About the book
Some things are best to be kept secret...
Miss Matilda Jones holds the town's most scandalous title: mother to a child out of wedlock.
With no prospects on the horizon, she has devoted herself to her family’s happiness instead of her own. But even though deemed utterly unmarriageable, her life changes when she meets the most unattainable gentleman in town.
Timothy Wilson, Duke of Brentminster, is every lady’s dream. Betrothed to a lady he doesn't love and trapped in a life he hasn’t chosen, he finally finds happiness in the eyes of the town’s most gossiped-about spinster.
Craving to court her, he is willing to give up everything for her. Until he accidentally unveils her well-kept secret...one that isn't just hers and can destroy the person she loves the most.
When the father of her child suddenly shows up, Matilda must make a choice: sacrifice her family or forever crave a man she can’t have.
London was exactly like it was before she left. Granted she hadn't been away for long, but the heavy air and the looming whispers did not change in the slightest. Matilda kept her eyes trained straight ahead ignoring the buzz of chatter that floated around her ears. The hairs on the back of her neck stood, knowing full well that she was the topic of conversation. What more did she expect though? When she left London about six months ago with her family, Matilda had been the highlight of the gossip craze.
What could have possibly changed within only six months?
Her gloved hand tightened around the parasol blocking her face from the sun. Despite the past few months in the countryside with her family being filled with glorious sunshine, Matilda had taken precious care not to get too much sun time.
Matilda figured that there were already swirling rumors that didn't look to be dying down anytime soon, so she didn't need to add her deep tan to the list of things that were wrong with her. Besides, she was Miss Matilda Jones, eldest daughter of the Viscount of Roburg. She was within the public eye whether she wanted to be or not – and her list of wrongs were already growing extensive. At least, to the ton. To her family, she was just perfect.
“Would you stop staring into space like that?”
“Yes, you are.” The young girl to the left of Matilda bumped her parasol into Matilda's, trying to get her attention. Matilda blinked and looked at her. “You always get like that when you're thinking too deeply. And when you're thinking too deeply, you tend to get a little crazy.”
Matilda frowned at her. Her sister, Elizabeth, was an enigma. In all the eighteen years Matilda had known her, Elizabeth was still very hard to figure out. Pure and innocent to a fault, there were times like this where Elizabeth seemed much older than her years and Matilda would end up feeling like the younger of the two despite the two-year age difference between them. Elizabeth rolled her honey-brown eyes into the air before letting them fall on Matilda. Eyes they shared yet looked so different.
“Crazy?” Matilda huffed. The sun was beginning to penetrate her parasol, a sure sign that midday was nearing. The hustle and bustle around the port increased as if in response to it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t you?” Elizabeth shook her head. Before them, their parents stood, talking to each other and paying neither of them any mind as they waited for their carriage to arrive. It couldn’t come quickly enough. “I bet you think everyone is talking about you, don’t you?”
“Because they are,” Matilda said without hesitation.
What use is there in denying what is so clearly true?
Matilda had been the highlight of the gossip before they left on their trip and six months out of the public’s eye was bound to stir those same topics. “It’s fine though.”
“Ah, so you say.” Then Elizabeth sighed heavily, which caused their father to turn around. The Viscount of Roburg was a kind gentleman, but when it came to his daughters, he could be as strict as they come. Elizabeth didn’t bother to wait for him to chastise her; she merely absorbed the look he gave her and murmured a quick apology.
Matilda smiled. “A sure sign that you really shouldn’t be worried about me. We’re here for the London Season, remember? We’re here to find you a husband. You’re right. No one cares about little old me, so focus on finding yourself someone to marry, all right?”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest but Matilda shook her head. Just then, their carriage rolled to a stop before them, blocking her view of the bustle happening on the other side of the road. Every time she came to the port of London, she was always taken aback by the sheer vibrancy of the place, the mingling of everyone regardless of rank beneath the bristling sunlight, and the smell of the sea. The Viscount indicated to the carriage, motioning to the ladies to get on board.
“If you wish,” Elizabeth murmured. She smiled warmly at the carriage coachman who had come to escort her on, but the smile didn’t quite meet her eyes. Matilda knew the object of her sadness, but there was simply nothing they could do about it. There was no use worrying about her.
