Lady Emilia Grey looked about the stately ballroom of Lady Constance Belmore and felt her heart beat wildly in her chest. It was her first ball of her first London season, and Lady Emilia didn’t feel entirely ready to face the ton.
Her brother and chaperone, Lord Roderick Grey, had assured Emilia that despite her tendency towards shyness, she’d make a fantastic debut at the tender age of eighteen, but Emilia thought otherwise. She was not the kind of girl who found interaction with the fellow upper echelon of society to be difficult. In fact, Emilia had an effortless, attractive mystique. At least, that was what confidantes had told her for some time. For Emilia, this merely came from a genuine interest in other people. She tended to like those she met for the first time, even if they were a tad haughty, for Emilia Grey found society in general to be quite fascinating.
Despite the fascination, Emilia preferred quiet evenings at home with a book on her lap, her brother seated beside her. She’d remark to Roderick about which passages were funny, amusing, or even shocking. He would laugh in the face of Emilia’s delight. But she did have to admit that when she was wrapped up in a good book, she could become rather animated.
But Emilia was far less animated that evening at Lady Constance Belmore’s ball. As everyone around her was in such over-the-top fits of gaiety – perhaps because they felt that they must – Emilia chose to merely be amused by it all.
“And to think,” Roderick said, seeing the delighted smile upon her face. “You wished to remain in the country this season.”
“It was you who said you wished to remain in the country!” Emilia protested.
“That was because I forgot how old you are. I had to remind myself that you are no longer ten years of age and, therefore, coming to the London season is now a duty of yours, and of mine.”
“You did not have to come. You could have just thrown me to the wolves.”
“There’s nothing I want more in life than to see you fight off the wolves,” Roderick said with a smile. He regarded his sister for a moment, and Emilia feared she was being inspected in a way that did not make her entirely comfortable. “You look beautiful, sister,” Roderick finally said. “It fills me with disgust.”
In response to this, Emilia smiled yet again. “It is my mission to repulse you.”
“But in all truth,” Roderick went on, his tone changing. “You’re a vision. Mother and Father would be proud.”
Emilia saw a tear come to her brother’s eye and she, herself, needed to fight back a sob. The siblings had never known their parents in their adult lives. The Baron and Baroness of Rutledge had tragically died when Emilia and Roderick were still babies. Although Emilia always gazed at their paintings upon the wall, she had no recollection of what they had looked like in real life.
And Emilia did truly hope that her parents would be proud of her. She was the very image of the baroness, with her long, reddish-brown hair and warm brown eyes. And she had her father’s height as well, a long, elegant form that gentlemen always admired. Whenever Emilia caught a man admiring her gamine, lean elegance, she would knit her brow in confusion. In Emilia’s estimation, she was still the tomboyish adventurer who used to journey the hillsides, book in hand.
But Emilia did have to admit that things had changed since she turned eighteen. Coming out into society and finding a husband were duties she had to face. Roderick was good enough to be by her side, and Emilia hoped that he, in kind, might find a wife. Roderick, as well, was looking more and more like their late father every day. If Emilia was tall, then Roderick was exceedingly so. He had a strong jaw and the same soft brown eyes. Sometimes, when Emilia looked into those eyes, she saw herself.
“I fear this gown was the wrong choice,” Emilia said regretfully.
“What do you mean?” Roderick asked, looking down at her pale blue dress.
“I have no doubt that all these women are clothed in fabric from France,” Emilia said, with trepidation in her voice.
Roderick looked around the ballroom and laughed. Emilia could see that he understood her meaning, for all the women were draped in fabric so lavish and refined they may have been more likened to upholstered furniture from Versailles than women at a ball. Apparently, the trend was for large plumes of feathers in the ladies’ hair as well as several bejewelled gold bracelets along the wrists, atop silk gloves that stretched up one’s arms as high as could be. For Emilia’s part, her hair was simply done, there were no bangles upon her wrists, the fabric of her gown was plain, and her gloves barely passed her elbows. Essentially, Emilia felt that she had a lot to learn.
“It is a bit of a peacock farm, isn’t it?” Roderick said.
It wasn’t that Emilia and her brother were lacking in funds. Whatever the Baron and Baroness of Rutledge owned was passed down to them, and they spent that fortune modestly. Neither of them went for extravagance and so they were prudent with their funds. And, being prudent was quite necessary for the Greys since, living off their parents’ estate, there was no additional income in the near future that they could depend upon.
