I Kissed an Earl(3)By: Julie Anne Long
Not to mention profoundly disturbed the accepted notion of attractiveness of the assembled ladies.
In short, he was as unsettling as a Trojan horse wheeled into the center of the ballroom. And he most certainly did not belong to the English landscape.
“That scowl…he does look like a savage,” Violet mused. “He ought to try smiling. I wonder if he has all of his teeth. Have any of you been close enough to see?”
It was determined that no one among them had yet seen the earl’s teeth, and that perhaps one of them ought to be dispatched to take a look, or to even dance with him, if this could be arranged.
“I like the scowl. He looks as though he’s squinting into the sun while standing on the prow of a deck with the sea breezes blowing his hair back.” This was Amy Hart, dreamily.
“But bad-tempered men make terrible dancers.” Millicent said this. Violet couldn’t allow this particular inanity to pass. She turned slowly to stare at Millicent.
“For heaven’s sake,” she said, heavily pained.
Millicent looked suitably abashed.
“Oh! Do let me tell what I know about the size of men’s thighs and what it means about their prowess,” Lady Peregrine insisted, as three entire seconds had passed since she’d been the center of attention. And the Harts swiveled their heads toward her and leaned in, because Lady Peregrine, being young and married, knew things they did not. And on they buzzed, like wasps about rotting fruit, until Violet felt just as somnolent as though a picnic sun truly was beating down on her, and wished herself far away. Not too long ago she’d gone with her brother Jonathan and two friends—Cynthia and Lord Argosy—to have their fortunes told by the Gypsies who camped on the outskirts of Pennyroyal Green. She’d of course been told she would be taking a long trip across the water. And then the Gypsy girl Martha Heron had shouted something nonsensical. A French word. Likely a name. At the time, Violet had greeted all of this with rolled eyes. Martha Heron the Gypsy, it was generally agreed, was both a looby and quite a bit too flirtatious for her own good. But at the moment Violet conceded a long trip to anywhere away from this ballroom would have suited her.
“Now, for a truly attractive, very refined man, one must look to the earl’s first mate. Have you seen him? Probably a French aristocrat who lost everything in the revolution and forced to serve a savage now, for he’s titled! His name is Lord Lavay.” Lady Peregrine was eager to share superior knowledge of the ton’s newcomers.
Violet jerked her head toward Lady Peregrine and fixed her with a stare so strange and brilliant the color drained from Lady Peregrine’s cheeks.
They all watched Violet with breathless, anticipatory glee.
“S-something on your mind, my dear?” Lady Peregrine managed after a moment. Her breath seemed to be held.
“Will you please repeat his name?” Violet was all careful politeness. Lady Peregrine gathered her composure and began to quiver with delicious anticipation of scandalous behavior.
“Oh, I can do better, Miss Redmond,” she purred. “Would you care for an introduction?”
“They look like hyenas bent over a carcass,” Flint said by way of greeting when Lord Lavay returned bearing a cup of ratafia.
Lavay followed the earl’s gaze across the ballroom to the ring of young women. “Your figurative carcass, it so happens,” Lord Lavay, his first mate, confirmed cheerily. “I overheard a good deal while I was fetching this swill. In fact, she said—”
“The pretty blonde.” Lavay gestured vaguely with his chin.
“They’re all pretty,” Flint said irritably. And they were. All of them uniformly pale, clean, scented, groomed, genteel. Pretty, pretty, pretty. The English version of pretty. Every country had a version of pretty, and he’d partaken of perhaps more than his share of them.