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Authors: Bethany Sefchick

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For her body had wanted his for
almost as long as she had been aware that there were physical differences
between a man and a woman.
 
Laying with
him would be no chore, of that she was certain.

He was devastatingly handsome tonight
in his all-black evening wear, the only hint of color the wink of his diamond
and ruby stick pin in his cravat, its stark whiteness nearly blinding against
the dark that was the rest of his attire.
 
He appeared so worldly and masculine, a man in control of all that he
surveyed.
 
He was also blind to her
affections.
 
But perhaps, just perhaps,
she could make him see that
she
was the woman he was looking for and
that he did not need the opinions of other women.

True, she had been avoiding him all
throughout the house party, fearful that he might see her love for him written
plainly on her face and laugh at her audacity.
 
But that was the mouse Amelia, the one who hid, even from her oldest
friend.
 
The one who had spent most of
her life hiding.
 
But tonight?
 
Tonight she had been a lioness, standing up
to Lady Lydia and letting her sharp tongue fly, the way she rarely did but
often longed to.

The fire that had ignited inside of
her when Lydia has slapped the book out of her hand flared to life again, this
time not in anger but rather in determination.
 
For once, Amelia was going to fight for what she wanted.
 
If she lost, then yes, she would be crushed,
but at least she would know that she had tried.
 
She could not exist in this limbo forever.

Tonight, with the air redolent with
the heady scent of citrus, and the warm air caressing the bare skin of her
shoulders, for the first time, she felt worthy of fighting for David's
love.
 
What had changed?
 
She could not say.
 
Perhaps it was the way he had come to her defense in the corridor
or maybe it was the way he had been so solicitous, making certain that she was
well after the incident.
 
For she had no
doubt that the trip to the conservatory had been all for her benefit in an
effort to cheer her.
 
Or perhaps it was
simply because now that she had finally defended herself to another society
lady, Amelia was unwilling to retreat back into the meek and mild shell she had
hidden in for so long.

Whatever the reason, with the
starlight glittering down like so many diamonds from the heavens, Amelia decide
that it was time to take a chance.

"There is still one more day,
is there not?" she asked as innocently as she could.
 
"If you would like, I could inquire
with the other ladies, see what their thoughts are.
 
We could perhaps work together if you like.
 
That way, for your next house party, you
will have a better idea of what sort of activities to plan."

The suggestion was ridiculous, of
course.
 
He was an earl and could hire
as many party planners as he liked.
 
However, given the eager look on his face, he seemed to be amenable to
her idea.

"Yes.
 
Yes I do believe that is a splendid idea,
Amelia.
 
We can begin tonight with the
drinks that will end the evening.
 
You
circulate about gathering opinions and then, after the other have departed, you
can inform me of what you have learned.
 
Tomorrow we can do much the same, with you checking back in with me from
time to time throughout the day."
 
David prayed that his voice did not betray too much excitement.
 
He had hoped for a similar outcome so that
he might spend time with Amelia and seduce her in what little time he had left.

Simply sweeping her off her feet
and carrying her off to his bedroom where he might ravish her would have been
easier but he knew she would not agree to such a thing.
 
Or, given the way she was ogling his chest
at the moment, perhaps she might.
 
Still, this way was better.
 
Tomorrow night, on the other hand, if he was no closer to his goal of
winning her, then he might take more drastic measures.
 
Such as absconding with her and thoroughly
ruining her - in the most pleasurable of ways, of course.
 
He was a bit of a scoundrel, after all, so
no one would be overly surprised if he did just that.

"Wonderful," she said
with a sigh, her entire face animated now, and he could see the wheels inside
of her mind turning with plans of her own, though of what type he could not
guess.
 
Still, as long as he was a part
of them, he did not much care what they were.

"Thank you, Amelia," he
said as he stood and offered her his arm so that he might escort her back to
the ballroom.
 
"You have no idea
how much I value your help in his matter."

That, of course, was the
understatement of the year, David thought as he led her from the conservatory,
her soft, sweet scent tickling his nose as it mixed with the citrus in the
air.
 
Still, small steps.
 
He could not afford to rush her lest he risk
losing the only woman he would ever love.

Chapter Three

 

The group of assembled women's idle
chatter was nearly enough to bore Amelia to tears, but she pasted a pretty
smile on her face and nodded encouragingly.
 
She was doing this for David.
 
And herself.
 
So she turned to
listen to one of the few women in the group that she actually liked, Lady Diana
Saintwood.
 
This conversation, at least,
would not be about dresses and what would be in the first stare of fashion come
spring.

"I am given to understand that
Lachlan McKenna, the son of the Viscount Gladston will be in Town for the
upcoming Season.
 
I also understand that
he is quite handsome and charming."
 
Lady Diana confided this news to Amelia as if she was entrusting the
other woman with a grave secret.
 
Then
Diana shook her head, as if realizing just how flighty she had sounded in that
moment.
 

"I do suppose it is too much
to hope that he will come in search of a bride.
 
Or that he would prefer one with a brain."
 
