The Marquess and the Maiden(6)

By: Robyn Dehart

Pretend though she would, she couldn’t deny that the manner in which he had rejected her still stung after all these years. Not that she had actually wanted to marry the great beast of a man.

Humiliation crept over her skin, damp and unwelcome. Suddenly everything felt too tight, her dress, her corset, her skin. Was he here to gloat? He’d been successful without the assistance of her dowry, yet she remained unmarried, plump, and alone.

“Are you lost?” Harriet asked.

A ghost of a smile crossed his lips, though she could barely see the change. She suddenly had the strongest urge to shave his face, to remember what he looked like without the coarse hair masking his features.

“It would seem my mother has decided this is the year I must marry, and she suggested I attend tonight’s ball,” he said.

Agnes released some sort of noise and glanced at Harriet with wide eyes.

“How positively rude of me,” Harriet said. “Have you ever met Lady Agnes? She is the daughter of Lord Darby.”

He nodded over Agnes’s hand.

“A pleasure, Lord Davenport,” Agnes said. And then as if he’d appeared through the floor, her brother, Christopher, was at her side.

“Agnes, I need a moment,” he said through gritted teeth. He glanced at the marquess. “Davenport.”

Agnes rolled her eyes but allowed him to pull her away.

“I had forgotten I could have that effect on people,” Lord Davenport said.

Harriet couldn’t determine if he was amused or offended. Judging by the scowl on his brow and the piercing gaze of his haunting eyes, she’d guess offended. “That wasn’t about you. Christopher behaves that way whenever a gentleman approaches Agnes.”

“I wasn’t approaching Agnes.” His steely eyes met hers. “People tend to move out of my way whenever I enter a room. It is part of why I don’t normally attend these gatherings.”

“It’s the frown. You have to at least pretend to be friendly and more approachable. Pleasant. Behave as if you want to be here. You’re never going to attract a bride if all you do is glare at everyone.”

“When I walked in, you certainly weren’t looking as if you wanted to be here. In fact, you appeared to be rather miserable.”

How had he seen that in her? No one ever questioned her desire to attend parties. Everyone enjoyed her company, and she received invitations for several events a week. “I most certainly was not miserable. Until I recognized you.” She inwardly winced. It wasn’t like her to be unkind even if the person warranted it.

His eyes slid down her body, and everything seemed to tighten in response. She shuddered as if he’d touched her.

“Good luck finding a bride.”

“I am richer than Croesus. That alone will get me a wife,” he said.

She turned fully to face him. “You can’t possibly believe that.”

“I do.” He nodded toward the ballroom. “The majority of the union    s in this room were made for precisely that reason.”

“I would say that money had ruined you, but you were already unpleasant before you acquired your fortune.”

His brows rose. “Indeed?”

“You are boorish and greedy. Most families with any fortune to speak of are generous with their funds. They give to charities and don’t buy properties they don’t require, nor do they constantly update and redecorate their current properties.”

He chuckled. “Have you been spying on me?”

“Of course not!” He was infuriating, and she wanted to scream at him, but she needed to remember where she was. Spinster or not, she couldn’t afford to compromise her reputation by behaving the shrew in public. She took a cleansing breath.

It would seem that after all these years of her humiliation stewing, she had unresolved anger toward Lord Davenport. Suddenly, he had an unusual ability of getting under her skin, irritating her and making her say whatever came to mind rather than carefully weighing her words. She never spoke without first considering someone else’s feelings. Except right now.

“Anyone who can read,” she continued, “can see that you’re purchasing unnecessary properties at an alarming rate. Including the Garners’ a few doors down from my family’s townhome.”

He shrugged. “They needed the funds, I required their townhome. I don’t recall asking you if you thought my purchases were necessary or not. I believe I make those decisions.”

Thank the heavens he had refused to marry her six years ago. She couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to be saddled in a relationship with him. He should be pleased she didn’t have any would-be weapons within reach, or she’d likely run him through.

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