Violet demanded her lips curve into a smile but when it came to Viscount Tellerby, she struggled to put anything except a grimace on her face. “Lord Tellerby. Good evening.”
“I see you are dancing this evening, Lady Violet.” Without so much as a glance towards Lady Antonia, Violet’s closest friend, Lord Tellerby held out his hand. “Your dance card, if you please.”
Violet hesitated, throwing a glance to Antonia but her friend did nothing but shrug lightly. There was nothing Violet could do other than slip her dance card from her wrist and hand it to Lord Tellerby, though she certainly did not have any desire to stand up with him. That was the very worst of things, she decided silently, as Lord Tellerby pored over the dance card. If she wished to dance with eligible gentlemen, then she had to have her dance card available to any gentleman who requested it, even if it was the loathsome Viscount Tellerby. It was not as though she could refuse him for, if she did, then no doubt he would demand to know why she would not stand up with him though she would stand up with others, and she could not exactly tell him that she disliked him immensely! Thus, she had no other choice but to wait for him to sign his name, silently praying that he chose the shortest dance of the evening.
“Your waltz has already been taken.” Lord Tellerby grimaced, shooting her a glance before his brows furrowed low over his eyes again. “I am displeased.”
Violet said nothing, ignoring the roll of the eyes that Lady Antonia sent in her direction, though she agreed with the expressed sentiment absolutely. Lord Tellerby was a prideful man, one who seemed to always be given whatever it was he desired – though wealth had a good deal to do with it, of course. Even though his title was lower than her father’s, Lord Tellerby’s great wealth made him, to her father’s mind, a suitable match though Violet strongly rejected the idea of ever standing up in church and taking him as a husband. There had been rumors running through London last Season that the gentleman beat his horses and, on occasion, servants when they had cause to displease him. No doubt he would raise a hand to his wife also, should he have the opportunity.
“I have been forced to take the country dance,” Lord Tellerby tutted, shaking his head as though she were the one who had deliberately done such a thing. “You will save the waltz for me at the next ball, Lady Violet.”
“I shall do no such thing,” she declared, seeing how Lord Tellerby immediately scowled. “I am afraid that it would not be wise for me to do so, Lord Tellerby, as I am sure you can see. We would not want there to be any rumor started as regards our connection when we are so very informally acquainted.”
This was said with great emphasis and accompanied by fervent nods from Lady Antonia but Lord Tellerby’s scowl grew all the darker, clearly displeased with what she had said – or by her refusal to do as he had demanded. Violet, disliking every moment in his company, took the dance card from him and then placed it back upon her writs.
“Until the country dance, Lord Tellerby.”
“I desire to speak with you thereafter.” A hand snaked out, fingers wrapping around her arm as Lord Tellerby came to stand close to her again, making Violet shudder inwardly at the strength in his arm. “Once our dance is over, I will require a walk about the ballroom and – ”
“We shall see if I have opportunity,” she interrupted, wrenching her arm away. Without another word, she quickened her steps to make her way across the ballroom with Lady Antonia hurrying along beside her.
“Goodness, you do not think that he desires anything… of consequence, do you?” Lady Antonia turned her head and looked over her shoulder a little warily. “I do not like that fellow.”
“Nor do I,” Violet admitted. “You have heard the rumors, no doubt?”
“I have indeed,” Lady Antonia remarked with a shake of her head. “He may be one of the wealthiest men in London but I certainly have no desire to wed him.”
“My father would consider him, should he request it.” With a sigh, Violet looked at her friend and took in the shocked expression written across her face. “He thinks only of suitability and of fortune and title. I could speak to him about the rumors as regarded Lord Tellerby but he would reject them as balderdash without so much as listening to them.”
“I am sorry to hear that.” Lady Antonia’s mouth puckered. “You shall simply have to make certain that Lord Tellerby does not ever reach the point where he wishes to be so connected with you.”
Violet laughed softly, the nervous swirling of her stomach beginning to dissipate. “I shall do my very best to dissuade him from pursuing a connection between us, my dear Antonia. I can promise you that!”
“This dance has come to an end much too soon.”
Thinking to herself that it had not come quickly enough, Violet did not respond, aware of the cold sweat of relief which ran down her back as she curtsied towards Lord Tellerby. The music had finished and now all that was required was for Lord Tellerby to return her to her friend.
“Walk with me for a few moments, Lady Violet.”
Lord Tellerby did not ask her but commanded it of her, his words a demand which had to be followed. When she did not immediately move, he grasped her hand and threaded it under his before returning himself to the proper stance.
The urge to yank her hand away and return to either Lady Antonia or her mother, Lady Ferrendon, was great and it took all of her strength not to do as she desired. Her skin prickled but Lord Tellerby walked with great determination, his steps never slowly, his gaze fixed straight ahead and never once glancing towards her. Violet was forced to walk with him, her heart quickening as he led her away from Lady Antonia and away from her mother. Whatever was he doing?
