The Marquess and the Maiden(10)

By: Robyn Dehart

It had been a couple of weeks since they’d actually spoken, but he always found her. The moment he stepped into a room, it was as if a beacon shone directly upon her. If he caught her gaze, she’d frown, then quickly look away. He had to admit that her obvious dislike of him was amusing. He wasn’t certain why, but he liked her ire.

Perhaps he should heed her advice. It wasn’t as if he had much, beyond his money, to offer a woman. He couldn’t dance with them, he wasn’t exceptionally congenial, and every step he took with his cane seemed to rattle any woman he was near. At the soiree he attended last night, some poor debutante actually screamed when he stepped up behind her.

Harriet wasn’t afraid of him, though. Perhaps that’s why his thoughts had been so preoccupied with her as of late.

Oliver did his best to keep his eyes off Harriet and the tall man gracefully leading her across the ballroom floor. That stab of jealousy he felt was only for the dancing ability, not the dancing partner. He tapped his cane on the ground, silently cursing himself.

Harriet looked beautiful. Oliver couldn’t deny that. They made a striking couple, her petite curves against the man’s tall, athletic build. The pale pink gown dipped into her cleavage, and the color brought out the creaminess of her skin. The bodice hugged her torso, then flared at her rounded hips, only hinting at what was certainly a full bottom he could easily grab onto.

“You’re scowling, my dear,” his mother said as she sidled up next to him.

He glanced at her and offered a brief smile.

“Not everyone dances,” she said. “It is not a requirement to find a bride. However, not glowering at everyone is.”

“I’m not glowering.” He nodded toward Harriet and her partner. “Who is that?”

“That is Lord Ashby. He also owns The Daily Scandal.”

They both watched the couple finish their dance, and then Ashby led Harriet back to her friends. Her eyes caught his across the room, and he nodded in acknowledgment. She gave a forced smile, then looked away. Something was amiss with her this evening. But they were not precisely friends, so he couldn’t very well cross the room and ask what was on her mind. He dismissed it.

“She could be of assistance to you,” his mother said.


“Harriet. She knows everyone.” His mother nodded to the crowd around Harriet. “Look how people are drawn to her.”

Harriet’s smile was nearly blinding as she laughed at something one of her friends said. Another man came to stand in front of her and wrote his name on her dance card.

“She could likely find you the perfect bride,” his mother said.

He had considered heeding her advice. “You want her to be my matchmaker?” He squelched the thrum of his heart at the thought of spending more time with her.

His mother lifted her shoulders in a slight shrug. “She is well connected. Everyone likes her.”

“I can find my own damn bride,” he said.

“Ticktock, my dear. Remember, you have until my birthday or else I shall pick for you.”

“Perhaps that wouldn’t be so bad.” He glanced out at the ballroom. People milled about getting refreshments, talking, dancing. “Who would you pick?”

His mother followed his gaze out to the room and scanned. Then she smiled. “Do you see that girl over there?” She pointed with her fan. “The one at the refreshment table?”

“The one in the gown that looks as if it were carved from butter?” The dress appeared as if it could move about the room on its own accord, it was so heavy and ornate. The girl in the dress was as nondescript as her gown was overdone. “No.”

“Very well,” his mother said with a chuckle. “Show me one lady who has caught your attention.”

His eyes immediately fell onto Harriet again. She was hard to miss. Her smile lit up the entire ballroom so much he suspected they might not need so many candles. Her golden hair piled atop her head in a nest of curls. He wondered how long it was when it was down. Would it drape over her creamy shoulders? Cover her perfectly round breasts if she pulled it in front?

He jerked his eyes away from her; she was too bloody distracting. Not only that, but she knew far too much about him. He might have been the one to pass on a union     between them, but she had seen his state of desperation. And he, in turn, had seen the pity in her eyes.

“No one.” Then he turned on his heel and walked away, his cane making a clip-clop noise as he went.

Chapter Three

It had been only two days since he’d seen her last, but Oliver spotted Harriet immediately upon entering the ballroom. Though she was much tinier than her friends, standing nearly a head below each of them, she was hard to miss.

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