“If only old Stanley could be here,” Roderick said, taking a flute of champagne from a passing tray. “He’d leave at once.”
“That is very true,” Emilia replied with a laugh. “I fear that Lord Stanley would scarce last a moment.”
Emilia was referring to their uncle, Lord Stanley Grey, the late baron’s brother. Upon the death of their parents, Lord Stanley raised the siblings until Roderick was of the appropriate age to be Emilia’s protector. Emilia and Roderick found Stanley amusing as they grew up. Something of a curmudgeon, and a stout fellow, Stanley was always complaining about one thing or another, and had no taste for society. He would scarce invite anyone to the home to dine with him. He preferred quiet and solitude. Emilia always wondered if she inherited this from him.
“But you realise,” Emilia went on, “Stanley would do perfectly well after a few glasses of champagne.”
“That is the honest truth,” Roderick replied, raising his glass into the air as though toasting their beloved Uncle Stanley.
And although they did love the man and were indebted to him, both knew there was never a closeness between them. Stanley was a distant man, bound to duty, but still with an air of detachment. For these reasons, Uncle Stanley would never feel like a father to them.
“Would you care to dance?” Roderick asked.
“I can’t dance with you,” Emilia protested, taking a dramatic step away from him.
“Not with me, silly. I’m referring to one of the eligible gentlemen on your dance card.”
Emilia had forgot about the dreaded dance card. Although the thought of dancing with handsome strangers did fill her with excitement, Emilia thought the prospect of being forced to dance with anyone to be terrifying at best. What if there was poor conversation? What if the man was cruel or haughty? What if she stepped on his toes? The latter possibility was the most horrifying, for Emilia was always stepping on toes during dances.
Looking down at the card, Emilia couldn’t help but muse over the thought of being someone’s wife. There was no pressing need for it, of course. The Greys were financially on solid ground and her elder brother was still not married. It would be the custom for Roderick to take a wife before Emilia took a husband. But Emilia had to admit that, despite her independent spirit and casual, shy nature, the prospect of marrying did thrill her as well as the idea of creating a family with someone she loved.
But the heartbreak wrapped up in all of this was the notion of change. Emilia loved her brother dearly and because of their shared history was closer to him than brother and sister usually were. Roderick was her dearest friend. It pained her to think that both of them were now at the age where they should marry and drift apart. Could her husband ever be as dear a friend to her as Roderick was? Emilia greatly hoped so.
“Who makes the decisions about these dance cards?” Emilia asked, thinking that her brother was much more informed about the ways of society than she was.
“Our honourable hostess, of course. Lady Constance Belmore,” he said, motioning towards where the hostess sat fanning herself, surrounded by an entourage of admirers.
“She is beautiful, is she not?” Emilia said, marvelling at Lady Constance’s Viking-like blonde hair and blue eyes.
“She has more money than god,” Roderick replied.
“Funny she’s not yet married. I hear she’s in the midst of her twenties.”
“Although Lady Constance is rich, she’s also rather an unpleasant woman,” Roderick explained.
“Lady Constance has a rude, quarrelsome tongue. If you have anything nasty to say, go and sit beside her.”
“I never quite understood all that,” Emilia remarked. “Society and its mean, gossiping tongues.”
“It’s a sport, dear sister. Once you’re in society for long enough, you begin to understand.”
“I don’t imagine I’ll be in society long enough for that to happen to me.”
“No, your plan is to get in and then out swiftly. I can see it in your eyes,” Roderick said. “You’re just going to snatch up a husband like a sneaky bandit and then run back to the country with your spoils.”
“Brother, you’re making my sides ache,” Emilia protested, keeling over with laughter.
“Then you’ll lock your husband up in a room and only let him out at certain hours of the day. Occasionally, you’ll bring him bread to feed on.”
“Stop it, Roderick,” Emilia protested, the pain from all the laughter not abating. “If I’m to be stealthy in this marriage business,” Emilia went on, speaking as best she could through her tears, “then I imagine that you will be rather slow, like the fifty-year-old bachelor that one hears of at Almack’s every Wednesday night, always looking for a wife.”
