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Authors: Suzanne Enoch

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BOOK: Sin and Sensibility
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“It applies to whomever said they were going to be home in bed last evening and then slipped off to Vauxhall to see jugglers.”

“Acrobats,” she corrected stiffly. Perhaps she’d best concede the point. Deverill hadn’t given her any further details about Vauxhall, and if Melbourne knew the truth, Sin and Sensibility / 81

they wouldn’t be talking about rules. They would be packing her things for an immediate return to Melbourne Park.

“I like acrobats,” Penelope stated. “Why didn’t you take me with you?”

Any answer she made to that would only prove Melbourne’s point about the danger of her supposed actions.

“My apologies, Peep,” she settled for. “Next time, perhaps.”

“We’ll see about that.” Melbourne kissed his daughter on the cheek. “Be good, Peep,” he said, smiling fondly at her, then left the room.

Determined as she was to be angry with Melbourne, Eleanor hated when he was like that, when he showed obvious affection for his daughter and genuine worry over her. It was easier not to think of him as human, but he insisted on confusing the issue. He always had, she supposed, but absolute tyranny during her rebellion would have been easier to deal with.

In accordance with the new rule she informed both Shay and Zachary that she would be spending most of the day shopping with Lady Barbara Howsen. She left them debating whether to go back to bed, and went herself to ask the cook for cucumber slices to put over her eyes until a decent hour to meet up with her friend.

As she was putting on a new blue hat topped with an ostrich feather, the butler scratched at her door. She’d been hesitant to speak with Stanton, since he’d seen quite clearly in whose carriage she’d departed last night. But putting off conversing with him any longer would give her an apoplexy.

She gestured Helen back to the dressing table and pulled open the door herself. “Yes, Stanton?”

82 / Suzanne Enoch

“You have a caller downstairs, my lady.” He held out the salver, an embossed calling card resting in its center.

Eleanor picked it up, hoping with all her might that it wouldn’t be one of the guests from Belmont’s last night, someone who had recognized her despite the red gown and the black swan mask. As she read the elegant gold script, her heart skipped a beat and then began hammering again. It
was
someone from the soiree.

“Please inform Lord Deverill that I’ll be down in just a moment,” she said, her voice not quite steady.

“As you wish, my lady.”

Now, Eleanor
, she yelled at herself. “Stanton?”

The butler paused, facing her again. “Yes, my lady?”

“About last night. I…I would appreciate your discretion.”

A slight smile touched the elderly gentleman’s solemn face. “I am always discreet, Lady Eleanor. Last evening I believe your brothers assumed you left the house without my knowledge. Since you have safely returned, I see no reason to dissuade them of that perception. Will that suffice?”

“Absolutely. Thank you, Stanton.”

“I shall inform Lord Deverill that you will join him shortly.”

She closed the door again, shutting her eyes in relief.

Apparently she had at least one ally in the household, anyway.

“My lady,” Helen said, as she put away the remaining hat pins, “I will be discreet, as well.”

“Thank you, Hel—”

“So long as you don’t put yourself in any danger again, my lady. I was scared for you last night, going off like that

Sin and Sensibility / 83

and then returning hours later all alone. And even if you sack me, I won’t—”

“I’ll be more careful, from now on. I promise.” She smiled. For heaven’s sake, her actions seemed constantly to threaten Helen’s employment, yet her maid was willing to risk that very thing to make certain she remained safe.

“And thank you, Helen.”

The maid curtsied. “You’re welcome, Lady Eleanor.”

Downstairs Stanton directed her to the morning room.

Helen on her heels, she pushed open the door and entered. She wasn’t going anywhere without a chaperone for a while. At least not until she could close her eyes without seeing a black fox half mask.

Valentine stood at the far window, a glass of whiskey in his hand as he gazed toward the street. From his brown coat, buckskin breeches, and Hessian boots, he’d ridden to Griffin House. She couldn’t help noticing that for a hardened rake, he had an elegant, conservative taste in wardrobe.

“Good morning,” she said, dipping a curtsy as he faced her. He could still cost her everything, she reminded herself. Just because he’d been kind last night didn’t mean he wouldn’t tell Melbourne what had happened. Lord Deverill seemed almost to live his life on a whim.

