Unveiled (Undone by Love Book 3) (3 page)

BOOK: Unveiled (Undone by Love Book 3)
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They entered the main room, where long lines of couples engaged in a lively country dance
. It was an attractive room, ornate in décor, done in red and gilt with sparkling chandeliers providing warm light from above.

Jane glanced up at her escorts, faintly amused by the opposite expressions worn by the two men
. Cecil’s pale face was lit with obvious pleasure; he turned and bowed cheerfully in greeting as they made their way through the crowd. Lord Westfield, on the other hand, looked almost pained. He moved forward without moving his head, clearly avoiding eye contact with anyone and coming perilously close to cutting several attractive ladies who visibly strove to catch his eye and initiate conversation. Jane almost laughed aloud at his self-imposed discomfort.

For her part, she remembered herself and resolved to enjoy the evening despite her misgivings
. No use fretting over nothing. This seemed an agreeable, fashionable gathering and she enjoyed such amusements.

“I say, Miss Rosemoor, there’s Sir Thomas Huxley and his three daughters
. Come, let me introduce you. Delightful girls, just delightful.” 

“Of course,” Jane murmured, following Cecil to a group clustered beside the refreshment table
.

A quarter hour later, Jane eagerly moved away from the Huxleys, convinced Cecil found the girls far
too
delightful. His flirtations had made her more than a little uncomfortable, especially when she thought of sweet Emily confined at home and so sorry to miss such a party. It took a conscious effort for Jane to remove the furrow from her brow and force her lips from a pursed position to a pleasant smile.

She and Cecil rejoined Lord Westfield, who stood against the wall with his hands clasped behind his back
. Suddenly half a dozen ladies flocked about them, all demanding introductions to Jane while batting their lashes solicitously at Lord Westfield. Yet he rebuked all attempts at polite conversation with his demeanor alone. Jane couldn’t help but roll her eyes heavenward, both for the ladies’ silly and obvious behavior and for Lord Westfield’s evident disdain. Clearly, he was a much sought-after prey.

One particular lady seemed far more interested in Cecil
. All but ignoring Lord Westfield, the striking brunette sidled up to Cecil with a coquettish smile.

“My dear Mr. Tolland, you must introduce me to your lovely companion
. I don’t believe I have the pleasure of her acquaintance.”

Lord Westfield eyed her coldly and turned away with a sneer.

“Lady Adele,” Cecil gushed. “How lovely you look tonight. You must allow me introduce my wife’s cousin, Miss Jane Rosemoor of Essex. Westfield and I have the honor of escorting her tonight. Miss Rosemoor, I present Lady Adele Etheridge.”

The two women curtseyed toward one another
. “A pleasure,” Jane said. “You look so familiar, Lady Adele. Perhaps we’ve met in Town?”

“It’s quite possible.”  Her gaze traveled to Cecil’s face
. “My late husband and I frequently took residence in Mayfair during the summer months.” 

A widow, Jane thought
.
How interesting
.

After what felt like an interminable time, Lady Adele finally moved away with a swish of silk and the lingering scent of rosewater
. Jane’s brows rose as Lady Adele turned and glanced back over her shoulder once more, favoring Cecil with an inviting smile before disappearing through the crowd.    

At last alone, Cecil turned toward Jane
. “Will you dance, Miss Rosemoor?”

Jane returned his easy smile
. “Of course. I’d be delighted.”  She reached for his arm, but he shook his head. “Oh, I’m not much of a dancer myself. But I’m sure Lord Westfield will accommodate you.” 

Jane cringed as the music switched to a waltz. She looked up at Lord Westfield with trepidation, expecting an expression of distaste
. Instead, not a trace of any emotion whatsoever showed in his countenance. He simply offered her his arm.

Jane hesitated for a fraction of a second, inexplicably terrified to touch him
–to connect with him physically in any way.

His eyes darkened at the perceived slight
. “Does the prospect displease you so intensely?”

