Beguiling the Earl(3)

By: Suzanna Medeiros



Catherine shrugged. “I’m no different today than I was yesterday.”

“No,” Louisa said, a smile lifting the corner of her lips. “Of course not. And speaking of Nicholas, here he comes.”

ooOoo

It was some time before he was able to return to Overlea’s small party. After his obligatory dance with Rose Hardwick, her parents had made it their mission to monopolize his company. He knew they were sending a signal to all the other parents with daughters of a marriageable age that they had a prior claim on him. One based solely on Lady Worthington’s lifelong friendship with Kerrick’s mother, but which had no actual basis in reality. The entire situation left him more than a little uncomfortable.

Much as he wanted to, he couldn’t outright ignore the Worthingtons or he’d never hear the end of it from his mother, so he had to suffer their company far longer than he would have anyone else who’d made such a presumption. He resolved, however, to have a private conversation with Worthington—and soon—to set the man straight about his misplaced hopes for his daughter’s future.

Finally tiring of his less-than-effusive company, Lord Worthington left him for the card room and Lady Worthington turned her attention to one of her friends. Free from their suffocating attention, he scanned the room. Annoyance flared when he saw Catherine Evans speaking to Viscount Thornton.

He’d seen her dancing with him when he’d first arrived and had been surprised at the spark of displeasure he’d felt. Until that moment, he hadn’t allowed himself to think about the fact that it was Catherine he’d been looking forward to seeing tonight and not his best friend, Nicholas. Catherine he’d missed.

That wouldn’t do.

He’d sought out Nicholas and his new bride and had kept his back to the dancing couples lest he give away his interest in Catherine’s movements. When Nicholas had left to fetch a drink for his wife, Louisa casually mentioned that her sister was dancing with Viscount Thornton, and he’d had to work to keep a scowl from his face. He knew very little about Thornton, only that he seemed far too young. The thought had risen, unbidden, that Catherine needed someone older, not a young buck who was little more than an untried youth.

He hadn’t forgotten the waltz he’d promised her the previous fall. In fact, he’d been about to invite her to dance when Worthington had interrupted. He stopped to speak with the orchestra conductor before making his way back to her. It was fortunate for Thornton that he had already departed.

“I wasn’t sure we’d see you again tonight,” Nicholas said, amusement in his gaze. “What’s this I hear about there being an understanding between you and Rose Hardwick?”

Nicholas was clearly enjoying himself at his expense. Somehow Kerrick resisted the urge to swear, but he couldn’t keep from casting a quick glance at Catherine. She was looking across the room at something, pretending not to be interested in their conversation. By the stiff set of her shoulders, however, he knew that wasn’t the case.

“I don’t intend to offer for her, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

Nicholas’s eyes narrowed. “From Worthington’s behavior, it’s clear he expects you to.”

Kerrick could sense every ear in the near vicinity straining to hear their conversation. Nicholas realized it as well and had kept his voice low.

Kerrick shrugged. “He’s a viscount and I’m an earl. He wishes to see his daughter marry well. Of course he hopes for a match.”

Nicholas frowned. “You didn’t seem inclined to dissuade him from that impression.”

He needed to call a halt to this conversation before it became even more uncomfortable. “It’s complicated,” he said, not wanting to get into the ties that bound their two families. “You can ask me about it later. For now, however, I promised Miss Evans a dance, and I fear she will be put out if I go back on my word.”

Catherine smiled up at him, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. Just then the musicians finished their current piece and began to play the next one. He could see her surprise.

“Another waltz?”

“I didn’t promise just any dance.”

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