“It’s still morning, is it?” he replied, sketching a shallow-enough bow that it wouldn’t endanger his drink. “I seem to be beginning an alarming trend of rising early.” His deceptively lazy eyes took in her wardrobe and Helen lurking behind her. “You’re going out.”

“Yes. Shopping. I thought you’d be in Parliament this morning.”

“Do you know what bloody time they’ve taken to be-84 / Suzanne Enoch

ginning morning session? Eight o’clock! That’s just un-godly. I’ll sit for the afternoon session.”

She chuckled, a little more at ease since he hadn’t greeted her with a statement about Stephen Cobb-Harding going to the newspaper with the tale about last evening.

His presence did bring up a question, however, and it was one she couldn’t afford to avoid. “Is there something I may do for you, my lord?”

He sent another glance at Helen. “I came to inquire about how you were feeling, since you weren’t well enough to attend the Hampton Ball last night.”

Eleanor drew a slow breath. More gallantry, and from a man she hadn’t been sure was possessed of that quality at all. She’d never been taken in by his seductive charm, though in truth he’d never tried to seduce her. Not for the first time, she wished he would.

Of course after last night, that wasn’t likely to happen.

He’d seen another man pawing at her naked bosom, and then had watched her vomit, practically inside his coach.

Even so, he’d known just what to say to reassure her, to keep her from hysterics and make her feel safe. And he’d rescued her reputation, the least likely man she could ever imagine doing so.

“I’m feeling much better,” she answered, meaning it.

At the thought of just what he’d done for her, a delicious shiver ran down her spine. “A good night’s sleep does wonders, I’ve found.”

“I’ll take your word for that.” He grinned. “I’m pleased you’re feeling improved.”

Gesturing Helen to remain where she was, Eleanor approached Deverill at the window. “May I ask you a question?”

He nodded, taking a sip of whiskey. “Indulge yourself.”

Sin and Sensibility / 85

“How did you know that was me last night, in that room?”

Deverill looked down at her. “I didn’t, at first,” he said quietly, green eyes meeting hers and then trailing the length of her form and back again. “I saw a black swan in a crimson gown. You drew my attention.”

Oh, my
. “Did I?”

“Yes, you did.” His fingers brushed against her skirt as they stood together at the window. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but red is a fine color on you, Eleanor.”

Her pulse quickened. She could feel it, the rush of heat through her. Deverill was flirting with her—and not as he usually did, with broad comments and self-deprecating observations about his poor character. “It’s unfortunate, then, that I tore that gown into several pieces last night.”

“I don’t blame you.” His fingers curled, sending her skirt rustling against her legs. “Might I suggest you com-mission another?”

“I’ll take your suggestion into consideration,” she returned, though she wasn’t sure she could do it. As she’d removed that gown last night, the memory of the rough, uncaring touch of Stephen Cobb-Harding’s hands on her bare skin had left her feeling ill again.

Had that been freedom? Was that what it meant to be
free
? She studied Deverill’s eyes as he gazed down at her.

He would know, if anyone could.

“Last night,” she said in a low voice, remembering Helen’s promise of discretion only as long as her safety wasn’t involved, “I wanted to feel free.”

“Just for last night?” he murmured back at her, long black lashes half-curtaining his eyes.

Eleanor’s bodice began to feel too tight. “I wanted an adventure, a little romance with a handsome stranger.”

86 / Suzanne Enoch

His gaze lowered to her mouth. “Does it have to be with a stranger? You might have mentioned your desires to someone with whom you’re a little better acquainted.”

“Do you have someone in mind?” she breathed, finding that speaking in a normal tone had become impossible.

“This is your fantasy, Eleanor. Perhaps you should tell me who you have in mind.” Slowly he leaned a little closer.

For a dozen heartbeats she held absolutely still, hoping he would finish his advance and kiss her. Oh, she wanted to experience a kiss from the Marquis of Deverill. But he didn’t move, and she knew why—and that was the reason she’d sought out a stranger. Decadent, hedonistic as he was, Valentine was still a member of the Griffin circle. “I have in mind someone who doesn’t know the rules the Griffins have set up regarding how and when I am to be approached.”

