An Indecent Invitation - Excerpt
Gray had come. How had he managed to approach her without notice? Lily Drummond had been scanning the steadily increasing crowd for him since she’d arrived over two hours ago. He rarely attended ton functions, but she’d hoped.
The tersely worded message she’d received from Rafe had wished her good luck, warned her to behave herself and informed her, “Gray might come by.”She had worried over those four words for the last three days. Come by the townhouse? Come riding? Come to Eversham’s? Now that she was in his arms, her stomach, which had been simmering all day, turned into a maelstrom, mimicking the whirl of the dance.
As a child, she had done everything in her power to make Gray Masterson notice her. Really to get anyone to notice her, but it was the focus of his green eyes she craved. His anger and annoyance had been better than nothing.
She studied his face, dearly familiar yet slightly foreign. Spectacles perched on a nose that appeared to have been broken more than once, and his wide, expressive mouth had acquired a cynical twist in his years away. Black shadows under his eyes made her wonder when he’d last slept.
Her gaze lingered on his strong jaw, covered with a hint of stubble as if he hadn’t the time or the inclination for an evening shave. His short black hair looked rumpled, untamed by pomade. His clothes were well cut and of good quality, but starkly plain compared to some of the more fashionable gentlemen. It suited him though.
“I’m s-so glad you came.” Unexpectedly, her tongue tangled.
This man had wrestled with her, seen her in nappies, and even spanked her a time or two, for goodness sake. But eight years was a long time, and he seemed different—dangerous and unpredictable, exuding a palpable masculine energy.
“I’m glad I came too.” He drew his words out as if she spoke an unfamiliar language. “I hope you’ll forgive my boldness. It must be your first Season, or you’d know to avoid Montbatton like the plague.” An echo of the boy he’d been colored the deep timbre of his voice. Tension flowed out of her body, and she relaxed into the dance.
“I know Montbatton rather too well. He’s sent flowers almost every day. I’m not sure he wouldn’t prefer I have four hooves though. He’s rather horse mad, isn’t he? I’ll consider you a knight errant for coming to my rescue,” she said with a soft laugh.
When had he learned to waltz so divinely? She didn’t even need to count her steps. Lud, had he always been so broad? She explored his shoulder, trying not to be too obvious in her attention, but only solid muscle, no extra padding, met her hand.
“I would sacrifice anything to save a beautiful woman from hearing about Montbatton’s stables.” Although his voice was light, his brow was furrowed.
She tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear and dropped her gaze to his neck where a thin white scar traced a jagged line above his cravat. Beautiful? He thought her beautiful?
She waited a few heartbeats for teasing laughter that never materialized and then covered her discomfiture by employing the superficial, flirty tone she’d perfected over the past few weeks. “I suppose I’m not the first young maiden he’s wooed by discussing his breeding plans. My feelings are quite shattered.”
His flashing dimples reassured her as did the amusement lighting his eyes. “Breeding plans? I hope you’re referring to his horses and not to—” His chin dropped to his chest, and a flush crept up his neck, barely tinting his tanned cheeks. “Please tell me you’re not considering Montbatton. It would make the gods very angry indeed for such a lovely, vivacious woman to be eternally bound to such an imbecile.”
Not that Lily planned to contradict him, because she happened to agree wholeheartedly with his assessment of Montbatton’s intelligence, but his coy compliment sent her reeling back down the path of confusion.
“Actually, another minute of his prattling and I planned to fake a swoon. Although, since I’ve never actually swooned, I’m not sure I would have been very convincing. Unlike some of these ladies, I’m ridiculously hardy.”
Her response gained another flash of dimples paired with a slight uptick of his lips. “I certainly hadn’t expected to meet such a delightful lady tonight. Honestly, I generally avoid ton functions. Too many people in general and not enough interesting ones to make it worth the effort. You, however, seem to be the exception.”
“Am I?” Realization washed over her. She stumbled, but he corrected her misstep with ease. The green stripes of his silk waistcoat wavered in her view while her tilted world righted itself.
The dirty, rotten blighter didn’t know who she was.
She didn’t know whether to collapse in relief, double over with laughter or bestow a solid kick to his left shin. How could he not recognize her? Was she really so different? What to do…confess now or have a bit of fun? A familiar, devilish glee overtook her.
“So why are you here if you detest balls?” She forced a level tone and swept her gaze back to his.
“I’m here to find a childhood friend. It’s her first Season as well. Lady Lily Drummond. Perhaps you’re acquainted?”
“Let me think. No, I don’t believe so.”
“That’s a mercy. I suppose her antics can’t have been too outrageous then.”
“What do you mean? What’s she like?”
“I haven’t seen her in years, but she was…unusual. A bit of a tomboy. I hope she’s gained some polish, else the ton will eat her alive.”
“Why would you want to find her then?”
“I lost a wager with her brother.” Amusement brimmed in his eyes.
She squashed an outraged squawk. The tiny amount of needling guilt over her deception vanished. “Shouldn’t you go and find the poor creature? She sounds positively dreadful. At a guess, she’s moldering in some corner without a partner in sight.”
“At least then she’ll stay out of trouble.” His voice was like dry parchment.
“Does she have a penchant for trouble then?” What in the world had Rafe told him?