There was a wistful note in Diana's voice,
but one that Amelia could not fault her for.
 
Like Amelia herself, Diana was also no longer a young debutante and her
chances of securing a match were fading with each passing season, even if her
looks were not.
 

How a true diamond of the first
water like Diana was still unmarried baffled Amelia, and she felt a strange
kinship with the other woman.
 
Neither
of them, it seemed, possessed what the young men of the
ton
were looking
for.
 
In Amelia's case, it was
understandable, but Diana was a true beauty with a sweet nature.
 
Then again, it seemed as if she valued
something more than looks as well.
 
She
apparently valued intelligence, much to her credit.

"News travels so fast these
days, does it not?"
 
Amelia shook
her head, uncertain what else to say for she knew nothing of the viscount in
question.
 
"Why, I had no idea
there was even a house party underway at Blackstone as well," she said
referring to the estate of the Earl of Devonmont, "and such a scandalous
one as all that."

Diana took a sip of her claret
before replying.
 
"And were it not
for that delightful Bow Street Runner, Harry Greer, we would still be
unawares.
 
Imagine!
 
A true Cinderella story for a couple so in
love."
 
The other woman sighed
wistfully.
 
"And the wedding
tomorrow evening will be magical, I am certain."

When the afore mentioned Runner had
appeared on the steps of Weatherby Hall earlier in the day bearing news for
Lord Reynolds, the Duke of Hathaway, most of the invited guests took no note of
the man.
 
After all, he was not of their
class.
 
Diana had apparently noticed
him, however, along with several other females in attendance and had grilled
him mercilessly for details of the Devonmont house party and the scandal that
had occurred when Lord Sebastian St. Giles, the Earl of Covington, had not
proposed to Elizabeth Ashford, Devonmont's younger daughter, as expected, but
had instead been caught compromising the
ton
's most infamous spinster,
"Plain" Jane Ashford, Devonmont's elder daughter.
 
That Covington had been in love with Jane
all along had made the story that much more romantic.

At least to the women currently
residing at Weatherby Hall, anyway.
 
Even Amelia had to admit that she was happy for the couple and that it
was a wonderful story of a lovematch triumphing over a political one.
 
Just as it should be.

"I am sure it will be,"
Amelia agreed, secretly longing for her own wedding to the man she loved,
foolish as that was.
 
In truth, it was
more likely that a heard of African elephants would come rampaging through
David's grand ballroom before a wedding between her and David would occur.
 
"Though I do not know the earl, I have
met Lady Jane several times and she is a lovely woman.
 
It is refreshing to see true love win out
over politics."

Amelia watched as Diana's eyes
roamed the room before alighting briefly on Lord Adam Reynolds, the man the
Runner had arrived to see.
 
"It is
indeed."
 
Again, that same wistful
note laced Diana's voice making Amelia wonder if the young woman had feelings
for the duke.
 
Well, she would not be
the first.
 
There were many women of the
ton
who hoped to land the dashing duke for their own.

"Well, there will be no
wedding here," Amelia said brightly, attempting to change the
subject.
 
"Not this year at any
rate."

That made Diana smile for some
reason, as if she knew a secret that Amelia did not.
 
"Ah, but there could be.
 
I have seen the way our host looks at you, Lady Amelia.
 
I do believe that the earl is infatuated
with you."

"He is not."
 
That was Amelia's automatic reply whenever
it was suggested that there was an attachment between her and David.
 
It happened more often than not, though she
reasoned that it was only because they were old friends.
 
"We have known each other for
decades.
 
That is all."

"Yet his eyes follow
you," Diana said a bit too smugly for Amelia's liking, making her
uncomfortable in her own skin.
 
David
did not watch her.
 
Did he?
 
"He watches you, is ever conscious of
where you are in a room and notices when you depart.
 
And do not think that the others have not noticed, Lady Lydia in
particular."

Glancing up, Amelia was surprised
to find David's eyes on her even now from across the room, but then she quickly
dismissed the thought that it was because he was infatuated with her.
 
That was Diana's way of thinking, not
hers.
 
"I am merely helping him
ascertain whether or not the women of the house party are enjoying
themselves.
 
It is a request from an old
friend.
 
He is a bachelor after all, and
is afraid that he has put too much emphasis on manly activities."

This time, Diana laughed brightly,
causing several heads to turn in their direction.
 
"And if you honestly believe that bit of rubbish, my dear,
you are not nearly so clever as I think you are."

Once she said it, the mere
suggestion that David needed her help sounded foolish, even to Amelia's own
ears.
 
Diana was right on that
count.
 
However, despite the fact that
Amelia liked the other woman well enough, she did not quite trust Diana to
reveal the truth to her.
 
Amelia did not
quite believe David's motives either, and hadn't from the moment he had
escorted her back into the ballroom when everyone had turned to stare at them, the
bluestocking on the arm of the infamous bachelor and sometimes rake.

In her heart, Amelia believed that
it was really all a plan to thwart Lady Lydia's plans to ensnare David into
marriage.
 
For the chit was beyond
eager.
 
