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Authors: Lynsay Sands

Love Is Blind

BOOK: Love Is Blind
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Love is Blind

by

Lynsay Sands

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

London, England, 1818

 

 

" 'Love is a fever... in my blood.'"

 

Clarissa
Crambray
winced as those words trembled in the air. Truly, this had to be the worst of the poems Lord
Prudhomme
had recited since arriving at her father's town house an hour ago.

Had it been only an hour? In truth it felt more like several days had passed since the elderly man arrived. He'd entered brandishing a book, announcing with triumph that, rather than go for their usual walk, he thought perhaps today she'd enjoy his reading to her. And Clarissa would have, had he chosen to read some-thing other than this poppycock. She also would have appreciated it more were he not acting as though he were doing her a favor.

For all his words, Clarissa was not fooled. She knew
the
reason for the sudden change in plans. The man

was hoping to avoid calamity by restricting her to sitting decorously on the settee while he read aloud from his book of poems. It would appear that even the aged and sympathetic
Prudhomme
was growing tired of her continued accidents.

She couldn't really blame him; he'd been terribly forbearing up until now. Almost a saint, to be honest. Certainly he'd shown more understanding and fortitude than her other suitors. He'd appeared to accept and forgive all the times she'd mistaken his fat little legs for a table and set her tea on them, had given a pained smile through her tendency to dance on his feet, and had even put up with her stumbling and tripping as he led her on walks through the park. Or so it had seemed. But today he'd found a way to save himself from all that. Unfortunately, his choice of reading material left much to be desired. Clarissa would rather be making a fool of herself in the park and stumbling face-first into the cake table than suffering this drivel.

"'It gives me wings like those of a dove.'" Lord
Prudhomme's
voice quavered with passion ... or possibly just old age; Clarissa wasn't sure which. Truly, the man was old enough to be her grandfather. Unfortunately, that didn't matter to her stepmother, Lydia. The woman had promised to John
Crambray
that she'd see his daughter well married if it killed them both. Lord
Prudhomme
was the last of the few suitors still bothering with her. At this point, it looked like they were safe from dying. However, Clarissa was in imminent danger of finding herself married to the elderly gentleman kneeling on the floor before her and waving his arms wildly as he professed undying love.

" 'I shall vow my'...
er
... 'my'—Lady Clarissa," Lord
Prudhomme
interrupted himself. "Pray, move the can

dle
closer if you please. I am having trouble deciphering this word."

Clarissa blinked away her ennui and squinted toward her suitor.
Prudhomme
was a dark blob in her vision with a round, pink blur of a face topped by a silvery cloud of hair.

"The candle, girl," he said impatiently, all signs of the charming suitor momentarily replaced with irritation.

Clarissa squinted at the candle on the table beside her, picked it up, and leaned dutifully forward.

"Much better,"
Prudhomme
said with satisfaction. "Now, where was I? Oh, yes. 'I shall vow my undying ...'" He paused again and his nose twitched. "Do you smell something burning?"

Clarissa sniffed delicately at the air. She opened her mouth to say yes, actually she did, but before the words left her mouth
Prudhomme
released a shriek. Pulling back with surprise at the sound, she watched in amazement as the man suddenly leaped to his feet and began to hop madly about, his blurry arms flying and appearing to thrash at his head. Clarissa didn't understand what was happening until the white blur that was his wig was suddenly removed and beat furiously against his leg. She blinked at the pink blob that was his head, then at his actions, and realized she must have held the candle too close—she'd set his wig aflame.

"Oh, dear." Clarissa set the candle down, not releasing it until she knew it was safely on the table surface. Her vision blurred and her sense of distance beggared, she nearly knocked the little man over as she leaped up to help him.

"Get away from me!"
Prudhomme
yelled, shoving her backward.

Clarissa fell back in her chair and stared at him in blind amazement, then glanced sharply toward the door as a rustling announced the arrival of someone.

Several
someones
, she amended, squinting at the array of colors and shapes standing just inside the door. It looked as if every servant in the house had heard
Prudhomme's
shrieks and come running. No doubt her stepmother was there as well, Clarissa thought, and heaved a small sigh at the subsequent shocked silence. She couldn't see well enough to know if those by the door were staring at her with pity or accusation, but she didn't need eyesight to guess at
Prudhomme's
expression. His rage was a living thing. It reached out to her across the few feet separating them, and then he exploded with verbal vitriol.

He was so angry, most of what
Prudhomme
said ran together into one mostly incomprehensible rant. Clarissa managed to decipher bits here and there— "clumsy idiot," "bloody disaster," and "danger to society" amongst them—but then, in the midst of his rant, she saw his dark arm rise and descend toward her. Clarissa froze, afraid he might be lashing out, but she wasn't at all sure. It was so hard to tell without her spectacles.

By the time his fist got close enough that Clarissa could see that he was indeed attempting to strike her, it was too late to avoid the blow. Fortunately, the others had apparently suspected he was winding up, and had moved closer while he spoke. Several of them descended on the man mid-swing, preventing the blow. There was a blurry blending and shifting of color before her as they struggled. Clarissa heard
Prudhomme's
curses and a grunt from one of the shapes, whom she suspected was
Ffoulkes
, the butler. Then

there was much cursing as the kaleidoscope blur of bodies began to shift toward the door.

"Fie! Shame on you, Lord
Prudhomme
," Clarissa's stepmother cried, her voice clearly distressed as her lilac blur followed the mass of other colors to the door, then she added anxiously, "I hope once you calm down you shall see your way clear to forgiving Clarissa. I am sure she did not mean to set your wig on fire."

