The only thing preventing Violet Redmond from expiring from boredom
at yet another ball is the whispered gossip surrounding
the newly styled, impossible-to-ignore Earl of Ardmay. Born in
England, raised in America and on the high seas, his manners seem
to be all that is correct. But he's imposing, faintly exotic,
and disturbingly attractive, and whispered speculation
about his origins ("Surely his parents were a bear and an
Indian," Lady Peregrine suggests), his, er... prowess...(based
on the size of his thighs) and his temperament (based on his scowl)
abounds. "He looks like a savage," is how Violet sums
it up. Because it's the earl's companion Violet is interested
in: turns out his name is...Lord Lavay.( If you've read Like
No Other Lover, you know why this shocks Violet to her
toes.) He's far more traditionally handsome than the earl, too.
Lady Peregrine, anticipating one of the thrilling disturbances
Violet is renowned for, arranges for an introduction to the earl
and Lavaythen promptly snatches Lavay off for a dance.
Leaving a thwarted Violet to have her first conversation and dance
with the Earl.
She took swift note of him and immediately again thought of jewels.
His face was faceted: High-planed cheeks, jaw hard and clean-edged
as a diamond. Chin stubborn, brow high and broad, nose bold. A
good mouth, drawn with elegant precision. She could imagine
Indian in his bloodline. His complexion was what marked him as
decidedly un-English and as a man with no particular pedigree:
more golden than fair and likely to darken and darken rather than
burn in the sun.
But he knew how to waltz.
When he expertly, gently took her hand in his and placed his
other hand against her waist, she knew a moment of peculiar breathlessness,
as though she were being pulled inexorably into an orbit. His
intangible power was such that she was tempted both to resist
it and surrender to it, and being Violet, she preferred the former
to the latter, and promptly set about doing it.
Dash it. It was Lavay she needed to see.
She peered over the earl's shoulder in time to intercept Lady
Peregrine's triumphant glance before she was twirled out of her
She stared darts at the back of Lady Peregrine's head.
"I don't bite."
The earl's voice was a low rumble near her ear.
Violet was startled. "I beg your pardon?"
"You were staring at me as though you wondered whether
His accent was interesting: flat, commanding American crisped
about the edges with something like aristocratic English. His
r's were softer, almost rolled. It was as though he'd absorbed
a bit of the music in the language of every land he'd traveled.
"Oh. No, I was satisfying
"As to the number of eyes I might possess?"
"I ascertained the number rather quickly, thank you."
"Ah. So you were staring beyond me. I see."
He sounded distantly amused. "What does it say about an evening
when bad manners seem refreshing?"
He'd all but murmured it to himself.
Violet was seldom dumbstruck, so this was novel. She stared up
She'd been right about his eyes. They were a remarkable, cloudless-sky-blue
ringed in darker blue. Thick lashes, golden tips where the sun
had touched them again and again. Lines, three each, at the corners
of his eyes, like the rays she used to draw about suns when she
was small. Squinting into the sun from the deck, indeed.
"Have you considered it might be bad manners to insinuate
that my manners are bad?" she said with some asperity.
This amused him. "You presume that I care whether you care."
She blinked. What manner of man was this?
His brows went up. Well? Inviting a volley. But his air
was still somewhat resigned and detached. As though he entertained
no real hope she could ever possibly divert him.
She in truth possessed exquisite manners and knew how to employ
them, and she considered that she ought to exert a modicum of
effort charm him. He was an earl, after all, the captain of a
and he might be able to tell her something about Lord
"How do you find England, sir?"
He gave a short laugh.
She bristled. "I wasn't trying to be witty."
"Were you trying to be banal?" he asked politely.
"I've never been banal in my entire life," Violet objected,
He leaned forward as he swept her in a circle, graceful for a
large man. As though he were a chariot and she were simply along
for the giddy ride. He pulled her a trifle closer than was proper.
She smelled starch and something sharp and clean; likely soap
and perhaps a touch of scent. She was eye-level with the whitest
cravat she'd seen outside of Lord Argosy, and suddenly she was
overwhelmingly aware of his size and strength.
"Prove it," he murmured next to her ear.
And then he was upright again, all graceful propriety, and they
were turning, turning, gliding in the familiar dance.
Which suddenly felt astoundingly unfamiliar thanks to her partner.
She was stunned.
she had the peculiar sense that the earl was simply
amusing himself. His eyes remained on her but still his gaze seemed
even as they moved gracefully together,
even as his hand rested warmly, firmly at her waist. She suspected
he had already taken her measure, categorized her, and neatly
dismissed her, and was now simply prodding at her like a toy that
he wished could do more than roll or squeak. To make the waltz
more interesting for him. For as long as he needed to endure
the tedium of it.
"Customarily," she said with gentle irony, "in
England, it's the gentleman's duty to charm his dancing
partner. Perhaps you've been at sea so long you've forgotten."
He was instantly all mock contrition. "You could very well
be correct. It could be I've become a savage while I was
Her eyes narrowed.
He met her gaze evenly.
For a moment they swept along in time with the music.
"It's impolite to eavesdrop," she said finally.
"I wasn't eavesdropping," he said easily.
"Then it's impolite to send spies to do the eavesdropping
for you. For clearly you did."
This pleased him. His eyes brightened; the hand at the small
of her back pressed against her approvingly, and it was a new
sensation, startling, almost intimate. "I'm not certain 'impolite'
is the word you're looking for. In all honesty the overhearing,
as it were, was happenstance. But as you are an expert in the
matter of etiquette, please refresh my memory: how polite is it
The man was a devil. And yet she was awfully tempted to laugh.
