Between the Devil and Ian Eversea

By: Julie Anne Long

Pennyroyal Green Series


Acknowledgments



MY DEEPEST GRATITUDE TO my darling editor, May Chen; my stalwart agent, Steve Axelrod; the talented, hard-working staff at Harper Collins; and all the wonderful readers who let me and everyone else know how much my books mean to you.






Chapter 1





IF INNOCENCE HAD A color, it was the rain-washed silver-blue of Miss Titania Danforth’s eyes.

Her spine was elegantly erect against the back of her Chippendale chair, her hands lay quietly in her lap; her white muslin day dress was as spotless as an angel’s robe. She would have in fact been the picture of serenity, if not for her lashes. They were black, enviably fluffy, and very busy. They fluttered up. They fluttered down. They fluttered up again. Then down again. As if she could only withstand the potent gaze of the Duke of Falconbridge in increments.

A bit the way a virgin might sip at rotgut gin, the duke thought dryly.

Then again, even grown men found him disconcerting. Disconcerting was what the duke did best, without even trying.

Two hours earlier Miss Danforth’s companion hired for the ocean voyage to England—a redoubtable barrel-shaped woman of middle years whose name the duke had promptly forgotten—had delivered her along with nearly a dozen trunks, and with an irony-tinged “Good luck, Yer Grace,” departed with startling haste. No teary, lingering good-byes between her and Miss Danforth. But then, long ocean voyages could play havoc with even a saint’s nerves, and familiarity was a well-known breeding ground for contempt.

And now that Falconbridge had seen his cousin’s daughter, he was certain no luck was necessary. Her faultless breeding was in every word she spoke. Her voice was pleasant, low and precise, with a very becoming husk to it.

But her beauty astonished.

As if to affirm his conclusions, a great sheet of afternoon light poured in the window and made a corona of her fair hair. She might as well have been wearing a bloody halo.

On the whole, however, sheltered women irritated him. He never knew what to say to them. They taxed his patience. But the future of this particular sheltered woman was now his responsibility, thanks to an almost-forgotten promise he’d made many years ago.

A promise his cousin had seen fit to immortalize in his will.

The surreptitious press of his wife’s knee against his stopped him from sighing aloud or muttering under his breath or any of the things she knew he was tempted to do. He reflected for a moment on the multitude of glorious things that could be communicated with a knee press. That he was known, loved, fortunate beyond all reason, and could afford to be charitable when the beautiful, gloriously kind young woman at his side on the settee was his. Genevieve was never dull. She’d never had a prayer of being dull, having been raised an Eversea.

Fortunately, he’d done most of his underbreath cursing when the succinct, ever-so-faintly harried letter from Miss Danforth’s solicitor had arrived two months ago.

Genevieve said brightly, “I understand the crossing from America can be . . .”

She paused as two footmen appeared in the doorway, their knees wobbling under the weight of a profusion of brilliant hothouse blooms stuffed into an urn.

“For Olivia?” Genevieve said this almost with resignation.

“Yes, my lady.”

“I think there might be a little room on the mantel.”

The footmen shuffled into the room and hoisted the urn up with little grunts. Miss Danforth followed their progress to and fro with wide, wondering eyes.

The long stems continued quivering for a time after they departed.

“I was saying,” Genevieve continued smoothly, “I understand the crossing can be grueling indeed, but the sea air seems to have agreed with you. You look radiant, Miss Danforth. What a delight it is to meet such a pretty cousin!”

Miss Danforth glowed. “You’re too kind! Truly, the crossing from America was mercifully uneventful. I understand I come from hearty stock.”

The lashes went up again and her eyes were limpid. She looked about as hearty as a blown dandelion. He humored this transparent attempt at flattery with a faint smile. “Certainly, Miss Danforth, our stock, as you say, has withstood any number of buffetings over the centur—”

“. . . aaaaannnnnnnn . . . !”

He swiveled his head. High-pitched, very faint, very sneaky, a sound floated into the room. It was impossible to know from which direction it came. It waxed and waned, a bit like the whine of a diving mosquito.

He glanced at his wife, who was sporting a faint, puzzled dent between her eyes.

Miss Danforth, on the other hand, remained unruffled. She gave no appearance of having heard a thing, unless one counted a slight further straightening of her spine. Her eyes were bright with curiosity now. Perhaps she thought men of his advanced age—he had just turned forty—naturally acquired twitches and tics, and she was prepared to be sympathetic and tolerant.

“Your home is remarkably beautiful,” she said. “And so very grand.”

“We’re so pleased you think so,” Genevieve said warmly. “I loved growing up here. Falconbridge is indulging me in a hunt for another home nearby, so we can live near my family for at least part of the year. But I cannot wait to show you the grounds! Though I’m certain it will all seem rather tame compared to America, Miss Danforth.”

Miss Danforth’s laugh was like bells. “I daresay it isn’t as exciting as you might think, though it certainly is different from England. Oh, and I do hope you’ll come to call me Tansy! All my friends do.”

Both Genevieve and the duke paused. There was a bit of American expansiveness to her manners, as if all those wide-open spaces across the ocean caused them to stretch indolently, the way one slouches in a chair when no one is about to impress. The duke smiled faintly.

“We’ll have such fun introducing you to society, Tansy,” his wife indulged. “How exciting New York must be, but oh, we do manage to have a lovely time here! Do you enjoy dancing? We’ve a splendid array of activities planned for you.”

“Oh . . . well, I fear I’m a bit of a wallflower. Life has been a bit . . .” She cleared her throat. “. . . a bit quiet, you see, for the past year or so.”

The lashes stayed down and there passed a little moment of silence. For they did see. Her parents had been killed in a carriage accident a little over a year ago, her older brother had died in the War of 1812 before that, and that left Miss Danforth alone in the world. Save, of course, for the duke, who was now charged with marrying her off to a title spectacular enough to match the girl’s fortune, which would only be released to her in its entirety when the match was made. Her future, essentially, was in the duke’s hands.

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