Once Upon a Wallflower(83)

By: Wendy Lyn Watson

All except Bella, who hung back near the carriages, a secretive smile tilting her lips, an aura of tightly concentrated energy radiating from her small form.

Turning in a circle to better search the crowd, Mira suddenly found her field of vision completely occupied by a broad male chest clothed in the most exquisite white brocade waistcoat, a perfectly knotted cravat spilling over the top. A hollow feeling settling into her chest, Mira slowly tipped her head back to look directly into the face of Lord Sebastian Ellerby, Earl Blackwell.

Blackwell’s features were as composed as usual, only the faint twist of a smile and a glint of jaded amusement in his eyes giving any hint of expression.

“Miss Fitzhenry. You are looking well tonight.” Blackwell punctuated his compliment by running his gaze the length of her body.

She shivered beneath his bold scrutiny. “Thank you, my lord.”

His eyes searched the crowd behind her before he turned his full attention back to her. “Would you care to accompany me on a turn around the circle? I believe there is a troop of jugglers and magicians on the far side, and we might see some of the braver young men leap through the bonfire. For luck, you know.”

He offered his arm, and Mira could think of no polite way to decline. Setting her hand upon his forearm, she allowed him to lead her away.

“So, Miss Fitzhenry,” Blackwell began, leaning down so that his mouth was only a whisper away from her ear, “if you will permit me to say so, you seem to have blossomed over the past few weeks. Your new clothes and the style of your hair suit you.”

Mira’s cheeks burned at the unexpected flattery. “Thank you, my lord,” she responded, through lips that barely moved.

“You are not the only one who has changed,” Blackwell continued. “Ashfield is a new man entirely, and I believe that you may be the reason for his transformation.”

Blackwell stopped, his hold on Mira’s arm forcing her to do the same. “Ashfield has already lost one potential bride. Take care that he does not lose another.”

Mira could not think what to say. Blackwell’s words sent a shiver down her spine, but she could not tell whether he meant them as threat or warning. Thankfully, she was saved from having to respond.

“Here you are,” Nicholas said, neatly insinuating himself between Mira and Blackwell, his body sheltering hers, claiming her as his.

“Ashfield.” Blackwell inclined his head politely and took a step back, relinquishing his position by Mira’s side.

“My lord.” Nicholas’s tone was frigid.

“Well, if you two will excuse me, I see Lord Bexley over from Pelmeth Moor, and I intended to speak with him about a brood mare of his. It seems I am still in the market. So,” he turned an intent gaze on Mira, “I hope you will heed my advice. But for now, I bid you good night.”

As Blackwell made his way past the revelers, in the direction of an enormously fat man wearing tiny-heeled shoes and an outdated wig the size of a small sheep, Mira turned her face to Nicholas and gave him a grateful smile.

He did not return her smile, but instead looked profoundly suspicious. “What was that all about?” he questioned. “What advice?”

“Oh, nothing, my lord.”

“‘My lord’? Are we back to that then?” The thought seemed to sadden him, and Mira opened her mouth to correct her mistake, but he held up a hand to stop her. “No, it is fine. I have something I must tell you. Something I should have said before. Something I should have done before.”

In that instant, a thousand thoughts ran through Mira’s mind. He is going to tell me he loves me. He is going to tell me he despises me. He is going to tell me he is leaving me. He is going to tell me he dislikes blood pudding.

He is going to confess.

“You were right,” he said, and Mira’s breath left her body in a dizzying rush.

“I was right? About what?”

He took her by the arm and began to lead her away from the thick of the crowd, toward the dark shadows on the far side of the stone circle. “About my father,” he said. “And about justice. I am prepared to swear out an information against my father.”

Chapter Nineteen