Matilda was about to accept the waiting hand of the coachman when something collided into her. She went crashing into the ground, the breath flying out of her lungs. A blast of heavy cologne slammed into her nose, but Matilda didn’t wait around to see who it was. It was a man, that much she was sure of. And she was currently sprawled out on the floor with him lying on top of her.
Without hesitation, she pushed him off her and got to her feet. She didn’t accept the help of the coachman, only hopped into the carriage and pulled the curtains close, blocking out the man – and all the faces of those who might have seen such a terrible debacle.
“Oh, my goodness!”
Matilda focused her eyes in front of her, trying to will away the furious blush that stained her cheeks in embarrassment. Her sister wasn’t making it any better, her chuckles growing louder by the second as she struggled to contain them beneath her hand. “I cannot believe that just happened to you. You were knocked flat on your bum, Matilda!”
“I cannot believe that happened either.” Safe in the carriage, Matilda buried her face in her hands. “Do you think anyone saw?”
“Matilda, dear, I think everyone saw,” Elizabeth laughed. “He was actually quite handsome too.”
“I don’t care if he’s handsome,” Matilda groaned. She laid her head on the side of the carriage and when she did, she could hear her father’s voice outside. Matilda listened to an unknown voice repeatedly apologize while her father laughed and told him it was quite all right. Shame washed her cheeks. “I can’t leave this carriage. We need to go.”
“Calm down, will you?” Elizabeth said, grinning from ear to ear. “I’m sure no one realized it was you and even if they did, they’re bound to forget about it soon enough. It all happened so fast anyway.”
“Elizabeth, do you hear yourself? This is London. No one forgets anything.”
Elizabeth said nothing to that, looking at her lap instead. Matilda, though horrified, couldn’t help continuing to listen to the profuse apologies happening on the other side of the carriage. Silence fell over the carriage itself, Elizabeth now lost in her own thoughts.
Suddenly the door opened, and her father got in. He was all grins, amusement lighting his eyes and Matilda, without thinking, shrank into the seat.
“Well, Matilda,” he said, his gruff voice filling the carriage instantly. “It seems you’ve made quite the return.”
Matilda could only groan while Elizabeth chuckled once more. Stephen Jones, the Viscount of Roburg, was a handsome gentleman who had aged gracefully, the sort of man who could easily garner the attention of the young and the old alike. He had a marvelous sense of humor and the ability to pull even the most socially-awkward person into a riveting conversation.
Matilda wouldn’t be surprised if that was one of the reasons why he had spent so long out there talking to the stranger. His brown hair, though graying, was the only thing Matilda adopted from him.
Matilda and her mother were the only two who didn’t laugh at that, although Matilda couldn’t remember the last time Louisa Jones, the Viscountess of Roburg, laughed at anything. She kept up conversation when she needed to but when she wasn’t talking, it was like she wasn’t even present, like now. She sat to the side of her husband, staring out the window with a bland look on her face.
When she was younger, Matilda remembered her mother to be a smiling lady, until a few years ago when all that changed. To this day, she still didn’t know why that was. Even being so stoic, her mother was gorgeous in her age, with shining black hair and those honey-colored eyes she passed along to her daughters.
No one looked at her except for Matilda, half-hoping that her embarrassing encounter would bring some sort of reaction out of her. She got nothing. As the carriage started off, her mother didn’t look away from the window and silence fell over the carriage once again, each person growing lost in their own thoughts.
Quite a return indeed. Now she could add embarrassing tumble at the port to her list of scandals, but Matilda didn’t think anything could top the very thing that had driven her to her current position, taking a back seat during this London Season. Though she was already twenty, there could still be a chance to find a husband. But she gave up on that a long time ago. She had a new hope for her life now – to help her sister through this Season and marry well.
“Cheer up, Matilda,” her father consoled. “He was very nice about it.”
“As he should be seeing that he was the one who ran into me.”
Lord Roburg’s brows shot upwards. “Judging by your tone, I don’t think you even realize who ran into you.”
Elizabeth sat up a bit straighter at that. “I saw who it was, but I didn’t recognize him. Is he someone we should know?”
“He’s definitely someone you should know seeing that he might be a potential partner in the future. That was Timothy Wilson, the Duke of Brentminster.”
