Excerpt: A Knack for Trouble
“My stars! Isn’t he the cheeky fellow?” Lady Chudderley’s thin-lipped mouth screwed into a moue of distaste as she raised her lorgnette to eye someone across the crowded room. “I never dreamed he’d actually come.”
“Who do you mean, Auntie?” The party had turned into such a successful rout, Rosalinde Burke was pinned in the corner next to her great-aunt. They were stuck between a sideboard, groaning under the weight of finger sandwiches and petit fours, and the French doors leading out to the Palm Room. She peered in the same general direction as her aunt, but couldn’t identify the source of Lady Chudderley’s consternation.
The old woman fanned herself with such vigor, the ostrich plume in her turban did a fair imitation of a charmed cobra as it bobbed above her head.
“I had no intention of inviting him, I assure you, but at the Gainsborough exhibition last week, he was so . . . engaging, I found the words tumbling from my mouth before I thought better of them.” Lady Chudderley stopped fanning and her lips turned up in the ghost of a strangely girlish smile. Then she gave herself a stern shake and resumed flailing the air. “Honestly, one would think he’d have the decency to stand me up, since anyone with half a brain would know he wasn’t truly welcome in Polite Society.”
“Why, Lord Stonemere, of course.” She slapped the fan shut to punctuate her words. “He’s over there beside Lady Longbotham. Oh, I do hope he . . . “
Rosalinde knew Lady Chudderley was still speaking. Indeed, when was she not? But her voice faded away as if Rose had dropped suddenly into a very deep well. She swallowed hard.
Broad shoulders. Lean hips. It looked like . . .
The man turned his dark head as if he sensed the weight of her eyes on him and met her gaze. She forgot to breathe. He still had the same raw-boned Celtic features, the same wild masculine beauty. And she was still utterly undone by the mere sight of him.
She’d heard of the infamous Lord Stonemere. She simply had no idea he and the man who still troubled her dreams and caused her to wake with a blush of wicked pleasure were one and the same.
Rosalinde clutched the side of her plum organdy skirt, and then released it guiltily before her great-aunt could scold her for wrinkling her gown.
“Who . . . did you say he was?”
“Stonemere,” Lady Chudderley repeated. “The barony was near to reverting to another branch of Stonemeres, but then the family solicitor turned up the heir. The title came down through his mother, you see. Most irregular, but as it happens, she was a baroness in her own right. Then she abandoned the estate to marry an Irishman of all things. While she left a property, she couldn’t leave her title. The English side of the family is most perturbed over this development, as you can well imagine. An Irish baron in Wiltshire.”
Lady Chudderley clucked her tongue against her teeth and shuddered in distaste.
As if being Irish is the worst of Aidan’s sins, Rosalinde thought ruefully.
Then her great-aunt sighed. “But one must admit, he’s a devilishly handsome fellow.”
“Devilishly,” she repeated, partly because she was incapable of independent thought at the moment and partly because the description seemed particularly apt.
The devil in question was headed straight for her.