Beyond Scandal and Desire(5)

By: Lorraine Heath

But he had no such concerns regarding an old lady’s ears? She could hardly wait until she was deemed ancient enough to be privy to such knowledge presently denied her. “So you have.”

Rolling his eyes, he sighed with exasperation. “I may—”

Unexpectedly he was lurching forward, arms windmilling, striving to catch his balance as his hat went flying. To stop herself from tumbling after him, she’d quickly released her hold on him. Hearing a feminine gasp, she glanced over her shoulder to see a young woman wearing a horrified expression, her eyes open wide, her hands pressed to her gaping mouth.

“Dear sir, my sincerest apologies. I was so caught up in observing my surroundings that I wasn’t watching where I was going. Pray tell me I did no damage to you.”

Reaching down, Kip snatched up his hat and flicked his fingers over it to remove any dirt. She’d expected him to immediately plant it on top of his dark head. Instead, he stilled, perhaps finally getting a clear look at the young woman before him. She was a girl, really, younger than Aslyn, but her eyes, a strange golden hue that reminded her of a cat’s, spoke volumes, hinting at a life that was not without challenges. In spite of her lovely lilac frock and beribboned bonnet, she gave the impression she’d not always been accustomed to such comforts.

“No harm done, Misssss . . .” He dragged out the word as though a part of it was absent and he was seeking the lost piece.

“Miss Fancy Trewlove.”

“Fancy? Unusual name.”

“My mum chose it, hoping I would grow up to marry a fancy man, live in a fancy house and have fancy things. So far, her hopes have been dashed, but I am not one to give up on dreams so easily. And you, sir. May I inquire regarding your name?”

“Lord Kipwick.”

“Oh, my word.” Paling, she curtsied deeply, elegantly. “My lord, please forgive my utter and despicable clumsiness.”

“Easily forgiven when no harm was done. My companion and I were equally engrossed in the festivities this evening. Lady Aslyn Hastings, allow me to introduce Miss Trewlove.”

“It’s indeed a pleasure,” Aslyn said, fighting to hide her surprise that Kip would go to such lengths to introduce her to a commoner.

“My lady.” The girl curtsied again. It was a proper curtsy. Aslyn would wager she’d had lessons. Her mother was depending on more than her name to give her that fancy life. “I hope I didn’t ruin your outing. My brother is always telling me I must slow down, but there is so much to see I fear missing out on something wonderful and get quite lost in the frivolities.” She turned slightly. “Don’t I, Mick?”

“You do indeed.”

The deep voice sent a shimmer of awareness through Aslyn, and she found herself staring at the man who approached, as quietly as fog rolling in, through the encroaching darkness as though he were at once swallowed by it and master of it. She knew without a doubt he was the sort who prowled these environs after the good folk were safely tucked away in their beds. He was well-dressed, his clothing of the finest cloth and the shiniest of buttons. She suspected he had a personal tailor because his black coat rested comfortably over his broad shoulders. His midnight locks were unfashionably long, curling along his collar. His thick beard was evenly trimmed, and she was rather certain he gave it great care. But it was his dark eyes that held her ensnared. There was a somberness, a solemnity, to them. His gaze landed on her like a physical presence.

“Mick, allow me to introduce you to Lord Kipwick and Lady Aslyn.”

“I believe, Fancy,” he said in a raspy voice that indicated he might have spent a good deal of his life shouting, “that in proper circles I am to be introduced to them.”

“Of course. I suppose I should have paid more attention during etiquette lessons, but the teacher would drone on and on incessantly. I fear I grew quickly bored and wasted your coin while at it.”

“We don’t have to be so formal,” Kip said quickly, uncharacteristically doing away with customs he generally followed as though they were the dictate of a divine being. “Based on the conversation with Miss Trewlove thus far, I assume you’re Mick Trewlove.”