The sound of Mozart floats across the elegant ballroom, vibrating off the mirrored walls. A crystal chandelier cascades from a gabled ceiling, casting an ethereal glow on the guests as they glide across the black and white checkered marble floor. Dark wood paneling frames the massive stone fireplace, and life-size gargoyles stand in waiting at the entrance to the hall. Flickering standing candelabras paint willowy shadows on their faces, providing a surreal atmosphere to the ball. A narrow spiral staircase leads to upper wings, rumored to be haunted with the ghost of the duke that once resided in the manor. Open terrace doors lead to a patio overlooking a regal courtyard where a water fountain quietly gurgles against the jasmine-scented night.
Oliver, looking dashing in his cravat and double breasted waistcoat, has prepared a feast fit for royalty.
The mingled aromas of lobster bisque, pigeon pie, veal, oysters, quail and trifles waft through the hall. Platters of fresh fruit and cheese trays artistically arranged on fluted dishes surround a punch bowl of wine made from grapes, boiling water, lemon and spices. Champagne trickles from a fountain next to the three-tiered chocolate cake, topped off with a graduation cap.
The hostesses, looking quite fetching in empire waist gowns and long, flowing skirts, fuss and fidget, making sure all is perfect. Each has a matching hat with a fancy plumed feather. Sharon, donned in scarlet and matching slippers, stops to admire her reflection in the mirrored wall. A sassy curl sweeps over her forehead, her elegant white gloved hands gingerly primping.
Spying Mary out of the corner of her eye, she beams. “My dance card will be full tonight, no doubt.”
“Sure it will, sweetie,” Mary yanks her emerald green gown down a little further to show off her bosom. “When you’re dancing in the dance line, they won’t be able to see your bubble butt.”
Sharon spins on her satin slippers, just as Lyn, donned in deep purple tapestry dashes past with a steaming platter of oysters. They roll across the hall, but not for long. Junior and Cuddles give chase, skidding on the marble floor like dancing fools. Lyn scowls at Sharon. “Now look what you made me do. If my petite feet take a skid on the floor, you will be very sorry!”
Champagne pops, unleashed balloons soar up to the gabled ceiling, and a squire with the lyrical voice of a fallen angel recites the blurb and excerpt from “Innocence Lost”:
From her first glimpse of his portrait, Lady Megan is smitten. Unfortunately, the handsome face belongs to her brother’s enemy—the Duke of Claremont, Nicholas Bradshaw. Nicholas learns a little too late that the beautiful girl he met at the stream is not at all who he thinks. And now, he must keep her safe from the enemy lurking close to home. When the kidnapper does strike, it takes the assistance of Nicholas, his former foe, and a pirate captain to save Megan. But will it be enough?
“My lady, come quick.”
Megan frowned at the closed door. She set aside her volume of Catullus’s poetry and rose from the chair in her sitting room. Calmly, she opened the door. If it was another man threatening suicide because she hadn’t agreed to marry him…
Julian’s furious voice rang through the house. She gasped and ran down the stairs.
Wentworth bowed and opened the drawing room door, as if he’d been expecting her.
Her heart took a crazy leap at the sight of him standing there. Nicholas. She glanced at her brother and grew worried. The two stood face to face with their fists balled and ready to strike.
As Julian moved forward, she flew between them. Her blood pounded hard in her ears. She stood so close to Nicholas, she could feel the heat of his body. She yearned to step into his arms. Had he come to see her? “What are you doing?” she demanded, looking from one wrathful face to the other.
“Leave, Claremont, now,” her brother said.
“Not until I have some answers concerning this.” Nicholas threw a crumpled newspaper down. “Damn you, Julian, you had no right.” Then his gaze shifted to her. Her heart surged up in her throat. He looked flushed with anguish. “How could you do this, Meg? Why didn’t you choose me?” His voice grew hoarse, full of pain. Then he went still. “Or did you choose me and your brother did not honor our agreement?” He jerked his head up and nailed Julian with a glare.
Confusion boiled within her. “What agreement?”
A muscle ticked in Nicholas’s cheek as he kept his eyes on her brother. “Tell her,” he demanded.
She turned to her brother and caught the unease in his eyes. “Julian?”
He heaved a sigh. “Moppet—”
“Don’t you dare call me that, Julian!” She poked a finger into his chest. “Tell me everything. Now!”
With a sigh, he nodded at Nicholas. “He was not to see or speak to you until you selected a husband. And I would not oppose your decision.”
She kept her eyes locked on her brother. “Even if I had named Nicholas?”
“Yes,” he said.
She wanted to kill Julian.
“Your brother also insisted that you were to know nothing of this agreement,” Nicholas added.
A sick knot of despair rose up from the depths of her stomach. She started to tremble. Her hands fell limply to her sides. “Are you telling me,” She turned to Nicholas, “that the only reason you’ve been ignoring me is because of a pact you made with Julian?”
His brows were drawn and his eyes filled with pain. He lifted his hand to touch her but halted and lowered his arm.
Her eyes prickled as she turned to her brother. “I cannot believe you did this.”
“Megan, I did it for you—”
“No, Julian. You did it for you.” Oh, God, she had been so wrong about everything. Nicholas. Her brother. Everything. She trembled in earnest now.
Nicholas moved closer. He reached out as if to steady her, but didn’t touch her. “Are you all right, Megan?”
She glanced up, her vision swimming. “You were trying to find a way for us to marry?”
“Yes, my little nymph.”
A tear skidded down her cheek. “I-I can’t. I’m betrothed to another.”
Author Web site: www.tiffanygreen.net
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What would you do if you learned of a pact made between your brother and your one true love?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
From the first moment I saved the knight in shining armor at age eight, I fell in love with romance. Since then, I have conjured many stories, and now I am excited to bring the best of them to you.
My main love is the Regency historical, but don’t be surprised if you find some medieval and western romances show up.
I am a native Texan and have deep roots in the small Texas town in which I live. My husband is incredibly wonderful and supportive and I have one awesome teenage son. Going back to school for my MBA is keeping me busy, but has not stopped me from my first love—creating exciting new worlds and interesting characters to fill them.
Visit me at http://www.tiffanygreen.net