Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(67) by Lorraine Heath
She was not yet infamous, but once she was, doors that had never been opened to her would be bolted shut forever.
She had always imagined seeing pleasure rippling over her own husband’s face as she descended the stairs to meet him, but Rafe was not her husband, and as he stood in the foyer, his expression gave away nothing. He merely studied her with heavily-lidded eyes.
She wished she could hide her thoughts so well, but she suspected that her eyes were shining at the sight of him. Even in his black tailcoat with every strand of hair perfectly combed, he appeared dark and dangerous, someone no one would want to meet in an alley late at night. His broad shoulders filled his jacket nicely. His black trousers hugged his long legs. He tugged at his white gloves. Hers went up over her elbow, fit so snuggly that her fingers would no doubt be numb by the end of the evening. But she didn’t care. She was going to attend a formal affair.
As her slippered feet took the last step and settled on the marble in the foyer, he took his top hat from Laurence and settled it on his head. When she reached him, he extended his arm. He’d only offered that courtesy to her once, the night they’d walked through St. Giles, and she’d assumed he’d done it then as a means of protecting her. Was he thinking he needed to serve as her protector now? She smiled brightly before placing her hand on his forearm.
“I can’t believe I’m going to attend a ball,” she enthused.
“I’m confident you’ll find it dreadfully dull,” he said drolly.
“Nothing you say will diminish my excitement.”
Laurence opened the door and they swept through into the night. She was surprised to see a carriage waiting for them. “It’s not that far a walk,” she said.
A footman opened the door, and Rafe assisted her inside. As she settled onto the soft cushion, she supposed walking would have given her a dirty hem and slippers, but the carriage meant enduring the long line of arrivals. She was afraid if she had time to give all this too much thought, she would lose her courage.
Rafe took his seat across from her, bringing with him his glorious male fragrance of cigar, sandalwood, and bergamot.
“Have you attended many parties?” she asked.
“Enough to know I don’t much like them.”
“Then why are we going?”
“Because you shouldn’t be dancing in a garden; you should be dancing in a ballroom.”
Nothing he could have said would have pleased her more. “Are you certain they won’t mind that you’ve brought a guest?”
“Sweetheart, they’ll be so flummoxed that I arrived at all that they would not object if I walked into the ballroom naked.”
She laughed lightly. “I daresay they would object to that.”
He tilted his head. “Perhaps I overstate things. You look beautiful, you know.”
She pressed her fingers to the pearls he’d given her. “So do you.”
He laughed, just a quick burst of sound that reverberated around them.
“I mean it,” she said, slightly offended that he didn’t seem to believe her. “You are quite possibly the handsomest man I’ve ever seen. I thought that the first night I met you. I kept stealing glances at you when I was talking with the other gentlemen.” She interlaced her fingers tightly, hoping the pain might stop her from opening her mouth. “I don’t know why I confessed that. Nervous, I suppose.”
“You have no reason to be nervous, I assure you, but I should warn you that our host is not such a handsome fellow. He was gravely wounded during the war. His face is rather scarred. It can be disconcerting when you first see the extent of the damage.”
“He’s a soldier then, not a lord.” She felt a sense of relief. She would not be mingling about with the upper crust. But what of the little boy? Was he only visiting.
“He’s a duke.”
Her stomach knotted. “Perhaps we should reconsider.”
“I never took you to be cowardly.”
“I’m not afraid, but I don’t wish to create scandal. You said this was their first ball. I don’t want to ruin it for them.”
The carriage rocked to a halt. The door opened. Rafe fairly leapt out before extending his hand to her. Taking a deep steadying breath, she placed hers in his. His fingers closed around hers, strong and purposeful. She alighted, taking in the sight of so many footmen scurrying about to assist the guests as they arrived. She thought everyone would be here by now, that they would be the last, but she supposed people came and went all night. The residence was as large as Rafe’s, perhaps larger.
As he escorted her up the steps, she said, “They have a son. I hear him playing in the garden sometimes.”
“He’s but two. He’ll be abed.”
“You seem to know them very well.”
“Not so well.”
They stepped through the doorway, and he handed his hat to a servant while she took in everything. It was gorgeous. Family portraits adorned the walls. Something about them was familiar. It was the eyes she realized. All the gentlemen had such pale blue eyes.
But before she could give it much more thought, Rafe was escorting her down a hallway where a few couples waited in line. They looked at him but said nothing, and she wondered if they knew who he was.
“Do you suppose Geoffrey will be here?” she whispered.
“I doubt it. He was lost in the cards when I left the club.”
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