Read an Extract
‘It almost sounds as though you enjoy crossing them all off, Sophie. Don’t you want a husband?’ There was a screech of tuning violins. ‘Oh hell’s teeth they are going on for the next set and I’m promised to that Harrison beanpole. At least she’s yearning after Adrian Haye, so I’m safe.’ Toby fled towards the stairs and emerged just below her a minute later, running a hand through his unruly curls as he made his way to his partner.
‘Tell me, Sophie,’ enquired a deep voice from the shadows behind her. ‘Do you want to cross them all off the list?’
She spun round, staggered, grasped the balcony rail. A complete stranger. A tall, dark stranger who had heard all of that. Even the well-endowed wedding-tackle part. ‘Oh, my Lord.’
‘Oh, Your Grace, actually,’ he remarked, emerging fully into the light cast by the great central chandelier.
‘You are a duke?’
Good looking, well bred, certain to be rich. Tick, tick, tick went an out-of-control internal scorekeeper. Pull yourself together, her brain snapped. You are unchaperoned in a deserted gallery with a strange man and you have just been overheard in an outrageously improper conversation. He might very well be making assumptions and intending to act on them.
‘You can’t be. I know all the dukes and you aren’t one.’ He looked like dukes ought to look according to fairy tales and, disappointingly, never did. Late twenties? Over six feet tall, broad shoulders, patrician nose, grey, beautiful eyes, exquisitely cut evening suit, flat stomach. Her gaze began to shift downwards and she wrenched it back with an effort and met an amused smile. He wasn’t a mind reader, was he? ‘They are all too old. Unless you are the Lost Duke.’
‘I am not at all lost,’ he said. ‘I know exactly where I am. In the gallery at Lady Radlett’s May Ball.’
Oh yes, her internal scorekeeper added, that voice. Deep, warm, drawling. You should have added SS for Staggeringly Sexy.
‘You are the Duke of Calderbrook?’ He nodded. ‘Well, you might not be lost now, but why did you go away for so long? You’ve been gone for almost more years than I’ve been out.’ Not lost exactly. Apparently he had written letters home from time to time, but all those did was track where the errant nobleman had been, never where he was going. Or what he was doing, come to that. Or why.
‘Away, not lost. My nearest and… dearest knew where I was all the time. More or less.’ He strolled forward until he could put his hands on the rail beside her and look down. The hooded eyes scanned the dance floor, but Sophie noticed he took care not to lean so far forward as to be seen himself. ‘You’ve been out that long?’
‘You have been eavesdropping.’ He might at least have had the gallantry to observe that she didn’t look old enough for what his calculations told him. ‘And I came out when I was seventeen.’ Seven years ago.