Matilda’s jaw fell just as Elizabeth gasped in shock. “The Duke of Brentminster? That was him? I always thought he was an old, withering gentleman.”
Had they been in public, Lord Roburg would have chastised her for that, but since they weren’t, he simply guffawed. “Quite the contrary. That clumsy, young gentleman was apparently chasing after a couple of robbers who had stolen a lady’s purse.”
“Oh, how gallant of him!”
“Quite so.” Lord Roburg’s eyes glinted at Matilda. “There’s no need to be so embarrassed, Matilda dear. It was his fault. He wasn’t watching where he was going.”
“That’s right.” Elizabeth wiped the awe from her face long enough to nod in agreement. “I reckon no one even noticed you. They were probably too focused on the gentleman who had been chasing after two thieves and bumping into people in the meantime.”
“It’s fine, everyone,” Matilda said on a sigh. She cast the thought aside. “It doesn’t bother me any longer. It was just a moment of embarrassment, that’s all.”
“That’s my girl,” her father smiled approvingly, but Matilda had no doubt he was still laughing about the entire ordeal in his head.
But she was right. It was merely a moment of embarrassment. Nothing compared to what she would be forced to endure when the Season officially started, and she was expected to be by Elizabeth’s side as support and counsel as she went through the near-rigorous process of finding a husband. She would have to harden her heart to such things.
Matilda looked over at Elizabeth. Her sister was staring out the window, oblivious to Matilda’s stares. A pang of protectiveness lanced her and Matilda itched to hold her hand. Instead, she folded it in her lap. So much had happened over the past year, so much that couldn’t be forgiven nor forgotten.
Now that her mother had sunk even further into herself, her father had become more determined than ever to find Elizabeth a suitable partner, and Matilda was forced to resign to life as a spinster. To be known as the lady who bore a son for an unknown gentleman, Matilda had little other choice but to be alone.
But she wasn’t alone. A young child awaited their arrival at the manor. And after six months, she didn’t want to leave his side again.
Matilda could admit to herself that if there was one thing she hated about the Season, it was dress shopping. She had to endure it during the last Season, standing as still as a mannequin as tailors flitted around her and fitted her into dresses that would undoubtedly go out of style by the next year.
She had sucked it up, going through the motions and enjoying what was at least bonding time with her mother and her sister. Now, it may as well only be her sister present since her mother merely sat to the side in her silence.
“What do you think about this one, Matilda?”
She was smiling before she even saw the dress. The moment she did, Matilda gasped. The soft-green silk gown her sister held against her body brought out the color of her gorgeous eyes. She smiled at herself in the mirror, excitement radiating off her in waves as she modeled it for Matilda. “Well? What do you think?”
Matilda cocked her head to the side, frowning a little. She placed a finger on her chin in thought. “Are you sure you want to go with that color?”
Elizabeth’s smile fell the same time her jaw did. “What do you mean? I thought you liked the green. Do you really not like it? Do you think I should just not wear it to the ball?”
Matilda chuckled. “I’m only jesting, Elizabeth. You look beautiful. Don’t you think so, Mother?”
Her mother looked up on cue. A fleeting smile spread across her face and she said, “You look lovely, dear,” in the most monotonous tone that Matilda regretted asking in the first place. Matilda thought her mother should come along because it would look better for Elizabeth if she wasn’t only accommodated by her scandalous sister, but that was as far as her usefulness went. Matilda was the only one of the two of them truly providing Elizabeth any support, as she knew she would be.
Elizabeth’s face fell a little, but not for long. She turned to the seamstress who had been hovering nearby and smiled warmly. “Thank you very much for allowing me to try it. I’ll take the other dresses I’ve ordered now.”
“Yes, Miss Jones.” The seamstress hurried to take the dress from her hands.
“I cannot believe the first ball of the Season is almost here,” Elizabeth gushed once again. She’d been saying as much since they broke fast this morning and Matilda didn’t think she would be stopping any time soon. Her excitement was heartwarming.
“I don’t think you’ll really believe it until you’re having your first dance.”
“Oh, I’m so excited! Do you think my dancing card will be all filled up?”
“Elizabeth, have you looked yourself in the mirror? You’re absolutely gorgeous. What gentleman in their right mind wouldn’t want to dance with you?”