“Lord Tellerby, I must demand to hasten back to my mother.” Trying to speak with great calmness, Violet lifted her chin a little when his eyes flashed towards hers. “I have other gentlemen to dance with also. I do not have time to be paraded around the ballroom.”
“I doubt that!” The hard laugh which followed made Violet’s skin crawl and she ducked her head in the hope of hiding her expression from him. “This is one of the first balls of the Season! Your mother will not mind in the least if she sees you walking with an eligible gentleman such as myself.”
“I think that would be something for my mother to decide, Lord Tellerby.” Her words had no effect for the gentleman laughed again and continued to walk with her around the ballroom. Violet’s jaw tightened and she looked away, aware of the mix of fear and uncertainty in her heart. Whatever it was Lord Tellerby wanted, she did not think it was going to make her at all contented. The gentleman was arrogant and, to her mind, cruel, for what fellow beat horses simply because he did not win at the races? The way he demanded things from her, insisted that she do as he asked without hesitation, had her fears growing all the more steadily and she glanced all around, hoping for a distraction which would take her from his company.
“A courtship, Lady Violet. Yes, that is the thing.”
Violet blinked, cold fear wrapping around her heart. “I beg your pardon?”
Lord Tellerby turned to her, his smile spreading wide though his dark eyes did not hold even the smallest flash of light. They remained dull, the grey swirls within them unsettling her all the more.
“I think we should court first,” he continued, waving a hand as this was something she had already discussed and was quite contented with. “There is no real reason to do so given that we know we are on the path towards matrimony but since it is the expected thing here in London, I suppose we must do so. It will only be for a few weeks, however.”
“Courtship?” The word felt wrong on her tongue and she spat it out from her at once. “I think you are mistaken, Lord Tellerby. I have no intention of being courted by you.”
“You say such a thing now but I am not certain I believe you,” he replied, with a chuckle. “I know of your spirit but I also know that your father thinks well of my position in society. I am sure that – ”
“Even if my father should agree that you are suitable for me, Lord Tellerby, I can assure you, I will not consent to courtship,” she declared, managing to shake her hand out of his arm. “Now, do excuse me. I must get back to my mother.”
Stepping away from him, Violet shuddered violently as she hurried back to where her mother and Lady Antonia, with her mother, stood together. As she approached, she caught Lady Antonia’s wide eyes, though her own mother barely glanced at her, given that she was deep in conversation.
“I saw Lord Tellerby lead you away,” Lady Antonia murmured, as Violet approached. “Your mother did not see him, however. Are you quite all right?”
“He wants to court me.” Violet closed her eyes and curled her hands into fists in an attempt to keep herself from shuddering at the thought of being courted by Lord Tellerby. “He even spoke of matrimony!” When she opened her eyes, Lady Antonia’s eyes had rounded like saucers. “I gave him the distinct impression that I was not at all interested, though he is clearly aware that my father might be more amenable to the match.”
“It is his wealth which encourages him to speak in such a way,” Lady Antonia responded as Violet nodded fervently. “I am sure you were quite clear, however.”
“More than clear,” Violet agreed, a wry smile tipping her lips. “He was not particularly pleased – no doubt he believes that I have insulted him a great deal – but I care not. I have no intention of permitting Lord Tellerby or my father to encourage me into a match I have no desire to step into.” Her chin lifting, she drew herself up, a sudden determination flooding her. “I may only be the second daughter and, therefore, be offered a little less consideration from my father, but I am settled in my own mind as to what I will accept and what I will not.”
“You are quite right to say so.” With a smile, Lady Antonia gestured to the rest of the ballroom, where many a gentleman and lady stood. “Look, there are so many gentlemen present that there is bound to be more than a few who would suit you very well!”
“Let us hope so!” Violet laughed, her tension fraying away to nothing as she stood next to Lady Antonia and surveyed the room, letting her eyes dot from one gentleman to the next. “I do not ask for love but I certainly require a kind, respectful fellow who will be considerate, gentle and caring in his nature. I think that sort of gentleman will make a very suitable husband indeed.”
“And is precisely what Lord Tellerby is not,” Lady Antonia said, with a roll of her eyes. “But I have a great deal of hope and confidence in this Season. We have only just begun and there are many months ahead of us; months filled with balls and soirees and dinners and dancing… all kinds of wonderful entertainments which will, I must hope, lead us each to the right gentleman to make a match with.”
Violet nodded, her hopes rising alongside Lady Antonia’s, her mind already pulling away from the dreadful Lord Tellerby. Lady Antonia was quite right. This Season lay out before her with a great many possibilities and expectations held out before it. There was nothing to impede her from making new acquaintances, forming new connections and, with any luck, finding someone whom she might one day call husband.
