haunt might be. All with never so much as a word of complaint or regret or the slightest hint of his exquisite distress. I suggest, Miss Sterling, that you do the same."
"I have no desire whatsoever to emulate impoverished English gentlemen. I have no desire to heroically sink beneath the mountainous waves of debt with all my flags flying and all my cannon firing."
Lord Devlin raised an eyebrow and smiled crookedly, at the same time spreading out his arms in a gesture that encompassed the entire drawing room. "And yet you appear to be welcoming your sorry fate with every light blazing."
She bit back a denial when she realized he was right. That had been precisely what she had been doing when she lit the candles. Lord Devlin was more perceptive than she'd suspected.
"Although I believe in making the best of hardship," she said at last, "I would never choose deceit over the truth. Lyon Hall does not pay its way and I admit it."
"Is this policy of truth at all costs a peculiar colonial virtue of some sort? I say colonial because I detect a foreign strain in your voice, something a less kind person might describe as a slight nasal quality. Are you Australian? Or Canadian?"
Lord Devlin wasthe one with the accent, so much so that at times she had difficulty understanding what he was saying. She, on the other hand, had no accent whatsoever. "I happen to be an American," she told him proudly. "From the city of New Orleans in the United States of America."
About to go on, she paused. Her father had been a sea captain sailing out of Boston when he married Marie La Branche, a seventeen-year-old French girl from New Orleans. Jane had no memory of the mother who had died at her birth; her father had gone down with all hands on the Anna Celeste during a hurricane in the Caribbean in the fall of 1812. But she said nothing. Her family history was no concern of Lord Devlin's.
"Ah, just so, an American, that fact explains a great deal. Greeting unexpected visitors at your front door at one in the morning is probably an American--" He shook his head. "Pray pardon me, my dear Miss Sterling. I forget myself. For some reason, you succeed in bringing forth the worst in me, the very worst. Our two countries may find themselves at war, but I hope we two will remain at peace."
"I fear we share little common ground, Lord Devlin. And what little we may have you do your best to shovel away."
"At least we could agree on some things." He stepped toward her, smiling.
"And what are they?" she asked, wary yet intrigued.
"For example," he went on, "we could agree that your eyes are green. And a most delightful shade of green, I might add."
"No," she told him even as she felt a spark of pleasure on hearing his compliment. "My eyes happen to be hazel."
"But your hair, surely your hair is red. And a glorious shade of red."
"My hair happens to be auburn." She held up her hand before he could go on, reminding herself she had no interest in Lord Devlin as a man despite the unexpected glow his words brought. Probably her interest in him, merely an interest, she reminded herself, not a fascination, came about because he was perhaps a perfect specimen of a breed she had little knowledge of and little use for--the English aristocratic gentleman. Lord Devlin offered her the opportunity to study one at first hand.
Posted November 13, 2010
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