The carriage rolled to a stop and the footman snapped open the door. He climbed out, handing Charlie down.
“Welcome to Moorish Manor,” an elderly man stepped forward, sweeping his arms wide. Dane had to confess that he was a likable sort with kind eyes behind his spectacles. If he were honest, the man didn’t look like a conspirator, but then again, looks could be deceiving. The woman he’d nearly married had looked and acted completely innocent but it had turned out that act had been the appropriate word to describe her. Their entire relationship had been complete fiction.
Dane gave a short bow, his fists clenching at his sides.
Rathmore stepped forward. “May I present my cousin, The Marquess of Hartwell, and his sister, Lady Charlotte Summerset.”
“A pleasure,” Mr. Moorish swept into a deep bow. “I am honored to have you at my home. These are my daughters,” the man gestured toward the crowd of women. “Please come inside where you’ll be more comfortable. The sun is growing quite warm already, is it not?”
Charlie stepped forward. “The sunshine feels lovely to me, but I am excited to see your home. Thank you so much for hosting us. What a pleasure.”
Dane tried not to roll his eyes. The older man might look kind but for all Dane knew, he was the very person who’d actually trapped his cousin. Now was not the time to waver, he needed to keep his wits about him.
It was time for Dane to start getting some answers.
* * *
Juliet stared at the marquess who’d arrived at her door and pursed her lips. She didn’t like him.
He was handsome enough with his sandy hair and chocolate-brown eyes. And he had the sort of broad shoulders that might make another girl swoon, but his face was set in stern serious lines. His mouth was marked with a slight frown and his eyes crinkled in disapproval as he stared down the line of her family.
Judgment rolled off him in waves and her own skin bristled in response. How dare he make assumptions about the people she loved?
The group started for the front door. Her sister, Adrianna, took the arm of her fiancé, the Earl of Crestwood, while Bianca paired off with her soon-to-be husband, the Baron of Craven. Juliet tried not to sigh as her only other single sister, Cordelia, stepped up next to her. “The marquess is handsome,” Cordelia whispered as she leaned close to Juliet’s ear.
Juliet scowled as she looked ahead. Ophelia had linked her arm with Lady Charlotte’s and they walked ahead while Rathmore spoke with his cousin, Hartwell. The marquess’s profile was in her view and she watched as his frown grew more pronounced as his hand sliced through the air. “He is handsome. Let’s move closer.”
In truth, she didn’t give a fig about his looks but she did care to hear what he might be saying. Juliet had worked rather hard to throw Ophelia and Rathmore together and she fancied herself a bit of a matchmaker. Was the annoying marquess attempting to undo her hard work? That would explain all the contempt he displayed.
“I’m glad you agree.” Cordelia huffed as she tried to keep up with Juliet. “I think you should turn your attention to someone other than Lord Dashlane. He’s not the best choice—”
“He most certainly is.” She cut her sister off as they came up behind the two lords. Dashlane was friends with Craven and Crestwood. The man wasn’t just good looking, he was dreamy with blond hair, blue eyes, and a flashing smile that could make a lady swoon. He was charming and funny with a light, witty personality that Lord Hartwell could only wish for. “Now let me listen. I want to know what these two are discussing.”
Cordelia gave a soft groan. “Juliet. Don’t cause trouble.”
But Juliet didn’t bother to respond. She was too busy listening to what Hartwell was saying. The men were walking up the stairs, and she was just a step behind them. “I know you only met her a week ago. You left my company less than seven days prior. How does a man go from being happily single to engaged in a matter of six days?”
Rathmore clapped him on the back. “It isn’t the sort of thing that can be
explained. It has to be experienced.”
“Did she trick you? Trap you? Try and coerce you?” Hartwell held out his fingers, ticking off the options as he talked. Juliet’s fingers tightened in the folds of her skirts. It was just as she’d expected. How dare he accuse Ophelia of such things.
Juliet moved closer even as Rathmore shook his head. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve just... Well. The truth of the matter is, I’ve fallen in love.”
Hartwell stopped walking, so abruptly that Juliet nearly ran into his back. She stopped just in time, so close she could feel the heat radiating through his clothing. “Love? That’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard.”
Juliet huffed, unable to keep her opinion to herself. Before she could think it through, she found herself saying, “Love is not ridiculous. Love is beautiful and wonderful.”
He spun about, and Juliet realized just how close she was because she had to duck so that his elbow didn’t hit her face, but as she pushed out and away from his flying body part, she also stepped back where there was nothing but air behind her.
With a scream, her hands flew up into the air in a wild attempt to catch her balance but she was falling, almost in slow motion.
Every muscle clenched, waiting for the inevitable pain that was coming when suddenly Lord Hartwell reached out, grasping her about the waist. Two large warm hands almost completely circled her middle.
In response, she grasped his biceps, feeling them flex underneath her fingers. Heavily corded muscles locked her in place and she gasped out her surprise.
With her exhale, he brought her close to his body. Likely, he meant to steady her but Juliet had never in her life had a man touch her like this. The feel of his long, lean length against hers sent her heart beat rioting in her chest.