A smile lifted her lips and she took in a long, steadying breath. Yes, this Season would be an excellent one indeed – just so long as Lord Tellerby did not attempt to coerce her into his arms again!
“Must you wear that ridiculous cravat?”
Clement looked down at it. “Whatever are you talking about, mother?”
“The colour.” Wincing, she turned her head to look out of the carriage window. “It is incredibly garish.”
Clement hid a smile. “It is blue, mother.”
“A very bright blue.”
Shrugging, Clement sniffed lightly. “The valet told me it would emphasise the colour of my eyes and I believe he was right.”
“And why should the valet seek out such a cravat? What need have you to emphasise your eyes?”
This time, Clement could not keep his smile from his lips. “Because, mother, we are in London for the Season, the marriage mart will soon be rushing through all of London and I am a Duke in need of a wife.”
To his surprise, his mother did not look at all pleased and instead let out a heavy sigh and shook her head.
“You are not pleased with the idea?”
“Of you finding a wife? I would be very pleased, if I had any belief that you would do such a thing,” came the response, as the carriage trundled on its way to what would be Clement’s first ball of the Season. “We have been to London and to the Season the last three years and thus far, you have never once considered any of the young ladies present. I have pointed out many suitable young ladies but you have either found something to say about them that displeases you or you have ignored my suggestion completely! Do not pretend to me now that this Season will be different.”
Clement opened his mouth to respond and then closed it again. His mother was right. The last few years, he had contented himself by enjoying all that society had to offer him without any intention of finding a bride. The difficulty with being a Duke of the realm was that every young lady – or their mother – was eagerly pushing themselves in his direction simply because of his title rather than because they had any real interest in who he was. This had not been something he had discussed with his mother, however, for she had first of all been burdened by the loss of her husband who had passed away some five years ago, and secondly, because he had no real desire to discuss such things with his mother. He had his dear friend, the Earl of Donnington for that. Lord Donnington himself was unwed and, last Clement had spoken to him, was just as unwilling to make a match as he had been before and thus, the two of them had been very contented at each and every Season prior to this one.
Now, however, Clement was concerned that this Season would not be the same as had gone before. If his mother was insistent that he wed, then no doubt she would be harking on at him to find a suitable bride with greater strength than she had done previously. The thought was an unsettling one.
“You require an heir.”
As if she had known what he was thinking, the Duchess of Newhamptonshire spoke directly, her eyes suddenly piercing.
“I know that, mother.”
“Then stop wasting your time here in London and choose a suitable young lady!” Throwing up her hands, his mother exclaimed aloud. “You must take your responsibilities seriously else how will this dukedom ever survive?”
Clement frowned, his jaw tightening. “Mama, that is unfair. You know very well that I have done my level best to make sure all that my father left to me is given the greatest care and attention. I have not allowed any of my duties to fall to the wayside.”
“Save for this one,” she pointed out, an eyebrow lifting. “I do not care who the young lady is, do you understand? So long as she has a good title and has no smudges against her reputation, then I will be glad to have her as your wife.”
“Enough, mother.” Relieved that the carriage was now beginning to slow as it approached, Clement spoke with a firmness he had not often had to put in his tone before now. “I understand that you are concerned for the future of this family, mother, but you need not be. I will wed, but it will be in my own time. You have left all other responsibilities to my care. Please do the same with this one too.”
“She did not speak to you thereafter?”
“There was not opportunity, since we had arrived at the ball.” Clement winced as his friend handed him a glass which contained a measure of whisky. “I do not think my mother was particularly pleased, however.”
Lord Donnington lifted one shoulder and then let it fall. “My own dear mother is the same, I confess. I have struggled with her determination to see me wed but I understand where the concern comes from. She thinks only of the future of the line.”
“Which I think of too, but I will not be forced into marriage when I am not prepared,” Clement replied, taking a sip of the whisky and letting his gaze rove around the room. “I will admit that I have not thought of matrimony with any great seriousness as yet but it is present in my mind at all times. The heir is required, I understand, but I cannot bring myself to simply choose a young lady because of her suitability and declare myself to be eager to wed. She must have a good character, have some sweetness to her before I decide whether or not to consider her.”
Lord Donnington nodded slowly. “I quite agree. I, however, confess that I pay great attention to the beauty presented first before I have opportunity to consider their character.”
Clement chuckled dryly. “Indeed, there are many beautiful young ladies in London – and here this evening!”
“I have my eye on one particular lady,” Lord Donnington murmured, moving a little closer to Clement as though what he was to say might be overheard. “Do you see her there? She is wearing a gown of yellow satin and there is a yellow flower in her hair.”