The half-raised whiskey glass paused at his mouth. She could almost see him pulling himself back, changing the track of his thoughts, though physically he didn’t move.

“So you said,” he returned, finishing off the whiskey. “I should be going. I can’t tolerate the House of Lords on an empty stomach.”

He turned away, but Eleanor grabbed his arm before he could leave. “Last night, was that it?” she whispered.

“Was that freedom? Or romance?”

Deverill stilled, his gaze meeting hers again with startling clarity. “Neither. That was sin. I’m told there’s a difference. All three, however, should be experienced at least once.”

“Sin?” she repeated.

“Yes. Though it should have been done consensually, Sin and Sensibility / 87

and more pleasurably than what you nearly experienced.”

Shrugging out of her grip, he strode for the door.

“I’ll see you soon, yes?” she called after him.

He gave her a half grin and a jaunty bow. “I’ll be about.”

Eleanor listened as his boots padded down the hallway, followed by the opening and closing of the front door.

He knew the answers. Even if he wasn’t very forthcoming, he knew the differences between sin and freedom—and how to find both of them. And she suspected that he knew something about romance as well, though he might never have put it into practice. She imagined he would know, anyway. No one could have so deliciously wicked a glint in his eyes and not know something. In addition, she’d learned one thing about the Marquis of Deverill that she hadn’t known before—she could trust him.

Obviously avoiding scandal was going to be more difficult than she’d realized. She couldn’t believe that she’d been so naive where Stephen was concerned, but she wouldn’t make that mistake again. These moments she’d wrested from her brothers were too important for that.

What she needed was a guide around those barricades, and someone to lead her to a place she wasn’t quite sure yet where or how to find. She needed Valentine Corbett.

“Valentine, I need you.”

Valentine leaned back against the side of the coach parked along Bond Street and listened to the plaintive, disembodied voice inside. Or half listened, rather, since the majority of his attention was on the pair of young ladies strolling up the far side of the street toward a milliner’s.

88 / Suzanne Enoch

“Are you even listening to me?”

“I’m listening, Lydia,” he said, pulling a cigar from his pocket. “Continue.”

“Do you know what it’s like for me, to have that wrinkled old man in my bed, inside me?”

“If it’s so offensive to you, my dear, you probably shouldn’t have married him.” He nodded as Miss Malthorpe and Miss Elizabeth Malthorpe and at least three of their younger sisters strolled by. They giggled, and he heard the words “eyes” and “reputation” pass between them.

“You’re not saying I should have passed up on all that money, are you? That’s not at all like you, Valentine.”

“Isn’t it? How odd.”

“I agree. And I do need you.”

He lit the cigar. “‘Need’ is a very strong word, Lydia.

I don’t think you
need
anything. If you
want
someone aside from your husband in your bed, I imagine you would have a wide range of choices.”

Silence radiated from the coach. Even with the curtains pulled shut, he could practically see her sitting there on the crushed velvet cushions, eyes narrowed as she rumin-ated over what he’d said, examining it from every angle, looking for any opening or opportunity. “You’ve found someone new,” she finally said.

He snorted. “That’s the conclusion you’ve come to?

Do you think that my finding another interest would have anything to do with you and me?”

“That depends. What, have you reached your quota of lovers so you have to let one of us go before you can bed another one?”

Valentine sighed, his gaze still on the shop door. “This is becoming tiresome. Make up any reason you like. Find Sin and Sensibility / 89

someone else, Lydia. Having fun together is one thing, but I don’t want to be needed, or nagged at. And certainly not by a married woman.”

Her next comment was a slew of curses aimed at him and more directly, his cock. Thankfully, Eleanor and Lady Barbara left the milliner’s to continue down the street, and he pushed away from the coach to follow them, leaving Lydia swearing in solitude behind him.

Technically he didn’t have to be there. Shopping was one of the items on Eleanor’s schedule, one of the events Melbourne had considered innocent enough that she didn’t require watching. Valentine was fairly certain her brother was correct.

That didn’t explain why he’d waited around the corner from Griffin House until she’d left to meet Lady Barbara, or why he’d followed them to Bond Street rather than joining his peers at the House of Lords.

BOOK: Sin and Sensibility
10.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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