Jane’s face flooded with heat, and she waved her fan, pretending to be affected by the room’s warmth
. “I...no. Of course not. It would be my pleasure,” she lied, reaching for his arm. She followed him to the center of the room on weak legs.

She barely felt the floor beneath her slippers as she reached a hand up to his shoulder, the other clasped tightly in his
. His nearness positively unsettled her. She could feel his heat, warming her skin beneath the thin fabric of her gown and all but burning her hand through the layers of wool and kidskin that separated them. She thought of nothing save regulating her breathing as they began to glide across the floor, the sound of her heart overpowering the strains of the waltz. She was keenly aware that his touch, his closeness, affected her physically in ways she’d never before experienced, and the thought disturbed her greatly. Her eyes boldly sought his face, wondering if he was similarly afflicted. As if he sensed her appraisal, his eyes met hers.

Jane forgot to breathe
.

Seconds later she let out her breath in a rush, still unable to look away from the mossy depths of his eyes
. She swallowed hard.
I should say something
, she thought in panic. Anything, to break this spell. But he spoke, instead.

“You did not include dancing on your list of accomplishments,” he said, his tone clipped
. “An oversight, I’m sure.” 

Jane sucked in her breath, averting her gaze at once
. Was he insulting her?

As if he’d read her mind, he continued
. “I meant that as a compliment. No use getting yourself into a temper. You’re an exceedingly graceful dancer. I can’t imagine a more lovely partner.”

Her gaze flew back to his
. “I would never indulge in a fit of temper in public,” she replied coolly.

“Then I apologize for suggesting you would.”  He smiled down at her, almost patronizingly
.

“In fact,” she added, “I rarely indulge in such fits at all.”

“Indeed?” His smile widened.

Jane knew she was speaking nonsense, but it was all she could manage in order to keep from dwelling on the fact that he’d complimented her
. Had he called her lovely? No, she corrected. He’d only said she was a lovely dancer. Quite different.

The music ended
. Jane tried to step away from him, but he only held her closer, refusing to release his grip on her. “Isn’t it customary to engage a partner for two consecutive dances?”

“Perhaps two dances,” she said, feeling foolish, “but not necessarily consecutive.”  As the music struck up again, Jane’s mind raced to find a suitable topic of conversation
. “Do you not come to Town often?” she asked at last.

“I attend to my parliamentary duty, yes
. Each year. Why do you ask?”

“It’s just odd, isn’t it, that we’ve never before met
? I’ve come to London for, oh, eight Seasons now, and yet our paths have never crossed. I thought perhaps you were one of those men who preferred the country.”

“I do prefer the country
. But I don’t dislike Town. Eight Seasons, you say?”

Jane sighed impatiently
. “Well, of course I haven’t actively participated in all eight. But I do come to Town each summer with my family. I find it amusing enough.”  He peered at her oddly, as if attempting to solve a riddle. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

His face went immediately blank
.

Moments passed in silence
.

“And have you figured it out?” she asked
.

“I have no idea what you mean.”

“Why I’m on the shelf. Have you figured it out yet? It’s terribly obvious that the question is on your mind.”  He wouldn’t be the first, Jane thought, nor was he likely to be the last.

His only response was a quirk of the brow
.

“Because I choose to be, my lord,” she supplied
. “I’ve had a number of offers each year, offers that I chose to decline.”

“And what were your reasons for declining them, if I might be so bold as to ask?”

She shrugged. “I suppose no one suited,” she lied. “I have very discerning tastes.”

“Is that so?”

“Indeed.”

“I suppose, then, that one with such, what was the phrase
? ‘Discerning tastes’, that was it...”  He cleared his throat, obviously suppressing a chuckle. “That one with such discerning tastes prefers the unmarried state, then?”

He made no effort to cloak his amusement, and Jane’s hackles rose at once
. “I find it interesting that every man assumes a woman prefers the married state over spinsterhood. I enjoy a great deal of freedoms that a husband would likely deny a wife.”

“Such as?”

“Such as, well...”  Jane was flustered, suddenly unable to think of a good response. Just what activities
would
a husband restrict, she wondered? “Such as being able to travel whenever I take a notion to visit relations, for one.”

