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Home > Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)(8)

Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)(8)
Author: Lisa Kleypas

Westcliff met her gaze, seeming neither shocked nor condemning. “Your father was Lord Trenear?” he asked.

“Yes, my lord.”

“We were acquainted. He used to hunt at my estate.” The earl paused. “I invited him to bring his family, but he always preferred to come alone.”

That was hardly a surprise. Pandora’s father had considered his three daughters to be parasites. For that matter, her mother had taken little interest in them either. As a result, Pandora, Cassandra, and Helen had sometimes gone for months without seeing their parents. The surprise was that the recollection still had the power to hurt.

“My father wanted as little to do with his daughters as possible,” Pandora said bluntly. “He considered us nuisances.” Lowering her head, she mumbled, “Obviously I’ve proven him right.”

“I wouldn’t say so.” A touch of amused sympathy warmed the earl’s voice. “My own daughters have assured me—more than once—that any well-meaning girl of high spirits can find herself in hot water now and then.”

Lord Chaworth broke in. “This particular ‘hot water’ must be cooled immediately. I will return Lady Pandora to the care of her chaperone.” He turned to the man beside her. “I suggest that you depart for Ravenel House forthwith, to meet with her family and make the appropriate arrangements.”

“What arrangements?” Pandora asked.

“He means marriage,” the cold-eyed young man said flatly.

A chill of alarm went through her. “What? No. No, I wouldn’t marry you for any reason.” Realizing he might take that personally, Pandora added in a more conciliatory tone, “It has nothing to do with you; it’s just that I don’t intend to marry at all.”

Lord Chaworth interrupted smugly. “I believe it will quell your objections to learn that the man standing before you is Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent—the heir to a dukedom.”

Pandora shook her head. “I would rather be a charwoman than a peer’s wife.”

Lord St. Vincent’s cool gaze slid to her scratched shoulders and torn dress, and returned slowly to her strained face. “The fact is,” he said quietly, “you’ve been absent from the ballroom long enough for people to have noticed.”

It began to dawn on Pandora that she was in real trouble, the kind that couldn’t be solved with facile explanations, or money, or even her family’s influence. Her pulse reverberated like a kettledrum in her ears. “Not if you let me go back immediately. No one ever notices whether I’m there or not.”

“I find that impossible to believe.”

The way he said it didn’t sound like a compliment.

“It’s true,” Pandora said desperately, talking fast, thinking even faster. “I’m a wallflower. I only agreed to take part in the Season to keep my sister Cassandra company. She’s my twin, the nicer, prettier one, and you’re the kind of husband she’s been hoping for. If you’ll let me go fetch her, you could compromise her, and then I’ll be off the hook.” Seeing his blank look, she explained, “People certainly wouldn’t expect you to marry both of us.”

“I’m afraid I never ruin more than one young woman a night.” His tone was a mockery of politeness. “A man has to draw the line somewhere.”

Pandora decided to take another tack. “You do not want to marry me, my lord. I would be the worst wife imaginable. I’m forgetful and stubborn, and I can never sit still for more than five minutes. I’m always doing things I shouldn’t. I eavesdrop on other people, I shout and run in public, and I’m a clumsy dancer. And I’ve lowered my character with a great deal of unwholesome reading material.” Pausing to draw breath, she noticed that Lord St. Vincent didn’t appear properly impressed by her list of faults. “Also, my legs are skinny. Like a stork’s.”

At the indecent mention of body parts, Lord Chaworth gasped audibly, while Lord Westcliff developed a sudden keen interest in the nearby cabbage roses.

Lord St. Vincent’s mouth worked against a brief tremor, as if he were amused despite himself. “I appreciate your candor,” he said after a moment. He paused to send Lord Chaworth an icy glance. “However, in light of Lord Chaworth’s heroic insistence on seeing justice done, I have no choice but to discuss the situation with your family.”

“When?” Pandora asked anxiously.

“Tonight.” Lord St. Vincent stepped forward, closing the distance between them. His head lowered over hers. “Go with Chaworth,” he said. “Tell your chaperone that I’m leaving for Ravenel House immediately. And for God’s sake, try not to be seen. I would hate for people to think I did such an incompetent job of molesting someone.” After a pause, he added in an undertone, “You still have to return Dolly’s earring. Ask a servant to take it to her.”

Pandora made the mistake of looking up. No woman would have been unaffected by the sight of that archangel’s face above hers. So far, the privileged young men she had met during the Season seemed to be striving for a certain ideal, a kind of cool aristocratic confidence. But none of them came remotely close to this dazzling stranger, who had undoubtedly been indulged and admired his entire life.

“I can’t marry you,” she said numbly. “I’d lose everything.” Turning away, she took Chaworth’s arm and accompanied him back toward the house, while the other two stayed behind to talk privately.

Chaworth chortled to himself with infuriating satisfaction. “By Jove, I look forward to seeing Lady Berwick’s reaction when I tell her the news.”

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