“Oh, stop it.” Elizabeth blushed. “I only wished you would be able to join me.”
Matilda instantly stiffened. They weren’t alone in the shop. Other young ladies waiting for their dresses for the upcoming ball were around, young ladies who knew of Matilda’s scandalous status. “If only,” she said, hoping she would leave it at that.
It was wishful thinking. Elizabeth may sometimes seem like the wisest lady in the room, but more times than not, she was as dense as they came. “Oh, it’s so unfair. Why do people care so much about such foolish things like that?”
“It’s our society, Elizabeth. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
“I suppose,” she sighed dejectedly. “It’s still very unfair.”
“Let’s drop this. Let’s focus on the ball. Is there anyone you have your eyes set on?”
Elizabeth’s eyes lit up. “There is one gentleman I’ve been dying to meet. I’ve heard so much about him from the other ladies.”
“Other ladies? What other ladies?”
“What do you mean? You don’t think I have friends?”
“I think you’re as much a recluse as I am.”
“I am not!”
Matilda chuckled into her hand, not so much minding the eyes that fell on them at Elizabeth’s outburst. “If you say you have friends, then I’ll believe you. What have these friends of yours been saying?”
“Hmph.” Elizabeth cocked her chin, but the excitement didn’t waver. “He’s a Marquess. I’ve never met himself, but I’ve always heard of how handsome and dashing he is. The sort of gentleman who could sweep you up off your feet.”
“Is that so?”
“Oh! He must be a lot like the Duke of Brentminster! Do you remember him?”
Matilda resisted the urge not to groan. “How could I forget him? You hardly allow me to. Any chance you get to mention him, you take it.”
“I can’t help it. It’s not every day a Duke runs into you chasing after robbers. Don’t you think that’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard?”
“I would,” Matilda murmured. “If there was any romance involved at all. I doubt I’ll meet him again after that encounter and if we ever do, he won’t even recognize me.”
“I doubt that. No one can run into my gorgeous sister and resist her beauty.”
Matilda couldn’t help but laugh at the determined way she said that. “Let’s forget about me. We were talking about your Marquess.”
“He’s not my Marquess—”
“Miss Jones?” The seamstress returned with her dresses, holding them out to her.
“Oh, thank you very much. I can’t wait to try them all.”
The seamstress beamed at that then hurried off to tend to someone else. Matilda casted a quick glance at her mother who had automatically rose when they did and began making her way to the exit alongside them. She was barely present, Matilda mused, and definitely not talking.
“Is that her?” said a voice behind her.
“I think so. She does bear the markings of a mother, don’t you think?” The other person that spoke had a voice as light as a whisper.
“I’m getting that feeling as well. She doesn’t think she can partake in this Season, does she?” said the first person, who didn’t seem to care to keep her voice down.
The second lady mimicked the first, her words dripped in disdain. “She would be mad to think such a thing.”
Matilda didn’t bother to turn around. They were things she had heard many times before, things she was yet to get used to. Even so, she knew there was nothing that could be done about it, but she couldn’t help the way she began hastening toward the exit. They were bound to turn the conversation to Elizabeth if she lingered too long.
“Excuse me?” came another voice that was all too familiar.
Matilda came to a halt at the voice. Was that…
Her mother turned to the ladies who had been whispering animatedly about Matilda. Her face remained blank, her voice dry. But her eyes latched onto them with such intensity, Matilda almost shivered.
“Do you not deem it unladylike to gossip about someone when they are present?” she asked them. “I do hope you don’t plan to bring such abhorrent manners to the upcoming ball or there is no way you’ll be able to snag a husband. Continue in such a way and you might end up a spinster as well. I’m sure you wouldn’t like that now, would you?”
Her mother didn’t spare them the chance to respond. She swiveled on her heels and left, opening her parasol with such perfect flourish that it left Matilda and Elizabeth gaping in her wake. They recovered quickly enough and followed behind her, not bothering to see the affect her words had left on the gossiping ladies. They didn’t say anything, not until they were all in the carriage once again.
“Mother!” Elizabeth exclaimed. She tossed her dresses to the side, nearly knocking her hats off the seat. “I can’t believe you said that!”
“It had to be said,” her mother said with a shrug. Her eyes were trained out the window, once again the silent lady who was hardly present.
