The Season

Page 19


Ella added, “Though I’m not certain that support is what he’s rallying, what with instituting a draft and calling two million Frenchmen to war.”
Alex nodded in agreement. “True. But with Wellington in charge, and so many nations banding together against Bonaparte’s army, I feel confident that the rogue will meet his match soon enough.” Turning back to the baron, she continued seamlessly, “Suffice to say that you are well met, my lord.”
The frank political speech left the baron unable to conceal his surprise at the girls’ impassioned patriotism and impressive knowledge of current events.
The Duke of Worthington, accustomed to his daughter, her friends, and their intellectual pursuits, interjected, “As you can see, Baron Montgrave, these particular young ladies tend toward an uncommonly more expansive view of the world than one might imagine at first glance.” His words were laced with pride, and Alex gave thanks that it was one of their fathers who overheard the conversation—which would have sent either of their mothers into a swoon.
“A remarkable quality, to be sure,” spoke the baron. “More young ladies could take their cues from you both!”
Alex said under her breath to her friend, “Perhaps the baron would consider providing lessons to the other gentlemen of the ton?”
The comment, followed by an irrepressible chuckle from Ella, was less private than Alex had intended, and the duke’s eyes narrowed at his youngest child. “Alexandra, I feel certain that I don’t need to speak with your mother about your candidness. Endeavor to keep me certain.”
“Yes, Father.” Alex recognized the gleam of pride deep in her father’s green gaze and, despite his stern demeanor, knew she wasn’t in too much trouble. She did know, however, that she should attempt to keep herself out of trouble with the duke and passed a quick glance to Ella, letting her friend know they should remove themselves from this particular conversation.
In unison, the girls dropped into deep curtsies and wished the baron adieu. The two clasped arms and skirted the edge of the packed ballroom, deciding to try to find Vivi again in the crush.
“What a fascinating character the baron is,” Ella spoke hurriedly, in a distracted manner that Alex knew all too well.
“You’re already putting him in your book, aren’t you?” Alex teased. “Desperate for one of your journals?”
“Oh,” Ella scoffed, “and you would rather be here, searching the crowd for someone…anyone…you enjoy the company of, rather than being at home doing something you love?”
Alex cocked her head and smiled at her friend. “Point taken.” She scanned the crowd again. “I don’t see Vivi anywhere…nor Will…there are too many people in this room to make anyone out in the crush.” She turned toward the dance floor and strained to find Will’s dark head over the tops of the now waltzing revelers. “You don’t think they danced two in a row, do you?”
Ella shook her head. “No…Vivi wouldn’t risk gossip like that, what with it being our first time out…” She trailed off and Alex turned to her, curious to see what had stopped her train of thought. Ella’s eyes were on a particular couple in the crowd, it seemed.
“What are you looking at? Or, rather, whom are you looking at?” She followed Ella’s gaze, but twirling bodies blocked her view.
“It seems that Penelope doesn’t consider two in a row a problem,” Ella spoke so only Alex could hear. “She and Blackmoor are still dancing…and she looks like the cat that got the cream.”
As if on cue, Alex’s line of vision cleared, and she saw the couple in question. There was Gavin, holding the gorgeous Penelope in his arms. Their graceful movements only enhanced their image as a stunning couple: he, tall and golden-haired, she, petite and fair. Watching them, she could almost forget that Penelope was supremely unpleasant. Could Gavin forget that, too? Alex’s brow creased as she considered that Penelope was likely an expert at Proper Conversation and Subtlety of the Dance. He couldn’t possibly think her a worthy candidate for courting, could he?
“…he is an earl.” Alex was shaken from her thoughts by the end of Ella’s statement.
“I beg your pardon?” Alex fibbed, “With the chatter and the music, I didn’t hear.”
“I said, no wonder she looks so proud of herself…he is an earl after all…and two dances this soon after his exiting mourning, newly titled…” She trailed off again.
She didn’t have to finish her sentence. Alex understood perfectly. The gossips of the ton were likely already chattering about this; a newly minted earl and the daughter of a marquess dancing two dances in a row made for the most exciting kind of speculation—the kind that involved marriage.
“Of course, she is odious.” Ella added, “Blackmoor must realize that…mustn’t he?”
Alex turned away from the object of their conversation as other couples obscured her view once more, and spoke quietly, “One can only hope so.”
Ignoring the unfamiliar gnawing that had begun in the pit of her stomach, she smiled a too-bright smile at her friend. “Lemonade?”
Alex whined and pulled the coverlet up over her head, burrowing deeper into the warm cocoon of blankets and pillows to escape the brilliant sunlight that streamed into her bedchamber. “Eliza…I’m sleeping. Pull the curtains and go away…please?”
“That might work were it solely Eliza, Alexandra. But she brought reinforcements…and as your mother, I insist you rise. You’re wasting the day away.”