Beguiling the Earl(2)

By: Suzanna Medeiros



Annoyance swept through Catherine when Kerrick took hold of her sister’s hand and gave it a quick, reassuring squeeze. “Most young men are rash, but fortunately we eventually outgrow it. I am sure John is well.”

Before Catherine could remind the pair that she was still present, they were interrupted by an older couple approaching their small group. The man was of average height and build, his thinning hair liberally sprinkled with gray. His wife, however, was a striking woman whose dark hair was only starting to show signs of gray around the temples. Kerrick introduced them as Lord and Lady Worthington.

“We wondered when you would return to town,” Lord Worthington said, turning his attention to Kerrick. “Rose has been quite put out by your negligence.”

Kerrick lifted a brow and replied with cool equanimity. “One wouldn’t surmise that from her behavior.”

Catherine followed his gaze and spotted a young woman who had been announced earlier as Miss Rose Hardwick, daughter of Lord and Lady Worthington. The girl was about her own age and stood several feet away, surrounded by a group of young men who vied for her attention. Catherine wasn’t surprised given the girl’s almost radiant beauty. Rich chestnut curls framed a fair face that was uncommonly pretty. Her eyes sparkled, her lips pouted, and her cheeks bloomed with a rosy glow. With her pale hair and coloring, Catherine felt dull and lifeless by comparison.

Worthington shrugged. “She’s young. Did you expect her to just stand in a corner and pine away for you?”

Lady Worthington was quick to add, “She merely flirts with those boys. She knows with whom her future rests.”

Shock rolled through Catherine at the older woman’s words, and her gaze swung back to Kerrick. His expression hadn’t changed, but he didn’t deny Lady Worthington’s assertion.

“She seems to be enjoying herself quite well without my attention.”

“Nonsense,” Worthington said. “That’s because she doesn’t know you’re here. We only just spotted you ourselves. Though I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t have sent word to us before now.”

“I only just arrived last night,” he said.

Worthington nodded, but it was clear Kerrick’s reply hadn’t satisfied him. He turned back to Catherine and Louisa. “Lady Overlea, Miss Evans, if you will excuse us?”

Catherine merely nodded in reply. She looked again at Rose Hardwick, her thoughts full of the implication of the older man’s words. She refused to believe there was an understanding between Rose and Kerrick. The fates wouldn’t be so cruel.

Determined to learn the truth, she turned to question him, but Kerrick had already stepped away to speak to the older couple in private. Her dismay grew when they turned, as one, to approach Lord and Lady Worthington’s daughter. The group of men dispersed at her father’s presence, but a few hovered close by in case they were given another opportunity with her.

Her dismay turned to outright disbelief as she watched Kerrick bow over the young woman’s hand and lead her out onto the ballroom floor. The strains of a waltz were beginning to play. Unable to watch them together, she swung back to face her sister.

Louisa, however, continued to watch them. “Well,” she said when she finally spoke, “Nicholas never mentioned this. I had no idea there was anything between Kerrick and Rose Hardwick.”

Catherine couldn’t bear to stand there and discuss the possibility that Kerrick might have an understanding with another woman and so tried to distract her sister. “Where’s Nicholas? I’m surprised he isn’t adhered to your side.”

Louisa made a small sound of exasperation. “We’re not as bad as that.”

“Yes, you are,” Catherine said with a fond smile. “But I admit it’s refreshing to see amidst all the practical union  s of the ton.”

“What do you know of practical union  s?”

Catherine shook her head. “I don’t know, not really. It’s just that I used to think the upper classes were the lucky ones, but beneath their airs I sense something missing. A hollowness.”

Louisa didn’t hide her surprise. “You have grown very astute. You are no longer just my little sister but a woman now.”

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