Always Proper, Suddenly Scandalous(5)

By: Christi Caldwell

His eyes widened and with alacrity, he released her.

She cocked her head to the side. “Are you injured?”

Her flat accent did not possess the clipped proper tones of a proper English lady. He blinked. “Injured?”

“You appear unwell, sir.”

By God…

“You are an American,” he blurted.

A mischievous smile played about her lips. “I am.” She looked around and then back to him. “Never tell me you’re scandalized by me being an American?”

He was scandalized by the wicked direction his mind had wandered that involved an American woman. If his mother was outraged at the prospect of a Scott assuming the Redbrooke title, what would she say to an American lady having garnered Geoffrey’s attention?

“Ahh, you do smile,” the young woman said.

Geoffrey frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

“Alas, it is gone,” she said with a long, exaggerated sigh.

Geoffrey became aware of the appalled stares of Polite Society’s most respectable peers, trained upon him. From across the room, his mother, who stood alongside Lady Tisdale, glared with blatant disapproval. It was the much needed reminder of past failings and inner weaknesses that had wrought much agony upon his family. By standing here engaging this…this…stranger, in the midst of Lord and Lady Hughes’s ballroom, he opened himself up to public censure. His intentions were marriage to Lady Beatrice, and any hint of untoward interest in another would not be countenanced by the Duke of Somerset or his daughter.

Geoffrey folded his arms across his chest. This American upstart might have a face and body to rival Helen of Troy, but possessed the uncouth manners one would expect of an American. “Miss,” he said from the corner of his mouth. “We’ve not been properly introduced, therefore, any discourse between us is highly improper.”

Her lips twitched, with, he suspected, mirth. “I would say toppling over the host’s servant and spraying his guests with champagne and glass is also improper, but you’ve done that, sir.”

Geoffrey felt heat climb up his neck, and resisted the urge to tug at his suddenly tight cravat, shamed by the accuracy of her charge. He did not create scandals. Not anymore. He was proper. And poised. And…

She arched a brow.

Well, in this instance he’d created a small scandal. Still, he needn’t raise further eyebrows by talking to the vexing miss.

Even if he wanted to.

He needed to go. Immediately. Anywhere but within mere inches of the lady who smelled like lilacs and lavender and now champagne. “Again, forgive me for causing you distress.” He bowed deeply and beat a hasty retreat.

Geoffrey had made a fool of himself once over a young lady. He’d not be so foolish again.

A gentleman’s responsibility is first and foremost to his family’s material comforts and well-being.

4th Viscount Redbrooke


From where she stood near the other partner-less young ladies, Miss Abigail Stone stared after the gentleman who’d gone and thoroughly shredded the delicate lace trim of her satin gown. She ignored the sideways glances directed her way by the row of ladies and slid into an empty seat. For the first time in a month since she’d taken up residence with her uncle, the Duke of Somerset, interest stirred through her.

The serious looking gentleman had fled faster than the God Hermes in his winged sandals, but not before Abigail had detected a flash of discomfit in the greenish-blue irises of his eyes. It hadn’t been mere guilt from someone who’d ruined her gown, but something more, something far deeper. In that, she’d felt a kindred connection to the stranger.

It had taken Abigail’s entire twenty years and a handful of days to learn that guilt drove a person to desperate measures. A sense of guilt could force a person to give up their family, home, and everything they held dear.

It could drive one to brave the perils of turbulent storms and unpredictable sea voyages.

She sighed. Guilt was a rather nasty thing.

Just then, from across the ballroom floor, a young lady raised her fingers to her lips and with a direct look at Abigail, pointedly whispered something to the lady at her side. A case of tittering ensued.

Abigail glanced away. After her brief time in London, she’d come to appreciate that an unknown ocean crossing was far preferable to having to live amidst the cold censure and disdain of people who’d judged her and found her wanting.