Home > The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(2)

The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda (Summersby #3)(2)
Author: Sophie Barnes

“And not a moment too soon,” Lady Cassandra blurted out. “One can never start scouring the masses quickly enough. Finding a good match can often take more than one season.” She followed her statement with a nervous giggle, which led Lucy to believe that Lady Cassandra had probably been on the marriage mart for some time.

Lucy responded with an awkward smile. “I dare say that I hope it won’t take more than this one.”

“Have you perhaps set your sights on someone already?” the marchioness asked with a great deal of curiosity as she moved a little closer.

“I was practically stampeded on my way in here,” Lucy remarked, unwilling to divulge any important details to these women for fear that they might sabotage her plan. “Surely there must be a potential husband among them.”

All three women nodded in agreement.

“But for now, I am actually searching for a certain Lord Summersby, for he and I are meant to dance the next set together, and with the crowd being as dense as it is, I’m finding it rather difficult to seek him out.”

Lady Trenton served her a bright smile. “I would be delighted to be of service. Are you not aware that he is my brother?”

“Forgive me, my lady, but I really had no idea.” It was a small lie perhaps but one that Lucy deemed necessary.

“Well, he most certainly is. And if I am not entirely mistaken, I saw him not too long ago on the terrace with our father. Come; I will take you to him directly.”

“That is most kind of you, my lady, but really quite unnecessary. I should hate to impose.”

“First of all,” Lady Trenton began, linking her arm with Lucy’s, “you shall call me Alexandra from now on, for I am quite certain that the two of us shall be wonderful friends. Second of all, it is no imposition at all.”

Lucy could think of nothing more to say. She was quite certain that she and Alexandra would be far from friends once she put her plan into motion, but she couldn’t help but admit that she did need her, if for no other reason than to lead her to the right man.

“Shame on you, William,” Alexandra teased moments later as she stepped out onto the terrace with Lucy in tow. “It seems that you’ve quite forgotten your dance partner—a bit out of character for you and rather ungentlemanly, I might add.”

If Alexandra continued speaking, Lucy found it impossible to focus on what it was she was saying, for the man who presently turned toward her, the very one she planned to ensnare, would undoubtedly be capable of taking her breath away ten times over. In short, he was the most perfect, the most handsome, the most memorable of any man she’d ever set eyes upon. That Mother Nature had taken it upon herself to create such a fine specimen must surely be a crime against all the other poor creatures who’d have to walk in his shadow. She drew a sharp breath.

“Lucy?” a distant voice from a far-off place seemed to ask.

Lucy’s first instinct was to ignore it, but then she felt Alexandra’s hand tugging gently on her arm, hurtling her with startling force right back to reality. “Hm?” She couldn’t for the life of her imagine what she might be expected to say, much less overlook the puzzled expression on Lord Summersby’s face.

“I don’t believe we’ve ever met, Miss Blackwell.”

Panic swept over her from head to toe until she realized that the words had been spoken not by Lord Summersby but by an older gentleman who stood to his right. He wasn’t quite as tall as Lord Summersby, but he still had an imposing figure, and Lucy considered how terrifying he must be when he was angry. Thankfully, he looked rather cheerful at present. His eyes were a tone lighter than Lord Summersby’s, his chin a little rounder around the edges, and his nose slightly bigger.

“Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the Earl of Moorland. It seems I must apologize for detaining my son from his prior engagement.”

There was a flicker of something in the old man’s eyes that was by no means lost on Lucy. Mischief perhaps? How odd.

Lord Summersby, on the other hand, had taken on a rather stiff stance, his gray-blue eyes regarding Lucy with a mild degree of interest.

“It is a pleasure, my lord,” Lucy responded, offering the earl a graceful curtsy.

“William, you’ve not said a single word to Miss Blackwell as of yet.” Lord Moorland’s voice was stern—the mark of a man who was used to being in command. “I dare say you’d do rather well to make your own apology. A lesser woman would already have had a fit of the vapors in response to your lack of attention.”

There was a momentary pause. Lucy held her breath, wondering if Lord Summersby would act as a gentleman or declare her a liar before all. Her heart hammered and her palms grew sweaty, but then, like her very own knight in shining armor, he gave a curt nod and took a step toward her, not only saving her from utter humiliation but unwittingly helping her realize the next part of her plan.

“Forgive me, Miss Blackwell.” His eyes bore into hers, holding her captive as he spoke. “It seems that I was so engrossed in the conversation I was having that I must have had a complete lapse in memory. Indeed, it is so severe that I might just as well not recall having asked you at all. I do apologize with the sincerest hope that you will still allow me to make good on my promise.”

