Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(21) by Lorraine Heath
He lifted her hand and placed a kiss on her fingers. “If you ever change your mind…”
His voice trailed off, the darkening of his blue eyes invitation enough, and she had the answer to something she’d once wondered. If she said no, he would ask again.
Since Frannie had disappointed him with her answer, Sterling had decided to move on with his life and more important matters. It was the very reason that he was at tonight’s ball, even though the Season was drawing to a close. He needed to look the selections over. He had to give the aristocracy credit. They had the right of it when it came to the marriage market. These little soirees were designed to display the latest crop of marriageable ladies.
Considering what he had to offer, he thought it only fair that he not aim too high. On the other hand, this woman would be the mother of his heir and his spare. And he might throw in another son for good measure. He despised the cousin who would inherit if Sterling didn’t provide legitimate issue, so he needed a woman of good stock.
Standing near some fronds and watching the couples circling on the dance floor, he decided that choosing a homely girl would be a mistake. They always looked so damned grateful. He needed someone who was secure in herself, perhaps even a bit in love with herself. It was imperative that she not be the sort who required love or who might fall in love with him. Loving him was a sure path to disaster.
Although he couldn’t see her, Sterling was aware of the lady approaching him because her overwhelmingly tart fragrance arrived long before she did.
Turning toward her voice, he smiled at his hostess. “Lady Chesney.”
She smiled brightly. She was as round as her husband. No surprise there. Her household boasted the best cook in all of London. “I would be honored to introduce you to some ladies who are in need of dance partners.”
“I appreciate the offer, but my feet are a bit rusty. I believe I’ll just watch this evening.”
“Oh, come, Your Grace. I remember how dashing you looked upon the dance floor. You can’t have forgotten what seemed to have come so naturally to you.”
“Lady Chesney, this is my first ball since returning to London. I prefer to ease back into the social life.”
“But it is a ball, Your Grace. Lady Charlotte is quite the accomplished dancer. I’m sure you’d be most comfortable swirling her—”
“I don’t wish to dance,” he ground out through clenched teeth, especially as he was unable to do so with any sort of grace these days.
Lady Chesney jerked her head back and widened her eyes considerably. Damnation. He bowed slightly. “My apologies, but I’m still mourning the loss of my father. It would be inappropriate for me to take pleasure in dancing.”
“Of course, I am sorry. That was thoughtless of me.”
“I’m sure some are even questioning my being here at all as it has been a little over a month since his passing, but”—he glanced around as though about to impart a secret and she leaned nearer in anticipation—“I am in want of a wife and I do not wish to wait until next Season to make my selection.”
Her eyes sparkled with merriment. “Oh, you need not worry there. Men are forgiven for not taking mourning as seriously as women.”
“I take it very seriously, but I have a duty to my title that my father would want me to honor.”
“No one would dare question your dedication to duty. I’m certain once word gets around that you’re seriously pursuing matrimony that you will have no trouble at all finding the perfect wife. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see to my other guests.”
And begin spreading the rumor that he was looking for a wife, no doubt. Good. Since Catherine was honoring the mourning period, she’d be of little help to him, so he was going to have to rely on others. He needed a wife now.
His father, blast him, had been right. Seeing to his own pleasures and touring the continents had placed him in an awkward spot, but he couldn’t regret one single moment.
He turned his attention back to the dance floor. He decided he would go with beautiful. After all, he would have to bed her. Confident. She would need strength for the future. Self-absorbed. Yes. Someone who would tell him to go to hell once the truth came to light and then get on with her life.
No guilt, then. He’d set her up in London and he’d retire to the country. He and his father had fought about that as well. “Your place will be in the House of Lords.”
His place was in hell.
He caught sight of Lords Canton and Milner ambling toward him. He gave a brusque nod. He liked them both well enough, had gone to school with them, often played cards with them at Dodger’s.
“Greystone, old boy,” Canton drawled. “What’s this I hear that you’re actually looking for a wife?”
That didn’t take Lady Chesney long to accomplish.
“You’ll give the mamas cause to expect the same for the rest of us. You don’t announce it, man,” Milner said.
“The Season is almost over. I don’t have much time. I thought being forthright would speed the process.”
“But good God, Greystone, you’re only eight and twenty. Far too young to be tied down with the same woman every night,” Canton pointed out.
“If I learned anything at all during my travels, gentlemen, it was that life is precarious. I do not intend to let the dukedom fall to my blasted cousin.”
“Hardly blame you there,” Canton muttered. “Wilson Mabry is a cad.”
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