He guided them in long, loping circles for a long moment in silence, then let out his breath. “I am not a huntsman out of avarice. I am a fortune-hunter out of necessity. The ton does not fathom the depths of my family’s debts. They’ve no idea.”

“You’ve only told me?”

“It doesn’t feel like there’s anything ‘only’ about you. I find I hold your esteem just as highly as that of my peers.”

“Oh, I don’testeemyou,” she teased. “I just want you to do unspeakable things with me.”

“I can speak them,” he promised. “I can kiss things, and lick them, and stroke them—”

“Then what are we waiting for?” She lowered her voice. “Toss the champagne and the biscuits asunder and have your wicked way with me atop the refreshment table.”

“Believe me, if I could have my cake and eat it, too… ”

His blue gaze was so intense, Bianca could almost feel the ribbons of her gown untying themselves in anticipation.

“Unfortunately, you may recall I’ve turned over a new leaf,” he said as though it pained him. “Even a future marquess must keep to certain standards of behavior if he wishes to wed a certain sort of lady.”

“A lady like… Regina?”

Harry did not answer.

Jealousy twisted inside of Bianca. “What a pity it would be if you failed to land such a paragon of Quality and graciousness.”

“It would be a disaster,” he muttered. “More’s the pity.”

“A disaster if you marry her, or a disaster if you do not?”

“Probably both,” he admitted. “But one outcome saves my sanity, and the other saves my family. There is no choice to be made in the matter.”

No, she supposed not. Men like him—lords like her father—always chose their title over their heart. Father had been every bit in as much love with Mother as Mother was with Father, and yet he had never considered the possibility of making his courtesan a bride.

It wasn’t even because the earl had been hunting an heiress. He’d been very popular and rich as Croesus. If anyone could have married for love and got away with it, it would have been the Earl of Quinseley.

But, no. There was the title to consider. His duty to wed anappropriatewife.

He’d chosen Lady Quinseley for the role. The prettiest lady in the beau monde… if not the most beautiful woman in London. That honor went to Bianca’s mother alone.

But beauty wasn’t enough. Love wasn’t enough.

And so all four of them had been miserable for twenty long years: Father, Mother, Lady Quinseley, and Bianca. In the name of duty. In the name of propriety. In the name of fulfilling society’s expectations.

Bianca was suddenly viscerallygladnot to have been born into a class that doomed her to misery. If the footman refilling the champagne asked her to be his bride, she could say yes. If the Prince Regent himself were to call her into his palace to beg for her hand, she would also be able to say yes.

But when it came to the Earl of Eagleton… Bianca was not the one bound by society’s restrictions. For all Harry’s privilege, of the two of them onlyshewas free to follow her heart.

Even if it led into heartbreak.


Harry felt dizzy—and not because of the waltz. Indeed, he could not have asked for a better dance partner. Bianca’s steps were graceful, her touch light, her every movement in perfect synchronicity with his own.

It was the subject matter of their conversation that had him at sixes and sevens.

When was the last time he’d been so open and honest with another person? That was an easy question to answer: Never.

Years of fleeting rakish dalliances lent themselves to the baring of naked bodies, not a heart-to-heart baring of souls. As for the peers he’d known since Eton, well, those were the last lads with whom he could share his anxiousness about the state of his father’s finances and his fears for the family’s future.

He couldn’t evensaythe words “anxious” or “afraid”. An accomplished rakehell did not suffer such common emotions as “anxiousness” and “fear”. A gentleman did not burden others. A lord was too secure in his rightful place at the top of the kingdom to bother looking down his nose at matters so insignificant as the state of his purse.

Tags: Erica Ridley Historical
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
Articles you may like