“That will, indeed, be me,” Roderick said, taking a fresh flute of champagne and placing his empty one upon the passing tray. “I plan to draw this business out for as long as possible. You may be uncomfortable here, but I’m rather enjoying myself.”
“Is that so? When we first arrived, you looked rather bored.”
Roderick’s delighted expression slowly sank, as though a thought had occurred to him. He took a hearty sip of his drink and considered his words. Emilia had never seen her brother turn so serious.
“Have I said something wrong?” Emilia asked.
“No, no,” Roderick said, his voice distant. “I fear this champagne is going too quickly to my head.”
“Why did you turn so sad? When I said that you looked bored?” Emilia asked, thinking it strange.
“We’ll talk of it later. For now, we must deal with Lady Constance Belmore.”
“And why is that?” Emilia asked.
“Because she’s walking this way.”
Emilia turned to, indeed, find Lady Constance upon them.
“There’s a new face,” Lady Constance said, her blue eyes shimmering like water.
“Such a lovely home you have,” Emilia replied by way of being cordial.
“I take the opportunity to invite guests whenever I can. Especially new ones.”
“I’m indebted to your kindness.”
“How does it feel to be out in society, Lady Emilia?”
“So far? It feels rather … uneventful.”
Just then, Roderick nudged his sister in the back, signifying that she may have suffered a faux pas.
“I mean, I haven’t even shared one dance with anyone,” Emilia added, trying to amend the situation.
“There will be plenty of time for that,” Lady Constance replied, then turned her attention to Roderick. “Your face is much more familiar.”
“We have met previously, yes,” Roderick replied.
“So delighted to have you in my home,” Lady Constance said with a winning smile, to which Roderick smiled back. “If you’ll excuse me,” she added before departing.
“She was flirting with you,” Emilia said teasingly.
“She was. It was written clearly on her face.”
“Lady Constance is far out of my league.”
Emilia couldn’t help but think that Lady Constance Belmore was out of her league as well. Standing before her hostess, Emilia was reminded of everything that made her unfit for society. She didn’t have that winning smile that Lady Constance had, in her own estimation. Not only that, her dress was sub-par in comparison. These things didn’t bother Emilia too much. She had no great ambitions to be a perfect fit for the ton. Yet still, she did wish to present herself appropriately. Or at the very least to not embarrass herself.
“She was not mean-spirited in the slightest,” Emilia finally said.
“Because she was flirting with me, indeed,” Roderick replied.
“Tell me,” Emilia went on, curiosity getting the better of her. “If you could select one lady to dance with – any lady in this room,” Emilia said, wishing to know her brother’s mind. She found it fun to talk with him about his affections for ladies. “Whom would you dance with?”
Roderick looked about the room, and yet again that mien of sadness came over him. Emilia cocked her head in confusion at the sight of it.
“You jest,” Emilia replied.
“I do not jest. There’s no one here I should like to dance with.”
“What has come over you, brother? It’s as though you’ve quite forgot yourself.”
“I suppose that I have.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“Not just yet,” Roderick replied. “I first need a fresh glass of champagne.”
Emilia was beginning to feel troubled. She’d never known her brother to drink more than two glasses in his lifetime. Something really was troubling him, and Emilia wished to get to the bottom of it. Despite her desire to do so, Emilia didn’t wish to push her brother to admit to anything he didn’t want to. She decided to let the matter go and found a chair to seat herself in while Roderick procured a fresh glass.
Being seated helped to make Emilia feel more settled. She no longer felt on display, nor did that anxious anticipation flutter in her stomach. She could do what she did best, and that was to observe those around her. None of those rarefied creatures seemed real from where she sat. They were all like characters out of one of her novels. Their smiles were too bright, their hair too flaxen, and their apparel too well-tailored to be believed.
Emilia turned her attention to the handsome faces that populated the ballroom, of which there were many. Did being a part of society instantly make men more handsome? They all sported the Roman coronet of hair, which was very much the fashion of the day. Blue coats were favoured over green or black, and all trousers were tan in colour. Funny that all those men should wear the same thing whilst each woman was a world of fashion unto herself.
Although Emilia delighted in the handsome faces, there was not one that immediately struck her as being more handsome than the rest. Some were tall, others short. Some had brown hair, others blond. Emilia sighed to herself. How was she ever going to find a husband who stood out from the pack? Someone who was, alas, specifically designed for her.
