An Earl's Agreement(7)

By: Joyce Alec

“Well,” he answered, getting to his feet. “There is one easy solution to that particular predicament. Shall we walk in the gardens?”

Lucy swallowed and rose, suddenly very aware of the man’s height. He waited for her, taking the crook of her elbow in his gloved hand to lead her back into the gardens.

“So,” he said as they came to a lantern. “What do you think of me now, Lady Lucy? I am not, perhaps, the most attractive gentleman of your acquaintance, but I hope I will do.”

She lifted her face and looked up at him, and fire burst through her veins immediately.

Lord Caldwell was a very handsome gentleman. She had not expected to see such a kind face looking back at her, a gentle smile curving his lips whilst mirth twinkled in his eyes. His dark hair was neatly styled and there was not a trace of stubble on his firm jaw. For a moment, Lucy was robbed of speech, becoming aware that her lips were parted in a most unladylike manner

“You will do, of course, Lord Caldwell,” she replied, closing her mouth with a snap.

“And you are more than acceptable,” he said, bowing. “Quite stunning, if I may say so. I must confess myself surprised that you have been passed over.”

She took his proffered arm and began to walk back towards the house. “You forget that a bluestocking is singularly unattractive,” she murmured, warmth settling in her core. “Are you sure you are aware of what it is you are letting yourself in for, my lord?”

His chest rumbled. “I look forward to our many conversations,” he responded quietly. “Now, shall we find your parents and let them know of our happy news?”

Lucy swallowed and nodded, her mouth going dry at the thought of introducing the man to her parents. They were either going to be remarkably pleased or incredibly put out, their plan to engage her to Lord Hutton dead in the water. Her parents would not refuse him, of course, given that his title was greater than that of Lord Hutton, but she was already anticipating the displeasure in her father’s eyes. This would ruin his plan for a partnership, after all.

“How shall we do it?” she asked, breathlessly. “After all, we have not exactly been seen in one another’s company.”

Stopping in his tracks, Lord Caldwell turned and smiled at her, making her heart jolt at once. “Do your parents often see you in company at balls?”

She shook her head. “In truth, they very often leave me alone.” She managed a strangled laugh. “I believe they have given up on me.”

Lord Caldwell’s smile widened. “Then we shall simply say that we have had a few conversations over the last few weeks and have, this night, decided that we will suit very well together.”

Lucy managed a smile. “And your mother will accept that?”

“My mother will accept any woman I present to her,” he said, with a trace of irony. “She is desperate, you see. So long as you are from a good family and with a decent dowry, I can promise you that she will be delighted. Shall we go in?”

Nerves swirled through Lucy’s stomach, pushing themselves through her veins. Unable to form words, she clung to Lord Caldwell’s arm as they walked towards the French doors, hardly able to believe that she was about to do this. Her life would change for a time at least, no longer able to have the solitude she had always loved. There would be visits and courting and conversations, for they would have to give the impression of being a happily betrothed couple, of course.

“A waltz has begun,” he murmured as they stepped into the ballroom. “Shall we, my dear?”

Lucy looked up at him, aware of how he had addressed her and finding it both exciting and terrifying in equal measure.

“It might help calm your nerves,” he continued softly. “Come now, Lady Lucy. Courage!”

Lucy lifted her chin and allowed him to sweep her onto the floor. Within moments, they were amidst the rest of the dancing couples, and she was held tightly in his arms. Thankfully for her, Lord Caldwell appeared to be a wonderful dancer, not putting a foot wrong as he glided across the dance floor.

“Relax,” he whispered, giving her a bright smile. “We are meant to look wonderfully happy! Remember, we have only just become engaged.”