“Hmmm, I see,” he murmured
. “Yes, a husband would likely want to keep you at home, wouldn’t he?”  He smiled wickedly at her, his eyes lit with amusement.

Her cheeks burning yet again, Jane looked away, past Lord Westfield’s broad shoulder
. Her attention was immediately distracted by Cecil, who hurried along the perimeter of the dance floor just steps behind Lady Adele. The unpleasant idea that perhaps Cecil had lovers, that his considerate attentions to his wife were nothing more than a façade, startled her.    

Jane pulled away from Lord Westfield, suddenly dizzy and a bit queasy
. “I think I need some air.” 

He held her shoulders as she swayed against him
. “Come, let’s step outside.”  Without waiting for her reply, he took her elbow and steered her out through a set of open doors and onto a wide, sweeping terrace. Crowds of people milled about, strolling arm in arm and enjoying the refreshing, crisp air.

Lord Westfield led her to a stone bench where she sank gratefully
. Jane blinked rapidly, attempting to regain her equilibrium.

“Wait right here,” he said
. “I’ll get you something to drink.” 

She nodded dumbly in reply, feeling foolish yet again
. Would this night never end?

 

Chapter 3

 

Hayden reached for a flute from a silver tray
. Grasping it tightly in his gloved hand, he strode back out to the terrace. Miss Rosemoor sat just as he’d left her, perched on the edge of the bench and looking quite pale.

She took the proffered champagne and gulped it down
. His eyes widened dubiously. He certainly hoped she was accustomed to the effects of ingesting half a flute of champagne so efficiently.

He stood uncomfortably, unsure what to do, while she closed her eyes and took several deep breaths
. The swell of her breasts rose provocatively with each inhalation, tempting him with images of them spilling out of the scarlet-colored silk. The color of a temptress, he reminded himself. Was she trying to seduce him?

Her dress was close to indecent, hugging her curves in all the right places and displaying an ungodly amount of bosom
. The rich, jewel tone set off her skin to perfection, made her eyes sparkle like the finest polished sapphires. Not a single sane man in the room tonight had been able to take his eyes off her. Sir James Quigley had nearly tripped over his own feet trying to reach her side as they quitted the dance floor moments before.

At last she opened her eyes
. Even in the moonlight their intense color reached out to him, capturing him in their hold. He looked down at once, pretending to study his fingernails.

“Thank you, Lord Westfield
. I feel much improved. I have no idea what came over me. Perhaps I’m still weary from my journey.”

“No need to apologize, Miss Rosemoor
. I’m only pleased to see you so well recovered. Perhaps we should take a turn. Are you up to it?”

“I suppose,” she replied, wariness evident in her voice
. She stood and reached for his arm, placing her hand in the crook of his elbow. In silence they strolled the length of the terrace, then back again.

“Better?” he asked
.

She nodded her assent
. “Much.”  They ambled over to the stone railing and looked out onto the garden below where paper lanterns cast shadows beneath the old yews. Minutes passed in silence.

Sensing her presence like a warning bell, Hayden looked over one shoulder with a scowl as Adele hurried to his side, her dark brows knitted into a scowl
.

“Westfield,” Adele said, her voice sharp
. “A moment, please.”

He cast a scornful glance at the woman, but did not respond
.

“Hayden, please,” she repeated, her voice rising
.

He saw Miss Rosemoor flinch at the sound of his given name on the woman’s lips
.
Damn Adele’s impropriety
.

“It’s Tolland,” Adele added
.

With an inward groan, he realized he’d better hear what she had to say
. “If you’ll excuse me for one moment, Miss Rosemoor?” 

Miss Rosemoor only glared at him in reply.

He moved away with Adele, grasping her elbow much too firmly. “You’d better make this fast, Adele. I haven’t the patience for your games.”