Looking across the room, Clement took in the young lady, looking again to Lord Donnington. “She is quite lovely.”
“As is the lady standing next to her.”
Clement quickly returned his gaze to the young lady with the flower in her hair, then let it drift to her companion. His eyes flared, his breath catching in his chest as her gaze turned itself directly towards him at the very same time, meaning that they were two strangers gazing into each other’s eyes. Turning his head away, he flushed with embarrassment but kept his chin lifted in the hope he would not give the appearance of mortification.
“She is studying you,” Lord Donnington remarked, throwing Clement a look, only to then frown. “Why is your face red?”
Clearing his throat, Clement sniffed. “It is warm.”
“Oh.” Narrowing his eyes suspiciously, Lord Donnington then grinned and took a sip of his whisky. “I am determined to make the lady’s acquaintance. Do you know either of them already?”
Clement shook his head. “No, I do not.”
“That is a pity. I shall have to find someone who can make the introductions.”
The urge to ask Lord Donnington if he might join him rose up in Clement’s mind but he quickly squashed it. Yes, the young lady beside the one in yellow was very pretty indeed, with dark hair in gentle curls which cascaded down around her shoulders and a smile which softened her eyes, but she was one of many young ladies who might capture his attention. It would be foolish to find himself so quickly drawn to one young lady, particularly after he had told Lord Clement that he was not about to be drawn into matrimony with any great speed!
“You have not yet signed my dance card, brother.”
Clement’s considerations were interrupted by Lord Donnington’s younger sister, Emily. She looked somewhat disappointed, clearly a little upset that her brother had forgotten to do such a thing. Smiling to himself over Lord Donnington’s urgent apologies – for not only was he responsible for making his own match, when the time came, he was also responsible for making sure his sister was suitably announced to society – he bowed low and requested her dance card also. Lady Emily smiled and gave it to him quickly, her upset forgotten, and soon Clement found himself leading the young lady out to the center of the ballroom, ready to dance the country dance.
It was with interest that his attention caught yet again on the young lady with dark hair and flashing eyes. She was dancing with another gentleman but, given the slight scowl on her face, had no interest in being in his company. She did not offer a remark, did not lift her expression into a smile but instead, remained rather stoic throughout the dance.
I must find a way to be introduced to her.
Smiling at Lady Emily, he finished the dance and, bowing, offered her his arm to lead her back to her brother. For whatever reason, the young lady with dark curls had captured his attention and, try as he might, he could not seem to resist the desire to find out her name. The only thing he had to do was find a way to go about it without drawing too much attention to the fact that this was his one, sole desire from the evening.
Sighing, Clement leaned his head back against the arbor wall and closed his eyes. The evening had, thus far, not gone the way he had hoped. The young lady was still as unknown to him as before, for once his presence had become known to the other guests, what had seemed to be almost every young lady in London had come to greet him. There had been old acquaintances, new introductions and plenty of remarks made, each person seeking to discover whether or not he sought out a bride this Season.
He was growing weary of it all.
Closing his eyes, Clement took in a long, steadying breath. It was to be expected, of course, given his title but it was frustrating, nonetheless. However, was he to find a bride when everyone who came near to him offered him nothing but sparkling eyes and a sweet smile? Any young lady he considered would, no doubt, give him the very best of herself but would not reveal her true character. She might have a terrible temper or be inclined towards gossip but he would not know any of those traits until after they were married. It was most frustrating! How was he to secure someone on his arm with whom he could be happy, when he would not have opportunity to truly know their character?
“Remove yourself from me!”
A sudden cry caught Clement’s attention and he sat up straight, his head lifting.
“I thought my friend required me but it was you, was it not? You have attempted to trick me so that we might be caught together.”
“You refused me.” The dark tone of the gentleman’s voice had Clement scrambling to his feet, quite certain that whoever it was speaking had nothing but dark intentions for the lady with him. “I do not like to be refused and as you will learn, Lady Violet, there are consequences for such things.”
Clement moved immediately, getting to his feet and stumbling out into the darkness. There were only a few dim lanterns in this part of the gardens – though enough to see by, thankfully – and the night sky was not particularly dark given the time of year. The voices continued and he attempted to find where they came from, urgently needing to help the young lady in question.
“If you do not consent to marry me, then I will spread the very worst of rumours about you,” the gentleman continued, sounding as though he were snarling. “It will be something you cannot ever step back from. Your father, your mother and your siblings will be affected by what I have to say about you and your own reputation will be ruined forever.”
“Your threats mean nothing.” The young lady’s voice was steel, her determination to stand up against this gentleman surprising Clement as he made his way back along the path, still searching for the two strangers. “I will not be forced into matrimony.”
“Yes, you shall.”
