You read it here first! Our FREE READ for December is from author Lara Temple. Part of her The Sinful Sinclairs Series, The Earl's Irresistible Challenge is available on Amazon.
Olivia knows it isn't wise to dance with Lord Sinclair, especially not after she argued with him and he snubbed her. But when he relents and invites her to dance at a London ball, her determination to uncover the truth about her godfather's death, not to mention her fascination with Lucas 'Sinful' Sinclair, far outweigh her common sense...
Elspeth's exclamation gave Olivia a moment’s warning and she glanced up to see Lord Sinclair standing before her.
‘I feel I should assume responsibility for the fact no one is brave enough to waltz with you, Miss Silverdale.’
‘By compounding it, Lord Sinclair?’
‘It is my gambling nature, I am afraid. I tend to double down on a losing streak.’
‘If that means what I think, it is very poor financial thinking.’
‘Strange, you don’t strike me as the kind of woman to cut her losses.’ He smiled and Olivia felt her own mouth curve upwards, despite her annoyance at his earlier snub.
‘I am not. In the event of a loss I would reassess my initial considerations and try to make a decision based on a firm foundation, not a vain whim.’
‘Olivia…’ Elspeth pleaded and Lord Sinclair laughed, his gaze skimming over the silent matrons who were watching their every move.
‘You are in danger of not only compounding your predicament, Miss Silverdale, but embellishing on it. Come, you will do less damage dancing.’
He held out his hand as the music swelled into the silence that settled around them and she stood.
‘Good,’ he murmured as he led her among the dancing couples. ‘I should not have been so petty as to snub you earlier, but returning the snub would have served no purpose.’
‘I was not tempted to, Lord Sinclair. You have every right to be angry—’
‘One stipulation,’ he interrupted. ‘We will not discuss your machinations in these settings. I make the rules, remember? A key rule is that as of this moment we draw a firm line between those two worlds. In this world we are precisely and only what the world sees. Is that clear?’
She nodded and his hand shifted again, pulling her closer as they turned. It hardly made sense that this was only the second time they had danced. Dancing with him was like the kiss—exciting and yet familiar. Her body moved with his without thought, adjusted, turned and adapted in a manner wholly unlike the other dances that evening. Perhaps it was because it was the waltz, or the way his hands moved on the fabric of her glove and gown. Probably this was evidence of precisely what made this man so dangerous.
‘I shall have to enjoy this unaccustomed obedience to the full, Miss Silverdale. Like that foolish fairy tale, it clearly doesn’t survive into the light of day. So will none of your hopeful suitors dare waltz with you?’
‘They certainly won’t now that I am waltzing a second time with you. Elspeth is likely succumbing to despair, poor thing.’
‘You will come about. Lord Barnstable has very expensive habits, you know. And Bolton is hanging out for a country wife to take back to his mother in Sussex. He has already mentioned his mother, hasn’t he?’
She frowned. She hadn’t paid very close attention to all of Mr Bolton’s comments, but now that Lucas mentioned it…
‘I think he did. Is it that bad?’ ‘
I return the question to you. Is it bad that a man contemplating marriage makes it a point to tell a prospect how perfect his mother is?’
‘It could be a sign that he is a caring, considerate man.’
‘It could.’ ‘
And I don’t care to be labelled as a prospect.’
‘Well, that is unavoidable. You have firmly entered the marketplace, Miss Silverdale, so caveat emptor—beware what you are purchasing.’
‘I am surprised you are willing to dance with me, then, Lord Sinclair. A second waltz will mark you as much as it will me.’
‘It is always amusing to rattle the London cage a little by acting out of character. Besides, I enjoy waltzing with you, Miss Silverdale, though I am surprised you have not yet been ripped from my rapacious arms. Your chaperon looks likely to cut out my heart and kick it to the gutter for the dogs to fight over. Dancing with rakes does not suit her plans for you.’
She wrinkled her nose.
‘That is a revolting image. Elspeth would never do anything so crass. Besides, she knows I am in no danger of being swayed by a rake’s empty charm.’
‘Then she is a fool. Don’t overestimate yourself, Miss Silverdale.’ He was smiling, but the amusement was gone from his eyes and she flushed.
She flushed ‘I didn’t mean… You misunderstood. I was not referring to you. I know you aren’t in the least interested in me, not like that.’
‘Not like what?’
‘You know. In any serious manner. I meant that I am in no danger of being caught by a rake because I am not in the least interested in matrimony.’
She shook her head.
‘You know why I am in London. This…all this is to make Elspeth happy while I go about my business. And she is.’
‘So all this finery and flirting is to buy domestic peace? You do not enjoy it in the least?’ She shook her head, but the lie stuck. This she did enjoy—only too well.
That thought brought a bite of heat to her cheeks and it sharpened as she realised she was watching his mouth. She forced her eyes up and met the taunting heat in his.
‘It is good you have no taste for gambling, Miss Silverdale, because you are a poor liar. Those honey-and-moss eyes hide a great deal, but they fail you when you need them most. Right now they reveal you have no clear idea what you are doing here or why.’
His thumb skated over her gloved palm and she couldn’t prevent her hand from curling, almost closing over his finger in a manner wholly prohibited in the dance. She was breathless suddenly, but not from dancing. She heard the music enter its final flourish and wanted to protest. She did not want it to be over. Ever.
‘If you plan to continue on this wilful path, then, yes, you must. I know this world, unfortunately, so let me explain something to you. Right now everyone is wondering what I said to make you blush so charmingly. They will presume I have been my sinful self and absolve you of anything but youthful vanity in accepting my second invitation. But next time they will begin to stack the deck against you. They will peel back the layer provided by your golden dowry and begin to find your flaws. And then, if there is even a hint that you are merely toying with them and their ambitions, they will be merciless…’
The words struck her like hailstones, the skin at her nape turning cold and clammy. She touched her fingers to her cheek, but it felt numb, distant. Even his voice was muffled, like the boom of thunder while hiding under a blanket. She stared at the snowbound landscape of his cravat, like the rise and fall of the winter ground in the moors just off Silverdale land, a cold crust over unforgiving, infertile ground.
She shook her head, but his hand closed on her arm, both drawing her to his side and propelling her forward. Within a moment the noise and music was back. The colours and the press of people, and the clamminess faded. She put some distance between them, firming her step.
‘I am all right.’ Her voice still sounded shaky and she cleared her throat.
‘What the devil happened?’ His voice was pitched low and it rumbled through her like a storm moving away. She shook her head and laughed.
‘I had forgotten how much I hate these fashionable corsets.’
His fingers tightened again and just as they approached Elspeth he bent and whispered in her ear.
‘A very poor liar, Olivia. And never mention corsets in public unless hinting you would like them removed.’
Lara Temple's latest novel The Earl's Irresistible Challenge is available on Amazon. You can find her on her Website, Twitter, and Facebook.
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