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WHEN YOU LOVE SOMEONE
By SUSAN JOHNSON
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2006 Susan Johnson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNewmarket, May, 1788
She hadn't wanted to come to the Race Ball. But then when did she ever want to attend an entertainment with her husband?
Yet here she was.
Because her parents were dead and her brother needed a living.
And she would do anything to assure Will a future.
Dismissing the familiar encroaching melancholy that always overcame her when she allowed herself to recall the reasons she had wed, Elspeth reminded herself that there were many in the world in much more dreadful circumstances than she. And duty was a virtue, was it not?
"Get me another brandy and be quick about it," her husband snapped.
The world abruptly intruded. She heard the music once again, took note of the dancers sweeping by, looked down at the ugly twisted face of her husband gazing up at her from his Bath chair. Biting back the sharp remark on the tip of her tongue, she nodded instead and moved away to do his bidding.
* * *
"Who's that?" Lord Darley nodded, his gaze on Elspeth as she skirted the edge of the dance floor. "She's damned fine."
"That pretty thing is Grafton's latest wife."
"Another? How many is that for Old Hellfire?"
The Marquis of Darley lifted his brows. "Is that the one who—"
"Put Grafton in that Bath chair? Yes, indeed. Some six months ago." Viscount Stanhope raised his brows. "It was the juiciest of scandals."
"Grafton had an apoplexy on their wedding night as I recall."
"And Lady Grafton's still a virgin. Or so rumor has it. Which may account for his watching her like a hawk. She's not allowed out without a duenna."
"Grafton's too old for a sweet little vixen like that," the marquis murmured, following Elspeth with his gaze. "Although he still likes to show her off from the look of her low décolletage. Where did he find her?"
"She's a vicar's daughter. Not your style, Julius. Excellent family but no money; some dust-up over a small inheritance that should have come her way but went to a cousin instead, a younger brother who needed a leg up in the world. Grafton spied her at a hunt near his country place and the rest is history. She's a superior rider apparently; her father was a crack whip."
"He's dead, as is the mother. There's only a brother left and he's off to India with the Seventy-Third."
The marquis smiled faintly. "So she might be in need of some company."
"If only that were an original thought," Charles Lambton drily noted. "You and every man who's laid eyes on her thinks as much. But consider—even if it were possible which it's not—do you really want to bed a vicar's daughter?"
"It makes no difference to me if her father was a blacksmith."
Aware of his friend's democratic and unconstrained view apropos bed partners, the viscount said more precisely, "I meant she might be prudish."
"With a fulsome body like that, I'd suspect the lady is up to some degree of carnal amusements."
Charles shrugged. "Word has it she's refused all offers with a distinct coolness."
The marquis's glance swung away from the lady back to his friend. "She's been approached?"
"Of course she's been approached. If you didn't so pointedly avoid society, you'd be aware of the stunning entrance she made at Lady Chenwith's rout, not to mention her appearance as Iphigenia at Lady Portland's costume ball. Her costume was very revealing. Grafton stuck to her side like glue—his Bath chair not-withstanding— and she turned down every invitation to dance. Which were not invitations to dance exclusively as I'm sure you understand."
"Don't waste your time. She's unavailable. Unless you want to pay Grafton to watch perhaps," Charles quipped.
The marquis grinned. "Now there's a thought, old miserly wretch that Grafton is. On the other hand, politesse and tact is more likely to win fair maid. I believe I'll have to accept an invitation or so this week at New-market."
"Don't tell me you're willing play the gentleman for her. I thought only horses and debauch interested you. Lady Grafton's reputation is sterling by the way. Not your usual preference in women."
"She intrigues me."
"Don't they all?" A blunt rejoinder, but then the men had been friends since childhood.
"We can't all be in love with our stepsisters," the marquis murmured. "And you must admit Lady Grafton's sexual allure is impossible to ignore. I haven't seen such showy, impressive breasts"—he winked—"probably since my wet nurse. You don't suppose she's pregnant with some stable boy's brat?" he drawled.
"Not unless the stable boy is a special friend of Grafton's. He keeps his wife on a tight leash."
"I'll thank you to keep your unseemly thoughts to yourself." Charles was still struggling with his unsuitable passion.
"Selina's not actually related to you."
Charles scowled. "We don't all view the world with the same elastic principles as you."
"You should ask her"—Darley smiled—"find out whether she's more adaptable than you—more flexible as it were."
"That's enough, Julius. You're speaking of the woman I love."
"Very well, but if you don't even try to play the game, Charles, you'll never know what she thinks. In my case, I'm going to bestir myself to make Lady Grafton's acquaintance and see what she thinks." Lord Darley smiled. "Thank you, by the way. I never would have come to this tedious affair without your insistence."
"And the promise of first bid on Run-To-The-Gold's next offspring," Lambton gruffly noted.
