I Kissed an Earl

By: Julie Anne Long

Chapter 1

“H e looks like a bored lion lounging amidst a flock of geese. Tolerating the fuss long enough to decide which one of us he intends to snap up in his jaws.”

Miss Violet Redmond peered over the top of her fan at the newly minted Earl of Ardmay and issued this verdict to three people: the lovely blonde Hart sisters, Millicent and Amy, who breathlessly hung on her every word, and to the married Lady Peregrine, who suffered torments when Violet was the center of attention. Which, as the beautiful, legendarily capricious daughter of the wealthy and powerful Mr. Isaiah Redmond, she invariably was. Which is no doubt why the married Lady Peregrine said, “Jaws, Miss Redmond? La, I’d rather snap him up between my legs.”

The Harts hid gasps and wicked giggles behind their fans.

Violet hid a yawn.

They had taken up a prime viewing position near the ratafia in Lord and Lady Throckmorton’s ballroom. It was a crush, as usual. The Harts hovered near Violet because they wanted to be her. Lady Peregrine hovered near Violet because she wanted to be seen with her. As usual, even in the crush of bodies in the ballroom, Violet was profoundly aware of presences and absences. Her parents, Isaiah and Fanchette Redmond, were here, as was her brother Jonathan. Her best friend, Cynthia, and her brother Miles, who’d lately married, had remained in Pennyroyal Green, Sussex.

Of course, the biggest absence of all was her oldest brother Lyon, the ton’s golden boy and the Redmond heir, who had disappeared a year ago, taking with him the clothes on his back and a little rosewood box he’d owned since he was a boy. A box he’d made himself. And the reason behind his absence was all too present: Olivia Eversea, eldest daughter of the Everseas of Pennyroyal Green, ancient if civil enemies of the Redmonds, stood across the room, looking slim and pale and earnest in green. Olivia had always been earnest. Fiery, even. Given over to working passionately for causes. She’d even distributed anti-slavery pamphlets in the Pig Thistle in Pennyroyal Green, to the tolerant bewilderment of the pub’s proprietor, Ned Hawthorne.

Olivia was here, and Lyon was not. Because Olivia had broken Lyon’s heart. And everyone said this fulfilled the curse: an Eversea and a Redmond were destined to fall in love once per generation, with disastrous results.

Violet decided she best stop looking at Olivia lest her gaze scorch a hole in the woman’s gown.

“We mustn’t look as though we are gossiping.” Miss Amy Hart was new enough to the ton to think it ought to be said.

“Of course we must look as though we are gossiping. How else will we keep everyone frightened and intrigued?”

Everyone agreed with vigorous nods, and everyone missed Violet’s irony.

“Why a lion?” Millicent wanted to know. “Why not a bear, or a wildebeest?”

“A wildebeest has hooves, you ninny,” her sister, Amy, corrected wearily. “It’s hardly a romantic creature. Though I’m not convinced he’s a romantic creature, either. The scowl looks as though it might be permanent. They say he’s a savage.” She gave a delighted, theatrical shiver.

“I know why! It’s his hair. It’s…tawny.” Millicent sighed the word.

“Tawny?” Lady Peregrine turned to her in feigned alarm. “Did you actually say tawny, Millicent? Well, I can’t say I didn’t warn you that poetry would make porridge of your brains, and now here you are using a word like tawny and I do believe I heard you use the word gossamer as well just the other night to describe the morning mist—is this not true?”

Millicent hung her head in shamed confirmation.

“My dear, his hair is brown, and he has too much of it. But—of course. I see the problem. You’ve lines here, Millicent”—Lady Peregrine pointed to the flawless corners of her own eyes—“from squinting, I daresay. Perhaps it’s just that you’ve begun to need a quizzing glass to see him clearly?”

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