Authors: Kathryn Caskie
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
She opened her mouth but snapped it closed again.
There was no way she was going to admit anything to
So, instead, she shook her head.
“No? Are you certain? You seem so familiar to my eye.”
Mary shrugged her shoulders, then focused her gaze on the wedge of space between the giant of a man and the edge of the screen.
It was tight, but if she rushed through the gap she might make her escape.
“And you are?” He raised both dark, slashing eyebrows, waiting for her to offer her name.
Mary sucked in a lusty breath. “I am... I am
Do excuse me, Your Grace.”
Nerves propelled her forward, a bit faster than she intended. Pushing past him, she accidentally hit the screen with her left elbow and, with her right, knocked the duke a half stagger toward the wall.
She cringed and had just started for a cluster of gentlemen in dark coats when she heard a thud. And then, behind her, a chorus of gasps.
The sound she’d heard was no mystery, but she could not help herself from looking back over her shoulder at its source.
The screen had fallen to the floor, and Blackstone, still standing where he had been, appeared to everyone to have toppled it.
Even more ghastly was the fact that his blazing eyes were staring straight at her.
Nearly a dozen or so guests followed his potent gaze back to her, and chatter washed through the crowd in a wave of excitement.
A tremble raced over her limbs. Good heavens, she’d only been inside the house for a clutch of minutes and already she had made a goose of herself and an enemy of the brother of the man she would someday marry.
There was no other choice. She had to leave.
Then she felt a small hand on her upper arm.
“There you are, Mary. Come with me, dear gel.” Lady
gestured across the drawing room. “This way, please. There is someone who wishes to make your acquaintance.”
Mary exhaled in relief.
, she had no idea if Lady
was the least bit aware that she had rescued her from a most awkward situation, but at that moment, she didn’t really care. All she knew was that the tiny woman was leading her away from Blackstone.
Within moments, Lady
had guided her to the farthest reaches of the drawing room, which suited Mary perfectly well. She would be glad to meet whomever Lady
wished, for that introduction had saved her from unimaginable embarrassment before the
“Here we are, dear.” Lady
smiled brightly at her.
Mary lifted her gaze forward and suddenly could not move.
, the handsome blond viscount, whom she was destined to marry, was standing directly before her.
She could hear that Lady
was in the midst of an introduction, but the words were like buzzing in her ears. And she could not quite follow what was being said.
But here he was.
Lord above, what a night. Though they might have abandoned her earlier, all the angels in heaven were certainly smiling down upon her now.
Her eyes locked with his, and she bequeathed him a shy smile.
The edges of his mouth lifted, and he bowed before her. “Miss
.” His tone was smooth and pleasing to her ear. Not at all like his brother’s deep voice, which vibrated through her in the most annoying way when he spoke.
.” Mary bent and dropped a perfectly executed curtsy, having had the benefit of so much practice earlier that day at the Old Rakes of Marylebone Club. Of course, she would not mention that, and she trusted that Lady
would keep that secret to herself as well.
“I truly must thank you, Lady
, for introducing me to your protégée. I own, Miss
and I have exchanged gazes from time to time in
, but until this evening, we had never chanced to actually meet.”
“I am honored you remembered me, Lord
Before he could reply, an even broader smile shaped the viscount’s lips as he focused on a point somewhere behind her. “Ah, there you are, Rogan. Do come and meet Miss
. She is Lady
The viscount leaned on his cane to reach past Mary and draw forth his brother, who had at one moment or another silently crept forth to stand right behind her.
Blackstone moved to his brother’s left. He tilted his head to the side a bit, and a crooked grin took hold of his lips. “Miss
, is it?” He straightened his head above his shoulders and merely tipped his head to her.
nudged Mary in her ribs. “Curtsy, dear,” she whispered.
Mary smirked up at the duke and bent slightly at the knees. Even that was more than he was due.
Who did he think he was, giving her naught but a nod?
and I have not met until this eve,” the viscount said reprovingly as he shot his brother a loaded glance. “Though, coincidentally, we have crossed paths in
on several occasions.”
?” The duke’s eyebrows drifted toward his hairline. “Then she must be—” He looked straight into her eyes with his piercing gaze.
Mary felt a familiar hot flush sweep across her cheeks.
“Ah, there it is, Quinn,” the duke said, gesturing to Mary’s face. “A delicate rose hue.”
“Yes, well... ” Lord
shifted his feet in apparent unease, but it was nothing compared to the awkwardness Mary felt.
She turned her head, breaking free of the duke’s gaze, and peered past Lady
to locate her sisters.
“Damnation! I know where I’ve seen you.”
Mary snapped her head back around just in time to see Lady
wave her furled fan in the duke’s direction.
“Ladies are present, sir,” the old woman scolded. “And it doesn’t matter to me if you are a duke or a prince. I demand respect and I will have it.”
“I do beg your forgiveness, Lady
.” He narrowed his eyes at Mary and seemed to study her.