What followed thereafter was such a scream, Clement’s blood ran cold and he was forced to stop, his heart beating furiously now. This gentleman, whoever he was, was now attempting to force the young lady to marry him in the worst possible way and Clement was determined to stop it.
Another exclamation came – this time, from the gentleman – and heedless to what it would do to his attire, Clement pushed his way through the shrubs to his right and, stumbling, half fell out onto the grass beyond. The scene lit itself before him at once. There was a gentleman attempting to grasp a hold of the young lady but she, whoever she was, was doing her utmost to fight him off. Catching his breath, Clement hurried forward, just as the young lady threw a fist at the gentleman’s face, catching the side of his nose. The gentleman let out a howl of pain while the young lady shook out her hand and backed away, her frame ridged with anger.
“Stay away from me, Tellerby!”
When he spoke, the young lady let out a yelp of surprise but then quickly turned, the lantern flickering light across her face. “If you are come to help him, then – ”
“I come to take you from him,” Clement answered quickly, as the young lady pushed a stray curl back behind her ear, though Clement noticed how she trembled. “Lord Tellerby, it is I, the Duke of Newhamptonshire. I have heard every word you have said, every threat you have made and seen the actions you took thereafter. How dare you behave in such a manner?”
Lord Tellerby began to stammer, stumbling back from Clement. “I – I… it is only that I am so ardently in love with – ”
“You know nothing of love!” Lady Violet spat, taking a step closer to Lord Tellerby who immediately shrank back. “This was not about your feelings of affection, Lord Tellerby, but about your feelings of injury and insult simply because I refused your offer of courtship. Your threats were made in the hope of forcing me to accept, though none of it would have induced me to do as you had asked. Your cruelty and your deception are both beyond the pale and you are certainly no gentleman!”
“I should demand recompense for the lady’s honour.” Clement strode forward, grabbing Lord Tellerby by the lapels and hauling him closer. The man was a full head shorter than Clement and it was easy enough, therefore, for Clement to glare down at him. “Shall we say pistols at dawn?”
“No, please.” Letting out a squeak of fright, Lord Tellerby held up both hands, his eyes wide in the dim light. “I apologise. I apologise profusely for what I have done. I shall take my leave at once.”
When Clement released him, Lord Tellerby did exactly as he had said and scuttled away from the gardens, leaving both Clement and Lady Violet alone together.
With concern still in his heart, Clement turned to face her. Lady Violet was breathing heavily, her eyes were sparkling with tears, however, and she was still shaking her hand out repeatedly. “Lady Violet.” Coming close and taking her hand in his, Clement inspected it for injury. “Your hand must be sore.”
“It is.” Her mirthless laugh had his head lifting. “Though I do not regret it.”
This had him smiling. “Your aim was very accurate.”
“I have brothers.” She managed a wry smile, only to suck in a breath when he ran one finger lightly over her knuckles. “Thank you for coming to my aid, Your Grace.”
“But of course.” Ignoring the rippling heat which ran up his arm, he released her hand gently. “You should put a compress on that hand, when you return home. Perhaps come up with an excuse as to how it became injured, so that no-one else knows of Lord Tellerby’s attack… that is, unless you wish to expose him? I would be able – and willing – to support you in that.”
Quickly, Lady Violet shook her head. “No, I thank you. I do not wish for anyone to know what took place this evening though I understand you mean well. I fear that it would damage my reputation if such a thing was to be made known, even if it was to make known what Lord Tellerby has done. I hope you understand.”
“Of course, Lady Violet.” Bowing, Clement smiled at her. “Perhaps you should like to dance with me later this evening? I shall have to find someone to formally introduce us first, of course, given that this is not exactly a proper introduction!”
Lady Violet laughed and Clement smiled back at her, relieved that she was not too severely shaken over what had taken place. His admiration for her had grown when he had heard her respond so forcibly to Lord Tellerby and then grown all the more at the way she had physically pushed him back. To see the strength of her character now made him think all the more highly of Lady Violet and his interest in her was strong.
“I should be glad for both a proper introduction and a dance, Your Grace,” she said, her eyes still a little shadowed in the dim light. “The polka, perhaps?”
“I always enjoy the polka.”
Her smile grew only to then fade as she glanced over her shoulder. “I should return to the ballroom as quickly as I can before I am missed – and before someone finds me alone with you!”
Clement winced. “Indeed. That would make the situation rather difficult, would it not?” Knowing full well that marriage might be demanded of a gentleman and lady who were found entirely alone, Clement dampened down the sudden surge of enthusiasm for the idea which ripped through him. He barely knew this young lady and yet his thoughts were already turning towards matrimony? He cleared his throat and stepped to one side, gesturing towards the door. No doubt his mother’s conversation with him on the way to the ball was the reason he had such thoughts in his head at present. “If you would like to make your way back to the ball through this door, I shall delay a few minutes and come in thereafter, so that there can be no suspicion.”