Another flash of perfect white teeth. "That, too. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll see if I can remember any of the virtuous, Biblical maxims beaten into me by my overzealous tutors."
Chapter TwoLady Grafton had entered the card room and was waiting as a flunkey filled a glass with brandy when the marquis followed her in.
She was not, however, waiting alone.
She was surrounded by a jostling crowd of admirers.
On Darley's approach the throng parted like the Red Sea in deference to the marquis's skill at dueling, his erratic temper, his title, and last but not least—his great fortune that trumped all the other qualities in the hierarchy of aristocratic values.
Bowing gracefully as he reached her, Julius's smile was one of transcendent charm. "Darley at your service, ma'am. I understand you're a first-rate rider. If I might offer you the use of my horses while you're at Newmarket, I would consider it an unparalleled honor."
"How pretty of you," she murmured, not returning his smile. "But my husband brought my horses south. If you'll excuse me, gentlemen." Taking the glass offered her by the flunkey, she took a step forward.
Any other man but Darley would have moved aside.
In fact, all of them did—not that it mattered when the marquis alone blocked her path. "If I might escort you," he pleasantly said, putting out his arm.
She met his gaze with cool directness. "I'd rather you didn't."
A faint uptake of breaths in the surrounding press of gallants acknowledged her startling rebuff.
"I'm harmless," Julius murmured with a faint smile, letting his arm drop to his side.
"Pray allow me to disagree, my lord. Your reputation precedes you."
"Are you afraid?" His voice was suddenly pitched low, the words for her ears alone.
"Hardly." She, too, spoke in an undertone, not wishing to call attention to herself, particularly with a man like Darley who was a byword for dissipation.
"It's only a short stroll through a crush of people. How can it matter?"
His voice was gentle, his gaze oddly benevolent, his beauty at close range far exceeding whatever reports she may have heard in the remoteness of her country parish. But reports she had heard, as had any young girl with an ear for gossip. Lord Darley's scandalous exploits had inflamed the pages of The Tatler for years.
"Indeed, how can it matter?" she abruptly agreed, tipping her head in the veriest acceptance.
He'd known all along that she'd accept his challenge. Something about the set of her chin gave him reason to suspect she had pluck. Although taking Grafton to husband required a certain degree of un- flinching courage he didn't doubt. Lifting the brandy glass from her hand, he bowed gracefully and crooked his arm.
Placing her palm on the brown wool sleeve of his Jockey Club cutaway coat, she experienced a sudden leaping of her heart. Impossible, she thought, far from a woman of flighty emotions. But there—she felt it again as he turned his smile on her. And this time the tremulous jolt of sensation had nothing to do with her heart.
"You really should consider taking out my racer, Skylark, if you enjoy riding. He's incredible," Julius added. Like you, he thought, trying to ignore his body's violent reaction to the light impress of her hand.
"My husband wouldn't allow it."
"I could speak to him. Surely he wouldn't disapprove of you riding while you're at Newmarket?"
"Other than on my own mounts, I'm afraid he would. But thank you for your offer." She came to a halt just short of the archway into the ballroom. "Now, if you please, I'll continue from here alone."
"Certainly you're not in durance vile?" He'd meant to speak lightly, but found his tone more sharp than he intended.
"As a matter of fact I am," she crisply replied. "The glass if you please."
"Are you all right?" A sincere concern underlaid his query.
"I'm perfectly fine. But even if I weren't, it's no business of yours. Is that clear?"
"Yes, of course. May I call on you ... and your husband, of course?" he tardily included.
"No. Good-bye, my lord." And slipping the glass from his grasp, she turned and walked away.
"I gather you weren't successful in your pursuit," Charles observed as Julius rejoined him.
The marquis scowled. "The lady's a veritable prisoner, it seems."
"Didn't I say as much? Find some other quarry. Or simply stand still for the legions of women in pursuit." Charles's brows rose. "As in the current bevy about to descend on us."
Julius took note of the swarm of fashionable young ladies advancing their way, curls bobbing, cheeks flushed, a distinct sense of purpose in their step. "I'm leaving," he muttered. "Make my excuses. I find Caro Napier particularly annoying, not to mention Georgiana Hothfield and bloody hell ... not Amanda—" Without a backward glance, the marquis bolted, the last person he wished to see forging ahead of the pack.
Just because he and Amanda shared an occasional night of ball-breaking sex didn't mean he actually wished to talk to her. Let some other buck entertain her tonight. He had things on his mind—such as golden curls and gorgeous pink breasts and chill blue eyes he intended to thaw.
