“Heavens, I can’t believe I did that.” Alexandra covered her mouth to stifle a laugh. She hid at the back of the assembly room with her best friend, Perdita Darby. Her heart was pounding, and her body was trembling. Thankfully, the music drowned out the sound of their laughter. The moment she’d rushed inside she’d sought out her friend, and they’d ducked behind a wall of impressive matrons who were watching the dancing with critical eyes to see which young men might suit their daughters.
“You truly kicked a man between his legs?” Perdita seemed torn between laughing and gasping in scandalized shock. This was why she loved her friend. They were both a bit of outcasts in Lothbrook because neither one of them was inclined to marry, and the thought of kneeing a man’s bollocks made them both laugh.
Lord, we are doomed to be spinsters, but at least we shall be together, Alex thought, laughing still.
“I did! I don’t know what came over me, but there he was, talking about…possessing me, and I just…kicked!” Alex blushed and covered her face in her hands for a minute to collect herself. If anyone found out she’d behaved like such a hoyden, she’d be in real trouble. She was relieved her mother had given up on marrying her off and had gone to London on her own for the season. If she’d been here and seen what Alex had been up to…
I’d never hear the end of it.
“If he was trying to kiss you, it was only fitting that you put a stop to his forward behavior. You can’t afford to be compromised by a man like Ambrose Worthing, even if he is the finest man ever to be seen. Although, one kiss might have been worth it…” Perdita replied in all seriousness, but her lips twitched as she mentioned a kiss.
“Perdita!” Alex gasped in a hushed whisper. “You wouldn’t actually kiss a rake like him, would you?” Perdita’s statement shocked her. Was her friend actually considering going about kissing rakes? Surely not sensible, sweet Perdita. Between the two of them, Perdita was far more adept at navigating social situations, but that probably had something to do with her mother constantly throwing parties, balls, and picnics in an attempt to entice gentlemen to court Perdita. Alex was more of a hoyden than anything else—she’d readily admit to that. It was far better to be racing about the country on her horse than to be stuck inside like most other ladies her age.
“Of course I would. Aren’t you the least bit curious as to what it would be like, kissing a man like that? One who actually knows what to do with a woman?” Perdita’s dark-brown hair was pulled up, but loose curls teased the slope of her neck, and when she glanced about the curls danced on her skin. “You know what they say about him in London…”
“You mean about how he…” Alex’s words died on her tongue as Ambrose strode straight toward her. Fury blackened his eyes, but a sensual smile hovered at the edge of his perfectly curved lips as though he’d already planned his revenge. Whatever he’d dreamed up, she knew it wouldn’t be good.
“Oh dear, Perdy, save me quick!” Alex shoved her friend in front of her just as Ambrose reached them.
“Mr. Worthing, I presume?” Perdita flashed him a charming smile. She wasn’t a diamond of the first water, but men seemed to enjoy spending time with her during social engagements. There was a liveliness and playfulness to her that made her instantly amiable. It was a rare man who didn’t enjoy being around Perdita when she was playing the part of a charming young lady. Ambrose, however, seemed unaffected.
“Yes. You must be Miss Darby. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting your mother.”
Even though his reply was directed at Perdita, his gaze scorched a path up and down Alex’s body, despite the human shield her friend presented.
Perdita chuckled wryly. “I doubt my mother’s acquaintance was much of a pleasure, but you are kind to say so. Are you staying in Lothbrook long?” She was a master conversationalist and wasn’t at all perturbed at being used as a shield. Alex was never more thankful Perdita was her friend.
Perdita suddenly nudged backward with her elbow, prodding Alex to try to slip away from her and Ambrose. A wonderful idea…a quick escape…
Ambrose, under the apparent guise of avoiding a nearby dancing couple, stepped closer to them and blocked Alex’s route to freedom. “I’m staying at the inn, but I’ve received an invitation to join the Earl of Rockford at his estate.”
Alex’s blood drained from her face. Her father had invited one of London’s most notorious rakehells to stay in their home? What on earth could he be thinking? Surely he wouldn’t have done so if he’d known of Ambrose’s reputation.
“You are acquainted with my father?” she blurted out.
“Your father?” His responding look of confusion caught her off guard. He didn’t know who she was.
“Yes, James Westfall, the Earl of Rockford.”
This time it was Ambrose who paled. “You’re Rockford’s daughter?” An unreadable expression filled his rich brown eyes. Earlier in the darkened garden, she hadn’t been able to make out his features as clearly, only that he’d been a tall, muscled man with a smooth voice and a decent face. But now in the light of the assembly room, when she was really having to face him, she couldn’t help but hate him just a little. He was too good-looking. With dark hair and dark eyes, full lips that seemed most comfortable when curled in a slightly sardonic grin, and a strong chin and straight nose, he was an ideal specimen of a man.