She looked up into his eyes, her own pale-blue ones full of bitterness
. “I hate to disturb your pleasant evening, but if you venture into the maze, you’ll find your
dear
friend Tolland has injured his ankle–perhaps broken it. He needs your assistance at once. I was forced to leave him there.”

“Need I ask how you managed to find yourself alone with a married man in the maze?” he asked through clenched teeth
.

She tipped her chin in the air defiantly with a mutinous glint in her eyes
.

“No, I suppose not
. Smile, my sweet. That scowl isn’t the least becoming.”

Without looking back, Hayden strode away from Adele, back toward Miss Rosemoor who stood watching the exchange with unmasked curiosity
.

“What’s wrong
? What’s happened to Cecil?” Miss Rosemoor asked as soon as he reached her side.

“Nothing of any import
. Just female theatrics, I’m afraid. Perhaps you should go back inside for a moment, and I’ll rejoin you shortly.”  He placed one hand on the small of her back, guiding her toward the doors leading back in to the assembly hall.

She twisted herself away from his grasp and turned angrily to face him
. “I demand you tell me what is going on, my lord. This instant. Where is Cecil?”

His anger rose a pitch at her impertinence, the blood pounding at his temples
. “If you must know, he’s somewhere in the maze with a twisted ankle, the fool,” he spat out. “And I’m sure word is spreading like wildfire as to where he was and just who he–”

“Let us go at once.”  She strode off toward the steps leading down to the garden
.

“I’m afraid you’re not going anywhere but back inside, Miss Rosemoor.”  He reached for her arm
. “And that’s not a request.”

She spun to face him, her face livid
. “Not a request?” she sputtered. “You’re
ordering
me to go back inside?”

“Very astute, Miss Rosemoor
. That’s precisely what I’m doing.” 

Almost regally, she drew herself up to her full height, her face only inches from his
. “I don’t know what type of lady you’re accustomed to dealing with, my lord, but let me assure you that I take orders from no man. My father didn’t order me about, nor would my brother dare for fear of having his ears boxed. Emily’s husband is injured, and I’m going to see to his welfare. Whether or not you accompany me is immaterial–”

“And how do you suppose to find him
? Are you familiar with this particular maze, Miss Rosemoor? It’s enormous, as twisted as a labyrinth. Do you wish to find yourself lost in there, alone in the dark?”

Her arrogant gaze faltered
. “Then after you, my lord.”  She gestured ahead of herself with the sweep of one graceful arm.

“Certainly you realize that we cannot be seen
–” he broke off, clearing his throat. “You’ve just arrived here in this district and I should suppose you’d wish to keep your reputation intact. If I might say so, venturing out into the darkened maze in my company would not be the most prudent move on your part.”  

She shrugged
. “Surely when they see us emerge with the injured Cecil in tow, they’ll understand. Besides, I haven’t time for such worries.”  She turned and skimmed down the steps, the red folds of her dress billowing out behind her.

Damn it to hell, he had no choice but to go after her
.

Across the lawn they hurried, the lanterns barely illuminating the soft grass beneath their feet
. Silently they entered the maze, high hedgerows reaching more than twelve feet on either side of them. “Tolland,” Hayden called out.

“Cecil,” Miss Rosemoor echoed
.

Silence greeted them
.

“There’s a clearing in the center,” Hayden said
. “Follow me; it’s three rights and then a sharp left.”

“Are you certain?”  She strode on ahead of him
. “Perhaps we should split up–”

“So I can lose you in here
? Stay close by my side. I know this maze well.” 

He was relieved to see her acquiesce, waiting for him to reach her side before matching her pace to his
. They hastily followed the path, illuminated only by the full moon above them.

As they hurried on, she turned and cast him an appraising glance
. “You know this maze well?” she asked with raised brows, a wry smile on her lips. “Dare I ask how you became so well acquainted with it?”

“It’s probably best that you don’t,” he answered with a tight smile, vaguely remembering an assortment of trysts from his past, inconsequential encounters with experienced, willing women of little reputation
. He cautiously eyed the woman walking by his side. “You’ve a very sharp tongue, you know. Perhaps your father
should
have ordered you around a bit.”

