on July 20th 2017
Lord Arthur Carmichael, Marquess of Bancroft, excels at everything, even cultivating a wild reputation to cover for the spy missions he undertakes for the Crown. Unfortunately now that he's helped secure the peace, his roguish reputation is a hindrance to continuing in his career--unless he takes a wife.
Lady Madeline Mulbourne, the beautiful widow of a renowned art critic, is known for her pristine reputation. Who could make a more convenient bride? But when jewels disappear at balls she's attended, Arthur suspects she might not be nearly as prim and proper as she appears.
Heavens. The man exuded handsomeness, easily exceeding the attractiveness of the carefully conceived figures of sculptors’ and painters’ imaginations.
“May I have this dance?” Arthur swept into an elegant bow, one that managed to emphasize the broadness of his shoulders, the firmness of his torso, and his long, well-shaped legs.
He stretched his hand toward her, and sun-kissed skin peaked from his ebony tailcoat.
It shouldn’t have felt so familiar.
Seven years should suffice in length to forget the broadness of someone’s shoulders, the exact height of the man’s towering form, and it should certainly should be long enough to banish the memory of the exact manner in which his lips pulled into a smile.
Seven years should be long enough to no longer desire to ponder the exact twinkle of his eyes, and her heart certainly shouldn’t warm in his presence.
It was a wonder she had a heart at all after the man had taken such efforts to dismantle it.
She raised her chin and steadied her gaze, ignoring his outstretched hand. Even though marquesses who controlled vast amounts of wealth might be more accustomed to seeing priceless heirlooms than their poorer counterparts, they likely didn’t think jewels made a habit of appearing in women’s palms.
The man’s features dipped into something slightly less reminiscent of cherubic joy.
She dipped into a curtsy. “My lord.”
She’d managed to convince herself at one point that he’d cared for her. Memories of strolling the Royal Academy of Arts, riding his curricle through Hyde Park, and finding delight in discussing even the most mundane things with him faded.
He clasped her hand, but she tried to pull it away.
They couldn’t dance.
Dancing would be impossible. Utterly.
The bracelet was still in her hand.
His grip tightened, and then his expression changed. He forced her palm open and stared at the sapphire bracelet.
Her heart might be racing, urging her to run from the ballroom, but it was too late.
I’ve been caught.
In a crowded ballroom.
By the man who despised her.
She struggled to control her breathing. She had to think.
Calmness. She had to emanate calmness.
“What did you do?” he growled.
She strove to think of an explanation for why she was holding precious jewels in the palm of her hand.
Unfortunately she couldn’t think of anything.
Madeline gazed downward. She laughed. “The clasp broke on my bracelet.”
“Don’t feign insipidity.” Arthur closed her palm, but his hand remained on her wrist. “I know this doesn’t belong to you.”
“It belongs to the Comtesse Beaulieu. A fact I’m sure you’re aware of.”
Her heart thudded in her chest.
She’d always feared discovery.
And now it had happened.
By someone who knew her, someone to whom she couldn’t give a false identity, someone who—
The melodic notes of a waltz began, and Arthur’s expression hardened. “Dance with me.”
“You have no choice,” he said sternly and pulled her into his arms. “See that room in the corner? We’re going to go there.”
Of all the dances in the world, the musicians had to be playing a waltz. There was no opportunity for escape with Arthur’s hands clasping her. Couples swirled about them, and Arthur led them into the dance. She glided in his arms, conscious of the whirl of the silk dresses and vibrantly colored waistcoats of the other guests. The violins hummed pleasantly, and it would be so nice to imagine that they were dancing for another reason.
He maneuvered them elegantly across the marble floor, never lessening his grasp on her hand and waist. The door grew closer, and then he swung it open.
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