Then Emilia scolded herself for having such thoughts. She believed in love, yes, but to believe that god created someone for everyone, someone that was specifically intended for them and them alone, all of that seemed like utter nonsense. Emilia had heard horror stories of marriages going awry. Of husbands running for fear from their wives, and wives running into the arms of another. Yet still, she did know that the marriage between the late Baron and Baroness of Rutledge was peaceful and loving. The servants told her as much, as did Lord Stanley Grey. So sad that they had to die when they were so seemingly happy in one another’s company.
“Here you are,” Roderick said, handing Emilia a glass of champagne and seating himself beside her.
“I’ve been contemplating love,” Emilia admitted.
“A perilous thing to do,” Roderick replied.
“Do you think it all impossible? A fantasy?”
“I am unsure. I know that love is real. I have felt it myself. But what remains when love is gone? Does love give, and then taketh away?”
“It’s not like you to be so dark.”
“To put it plainly, there’s someone I wish was here, who has not attended.”
“Who else would you wish to be here but me?” Emilia quipped.
“A true lady.”
Roderick’s face was deadly serious and Emilia realised that she should stop teasing him so and listen to what he had to say.
“Lady Marina Spencer.”
“I do not know that name.”
“That’s because I’ve never told you of her before.”
Roderick took another sip of his champagne whilst Emilia half expected him to throw back the entire thing.
“You never keep secrets from me,” Emilia said, although she did realise that her brother was, indeed, allowed to keep secrets from her if he so chose.
“Some things are difficult to explain, sister,” Roderick replied.
Silence followed and Emilia decided to not push the matter further. Roderick didn’t wish to explain who Lady Marina Spencer was, and Emilia sensed that, in good time, she would find out.
Although Roderick’s mention of Lady Marina Spencer had captured Emilia’s attention, soon thereafter Emilia assumed that something else might occur that would captivate her imagination entirely.
She was merely looking across the ballroom, as she had been doing for most of the evening, and there, with her eyes, she finally came across a figure like none she’d ever seen before. The gentleman was quite tall, his hair dark and short, his suit immaculate, and everywhere he went, ladies would approach him and blush and coo in his presence. The fellow was impossibly handsome, to such a degree that it might instil suspicion. Emilia had encountered one or two gentlemen like this in the past, so cunning in their handsomeness that it led Emilia to believe that it was merely a facade erected for some kind of vicious endgame.
When the man abruptly turned his gaze towards Emilia and their dark eyes locked, she instantly turned away, thinking that direct eye contact with the fellow was far too stimulating for the senses to endure.
“What is wrong?” Roderick asked, instantly seeing the blush upon her cheek.
“Nothing is wrong. Why do you even ask?” Emilia said, feeling her heart beating rapidly in her chest.
“You seem flustered.”
“Perhaps you’re reading into your own feelings this evening,” Emilia suggested.
“Perhaps you’re right,” Roderick replied, returning to his contemplation.
In the silence, Emilia slowly and cautiously turned her eyes back towards where the mysterious man had been but moments before, and sure enough, he looked at her yet again. Emilia turned away more quickly that time, thinking that perhaps she had just been caught in the most embarrassing fashion imaginable.
Despite her shame, Emilia couldn’t help but be transfixed by the man, even in the short moment that their eyes had met. Something akin to excitement and pleasure rushed through her veins. Had she seen him before? Why was it that he seemed oddly familiar, and yet so foreign at the same time? And there was, indeed, something foreign about him. As though he were a visiting prince from an exotic place such as Spain or Italy. He stood out from the other men at the ball and, considering how dully handsome she experienced those other men to be, perhaps it was a situation that Emilia should go ahead and delight in.
The ‘accidental’ looks continued, even after Emilia excused herself from her brother’s company and began to do a turn about the room. As she made her circumnavigation, the man would follow her with his eyes, briefly returning to the conversation that was forced upon him before finding her yet again. In the moments where their eyes did not meet, she could swear that she felt his gaze upon her, even without seeing it. Why was he looking at her so intently?
The gaiety, gossiping and dancing that filled the ballroom endlessly were beginning to make Emilia feel lightheaded, and so she walked into the dining room in order to procure refreshments, of which there was a countless selection. Taking a small sandwich and placing it upon a plate, Emilia walked over to the rather large and grand windows in order to regard the night sky while she took in her sustenance. That was when a rather deep voice caused her to turn back.