As was her mother.
 
If that was the case, then Amelia didn't
mind so much.
 
It allowed her to spend
time with David, time she might not otherwise have.

"Perhaps.
 
Or perhaps he has other, more nefarious
plans in mind."
 
Amelia scoffed at
the possibility, even though she had meant the statement as a joke.
 
"Either way, he is my friend, one of
the few that I have, and I will do as he asks."

Diana studied Amelia for a moment,
as if seeing the other woman for the first time.
 
Then, she smiled, a real and true smile that lit up her
eyes.
 
"I am ashamed to say that I
did not give friendship with you as much consideration as I should have in the
past, much to my detriment.
 
You are a
quick wit, Lady Amelia, and very refreshing, even if, in this case anyway, you
are wrong."

For the second time that evening,
Amelia laughed.
 
Just as she had with
David.
 
"I feel the same.
 
Well, about the friendship part,
anyway."
 
And she did.
 
Amelia had spent so much time hiding from
those in Society that she was certain would disparage her, she had not given
much thought to the fact that there were others who might not laugh at her,
others who might become true friends.

"Friends then?"
 
Diana held out her hand, much like a man
would, another thing about her that Amelia found she liked.
 
There was no pretense with this woman, only
genuine warmth.

"Friends," Amelia agreed,
marveling at the changes that had occurred within her in such a short period of
time.
 
First standing up to Lady Lydia
and now forming a friendship with Lady Diana.
 
What was next?
 
Seducing the
earl?

Then she paused.
 
Perhaps that was not such a bad idea after
all.
 
She had thought to use this
remaining few hours and into the next day to attempt to get David to notice her
as a desirable woman.
 
Why not push the
bounds of propriety further and attempt to seduce him?
 
If she did not, she feared she might lose
the chance forever.

"And as a friend, might I
offer you a suggestion?"
 
Diana was
looking at her expectantly, and Amelia suddenly found that she was extremely
willing to listen.

"Of course."

Diana gently pulled Amelia aside
behind a towering pine tree that had been brought indoors and decorated with
all manner of fruits and sweetmeats that were to be stripped off and eaten the
next night.

"Lord Weatherby is enamored of
you.
 
I have watched the two of you
dance around each other for the last week and more, well into last season.
 
Each time he enters a room, you leave.
 
Yet he sees you depart, his eyes following
you, watching you.
 
Hungering for
you.
 
I do not know much of men, but I
recognize their hunger for a woman when I see it."

Amelia wanted to correct her new
friend, but she did not dare.
 
Instead
she merely nodded.
 
"Go on."

"And I have watched you as
well.
 
You gaze at him when you think no
one is looking, sigh in despair when he dances with another."
 
Diana laid a hand on Amelia's arm.
 
"As someone who loves a man who does
not love her in return, I recognize the signs all too well.
 
And while I cannot change my own course, I
believe that I can help you change yours."

The protest she was about to make
died on Amelia's lips the instant she fully processed Diana's words.
 
No one had ever offered to help her with
anything, let alone snaring a man.
 
In
particular the earl.
 
Few had even
offered to be her friend.
 
And Amelia
did want David so very, very much.

"So what do you suggest?"
Amelia finally asked.
 
"It is not
as if I can strip myself naked for him."
 
Though she might be willing to if she thought it might produce the
results she desired.

"You can be
enticing."
 
Diana pulled on
Amelia's hand, turning the other woman's attention back to her and not at the
earl.
 
"You can make him look at
you and want to bed you, not that I believe his thoughts do not travel in that
direction already.
 
But you can let him
know you are interested in the same thing."
 
Critically, she eyed Amelia's gown.
 
"This frock is fine for a young debutante, but for a woman
who wants to entice a man?
 
It is far
too modest."

Amelia looked down at her gown and
then at Diana's.
 
The other woman wore a
blush colored confection that showed off her figure to every advantage,
including the tops of her breasts.
 
The
bit of gold lace at the bottom indicated that it was a Madame LaVallier
creation.
 
Amelia was not permitted to
wear such scandalous frocks.
 
But she
wanted to.
 
Very much.

In comparison, Amelia's
cream-colored gown was flat and dull, the neckline too high and the overall fit
unflattering.
 
Was her wardrobe part of
her problem with men and society in general?
 
She wanted to say no, but the intelligent part of her knew that it
was.
 
She did not dress to entice as other
women did.
 
She did not display herself
to her best advantage, her hair too severe and her look too plain.

She dressed how her mother
instructed her, always believing that if a man was interested in her, he would
overlook her middling image.
 
But what
if her mother had been wrong?
 
What if
the only men who could overlook her appearance were the fortune hunters, men so
desperate for money that they would marry any woman, no matter how ugly she
was?
 
For Amelia had to admit that,
while she had convinced herself she was no different than the other young
ladies of the
ton
, she was, in reality extremely dowdy.
 
Not ugly or hideous.
 
She did have decent looks.
 
She simply did nothing to enhance them.

BOOK: The Earl Who Loved Me
10.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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