Lucy almost lost her nerve. Not in a million years would she have imagined that any man would make her feel so small and wretched. His tone had not been mocking, but his meaning had been clear. He thought her a charlatan, and why wouldn’t he? After all, they’d only just met, and she’d hardly done anything to make him think highly of her. Quite the opposite. She groaned inwardly, knowing that what she planned to suggest would sound ludicrous to him. She hoped he’d accept without a fuss however, for if he didn’t, he’d likely hold a harlot in higher regard than he would her once the night was over.

Pushing all sympathy from her mind, she squared her shoulders and strengthened her resolve. “Nothing would please me more, my lord,” she replied, allowing him to take her by the arm and lead her back inside the ballroom.

Taking up their respective positions for the start of the quadrille, Lucy shot a quick glance at Lord Summersby who was standing right beside her. “Thank you,” she whispered as the music started and two other couples began their turn about the dance floor.

“I cannot say that you are welcome,” he muttered in response, “for I despise deception.”

“I’m sorry, my lord, but I saw no other way in which to make your acquaintance.”

“Really?” Though his face remained fixed upon the other awaiting couple across from them, his irritation was quite apparent. “I’m not sure what game you’re playing, Miss Blackwell, but I can assure you that I am far from amused.”

Before Lucy could manage a response, he’d taken her by the arm and led her forward, turning her about before leading her in a wide circle while the other couples looked on. As soon as they were back in their places, Lucy pulled together every ounce of courage she possessed. This was the reason she’d come, and she would have only one chance at getting it right. “I have a proposal,” she whispered. “Indeed, I am in need of your service.”

For a moment, she wasn’t entirely sure if he’d heard her. Her heart hammering in her chest, her legs growing weak with expectation, she feared she might suddenly collapse from sheer nerves.

“And what service might that be?” he finally asked, leading her forward once again.

“I’ve done my research, my lord, and am quite familiar with your career. In fact, you are regarded as the best foreign agent that England has to offer, and, as it happens, I am in need of precisely such a man. I will pay you handsomely enough, of that I promise you.” She wondered if there would be enough money in the world to pay him for participating in her mad endeavor.

Lord Summersby shot her a sideways glance. “As tempting as your offer may be, I fear you must take your business elsewhere. You see, Miss Blackwell, I am soon to be married and have every intention of settling down to a peaceful family life in the country, away from all the excitement that the Foreign Office has to offer.”

Lucy blanched.

Marry?

Apparently she had far less time to set her plan in motion than she had hoped for. If Lord Summersby married someone else, then…She had intended to let him in on her scheme, but if he’d already proposed to another woman, then she might have to resort to more desperate measures.

Her mind reeled as he steered her smoothly back toward their places. The music faded, and all the couples bowed and curtsied—all but Lucy. She was far too busy making a hasty change of plans.

“I take it that your so-called research didn’t mention that I am betrothed?” He was leading her back toward the periphery of the ballroom.

“It did not.”

“Well, it has been a rather hasty decision, I suppose.”

Lucy stopped walking, forcing Lord Summersby to a halt as well. Staring up at him, she searched his eyes for the answer to a question that she dared not ask.

Until that very moment, William had paid very little attention to the physical attributes of the woman with whom he’d been dancing. Not only had the lighting been quite poor outside on the terrace, but he’d also been so angry that she’d had the audacity to slither her way into his life through lies and deceit that her looks had been the last thing on his mind.

Since then, he’d barely glanced in her direction, but now that he was given no choice but to take a good look at her, he couldn’t help but feel his heart take an extra beat—a rather disconcerting feeling indeed, given the fact that he intensely disliked her. However, as well as that might be, he could not dismiss her exceptional beauty. Her hair was fiery red, her eyes intensely green, and her bone structure so fine and delicate that she could have worn a sack and still looked elegant. But the gown that Miss Blackwell was wearing was by no means any sack. Instead, it showed off a figure that boasted of soft curves in all the right places.

Clenching his jaw, William swallowed hard and forced himself to ignore the temptation. He would marry Annabelle, and that would be that.

“Do you love her?” Miss Blackwell suddenly asked, her head tilted upward at a slight angle.

By deuce, even her voice was delightful to listen to. And those imploring eyes of hers…No, he’d be damned if he’d allow her to ensnare him with her womanly charms. She’d practically made a fool of both his sister and his father; she’d get no sympathy from him. Not now, not ever. “You and I are hardly well enough acquainted with each other for you to take such liberties in your questions, Miss Blackwell. My relationship to Lady Annabelle is of a personal nature and certainly not one that I am about to discuss with you.”

Miss Blackwell blinked. “Then you do not love her,” she said simply.

Good grief, but the woman was insufferable. Had he at any point in time told her that he was not in love with his fiancée? Why the devil would she draw such a conclusion? It was maddening and quite beyond him to understand the workings of her mind. “I hold her in the highest regard,” he said.

 

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