I Kissed an Earl(2)By: Julie Anne Long
They all turned speculative gazes on poor Millicent, whose fingers flew up to pet at those imaginary lines.
“Honestly, do take another look at him—squint if you need to, we shall none of us mind if you do, isn’t that so, ladies? You’ll see that he’s the veriest brute. So uncommonly large. He is American-bred they say. Surely his true parents were a bear and an Indian.”
“Oh, now who’s fanciful?” Millicent was indignant.
“The title is much wasted on him since rumor has it he doesn’t plan to spend time on English soil, but the King does have his whims. What do you think, Violet?”
Violet, who knew the goal of all of this clever talk about the earl was to impress and shock her because everyone knew she was so very difficult to impress and shock, and who was in truth so bored, so bored, so tired of endless balls and parties and everything about them she thought perhaps her internal organs might grind to a halt from lack of stimulation, and the only thing keeping her awake was a keen yet quite impersonal hatred of the women who stood near her, was thinking:
Everything in the ballroom gleamed aggressively. Light from legions of candles and lamps ricocheted off silks and taffeta and jewels and polished brass and marble, creating an obscuring glare. But when the new Earl of Ardmay had glanced toward them his eyes had caught and flicked light like faceted jewels. They must be blue.
“They say he did something heroic to earn the title,” was all she said. The rumor abided; the specifics, however, remained elusive. The extinct title His Majesty George IV had resurrected, dangled before the Everseas and Redmonds, and then in a stunning about-face, bestowed upon a mysterious and allegedly American-reared, English-born Captain Flint. Doubtless it amused the King to seize an opportunity to keep the powerful Eversea and Redmond families humbled and in check, for it seemed so little else could. She moved her fan beneath her chin in languid, carefully neutral sweeps. Her sharp-eyed mother, presently engaged in conversation with a sturdy, be-turbaned Lady Windemere, would know instantly if she was fomenting mischief among the bloods who gazed with calf-eyed if wary admiration at her from all corners of the room, hoping for, dreading, an invitation signaled by her fan. The betting books at White’s were filled with wildly hopeful conjectures about what Violet Redmond might do next, because it had been an intolerably long time since Violet had done something epically, deliciously rash, such as threaten to cast herself down a well during an argument with a suitor and then get a leg over before she was pulled back by the elbows, or challenge a man to a duel. Between times her manners were faultless, exquisite, innate, which made the swerving from them all the more invigoratingly shocking. Only the foolhardy wagered who might finally be a match for her. Many had attempted suit. All had failed. Some had tried and failed spectacularly. To the bloods of the ton, Violet Redmond was El Dorado. And she was terrifying.
The new earl was in truth tall but not uncommonly so, she assessed. A few other men in the room would likely be able to look him evenly in the eye.
But he was large.
And whereas her brother Miles Redmond was large in the manner of, oh, a cliff—he had an indestructible quality yet somehow seemed an integral part of the landscape and could therefore occasionally be overlooked—there was nothing unobtrusive about the Earl of Ardmay. It was difficult to place a finger precisely why. His hands were folded behind his back; one knee was casually bent. Most of the other men in the room struck similar poses while they held conversations. His clothes were beautifully cut and unimaginative, fawn for the trousers, white for the cravat, black for the coat, subtle pewter stripes on the waistcoat. But his palpable physical confidence, an animal comfort in his own skin, issued a subliminal challenge to all the men present.