I Kissed an Earl(8)

By: Julie Anne Long

Her eyes narrowed.

He met her gaze evenly.

For a moment they swept along in time with the music.

“It’s impolite to eavesdrop,” she said finally.

“I wasn’t eavesdropping,” he said easily.

“Then it’s impolite to send spies to do the eavesdropping for you. For clearly you did.”

This pleased him. His eyes brightened; the hand at the small of her back pressed against her approvingly, and it was a new sensation, startling, almost intimate. “I’m not certain impolite is the word you’re looking for. In all honesty the overhearing, as it were, was happenstance. But as you are an expert in the matter of etiquette, please refresh my memory. How polite it is to gossip?”

The man was a devil. And yet she was awfully tempted to laugh.

“I was being gossiped at,” she tried after a moment. And offered him a mischievous loweredlashed smile that usually all but dropped grown men to their knees. Generally hothouse bouquets arrived at her door the day after she’d deployed one. He wasn’t entirely immune to it. She was rewarded with a pupil flare.

“Ah, but are you a complete innocent, Miss Redmond?” His voice had gone soft. His mouth tipped sardonically. Up twitched one of those brows again. This time it was almost a threat: Don’t bore me.

If this was a flirting relay, he’d just handed her the baton.

Violet felt that familiar surge of exhilaration when tempted with a reckless inspiration. She’d seldom been able to resist that surge.

She briefly went on toe to murmur the words closer to his ear than was proper, so close she knew he could smell her, feel her breath in his ear when she spoke. Once again she was rewarded with the heady smell of the man himself: sharp, clean, heightened by his warmth and nearness.

“What do you think, sir?”

She instantly had his full attention for the first time since the waltz had begun. And yet once she had it she wasn’t certain she wanted it. It was like being passed something too hot to hold overlong. His gaze was potent; there was nothing in it of the entreaty she was accustomed to seeing in the face of men. He was weighing her with a specific intent in mind. His eyes touched on her eyes, lips, décolletage, taking a swift bold inventory of her as a woman that somehow both shortened her breath in a peculiarly delicious portentous way and made her fingers twitch to slap him.

And then he smiled a remote, almost dismissive smile and his gaze flicked up from her as they negotiated a turn in the dance.

And then froze.

He dropped the remnants of his flirtatious demeanor as abruptly as a boy drops a toy when called into dinner.

Before her eyes his jaw seemed to turn to granite; tension vibrated in the hand pressed against her waist. He gripped her fingers a trifle harder than he ought to. What in God’s name had he just seen?

She flexed her fingers. He absently eased his grip.

“Miss…” He glanced at her perfunctorily. And returned his gaze to whatever—or whomever

—riveted him.

He’d forgotten her name? She clenched her teeth to keep her jaw from dropping.

“Redmond,” she reminded him with exaggerated sweetness.

“Of course,” he soothed. He gave her another cursory, dutiful glance, meant to placate. Then returned to the object of his focus. She’d seen a fox look at a vole that way before. Right before it pounced.

And shook it until its neck snapped.

“I believe I may be acquainted with the gentleman dancing with the young lady in yellow. If I’m correct, his name is Mr. Hardesty. Are you acquainted with him?”

With some perilous head craning, she managed to follow the direction of his gaze. And her hands went peculiarly icy inside her gloves.

He was looking at her brother Jonathan.

“I believe the gentleman to whom you’re referring is Mr. Jonathan Redmond. He’s my brother.”

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