"I was being gossiped at," she tried after a
moment. And offered him a mischievous lowered-lashed smile that
usually all but dropped grown men to their knees. Generally hothouse
bouquets arrived at her door the day after she'd deployed one.
He wasn't entirely immune to it. She was rewarded with a pupil
"Ah, but are you a complete innocent, Miss Redmond?"
His voice had gone soft. His mouth tipped sardonically. Up twitched
one of those brows again. This time it was almost a threat: don't
If this was a flirting relay, he'd just handed her the baton.
Violet felt that familiar surge of exhilaration when tempted
with a reckless inspiration. She'd seldom been able to resist
She briefly went on toe to murmur the words closer to his ear
than was proper, so close she knew he could smell her, feel her
breath in his ear when she spoke. Once again was rewarded with
the heady smell of the man himself: sharp, clean, heightened by
his warmth and nearness.
"What do you think, sir?"
She instantly had his full attention for the first time since
the waltz had begun.
And yet once she had it she wasn't certain she wanted it. It
was like being passed something too hot to hold overlong. His
gaze was potent; there was nothing in it of the entreaty she was
accustomed to seeing in the faces of men. He was weighing her
with a specific intent in mind. His eyes touched on her eyes,
lips, décolletage, taking a swift bold inventory of her
as a woman that both shortened her breath in a peculiarly delicious
portentous way and made her fingers twitch to slap him.
And then he smiled a remote, almost dismissive smile and his
gaze flicked up from her as they negotiated a turn in the dance.
And then froze.
He dropped the remnants of his flirtatious demeanor as abruptly
as a boy drops a toy when called into dinner.
Before her eyes his jaw seemed to turn to granite; tension vibrated
in the hand pressed against her waist. He gripped her fingers
a trifle harder than he ought to.
What in God's name had he just seen?
She flexed her fingers. He absently eased his grip.
" He glanced at her perfunctorily. And returned
his gaze to whateve-or whomeverriveted him.
He'd forgotten her name? She clenched her teeth to keep
her jaw from dropping.
"Redmond," she reminded him exaggerated sweetness.
"Of course," he soothed. He gave her another cursory,
dutiful glance, meant to placate. Then returned to the object
of his focus. She'd seen a fox look at a vole that way before.
Right before it pounced.
And shook it until its neck snapped.
"I believe I may I be acquainted with the gentleman dancing
with the young lady in yellow. If I'm correct, his name is Mr.
Hardesty. Are you acquainted with him?"
With some perilous head craning, she managed to follow the direction
of his gaze.
And her hands went peculiarly icy inside her gloves.
He was looking at her brother Jonathan.
"I believe the gentleman to whom you're referring is Mr.
Jonathan Redmond. He's my brother."
The earl's attention sharply returned to her. But the expression
on his face stopped her breath as surely as though he'd stabbed
an accusing finger into her sternum.
She felt him will tension from his big body. Obediently
"Is your brother, Mr. Jonathan Redmond, a merchant, by any
chance?" His tone was mild. "A sea captain?"
He somehow kept Jonathan in his line of sight even as he moved
her by rote in the waltz. ONE two three ONE two three
She felt utterly superfluous. Suddenly she was the means by which
the earl could stalk her brother about a ballroom.
Jonathan, who like all men his age possessed of good looks and
money and prospects was convinced he was fascinating, chattered
gaily to the woman he danced with, who glowed up at him.
"Good heavens, no sir. Jonathan lives with our family in
Pennyroyal Green and London. His amusements are in London and
Sussex, and if he's ever been on a ship, I assure you he wouldn't
be able to stop bragging of it. Jonathan has never even expressed
an interest in the high seas. Perhaps you will have an opportunity
to meet him this evening. Upon closer inspection you may discover
his resemblance to Mr. Hardesty is not so strong."
This was meant to reassure himand protect Jonathan.
The earl remained coldly silent.
She was beginning to feel a bit like a ship steered on a voyage.
And as much as Violet craved novelty, this was a sensation she
could easily have done without.
"He doesn't 'resemble' Mr. Hardesty," he explained,
as if to a slow child. "He could be Mr. Hardesty's twin."
The conversation was now making her uneasy. Her hand twitched
restlessly in the earl's. He gripped it tightly, almost reflexively.
As though he alone would dictate when or if she could leave.
"I can tell you Jonathan hasn't a twin, sir," she said
Violet peered over his shoulder for Lavay, who would have the
pleasure of the next dance, and noted with relief that the waltz
approached its closing notes and Lady Peregrine looked pleased
with him, not troubled or irritated.
"Is Mr. Hardesty a fellow sailor?"
There was a hesitation.
And then his smile was a tight, remote thing. Oddly, it made
all the hair on the back of her neck stand up.
"I suppose you could say that."
It really didn't invite additional questioning about Mr. Hardesty,
which she supposed was the point of it.
He suddenly appeared disinterested in conversation.
"Are you staying in London long?" she asked.
"We'll return to the ship by dawn and sail shortly after
sunup." A perfunctory response.
"You're bound for
"Le Havre." A curt two-word answer.
Moments later, mercifully, the waltz ended. He bowed beautifully
to her, the epitome of graciousness, and she curtsied, and he
handed her off to the approaching Lord Lavay with as much regret
as if she were a tureen to be passed.
She peered over her shoulder as he bowed to Lady Peregrine, and
dutifully took up his position in the waltz.
She turned quickly to Violet and surreptitiously tapped her teeth
with one finger in a signal: he has all of them!
She doubted the earl would even remember her name.
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