Matilda was still too much in shock to respond. It had been a while since she last heard her mother speak with such gusto, even if it didn’t last very long. She hardly knew what to say to her. “Thank you,” she said finally. “You said all the things I wish I could say, although I think I might have taken it a little too far if I attempted to.”
Her mother didn’t answer. She only nodded, not looking away from the window. Matilda knew that was the most she would be getting from her.
“I wish I had gotten a look at their faces when Mother put them in their place,” Elizabeth gushed. After everything that happened and Matilda’s scandal, Elizabeth took her mother’s withdrawal the hardest.
Day by day, as the weight of their situation took hold, it seemed to have affected her mother the most. Matilda knew her sister could hardly bear to see it. She saw the way she drew into herself when her mother was brought up, as if she didn’t want to face it.
“I did,” Matilda told her. “It was priceless. I’m sorry you missed it.”
“Just as how I’m sorry you missed the dashing Duke during his pursuit.”
“Oh, here we go again…”
Elizabeth laughed heartily bringing a laugh out of Matilda herself. They were done with shopping for the day and so the carriage ride home was filled with enthusiastic chatter and laughter. Elizabeth’s fervor seemed to mount as they drew closer to home, as if she was beginning to realize just how close this ball was.
Matilda fed off her excitement, letting it nourish her soul. There was nothing she wanted more than this Season to go well for Elizabeth.
It is the least she deserves after everything.
She went along with her chatter, sticking by her mother’s side despite her quietude. The butler rushed to get everything from the carriage as they made their way into the manor, arm-in-arm. Matilda was so caught up at what her sister was saying about the dashing Marquess that she hadn’t expected the little body that ran into her leg the moment they were through the door.
It was as if every bit of stress settled on her shoulders lifted instantly. The tiny squeal of the young child by her feet was like fresh breeze rushing into a stuffy house, lightening the hearts of everyone around. Brown curls to match his mother’s, sporting the blue eyes of his father, Jackson Jones bounced on his tiny feet, still barely able to stand perfectly on his own without toppling over ever so often.
The maids that stood by smiled at the young child, including the governess who had been trying to hold him back. The butler reentered the manor with everything in tow, coming to halt by the door, falling under the spell that Jackson casted. Even her mother reached down to rustle his hair before heading toward the stairway.
“Jackson, sweetheart, are you giving your governess trouble?” Matilda gathered him into her arms.
Jackson shook his head vigorously. In her peripherals, Matilda saw her governess shake her head at the motion. She’d been trying fervently to tame Jackson but Matilda could see that it was to no avail. Jackson was slowly growing to be a very rowdy young boy and Matilda loved him for it. It was a lot like her when she was growing up.
“Mommy!” he squealed again, wriggling in her arms. Matilda soon gave up the struggle and let him loose, allowing him to fall into the arms of the person he was really after.
“Hi, sweetheart,” Elizabeth cooed. She held the excitable child perfectly in her arms. “Did you miss me?”
“I hope you weren’t giving Miss West any problems.”
Jackson pouted, and peeked over his shoulder at Miss West. The slightly-stern look the governess was wearing melted upon seeing his cute face.
“He was an angel, Miss Jones,” Miss West said with a smile.
“I’m happy to hear it. Why don’t we go to your room?” Elizabeth lowered Jackson to the floor and took his tiny hand in hers. She shot Matilda a smile before heading up the stairs, moving slowly to accommodate the very tiny body next to hers.
Matilda watched them leave. Bit by bit, the maids went about their various business, Miss West following Elizabeth and Jackson in their wake. Soon enough, she was alone, left with her thoughts.
The months leading up to Jackson’s birth had been filled with chaos and strife. Uncertain about the future, Matilda had sat with her father in their study, prepared to hear what she knew was their only option.
She was eighteen at the time, already well accustomed with London Season and still husband-less. No one would be surprised to hear that she had gotten pregnant. Her spinster status had already been descending.
Elizabeth on the other hand was only sixteen at the time. Underage. Her reputation would have been obliterated. She wouldn’t have been able to show her face in public if they found out what happened. It only made sense that Matilda take the fall for everything. It was their only option.
