Always Proper, Suddenly Scandalous(3)

By: Christi Caldwell


He sighed. “As you wish. What have you never imagined?”

“That you would acquiesce and find a suitable bride without my prodding. After all, most gentlemen are forced kicking and screaming to the proverbial altar. Your father and I despaired of you doing right by the Redbrooke line. Especially after that…that…Emma Marsh woman.”

Geoffrey’s gut clenched in pained remembrance of that great mistake she could never forgive. How could she forgive him, when he would never be able to forgive himself?

His mother seemed oblivious to the inner turmoil raging through Geoffrey. She tugged on her gloves as they reached the expansive marble foyer, and dusted them against one another. "I should have known better to question your intentions. Not when you’ve become so very committed, so very dedicated to the title of Viscount Redbrooke.”

Mother prattled on with her high-praise even as the butler, Ralston, hurried to open the door.

As Geoffrey and his mother exited the house and entered the carriage, he ruminated over his selection in Lady Beatrice. Modest, demure, and lovely with flaxen curls, she would make him a lovely wife. He had it upon good authority that the young lady would be in attendance at Lord and Lady Hughes’s ball this evening.

The groom closed the carriage door, and a few moments later, the conveyance rocked to motion. Geoffrey consulted his timepiece. Tonight would mark the perfect time to launch his courtship. If he were to maintain his very rigid timeline and wed, three Sundays past his thirtieth birthday, he couldn’t afford to tarry.

“Have you settled on a young lady?” His mother interrupted his ponderings. “Oh, surely with your rigid expectations and insistence on propriety, you must have.”

He frowned, not particularly caring for that unflattering description from the woman who’d given him life—even if it was a fair assessment of his character.

“Do tell?” his mother pressed.

It mattered not that she’d discover soon enough, his mother was as tenacious as a dog with a bone.

“I do not require any assistance on your part.”

Mother pressed a hand to her breast. “My goodness,” she said, with hurt flashing in her eyes. “Do you imagine I would be unable to assist you?”

“I don’t imagine I’ll need anyone’s help securing the young lady’s hand,” he said, dryly.

She leaned over and patted him on the knee. “Why, every gentleman requires the help of one’s mother, dear boy…” Her words cut off abruptly. A glimmer flicked to life in her eyes. “Ahh, so there is a particular young lady.”

Geoffrey bit back a curse. With his mother’s ability to ferret out secrets, she’d be better served working for the Home Office.

The carriage drew to a blessed stop.

Mother sat back in the red velvet squabs with a huff. “Very well,” she groused.

A servant rapped on the door.

“Just a moment, Geoffrey. Won’t you tell…?”

“No.”

Her lips turned down at the corners. “I shouldn’t have to gather it from gossips and newspapers.”

He jumped out of the carriage and made his way up the steps of the townhouse awash in the soft glow of candlelight. As his mother fell into step alongside him, she grumbled under her breath.

They sailed through the doors, into a wall of heat from the crush of bodies that filled Lord and Lady Hughes’s ballroom. From his place in the receiving line, he scanned the room in search of the woman he’d decided to make his wife.

As he sought her out, he contemplated his very deliberate courtship. If he were to secure a waltz and a quadrille this evening, and a waltz and some country reel at the next event they attended, it would send a very clear message that…

He froze.

That…

Geoffrey’s body went taut, and the breath left him. His stare fixed on a tall, lithe young woman, a veritable Spartan warrior princess amidst a room of lesser English ladies. With midnight black locks arranged in an artful design, and elegantly high-cheekbones, she possessed the kind of beauty that made a man do foolish things, like forget to breathe, or what was worse, caused a man to forget responsibility.

Remembrances of past transgressions teased his mind, but the woman, a stranger to him, was like a siren, silently calling, beckoning him. Two loose strands hung down her creamy white shoulders. Another toppled from the butterfly comb that held back those magnificent tresses, ending all such illusion that the flyaway locks were at all deliberate. He ached to capture one between his fingers and ascertain whether the strands were as silken as they appeared in the glow emitted by the chandelier’s gentle flame.

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