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A Match Made in Scandal
With a sigh of frustration, Rachel Bailey thrummed her fingers on the polished banister, the diaphanous froth of her emerald skirt whispering with her movement. Perfumed currents of air mingled with cigar smoke drifting from the ballroom below. She turned, her fan dangling from one wrist, an empty dance card on the other.
She'd tried not to care that so many here found her an intellectual oddity or had excluded her from their social circles.
For Cinderella had nothing on Rachel, except perhaps the eye of the handsome prince, or in this case the talented recipient of one of the most prestigious awards in all of Great Britain. A civil engineer could garner no higher honor than the Gold Telford Award, an honor that she would never receive because of her gender, but one that Ryan Donally most aptly deserved. From the gilt-edged balcony of the Palace Hotel, overlooking the ballroom, she watched him, his tall, dark form easily recognizable among the colorful assemblage. Music floated high above the spacious floor to resonate against the dome-shaped roof, elaborately paneled in Venetian mirrors. All about her, the ball was in full swing, the swirl of colors arcing across the polished floor like a rainbow.
Incredibly handsome, Ryan was suited to the petite blonde he held a little too intimately in his arms, Lady Gwyneth Abbott. His future wife, if one was to believe the rumor running rampant among the crowd. She was a jewel of elegant architecture in vermilion silk and upswept blond hair wrapped in a diamond tiara. The two conversed,his vital energy mesmerizing, his open smile reflecting an animated conversation that drew more than Rachel's attention.
Ever since they'd been children, Ryan had garnered attention wherever he went. He mastered crowds as easily as he gathered accolades, his charisma a reflection of his Irish good looks. Now, having amassed a fortune in the iron-ore industry, Ryan himself had since become an international conglomerate separate from his family�and separate from her�a far reach from the uncouth boy who used to throw spiders in her hair when they were children.
Theirs had always been an impossible relationship. He was her curse.
And the very reason she had returned to England.
Drawing in her breath against her tightly laced corset, Rachel knew she was naive to think she could walk back into his life tonight after everything she'd done to him, and not feel panic.
They had not spoken since Kathleen had died four years ago.
She had to find a way to speak with him. She needed to talk to him.
�The woman in my brother's arms is the Earl of Devonshire's niece,� a masculine voice murmured next to her ear and startled her.
John Donally had managed a soundless approach and caught her staring at Ryan. �And of whom are you speaking?� Rachel plucked a fluted champagne glass off the tray of a passing footman.
�You know of whom I'm speaking. I understand that she's the earl's ward and that she's sought after among the ton's bachelors. But she has eyes only for my brother. She's quite beautiful.�
And Ryan's brother, with whom she usually managed an excellent rapport, only jammed the knife a little deeper into her heart. Rachel truly didn't want to know that the girl was flawless as a snowflake. Sipping champagne, she welcomed the wet effervescence against her senses. �Did Lady Gwyneth make him cut his hair?� she asked, for lack of anything charitable to say. She'd noticed Ryan's trademark queue missing.
�I doubt it, colleen.� Johnny crossed his arms. �But you can always inquire.�
�I would very much like to talk to him. He's not been in London for a week.�
�He's been in Bristol. They returned last night.�
Ryan's older brother peered over the balcony, his dark curly hair catching the light from the Venetian chandelier. �He and Lady Gwyneth, and the girl's sister,� Johnny said. �He just purchased property there.�
�Can he really want to marry her, Johnny?�
�What do I know about Ryan's heart? Since Kathleen's death, he's kept his emotions locked away so tightly none of us have been able to make sense of anything he does.� Slipping a hand into his pocket, Johnny turned. �He's not the same man he used to be. Don't be lulled into thinking otherwise.�
�Does he ever speak of Kathleen?�
Johnny folded his arms and leaned against the balustrade. �Why have you come all the way from Ireland to be here tonight, colleen?�
�Despite everything else he's done these past four years, Ryan still chairs Donally & Bailey Engineering.� She studied the champagne bubbles in her glass, realizing they were perfectly formed spheres and, if she held them to the light, they glittered. That such perfection could result from the nasty by-product of massive chaos and organic upheaval was the essence of true chemistry.
Rachel swiveled her glass in the light and blinked as Johnny's handsome face suddenly came into focus over the crystalline rim. Realizing he might construe too much from such unusual whimsy, she sipped. �You have to admit the award is well deserved. He's required reading at Edinburgh and Go_ttingen.�
�And naturally, you're filled with admiration for his talents.� Johnny plucked the glass from her fingertips and set it on the table beside the richly gilt Corinthian column. �Methinks you've imbibed enough, colleen.�
recaptured her glass, prepared to do battle for one more taste. �What will she be thinking to see the two of us all alone up here, cozy as lovebirds grappling over my champagne flute?�
His dark eyes filling with mischief, he deftly snatched the glass from her hands and set it on the tray of a passing footman. �She'll be thinkin' that we've known each other all of our lives, Rachel.� Taking her elbow, he forced her gaze from the glass of spirits disappearing down the back stairway that led out to the hotel kitchens.A Match Made in Scandal. Copyright � by Melody Thomas. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.