Elizabeth had been completely against the idea, but in the end, she too knew there was nothing she could do about it. She would never find a husband if they knew she bore a child at her tender age, and finding a husband was one of Elizabeth’s main goals in life.
She was still so naïve, still so innocent, and Matilda didn’t want the harshness of a public scandal to take that all away from her. She would lay herself on the chopping block for Elizabeth time and time again.
To the ton, the child was hers. But within the confines of this household, Elizabeth was the true mother.
The first ball of the London Season was the worst ball of them all. Brimming with flirting ladies, fanning themselves incessantly in the aim of looking demure and innocent, the ball was sure to be hours filled of torture.
On the one hand, there were no shortage of beauties. Done up from head to toe, hair coiffed, cheeks blushed, and dresses fitting them magnificently, Timothy couldn’t help but focus on the other, more negative side to all of this.
He was a Duke, which meant he was bound to be high on the list of potential husbands. Not to mention his booming wool company, riches and prestige was a plus to being his wife. He knew that and the myriad of looming mothers accommodating their daughters knew it as well.
It was at times like these he was glad he was already spoken for. It minimized the number of ladies who were likely to approach him, though the bold few never failed to disappoint. He stood to the very back of the ball, watching dancing couples twirl about in the center of the ballroom, the distant boom of introductions being made as more families arrived for the new Season.
“You look like you ate a lemon,” Jonathan said to his left. They had been standing alone together for a while, enjoying what peace they had before the ladies descended. Jonathan, son to the Earl of Ferbriand, was a legitimate suitor himself, and his handsomeness kept him well within the eyes of many matrons looking for a husband for their daughters. Even now, Timothy could see a pair of eyes on them, though he couldn’t be sure which of them was the object of their attention.
“You know I dislike balls. Too … stuffy.”
Jonathan huffed a laugh. “Too stuffy, you say? Does that mean you don’t plan to dance with anyone? It doesn’t get any more stuffy than that.”
“I don’t think I have much of a choice. It’s expected of me, even though they stand no chance.”
“Ah, the protection of a betrothal already in the making. How lucky of you.” Jonathan sighed heavily. “While I, on the other hand, will have to contend with Lady Hamer and her twin daughters.”
Blinking, Timothy followed the direction of his gaze, landing on the busty lady furiously fanning herself, razor-sharp eyes latched on to Jonathan. Though she caught them staring, she didn’t care to look away.
On either side of her were her twin daughters, Lady Fiona and Lady Julia Hamer, comely ladies who barely spoke a word to anyone but each other. “You’re right,” Timothy said, humor tickling his throat. “I wish you all the luck, my friend. I doubt you’ll be able to get away from that one very easily.”
“I doubt it myself. Well,” Jonathan sighed in resignation, “I suppose a dance invitation is in order.”
“Which one will you ask to dance?”
“Whichever one is on the left,” Jonathan said. “Or maybe I’ll let Lady Hamer choose.”
“Again,” Timothy laughed, “I wish you all the luck.”
Jonathan nodded, pulling his shoulders back before weaving his way through the crowd. Timothy watched him for a moment, then looked away, knowing he would be just fine. Jonathan had a smooth tongue capable of wooing just about anyone. He would match up well against the aggressive Lady Hamer.
Sometimes, Timothy wished he had half the charm of his friend. He wasn’t very good in crowds, which was why he wasn’t happy to be attending this ball, but he also knew he had little choice in the matter. And soon, now that Jonathan was no longer by his side, he would have to seek other company so as not to look like a recluse.
His eyes scanned the crowd, skimming over the interested gazes who hoped he would meet with them. Timothy may not be as charming as his friend, but he was perfect at preventing conversation when he could.
Finally, he caught sight of someone similar. A handsome gentleman, gray hair tickling his ear, he stood next to a beautiful older lady who looked to be his wife. Timothy frowned.
Where do I know that gentleman from? Is he … oh!
He was the Viscount of Roburg, the gentleman he met around a week ago when Timothy ran into his daughter. That was perfect. He could pass the time talking to him for a while.
Timothy set out toward him and, when he was half way there, the Viscount caught sight of him as well. His eyes twinkled with surprise as he approached. “Your Grace, it is a pleasure to see you again.”