“My tongue is only sharp when provoked beyond measure
. In fact, I’m generally known for my pleasant disposition.”

“Is that so
? Interesting. I suppose I’ll have to take your word.”

“Haven’t you heard that you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, Lord Westfield
? It’s a very common adage. Perhaps you should take it to heart.”

“But why settle for a mere fly when I can have a wasp instead
? I’m growing rather fond of our verbal spars, Miss Rosemoor. You’re a worthy opponent, indeed.”

“Humph.”  She tossed her head, apparently rendered speechless
.  

They reached the clearing in no time, a bubbling fountain in its center shadowed by a towering yew
. Splitting up, they each paced the area, peering into the shadowed recesses and calling loudly for the missing man with no response.

“Tolland, where the devil are you?” he called out
. Nothing.

“Any other ideas?” Miss Rosemoor asked acidly
.

His nerves prickled at her tone
. “I suppose we should follow the path to the end, and then double back to the entrance. It’s possible he managed to drag himself out by now.”

Miss Rosemoor’s head swung left, then right
. Two paths led away from the clearing. “Well? Which way?” she asked.

“This way.”  He set off to the left
. “Tolland?” he called out, his hands cupped to his mouth.

“Cecil?”

Still no answer.

Hayden cursed under his breath, vowing to wring Tolland’s neck when he found him
. He’d like to wring Adele’s neck, too, he thought, deepening the scowl that already darkened his features.
Insidious woman
. Adele had been his mistress for more than a year, nothing more than a casual dalliance with a willing widow. But then her true nature had revealed itself–Adele was a manipulative, petulant woman with designs on Richmond Park. Her demands were ever increasing, her unwelcome visits an annoyance. One day he’d returned from a brief trip to London to find Adele settled in the salon with Madeline, attempting to insinuate herself with the girl. That had been the last straw.

He’d swiftly and unequivocally ended it
. Since that time, Adele had tried every trick in the book, from feigning illness to parading her newest conquests beneath his nose, hoping to make him jealous. Her games had annoyed him, nothing more, until now. Now she’d gone too far. Hell, he didn’t care if she shared her favors with every available man in Derbyshire, but Tolland... He grimaced, thinking of Emily. Anyone but Tolland. Tolland was easy prey with his roving eye and flirtatious manner. But Tolland’s indiscretions had always been, well…discreet. There was nothing discreet about Adele, and the devious woman would make certain that Emily knew of her husband’s transgressions. She cut her teeth on such triumph. He wouldn’t allow it.

He looked up, surprised to find that they’d somehow worked their way back to the clearing again without accomplishing the far side of the maze
.

“Well?” Miss Rosemoor was slightly breathless
.

He scratched his head
. Left, wasn’t it? Or right? He couldn’t remember.

“Can you not find your way out?” she asked
.

“Of course I can
. Let’s try this again. Left here. Then right. Then two more lefts.”

He continued on, hoping he was correct
.

Moments later they stopped again, decidedly back at the same juncture as before
.

“We’re right back where we started,” she said with a sigh
. “I thought you knew this maze well.”

“It’s been awhile
. Perhaps we should turn back. Tolland must’ve already made his own way out. Otherwise he’d have heard us by now.”

She nodded in agreement and hurried back across the clearing
.  

“This way, Miss Rosemoor.”  He pointed to the left
. “This will take us back to the assembly hall.”

She frowned at him
. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken, my lord. This way will take us back.”  She pointed to the right.

“Having never been here before, I’m not sure how you can say that with such authority
. It’s left.”

“I’ve a good sense of direction.”

“As do I,” he replied. “It’s this way.” 

Both stood, glaring at the other
.

Finally, she shook her head with a sigh
. “If you insist.”

Fifteen minutes later they were back where they had started
. Again.

“Left, you said,” she huffed
. “Now I know never to listen to you. I
told
you it was to the right. Good sense of direction, you say?” 

BOOK: Unveiled (Undone by Love Book 3)
11.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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