Beguiling the Earl(5)

By: Suzanna Medeiros



She expected him to laugh, of course. The corners of her mouth had tilted up with unrepentant mirth and it was with great difficulty that he returned her smile. But her admission had wiped away his amusement. Why was he surprised that men were paying her court? Thornton was young and seemed innocuous, but he hated the very thought of the two of them together. They had made a striking pair when they were dancing, with their youth and blond-haired, blue-eyed good looks. He didn’t know the man enough to do more than greet him in passing, but he found himself hating him.

Her head tilted with curiosity when he didn’t reply right away, and he knew she was going to prod. Before she could do so, he said, “I hope your experiences so far have lived up to your expectations. I remember how much you were looking forward to your season.”

She sighed. The sound seemed so forlorn and unlike her.

“I admit I’ve been a little bored.”

Her admission surprised him. “I don’t have much experience with young women entering society, but I don’t think I’ve heard any of them describe the social whirlwind as boring.”

“Oh no,” she said, rushing to correct him. “Well, not precisely. There is much to do, and I have enjoyed many aspects of life in town, especially the theater. But how many balls and routs can one be expected to attend before they all blend into one another? I only wish…”

When she didn’t continue, he prodded. “You only wish…?”

She shook her head. “It’s nothing. I’ve been reading about how the gardens at Richmond Palace and Kew have recently been united, and apparently they’ve acquired plants from various naval expeditions around the world. Plants that cannot be found anywhere else in England.” She sighed again. “I was hoping to visit the gardens, but given Louisa’s condition she has been so tired of late and doesn’t want to commit to doing that much walking. And I hesitate to ask Nicholas since he spends much of his time these days hovering over my sister. I know he’d hate to be away from her for so long.”

It only took him a moment to realize what she was implying. “Louisa is increasing?”

“Oh no,” she said, a look of horror on her face. “I wasn’t supposed to say anything. It is still very early and they don’t wish to announce it yet.”

He leaned a little closer as he swept her across the ballroom floor and spoke in a low voice. “Your secret is safe with me.” Their eyes caught and held, and Kerrick had the odd sensation that he was drowning in the blue depths of her gaze.

It was then that he noticed the scent she’d chosen to wear. He’d so often seen her at the conservatory during his stay at Overlea Manor that he’d come to associate the scent of tropical flowers with her. Here, though, there could be no attributing her perfume to her surroundings. It was a light scent, yet still exotic and so completely her. It seemed to reach out and envelop him, and for several long moments the rest of the room fell away as he looked down at her.

He gave himself a quick mental shake of his head as he tried to remember what else he’d wanted to say. Oh yes, Kew Gardens. “As for the other, I’d be honored to escort you to the gardens. I even know someone who should be willing to act as your chaperone.”

Catherine’s face lit with excitement and her obvious joy made him feel as though he were ten feet tall.

“I knew everything would be better with you here.”

ooOoo

Catherine had already met the Duke of Clarington, a longtime friend of both Nicholas and himself, and his new duchess of less than a year. He wasn’t certain how she’d accomplished it, but the duchess had managed to turn Clarington’s head with relative ease during the past season. At the time, Kerrick had been amused by his friend’s torment when she’d seemed to favor another over him, but it had all turned out well in the end, and the two were as happy a couple as Nicholas and Louisa. Which, given the state of most marriages among members of society, was quite an anomaly.

The duke and duchess were deep in conversation with Louisa and Nicholas when they returned from their waltz. The duchess was taller than most of the women present, and her height, coupled with her red hair, made her stand out in any crowd. She was undeniably beautiful, but it was Catherine who held his attention as she informed everyone, with great enthusiasm, of their planned trip to Kew Gardens.

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