Lady Violet nodded. “I thank you.”
“And be careful of Lord Tellerby,” Clement finished, a scowl beginning to darken his features. “I have known him for some years. His reputation precedes him and I am afraid it is not a good reputation. He is a hard, cruel and unfair gentleman who is not accustomed to not being given everything he desires without question. Though he may have been warned away from you at present, there is no doubt that he may seek to injure you in another way. I shall be watching him also, however, and hope he will not do such a foolish thing.”
“As I hope also,” Lady Violet murmured, sighing heavily. “Thank you, Your Grace. I look forward to standing up with you later this evening.”
“And do take care of your hand.” It was as though he were saying everything he could in order to keep her with him for as long as possible. “I shall call upon you very soon, if you should be pleased with that? I will make certain to introduce myself to your father and mother, also.”
“My father is the Earl of Ferrendon and would be glad to make your acquaintance, as my mother would be also.” A small smile crossed her face. “And I should be glad to take tea with you at any time,” she added before, with a quick bobbed curtsy and a swift smile, she stepped away from and hurried back towards the door.
Clement watched her leave and became aware of the warmth which washed through him as he let his gaze linger on her for as long as he could. Lady Violet was an extraordinary young lady for not every young lady such as she had such great strength of character. In truth, Lady Violet might not have needed his intervention and though he was glad to have been able to send Lord Tellerby away – with the awareness that his actions had been spotted by a Duke – Clement was sure that Lady Violet would have been able to deal with Lord Tellerby all on her own.
And now I am able to dance with her. That realization sent a smile spiraling across his face and he let out a long, slow breath before turning towards the door himself. It was time to go back into society, to find someone to introduce him formally to Lady Violet and, thereafter, take her into his arms for what would be their first dance together. It seemed that this evening was, after all, going to be an excellent one indeed.
“What happened to you, my lady?”
Violet looked up at her maid, her thoughts tumbling over from one to the next. “I beg your pardon?”
“Your arms, my lady.” Betty, her lady’s maid, gestured to the purple marks on Violet’s arms. “Are they bruises?”
Hesitating, Violet let her gaze drift to her arms, remembering how Lord Tellerby had grasped her so very painfully. “Yes. They are.”
“They are?” Betty’s astonishment was clear in her wide eyes as she took a step back, reaching to grasp Violet’s hand and lift it so she could look at each and every bruise. “Goodness, I – ”
“Ouch!” Violet winced as Betty quickly dropped her hand, fright now rounding her eyes.
“I am so very sorry, my lady. I – ”
“It is not your fault.” With a wry smile, Violet gestured to her painful hand. “I have hurt my hand and my arms, Betty, that is all. I did not tell mother and I have no intention of telling her either so please do not inform her or her lady’s maid either.”
Betty nodded but her gaze fixed itself to Violet. There were silent questions in the air between them and, with a sigh, Violet plucked at one and gave it the answer she knew Betty required.
“A gentleman tried to force his way into my affections,” she said, with a shrug. “I think my hand connecting with his nose gave him a clear impression as to whether or not I was going to accept that!”
One hand flew to Betty’s mouth, her eyes still round.
“But I was saved from his attempts to coerce me, though that is the reason for my bruised arms,” Violet finished, looking back at herself in the mirror. “He failed, of course and I am hopeful he will not come near to me again.”
“Good gracious!” Betty squeaked, her hand finally dropping back to her side. “How dreadful for you.”
Violet nodded. “It was rather dreadful,” she agreed, her stomach writhing as she remembered her own foolishness. “I was informed that Lady Antonia had gone out of doors and was asking for my assistance given that she was feeling a little unwell and thus, I went to find her. When I stepped outside, however, I was grasped rather roughly around the wrist and then pulled closer toward a gentleman I had no desire to be in company with. There were a good many threats made but I listened to none of them. And then when he attempted to grasp me physically, I am afraid I could only lift my hand to his face, as my brothers taught me in the past.”
“It is just as well they did teach you,” Betty stated, shaking her head before turning to fetch a cloth from the bowl of cool, clean water she had nearby, settling it over Violet’s pained hand. “What will you say to your mother about it? She is bound to take notice.”
“I will tell her that a gentleman was a little rough during one of the dances,” Violet said, though Betty’s frown told her that it was not a good excuse. “Or that I fell in the garden and put my hand into a thornbush. Will that be more believable?”
“A little.” Betty frowned still, taking in the numerous new bruises on Violet’s forearms. “And you shall have to have long gloves or long sleeves on your gowns for the next few days.”
“Long sleeved gloves shall suit me very well.” With a smile, Violet settled one hand on her maid’s shoulder for a moment. “You are very good to be so concerned for me.”
