Excerpt: A Groom of One’s Own
At the hero’s engagement ball. To another woman…
Twenty-five days before the wedding.
The duke had come to the terrace for a respite, and discovered too late that it was not to be found.
“Miss Harlow, good evening,” Brandon said, coming to stand beside her at the banister, because she had turned, caught his eye and it would have been rude to ignore her.
To discover Miss Harlow alone in a dimly lit and fairly secluded place was not what he wished. In fact, it was in direct violation of a rule he had made for himself just the other day: Avoid her at all costs.
Rationality dictated that he return immediately to the ballroom. Oddly enough, Brandon did not.
“Your Grace. Good evening.”
“I trust I am not interrupting something.” He said, and it was not true. If he was interrupting, he would have a polite excuse to make a quick exit.
“ I am awaiting an assignation with my lover,” she declared. He was shocked first by her boldness to declare her private information. Then he was struck by a wave of jealousy, which was ludicrous, because he did not possess her nor did he want to. And then, finally, he noticed that she was teasing.
“I shall keep you company until he arrives then,” Brandon said, ever the gentleman. It would not do to leave a woman unaccompanied on the terrace where she might be prey to rakes and lechers. She was safe with him, however.
“Then you shall stay a very long time. I am a very respectable girl.” To make her point, she tightened her shawl around her.
“As respectable as a scandalous, history-making woman can be,” he said lightly. It was happening again: she was teasing him out of his armor, and he couldn’t quite bring himself to stop it.
“I’m not scandalous anymore. At first I was gossiped about frequently and I was invited to parties to create a sensation. But I behaved myself and now people have become accustomed to me.”
“You are even sought after.”
“An interview with two duchesses is surely the stamp of respectability.”
“And a duke,” he added. He reluctantly noticed how quickly they fell into an easy banter. That had yet to occur between him and Clarissa, and he couldn’t imagine that would change. Upon feeling surprising disappointed at the realization, Brandon reminded himself that the lack of deep conversation was precisely why he was marrying her.
It all had to do with avoiding distracting and focusing on the things that really matter, but with Miss Harlow before him, it was impossible that he could pay attention to anything other than her.
“How could I forget?” She teased. “I ought to ask you a few questions,” she said.
“For this story of yours?”
“Yes and because it should look improper for the two of us to be standing out here chattering away, quite alone…”
He liked that she considered the propriety of the situation, even as he was besieged by improper thoughts about her plump pink mouth and all curves of her figure that begged for exploration.
Miss Harlow reached into her reticule, pulling out a tablet. As she sorted through, presumably in search of a pencil, her shawl loosened and slid from her shoulders. One errant sleeve slid down to follow, exposing her shoulder and leaving it quite bare.
It forced him to imagine her in nothing more than a negligee, as it slid off her body and onto the floor. His mouth went dry.
Her hair, a dark mass of curls, was swept back, yet a few brushed against this expanse of exposed skin, suggesting the faintest whisper of a caress. He wished to trace the curve with his fingertips, to press his mouth right in the half-moon spot where her neck met her shoulder.
One milky, smooth, beautifully curved shoulder and he was utterly entranced.
That he should be so inflamed by a mere shoulder and a wayward sleeve suggested that perhaps he should not have ended things with his mistress just yet.
“My apologies. I can’t find my pencil because I’m forever losing things,” she said glancing up at him with a slight smile. “It’s a terrible habit of mine.”
She had a slight dimple when she smiled. He thought it adorable and erotic all at once.
“It’s chilly this evening,” she said, pulling up her sleeve and wrapping the shawl tightly around her. The spell was broken—mostly. Moments like those were why he did not like her. She was trouble. She was dark magic and he was Logic. Reason. Rationality. These things were not compatible.
“How are you enjoying your betrothal party?”
“It’s a fine event.”
She wrote something quickly. He noticed that she had procured a writing implement whilst he was ogling her bare skin like a sailor on shore leave.
“How involved do you intend to be in the planning of your wedding?”
“At the appropriate time and place, I will be present to recite my vows,” Brandon replied. What else was a man expected to do? He certainly would not help select the flowers or plan the menu for the wedding breakfast.
“It is a bit silly to ask a man about wedding matters, is it not?” Miss Harlow asked with a grin and a flash of that dimple.
“On that matter, Miss Harlow, we are in agreement,” he replied. She laughed at that, a wonderful, genuine sound that he was thrilled to have caused. He caught himself on the verge of leaning against the banister, with the intention of a lengthy conversation.
But dukes did not lean, and decent gentlemen did not ogle or engage with other women at their own betrothal party. Thus he excused himself and returned to the hot, bright, crowded ballroom, even though he desired nothing more than to be alone with Miss Harlow in a dark, secluded place.