Clarissa sank back in her chair with a sigh of disgust. She couldn't believe that her stepmother would still hope to make a match with the man. She'd set his wig on fire, for heaven's sake! And he'd tried to hit her! Though Clarissa should have known better than to think that would put Lydia off making a match. What did her stepmother care if she ended up married to an abusive mate?
                                                             
,

"Clarissa!"

Sitting up abruptly, she turned to peer warily around as the lilac blur that was Lydia reentered the room and slammed the door behind her.

"How could you?"

"I did not do it on purpose, Lydia," Clarissa said at once. "And it would never have happened at all if you would just let me wear my spectacles. Surely being graceful, even with spectacles, will get me more suitors than—"

"Never!" Lydia snapped. "How many times have I to tell you that girls with spectacles simply do not find husbands? I know of what I speak. It is better to be a little clumsy than bespectacled."

"I set his wig on fire!" Clarissa cried with disbelief. "That is more than a little clumsy, and really, this is beyond ridiculous now.
'Tis
becoming dangerous. He could have been badly burned."

'Yes. He could have. Thank the good Lord he was not," Lydia said, sounding suddenly calm. Clarissa nearly moaned aloud. She had quickly come to learn that when her stepmother went calm, it did not bode well for her.

Chapter Two

"
Mowbray
! Been a while since you bothered with the season. What brings you to town?"

Lord Adrian Montfort, Earl of
Mowbray
, shifted his gaze from the couples whirling past on the dance floor and to the man who approached: the tall, fair, eminently good-looking Reginald
Greville
. He and
Greville
, his cousin, had once been the best of friends. However, time and distance had weakened the bond— with a little help from the war with France, Adrian thought bitterly. Ignoring Reginald's question, he offered a somewhat rusty smile in greeting, then turned his gaze back to the men and women swinging elegantly about the dance floor. He replied instead, "Enjoying the season,
Greville
?"

"Certainly, certainly. Fresh blood. Fresh faces."

"Fresh victims,"
Mowbray
said dryly, and Reginald laughed.

"That too." Reginald was well-known for his success

in seducing young innocents. Only his title and money kept him from being forced out of town.

Shaking his head, Adrian gave that rusty smile again. "I wonder you never tire of the chase, Reg. They all look sadly similar to me. I would swear these were the very same young women who were entering their first season the last time I attended. . . and the time before that, and the time before that."

His cousin smiled easily, but shook his head. "It has been ten years since you bothered to come to town, Adrian. Those women are all married and bearing fruit, or well on their way to spinsterhood."

"Different faces, same ladies," Adrian said with a shrug.

"Such cynicism!"
Reg
chided. 'You sound old, old man."

"Older," Adrian corrected. "Older and wiser."

"No. Just old,"
Reg
insisted with a laugh, his own gaze turning to the mass of people moving before them. "Besides, there are a couple of real lovelies this year. That blonde, for instance, or that brunette with
Chalmsly
."

"Hmmm." Adrian looked the two women over. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but my guess is that the brunette—lovely as she is—doesn't have a thought in her head. Rather like that Lady Penelope you seduced when last I was here."

Reg's
eyes widened in surprise at the observation.

"And the blonde ..." Adrian continued, his gaze raking the woman in question and taking in her calculating look. "Born of parents in trade, lots of money, and looking for a tide to go with it. Rather like Lily
Ainsley
. Another of your conquests."

"Dead-on," Reginald admitted, looking a bit
incred
-

ulous
. His gaze moved between the two women and then he gave a harsh laugh. "Now you have quite ruined it for me. I was considering favoring one or both of them with my attentions. But now you have made them quite boring." He frowned a moment and then perked up. "All, I know one woman you cannot size up so easily."

Grabbing Adrian's arm, he tugged him around the room, pausing only once they'd reached the opposite side.

"There!" he said with satisfaction. "The girl in the yellow muslin gown. Lady Clarissa
Crambray
. I defy you to find someone from the last season you were here to compare
her to."

Adrian looked over the girl in question. Tiny— delicate-looking, in fact—and lovely as a newly blooming rose, she had dark chestnut hair, a heart-shaped face, large wide eyes, full lips . . . and appeared about as miserable as he'd ever seen a young woman, a state he suspected had something to do with the older woman at her side. His gaze slid over the matron. Well-rounded with dark hair, she was pretty despite the bloom of youth being gone—or she would be if she weren't wearing a pursed, dissatisfied expression as she surveyed the activity in the ballroom. Adrian glanced back to the girl.

"First season?" he queried, his curiosity piqued.

"Yes."
Reg
looked amused.

"Why is no one dancing with her?" A beauty such as this should have had a full card.

"No one dares ask her—and you will not either, if you value your feet."

Adrian's eyebrows rose, his gaze turning reluctantly from the young woman to the man at his side.

"She is blind as a bat and dangerous to boot,"
Reg
announced, nodding when Adrian looked disbelieving. "Truly, she cannot dance a step without stomping on your toes and falling about. She cannot even walk without bumping into things." He paused, cocking one eyebrow in response to Adrian's expression. "I know you do not believe it. I did not either . . . much to my own folly."

Reginald turned to glare at the girl and continued: "I was warned, but ignored it and took her in to dinner. ..." He glanced back at Adrian. "I was wearing dark brown trousers that night, unfortunately. She mistook my lap for a table, and set her tea on me. Or rather, she tried to. It overset and ..."
Reg
paused, shifting uncomfortably at the memory. "Damn me if she did not burn my piffle."

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