Betty smiled back but said nothing, hurrying across the room to fetch Violet’s night things.
“I had the Duke of Newhamptonshire come to my aid,” Violet murmured, as Betty returned, ready to help Violet change into her nightgown. “I did not know who he was at first, of course, but he put Lord Tellerby to rights, I can promise you that! He is an excellent gentleman.”
“And a Duke, at that!” Betty smiled as Violet rose to her feet. “Is he very handsome?”
“Of course,” Violet laughed, “but then again, are not all Dukes handsome?”
Joining in her laughter, Betty smiled back at her. “I suppose that they are, my lady.”
“He is going to call soon.” A small flicker of happiness caught her heart and she smiled to herself at the thought of entertaining the Duke. “And I admit, I am already looking forward to seeing him again.”
“He did what?”
Violet grimaced. “I know, it was a terrible thing for him to do but the Duke of Newhamptonshire came to my aid, though he has warned me to be on my guard against Lord Tellerby. Evidently, he is not a gentleman who takes well to being refused whatever it is that he wants.”
“And the Duke thinks he may seek out some sort of revenge?”
Violet nodded. “I do want to be careful.”
“But a Duke, now!” Lady Antonia’s lips began to curve. “That is a fine thing!”
“He was very kind, if that is what you mean.”
“And handsome, generous, good natured and an excellent dancer.”
Violet laughed. “I will admit that he can dance well and that he certainly is handsome, though I do not know the rest with any certainty.”
“There is way you can find out,” Lady Antonia remarked, with a coy smile. “You will have to look for him at the next ball. Mayhap he – ”
“My lady?” The butler stood in the doorway. “Forgive me for the interruption. I did knock but – ”
“I did not hear you, I am sorry.” Violet gestured to him. “What is it?”
“His Grace, the Duke of Newhamptonshire, has come to call.”
A zip of excitement flew up Violet’s spine and she swallowed tightly, nodding as she did so. “Of course. Show him in and do have another fresh tea tray sent up.”
Lady Antonia let out a squeal as Violet rose to her feet, brushing down her skirts as she did so. “The Duke of Newhamptonshire has come to call upon you, Violet!”
“To make sure I am well, that is all,” Violet stated, firmly. “Come now, do not permit yourself to become giddy over this, my dear friend. We will not lose our heads!”
Even though she said such a thing, Violet was all too aware of the sudden leaping of her heart as she turned her attention to the door. To have the Duke of Newhamptonshire coming to call was certainly an important visit and, truth be told, she did think very well of him after what he had done. The dance they had shared thereafter had been very exciting – a good deal more so than a simple polka had ever been before – and to have him come to sit with her now was flooding her with an exhilarating anticipation. There was heat in her face and she fought not to fan at her cheeks with her hand, praying that the giggling from Lady Antonia would cease before the Duke himself came in.
The Duke stopped just inside the door and bowed low, one hand to his heart. “It does me good to see you looking so well after what you were forced to endure.”
“Thank you, Your Grace. You are very kind. Please do come in.” Gesturing to an empty chair, she smiled quickly. “Are you acquainted with Lady Antonia?”
“Yes, I am. Good afternoon, Lady Antonia.” The Duke bowed. “We were introduced at a ball recently. I hope – ” Looking from Violet to Lady Antonia and back again, he frowned suddenly. “I hope I am not interrupting a conversation. Forgive me, I should have thought to write a note before I arrived.”
“Not at all,” Lady Antonia gushed, before Violet could say anything. “We were speaking of the ball and what happened to Violet there. I hear that you helped her escape from him!”
The Duke shook his head and chuckled a little. “I had very little to do except threaten him with my name,” he answered, as Violet sat down with the other two guests following her lead. “Lady Violet had done enough already to persuade Lord Tellerby that she had no wish to linger in his company!”
“So I hear.” Lady Antonia flashed a smile back at the Duke before looking towards Violet, who gave her a small shake of her head. Almost immediately, Lady Antonia’s smile began to dim and she cleared her throat gently. “Did you enjoy the ball aside from that incident, Your Grace?”
“I did.” The Duke smiled and Violet’s attention was distracted by the arrival of the tea tray. It gave her a particular duty and as the Duke and Lady Antonia conversed, she was able to concentrate on pouring the tea and, in doing so, forcing herself to relax a little. The Duke of Newhamptonshire was very handsome indeed, for his smile sent flashes of light up into his eyes, his fair hair danced lightly across his forehead and the blue in his eyes could be so changeable, going from the light of the morning sky to, as she had seen them last night, dark storm clouds. The way he had folded himself neatly into a chair had seemed almost at odds with his tall stature and broad frame but it was his ease of conversation and calm manner which she appreciated the most. There was no requirement to make certain that everything she said and did was in line with the propriety required of a Duke. She did not have to watch her words, make sure she chose the right way to frame an expression before offering it to him. No, after what they had shared there was already an easiness between them and Violet was grateful for that. By the time she had finished pouring the tea, her swell of delight over his arrival had faded and she felt much more contented in his company.