Mary’s breathing became faster. His words were apologetic, but the mischievous look in his eyes was anything but.
“I thought I recalled seeing you before, Miss
, and now I know where that was.”
Mary swallowed deeply.
His eyes seemed to widen to twice their earlier size. “Y-you are the statue from the garden!”
statue?” Mary blinked and raised her eyebrows for effect. Despite the inconvenience of her insides swirling like dried leaves on a windy day, she at least had had a few moments to prepare for Blackstone’s attack.
It had been fairly easy, in fact, to gauge the Black Duke’s intent once she’d glimpsed the excited movement in his eyes.
All she’d had to do was imagine the absolute worst thing that could be said or done, which she oft did in any situation anyway, and that was precisely what the brute did.
“What ever could you mean by that, Your Grace?” Mary tossed a confused expression to Lord
, hoping to gain his support.
The duke seemed to realize her game. “Do you claim you do not understand me, Miss
? I am convinced you know precisely what I speak of.”
Mary shrugged and remained silent.
“I was certain I had seen you—and I had—in the
“I am sorry, Your Grace.” Mary reached out and gave him a placating pat on the arm. “But I am not acquainted with the
“You were there... and in a toga.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “For some reason or another you had powdered your hair and body and were posing as a piece of garden statuary.”
“Posing as statuary? What nonsense is this?” Lady
hooked Mary’s hand and reeled her closer. “Do tell me. What is His Grace speaking of, dear?”
Mary forced a hard laugh. “Oh goodness. He is making a jest, Lady
.” She laughed, softly this time, and looked up timidly through her lashes at the viscount. “Lord
, you should have mentioned that your dear brother was so dryly diverting.”
The duke’s eyes flashed, and she knew her strategy of remaining one small chess move ahead of him was trying what modicum of patience he possessed. “Miss
, I know what I saw.”
“Rogan, you are clearly mistaken.” Lord
stared pleadingly at his brother.
you.” The duke’s tone grew deeper as his ire increased. “Though you may wish our company to believe this eve marked our first exchange of glances, it was not, and I demand you admit it, Miss
What option had she now?
She could not lie.
Mary raised her eyes and peered up at Lord
Even he was waiting for a response that would put his brutish brother at ease again.
And then it suddenly occurred to her what to say. “How silly of me. You are absolutely correct, Your Grace.”
The duke’s chest seemed to puff out a bit at her admission. “Do you see, Quinn, even
pulled Mary closer to her again. “You were disguised as garden statuary, dear?”
Mary released a strained laugh again. “His Grace is correct about his assertion that we’ve exchanged glances before this night.”
Several guests beyond their intimate circle hushed and gathered near to hear Mary’s confession.
“It was this very day, in fact.” Mary looked the duke straight in the eye and smiled confidently at him. “Do you not recall it, Your Grace? Why, you nearly ran me down in
and then Lady
. “I own, ’twas only due to Lord
quick thinking that my sisters and I were not trampled by His Grace’s massive horse.”
“Good heavens!” Lord
reached out and clasped a hand around Mary’s upper arm. “That was you and your sisters? I do so apologize. Are you completely unharmed?”
“I am,” she replied sweetly.
He was touching her. The heat of his fingers pressed through his gloves and warmed her skin. Though she didn’t wish for him to release her, Mary could not resist looking down at where their skin met. She wanted to remember this moment. Remember the feel of him.
followed her gaze and immediately returned his hands to his sides. “Forgive me, Miss
“Think nothing of it, Lord
.” Mary smiled coyly at him again. “I admit, I am greatly flattered by your kind concern.”
Mary had the impression that the duke would have raised his head and howled at his defeat if it would have been socially acceptable.
A triumphant smile itched to show itself upon Mary’s lips. But she knew the favorable footing she enjoyed now could be lost at any moment, so she began to plot her escape.
Just where were Anne and Elizabeth?
pursed her tiny lips. “Dear, you and your sisters never mentioned your sweep with doom this day.”
“There was no need. We were rescued from all harm by Lord
, here.” Mary extended her hand to him. “At the time I am afraid I was too shaken to address you properly. So I shall do it now. Please accept my thanks, Lord
, for saving our lives.”
“It was my duty, Miss
... and my pleasure.” The viscount elbowed his brother. “Now my brother has something he wishes to say to you. Is that not correct, Rogan?”
.” The duke cleared his throat. “I beg your forgiveness for the near-accident this day. I am greatly relieved that you and your sisters were not harmed in any way.” He leaned closer to her. “Might I suggest the use of a carriage in the future?”
“You might, Your Grace, but since we do not own a carriage, and hackneys are too dear to hire with any regularity, my sisters and I will likely continue to walk whenever possible. I am sure you understand.”
He cocked his brow at her then, and his eyes brightened, as if he did suddenly understand, though, from the curious expression on his face, Mary was not at all sure what he might have gleaned from her innocent comment.