Timothy grabbed hold of his hand in greeting. “The pleasure is all mine, My Lord. I reckon I should come over to greet you properly in order to make up for last time.”
The Viscount laughed gruffly. His eyes nearly disappeared when he did, his smile so big and wide that it nearly overtook his face. “Believe me, Your Grace, it was certainly a very interesting introduction. I hope you found those robbers?”
“Alas, they got away. I hope the ladies who had their reticules stolen aren’t worse for wear.”
“You’re a good man, Your Grace. I don’t think you’ve met my wife?” The Viscount slipped an arm around the waist of the beautiful lady who stood by his side. She smiled at him, but that smile didn’t touch her eyes. “Please, allow me to introduce Lady Roburg.”
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, My Lady.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” she said softly, then she stepped back. The moment she did, she seemed to blend into the walls, as if wishing to no longer be present.
The Viscount didn’t seem to notice. His arm found that of another lady who he brought forward. She smiled kindly at him, smiling broadly. The resemblance between her and the Viscount was so uncanny that Timothy didn’t need any introduction. “And you must be the Viscount’s lovely daughter. I hope I didn’t hurt you that last time. Are you all right?”
She giggled behind her hand. She looked young, her brown curls piled atop her head. Timothy had a feeling the blush on her cheeks was genuine. “I’m afraid that wasn’t me, Your Grace, but my older sister. She is somewhere in the crowd dancing with a young lord, though. You just missed her.”
“Ah, I see. I’m afraid I’ll have to swallow my apology for when I see her then.” Timothy didn’t miss the intent look the Viscount was giving him. And there was no backing out of it. He had approached Lord Roburg thinking he could use him to prevent the bothersome ladies looking for a dance, but he walked right into one himself. At least, his daughter was a beauty. “May I ask for your name, My Lady?”
Her blush deepened. “My name is Elizabeth Jones, Your Grace.”
“Miss Elizabeth Jones. What a lovely name.” Undoubtedly a lovely enough name to match the lovely face. “Would you like to dance, Miss Jones?”
“I would love to.”
Timothy took her hand, resignation rushing through him. He supposed one dance wouldn’t hurt and it would look incredibly rude if he hadn’t asked after approaching them. He caught the happy look she shot her father, finding it odd that she paid no mind to the Viscount’s wife, but perhaps she had merely forgotten she was standing there. Timothy certainly had.
“Are you enjoying the ball, My Lady?”’
Miss Jones pressed herself to him, a little closer than she should have which surprised him. He didn’t mention it though. He only listened to the soft laugh she let out before saying, “I don’t know. I haven’t been here long. But I do like the atmosphere very much.”
“I assume this is your first Season then?”
“It is,” she said with a nod. When she moved her head, her soft floral scent tickled his nose. “Words cannot begin to express how excited I am to attend the ball, not to mention the fact that my first dance is with the Duke of Brentminster.”
How bold of her to say.
Timothy nearly smiled. “It’s my pleasure to introduce your first dance of the Season. I hope everything is how you expected it to be?”
“Even more so. The music is simply lovely. And the ladies I’ve spotted are absolutely gorgeous.”
This time, Timothy was so surprised that he stumbled for a little. He drew back to look at her. “Many of those ladies are looking for husbands, as well.”
“They don’t need to look very far,” she said beaming up at him. “With the beauties I’ve been seeing, I have a feeling they won’t be very short of suitors.”
“And what of you?”
She opened her mouth to respond, then closed it. Then opened it again, “Do you truly want to know the answer to that, Your Grace?”
That took Timothy off guard and before he knew what was happening, his feet were tangling with hers. He resisted the urge to let out a shout as he tumbled to his feet, bumping into another dancing couple when he did. The gentleman let out a shout himself.
“My dearest apologies—”
The words remained stuck in his throat. Timothy knew he should be apologizing. As clumsy as he was, he had built a routine. After every clumsy incident, apologize profusely. But the words wouldn’t pass his lips – it was impossible to when he could only stare at the magnificent beauty looking down at him.
There was no other way to put it. She was radiant, with eyes the color of honey and brown curls tumbling around her shoulders. She gave him a confused look, but before he could blink, she was being swept away by the gentleman she was dancing with. Within mere seconds, the radiant beauty was gone, disappearing into the crowd.