“Are you dreaming of escape?” the man’s voice said, and Emilia nearly jumped when she discovered the dark, mysterious gentleman standing right behind her.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Escape. The way that you’re looking out of the window. It leads me to believe that you’re dreaming of greener pastures,” he said with an affable smile. It was the first time that she saw him smile so, and it brought a blush to Emilia’s cheek yet again.
“These events are rather … stifling, are they not?” Emilia replied affably.
“It takes some time, but one does get used to it.”
The sound of the man’s voice and his relaxed stance brought Emilia momentary ease.
“So my brother tells me.”
“You have never been in Lady Constance Belmore’s home before?”
“It is my first time, yes,” Emilia replied.
“You seem to be handling yourself quite well.”
“It takes a lot to get under my skin,” Emilia replied, then instantly regretted those words.
Silence followed as the man smiled to himself, as though Emilia’s reply had had a double meaning.
“I am Lord Joshua Pembroke, Earl of Derby.”
Emilia was in shock. The earls of Britain were some of the wealthiest and most powerful in the land, and she had never met one who was so young, and so striking. The very mention of the word ‘earl’ brought to mind old, crotchety men who preferred weak tea.
“It’s a great pleasure to meet you,” she replied with relaxed composure. “I am Lady Emilia Grey.”
“I know that,” Joshua replied.
“How?” Emilia asked, thinking it impossible that the Earl of Derby should have any notion of who she was.
“I asked someone,” Joshua replied with a guilty smile.
“I suppose that is a sound way of finding out,” Emilia replied with a laugh.
“All one need do in this life is ask.”
“Indeed.” Emilia looked down at her sandwich thinking it unnecessary to eat. The presence of Lord Joshua Pembroke had quite steadied her senses.
“Don’t let me prevent you from enjoying that,” Joshua said, nodding his head towards her plate.
“I think it was more an excuse to escape,” Emilia replied bashfully.
“So I was right, then.”
“You do wish to escape.”
Joshua was looking at her intently and Emilia couldn’t help but wonder at it. She had never seen anyone look at her like that before. What was it that he found so interesting about her? Truly, she didn’t think that she was exceptional in the slightest. But Lord Joshua was looking at her as though she were Helen of Troy.
“I take it that you often find yourself at such affairs,” Emilia finally said.
“What leads you to make such assumptions?”
“You seem practised in it. And I could see that you know a great deal of people.”
“So, you were spying on me?” Joshua asked, lifting his brow.
“I … ” Emilia stumbled.
“I’m merely teasing you, Lady Emilia. I was spying on you a great deal as well.”
“I did not notice,” Emilia replied humorously.
“I find you striking.”
Emilia’s tongue was struck dumb for a moment. “For the life of me, I don’t know why,” she managed to reply.
“Allow me to explain myself,” Lord Joshua said, putting out his hand. “But may I do so during a dance?”
“I fear that you might not be on my dance card,” Emilia said, fumbling quickly through her reticule in order to find the document. Once she had it in hand, she inspected the names and did not see Lord Joshua’s there. Before she knew what happened, Joshua gently took the card from her hand and tore it into two pieces.
“One thing that you will learn after attending a number of balls is that there’s no need to rely upon this,” Joshua explained casually.
“Oh,” Emilia said in shock. The surprise written upon her face seemed to amuse him, for Joshua smiled at the sight of it and took her by the hand, gracefully leading her back towards the ballroom.
As they passed through, Emilia noted that all eyes were on them. She even saw Roderick seated by a side table, equal shock written on his face.
What the devil is going on? his face seemed to say.
I’ll explain later, was Emilia’s facial reply.
And so the music from the orchestra recommenced and the dance quickly began. At first, the only thought in Emilia’s mind was to not step upon Lord Joshua’s toes, as she had been worrying before. The fear was even greater for, looking down, Emilia could see that Lord Joshua had the shiniest black boots she had ever seen. He was the type of man who cared about every detail of his appearance, and were she to muck up his boots, Emilia was quite convinced that it would be the end of her relations with the Earl of Derby.
Lord Joshua was an incredibly graceful dancer, which did not surprise her in the least. But she was not the first to talk of skill.