“And you, Lady Violet? How is your hand?” The Duke’s eyes flickered to it and she wondered if he had noticed that she had served the tea with her opposite hand, favoring the left over the right. “It is still a little painful, I think.”
“It is.” Thinking that there was no reason to hide his from the Duke of Newhamptonshire, Violet held it out to him and, to her surprise, he reached out and took it in his own, leaning forward in his chair to study the injuries. “It is only bruised, I think.”
The slight unsteadiness of her voice hinted at what was going on in her heart and she looked away, still feeling the heat of his fingers on hers as they traced lightly over her knuckles again.
“You put a compress on it, I hope?”
When he took his hand away, she could breathe again and managing a nod, Violet reached to pick up her tea cup.
“It is truly awful what Lord Tellerby has done to you,” the Duke continued, as Lady Antonia nodded fervently. “I should have called him out.”
“But I did not want that,” she reminded him, though his expression was still dark. “You did more than enough.”
That made him smile and she was glad to see the contentment in his features again, the shadows running from it. “But of course. I am sure it was any respectable gentleman might do.”
“Which Lord Tellerby is not,” Lady Antonia said, with emphasis. “How fortunate we are to have gentlemen such as you among us, Your Grace.”
Much to Violet’s surprise, the Duke did not accept the compliment with a warm smile and a nod of thanks as she might have expected. Instead, he waved a hand to dismiss the remark and shook his head.
“I am not as Lord Tellerby, certainly, I shall accept that at the very least,” he stated, making Violet smile. The Duke of Newhamptonshire, for all of his status amongst the ton, was not arrogant or the like. That was something she appreciated and, considering him, found her heart beating a little more quickly now, especially when he turned his head to look into her eyes.
“I shall take my leave of you now, though I would like to know that your hand has fully recovered.” Rising, he did not walk away but instead, put his hands to his waist, elbows akimbo, and smiled at her. “Are you to attend Almacks tomorrow evening?”
“I am.” Violet ignored the way Lady Antonia nodded fervently, gesturing towards the Duke as though Violet was not already aware of his presence and what he was asking. Clearly, her friend though that she should be more forward, more eager than she was at present but Violet did not want to appear overly enthusiastic. The Duke might simply be expressing a genuine concern for her rather than any specific interest and she did not want to embarrass herself by presuming.
“Excellent, then I shall look for you then.” The Duke bowed and Violet dropped into a curtsy, finding herself a little disappointed that he had not said anything more than that. “Good afternoon, Lady Antonia, Lady Violet.”
“Good afternoon,” they both returned, turning to watch him as he took his leave. The Duke of Newhamptonshire walked towards the door only to stop, pause, turn and walk directly back towards Violet.
A thrill ran up her spine.
“Might I be so bold as to ask you to save the waltz for me at Almacks tomorrow evening?”
Violet blinked in surprise. The Duke’s voice was low, as though he wanted to keep his request between the two of them, his eyes searching her face as a slight flush dotted his cheeks. “I shall certainly do so, Your Grace.”
The relief which spread across his face was palpable, a broad smile following soon after it. He did not say another word but bowed instead before turning and, this time, quitting the room entirely.
Lady Antonia let out an exclamation of delight, rushing across the room to catch Violet’s hands in hers. “The Duke of Newhamptonshire is interested in you, Violet! How wonderful!”
Violet did not quite know how to respond. The shock of his actions, the astonishment of his request had rendered her almost speechless and, as she stared back at her friend, the only thing she could do was shake her head.
“You are to waltz with the Duke,” Lady Antonia emphasized, squeezing Violet’s hands tightly. “At his specific request! Oh, my dear friend, allow me for a moment to imagine you as a Duchess!”
“No,” Violet said, a little more sharply than she had meant. “Pray, do not push me into a future that is not yet certain, Antonia. I am pleased by his considerations, certainly but I will not permit it to be anything more than what it is.”
Lady Antonia’s smile did not fade. “And what is it, Violet?”
“It is a dance,” Violet returned, stubbornly. “That is all.” When her friend giggled, Violet could not help but smile, shaking her head as she did so in an attempt to keep the swell of excitement in her heart from throwing her into disarray.
But there was something in his request, was there not? It was not often gentlemen requested that young ladies hold a specific dance for them and for a Duke to do so must speak of specific interest, surely? As Violet considered, a slow smile spread across her face. She was to dance the waltz with the Duke of Newhamptonshire and to be in his arms was surely going to be one of the most wonderful moments of her life.
She could hardly wait.