Slightly dazed, Timothy looked up at Miss Jones. She looked concerned, holding a hand out to him. That, in return, also confused him. Any other lady would have been mortified, yet she was standing over him, trying to help him to his feet. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, yes.” He took her hand without thinking, unable to help the embarrassed blush. “My apologies, My Lady. I stumbled for a moment and couldn’t regain my balance.”
“Oh, there’s no need to apologize,” she said smilingly. “It could happen to anyone. You didn’t injure yourself, I hope?”
“No, I’m quite fine, My Lady. Thank you for your concern. Please, allow me to escort you back to your father after this dance is over.”
Her face fell a little at that but brightened back up nearly instantly. “I understand.”
The dance didn’t last much longer than that and Timothy could barely bear to look her in the face as he escorted her back to the Viscount. Neither him nor his wife must have witnessed what happened, thankfully. “My Lord, I must return this beauty to you.”
“I hope you two enjoyed yourselves?” he asked hopefully.
“I certainly did.” Miss Jones reclaimed her spot by his side, her eyes twinkling with mischief. Timothy hoped that if she planned to tell her father what happened, she wouldn’t do it in front of him. To prevent that from happening, he nodded his farewell.
“I had a lovely time, thank you. If you’ll excuse me.”
He walked away before they could say anything else. Timothy knew Lord Roburg was hoping he would stay a little longer to get to know Miss Jones, but Timothy didn’t plan to risk it. He hadn’t even wanted to dance with her in the first place and now look where it got him. Sprawled out on the floor of the ballroom, embarrassing himself in front of the beauty he couldn’t get out of his head.
Even as he walked away, he scanned the crowd to spot her. But she was truly gone and with the crowd thickening by the minute, he supposed it would take all night for him to find her.
“By the by, do you need a walking stick of some sort so you can stop tripping over your feet every minute?”
Timothy didn’t bother to look at Jonathan. He kept up his search, even though he knew there was little chances of him finding her. “The lady I was dancing with surprised me and I tripped. Hardly something a walking stick would have been able to prevent.”
“I agree,” Jonathan chuckled. “It doesn’t look like anything can stop your clumsy ways. You even bumped into a dancing couple on your way down. I nearly burst out laughing when I saw you take your fall.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time. Though, I doubt Lady Hamer would have appreciated that while you’re dancing with her daughter. Lady Julia?”
“Lady Fiona. And that doesn’t matter. Do you even know who you bumped into?”
Timothy looked at him, frowning. “Should I have?”
Jonathan shook his head. “When will you keep up with the London news, my good man? You were even dancing with her sister. That was Miss Matilda Jones, Timothy. The Viscount of Roburg’s daughter.”
If she was the Viscount’s daughter, then that would mean … she was the one he ran into!
“You mean you truly don’t know?”
The words dragged Timothy out of his thoughts, refocusing on what Jonathan was saying. “Know what?”
“Her reputation. Or lack thereof, I should say. She is the lady who bore a child for an unknown man two years ago. She’s unmarriageable.”
With such a beautiful face such as that, Timothy found that hard to believe. “She’s being asked for dances though.”
“Yes, she is.” Jonathan sounded confused at that. “I wonder why that is. I’m sure most gentlemen are turned off by her motherhood. Especially seeing how she got pregnant in the first place.”
“None of that matters to me.”
Timothy returned his gaze to the crowd, more eager than ever to spot her. He could feel Jonathan’s eyes boring into him. “Why should you care at all?”
He didn’t respond. He knew what Jonathan was thinking. Timothy was already spoken for, to be betrothed to his sister, Lady Nancy Bramber. A fine lady herself, she was somewhere in the crowd and Timothy would do well to remember where he stood. But he could hardly do so with the image of Miss Jones flashing in his mind. His legs itched to weave through the crowd, his tongue longing to speak to her. He just hoped he was masking all this very well.
“It seems my sister wants her dance.”
Lady Nancy Bramber was steadily making her way toward them, smiling invitingly. Timothy couldn’t bring himself to smile. He could hardly bring himself to look at her for long, still wanting to find that lady. When she asked him to dance, he accepted without a second thought, leading her out onto the ballroom floor, half hoping he could stay on his own two feet this time around.
Then, he spotted her, and it was as if the entire world disappeared.
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