“You’re well-practised in the dance,” Joshua said to her, looking down and admiring her form. Emilia was quite sure that he was not merely admiring her steps.
“I’m afraid that a great deal of that is due to luck. I’m also dancing with an exceptional partner.”
“So, you had said that you didn’t know why I was looking at you earlier,” Lord Joshua said, bringing up a topic that still left Emilia in confusion.
“It’s, perhaps, because I look out of place,” Emilia replied honestly.
“That could be said to be a good thing,” Joshua said with a smile.
As they continued to dance, Emilia found that she had to think of her feet less and less. The formations became effortless, and her and Lord Joshua’s bodies moved effortless in unison.
“How so?” Emilia countered. “The women here are some of the most beautiful in Britain.”
“What we have in this ballroom is an assortment of delicacies, yes,” Joshua went on. “But it all comes down to a matter of taste.”
“And what’s your taste?” Emilia asked.
Lord Joshua paused and then looked down at Emilia’s blue gown.
Emilia blushed and Lord Joshua smiled in seeming satisfaction that he had had such an effect upon her.
“I’m being too forward,” he relented, shaking his head.
“No, no,” Emilia replied. “I’m merely not accustomed to men being so … ” she searched her mind for the proper word.
“Forward,” Joshua replied humorously.
They continued to dance, and Emilia mused over the mysterious man in front of her, beside her, and all around her, dependent upon where the dance had taken them. There was something rather dangerous about him, she had to admit. And unlike most women, Emilia was never one for dangerous men. What was it exactly that she would describe as dangerous? For one thing, he was devilishly handsome in a fashion that did not seem real to the natural eye. For another thing – and this was the greater cause for suspicion – the Earl of Derby was dangerously suave. How could she trust such effortless, practised debonair charm? Emilia assumed that he behaved in a similar fashion with all the ladies that he met, and so she determined that she was going to need to temper her excitement. And it truly was excitement that he made her feel, a kind of internal thrill that was hard to deny.
“Would it offend you if I continued to be forward?” Joshua finally asked.
“If I said yes, I fear that it would not prevent you from being so.”
“You are an expert judge of character,” Joshua replied with an affable smile. “To speak plainly, you’re the most beautiful woman in the room.”
Emilia wished to stop dead in her tracks, but to do so would excite even more attention than she had already done solely by dancing with Lord Joshua Pembroke.
“I find that difficult to believe,” Emilia replied, looking about the room at all the glamorous faces that surrounded her, some more natural than others.
“Your beauty is authentic, as is your nature. I could see it from afar,” Joshua explained.
“That is the result of being a country bumpkin,” Emilia quipped.
“I beg to differ. Ladies from the country can be more disagreeable than those in town.”
“I don’t take you for one who goes to the country often.”
“I have a summer estate. I am civilised, after all.”
“Don’t let’s get into a conversation about civility. I could talk of it all night,” Emilia replied, for truly, she had much to say on the topic of civility, and how too often there wasn’t enough of it.
“If I may discourse on your beauty again,” Joshua said, changing the topic.
“You are allowed to do as you choose,” Emilia replied.
“Nothing tempers beauty more than frivolity. I knew instantly that you were a self-contained woman. This keeps all the beauty intact.”
“I am not a marble monument,” Emilia replied with a laugh.
“No, but if you were mine, I would have a monument made of your likeness.”
Just then, the dance ended, and it was expert timing. For whatever reason, Emilia felt like running from the room. It was hard to understand why. The handsomest man she had ever beheld had just remarked upon her beauty, her composure, and even stated that he wished to have her immortalised in alabaster stone. Any woman would have melted right then and there, but not Emilia Grey. She felt exposed, overly stimulated, and mildly distrustful.
“I thank you for a lovely dance,” Emilia said, curtseying and quickly rushing away from the dance floor.
“Farewell,” Joshua replied affably, not seemingly fazed in the slightest that she was running away from him.
She needed fresh air. Having seen a veranda off the dining room, Emilia rushed there, pushed open the door, and took a step out into the cool night. Taking a deep breath, Emilia could finally feel her heart beginning to slow from its rapid pace.