Escaping through the terrace doors, he strode away and a short time later reached his race box on the edge of town. Entering his house, he waved away the footmen, strode to his study, poured himself a cognac and drank it down. Refilling his glass, he sat down by the fire and relaxed for the first time since he'd entered the Race Ball. Why anyone seriously involved themselves in society was beyond him. Tedious and predictable, the same people saw the same people night after night, week after week. One met the same women as well at every event and here at Newmarket where manners were informal and the usual crush reduced, it was more difficult to avoid being accosted by one's ex-lovers.
On the other hand, he decided, there were women like the delectable Lady Grafton who could accost him with his blessing.
Recall of her lush beauty brought a fleeting smile to his lips as quickly replaced by a faint grimace. Wasn't that the way it went—the females he didn't want he could have by the score. (His former urgent desires conveniently forgotten.) While the woman he found so enticing was unavailable.
Or so it seemed, he equivocated, unfamiliar with being thwarted.
Born into a great family, raised in privilege, gifted with good looks and accomplishments beyond the ordinary, Julius D'Abernon, Marquis of Darley, heir to the Duke of Westerlands viewed his place in the world with perhaps a forgivable lack of humility.
By his third cognac he'd dismissed whatever hindrances might exist in relation to Lady Grafton and was debating instead how to tempt her from her conjugal restraints. Surely, if Grafton was truly incapacitated, the lady might be grateful for a discreet opportunity to exercise her passions. She was glowing with life, a nubile young woman denied the pleasures of the flesh. To introduce her to amour would be gratifying.
That he normally found virgins dull he chose to ignore because Lady Grafton excited a rare, inexplicable desire in him. Her beauty alone, however bedeviling, wasn't reason enough for her unprecedented appeal. He'd amused himself for years with the great beauties of his day. Nor was the challenge of eluding a watchful husband out of the ordinary. Women of his class were expected to marry well, not for love. Once the required heir had been produced, they very often amused themselves outside the marriage bed.
So why was he so attracted? Why was he mooning over a pretty little blonde? Was she in such sharp contrast to his life of debauch that he was intrigued? Was the fact that she was a vicar's daughter enticing?
Or was some mute witchery at play?
Had she somehow, unspoken, made her wishes known?
He shook away the ludicrous notion, charging the absurdity to three cognacs in addition to the considerable drink he'd already consumed that evening. Even while dismissing such thoughts as ridiculous, he found it impossible to so easily dismiss the images of Lady Grafton filling his brain. He could almost smell her violet scent, see the splendor of her breasts, her slender waist, the curve of her hips. Her golden hair gleamed softly in his mind's eye, the diamond ear bobs in her pink lobes twinkled at him. Recall of the light touch of her hand on his arm fueled his lust.
She was fresh-faced, untried, a delight to the eye, and if Grafton had her on display, could he be faulted for taking the lure?
The answer was predictable; the world had been his from the cradle.
He'd call on her tomorrow.
And see what transpired ...
Lost in his pleasant reverie of the morrow, the sound of a contretemps outside his study door went unheeded until Amanda abruptly burst into the room, brushing aside the footman who was attempting to refuse her entrance.
"Get out," she commanded, waving away the footman who stood in the doorway looking distraite.
Julius nodded. "Thank you, Ned. I appreciate the effort. I'll call if I need anything."
As the servant closed the door, Amanda kicked off her slippers, making herself at home with the familiarity of a long-standing friendship. "You'd think Ned was guarding the crown jewels," she said with a sniff. "Although," she added with a grin, "perhaps that analogy is apt." Walking over to the fire, she plopped down in a chair opposite Julius, leaned back and, surveying him from under her lashes, smiled. "You ran away tonight."
Instead of saying Get out, he replied with an answering smile. "I had an appointment." The sudden realization that Amanda might be useful entered his mind. She could accompany him on his visit to Lady Grafton tomorrow. Surely old Grafton couldn't take issue with Lady Bloodworth visiting his wife. "I'm currently free however," he murmured. "Would you like a drink?"
"I'd like you," she purred.
"Here or upstairs?" His tone was gracious, on his best behavior with Amanda's cooperation at stake.
"I should be angry with you—bolting like that," she said with a pretty pout.
Ordinarily, she would have irritated him with her intrusion and pouty reproof. But his plans entrain, he found himself in a benevolent mood. "Let me put you in a better humor, darling." He patted his thigh. "Come, sit on my lap."
At the same time a gratified Amanda Bloodworth was rising from her chair, Elspeth was very near to losing her temper. She'd fetched her husband any number of brandies which did nothing to improve his acid temper; she'd politely turned down a dozen offers to dance when she would have loved to dance; she'd endured the lecherous advances of Grafton's equally hideous brother with stiff sufferance; and if her husband snapped at her one more time, she might very well throttle him in full sight of all the guests at the Race Ball.
Excerpted from WHEN YOU LOVE SOMEONE by SUSAN JOHNSON Copyright © 2006 by Susan Johnson. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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