Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(68) by Lorraine Heath
She was glad of that. He’d no doubt make a fuss, although she suspected Rafe would put a stop to it quickly enough. She did wish now that she had purchased some pearl combs for her hair, but she couldn’t bring herself to spend his money, to place herself more in his debt.
Then they were through the doorway, and her breath fairly escaped her body. It was all that she had imagined. Stairs led down into the enormous parlor. Candles flickered in the chandeliers. A mirrored wall reflected the guests milling around the edges of the dance area. The fragrance of the abundance of flowers scattered about permeated the air with a heady aroma. The ceiling was so high up that the room contained a balcony where the orchestra played. On the opposite side from where she and Rafe stood, the doors were open onto the terrace.
Leaning over, Rafe said something to the liveried servant standing there. Then he placed his hand over hers where it still rested on his arm.
“Miss Evelyn Chambers,” the man announced in a booming voice that nearly stopped her heart. “Lord Rafe Easton.”
She had assumed he would come here as a lord, but still it was disconcerting to hear him announced as such. It was so easy to forget that he inhabited this world, while she had only skipped at the edge of it. At the foot of the stairs, a couple jerked up their heads and Eve saw the scarred visage of the duke. Even Rafe’s warning had not prepared her for the massive threads of thick skin that resembled molten wax easing out from around the black eye patch and down to the man’s jaw. In contrast, the woman beside him was perfection, with bright green eyes and flaming red hair. She smiled warmly as Evelyn and Rafe descended.
As they got nearer, Evelyn realized the man’s remaining eye was the same shade as Rafe’s, ice over a clear blue lake. She fought to keep her mouth closed, to not look stunned. She didn’t want him to think it was his face that so startled her, rather than the realization that she was on the verge of meeting Rafe’s other brother. She was sure of it. If she blocked out the scars, he looked very much like the man she’d met in the park. She was half tempted to smack her fist against Rafe’s arm. Why hadn’t he confided in her?
As they came to a stop before the couple, Evelyn took a deep curtsy. “Your Graces.”
The duke merely studied her, probably seeing more with his one eye than most people did with two.
“Miss Chambers, it is a pleasure,” the duchess said. “And you—” She slapped her fan against Rafe’s shoulder. “How wicked of you not to tell us you were coming.”
“I wasn’t certain I’d be able to find the time.”
“But then he caught me dancing in the garden—”
“Our garden?” the duke interrupted.
Taken aback by his brusque tone, Evelyn shook her head. “No, his garden. On the other side of the wall.”
The duke glared. “You live in that monstrosity on the other side of the wall?”
“No. Miss Chambers resides there. I live in the rooms at my club. And now if you’ll excuse us, I hear a waltz starting. I promised the lady a dance.”
Before anyone could respond, he wrapped his long fingers around her arm and was propelling her toward the dance floor.
“That was remarkably rude,” she muttered.
“We didn’t come here to talk. We came here to dance.”
“Why didn’t you tell me whose affair we were attending?”
“What does it matter? You wanted to attend a ball, and you have. One dance and we leave. Enjoy it, sweetheart.”
Within the mad crush of dancing couples, he took her into his arms and glided her over the polished wood. She wanted to remain irritated with him, but decided to lock it away until later. She didn’t understand his relationship with his brothers—except to think that he didn’t truly have one. But for now, she was at a ball dancing with a handsome gentleman. She wouldn’t have it ruined.
“Why didn’t you let him know that you lived beside him?” All right. Perhaps it would be ruined.
“It never came up in conversation.”
“You can be the most infuriating man—”
“Who brought you to something he despises so you might find some enjoyment.”
That knocked all the fight out of her. “Do you really despise it?”
“Only because it reminds me of my roots, and they were dug up long ago.”
“But roots always return to where they were, don’t they? They return to the soil.”
“Oh, my little philosopher, can you not see that they are as uncomfortable with me being here as I am with being here? Many of these gents frequent my club. They owe me a good deal of coin. A few even spend time with my girls. I know their darkest indiscretions.”
He gave her a sardonic smile. “Would you have me lose my value as a keeper of secrets?”
The music drifted into silence and the disappointment hit her. They would leave now. She supposed she should be grateful for the time she had. Only he didn’t escort her from the dance floor, and when the strains of another waltz began, he led her into it. She smiled up at him. For all his gruffness and complaining, she doubted he was going to whisk her away, back to his residence, as quickly as he’d said. He was going to give her this night until she was tired of it. She was sure of it.
“Madame Charmaine told me that you and your brothers have only been known in London for three years. Surely you’ve had your club longer than that.”
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