Once Emilia felt significantly composed, she decided that the best plan for the rest of the evening was to return to the party, meet new people, enjoy the delicious food, and try to keep her mind off Joshua Pembroke. It amused her to think that she might see him, yet again, on the dance floor, talking to another lady as he had just spoken to her. Yes, he was nothing but a playboy, perhaps even a rake. Emilia found that if she kept her mind fixed on this notion, the extraordinary, incendiary things that Joshua had made her feel would leave her mind, and her body.
Sadly, every time that Lord Joshua caught her eye, he was not flirting with another.
“I saw you dancing with Lord Joshua Pembroke,” Lady Constance said, approaching in much the same way as she had before.
“I fear that everyone did,” Emilia replied.
“Why do you fear it?”
“He’s not the type of man that I’m accustomed to.”
“He’s not the type of man that anyone is accustomed to.”
Lady Constance’s response was further proof that Emilia’s assumptions about Lord Joshua might, indeed, be correct. His manner must be notorious to the ton. Although she wished to investigate the issue further, Emilia didn’t desire to be caught as a newly outed lady asking endless questions about the man with whom she shared her first dance.
And so, as was Emilia’s nature, she let the whole notion go and enjoyed the rest of the evening. She continued to chat with Lady Constance who, indeed, had a sour tongue; as Roderick had reported. Comically, the conversation began as light and frivolous, but the more that Lady Constance opened up, the more the venom boiled to the surface. She made fun of various dresses, scorned her cooks for making such terrible food, and bemoaned that there were a few questionable guests who had attended uninvited. Once she was done venting her dislike for various and sundry things, Lady Constance excused herself and found a new ear to complain to.
So, her brother was a good judge of character.
Remembering that she had abandoned Roderick for some time, Emilia looked around the room in order to locate him. Although he was sad and lowly before, she caught him in conversation with a gaggle of ladies who had brought a smile to his face. It brought a smile to Emilia’s face as well. It was so much more fitting to see Roderick happy. Maybe the night’s entertainment had made him forget about Lady Marina Spencer. Emilia sincerely hoped so.
In an adjacent drawing room, Lord Joshua Pembroke sat with his legs crossed and his hands clasped upon his knees. He leaned back in his chair and looked at the collection of lords and ladies that had assembled around him, each partaking in conversation that he knew was meant to impress him. Sadly, Lord Joshua was not impressed, but he kept the amused smile upon his lips, nonetheless.
The warm smile mostly came from the memory of dancing with Lady Emilia Grey. In the end, he thought that he had had a favourable effect on her, but indeed, had been too forward. She ran away from him in such a way to suggest that she was not used to Joshua’s manner of attention. Although it pained him to think that he drove her off, what choice did he have? When he had affections, there was no denying it, neither to himself nor the lady in question.
“Lord Joshua, do tell us of your grand tour,” a mousy lady by the name of Cecily asked. Her dress was a shocking pink and it nearly burned Lord Joshua’s eyes to look at.
“My travels left me wanting nothing,” Joshua assured her. “Never have I seen such splendour as the canals of Venice, the grand palaces of Vienna, nor the great mountains of Switzerland.”
“I’m envious of your travels,” a gentleman replied.
“It is my great passion,” Lord Joshua said casually, and although he was holding court over their rapt attention, he was speaking the truth. “I’m planning another trip soon.”
“Where will you go?” Lady Cecily asked.
Perhaps, wherever Lady Emilia Grey should happen to be.
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Since Lady Emilia Grey and her brother lost their parents at a young age, a simple life without privilege or tradition is all that she’s known. But all she ever wanted is a loving home to call her own. So, it comes as a surprise when she catches the eye of the most powerful man in London at the ball that Lady Constance Belmore organised. What does the future hold for her after that fateful meeting?
Lord Joshua Pembroke, Earl of Derby, is a powerful man who is no stranger to high society. In fact, he governs it. When it comes to women, the Earl can pick and choose as he pleases. But upon seeing Emilia, a woman unlike any other he has ever met, a fire will start inside him. Lord Joshua is certain that he will have her. But how far is he willing to go to get her?
When blackmail is the tool used to get Emilia, there’s no going back. Is their undeniable attraction enough to make a forced marriage succeed? Does she have the courage to give full rein to her deepest desires? When it comes to the union between Emilia and the Earl of Derby, all bets are off.
“Risking it All for the Sinful Earl” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.