I Kissed an Earl(9)

By: Julie Anne Long

The earl’s attention sharply returned to her. But the expression on his face stopped her breath as surely as though he’d stabbed an accusing finger into her sternum. She felt him will tension from his big body. Obediently tension went.

“Is your brother Mr. Jonathan Redmond a merchant, by any chance?” His tone was mild. “A sea captain?”

He somehow kept Jonathan in his line of sight even as he moved her by rote in the waltz. ONE

two three ONE two three…She felt utterly superfluous. Suddenly she was the means by which the earl could stalk her brother about a ballroom.

But Jonathan, who like all men his age possessed of good looks and money and prospects was convinced he was fascinating, chattered gaily to the woman he danced with, and she glowed up at him.

“Good heavens, no, sir. Jonathan lives with our family in Pennyroyal Green and London. His amusements are in London and Sussex, and if he’s ever been on a ship, I assure you he wouldn’t be able to stop bragging of it. Jonathan has never even expressed an interest in the high seas. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to meet him this evening. Upon closer inspection you may discover his resemblance to Mr. Hardesty is not so strong.”

This was meant to reassure him—and protect Jonathan.

The earl remained coldly silent.

She was beginning to feel a bit like a ship steered on a voyage. And as much as Violet craved novelty, this was a sensation she could easily have done without.

“He doesn’t ‘resemble’ Mr. Hardesty,” he explained, as if to a slow child. “He could be Mr. Hardesty’s twin.”

The conversation was now making her uneasy. Her hand twitched restlessly in the earl’s. He gripped it tightly, almost reflexively. As though he alone would dictate when or if she could leave.

“I can tell you Jonathan hasn’t a twin, sir,” she said tartly. Violet peered over his shoulder for Lavay, who would have the pleasure of the next dance, and noted with relief that the waltz approached its closing notes and Lady Peregrine looked pleased with him, not troubled or irritated.

“Is Mr. Hardesty a fellow sailor?”

There was a hesitation.

And then his smile was a tight, remote thing. Oddly, it made all the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

“I suppose you could say that.”

It really didn’t invite additional questioning about Mr. Hardesty, which she supposed was the point of it.

He suddenly appeared disinterested in conversation.

“Are you staying in London long?” she asked.

“We’ll return to the ship by dawn and sail shortly after sunup.” A perfunctory response.

“You’re bound for…”

“Le Havre.” A curt two-word answer.

Moments later, mercifully, the waltz ended. He bowed beautifully to her, the epitome of graciousness, and she curtsied, and he handed her off to the approaching Lord Lavay with as much regret as if she were a tureen to be passed.

She peered over her shoulder as he bowed to Lady Peregrine and dutifully took up his position in the waltz.

Lady Peregrine turned quickly to Violet and surreptitiously tapped her teeth with one finger in a signal: He has all of them!

Violet doubted the earl would even remember her name.

Chapter 3

I t quickly became clear that after the earl, Monsieur Lavay would be balm. They began by admiring each other in silence. There was nothing ambiguous about his looks. Waving dark gold hair, narrow silver eyes, an aquiline nose, elegantly drawn mouth. Broad shoulders. Not lean at the hip like the earl, but not a barrel, either. Tall, but not oppressively so. Politely tall. Not a loomer, per se.

A splendid-looking man, and a bit like breathing the air of earth again after the peculiar heady, dangerous atmosphere one dance with the earl created. He had an air of slightly jaded reserve. Perhaps earned from watching the heads of various ancestors roll during the revolution.

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